Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israeli government

Ultra-Orthodox Big Losers in New Coalition

There was no blue and white smoke emanating from the roof of the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem today, but not long before the College of Cardinals sent up their signals in Rome announcing the election of a new pope, reports began to circulate that after nearly two months Israel’s leading political parties had finally concluded their negotiations and a new government has been formed. Reportedly, the government will be formally announced on Saturday night and sworn in on Monday, only two days before President Obama arrives in the country.

The outlines of the agreement that seems to have been concluded were apparent as soon as the votes were counted after the January election for a new Knesset. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu Party will join forces with the two other big winners, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi as well as one of the losers, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, to form the new coalition. The fractious talks in which both Netanyahu and Lapid appeared to be bluffing and threatening each other up until the last moment would seem to indicate that this Cabinet will be at each other’s throats and might not last the full four years until the next election. The fierce rivalries and even personal grudges among these four leaders will provide plenty of fodder for Cabinet leaks and feuds. But with only four parties in the government and with little disagreement among them on the most important economic and social issues facing Israel, predictions of doom might be misplaced.

Yet more important than the contentious dynamic that will exist among those inside the tent will be the question of who won’t be there: the ultra-Orthodox parties. Their absence and the opening for reform of the draft system, as well as the potential end of the patronage gravy train for Haredi institutions, will have a bigger impact on the nation than any disagreements among the party leaders.

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There was no blue and white smoke emanating from the roof of the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem today, but not long before the College of Cardinals sent up their signals in Rome announcing the election of a new pope, reports began to circulate that after nearly two months Israel’s leading political parties had finally concluded their negotiations and a new government has been formed. Reportedly, the government will be formally announced on Saturday night and sworn in on Monday, only two days before President Obama arrives in the country.

The outlines of the agreement that seems to have been concluded were apparent as soon as the votes were counted after the January election for a new Knesset. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu Party will join forces with the two other big winners, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi as well as one of the losers, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, to form the new coalition. The fractious talks in which both Netanyahu and Lapid appeared to be bluffing and threatening each other up until the last moment would seem to indicate that this Cabinet will be at each other’s throats and might not last the full four years until the next election. The fierce rivalries and even personal grudges among these four leaders will provide plenty of fodder for Cabinet leaks and feuds. But with only four parties in the government and with little disagreement among them on the most important economic and social issues facing Israel, predictions of doom might be misplaced.

Yet more important than the contentious dynamic that will exist among those inside the tent will be the question of who won’t be there: the ultra-Orthodox parties. Their absence and the opening for reform of the draft system, as well as the potential end of the patronage gravy train for Haredi institutions, will have a bigger impact on the nation than any disagreements among the party leaders.

With Obama about to arrive in the country, most of the attention of the world remains focused on the question of whether this new government will accede to demands to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to restart peace negotiations. But as the election campaign proved, most Israelis have long since given up on the peace process and are primarily interested in economic and social issues. The banishing of Shas and United Torah Judaism, which have been mainstays of almost every governing coalition for the past 30 years, to the backbenches has created a unique opportunity to create change.

No Haredim means after decades of failed attempts, this government will change the draft system to require the conscription of far more ultra-Orthodox Jews into Israel’s army. Though even this breakthrough is something of a compromise, since they will be able to stay out until 21 as opposed to the age of 18 for other Israelis, it does represent an effort to equalize the burden of service. Their absence will also enable needed reform of the education system.

It may be too much to ask that this team of Cabinet rivals will take the next step in terms of reform and begin to change the electoral system to one that will have constituencies rather than the ultra-democratic proportional system that has heretofore given the Haredim outsized influence. But even if they just raise the minimum number of votes needed for a party to make it into the Knesset, it will be another step forward toward a more workable system.

Israel’s next government won’t preside over the end of a conflict that can only conclude as the result of a sea change among the Palestinians. But it does have the power to enact some fundamental changes that could end some longstanding inequities. Though there may not be much love lost between the foursome of party leaders, if they hang together long enough to accomplish that much they will have still done a lot. 

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Coalition Shift Leaves Netanyahu on Top

The collapse of the short-lived supermajority who presided over Israel’s ruling coalition since May has given critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the best couple of days they’ve had in years. But anyone who expects this setback to change the political equation in which Netanyahu is not only an overwhelming favorite to win re-election but to stay in power for years to come doesn’t understand what has happened.

The end of the coalition is a disappointment for those friends of Israel who hoped the supermajority could help create some much-needed fundamental changes. But though the failure is not something that will burnish Netanyahu’s reputation, it will do far more damage to his junior partner Kadima and its leader Shaul Mofaz than it will to the prime minister or his Likud. At the end of the day, Netanyahu can be said to have his reputation dented a bit, but he remains on top of Israeli politics with no credible rival for the post of prime minister in sight.

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The collapse of the short-lived supermajority who presided over Israel’s ruling coalition since May has given critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the best couple of days they’ve had in years. But anyone who expects this setback to change the political equation in which Netanyahu is not only an overwhelming favorite to win re-election but to stay in power for years to come doesn’t understand what has happened.

The end of the coalition is a disappointment for those friends of Israel who hoped the supermajority could help create some much-needed fundamental changes. But though the failure is not something that will burnish Netanyahu’s reputation, it will do far more damage to his junior partner Kadima and its leader Shaul Mofaz than it will to the prime minister or his Likud. At the end of the day, Netanyahu can be said to have his reputation dented a bit, but he remains on top of Israeli politics with no credible rival for the post of prime minister in sight.

Netanyahu was hailed as the “king” of Israeli politics for the adroit maneuver by which he enticed the Kadima party into his tent and for giving very little in return for padding his majority to more than 90 members of the 120-seat Knesset. The coalition could have achieved great things, including a reform of Israel’s draft laws that could have required the ultra-Orthodox and even Arabs to do national service along with the rest of the country. Even more importantly, it could have worked on election reform proposals that might have ended the tyranny of small parties and taken the nation to a more rational and stable model. But perhaps it was too much to expect Israeli politicians, especially those in Kadima, a feckless assembly of the worst opportunists in Israel, to behave rationally, let alone courageously and the experiment has ended.

But it should be remembered that Netanyahu already had a stable and strong governing majority even before the Kadima deal. Some of his critics (a group that included President Obama) hoped that he would not last long in office after his February 2009 election victory. But in contrast to his first unsuccessful term as prime minister in the 1990s, Netanyahu would not make the same mistakes this time. He not only kept his coalition together but gained rather than lost popularity by standing up to U.S. pressure. The end of the peace process destroyed Israel’s left-wing parties and the Likud’s smart stewardship of Israel’s growing economy has also retained the confidence of the country despite the attention given to protesters.

Mofaz has criticized Netanyahu for proposing a gradual move towards drafting the ultra-Orthodox rather than a plan that would have done so more quickly. But, as Haaretz’s Yossi Verter reports, Mofaz’s decision to bolt the government probably had more to do with his worry that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (who was acquitted on corruption charges last week) was thinking about getting back into politics. Netanyahu is widely accused of making an astute political calculation that he was better off retaining an alliance with the ultra-Orthodox parties rather than Kadima. This may be true because, like everyone else in Israel, Netanyahu knows that after the dust has settled after the next election (which may take place early next year), Kadima will be history, but the Orthodox will still be standing.

But even those who sympathize and agree with the majority of Israelis who bitterly resent Haredi draft-dodging must concede this is not a problem that can be solved overnight. As soon became apparent once the possibility of draft reform came in sight this year, the Israel Defense Forces are unprepared for a huge influx of reluctant ultra-Orthodox recruits. It is far more important that the Haredim who are currently allowed to be unemployed and undrafted Torah scholars (or at least pretending to be scholars) are pressured or guided to enter Israel’s economy than its army. Netanyahu’s proposal that Mofaz has rejected might have fallen short of expectations but it was a reasonable start that the prime minister will have no trouble defending when he faces the voters.

The end of the coalition will likely hasten the exit of Kadima from the Knesset at the next election where it will be replaced by a revived though still weak Labor Party as the principal opposition to Netanyahu. Mofaz and Olmert will join Tzippi Livni, another former Kadima leader, may continue to try to maneuver, but they are destined to wind up on the dustheap of Israeli politics. Other, smaller parties will fill the place that Kadima thought to occupy in Israel’s center. But the one thing that will not change is Netanyahu’s ascendancy. For all of his problems and occasional missteps, his position on the peace process and security issues represents the consensus of the Israeli people. Though American liberals and the Obama administration may long for him to be replaced, Netanyahu is likely to remain prime minister throughout the term of the next American president.

