Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel’s government

New Israeli Faction Launches a Revolution

Internal party politics aren’t normally the stuff of groundbreaking revolutions. But the Israeli Labor Party’s split this morning could prove to be exactly that.

Like most such splits, this one stemmed partly from personal animosities. But it also had a substantive reason: as one member of the breakaway faction explained, the government will now be able to conduct peace talks “without a stopwatch,” instead of under constant threat that a key coalition faction would quit if Israel didn’t capitulate to Palestinian demands.

For weeks, various Labor ministers have threatened that the party would leave the government if Israeli-Palestinian talks didn’t resume soon. At yesterday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at these threats, saying they merely encouraged the Palestinians to up their demands and refuse to negotiate unless they are met.

This isn’t the only reason for Palestinian intransigence, but it’s certainly a contributory factor. Why should the Palestinians negotiate when they can let Israel’s Labor Party do the work for them? And that’s basically what Labor has been doing: demanding that Netanyahu offer ever more concessions to tempt the Palestinians back to the table, on pain of having his government collapse if he refuses. Most Labor MKs never blamed the Palestinians for the impasse or demanded any concessions of them; they put the onus entirely on Netanyahu.

The same is true of Israel’s main opposition party, Kadima. It, too, blamed the impasse entirely on the government, giving the Palestinians a pass, and demanded more concessions only of Israel, not the Palestinians.

This behavior didn’t just increase Palestinian intransigence; it also increased international pressure on and opprobrium for Israel. After all, if even members of Israel’s government deemed Israel the guilty party, why should non-Israelis doubt it?

But finally, a contingent of Israel’s left has said “enough”: As Israelis, it’s our job to negotiate the best deal for Israel, not the Palestinians. And it’s our job to promote Israel’s positions overseas, not to besmirch our own country by promoting the Palestinian narrative.

Right now, it’s a small contingent — five of Labor’s 13 MKs — spearheaded by a widely disliked leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus its capacity for growth is unclear. But it does give the government stability, as these five are enough to ensure its majority (especially since many of the others never voted with it anyway). So at least the government is now better positioned to fight the diplomatic battles ahead.

More important, however, five MKs from the heart of the left have openly challenged the leftist parties’ destructive behavior. And if their challenge catches on, it could revolutionize Israel’s diplomatic position. For while many of the reasons for Israel’s growing pariah status have nothing to do with Israel, the chorus of Israelis blaming the ongoing conflict entirely on Israel clearly plays a role. If additional swathes of the left started advocating for their own country rather than its adversaries, Israel could fight back much more effectively.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Barak and his allies. But in this effort, they deserve support from everyone who cares about Israel.

Internal party politics aren’t normally the stuff of groundbreaking revolutions. But the Israeli Labor Party’s split this morning could prove to be exactly that.

Like most such splits, this one stemmed partly from personal animosities. But it also had a substantive reason: as one member of the breakaway faction explained, the government will now be able to conduct peace talks “without a stopwatch,” instead of under constant threat that a key coalition faction would quit if Israel didn’t capitulate to Palestinian demands.

For weeks, various Labor ministers have threatened that the party would leave the government if Israeli-Palestinian talks didn’t resume soon. At yesterday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at these threats, saying they merely encouraged the Palestinians to up their demands and refuse to negotiate unless they are met.

This isn’t the only reason for Palestinian intransigence, but it’s certainly a contributory factor. Why should the Palestinians negotiate when they can let Israel’s Labor Party do the work for them? And that’s basically what Labor has been doing: demanding that Netanyahu offer ever more concessions to tempt the Palestinians back to the table, on pain of having his government collapse if he refuses. Most Labor MKs never blamed the Palestinians for the impasse or demanded any concessions of them; they put the onus entirely on Netanyahu.

The same is true of Israel’s main opposition party, Kadima. It, too, blamed the impasse entirely on the government, giving the Palestinians a pass, and demanded more concessions only of Israel, not the Palestinians.

This behavior didn’t just increase Palestinian intransigence; it also increased international pressure on and opprobrium for Israel. After all, if even members of Israel’s government deemed Israel the guilty party, why should non-Israelis doubt it?

But finally, a contingent of Israel’s left has said “enough”: As Israelis, it’s our job to negotiate the best deal for Israel, not the Palestinians. And it’s our job to promote Israel’s positions overseas, not to besmirch our own country by promoting the Palestinian narrative.

Right now, it’s a small contingent — five of Labor’s 13 MKs — spearheaded by a widely disliked leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus its capacity for growth is unclear. But it does give the government stability, as these five are enough to ensure its majority (especially since many of the others never voted with it anyway). So at least the government is now better positioned to fight the diplomatic battles ahead.

More important, however, five MKs from the heart of the left have openly challenged the leftist parties’ destructive behavior. And if their challenge catches on, it could revolutionize Israel’s diplomatic position. For while many of the reasons for Israel’s growing pariah status have nothing to do with Israel, the chorus of Israelis blaming the ongoing conflict entirely on Israel clearly plays a role. If additional swathes of the left started advocating for their own country rather than its adversaries, Israel could fight back much more effectively.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Barak and his allies. But in this effort, they deserve support from everyone who cares about Israel.

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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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Will Obama Go Back to Fighting Over Jerusalem?

The announcement today that 238 housing units will be built in Jerusalem will have no impact on whether there will ever be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The houses will go up in Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev, Jewish neighborhoods that were created in the 1970s after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War struck down the barriers that rendered those parts of the city that had been occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 Jew-free. Approximately a quarter of a million Jews already live in East Jerusalem, and the notion that they will all be chucked out of their homes in order to allow the city to become the presumably Jew-free capital of a Palestinian Arab state is a fantasy. If the PA doesn’t want to negotiate with Israel, and it is more than obvious that by calling for building freezes they are looking for an excuse to bug out of the talks to which they have been dragged by President Obama, then whether or not Jews build homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital won’t make a difference.

But this issue is precisely the one that caused a blowup between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government last spring, when Washington seized on another such innocuous announcement and declared it a mortal insult to the United States because Vice President Biden happened to be passing through the town at the time. The United States has never recognized Israel’s rights in all of Jerusalem, but the decision to specifically oppose building in existing neighborhoods and to, in effect, treat them as being as illegitimate as the most remote West Bank settlements was unprecedented. But contrary to Obama’s expectations, and those left-wing supporters who had been egging him on to fight with Israel (J Street), Netanyahu didn’t fold and was warmly supported by not only the majority of Israelis but by most American Jews, too. The result was that the administration soon backed off and began a charm offensive designed to ingratiate the president with American Jews who were offended by his decision to pick a fight over Jerusalem.

However, with the midterm elections only a few weeks away, the immediate political incentive to downplay the president’s distaste for Israel’s government and his willingness to butt heads with it over Jewish rights in Jerusalem will be removed. Though much of Washington’s foreign policy establishment has not missed the fact that it was the Palestinians and not the Israelis who blew up Obama’s peace initiative, it remains to be seen whether the administration’s Jewish charm offensive will remain in place after November 2.

Though the expected rout of his party in the elections will give President Obama far bigger problems to deal with than Jewish homes in Jerusalem, a decision to push harder against Israel to force “progress” toward a peace the Palestinians don’t want will be an indication that Obama hasn’t the flexibility or the understanding of the region that will enable him to learn from his errors. While the Middle East peace process is not the only or even the most important foreign policy challenge that Obama will have to confront this winter (not with Iran flexing its muscles in the region), one of the more interesting indicators of how a post–November 2010 Obama will govern will be whether he can resist the temptation to return to his fight with Netanyahu.

The announcement today that 238 housing units will be built in Jerusalem will have no impact on whether there will ever be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The houses will go up in Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev, Jewish neighborhoods that were created in the 1970s after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War struck down the barriers that rendered those parts of the city that had been occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 Jew-free. Approximately a quarter of a million Jews already live in East Jerusalem, and the notion that they will all be chucked out of their homes in order to allow the city to become the presumably Jew-free capital of a Palestinian Arab state is a fantasy. If the PA doesn’t want to negotiate with Israel, and it is more than obvious that by calling for building freezes they are looking for an excuse to bug out of the talks to which they have been dragged by President Obama, then whether or not Jews build homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital won’t make a difference.

But this issue is precisely the one that caused a blowup between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government last spring, when Washington seized on another such innocuous announcement and declared it a mortal insult to the United States because Vice President Biden happened to be passing through the town at the time. The United States has never recognized Israel’s rights in all of Jerusalem, but the decision to specifically oppose building in existing neighborhoods and to, in effect, treat them as being as illegitimate as the most remote West Bank settlements was unprecedented. But contrary to Obama’s expectations, and those left-wing supporters who had been egging him on to fight with Israel (J Street), Netanyahu didn’t fold and was warmly supported by not only the majority of Israelis but by most American Jews, too. The result was that the administration soon backed off and began a charm offensive designed to ingratiate the president with American Jews who were offended by his decision to pick a fight over Jerusalem.

However, with the midterm elections only a few weeks away, the immediate political incentive to downplay the president’s distaste for Israel’s government and his willingness to butt heads with it over Jewish rights in Jerusalem will be removed. Though much of Washington’s foreign policy establishment has not missed the fact that it was the Palestinians and not the Israelis who blew up Obama’s peace initiative, it remains to be seen whether the administration’s Jewish charm offensive will remain in place after November 2.

Though the expected rout of his party in the elections will give President Obama far bigger problems to deal with than Jewish homes in Jerusalem, a decision to push harder against Israel to force “progress” toward a peace the Palestinians don’t want will be an indication that Obama hasn’t the flexibility or the understanding of the region that will enable him to learn from his errors. While the Middle East peace process is not the only or even the most important foreign policy challenge that Obama will have to confront this winter (not with Iran flexing its muscles in the region), one of the more interesting indicators of how a post–November 2010 Obama will govern will be whether he can resist the temptation to return to his fight with Netanyahu.

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The Peace Process Lacks Palestinian Peacemakers

Oh no, they tell us Mahmoud Abbas is on the ropes. A new cadre of PA figures is on the rise that is “less supportive of negotiations with Israel’s government.” Less than Abbas? Or more candid? You can’t get much less supportive than Abbas and his current crew, who continue to extol the names of terrorists and flee negotiations at the first opportune moment. But then again, Abbas has been reduced to the status of Arab League messenger boy. The new PA leadership wants to employ Gandhi-like nonviolent resistance? All they need is a tradition of nonviolent resistance, an ideology that shuns violence, and a popular consensus that killing Jews is a bad thing. I think Gandhi’s idea of a “march to the sea” isn’t exactly what the Palestinians have in mind.

But let’s understand the import of this: even within the PA, Abbas lacks a base of support. And he, we are told by the Obami, is the man and this is the unique moment that are going to give birth to a peace deal. Yes, it’s quite absurd.

It seems there is never quite the right Palestinian leader in place. This one is well-meaning, but has no backing. That one is popular, but allergic to peace talks. Another, after all, was imprisoned for terrorism. Perhaps there just isn’t someone who is willing to make a deal and who enjoys support within the Palestinian leadership and population. It might just be that the past 18 months of peace-processing, not to mention the past 60 years, have been a colossal waste of time.

Oh no, they tell us Mahmoud Abbas is on the ropes. A new cadre of PA figures is on the rise that is “less supportive of negotiations with Israel’s government.” Less than Abbas? Or more candid? You can’t get much less supportive than Abbas and his current crew, who continue to extol the names of terrorists and flee negotiations at the first opportune moment. But then again, Abbas has been reduced to the status of Arab League messenger boy. The new PA leadership wants to employ Gandhi-like nonviolent resistance? All they need is a tradition of nonviolent resistance, an ideology that shuns violence, and a popular consensus that killing Jews is a bad thing. I think Gandhi’s idea of a “march to the sea” isn’t exactly what the Palestinians have in mind.

But let’s understand the import of this: even within the PA, Abbas lacks a base of support. And he, we are told by the Obami, is the man and this is the unique moment that are going to give birth to a peace deal. Yes, it’s quite absurd.

It seems there is never quite the right Palestinian leader in place. This one is well-meaning, but has no backing. That one is popular, but allergic to peace talks. Another, after all, was imprisoned for terrorism. Perhaps there just isn’t someone who is willing to make a deal and who enjoys support within the Palestinian leadership and population. It might just be that the past 18 months of peace-processing, not to mention the past 60 years, have been a colossal waste of time.

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Obama’s Repudiation of Promises to Israel Comes Back to Haunt Him

The Israeli media ran a mind-boggling story today: in exchange for a two-month extension of the freeze on settlement construction, Barack Obama has offered Israel various mouth-watering goodies, as Jen noted in an earlier post. Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leaning toward refusing.

Obama’s offer reportedly includes the following (see here and here, for instance): support for Israel’s demand that any Israeli-Palestinian deal include a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley; a Security Council veto of any anti-Israel resolution submitted in the coming year; additional military aid; advanced weaponry; stringent measures to halt arms smuggling; and a pledge not to seek another extension when this one expires.

Israel needs all of the above, and Obama has hitherto often failed to provide them. Thus the offer’s benefits would seem to far outweigh the damage of extending the freeze for two months. Yet Netanyahu claims his cabinet — those same ministers who approved a 10-month freeze in exchange for nothing — wouldn’t approve another two months, even for these lavish promises. What gives?

I suspect Netanyahu resorted to this flimsy excuse because the real reason is too undiplomatic to state publicly: Obama, by his own actions, has shown he views presidential promises as made to be broken. And Israel’s government is loath to incur the real damage of extending the freeze (which J.E. Dyer ably explained here) in exchange for promises that will be conveniently forgotten when they come due.

Israel, after all, received its last presidential promise just six years ago, in exchange for leaving Gaza. In writing, George W. Bush said the Palestinian Authority must end incitement and terror, voiced support for Israel “as a Jewish state,” vowed to “strengthen Israel’s capability” to defend itself, and said any Israeli-Palestinian deal should leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders” and resettle Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state rather than Israel. He also promised orally that Israel could continue building in the settlement blocs.

But when Obama took office, he denied the oral pledge’s very existence, infuriating even Israeli leftists. As Haaretz’s Aluf Benn wrote, it was possible to argue the policy should change, “but not to lie.”

And while Obama hasn’t denied the written document’s existence, he’s nullified it de facto through his every word and action: he’s never challenged PA incitement; he’s advocated the indefensible pre-1967 borders, including in East Jerusalem (where he bullied Israel into halting construction even in huge Jewish neighborhoods that will clearly remain Israeli under any deal); he hasn’t publicly demanded that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state or said the refugees can’t be resettled in Israel; and far from strengthening Israel’s defensive capabilities, he’s condemned Israel’s enforcement of an arms blockade on Hamas-run Gaza, bullied Israel into accepting a UN probe of its raid on a blockade-busting flotilla, imposed unprecedented restrictions on Israel’s purchase of F-35 fighters, and more. He has supported Israel only when domestic pressure necessitated it.

With enough domestic pressure, Obama would probably do everything in the latest offer anyway. But without it, Israelis fear he’ll renege the moment he finds it convenient.

And for that, Obama has only himself to blame.

The Israeli media ran a mind-boggling story today: in exchange for a two-month extension of the freeze on settlement construction, Barack Obama has offered Israel various mouth-watering goodies, as Jen noted in an earlier post. Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leaning toward refusing.

Obama’s offer reportedly includes the following (see here and here, for instance): support for Israel’s demand that any Israeli-Palestinian deal include a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley; a Security Council veto of any anti-Israel resolution submitted in the coming year; additional military aid; advanced weaponry; stringent measures to halt arms smuggling; and a pledge not to seek another extension when this one expires.

Israel needs all of the above, and Obama has hitherto often failed to provide them. Thus the offer’s benefits would seem to far outweigh the damage of extending the freeze for two months. Yet Netanyahu claims his cabinet — those same ministers who approved a 10-month freeze in exchange for nothing — wouldn’t approve another two months, even for these lavish promises. What gives?

I suspect Netanyahu resorted to this flimsy excuse because the real reason is too undiplomatic to state publicly: Obama, by his own actions, has shown he views presidential promises as made to be broken. And Israel’s government is loath to incur the real damage of extending the freeze (which J.E. Dyer ably explained here) in exchange for promises that will be conveniently forgotten when they come due.

Israel, after all, received its last presidential promise just six years ago, in exchange for leaving Gaza. In writing, George W. Bush said the Palestinian Authority must end incitement and terror, voiced support for Israel “as a Jewish state,” vowed to “strengthen Israel’s capability” to defend itself, and said any Israeli-Palestinian deal should leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders” and resettle Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state rather than Israel. He also promised orally that Israel could continue building in the settlement blocs.

But when Obama took office, he denied the oral pledge’s very existence, infuriating even Israeli leftists. As Haaretz’s Aluf Benn wrote, it was possible to argue the policy should change, “but not to lie.”

And while Obama hasn’t denied the written document’s existence, he’s nullified it de facto through his every word and action: he’s never challenged PA incitement; he’s advocated the indefensible pre-1967 borders, including in East Jerusalem (where he bullied Israel into halting construction even in huge Jewish neighborhoods that will clearly remain Israeli under any deal); he hasn’t publicly demanded that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state or said the refugees can’t be resettled in Israel; and far from strengthening Israel’s defensive capabilities, he’s condemned Israel’s enforcement of an arms blockade on Hamas-run Gaza, bullied Israel into accepting a UN probe of its raid on a blockade-busting flotilla, imposed unprecedented restrictions on Israel’s purchase of F-35 fighters, and more. He has supported Israel only when domestic pressure necessitated it.

With enough domestic pressure, Obama would probably do everything in the latest offer anyway. But without it, Israelis fear he’ll renege the moment he finds it convenient.

And for that, Obama has only himself to blame.

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Settlement Freeze: An Unacceptable Veto

It has always been the case that Israel’s government would have to choose, at some point, to lift the freeze on settlement construction. The reason is simple: Israel can’t give anyone else an effective veto over settlement activities. Protecting settlements in Judea and Samaria is a matter of national security: it prevents the Palestinian Arabs from using the territory to menace Israelis across the Green Line. Past Israeli withdrawals from strategic or disputed territories have produced ever-present menaces along its other boundaries, as demonstrated in Gaza and the Hezbollah fiefdom in southern Lebanon. The West Bank, moreover, is an even more dangerous case from a geographic standpoint, because its mountainous heights look down on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel’s national and economic life.

In the absence of an enforceable, good-faith agreement with the Palestinian Authority, Israel can’t let either the PA or the U.S. exercise a de facto veto over its administration of the settlements. The right to such a veto, once established, would be wielded in incremental steps to prejudice Israel’s security and bargaining position. It would amount to much more than a minor concession in the interest of the current talks. Accepting a de facto settlement veto would open the door to a campaign of attrition against the settlements, just as it would validate the Palestinian negotiating principle of winning major and debilitating concessions as a prior condition of talks — and therefore without the Palestinians themselves having to commit to anything.

In light of this reality, the lament of Roger Cohen in the New York Times today is both ironic and poignant. If the talks break down over the settlement issue, says Cohen, “Netanyahu and Abbas know … Obama would look amateurish.” It would be a “terrible mistake,” in his view, for Netanyahu to reject a formal extension of the settlement freeze. He and Abbas both need the United States, which is “an incentive to avoid humiliating Obama.” Obama himself “should fight it until the last minute. His international credibility is on the line.”

But it’s Obama who put himself in this position. He and his foreign-policy team are amateurish; that’s the whole problem. Regardless of whether they agree with Israel’s view of the settlements and their relation to national security, they should have understood and acknowledged it as real. No negotiations can succeed if the concerns of one party are ignored or dismissed. For that party, accepting the breakdown of negotiations is likely to be the lesser of two evils.

Netanyahu must lift the settlement freeze sometime, and the longer he waits, the more of a political disruption it will be.  He can’t let it become the status quo by default. He may yet find some way to navigate between two difficult positions, at least for another few weeks. But ultimately, his obligation is to the security of Israel. I believe that will be at least as much of a motive for him as retaining his coalition in the Knesset.

Obama’s credibility, meanwhile, is Obama’s problem. If he wants to see it undamaged, he could not do better than to learn from the present impasse and avoid backing himself into a corner again. Roger Cohen may think it’s a good idea to bolster Obama’s credibility with unilateral security concessions from Israel, but it’s a good bet Bibi doesn’t.

It has always been the case that Israel’s government would have to choose, at some point, to lift the freeze on settlement construction. The reason is simple: Israel can’t give anyone else an effective veto over settlement activities. Protecting settlements in Judea and Samaria is a matter of national security: it prevents the Palestinian Arabs from using the territory to menace Israelis across the Green Line. Past Israeli withdrawals from strategic or disputed territories have produced ever-present menaces along its other boundaries, as demonstrated in Gaza and the Hezbollah fiefdom in southern Lebanon. The West Bank, moreover, is an even more dangerous case from a geographic standpoint, because its mountainous heights look down on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the heart of Israel’s national and economic life.

In the absence of an enforceable, good-faith agreement with the Palestinian Authority, Israel can’t let either the PA or the U.S. exercise a de facto veto over its administration of the settlements. The right to such a veto, once established, would be wielded in incremental steps to prejudice Israel’s security and bargaining position. It would amount to much more than a minor concession in the interest of the current talks. Accepting a de facto settlement veto would open the door to a campaign of attrition against the settlements, just as it would validate the Palestinian negotiating principle of winning major and debilitating concessions as a prior condition of talks — and therefore without the Palestinians themselves having to commit to anything.