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Netanyahu’s Surprising Achievement: Political Stability

Three years ago, most observers of the Middle East were sure about one thing: the newly elected coalition government in Israel being put together by Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t last. In particular, the Obama administration, which was only a month old itself, was hopeful Netanyahu would quickly flop and be replaced by the more pliant Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Kadima Party. Thirty-six months later, as the Israeli prime minister prepares to journey to Washington for another crucial summit with President Obama, there is no talk about the post-Netanyahu era. Though the Jewish state remains beset with a host of problems, both foreign and domestic, the volatility that has plagued the country’s political system for decades is largely absent these days.

His is actually the first Israeli cabinet to last this long in 20 years. Given that a breakup in his coalition is unlikely, it is almost a certainty that it will serve out its full four-year-term, which will be the first time that has happened since Menachem Begin was prime minister more than 30 years ago. And with polls projecting that Netanyahu and the Likud will easily win the next election when it occurs sometime in 2013, it is clear what we are seeing in Israel is a new era of political stability. While this is a remarkable personal achievement for Netanyahu, its impact goes deeper than that. When Netanyahu arrives in Washington next month, President Obama will know he is dealing with a leader who is secure in power and has the backing of his nation.

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Three years ago, most observers of the Middle East were sure about one thing: the newly elected coalition government in Israel being put together by Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t last. In particular, the Obama administration, which was only a month old itself, was hopeful Netanyahu would quickly flop and be replaced by the more pliant Tzipi Livni, the leader of the Kadima Party. Thirty-six months later, as the Israeli prime minister prepares to journey to Washington for another crucial summit with President Obama, there is no talk about the post-Netanyahu era. Though the Jewish state remains beset with a host of problems, both foreign and domestic, the volatility that has plagued the country’s political system for decades is largely absent these days.

His is actually the first Israeli cabinet to last this long in 20 years. Given that a breakup in his coalition is unlikely, it is almost a certainty that it will serve out its full four-year-term, which will be the first time that has happened since Menachem Begin was prime minister more than 30 years ago. And with polls projecting that Netanyahu and the Likud will easily win the next election when it occurs sometime in 2013, it is clear what we are seeing in Israel is a new era of political stability. While this is a remarkable personal achievement for Netanyahu, its impact goes deeper than that. When Netanyahu arrives in Washington next month, President Obama will know he is dealing with a leader who is secure in power and has the backing of his nation.

There are a number of reasons for Netanyahu’s success, but the most important of them is that experience helps. Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 was undermined by an arrogant refusal to listen to his cabinet colleagues and a reckless disregard for the impact of his statements on both his party and his nation’s sole ally, the United States. At that time, Netanyahu was wrongly blamed for derailing the peace process even though he repeatedly made concessions for the sake of peace while also getting the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terror. But his successes were overshadowed by his surly personality, and by the time he faced the electorate again, he had few friends left.

This time around, Netanyahu has been wiser, avoiding needless quarrels and maneuvering carefully in order to keep a diverse coalition moving in the right direction. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu Party could have dismantled the government several times, but Netanyahu smartly kept him inside the tent rather than out of it. Though Lieberman has continually talked about breaking up the coalition, he now finds himself stuck in it because a new election would diminish rather than strengthen his forces.

He has also been fortunate with his foes. Livni has been a hopeless opposition leader. Having refused Netanyahu’s offer of a coalition and a high cabinet post because she thought she would soon replace him, she now finds her party supplanted in the eyes of the public as the main alternative to the Likud by a resurgent Labor.

Even more important, Netanyahu has benefited from being the bête noire of President Obama. In the past, Israeli prime ministers always feared the enmity of American presidents, because to jeopardize the alliance was considered the political kiss of death in the Jewish state. But Obama is the least popular American president in history. Every attack launched on Netanyahu only strengthened his hold on power. By standing up to Obama on the future of Jerusalem and the 1967 lines, Netanyahu gained support rather than losing it as the president expected.

Though Obama has made no secret of his dislike for Netanyahu, the president must now acknowledge that Netanyahu is likely to remain as prime minister for the foreseeable future. Obama must also come to grips with the fact that his plans to revive the peace process has failed, and that Netanyahu’s evaluation of the Palestinians’ unwillingness to negotiate was far closer to the mark than his own opposition. Netanyahu’s political strength also makes it harder for Obama to try to muscle the Israeli on the issue of stopping Iran from going nuclear.

Three years after he plotted to dump Netanyahu, the president is also hoping Netanyahu will do nothing to complicate his own chances of re-election. As he attempts to walk back his quarrels with Jerusalem as part of his Jewish charm offensive, Obama must pay court to Netanyahu. The irony of this turnabout can’t be lost on the Israeli or his antagonist in the White House.

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Pro-Mubarak Rioters Go After ‘Jew’ Journalists

JTA is reporting that the pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt are targeting foreign journalists, who they believe are supported by Jews. The Egyptian state-run media has been reporting recently that Israel is behind the anti-government protests, and this message is obviously beginning to resonate with the pro-Mubarak crowd:

Pro-Egyptian government counter-protesters in Cairo are screaming “Jew!” at foreign journalists, apparently spurred by Egyptian state TV accusations that Israeli spies are behind the protests.

“Egyptian state television has actively tried to foment the unrest by reporting that ‘Israeli spies’ on the unrest have infiltrated the city, which explains why many of the gangs who attack reporters shout ‘yehudi!,'” Al Jazeera said in a report on its website Thursday.

Is it even necessary to point out how ridiculous this is? Israel has consistently supported Mubarak, even going so far as to direct its overseas diplomats to avoid saying anything negative about his regime. The Israeli government has an interest in maintaining the status quo in the region, which means keeping Mubarak in place.

Of course, that means little to the Egyptians, who are programmed to view Israel as the default boogeyman in all situations. Mubarak has supported a culture of anti-Semitism, and now his state-run media is directing this hatred of Jews toward foreign reporters and other enemies of the regime.

JTA is reporting that the pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt are targeting foreign journalists, who they believe are supported by Jews. The Egyptian state-run media has been reporting recently that Israel is behind the anti-government protests, and this message is obviously beginning to resonate with the pro-Mubarak crowd:

Pro-Egyptian government counter-protesters in Cairo are screaming “Jew!” at foreign journalists, apparently spurred by Egyptian state TV accusations that Israeli spies are behind the protests.

“Egyptian state television has actively tried to foment the unrest by reporting that ‘Israeli spies’ on the unrest have infiltrated the city, which explains why many of the gangs who attack reporters shout ‘yehudi!,'” Al Jazeera said in a report on its website Thursday.

Is it even necessary to point out how ridiculous this is? Israel has consistently supported Mubarak, even going so far as to direct its overseas diplomats to avoid saying anything negative about his regime. The Israeli government has an interest in maintaining the status quo in the region, which means keeping Mubarak in place.

Of course, that means little to the Egyptians, who are programmed to view Israel as the default boogeyman in all situations. Mubarak has supported a culture of anti-Semitism, and now his state-run media is directing this hatred of Jews toward foreign reporters and other enemies of the regime.

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Sharansky: Reagan Right, Critics Wrong

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.” Read More

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Later in 1981, a bitter fight was played out in Congress between the White House and supporters of Israel over Reagan’s determination to follow through on the Carter administration’s decision to sell Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia. The sale was finally approved by a narrow margin, but the confrontation left bruised feelings and egos on both sides.

Ironically, Israeli military leaders were never in the forefront of the AWACS opposition; according to Raviv and Melman, “the commanders of the Israeli air force — the officers most directly concerned — were willing to live with AWACS flying over Saudi Arabia. They did not see them as a serious threat to Israel’s security.”

The U.S.-Israel relationship was strong enough by then to survive a series of mini-crises during the Reagan era, including Washington’s dismay at the scope of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the failure of the so-called Reagan Plan, which called for a freeze on Israeli settlements and the eventual creation of a quasi-independent Palestinian entity; the visit by Reagan to a German cemetery that contained the remains of SS soldiers; the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Israel played a major role; the arrest and conviction of an American citizen, Jonathan Pollard, on charges of spying for Israel; and the administration’s 1988 decision to talk to the PLO after Yasir Arafat made the requisite noises about recognizing Israel.

Through it all, Reagan provided more military and financial aid to Israel than any of his predecessors. Washington also worked closer with Israel on the economic front, and in 1985 the administration signed a landmark Free Trade Area agreement, long sought by Israel, which resulted in a hefty boost in Israeli exports to the U.S.

Beyond the Middle East, the plight of Soviet Jews was bound to strike a sympathetic chord with someone as unbendingly anti-Communist as Reagan.

“The Soviet leaders,” recalled former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir,  “told me that every time they met with [Secretary of State George] Shultz, he raised the issue of Soviet Jewry.”

The Reagan administration was instrumental in gaining the release in 1986 of prominent Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky, imprisoned for nine years on trumped-up treason charges. Sharansky has written of his reaction when, in 1983, confined to a tiny cell in a prison near the Siberian border, he saw on the front page of Pravda that Reagan — much to the ridicule and outrage of American and European liberals — had labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

As Sharansky describes it:

Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s “provocation” quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us. I never imagined that three years later I would be in the White House telling this story to the president. … Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.

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Could an Unstable Egypt Bring Israel and the U.S. Closer?

At Politico, Walter Russell Mead analyzes what the possible outcome in Egypt could mean for the U.S.-Israel relationship. He writes that if an extremist government ends up replacing President Hosni Mubarak, this could lead to a renewed closeness between the U.S. and Israel:

[W]hile U.S. debate over the costs of our alliance with Israel could sharpen, the United States is likely to draw closer to Israel if the regional climate grows more polarized. Between 50 percent and two-thirds of the American people routinely tell pollsters they believe Israel is a close ally that the United States should support. Israel is one of a small number of countries that a majority of Americans say they are willing to defend with military force.

While Israel seems relatively secure, that majority argues about whether the best way to help Israel is to push it toward concessions to the Palestinians or to support it as it hangs tough.

But when Israel comes under threat, those arguments fade into the background.

Obviously it wouldn’t be good for Israel if an extremist government took over in Egypt. But it would also reaffirm the U.S.’s strategic reliance on the Jewish state, and highlight Israel’s position as the only U.S. ally in the region.

According to Mead, this intensified national support for Israel would likely lead to a closer relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government. At the same time, this development could also alienate parts of Obama’s left-wing base:

At the same time, a vocal American minority — ranging from the “truther” far left through parts of the respectable foreign policy establishment and extending out into the Buchananite far right — asserts that strong U.S. support for Israel endangers our vital interests throughout the Middle East.

If a radical government should emerge in Egypt, it could strengthen this conviction among the opponents of the U.S.-Israel relationship. They will likely redouble their efforts to distance Washington from Israel.

The situation in Egypt is so erratic that it’s hard to guess what will happen in a week, let alone six months from now. But supposing Mead’s calculation proves correct, here’s one prediction: the line between Israel’s supporters and enemies would be clearer. And phony friends of Israel who push anti-Israel policies — like a UN resolution condemning the Jewish state — will have a much harder time finding political support within the Obama administration or with members of Congress.

At Politico, Walter Russell Mead analyzes what the possible outcome in Egypt could mean for the U.S.-Israel relationship. He writes that if an extremist government ends up replacing President Hosni Mubarak, this could lead to a renewed closeness between the U.S. and Israel:

[W]hile U.S. debate over the costs of our alliance with Israel could sharpen, the United States is likely to draw closer to Israel if the regional climate grows more polarized. Between 50 percent and two-thirds of the American people routinely tell pollsters they believe Israel is a close ally that the United States should support. Israel is one of a small number of countries that a majority of Americans say they are willing to defend with military force.

While Israel seems relatively secure, that majority argues about whether the best way to help Israel is to push it toward concessions to the Palestinians or to support it as it hangs tough.

But when Israel comes under threat, those arguments fade into the background.

Obviously it wouldn’t be good for Israel if an extremist government took over in Egypt. But it would also reaffirm the U.S.’s strategic reliance on the Jewish state, and highlight Israel’s position as the only U.S. ally in the region.

According to Mead, this intensified national support for Israel would likely lead to a closer relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government. At the same time, this development could also alienate parts of Obama’s left-wing base:

At the same time, a vocal American minority — ranging from the “truther” far left through parts of the respectable foreign policy establishment and extending out into the Buchananite far right — asserts that strong U.S. support for Israel endangers our vital interests throughout the Middle East.

If a radical government should emerge in Egypt, it could strengthen this conviction among the opponents of the U.S.-Israel relationship. They will likely redouble their efforts to distance Washington from Israel.

The situation in Egypt is so erratic that it’s hard to guess what will happen in a week, let alone six months from now. But supposing Mead’s calculation proves correct, here’s one prediction: the line between Israel’s supporters and enemies would be clearer. And phony friends of Israel who push anti-Israel policies — like a UN resolution condemning the Jewish state — will have a much harder time finding political support within the Obama administration or with members of Congress.

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The Guardian: Let’s Have a ‘Discussion’ About the Morality of Terrorism

If you’ve ever wondered what the first step to becoming a full-blown terrorist apologist is, check out this column by the Guardian’s Chris Elliott. In the piece, Elliott defends a letter to the editor from “eminent philosopher” Ted Honderich, which “proposed the ‘moral right’ of the Palestinians to adopt terrorism as a strategy.”

“It is the policy of the Guardian not to publish letters advocating violence against others,” wrote Elliott. “[B]ut that does not – and should not – preclude a discussion about the nature of terrorism.” He added that “It is a legitimate area of discussion.”

To really grasp Honderich’s “discussion” about the “nature of terrorism,” you should read his letter in full here.

But here is a quick summary: First, Honderich noted that the Palestinian Papers have revealed “the intransigent greed, the escape from decency” of the Israeli government during peace negotiations. According to the philosopher, these revelations “provide a further part of what is now an overwhelming argument for a certain proposition. It is that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within historic Palestine against neo-Zionism. … Terrorism, as in this case, can as exactly be self-defence, a freedom struggle, martyrdom, the conclusion of an argument based on true humanity, etc.” a

As Adam Levick notes at CiF Watch, “In other words, what Honderich has learned from the Guardian’s Palestine Papers is that Israel is such a morally indecent country that Palestinians now clearly have the moral right to murder Israeli men, women, and children.”

Having a philosophical discussion about the nature of terrorism is one thing. But Honderich’s letter wasn’t about the “nature” of anything, nor was it a discussion. The acts of terror the philosopher was referring to are very real, and it’s clear he’d already come to a conclusion on their morality.

If you’ve ever wondered what the first step to becoming a full-blown terrorist apologist is, check out this column by the Guardian’s Chris Elliott. In the piece, Elliott defends a letter to the editor from “eminent philosopher” Ted Honderich, which “proposed the ‘moral right’ of the Palestinians to adopt terrorism as a strategy.”

“It is the policy of the Guardian not to publish letters advocating violence against others,” wrote Elliott. “[B]ut that does not – and should not – preclude a discussion about the nature of terrorism.” He added that “It is a legitimate area of discussion.”

To really grasp Honderich’s “discussion” about the “nature of terrorism,” you should read his letter in full here.

But here is a quick summary: First, Honderich noted that the Palestinian Papers have revealed “the intransigent greed, the escape from decency” of the Israeli government during peace negotiations. According to the philosopher, these revelations “provide a further part of what is now an overwhelming argument for a certain proposition. It is that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within historic Palestine against neo-Zionism. … Terrorism, as in this case, can as exactly be self-defence, a freedom struggle, martyrdom, the conclusion of an argument based on true humanity, etc.” a

As Adam Levick notes at CiF Watch, “In other words, what Honderich has learned from the Guardian’s Palestine Papers is that Israel is such a morally indecent country that Palestinians now clearly have the moral right to murder Israeli men, women, and children.”

Having a philosophical discussion about the nature of terrorism is one thing. But Honderich’s letter wasn’t about the “nature” of anything, nor was it a discussion. The acts of terror the philosopher was referring to are very real, and it’s clear he’d already come to a conclusion on their morality.

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About Those ‘Likudniks’

The theory that a powerful cabal of Jewish intellectuals pressured President Bush into launching wars on behalf of Israel is one that’s become associated with the anti-Semitic political fringe. But it wasn’t long ago that this idea was being promoted in mainstream publications — for example, the 2003 Washington Post cover story entitled “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.”

The article was about a so-called group of “Likudniks” — loyalists to the right-wing Israeli government — who allegedly pulled the foreign-policy strings in the Bush administration. According to the report, the faction included Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Elliott Abrams.

“Some Middle East hands who disagree with these supporters of Israel refer to them as ‘a cabal,’ in the words of one former official,” reported the Post. “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.”