In light of this reality, the lament of Roger Cohen in the New York Times today is both ironic and poignant. If the talks break down over the settlement issue, says Cohen, “Netanyahu and Abbas know … Obama would look amateurish.” It would be a “terrible mistake,” in his view, for Netanyahu to reject a formal extension of the settlement freeze. He and Abbas both need the United States, which is “an incentive to avoid humiliating Obama.” Obama himself “should fight it until the last minute. His international credibility is on the line.”

But it’s Obama who put himself in this position. He and his foreign-policy team are amateurish; that’s the whole problem. Regardless of whether they agree with Israel’s view of the settlements and their relation to national security, they should have understood and acknowledged it as real. No negotiations can succeed if the concerns of one party are ignored or dismissed. For that party, accepting the breakdown of negotiations is likely to be the lesser of two evils.

Netanyahu must lift the settlement freeze sometime, and the longer he waits, the more of a political disruption it will be.  He can’t let it become the status quo by default. He may yet find some way to navigate between two difficult positions, at least for another few weeks. But ultimately, his obligation is to the security of Israel. I believe that will be at least as much of a motive for him as retaining his coalition in the Knesset.

Obama’s credibility, meanwhile, is Obama’s problem. If he wants to see it undamaged, he could not do better than to learn from the present impasse and avoid backing himself into a corner again. Roger Cohen may think it’s a good idea to bolster Obama’s credibility with unilateral security concessions from Israel, but it’s a good bet Bibi doesn’t.

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How Misreading Hamas’s Motive Undermines Prospects for Peace

Israel has suffered almost daily rocket and mortar fire from Hamas-run Gaza this week after 19 months of quiet. Yesterday, for the first time, Gazans launched phosphorus shells at the Negev. And Hamas has twice attacked Israelis in the West Bank this month, again following a long hiatus.

The response from American, European, and Israeli officials has been predictable: Hamas is escalating the terror to foil Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But this conventional wisdom is false. And this falsehood has been undermining prospects for peace for the last 17 years.

Hamas does oppose a peace deal. But because almost nobody in either Israel or the Palestinian Authority thinks the current talks will produce one, the idea that Hamas leaders are driven by fear of the talks’ success is risible. Hamas knows quite well that the talks will fail even without its help.

Moreover, Hamas has often escalated attacks even when no negotiations were in sight. Between Israel’s August 2005 pullout from Gaza and the Annapolis summit in November 2007, for instance, Hamas fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel, a volume that dwarfs the current level. Yet during most of that time, not only were there no peace talks, there wasn’t even any effort to launch them.

So what really motivates Hamas? It’s no secret; Hamas officials proclaim it repeatedly: their goal is Israel’s eradication, and their method is armed struggle. Therefore, they will attack whenever and wherever it’s feasible.

Viewed through this prism, the pattern of Hamas’s terror activity is easily explained: terror escalates whenever Hamas officials think they can get away with it and de-escalates when the danger of a devastating Israeli response becomes too great.

Thus, for instance, terror soared following the 1993 Oslo Accord because Hamas realized it was safe. The Rabin-Peres government, having promised that Oslo would bring peace, couldn’t politically admit it had brought war instead, so it had to downplay the attacks rather than responding. But when Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 1996 on a platform of fighting terror, Hamas feared he might be less restrained and de-escalated. Thus the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terror plummeted 70 percent from 1993-96 to 1996-99.

Similarly, after the 2005 disengagement, Hamas knew the Kadima-led government couldn’t politically admit its flagship initiative had brought war rather than peace. Thus Hamas could safely triple the volume of rocket fire, knowing Israel’s government would downplay it rather than responding.

Today, thanks to the peace talks, escalation is once again safe — because Hamas knows that if Israel responds forcefully, the PA will quit the talks, and the world will blame Israel. Thus, Israel is compelled to avoid responding.

In short, it’s not the peace talks that cause terror to escalate but the world’s insistence that Israel refrain from responding so as not to “disrupt” them. And by taking this attitude, the world has effectively made “peace” synonymous with stepped-up terror.

So if Time magazine really wants to know “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace,” it’s quite simple: as long as “peace” means absorbing ever-increasing casualties without responding, most Israelis would rather do without it.

Israel has suffered almost daily rocket and mortar fire from Hamas-run Gaza this week after 19 months of quiet. Yesterday, for the first time, Gazans launched phosphorus shells at the Negev. And Hamas has twice attacked Israelis in the West Bank this month, again following a long hiatus.

The response from American, European, and Israeli officials has been predictable: Hamas is escalating the terror to foil Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But this conventional wisdom is false. And this falsehood has been undermining prospects for peace for the last 17 years.

Hamas does oppose a peace deal. But because almost nobody in either Israel or the Palestinian Authority thinks the current talks will produce one, the idea that Hamas leaders are driven by fear of the talks’ success is risible. Hamas knows quite well that the talks will fail even without its help.

Moreover, Hamas has often escalated attacks even when no negotiations were in sight. Between Israel’s August 2005 pullout from Gaza and the Annapolis summit in November 2007, for instance, Hamas fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel, a volume that dwarfs the current level. Yet during most of that time, not only were there no peace talks, there wasn’t even any effort to launch them.

So what really motivates Hamas? It’s no secret; Hamas officials proclaim it repeatedly: their goal is Israel’s eradication, and their method is armed struggle. Therefore, they will attack whenever and wherever it’s feasible.

Viewed through this prism, the pattern of Hamas’s terror activity is easily explained: terror escalates whenever Hamas officials think they can get away with it and de-escalates when the danger of a devastating Israeli response becomes too great.

Thus, for instance, terror soared following the 1993 Oslo Accord because Hamas realized it was safe. The Rabin-Peres government, having promised that Oslo would bring peace, couldn’t politically admit it had brought war instead, so it had to downplay the attacks rather than responding. But when Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 1996 on a platform of fighting terror, Hamas feared he might be less restrained and de-escalated. Thus the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terror plummeted 70 percent from 1993-96 to 1996-99.

Similarly, after the 2005 disengagement, Hamas knew the Kadima-led government couldn’t politically admit its flagship initiative had brought war rather than peace. Thus Hamas could safely triple the volume of rocket fire, knowing Israel’s government would downplay it rather than responding.

Today, thanks to the peace talks, escalation is once again safe — because Hamas knows that if Israel responds forcefully, the PA will quit the talks, and the world will blame Israel. Thus, Israel is compelled to avoid responding.

In short, it’s not the peace talks that cause terror to escalate but the world’s insistence that Israel refrain from responding so as not to “disrupt” them. And by taking this attitude, the world has effectively made “peace” synonymous with stepped-up terror.

So if Time magazine really wants to know “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace,” it’s quite simple: as long as “peace” means absorbing ever-increasing casualties without responding, most Israelis would rather do without it.

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Friends, Enemies, and Liberal Inanity

In reviewing the latest Emergency Committee for Israel ad and the coverage thereof, the New Jersey Jewish News editor in chief pronounces: “I think it is possible to be a friend of Israel, on the right or the left, and still take positions that are antithetical to Israel’s interests.” There’s no typo, and that’s what he said. Is he mocking the J Street set? Is this a coy parody of the not-at-all-pro-Israel set? No, he apparently is quite serious that a “friend” can want you dead or hobbled and still be a “friend.” Sort of like an enemy but more friendly-like.

He continues: “If Israel weren’t complicated, and its citizenry itself so divided over the issues, this thing would have been solved decades ago. Good friends can disagree.” Actually there’s quite a lot of agreement in Israel these days — land for peace was a bust, Iran is an existential threat, the Palestinians don’t want peace, and Obama isn’t a friend (in the old-fashioned sense). And this thing wouldn’t have been solved long ago, because Palestinians still are killing Jews and pining for the one-state solution.

And in a final tour de force of moral relativism, he sums up: “I just wish we could talk about it without labeling one another ‘enemies’ or ‘friends.’ But then I’m not trying to win elections.” Because if we start labeling who is a friend and who isn’t, we’ll know who is a friend-friend and who is an enemy-friend, right? He’s not only trying not to win elections; he’s trying not to exercise his God-given powers of moral reasoning and whatever common sense has not dribbled out on the altar of “tolerance.”

This is the best and brightest of New Jersey’s Jewish press, it seems. I would despair over yet another example of the inanity of liberal American Jewry, but thankfully not all Jews are quite this daft. And best of all, Israel has legions of supporters who have no problem calling it like they see it and figuring our who’s on the Jewish state’s side. Contrast the above drivel with this:

But while we don’t presume to dictate to Israel’s government, we have every right – and every responsibility – to speak to our own government. We have every right to demand that our government not pressure Israel into making concessions that the Israelis themselves do not wish to make. If history proves one thing, it proves that Israelis want peace so desperately that they will place themselves in peril to achieve it. If the Israelis are not willing to take a particular risk, this is a strong sign it is not a reasonable risk to take.

That sounds like a true friend — in the doesn’t-want-Israel-decimated sense of “friend.”

In reviewing the latest Emergency Committee for Israel ad and the coverage thereof, the New Jersey Jewish News editor in chief pronounces: “I think it is possible to be a friend of Israel, on the right or the left, and still take positions that are antithetical to Israel’s interests.” There’s no typo, and that’s what he said. Is he mocking the J Street set? Is this a coy parody of the not-at-all-pro-Israel set? No, he apparently is quite serious that a “friend” can want you dead or hobbled and still be a “friend.” Sort of like an enemy but more friendly-like.

He continues: “If Israel weren’t complicated, and its citizenry itself so divided over the issues, this thing would have been solved decades ago. Good friends can disagree.” Actually there’s quite a lot of agreement in Israel these days — land for peace was a bust, Iran is an existential threat, the Palestinians don’t want peace, and Obama isn’t a friend (in the old-fashioned sense). And this thing wouldn’t have been solved long ago, because Palestinians still are killing Jews and pining for the one-state solution.

And in a final tour de force of moral relativism, he sums up: “I just wish we could talk about it without labeling one another ‘enemies’ or ‘friends.’ But then I’m not trying to win elections.” Because if we start labeling who is a friend and who isn’t, we’ll know who is a friend-friend and who is an enemy-friend, right? He’s not only trying not to win elections; he’s trying not to exercise his God-given powers of moral reasoning and whatever common sense has not dribbled out on the altar of “tolerance.”

This is the best and brightest of New Jersey’s Jewish press, it seems. I would despair over yet another example of the inanity of liberal American Jewry, but thankfully not all Jews are quite this daft. And best of all, Israel has legions of supporters who have no problem calling it like they see it and figuring our who’s on the Jewish state’s side. Contrast the above drivel with this:

But while we don’t presume to dictate to Israel’s government, we have every right – and every responsibility – to speak to our own government. We have every right to demand that our government not pressure Israel into making concessions that the Israelis themselves do not wish to make. If history proves one thing, it proves that Israelis want peace so desperately that they will place themselves in peril to achieve it. If the Israelis are not willing to take a particular risk, this is a strong sign it is not a reasonable risk to take.

That sounds like a true friend — in the doesn’t-want-Israel-decimated sense of “friend.”

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West Bank Murder Puts Peace Advocacy in Perspective

In recent weeks, all the focus in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been on Gaza. So far Israel’s government, supported by the vast majority of its people, has resisted international pressure to lift the blockade of Gaza, a measure that would grant both a psychological victory to the Islamist terrorists of Hamas as well as facilitate the rearming and refortification of the region.

But while Israelis and their friends are rightly focused on preventing Hamas from resuming its rocket attacks on southern Israel, attacks on Jewish targets in the West Bank have been largely ignored. Part of the reason is that the security fence that separates the area from pre-1967 Israel has effectively halted the flow of suicide bombers. But there have been literally hundreds of incidents of shootings as well as many attacks with lethal rocks on Israeli motorists in the West Bank. Fortunately, most have not resulted in casualties. Yesterday, however, a Palestinian shooter in the Hebron area ambushed a police vehicle. The attack left one officer dead and another wounded. Interestingly, the New York Times article that reported the shooting also included some interesting information about the supposedly draconian Israeli security regime in the West Bank. Since Israel has been trying to hand over security responsibilities in the region to the Palestinian Authority’s forces, according to the left-wing group B’Tselem, which opposes Israel’s presence in the West Bank, 20 staffed security checkpoints have been closed in the past two years.

The point is, the much-lauded administration of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, tells Americans and other Westerners that they want peace with Israel. But the PA-sponsored incitement against Jews and the presence of Jews in their midst continues. Fayyad’s boycott of Israeli goods may be intended to boost his popularity, but it also feeds into the demonization of Israelis, which is the primary obstacle to lasting peace and implicitly legitimizes the Palestinian sport of taking potshots at Israeli vehicles.

Of course, there are those critics of Israel who believe that the mere presence of a Jew on the West Bank, even one just driving in a car, is sufficient provocation to justify a murderous Palestinian attack, or at least enough to rationalize such a crime. But those who feel this way should ponder the Gaza precedent.

In 2005 Israel withdrew every settlement and every soldier from Gaza, which is what Israel’s critics want it to do in the West Bank. But the result wasn’t peace but an escalation of violence across the border into Israel proper, with the evacuated territory turned into a terrorist base from which thousands of missiles were launched at Israeli towns and villages. The idea of repeating this exercise in the West Bank, which borders Israel’s main population centers, is unthinkable, but that is exactly what those who decry the “occupation” are demanding. Though the vast majority of Israelis would like nothing better to completely separate themselves from the Palestinians and would gladly accept a two-state solution, they are not prepared to allow the West Bank to turn into another Hamasistan.

Advocates for peace who reduce the situation to simplistic pieties should understand that yesterday’s shooting is a reminder of the grim reality of Palestinian hatred and violence and the unpleasant choices that face the Israeli people.

In recent weeks, all the focus in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been on Gaza. So far Israel’s government, supported by the vast majority of its people, has resisted international pressure to lift the blockade of Gaza, a measure that would grant both a psychological victory to the Islamist terrorists of Hamas as well as facilitate the rearming and refortification of the region.

But while Israelis and their friends are rightly focused on preventing Hamas from resuming its rocket attacks on southern Israel, attacks on Jewish targets in the West Bank have been largely ignored. Part of the reason is that the security fence that separates the area from pre-1967 Israel has effectively halted the flow of suicide bombers. But there have been literally hundreds of incidents of shootings as well as many attacks with lethal rocks on Israeli motorists in the West Bank. Fortunately, most have not resulted in casualties. Yesterday, however, a Palestinian shooter in the Hebron area ambushed a police vehicle. The attack left one officer dead and another wounded. Interestingly, the New York Times article that reported the shooting also included some interesting information about the supposedly draconian Israeli security regime in the West Bank. Since Israel has been trying to hand over security responsibilities in the region to the Palestinian Authority’s forces, according to the left-wing group B’Tselem, which opposes Israel’s presence in the West Bank, 20 staffed security checkpoints have been closed in the past two years.

The point is, the much-lauded administration of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, tells Americans and other Westerners that they want peace with Israel. But the PA-sponsored incitement against Jews and the presence of Jews in their midst continues. Fayyad’s boycott of Israeli goods may be intended to boost his popularity, but it also feeds into the demonization of Israelis, which is the primary obstacle to lasting peace and implicitly legitimizes the Palestinian sport of taking potshots at Israeli vehicles.

Of course, there are those critics of Israel who believe that the mere presence of a Jew on the West Bank, even one just driving in a car, is sufficient provocation to justify a murderous Palestinian attack, or at least enough to rationalize such a crime. But those who feel this way should ponder the Gaza precedent.

In 2005 Israel withdrew every settlement and every soldier from Gaza, which is what Israel’s critics want it to do in the West Bank. But the result wasn’t peace but an escalation of violence across the border into Israel proper, with the evacuated territory turned into a terrorist base from which thousands of missiles were launched at Israeli towns and villages. The idea of repeating this exercise in the West Bank, which borders Israel’s main population centers, is unthinkable, but that is exactly what those who decry the “occupation” are demanding. Though the vast majority of Israelis would like nothing better to completely separate themselves from the Palestinians and would gladly accept a two-state solution, they are not prepared to allow the West Bank to turn into another Hamasistan.

Advocates for peace who reduce the situation to simplistic pieties should understand that yesterday’s shooting is a reminder of the grim reality of Palestinian hatred and violence and the unpleasant choices that face the Israeli people.

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Israel Needs PR Help from Overseas Jews

The flotilla crisis once again highlighted Israel’s public-relations failings. It’s mind-boggling, for instance, that only two days after the crisis broke did the government finally realize that it needs a permanent “virtual situation room” where people overseas can get up-to-date information about any breaking crisis. Yet while drastically improving Israel’s own efforts is essential, it’s not sufficient. Israel also needs more help from American and European Jewish organizations.

Many such organizations already do yeoman work, but more can and should be done. In an interview with Haaretz last month, for instance, Judea Pearl, who teaches at UCLA, noted that the anti-Israel movement on U.S. campuses is “nationally orchestrated.” Its leaders “act quickly and uniformly all over the campuses” and train “new cadres every year.” Hillel, in contrast, “thinks it can act locally, so they don’t have a national program to train people, send them to campuses and teach them how to respond.” He said he occasionally gets e-mails asking him to speak out on Israel issues, but only from small organizations — never from Hillel or any other “major Jewish organization.” That is a travesty.

Overseas Jewish groups are vital to the information effort because even people who genuinely care about Israel often lack the time and energy to amass relevant information. Two examples illustrate the problem. Sometime after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, I mentioned to my mother that ever since the withdrawal, Israel had suffered daily rocket strikes from Gaza. Having a daughter there, she clearly cares greatly about Israel. Yet she was shocked. “I had no idea,” she said. “That’s never reported in the American media.” And indeed, it wasn’t.

Example two: a European diplomat accredited to the Palestinian Authority once asked me why, when the anti-terror Mahmoud Abbas replaced the pro-terror Yasir Arafat as PA leader, Israel had not seized the opportunity to make peace. As part of my response, I e-mailed him a list of every Palestinian terror attack committed during Abbas’s year in sole control of the PA, before Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006. He was shocked; he hadn’t realized that terror continued under Abbas. Yet as a diplomat, he certainly knew more than most Europeans and certainly cared more; most Europeans don’t correspond with right-of-center Israeli journalists in an effort to obtain maximum information from multiple viewpoints.

In both cases, anyone who regularly read an Israeli paper online would have known the relevant facts. But most people don’t, and won’t. And that’s where Jewish organizations come in: by amassing and distributing information — to community rabbis, student organizations, and many others to whom they have far better access than Israel’s government — they could serve as vital intermediaries.

Information matters. The excellent information AIPAC gives Congress, for instance, undoubtedly contributes to Israel’s strong bipartisan support there. Better information also explains why many European leaders are far less anti-Israel than their publics. But Israel, though it needs to do much more, can’t do it alone. Faced with a massive worldwide delegitimization campaign, it desperately needs overseas Jewish groups to do more as well.

The flotilla crisis once again highlighted Israel’s public-relations failings. It’s mind-boggling, for instance, that only two days after the crisis broke did the government finally realize that it needs a permanent “virtual situation room” where people overseas can get up-to-date information about any breaking crisis. Yet while drastically improving Israel’s own efforts is essential, it’s not sufficient. Israel also needs more help from American and European Jewish organizations.

Many such organizations already do yeoman work, but more can and should be done. In an interview with Haaretz last month, for instance, Judea Pearl, who teaches at UCLA, noted that the anti-Israel movement on U.S. campuses is “nationally orchestrated.” Its leaders “act quickly and uniformly all over the campuses” and train “new cadres every year.” Hillel, in contrast, “thinks it can act locally, so they don’t have a national program to train people, send them to campuses and teach them how to respond.” He said he occasionally gets e-mails asking him to speak out on Israel issues, but only from small organizations — never from Hillel or any other “major Jewish organization.” That is a travesty.

Overseas Jewish groups are vital to the information effort because even people who genuinely care about Israel often lack the time and energy to amass relevant information. Two examples illustrate the problem. Sometime after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, I mentioned to my mother that ever since the withdrawal, Israel had suffered daily rocket strikes from Gaza. Having a daughter there, she clearly cares greatly about Israel. Yet she was shocked. “I had no idea,” she said. “That’s never reported in the American media.” And indeed, it wasn’t.

Example two: a European diplomat accredited to the Palestinian Authority once asked me why, when the anti-terror Mahmoud Abbas replaced the pro-terror Yasir Arafat as PA leader, Israel had not seized the opportunity to make peace. As part of my response, I e-mailed him a list of every Palestinian terror attack committed during Abbas’s year in sole control of the PA, before Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006. He was shocked; he hadn’t realized that terror continued under Abbas. Yet as a diplomat, he certainly knew more than most Europeans and certainly cared more; most Europeans don’t correspond with right-of-center Israeli journalists in an effort to obtain maximum information from multiple viewpoints.

In both cases, anyone who regularly read an Israeli paper online would have known the relevant facts. But most people don’t, and won’t. And that’s where Jewish organizations come in: by amassing and distributing information — to community rabbis, student organizations, and many others to whom they have far better access than Israel’s government — they could serve as vital intermediaries.

Information matters. The excellent information AIPAC gives Congress, for instance, undoubtedly contributes to Israel’s strong bipartisan support there. Better information also explains why many European leaders are far less anti-Israel than their publics. But Israel, though it needs to do much more, can’t do it alone. Faced with a massive worldwide delegitimization campaign, it desperately needs overseas Jewish groups to do more as well.

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Who’s out of Touch with Reality? Israelis or “Liberal Zionists”?