“The Likudniks are really in charge now,” the story quoted an anonymous senior U.S. official as saying.

In certain circles, the term Likudnik has been used interchangeably with neoconservative, and both have carried allegations of dual loyalty to Israel.

“What these neoconservatives seek is to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel,” wrote Pat Buchanan in the American Conservative. “They want the peace of the sword imposed on Islam and American soldiers to die if necessary to impose it.”

Obviously, these charges were nonsense. And this is illustrated, once again, by the very different positions the Israeli government and neoconservatives have taken on the crisis in Egypt.

As Max has pointed out, Israel has come out in support of the Mubarak regime:

The newspaper said Israel’s foreign ministry told its diplomats to stress that it is in “the interest of the West” and of “the entire Middle East to maintain the stability of the regime in Egypt.”

“We must therefore curb public criticism against President Hosni Mubarak,” the message sent at the end of last week said, according to Haaretz.

The newspaper said the message was sent to Israeli diplomats in at least a dozen embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries.

And yet the alleged “Likudniks” from the Bush administration haven’t been out disseminating pro-Mubarak propaganda of some sort on Fox News.

Instead, Abrams has come out strongly in support of the Egyptian people. As have Wolfowitz and Feith. In fact, neoconservatives are overwhelmingly in favor of democratic reform in Egypt, just as they were under Bush. And that makes the old allegations of dual loyalty look even more shameless.

The theory that a powerful cabal of Jewish intellectuals pressured President Bush into launching wars on behalf of Israel is one that’s become associated with the anti-Semitic political fringe. But it wasn’t long ago that this idea was being promoted in mainstream publications — for example, the 2003 Washington Post cover story entitled “Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.”

The article was about a so-called group of “Likudniks” — loyalists to the right-wing Israeli government — who allegedly pulled the foreign-policy strings in the Bush administration. According to the report, the faction included Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Elliott Abrams.

“Some Middle East hands who disagree with these supporters of Israel refer to them as ‘a cabal,’ in the words of one former official,” reported the Post. “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.”

“The Likudniks are really in charge now,” the story quoted an anonymous senior U.S. official as saying.

In certain circles, the term Likudnik has been used interchangeably with neoconservative, and both have carried allegations of dual loyalty to Israel.

“What these neoconservatives seek is to conscript American blood to make the world safe for Israel,” wrote Pat Buchanan in the American Conservative. “They want the peace of the sword imposed on Islam and American soldiers to die if necessary to impose it.”

Obviously, these charges were nonsense. And this is illustrated, once again, by the very different positions the Israeli government and neoconservatives have taken on the crisis in Egypt.

As Max has pointed out, Israel has come out in support of the Mubarak regime:

The newspaper said Israel’s foreign ministry told its diplomats to stress that it is in “the interest of the West” and of “the entire Middle East to maintain the stability of the regime in Egypt.”

“We must therefore curb public criticism against President Hosni Mubarak,” the message sent at the end of last week said, according to Haaretz.

The newspaper said the message was sent to Israeli diplomats in at least a dozen embassies in the United States, Canada, China, Russia and several European countries.

And yet the alleged “Likudniks” from the Bush administration haven’t been out disseminating pro-Mubarak propaganda of some sort on Fox News.

Instead, Abrams has come out strongly in support of the Egyptian people. As have Wolfowitz and Feith. In fact, neoconservatives are overwhelmingly in favor of democratic reform in Egypt, just as they were under Bush. And that makes the old allegations of dual loyalty look even more shameless.

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Is All Criticism of Israel Out of Bounds?

That’s what Chas Freeman claimed during a panel discussion with Steve Clemons this week. In an attempt to defend himself against charges that he’s an “Israel-basher,” Freeman argued that anyone who disagrees with the Israeli government is labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

“I think we have a very sad situation in this country … in which any criticism of, whatever it is, that the current government of Israel is doing, is immediately cited as evidence of anti-Israel bias, or anti-Semitism,” said Freeman.

This is a false argument. There is nothing biased or anti-Semitic about criticizing or disagreeing with Israeli policy. But the criticism can become biased or anti-Semitic when it’s disproportionate, dishonest, or consistently one-sided.

Freeman gives a perfect example of this when he launches into his theory about how the Israel lobby has a stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy:

The United States essentially has disqualified itself as a mediator. I say that with great sadness, because I believe on many occasions we had opportunities to go for peace, I think there has been an implicit promise of peace on many occasions and we did not do that. We cannot play the role of mediator because of the political hammerlock that the right wing in Israel through its supporters here exercises in our politics. We are simply biased.

If someone’s analysis of the Middle East conflict is derived from the deeply paranoid theory that the U.S. government policy is controlled by a group of American citizens acting as Israeli foreign agents, then the term “Israel-basher” sounds like a pretty fair characterization.

That’s what Chas Freeman claimed during a panel discussion with Steve Clemons this week. In an attempt to defend himself against charges that he’s an “Israel-basher,” Freeman argued that anyone who disagrees with the Israeli government is labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

“I think we have a very sad situation in this country … in which any criticism of, whatever it is, that the current government of Israel is doing, is immediately cited as evidence of anti-Israel bias, or anti-Semitism,” said Freeman.

This is a false argument. There is nothing biased or anti-Semitic about criticizing or disagreeing with Israeli policy. But the criticism can become biased or anti-Semitic when it’s disproportionate, dishonest, or consistently one-sided.

Freeman gives a perfect example of this when he launches into his theory about how the Israel lobby has a stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy:

The United States essentially has disqualified itself as a mediator. I say that with great sadness, because I believe on many occasions we had opportunities to go for peace, I think there has been an implicit promise of peace on many occasions and we did not do that. We cannot play the role of mediator because of the political hammerlock that the right wing in Israel through its supporters here exercises in our politics. We are simply biased.

If someone’s analysis of the Middle East conflict is derived from the deeply paranoid theory that the U.S. government policy is controlled by a group of American citizens acting as Israeli foreign agents, then the term “Israel-basher” sounds like a pretty fair characterization.

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The Real Danger Is that the Guardian’s Spin Could Mislead the West

The Guardian clearly has it in for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. Not content with lambasting the concessions they actually made, it’s now accusing them of two concessions belied by the very “Palestine Papers” it cites as proof: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and agreeing to resettle only 10,000 refugees in Israel.

The first assertion, as J.E. Dyer noted, relies on two Erekat quotes. In 2007, he told then-Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, “If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want.” And in 2009, he said, “I dare the Israelis to write to the UN and change their name to the ‘Great Eternal Historic State of Israel’. This is their issue, not mine.”

Yet neither of these constitutes Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which is what Israel demands. They merely reiterate what Palestinian leaders have repeatedly said in public (here and here, for instance): that they can’t stop Israel from calling itself a Jewish state, but under no circumstances will they recognize it as such.

The refugees assertion relies on minutes of Erekat’s June 2009 meeting with the PA’s Negotiations Support Unit. One participant asked whether any Israeli government had expressed different positions than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did in a speech earlier that month. Erekat replied by detailing former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s offer, which included accepting “1000 refugees annually for the next 10 years.”

Nowhere, however, does the document say the Palestinians agreed to this. On the contrary, they refused to sign Olmert’s proffered deal. So how does the Guardian construe Palestinian acquiescence out of this? By quoting something Erekat told U.S. envoy George Mitchell four months earlier, in February 2009: “On refugees, the deal is there.”

The paper doesn’t source this quote, nor does it explain why it thinks Erekat was signifying acceptance of Olmert’s offer. Certainly, Erekat doesn’t say so, and the timing actually makes this interpretation unlikely.

Mitchell’s February 2009 visit occurred after Israel’s election but before Netanyahu took office. Netanyahu was opposed to Mitchell’s “borders first” agenda for talks, arguing that upfront territorial concessions would deprive Israel of leverage in subsequent talks on issues like the refugees. The PA backed it for the very same reason, and thus sought to counter Netanyahu’s objection. So Erekat gave Mitchell a generic assurance that the refugees wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. But since he didn’t commit to any particular number, that assurance is meaningless.

Several CONTENTIONS contributors have noted that the publication of the Palestine Papers will make it harder for the PA to make concessions essential for a deal. But since the Guardian’s spin has been mindlessly repeated by media outlets worldwide (including in Israel), an equally worrying possibility is that Western leaders may falsely believe it already has offered the necessary concessions, and therefore ease their already minimal pressure on the Palestinians to do so.