A consistent theme — not only of the post-Gaza-flotilla criticism of Israel but also of the entire thrust of the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” the Middle East — has been the notion that Israel is out of touch with the rest of the world. In this formulation, a reactionary, right-wing Israeli government is driving crazy the rest of the world and a basically sympathetic American ally by pursuing self-destructive policies. This thesis was sounded anew by Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast yesterday by means of a piece in which he attacked Elliott Abrams for accurately describing the pack of jackals who are attacking Israel’s right of self-defense as a “lynch mob.” Beinart considered that politically incorrect because it links an administration led by an African-American and a multi-cultural institution like the United Nations with a phrase that conjures up “black men hanging from trees.” For Beinart, talking about the siege of Israel in terms of life and death is apparently beyond his comprehension. In his worldview, the Hamas terrorists who control Gaza — and who would like to kill all the Jews of Israel — or the more moderate Palestinians who refuse to make peace because they are afraid of Hamas, don’t really count in a discussion of Israeli actions. Nor does he understand that the vicious global attacks on Israel can only be properly understood in the context of the rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism around the world.

Beinart goes on to knock the Netanyahu government and its American supporters as out of touch with America because Obama, as well as Hispanics and African-Americans, are less inclined to support the Jewish state than the rest of the country, which remains solidly pro-Israel. Sounding like James Carville in January 2009, Beinart assumes that Obama and the Democrats will rule in Washington forever, dismissing the overwhelming current pro-Israel majority in Congress as well as the near certainty that it will be even more pro-Israel next January because Obama’s party is likely to face heavy losses to the Republicans in November. Nor does he take into account that, as Jennifer noted earlier, a new Rasmussen poll shows most Americans side with Israel rather than the Palestinians on the Gaza flotilla, as they have on virtually every issue over the years. But because J Street and “liberal Zionist” critiques of Israel have little to do with the nonexistent chances of peace with the Palestinians and everything to do with attempting to replace a bipartisan pro-Israel American consensus with an Obama-like moral equivalence about the Middle East, it’s hard to take Beinart’s analysis seriously, despite the attention he has been getting lately.

But even as Beinart and J Street continue to trumpet their anger at Israel’s government, you have to ask what they make of the fact that the majority of his people support Netanyahu’s policies or that his coalition remains so stable. As it happens, writer Ethan Perlson weighed in with an explanation in the same Daily Beast that is now Beinart’s regular perch. Perlson reports that Israeli liberals and left-wingers — the people Beinart supposes he is speaking up for — are fed up with criticisms of their country and are rallying against the hypocritical Israel-bashers and in support of their government’s determination to continue trying to isolate Hamas. Even the opposition Kadima Party, led by supposed Obama favorite Tzipi Livni, which miserably failed to get a no-confidence motion passed by the Knesset this week, supported the government’s policy on the blockade.

The point is, even most of the Israeli left and those in the center, who are actually prepared to make painful territorial concessions if peace were a real possibility, understand that the failure to attain peace is the fault of the Palestinians, not of Netanyahu. They know that Israel withdrew from Gaza hoping that the Palestinians would use their freedom to work for peace and instead saw the area fall under the sway of the most violent and extreme Islamist factions, who used it as a launching pad for terror. They know that lifting the blockade of Hamas would give it — and its patron, Iran — a victory that would make the region even more dangerous.

Though they claim that Israelis are out of touch with America, given the continuing support for Israel by most Americans, it may be Beinart and his friends in the mainstream media who are out of sync with public opinion. And instead of chiding Israelis to adopt policies that they know make no sense, perhaps “liberal Zionists,” like Beinart and other Americans who purport to be friends of the Jewish state while incessantly bashing it, should start listening to the Israeli people.

A consistent theme — not only of the post-Gaza-flotilla criticism of Israel but also of the entire thrust of the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” the Middle East — has been the notion that Israel is out of touch with the rest of the world. In this formulation, a reactionary, right-wing Israeli government is driving crazy the rest of the world and a basically sympathetic American ally by pursuing self-destructive policies. This thesis was sounded anew by Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast yesterday by means of a piece in which he attacked Elliott Abrams for accurately describing the pack of jackals who are attacking Israel’s right of self-defense as a “lynch mob.” Beinart considered that politically incorrect because it links an administration led by an African-American and a multi-cultural institution like the United Nations with a phrase that conjures up “black men hanging from trees.” For Beinart, talking about the siege of Israel in terms of life and death is apparently beyond his comprehension. In his worldview, the Hamas terrorists who control Gaza — and who would like to kill all the Jews of Israel — or the more moderate Palestinians who refuse to make peace because they are afraid of Hamas, don’t really count in a discussion of Israeli actions. Nor does he understand that the vicious global attacks on Israel can only be properly understood in the context of the rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism around the world.

Beinart goes on to knock the Netanyahu government and its American supporters as out of touch with America because Obama, as well as Hispanics and African-Americans, are less inclined to support the Jewish state than the rest of the country, which remains solidly pro-Israel. Sounding like James Carville in January 2009, Beinart assumes that Obama and the Democrats will rule in Washington forever, dismissing the overwhelming current pro-Israel majority in Congress as well as the near certainty that it will be even more pro-Israel next January because Obama’s party is likely to face heavy losses to the Republicans in November. Nor does he take into account that, as Jennifer noted earlier, a new Rasmussen poll shows most Americans side with Israel rather than the Palestinians on the Gaza flotilla, as they have on virtually every issue over the years. But because J Street and “liberal Zionist” critiques of Israel have little to do with the nonexistent chances of peace with the Palestinians and everything to do with attempting to replace a bipartisan pro-Israel American consensus with an Obama-like moral equivalence about the Middle East, it’s hard to take Beinart’s analysis seriously, despite the attention he has been getting lately.

But even as Beinart and J Street continue to trumpet their anger at Israel’s government, you have to ask what they make of the fact that the majority of his people support Netanyahu’s policies or that his coalition remains so stable. As it happens, writer Ethan Perlson weighed in with an explanation in the same Daily Beast that is now Beinart’s regular perch. Perlson reports that Israeli liberals and left-wingers — the people Beinart supposes he is speaking up for — are fed up with criticisms of their country and are rallying against the hypocritical Israel-bashers and in support of their government’s determination to continue trying to isolate Hamas. Even the opposition Kadima Party, led by supposed Obama favorite Tzipi Livni, which miserably failed to get a no-confidence motion passed by the Knesset this week, supported the government’s policy on the blockade.

The point is, even most of the Israeli left and those in the center, who are actually prepared to make painful territorial concessions if peace were a real possibility, understand that the failure to attain peace is the fault of the Palestinians, not of Netanyahu. They know that Israel withdrew from Gaza hoping that the Palestinians would use their freedom to work for peace and instead saw the area fall under the sway of the most violent and extreme Islamist factions, who used it as a launching pad for terror. They know that lifting the blockade of Hamas would give it — and its patron, Iran — a victory that would make the region even more dangerous.

Though they claim that Israelis are out of touch with America, given the continuing support for Israel by most Americans, it may be Beinart and his friends in the mainstream media who are out of sync with public opinion. And instead of chiding Israelis to adopt policies that they know make no sense, perhaps “liberal Zionists,” like Beinart and other Americans who purport to be friends of the Jewish state while incessantly bashing it, should start listening to the Israeli people.

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Embrace of Hamas’s Goal of Breaking the Blockade Dooms Peace Efforts

The hypocritical condemnations raining down on Israel from foreign critics in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident from those who oppose the very existence of a Jewish state within any borders have a certain logic, even if it is a perverse logic. For Greta Berlin, the founder of the so-called Free Gaza Movement, the effort to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled region isn’t really humanitarian; it’s political. As she told the New York Times in its story today about the effort to bring aid to the Islamist regime in the strip, she shares Hamas’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state, which in her mind seems to justify any effort to bring succor to its foes.

Her reasoning is repulsive to anyone who believes her goal of reversing the verdict of Israel’s War of Independence is inadmissible. But her opposition to the blockade of Gaza makes more sense than the caterwauling coming from American and Israeli leftists who are berating the Netanyahu government for its willingness to enforce the sanctions that were imposed on the region after Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup in 2007.

Yet for the J Street crowd and writer Peter Beinart, who has assumed the pose of a “more in sorrow than in anger” liberal Zionist critic of Israel, as well as Israeli leftists such as novelist David Grossman and academic Fania Oz-Salzberger, who have joined in the piling on against Israel in the last three days, their belief that the blockade of Hamas in Gaza must be lifted isn’t merely wrong-headed; it is utterly antithetical to their proclaimed goal of a two-state solution in which Israelis and Arabs will share the land in peace.

For Beinart, who sounded his now familiar if tired rant about American Jews being responsible for Israeli beastliness in a piece in the Daily Beast, the “corrupt” embargo is yet another obstacle to peace that if removed might help bring an era of sunshine and light to the region. His blithe dismissal of the verdict of Israeli democracy in which leftists were soundly defeated because of the Palestinians’ consistent refusal to make peace is matched only by his arrogant ignorance of the nature of Palestinian nationalism and politics, which deems recognition of a Jewish state within any borders as beyond the pale.

His denunciation of Netanyahu was matched by Grossman in the Los Angeles Times, who wrote that Israel’s blockade was a sign of the country’s decline. Oz-Salzberger, who proclaimed herself an “Israeli patriot” — no doubt to pre-empt the criticisms of her compatriots who may consider denouncing your own country’s efforts at self-defense in foreign venues to be in questionable taste — deemed the flotilla incident a “sin” and a source of “shame.”

But the problem with these pieces is that if Israel did as they wished, it would effectively doom any chance for peace with the Palestinians. Lifting the blockade and allowing the free flow of goods into the area — which will open the floodgates for not only food and medicine, which are already in plentiful supply in Gaza, but also for Iranian arms and “construction materials” that will strengthen Hamas’s fortifications — would be the final step toward establishing the sovereignty of the Hamas regime in Gaza. After all, the blockade was established by Israel and Egypt with the support of the West, not as an act of “collective punishment,” as the left claims, but rather in a targeted effort to bring down an illegal and violent radical Islamist terror regime that had seized a foothold on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.

Granting Hamas such a victory is a blow to Israel, but despite all the crocodile tears being shed for the admittedly miserable lives being led by the Gazans, who suffer under the rule of this terror group, it is a worse blow to the Palestinians. The end of the blockade will strengthen Hamas’s grip on Gaza and make it all the more likely that they will eventually be able to extend it to the West Bank. If international pressure forces Israel to lift the blockade — which never stopped the flow of food or medicine to Gaza despite the false claims that there is a humanitarian crisis there — the biggest loser will be Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, not Benjamin Netanyahu. Actions that lead to Hamas’s winning the struggle for the Palestinian leadership mean that the already dismal chances for peace will be reduced to zero. Such a turn of events will make a two-state solution, even one in which Israel would be forced to surrender every inch of land it won in 1967, utterly impossible.

The temptation to bash Israel’s government and call for an end to the blockade may be irresistible to Jewish leftists, who can always be depended on to see the country’s efforts at self-defense in the worst possible light. Blinded by hatred for Netanyahu, they fail to see that giving Hamas such a victory means an end to the peace process they claim to support.