And since the talks’ failure to date stems mainly from the PA’s refusal to make these concessions, that would make the prospects for a deal even dimmer than they are now.

The Guardian clearly has it in for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. Not content with lambasting the concessions they actually made, it’s now accusing them of two concessions belied by the very “Palestine Papers” it cites as proof: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and agreeing to resettle only 10,000 refugees in Israel.

The first assertion, as J.E. Dyer noted, relies on two Erekat quotes. In 2007, he told then-Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, “If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want.” And in 2009, he said, “I dare the Israelis to write to the UN and change their name to the ‘Great Eternal Historic State of Israel’. This is their issue, not mine.”

Yet neither of these constitutes Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which is what Israel demands. They merely reiterate what Palestinian leaders have repeatedly said in public (here and here, for instance): that they can’t stop Israel from calling itself a Jewish state, but under no circumstances will they recognize it as such.

The refugees assertion relies on minutes of Erekat’s June 2009 meeting with the PA’s Negotiations Support Unit. One participant asked whether any Israeli government had expressed different positions than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did in a speech earlier that month. Erekat replied by detailing former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s offer, which included accepting “1000 refugees annually for the next 10 years.”

Nowhere, however, does the document say the Palestinians agreed to this. On the contrary, they refused to sign Olmert’s proffered deal. So how does the Guardian construe Palestinian acquiescence out of this? By quoting something Erekat told U.S. envoy George Mitchell four months earlier, in February 2009: “On refugees, the deal is there.”

The paper doesn’t source this quote, nor does it explain why it thinks Erekat was signifying acceptance of Olmert’s offer. Certainly, Erekat doesn’t say so, and the timing actually makes this interpretation unlikely.

Mitchell’s February 2009 visit occurred after Israel’s election but before Netanyahu took office. Netanyahu was opposed to Mitchell’s “borders first” agenda for talks, arguing that upfront territorial concessions would deprive Israel of leverage in subsequent talks on issues like the refugees. The PA backed it for the very same reason, and thus sought to counter Netanyahu’s objection. So Erekat gave Mitchell a generic assurance that the refugees wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. But since he didn’t commit to any particular number, that assurance is meaningless.

Several CONTENTIONS contributors have noted that the publication of the Palestine Papers will make it harder for the PA to make concessions essential for a deal. But since the Guardian’s spin has been mindlessly repeated by media outlets worldwide (including in Israel), an equally worrying possibility is that Western leaders may falsely believe it already has offered the necessary concessions, and therefore ease their already minimal pressure on the Palestinians to do so.

And since the talks’ failure to date stems mainly from the PA’s refusal to make these concessions, that would make the prospects for a deal even dimmer than they are now.

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Turkel Commission Report: Israel Followed Law During Flotilla Raid

The Turkel Commission, an investigation launched by the Israeli government into the flotilla raid, has found that Israel acted in accordance with international law during the incident.

Nothing in the report comes as a major surprise, since it was what we all knew at the time: Israel’s enforcement of the naval blockade was legitimate, and IDF soldiers had the right to board the ship. The soldiers were attacked with deadly force by flotilla members and it was appropriate for them to defend themselves.

And while the commission heard testimony from all sides — including left-wing human-rights groups — it found the charge that Israel committed war crimes to be without merit.

Of course, the impact of the findings will probably be pretty inconsequential, at least from a public-relations perspective. Anyone who looked at the flotilla situation honestly and objectively already knew that Israel handled it appropriately. And the people who claimed that Israel’s acts of self-defense were “war crimes” are unlikely to be convinced by any investigation that disproves that notion — especially one that was carried out by the Israeli government.

In fact, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Erdogan, has already dismissed the findings, telling the press that the inquiry has “no value or credibility.”

With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if this report incites renewed calls for an “independent” investigation of the incident, probably led by the same NGOs that helped fund the flotilla in the first place.

The Turkel Commission, an investigation launched by the Israeli government into the flotilla raid, has found that Israel acted in accordance with international law during the incident.

Nothing in the report comes as a major surprise, since it was what we all knew at the time: Israel’s enforcement of the naval blockade was legitimate, and IDF soldiers had the right to board the ship. The soldiers were attacked with deadly force by flotilla members and it was appropriate for them to defend themselves.

And while the commission heard testimony from all sides — including left-wing human-rights groups — it found the charge that Israel committed war crimes to be without merit.

Of course, the impact of the findings will probably be pretty inconsequential, at least from a public-relations perspective. Anyone who looked at the flotilla situation honestly and objectively already knew that Israel handled it appropriately. And the people who claimed that Israel’s acts of self-defense were “war crimes” are unlikely to be convinced by any investigation that disproves that notion — especially one that was carried out by the Israeli government.

In fact, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Erdogan, has already dismissed the findings, telling the press that the inquiry has “no value or credibility.”

With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if this report incites renewed calls for an “independent” investigation of the incident, probably led by the same NGOs that helped fund the flotilla in the first place.

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The Culture War Against Israel

In 2010, the hard-core left married pro-Islamic and pro-Palestinian organizations and gave birth to an entertainment-boycott campaign aimed at Israel. Cultural-boycott efforts have spilled over into 2011, as American soul singer Macy Gray is now the target of hysterical attacks for her slated Tel Aviv concerts in February. She appears to have defied the Israel-bashers, saying, “I like coming to Israel.”

She used some intemperate and unsavory language, however, when describing Israeli security policies. Gray wrote on Facebook that “I’m getting a lot of letters from activists urging and begging me to boycott by not performing in protest of apartheid against the Palestinians. What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians is disgusting, but I want to go. I have a lot of fans there that I don’t want to cancel on, and I don’t know how my not going changes anything. What do you think? Stay or go?”

After roughly 4,000 fans responded, she tweeted that she plans to perform in Israel. To her credit, she defied the Arab lobby’s campaign to silence artistic free speech, which appears to be intimidating some. According to a Reuters news item: “Earlier this month, French singer Vanessa Paradis, who is married to actor Johnny Depp, canceled a February 10 concert in Israel. She said it clashed with an important meeting, but the Israeli media have speculated that is was a political decision.”

Last year, Grammy winner Carlos Santana, the alternative band the Pixies, and British singer Elvis Costello pulled the plug on their Israel concerts, a sign of mass artistic cowardice. In sharp contrast, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, and Johnny Rotten of the now-defunct punk band the Sex Pistols all performed last year in Israel.

Rotten, who now goes by his birth name, John Lydon, summed up, in a flash of neoconservative punkism, the misguided Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) campaign against the region’s only real democracy: “I really resent the presumption that I’m going there to play to right-wing Nazi jews [sic]. If Elvis-f-ing-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated. ”

The lesson here? Go on the offensive, as did Lydon, when engaged in combating the BDS campaign to block entertainers from performing in Israel.

In 2010, the hard-core left married pro-Islamic and pro-Palestinian organizations and gave birth to an entertainment-boycott campaign aimed at Israel. Cultural-boycott efforts have spilled over into 2011, as American soul singer Macy Gray is now the target of hysterical attacks for her slated Tel Aviv concerts in February. She appears to have defied the Israel-bashers, saying, “I like coming to Israel.”

She used some intemperate and unsavory language, however, when describing Israeli security policies. Gray wrote on Facebook that “I’m getting a lot of letters from activists urging and begging me to boycott by not performing in protest of apartheid against the Palestinians. What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians is disgusting, but I want to go. I have a lot of fans there that I don’t want to cancel on, and I don’t know how my not going changes anything. What do you think? Stay or go?”

After roughly 4,000 fans responded, she tweeted that she plans to perform in Israel. To her credit, she defied the Arab lobby’s campaign to silence artistic free speech, which appears to be intimidating some. According to a Reuters news item: “Earlier this month, French singer Vanessa Paradis, who is married to actor Johnny Depp, canceled a February 10 concert in Israel. She said it clashed with an important meeting, but the Israeli media have speculated that is was a political decision.”

Last year, Grammy winner Carlos Santana, the alternative band the Pixies, and British singer Elvis Costello pulled the plug on their Israel concerts, a sign of mass artistic cowardice. In sharp contrast, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, and Johnny Rotten of the now-defunct punk band the Sex Pistols all performed last year in Israel.

Rotten, who now goes by his birth name, John Lydon, summed up, in a flash of neoconservative punkism, the misguided Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) campaign against the region’s only real democracy: “I really resent the presumption that I’m going there to play to right-wing Nazi jews [sic]. If Elvis-f-ing-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated. ”

The lesson here? Go on the offensive, as did Lydon, when engaged in combating the BDS campaign to block entertainers from performing in Israel.

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Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Slams PLO-Flag Decision

It’s so refreshing — and sadly rare — when a politician comes out and just says the honest truth. Today Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, issued some much-needed real talk on the Palestinian Authority’s decision to raise the PLO flag outside its Washington diplomatic mission today. From her press release:

“Raising this flag in DC is part of the Palestinian leadership’s scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state.

“The Palestinian leadership’s ongoing drive to win recognition from foreign governments, and its latest push to condemn Israel at the UN, is part of the same strategy aimed at extracting concessions without being required to meet international commitments.

“I remain deeply disappointed that the Palestinian leadership continues to reject the opportunity to negotiate directly and in good faith with the Israeli government to resolve all outstanding issues and achieve security and peace. Instead, Palestinian leaders reject negotiations, they make excuses, and they seek shortcuts to statehood.”

This could not have been said better. The PA’s attempts to win statehood recognition prematurely doesn’t just hurt Israel — it harms the entire peace process. These tactics allow the Palestinian leadership to delay negotiations, which will only end up impeding the creation of a Palestinian state.

But Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t stop at calling out the Palestinian leadership. She also tears into the Obama administration, which has facilitated the PA’s destructive strategy:

“The U.S. has reinforced Ramallah’s rejectionism through economic and political support, including support for the PLO office in Washington, instead of requiring that they meet all conditions in U.S. law. Governments worldwide will interpret such actions as tacit U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state. These actions send precisely the wrong message to foreign governments.

“It’s long past time to change course, uphold our own laws by holding Ramallah accountable for its commitments, and encourage other responsible nations to do likewise.”

This is a key point. By allowing the PLO flag to be raised outside the Washington office, the Obama administration is sending an international message of implicit support for the PA’s strides toward unilateral statehood. And more than that, it’s seen as a pointed snub at Israel, giving both the PA and the Israeli governments an additional reason to avoid negotiations.

It’s so refreshing — and sadly rare — when a politician comes out and just says the honest truth. Today Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, issued some much-needed real talk on the Palestinian Authority’s decision to raise the PLO flag outside its Washington diplomatic mission today. From her press release:

“Raising this flag in DC is part of the Palestinian leadership’s scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state.

“The Palestinian leadership’s ongoing drive to win recognition from foreign governments, and its latest push to condemn Israel at the UN, is part of the same strategy aimed at extracting concessions without being required to meet international commitments.

“I remain deeply disappointed that the Palestinian leadership continues to reject the opportunity to negotiate directly and in good faith with the Israeli government to resolve all outstanding issues and achieve security and peace. Instead, Palestinian leaders reject negotiations, they make excuses, and they seek shortcuts to statehood.”

This could not have been said better. The PA’s attempts to win statehood recognition prematurely doesn’t just hurt Israel — it harms the entire peace process. These tactics allow the Palestinian leadership to delay negotiations, which will only end up impeding the creation of a Palestinian state.

But Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t stop at calling out the Palestinian leadership. She also tears into the Obama administration, which has facilitated the PA’s destructive strategy:

“The U.S. has reinforced Ramallah’s rejectionism through economic and political support, including support for the PLO office in Washington, instead of requiring that they meet all conditions in U.S. law. Governments worldwide will interpret such actions as tacit U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state. These actions send precisely the wrong message to foreign governments.

“It’s long past time to change course, uphold our own laws by holding Ramallah accountable for its commitments, and encourage other responsible nations to do likewise.”

This is a key point. By allowing the PLO flag to be raised outside the Washington office, the Obama administration is sending an international message of implicit support for the PA’s strides toward unilateral statehood. And more than that, it’s seen as a pointed snub at Israel, giving both the PA and the Israeli governments an additional reason to avoid negotiations.

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Israeli Shakeup Another Setback for Obama

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East. Read More

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East.

From the moment he took office, Obama has sought to overturn the cozier relationship that existed between Washington and Jerusalem under his predecessor. Throughout his first year in office, Obama seemed to be aiming at unseating Netanyahu, who had been elected weeks after the president was sworn in. By picking pointless fights over settlements and Jewish building in Jerusalem, Obama sought to destabilize Netanyahu’s coalition and hoped Livni would soon replace him. But his ill-considered attacks merely strengthened Netanyahu, who wisely sought to avoid a direct confrontation with his country’s only ally. It was already obvious that, far from collapsing, Netanyahu’s government would survive to the end of its four-year term or close to it. While the outcome of the next Israeli election that will probably occur in 2013 is as difficult to predict as that of Obama’s own re-election effort in 2012, Barak’s move renders the hopes of Livni — the Israeli leader whom both Obama and Secretary of State Clinton continue to treat as America’s favorite Israeli — less likely.

That means Obama is going to have to spend the rest of his term continuing to try to learn to live with the wily Netanyahu. Both Obama and the Palestinian Authority have spent the past two years acting as if they were just waiting around for a new weaker-willed Israeli government to materialize that would then magically create the circumstances under which peace would be achieved. As Barak-faction member Einat Wilf told the New York Times today, “I don’t belong to the camp that believes Israel is solely responsible for the failure of these negotiations. The Palestinians bear responsibility for not entering the talks. Some people have sent them a message to wait around for a new government.”

Barak’s move makes it clear that isn’t going to happen. While Israel’s critics will lament this development, it is high time that Americans accept the fact that the verdict of the Jewish state’s voters must be respected and that the Israeli consensus that has developed about the futility of further unilateral concessions to the Palestinians is entirely justified.

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Group Defies Dutch Government, Continues to Fund Anti-Israel Website

A government-funded Netherlands organization has rejected requests from the Dutch foreign minister to stop supporting financially the Electronic Intifada. The Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), which receives about 90 percent of its budget from the Dutch government, said it will continue to steer money to the anti-Israel online publication, in a potential violation of Dutch law:

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal last week told a Netherlands interchurch group, the ICCO, that its funding of Palestinian website Electronic Intifada, which it said has published calls to promote Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel, contradicts official Dutch government policy.

Rosenthal urged the ICCO to remedy the situation, saying that continuing such activities could endanger the group’s government funding. ICCO receives some 75 million Euros from the Dutch government. “There’s nothing wrong with holding critical views, but going directly against government policy is something else,” Rosenthal said.

Promoting Anti-Semitism is illegal in the Netherlands, and the Dutch foreign minister has suggested that by funding the Electronic Intifada, the ICCO may be in violation of this policy. But the group remained defiant in a press release last Friday, saying that it did not see a reason to cut off funding for the website, praising the anti-Israel boycott and divestment movement:

Thursday the 13th of January ICCO discussed its funding of the website The Electronic Intifada with Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal. It was a tough and straightforward discussion, but ICCO sees no reason to change its policy. International law is the main guideline for ICCO’s work.

According the Minister, the site offers a platform for the call for boycott of Israel. Supporting this website is therefore, in the Minister’s view, diametrically opposed to Dutch foreign policy. ICCO disagrees with the Minister on this.

Since 2005, more than 170 Palestinian and some Israeli organisations have called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli policy. The purpose is for Israel to comply with International law and respect human rights. This pressure is justified as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories continue. It is a peaceful and legal way to push for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and to achieve a peaceful and just solution. …

It is a good custom in the Netherlands for civil organisations to make their own decisions. ICCO therefore doesn’t see reason to change its policy.

As I wrote in November, the Electronic Intifada is one of the major promoters of Israel-demonization propaganda on the Internet. The publication is founded and run by vicious anti-Israel demagogue Ali Abunimah, and its articles often cross the line of legitimate criticism of the Jewish state into the swamp of anti-Semitism. Its writers promote a one-state solution, accuse the Israeli government of “ethnically cleansing” the Palestinian people, and use Nazi and apartheid epithets to describe Israel.

It’s a pretty brazen move for the ICCO to release such a strong public statement flouting the foreign minister’s request, especially when the group receives nearly all its budget from the Dutch government.

But will there be any consequences? I’d like to hope so, but judging by the ICCO’s cavalier attitude, I’m going to guess no.

A government-funded Netherlands organization has rejected requests from the Dutch foreign minister to stop supporting financially the Electronic Intifada. The Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), which receives about 90 percent of its budget from the Dutch government, said it will continue to steer money to the anti-Israel online publication, in a potential violation of Dutch law:

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal last week told a Netherlands interchurch group, the ICCO, that its funding of Palestinian website Electronic Intifada, which it said has published calls to promote Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel, contradicts official Dutch government policy.