The hypocritical condemnations raining down on Israel from foreign critics in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident from those who oppose the very existence of a Jewish state within any borders have a certain logic, even if it is a perverse logic. For Greta Berlin, the founder of the so-called Free Gaza Movement, the effort to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled region isn’t really humanitarian; it’s political. As she told the New York Times in its story today about the effort to bring aid to the Islamist regime in the strip, she shares Hamas’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state, which in her mind seems to justify any effort to bring succor to its foes.

Her reasoning is repulsive to anyone who believes her goal of reversing the verdict of Israel’s War of Independence is inadmissible. But her opposition to the blockade of Gaza makes more sense than the caterwauling coming from American and Israeli leftists who are berating the Netanyahu government for its willingness to enforce the sanctions that were imposed on the region after Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup in 2007.

Yet for the J Street crowd and writer Peter Beinart, who has assumed the pose of a “more in sorrow than in anger” liberal Zionist critic of Israel, as well as Israeli leftists such as novelist David Grossman and academic Fania Oz-Salzberger, who have joined in the piling on against Israel in the last three days, their belief that the blockade of Hamas in Gaza must be lifted isn’t merely wrong-headed; it is utterly antithetical to their proclaimed goal of a two-state solution in which Israelis and Arabs will share the land in peace.

For Beinart, who sounded his now familiar if tired rant about American Jews being responsible for Israeli beastliness in a piece in the Daily Beast, the “corrupt” embargo is yet another obstacle to peace that if removed might help bring an era of sunshine and light to the region. His blithe dismissal of the verdict of Israeli democracy in which leftists were soundly defeated because of the Palestinians’ consistent refusal to make peace is matched only by his arrogant ignorance of the nature of Palestinian nationalism and politics, which deems recognition of a Jewish state within any borders as beyond the pale.

His denunciation of Netanyahu was matched by Grossman in the Los Angeles Times, who wrote that Israel’s blockade was a sign of the country’s decline. Oz-Salzberger, who proclaimed herself an “Israeli patriot” — no doubt to pre-empt the criticisms of her compatriots who may consider denouncing your own country’s efforts at self-defense in foreign venues to be in questionable taste — deemed the flotilla incident a “sin” and a source of “shame.”

But the problem with these pieces is that if Israel did as they wished, it would effectively doom any chance for peace with the Palestinians. Lifting the blockade and allowing the free flow of goods into the area — which will open the floodgates for not only food and medicine, which are already in plentiful supply in Gaza, but also for Iranian arms and “construction materials” that will strengthen Hamas’s fortifications — would be the final step toward establishing the sovereignty of the Hamas regime in Gaza. After all, the blockade was established by Israel and Egypt with the support of the West, not as an act of “collective punishment,” as the left claims, but rather in a targeted effort to bring down an illegal and violent radical Islamist terror regime that had seized a foothold on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.

Granting Hamas such a victory is a blow to Israel, but despite all the crocodile tears being shed for the admittedly miserable lives being led by the Gazans, who suffer under the rule of this terror group, it is a worse blow to the Palestinians. The end of the blockade will strengthen Hamas’s grip on Gaza and make it all the more likely that they will eventually be able to extend it to the West Bank. If international pressure forces Israel to lift the blockade — which never stopped the flow of food or medicine to Gaza despite the false claims that there is a humanitarian crisis there — the biggest loser will be Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, not Benjamin Netanyahu. Actions that lead to Hamas’s winning the struggle for the Palestinian leadership mean that the already dismal chances for peace will be reduced to zero. Such a turn of events will make a two-state solution, even one in which Israel would be forced to surrender every inch of land it won in 1967, utterly impossible.

The temptation to bash Israel’s government and call for an end to the blockade may be irresistible to Jewish leftists, who can always be depended on to see the country’s efforts at self-defense in the worst possible light. Blinded by hatred for Netanyahu, they fail to see that giving Hamas such a victory means an end to the peace process they claim to support.

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What Georgia Can Teach Israel About Iran

One thing pretty much all Israeli commentators agree on is that Western acceptance of the Iran-Brazil-Turkey nuclear deal would be a disaster for Israel.

Unlike the original deal on which it is modeled, and which Iran rejected last fall, this deal makes no pretense even of delaying Iran’s nuclear program. The original deal sought to buy time by transferring most of Iran’s enriched uranium outside the country, leaving it without enough to build a bomb until it enriched more. This deal would transfer a much smaller percentage of Iran’s uranium overseas, and would thus still leave it with enough to build a bomb.

Yet Western acceptance of it would not only kill any chance for tougher sanctions on Iran (no great loss, since the sanctions effort wasn’t going anyplace anyway); it would also make it much harder for Israel to take military action against Iran: Israel would then be portrayed as the warmonger ruining the world’s chances for peace in our time.

As Israel’s government contemplates this grim scenario, it might do well to read a new book on the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 — or at least Prof. Shlomo Avineri’s review of it in Haaretz.

In A Little War That Shook the World, former State Department official Ronald Asmus chronicles the events leading up to the war and its disastrous consequences for Georgia: it lost its last remaining foothold in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saw hundreds of its citizens killed and tens of thousands turned into refugees, and effectively destroyed its chances of joining either NATO or the European Union.

Yet Asmus thinks a Georgian failure to respond to Russia’s provocations would have had even worse consequences, Avineri notes: President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government “would have been toppled and there may well have been a coup d’etat in Tbilisi, which could have resulted in a particular well-known pro-Russian politician taking Georgia’s helm. In effect, Georgia could have lost its independence and become a Russian satellite once again” — for the third time in two centuries.

Avineri finds Asmus’s conclusion persuasive. But even if one doesn’t, it is hard to argue with Avineri’s conclusion. “There is something of a moral here for small countries,” the dovish professor writes. “Sometimes, being unwilling to give in is strategically the right move, even if it exacts a high price.”

An Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would exact a very high price: military counterstrikes by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and perhaps Syria; international opprobrium; a schism with Washington; and perhaps even international sanctions. And that would be true even if the West ultimately rejects the Brazil-Turkey deal and returns to the Obama administration’s plan A: declaring the problem “solved” by passing another watered-down sanctions resolution that, like its predecessors, will do nothing to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Nevertheless, the consequences to Israel of a nuclear Iran could well be even worse. And if so, Israel’s government might have to decide that the price of military action is worth paying.

One thing pretty much all Israeli commentators agree on is that Western acceptance of the Iran-Brazil-Turkey nuclear deal would be a disaster for Israel.

Unlike the original deal on which it is modeled, and which Iran rejected last fall, this deal makes no pretense even of delaying Iran’s nuclear program. The original deal sought to buy time by transferring most of Iran’s enriched uranium outside the country, leaving it without enough to build a bomb until it enriched more. This deal would transfer a much smaller percentage of Iran’s uranium overseas, and would thus still leave it with enough to build a bomb.

Yet Western acceptance of it would not only kill any chance for tougher sanctions on Iran (no great loss, since the sanctions effort wasn’t going anyplace anyway); it would also make it much harder for Israel to take military action against Iran: Israel would then be portrayed as the warmonger ruining the world’s chances for peace in our time.

As Israel’s government contemplates this grim scenario, it might do well to read a new book on the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 — or at least Prof. Shlomo Avineri’s review of it in Haaretz.

In A Little War That Shook the World, former State Department official Ronald Asmus chronicles the events leading up to the war and its disastrous consequences for Georgia: it lost its last remaining foothold in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, saw hundreds of its citizens killed and tens of thousands turned into refugees, and effectively destroyed its chances of joining either NATO or the European Union.

Yet Asmus thinks a Georgian failure to respond to Russia’s provocations would have had even worse consequences, Avineri notes: President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government “would have been toppled and there may well have been a coup d’etat in Tbilisi, which could have resulted in a particular well-known pro-Russian politician taking Georgia’s helm. In effect, Georgia could have lost its independence and become a Russian satellite once again” — for the third time in two centuries.

Avineri finds Asmus’s conclusion persuasive. But even if one doesn’t, it is hard to argue with Avineri’s conclusion. “There is something of a moral here for small countries,” the dovish professor writes. “Sometimes, being unwilling to give in is strategically the right move, even if it exacts a high price.”

An Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would exact a very high price: military counterstrikes by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and perhaps Syria; international opprobrium; a schism with Washington; and perhaps even international sanctions. And that would be true even if the West ultimately rejects the Brazil-Turkey deal and returns to the Obama administration’s plan A: declaring the problem “solved” by passing another watered-down sanctions resolution that, like its predecessors, will do nothing to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Nevertheless, the consequences to Israel of a nuclear Iran could well be even worse. And if so, Israel’s government might have to decide that the price of military action is worth paying.

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The Purpose of the Proximity Talks

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

The newly launched Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” have two remarkable features. One is the consensus, even among doves, that the talks have no chance of success. The other is the consensus that the onus for their success rests entirely on Israel.

Regarding the first, here are two of many examples: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, once an enthusiastic peace-processor, warned last month that “whenever it is all-or-nothing in the Middle East, it is nothing. We should not set ourselves up for failure.” Avi Issacharoff, who covers Palestinian affairs for left-wing Haaretz, published an analysis whose title says it all: “Indirect Mideast peace talks – a highway to failure.”

Regarding the second, even Barack Obama’s media cheerleader-in-chief, Roger Cohen of the New York Times, noticed the embarrassing imbalance: “Israel will refrain from provocations of the Ramat Shlomo kind (those planned 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem) and will promise to get substantive, on borders above all. Palestinians will promise to, well, show up.”

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was explicit about it. Addressing the American Jewish Committee last month, she declared: “Israel must do its part by respecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, stopping settlement activity, addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and supporting the institution-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority.” The Arab states also have obligations, like helping to fund the PA and backing its negotiating efforts. And the PA’s obligations? About that, she hadn’t a word to say.

Putting these two facts together, what emerges? Noah suggested that the talks’ inevitable failure is actually the point, as it will give Obama an excuse for imposing his own peace plan. I agree with the first half of this conclusion. But if the goal were merely an Obama peace plan, it wouldn’t be necessary to place the onus on Israel in advance: any impasse, regardless of who was to blame, would provide an equally good excuse.

Therefore, I think the goal is simpler: to provide an excuse for putting more “daylight” between America and Israel — presumably entailing substantive sanctions rather than merely the hostile rhetoric employed hitherto — and thereby further Obama’s goal of rapprochement with the Arab world.

Why is the proximity-talks charade necessary? Because currently, Obama lacks both public and congressional support for moving beyond mere verbal hostility. If he didn’t realize this before, the backlash to his March temper tantrum over Ramat Shlomo would certainly have convinced him.

So he needs to up the ante by painting Israel’s government as responsible for torpedoing a key American foreign-policy initiative — one he has repeatedly framed as serving both a vital American national interest and a vital Israeli one. He could then argue not only that Israel deserves punishment but that such punishment would actually serve Israel’s interests.

To avoid this trap, Jerusalem must launch its own PR campaign in America now to put the focus back where it belongs: on Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state. For if Israel lets Obama control the narrative, the public and congressional support on which it depends may be irretrievably undermined.