Rosenthal urged the ICCO to remedy the situation, saying that continuing such activities could endanger the group’s government funding. ICCO receives some 75 million Euros from the Dutch government. “There’s nothing wrong with holding critical views, but going directly against government policy is something else,” Rosenthal said.

Promoting Anti-Semitism is illegal in the Netherlands, and the Dutch foreign minister has suggested that by funding the Electronic Intifada, the ICCO may be in violation of this policy. But the group remained defiant in a press release last Friday, saying that it did not see a reason to cut off funding for the website, praising the anti-Israel boycott and divestment movement:

Thursday the 13th of January ICCO discussed its funding of the website The Electronic Intifada with Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal. It was a tough and straightforward discussion, but ICCO sees no reason to change its policy. International law is the main guideline for ICCO’s work.

According the Minister, the site offers a platform for the call for boycott of Israel. Supporting this website is therefore, in the Minister’s view, diametrically opposed to Dutch foreign policy. ICCO disagrees with the Minister on this.

Since 2005, more than 170 Palestinian and some Israeli organisations have called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli policy. The purpose is for Israel to comply with International law and respect human rights. This pressure is justified as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories continue. It is a peaceful and legal way to push for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and to achieve a peaceful and just solution. …

It is a good custom in the Netherlands for civil organisations to make their own decisions. ICCO therefore doesn’t see reason to change its policy.

As I wrote in November, the Electronic Intifada is one of the major promoters of Israel-demonization propaganda on the Internet. The publication is founded and run by vicious anti-Israel demagogue Ali Abunimah, and its articles often cross the line of legitimate criticism of the Jewish state into the swamp of anti-Semitism. Its writers promote a one-state solution, accuse the Israeli government of “ethnically cleansing” the Palestinian people, and use Nazi and apartheid epithets to describe Israel.

It’s a pretty brazen move for the ICCO to release such a strong public statement flouting the foreign minister’s request, especially when the group receives nearly all its budget from the Dutch government.

But will there be any consequences? I’d like to hope so, but judging by the ICCO’s cavalier attitude, I’m going to guess no.

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Israel to Consider Law Allowing Deportation of Foreign Activists

Get ready for more hyperventilating over Israel’s alleged slide toward totalitarianism. Likud members are expected to introduce a bill before the Knesset that will allow the Israeli government to deport foreign activists or groups that are actively working against Israeli interests:

The bill would authorize the interior minister “to forbid entrance to Israel or to expel from Israel people defined as enemy agents who harm Israel’s security or image,” the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel said.

It details specific types of activities defined as harming Israel’s security, including denying the existence of the Holocaust, boycotting Israel or Israeli products, and working to hold international court proceedings against Israeli citizens because of activities carried out while serving in Israel’s security organizations.

This bill comes on the heels of another piece of controversial legislation recently passed by the Knesset that will allow lawmakers to investigate whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization campaign are funded by foreign governments. It’s unclear how much support this new proposal will garner, but the NGO bill passed with overwhelming support.

It sounds like this new legislation would go hand-in-hand with the NGO investigations. If the Knesset finds that some anti-Israel organizations are supported by foreign governments, the new bill could give Israel the power to bar these groups from operating within the country, or even to deport their members.

Israel has been struggling to combat the growing problem of “lawfare” and pro-divestment groups in the past few years, and these attempts to solve the crisis are understandable. But considering the amount of hysteria the recent NGO bill generated, it doesn’t seem like the most opportune time for this proposal. Not to mention, this new piece of legislation goes far beyond the concept of a Foreign Agents Registration Act, which was how Danny Ayalon defended the necessity of the NGO bill.

The idea of deporting foreign agents actively involved in seeking the destruction of Israel isn’t particularly offensive in itself — but the big question is how would these agents be defined? And where is the line between the legitimate defense of national security and a crackdown on speech rights and genuine democratic debate? Unless the Knesset comes up with clear answers to those questions, it’s hard to see this proposal as a step in the right direction.

Get ready for more hyperventilating over Israel’s alleged slide toward totalitarianism. Likud members are expected to introduce a bill before the Knesset that will allow the Israeli government to deport foreign activists or groups that are actively working against Israeli interests:

The bill would authorize the interior minister “to forbid entrance to Israel or to expel from Israel people defined as enemy agents who harm Israel’s security or image,” the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel said.

It details specific types of activities defined as harming Israel’s security, including denying the existence of the Holocaust, boycotting Israel or Israeli products, and working to hold international court proceedings against Israeli citizens because of activities carried out while serving in Israel’s security organizations.

This bill comes on the heels of another piece of controversial legislation recently passed by the Knesset that will allow lawmakers to investigate whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization campaign are funded by foreign governments. It’s unclear how much support this new proposal will garner, but the NGO bill passed with overwhelming support.

It sounds like this new legislation would go hand-in-hand with the NGO investigations. If the Knesset finds that some anti-Israel organizations are supported by foreign governments, the new bill could give Israel the power to bar these groups from operating within the country, or even to deport their members.

Israel has been struggling to combat the growing problem of “lawfare” and pro-divestment groups in the past few years, and these attempts to solve the crisis are understandable. But considering the amount of hysteria the recent NGO bill generated, it doesn’t seem like the most opportune time for this proposal. Not to mention, this new piece of legislation goes far beyond the concept of a Foreign Agents Registration Act, which was how Danny Ayalon defended the necessity of the NGO bill.

The idea of deporting foreign agents actively involved in seeking the destruction of Israel isn’t particularly offensive in itself — but the big question is how would these agents be defined? And where is the line between the legitimate defense of national security and a crackdown on speech rights and genuine democratic debate? Unless the Knesset comes up with clear answers to those questions, it’s hard to see this proposal as a step in the right direction.

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Morning Commentary

President Obama’s peace-process failure is actually a political win for both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, writes Benjamin Kerstein: “The reason for this is a simple one: It is in the interests of both these leaders to preserve the status quo. Therefore the Obama administration’s insistence on renewing negotiations was a threat. That threat, for the moment, has been alleviated. Indeed, over the last several months, the entire negotiating process amounted to little more than pantomime, with both sides making the necessary gestures at progress while supplying the necessary obstacles to ensure that progress would not actually happen.”

Chile became the seventh South American country to recognize Palestine as an official state in the past month. The move is part of a campaign by the Palestinian Authority to take unilateral steps toward statehood and build pressure on the Israeli government.

“It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots,” said 20-year-old Daniel Hernandez. “But people needed help.” In the midst of the nonstop media coverage of the deranged Arizona gunman, take a minute to read the story of the courageous congressional intern who may just have saved Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s life.

As Rep. Giffords fights for her life in Arizona, friends and colleagues discuss her career as a “rising star” in Congress: “She always had that ‘it’ factor, that something extra that drew people to her,” [Michael Frias, former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick aide] said. “Plenty of people succeed in politics, but you only meet a small few that have that extra spark. She’s the real deal. She’s Annie Oakley. Anything you can do, she can do better.”

And now the inevitable call to beef up security for members of Congress begins: “In many ways, the unprovoked shooting spree at a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event at a supermarket just north of Tucson was a terrifying nightmare come to life for elected officials who frequently find themselves face-to-face in uncomfortable conversations with angry and, at times, aggressive constituents. Rank-and-file lawmakers typically do not travel with security, and local police often are unaware of or do not send officers to their events.”

The Israeli government has approved a new law meant to increase the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the IDF. While the proposal is meant to double the IDF’s haredim membership by 2015, some Kadima Party politicians who oppose the legislation claim that loopholes in the law will actually make it easier to evade service.

President Obama’s peace-process failure is actually a political win for both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, writes Benjamin Kerstein: “The reason for this is a simple one: It is in the interests of both these leaders to preserve the status quo. Therefore the Obama administration’s insistence on renewing negotiations was a threat. That threat, for the moment, has been alleviated. Indeed, over the last several months, the entire negotiating process amounted to little more than pantomime, with both sides making the necessary gestures at progress while supplying the necessary obstacles to ensure that progress would not actually happen.”

Chile became the seventh South American country to recognize Palestine as an official state in the past month. The move is part of a campaign by the Palestinian Authority to take unilateral steps toward statehood and build pressure on the Israeli government.

“It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots,” said 20-year-old Daniel Hernandez. “But people needed help.” In the midst of the nonstop media coverage of the deranged Arizona gunman, take a minute to read the story of the courageous congressional intern who may just have saved Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s life.

As Rep. Giffords fights for her life in Arizona, friends and colleagues discuss her career as a “rising star” in Congress: “She always had that ‘it’ factor, that something extra that drew people to her,” [Michael Frias, former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick aide] said. “Plenty of people succeed in politics, but you only meet a small few that have that extra spark. She’s the real deal. She’s Annie Oakley. Anything you can do, she can do better.”

And now the inevitable call to beef up security for members of Congress begins: “In many ways, the unprovoked shooting spree at a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event at a supermarket just north of Tucson was a terrifying nightmare come to life for elected officials who frequently find themselves face-to-face in uncomfortable conversations with angry and, at times, aggressive constituents. Rank-and-file lawmakers typically do not travel with security, and local police often are unaware of or do not send officers to their events.”

The Israeli government has approved a new law meant to increase the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the IDF. While the proposal is meant to double the IDF’s haredim membership by 2015, some Kadima Party politicians who oppose the legislation claim that loopholes in the law will actually make it easier to evade service.

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Netanyahu, Clergy Call on Obama to Release Pollard

The campaign to release Jonathan Pollard has been heating up over the past few days, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a group of 500 religious figures sent two separate letters to President Obama urging clemency for the convicted Israeli spy.

Netanyahu, who has only recently begun lobbying publicly on behalf of Pollard, sent his letter today. In it, he noted bluntly that Pollard was “acting as an agent of the Israeli government” and said that Israel’s actions “were wrong and wholly unacceptable.”

“Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case as well as by numerous Members of Congress,” wrote the prime minister. “Jonathan Pollard has reportedly served longer in prison than any person convicted of similar crimes, and longer than the period requested by the prosecutors at the time of his plea bargain agreement. Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably.”

The other letter, sent yesterday and signed by 500 Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic clergy, made a similar case for Pollard’s release:

After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency — as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation — a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.

Considering the rocky relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, it’s doubtful that the prime minister’s plea will get very far. And while the letter from clergy shows some diverse support for Pollard, I can’t imagine it making much of a difference either. From a political perspective, there just doesn’t seem to be much for Obama to gain by releasing Pollard. While this isn’t a partisan issue (there have been quite a few Democratic lawmakers who supported clemency for Pollard, as well as Republicans who have opposed), there’s no question that releasing Pollard would hurt Obama with the anti-Israel paranoids that make up his left-wing base.

The campaign to release Jonathan Pollard has been heating up over the past few days, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a group of 500 religious figures sent two separate letters to President Obama urging clemency for the convicted Israeli spy.

Netanyahu, who has only recently begun lobbying publicly on behalf of Pollard, sent his letter today. In it, he noted bluntly that Pollard was “acting as an agent of the Israeli government” and said that Israel’s actions “were wrong and wholly unacceptable.”

“Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case as well as by numerous Members of Congress,” wrote the prime minister. “Jonathan Pollard has reportedly served longer in prison than any person convicted of similar crimes, and longer than the period requested by the prosecutors at the time of his plea bargain agreement. Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably.”

The other letter, sent yesterday and signed by 500 Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic clergy, made a similar case for Pollard’s release:

After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency — as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation — a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.

Considering the rocky relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, it’s doubtful that the prime minister’s plea will get very far. And while the letter from clergy shows some diverse support for Pollard, I can’t imagine it making much of a difference either. From a political perspective, there just doesn’t seem to be much for Obama to gain by releasing Pollard. While this isn’t a partisan issue (there have been quite a few Democratic lawmakers who supported clemency for Pollard, as well as Republicans who have opposed), there’s no question that releasing Pollard would hurt Obama with the anti-Israel paranoids that make up his left-wing base.

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Fake Palestinian Diplomacy No Substitute for Actual Negotiations

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

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Human Rights Watch Now Openly Endorsing BDS

Human Rights Watch doesn’t like Israel. No surprise there. But since the advocacy group still does important work on human rights issues in other countries, it continues to get taken seriously by the media and government officials. This legitimacy should end immediately in light of HRW’s latest report, which tacitly endorses the beyond-fringe Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. From the text of the study:

The report is based on case studies comparing Israel’s starkly different treatment of settlements and next-door Palestinian communities in these areas. It calls on the US and EU member states and on businesses with operations in settlement areas to avoid supporting Israeli settlement policies that are inherently discriminatory and that violate international law.

The report also asks the U.S. to avoid “offsetting the costs of Israeli expenditures on settlements by withholding U.S. funding from the Israeli government in an amount equivalent to its expenditures on settlements and related infrastructure in the West Bank.”

That’s bad enough. But there was one recommendation that really caught my eye:

Congress should request a report from the General Accounting Office on the subject of tax-exempt organizations that support settlements and settlement-related activities. Such a study should include specific assessments of the amounts and types of donations involved and the actual end-uses of such donations in the settlements. The report should also address whether current laws and regulations regarding charitable organizations ensure that tax-exempt status is not granted to organizations that facilitate human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law, are adequately enforced, and whether they are adequate or require revision.

Hmm. As we know from the Z Street case, the IRS has already been giving some pro-Israel groups a hard time on their tax-exemption applications — ostensibly because Israel has a “higher risk of terrorism.” But could the IRS also be concerned about tax-exempt groups giving support to Israeli settlements? And if not, will this be the next rallying cry picked up by the BDS movement?

In addition to those suggestions, HRW also recommended the following quasi-BDS tactics:

• The international community should tack on extra tariffs to products imported from Israeli settlements: “Ensure that policies do not promote settlement activity, such as the discriminatory violations of Palestinian human rights documented in this report, by enforcing tariff agreements in accordance with international law, such that Israeli settlement goods are not given preferential treatment, including by requiring and enforcing clear origin labeling.”

• Businesses operating from the settlements should cease involvement in any activity that HRW deems to be a violation of international law, “including where necessary ending such [business] operations altogether.”

The NGO Monitor has also denounced the report. In an e-mail, it called it evidence that HRW “endorses boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), disguised as opposition to settlements, but in reality seeking the destruction of Israel.”

“This is further proof of HRW founder Robert Bernstein’s conclusion that the organization has turned Israel into a pariah state,” NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg added, in a statement on Sunday.

Human Rights Watch doesn’t like Israel. No surprise there. But since the advocacy group still does important work on human rights issues in other countries, it continues to get taken seriously by the media and government officials. This legitimacy should end immediately in light of HRW’s latest report, which tacitly endorses the beyond-fringe Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. From the text of the study:

The report is based on case studies comparing Israel’s starkly different treatment of settlements and next-door Palestinian communities in these areas. It calls on the US and EU member states and on businesses with operations in settlement areas to avoid supporting Israeli settlement policies that are inherently discriminatory and that violate international law.

The report also asks the U.S. to avoid “offsetting the costs of Israeli expenditures on settlements by withholding U.S. funding from the Israeli government in an amount equivalent to its expenditures on settlements and related infrastructure in the West Bank.”

That’s bad enough. But there was one recommendation that really caught my eye:

Congress should request a report from the General Accounting Office on the subject of tax-exempt organizations that support settlements and settlement-related activities. Such a study should include specific assessments of the amounts and types of donations involved and the actual end-uses of such donations in the settlements. The report should also address whether current laws and regulations regarding charitable organizations ensure that tax-exempt status is not granted to organizations that facilitate human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law, are adequately enforced, and whether they are adequate or require revision.

Hmm. As we know from the Z Street case, the IRS has already been giving some pro-Israel groups a hard time on their tax-exemption applications — ostensibly because Israel has a “higher risk of terrorism.” But could the IRS also be concerned about tax-exempt groups giving support to Israeli settlements? And if not, will this be the next rallying cry picked up by the BDS movement?

In addition to those suggestions, HRW also recommended the following quasi-BDS tactics:

• The international community should tack on extra tariffs to products imported from Israeli settlements: “Ensure that policies do not promote settlement activity, such as the discriminatory violations of Palestinian human rights documented in this report, by enforcing tariff agreements in accordance with international law, such that Israeli settlement goods are not given preferential treatment, including by requiring and enforcing clear origin labeling.”

• Businesses operating from the settlements should cease involvement in any activity that HRW deems to be a violation of international law, “including where necessary ending such [business] operations altogether.”

The NGO Monitor has also denounced the report. In an e-mail, it called it evidence that HRW “endorses boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), disguised as opposition to settlements, but in reality seeking the destruction of Israel.”

“This is further proof of HRW founder Robert Bernstein’s conclusion that the organization has turned Israel into a pariah state,” NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg added, in a statement on Sunday.

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