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If Jews Back Obama’s Pressure, Why Was the ‘Charm Offensive’ Necessary?

For those who were thrilled by President Obama’s decision to distance the United States from Israel and to treat Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as illegal settlements, the recent “charm offensive” by which the White House has sought to deflect the growing criticism from friends of the Jewish state has to be a downer. With recent polls showing that a majority of American Jews disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and with most of the centrist leadership of American Jewry expressing dismay over the president’s positions on Jerusalem, the left’s assertion that the president can count on Jewish support for his pressure on Israel has been effectively debunked.

But that hasn’t stopped The New York Times from once again trotting out one of the standards of their coverage of American Jewry. The headline of the piece published today on their website couldn’t make the agenda of the article any clearer: “On Israel, Jews and Leaders Often Disagree.” The familiar conceit of the feature is that while the big names of American Jewry and the leaders of the alphabet soup of organizations still support Israel, the rank and file do not.

The piece argues that the overwhelming support for Obama in the 2008 election and the reliably liberal Democratic cast of Jewish voters must mean that they applaud his clear animus for Israel. Of course, if that were true, Obama wouldn’t have bothered campaigning as if he were a devoted friend of Israel. Despite that, the leader of the left-wing J Street lobby is still trying to promote the idea that most Jews don’t support Israel’s policies and want Washington to pressure it to accept a two-state solution. But as uneasiness over the administration’s hostility grew in recent months, it became clear that even most Jewish Democrats knew that Israel’s government has accepted such a solution but that it is the Palestinians who won’t make peace. Thus, J Street has made little headway in Washington with a Congress that is still reliably pro-Israel and unhappy about the administration’s drift. But that doesn’t stop the Times from treating its claims as self-evident.

But for all the protestations by the left of Jewish support for pressure on Israel, it has to be obvious that the White House doesn’t buy it. If they were as confident as J Street that their Jewish Democratic base liked what they were doing, then why would they have spent so much time in the last month trying to back away from a fight with Israel that they had picked in the first place. Why shlep Elie Wiesel to the White House yesterday for a private audience with the president after he published an ad in several newspapers warning Obama that Jerusalem was the “heart of our heart and the soul of our soul” if the administration wasn’t convinced that the famed Holocaust survivor’s concerns weren’t far more representative of public opinion than the partisan natterings of J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami?

While the charm offensive may not do much more than calm some panicky Jewish Democrats who are willing to believe Obama’s new promises just as they swallowed his campaign pledges, it does prove one thing: the White House knows that an open feud with Israel and its friends is political poison.

Indeed, the best the Times could do to support its thesis that Ben-Ami is right is to gather a few members of a Secular Humanist Temple in suburban Detroit to find a some Jews who are willing to attack Israel’s government. While the members of that tiny slice of Jewish demography are as entitled to their opinions as anyone else, the notion that this small splinter group of Jews who eschew religious faith in favor of a secular ethnicity is representative of American Jewry is absurd. But even there, among members of a Temple who cannot help but be far more liberal than the average Jewish congregation, the Times still discovered that there were some who were concerned about those who unfairly blame Israel for the conflict. As 87-year-old Rosetta Creed stated: “It makes me angry that the Israelis are always blamed for the problems and asked to make concessions,” Ms. Creed said. “You know, the Israelis are not the ones launching rockets and placing fighters in houses with children inside.”

For those who were thrilled by President Obama’s decision to distance the United States from Israel and to treat Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as illegal settlements, the recent “charm offensive” by which the White House has sought to deflect the growing criticism from friends of the Jewish state has to be a downer. With recent polls showing that a majority of American Jews disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and with most of the centrist leadership of American Jewry expressing dismay over the president’s positions on Jerusalem, the left’s assertion that the president can count on Jewish support for his pressure on Israel has been effectively debunked.

But that hasn’t stopped The New York Times from once again trotting out one of the standards of their coverage of American Jewry. The headline of the piece published today on their website couldn’t make the agenda of the article any clearer: “On Israel, Jews and Leaders Often Disagree.” The familiar conceit of the feature is that while the big names of American Jewry and the leaders of the alphabet soup of organizations still support Israel, the rank and file do not.

The piece argues that the overwhelming support for Obama in the 2008 election and the reliably liberal Democratic cast of Jewish voters must mean that they applaud his clear animus for Israel. Of course, if that were true, Obama wouldn’t have bothered campaigning as if he were a devoted friend of Israel. Despite that, the leader of the left-wing J Street lobby is still trying to promote the idea that most Jews don’t support Israel’s policies and want Washington to pressure it to accept a two-state solution. But as uneasiness over the administration’s hostility grew in recent months, it became clear that even most Jewish Democrats knew that Israel’s government has accepted such a solution but that it is the Palestinians who won’t make peace. Thus, J Street has made little headway in Washington with a Congress that is still reliably pro-Israel and unhappy about the administration’s drift. But that doesn’t stop the Times from treating its claims as self-evident.

But for all the protestations by the left of Jewish support for pressure on Israel, it has to be obvious that the White House doesn’t buy it. If they were as confident as J Street that their Jewish Democratic base liked what they were doing, then why would they have spent so much time in the last month trying to back away from a fight with Israel that they had picked in the first place. Why shlep Elie Wiesel to the White House yesterday for a private audience with the president after he published an ad in several newspapers warning Obama that Jerusalem was the “heart of our heart and the soul of our soul” if the administration wasn’t convinced that the famed Holocaust survivor’s concerns weren’t far more representative of public opinion than the partisan natterings of J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami?

While the charm offensive may not do much more than calm some panicky Jewish Democrats who are willing to believe Obama’s new promises just as they swallowed his campaign pledges, it does prove one thing: the White House knows that an open feud with Israel and its friends is political poison.

Indeed, the best the Times could do to support its thesis that Ben-Ami is right is to gather a few members of a Secular Humanist Temple in suburban Detroit to find a some Jews who are willing to attack Israel’s government. While the members of that tiny slice of Jewish demography are as entitled to their opinions as anyone else, the notion that this small splinter group of Jews who eschew religious faith in favor of a secular ethnicity is representative of American Jewry is absurd. But even there, among members of a Temple who cannot help but be far more liberal than the average Jewish congregation, the Times still discovered that there were some who were concerned about those who unfairly blame Israel for the conflict. As 87-year-old Rosetta Creed stated: “It makes me angry that the Israelis are always blamed for the problems and asked to make concessions,” Ms. Creed said. “You know, the Israelis are not the ones launching rockets and placing fighters in houses with children inside.”

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JCall and the Distress of European Jewry

The new European group JCall raises a disturbing question: how could pro-Israel intellectuals like Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy support a venture that is simultaneously anti-Israel and intellectually incoherent?

JCall presented a petition to the European Parliament this week that asserted that Israel’s future “depends upon” peace with the Palestinians, so the European Union must “put pressure on both parties.” Then, abandoning the pretense of even-handedness, it added: “Systematic support of Israeli government policy is dangerous and does not serve the true interests of the state of Israel.” There was no comparable warning against supporting Palestinian Authority policies, some of which clearly endanger Israel.

Asked to explain this disparity, founder David Chemla told the Jerusalem Post, “As Jews tied to Israel, we speak to the Israelis. So this is a call to the Israelis.”

That is obvious nonsense: if JCall really wanted to address Israelis, it would petition the Knesset — not the virulently anti-Israel European Parliament, which just two months ago backed the Goldstone Report’s allegations of Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza. The U.S. Congress, by comparison, denounced the report as hopelessly biased.

And that contrast highlights the more serious intellectual incoherence in JCall’s position. JCall, like JStreet, on which it is self-consciously modeled, opposes “delegitimization and boycotts of Israel,” Chemla told Haaretz. But America could reduce support for Israel in many ways short of boycott/divestment/sanctions. Europe can’t.

Unlike the U.S., the EU doesn’t vote against anti-Israel UN resolutions, give Israel financial aid, serve as a major Israeli arms supplier, and publicly defend (or at least refrain from condemning) Israeli counterterrorism measures. Indeed, it makes only one major contribution to Israel’s welfare: it’s Israel’s largest trading partner.

So when you urge European “pressure” on Israel, you’re effectively urging BDS. The EU has no lesser pressure mechanisms left.

Chemla nevertheless insisted that JCall is “actually helping Israel’s image in Europe” by showing that the Jewish community is “not monolithic.” How Europeans’ image of Israel would be improved by learning that prominent Jews also deem Israel the conflict’s main culprit remains a mystery.

But it’s no mystery how that might improve Europeans’ image of European Jews. On a continent where opinion polls consistently show Israel to be widely loathed, even implying that Israel isn’t solely to blame makes you suspect. But if you urge the EU to withhold support from Israel’s government, yet not from the PA; if you even declare that this serves Israel’s “true interests,” so Europeans need suffer no qualms of conscience, then you’ve restored yourself to the European consensus. You’ve showed, to quote JCall’s petition, that you, too, hear “the voice of reason” — at least as Europe currently defines it.

It’s hard being a Jew in Europe today. So it’s understandable that some would seize on anything, however irrational, that labels itself “pro-Israel” while not violating the European consensus. But their Israeli and American brethren must remind them of the truth: being “pro-Israel” in Europe today requires emphasizing Palestinian guilt, which Europeans routinely ignore, rather than reinforcing their “blame Israel” reflex. And it requires lobbying against “pressure” that can only be manifest through BDS.

The new European group JCall raises a disturbing question: how could pro-Israel intellectuals like Alain Finkielkraut and Bernard-Henri Levy support a venture that is simultaneously anti-Israel and intellectually incoherent?

JCall presented a petition to the European Parliament this week that asserted that Israel’s future “depends upon” peace with the Palestinians, so the European Union must “put pressure on both parties.” Then, abandoning the pretense of even-handedness, it added: “Systematic support of Israeli government policy is dangerous and does not serve the true interests of the state of Israel.” There was no comparable warning against supporting Palestinian Authority policies, some of which clearly endanger Israel.

Asked to explain this disparity, founder David Chemla told the Jerusalem Post, “As Jews tied to Israel, we speak to the Israelis. So this is a call to the Israelis.”

That is obvious nonsense: if JCall really wanted to address Israelis, it would petition the Knesset — not the virulently anti-Israel European Parliament, which just two months ago backed the Goldstone Report’s allegations of Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza. The U.S. Congress, by comparison, denounced the report as hopelessly biased.

And that contrast highlights the more serious intellectual incoherence in JCall’s position. JCall, like JStreet, on which it is self-consciously modeled, opposes “delegitimization and boycotts of Israel,” Chemla told Haaretz. But America could reduce support for Israel in many ways short of boycott/divestment/sanctions. Europe can’t.

Unlike the U.S., the EU doesn’t vote against anti-Israel UN resolutions, give Israel financial aid, serve as a major Israeli arms supplier, and publicly defend (or at least refrain from condemning) Israeli counterterrorism measures. Indeed, it makes only one major contribution to Israel’s welfare: it’s Israel’s largest trading partner.

So when you urge European “pressure” on Israel, you’re effectively urging BDS. The EU has no lesser pressure mechanisms left.

Chemla nevertheless insisted that JCall is “actually helping Israel’s image in Europe” by showing that the Jewish community is “not monolithic.” How Europeans’ image of Israel would be improved by learning that prominent Jews also deem Israel the conflict’s main culprit remains a mystery.

But it’s no mystery how that might improve Europeans’ image of European Jews. On a continent where opinion polls consistently show Israel to be widely loathed, even implying that Israel isn’t solely to blame makes you suspect. But if you urge the EU to withhold support from Israel’s government, yet not from the PA; if you even declare that this serves Israel’s “true interests,” so Europeans need suffer no qualms of conscience, then you’ve restored yourself to the European consensus. You’ve showed, to quote JCall’s petition, that you, too, hear “the voice of reason” — at least as Europe currently defines it.

It’s hard being a Jew in Europe today. So it’s understandable that some would seize on anything, however irrational, that labels itself “pro-Israel” while not violating the European consensus. But their Israeli and American brethren must remind them of the truth: being “pro-Israel” in Europe today requires emphasizing Palestinian guilt, which Europeans routinely ignore, rather than reinforcing their “blame Israel” reflex. And it requires lobbying against “pressure” that can only be manifest through BDS.

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Jerusalem Really IS a Final Status Issue?

David Axelrod pronounces: “The president agrees that Jerusalem as an issue can’t be the first issue for negotiations.” What’s more, he wants us to know that “Jerusalem should ‘probably be the last’ issue negotiated, Axelrod said, echoing the position of Israel’s government, which is that the issue is too sensitive to discuss before other issues, including borders, are settled.”

So let’s review. The adviser who went on the Sunday talk shows to make clear how angry Obama was over a Jerusalem housing project and has personally counseled the president to go beserk with the Israelis over the issue and who presumably is aware of the threat to abstain rather than veto a UN resolution should that building proceed now says it’s the last issue we should talk about. If you’re confused, I’m sure the parties in the region are, too. There are several explanations.

Perhaps Axelrod and the rest of the Obama crew are simply telling every party what it wants to hear, raising Palestinian expectations and simultaneously giving Jews assurances on the Israeli capital. It is a recipe for disaster, of course, once negotiations begin and everyone has a different set of expectations and understanding of the U.S. position.

Another explanation: Obama has abandoned the entire Jerusalem gambit after raising it to the level of an international incident, damaging U.S.-Israel relations, and encouraging more Palestinian violence. It would be a remarkable turnaround.

Or the Obama brain trust may be practicing some bizarre word games and hoping everyone plays along. Yes, yes, Jerusalem is a final status issue, but we can’t let Israel “predetermine” the outcome by building in its capital (even though this was precisely the agreement reached with the Bush administration), so “final” doesn’t mean they won’t make demands on the Israeli government now.

It’s not clear what the Obama gurus are up to or whether there is even a strategy here. Whatever it is, it certainly is not “smart” — that is, coherent, credible, and clear — diplomacy.

David Axelrod pronounces: “The president agrees that Jerusalem as an issue can’t be the first issue for negotiations.” What’s more, he wants us to know that “Jerusalem should ‘probably be the last’ issue negotiated, Axelrod said, echoing the position of Israel’s government, which is that the issue is too sensitive to discuss before other issues, including borders, are settled.”

So let’s review. The adviser who went on the Sunday talk shows to make clear how angry Obama was over a Jerusalem housing project and has personally counseled the president to go beserk with the Israelis over the issue and who presumably is aware of the threat to abstain rather than veto a UN resolution should that building proceed now says it’s the last issue we should talk about. If you’re confused, I’m sure the parties in the region are, too. There are several explanations.

Perhaps Axelrod and the rest of the Obama crew are simply telling every party what it wants to hear, raising Palestinian expectations and simultaneously giving Jews assurances on the Israeli capital. It is a recipe for disaster, of course, once negotiations begin and everyone has a different set of expectations and understanding of the U.S. position.

Another explanation: Obama has abandoned the entire Jerusalem gambit after raising it to the level of an international incident, damaging U.S.-Israel relations, and encouraging more Palestinian violence. It would be a remarkable turnaround.

Or the Obama brain trust may be practicing some bizarre word games and hoping everyone plays along. Yes, yes, Jerusalem is a final status issue, but we can’t let Israel “predetermine” the outcome by building in its capital (even though this was precisely the agreement reached with the Bush administration), so “final” doesn’t mean they won’t make demands on the Israeli government now.

It’s not clear what the Obama gurus are up to or whether there is even a strategy here. Whatever it is, it certainly is not “smart” — that is, coherent, credible, and clear — diplomacy.

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Tensions with U.S. Don’t Preclude Israeli Strike on Iran

In his post yesterday, Max posited that U.S-Israeli tensions make an Israeli strike on Iran unlikely. But in fact, such tensions may well make an Israeli strike more likely.

There are Israelis who believe that what currently looks like the only alternative — containing a nuclear Iran — is possible in principle. But for Israeli policymakers to conclude that containment is possible in practice, they must be convinced that if a nuclear Iran uses its enhanced power to attack Israel, whether directly or via its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, the U.S. will either take appropriate countermeasures itself or support Israel in any countermeasures it deems necessary, including military ones.

If Israel’s relationship with Washington were close enough to make this conviction plausible, one could imagine Jerusalem reluctantly acquiescing should Washington ultimately decide that containment was the way to go. But given President Barack Obama’s track record, both of failing to take strong measures against thugs and of giving short shrift to Israeli concerns, virtually no one in Israel’s government thinks he can be trusted either to contain Iran himself or to allow Israel to do so.

Thus, for Israel to refrain from bombing Iran under these circumstances, it would have to conclude that an uncontained Iran is worse than the risk of widening the rift with Washington. And there is no historical precedent for Israel putting its relationship with any foreign government above a security threat of that magnitude, however much it agonizes over the decision beforehand.

I’m sure the Wall Street Journal article Max cited was accurate in saying that some Israeli defense officials do oppose bombing Iran without Washington’s consent (though based on experience, even their views could change as the threat of a nuclear Iran looms closer). But as the Journal itself acknowledged, even today, this opinion is far from unanimous. And if you want to gauge its relative strength within Israel’s policymaking establishment, it’s worth noting that the leading opponent of military action against Iran, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, has just been handed his walking papers.

Ashkenazi is widely admired in Israel for both his success in rehabilitating the Israel Defense Forces after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and his conduct of last year’s war in Gaza. So there would be no good reason not to extend his term for a fifth year, which he reportedly wanted — except in order to keep the option of military action against Iran open. As Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel noted in analyzing the implications of this decision, “An attack on Iran is impossible with a chief of staff who opposes it.” And Ashkenazi did oppose it — so strongly that the Pentagon reportedly viewed him as its most reliably ally in preventing an Israeli strike.

There is no guarantee that Israel will bomb Iran. Much could happen before Ashkenazi’s term ends in another 10 months, and his successor has not yet even been chosen. But to assert that U.S.-Israel tension takes the Israeli military option off the table is to misread both Israeli history and current events.

In his post yesterday, Max posited that U.S-Israeli tensions make an Israeli strike on Iran unlikely. But in fact, such tensions may well make an Israeli strike more likely.

There are Israelis who believe that what currently looks like the only alternative — containing a nuclear Iran — is possible in principle. But for Israeli policymakers to conclude that containment is possible in practice, they must be convinced that if a nuclear Iran uses its enhanced power to attack Israel, whether directly or via its proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, the U.S. will either take appropriate countermeasures itself or support Israel in any countermeasures it deems necessary, including military ones.

If Israel’s relationship with Washington were close enough to make this conviction plausible, one could imagine Jerusalem reluctantly acquiescing should Washington ultimately decide that containment was the way to go. But given President Barack Obama’s track record, both of failing to take strong measures against thugs and of giving short shrift to Israeli concerns, virtually no one in Israel’s government thinks he can be trusted either to contain Iran himself or to allow Israel to do so.

Thus, for Israel to refrain from bombing Iran under these circumstances, it would have to conclude that an uncontained Iran is worse than the risk of widening the rift with Washington. And there is no historical precedent for Israel putting its relationship with any foreign government above a security threat of that magnitude, however much it agonizes over the decision beforehand.

I’m sure the Wall Street Journal article Max cited was accurate in saying that some Israeli defense officials do oppose bombing Iran without Washington’s consent (though based on experience, even their views could change as the threat of a nuclear Iran looms closer). But as the Journal itself acknowledged, even today, this opinion is far from unanimous. And if you want to gauge its relative strength within Israel’s policymaking establishment, it’s worth noting that the leading opponent of military action against Iran, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, has just been handed his walking papers.

Ashkenazi is widely admired in Israel for both his success in rehabilitating the Israel Defense Forces after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and his conduct of last year’s war in Gaza. So there would be no good reason not to extend his term for a fifth year, which he reportedly wanted — except in order to keep the option of military action against Iran open. As Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel noted in analyzing the implications of this decision, “An attack on Iran is impossible with a chief of staff who opposes it.” And Ashkenazi did oppose it — so strongly that the Pentagon reportedly viewed him as its most reliably ally in preventing an Israeli strike.

There is no guarantee that Israel will bomb Iran. Much could happen before Ashkenazi’s term ends in another 10 months, and his successor has not yet even been chosen. But to assert that U.S.-Israel tension takes the Israeli military option off the table is to misread both Israeli history and current events.

Read Less

Poll: An Overwhelming Majority of Jews Don’t Back Obama’s Israel Policy

President Obama’s cheerleaders in the media and the Jewish community have been resolute in asserting that, despite his clear animus for Israel, American Jews still back him. However, a new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows that despite the undoubted loyalty of Jews for the Democratic Party, a majority of Jews polled dislike Obama’s handling of the Middle East conflict.

Regarding Obama’s “handling [of] the situation between Israel and Palestine,” Jews responded with a whopping 67 percent disapproval of the president, while only 28 percent approved.

Given that Obama received more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is an astounding result. It also shows that, despite the clear partisan edge Obama enjoys among Jews, his animus toward the Jewish state has not gone without notice. Indeed, after 16 months of distancing America from Israel, feckless engagement with Iran, picking pointless fights with Israel’s government over the future of Jerusalem, and placing the onus for lack of progress toward peace on Israel rather than on a Palestinian leadership that won’t even sit down and talk, the administration has clearly lost ground among its most ardent supporters on this issue. Overall, the poll’s results showed that Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian dispute by a margin of 44 to 35 percent.

That said, administration supporters could still point to two other questions in the poll to cheer the president. Among all those polled, only 34 percent said that Obama was a strong supporter of Israel, while 42 percent believe he is not. Yet among Jews, 50 percent said that he was a strong supporter, with 46 percent disagreeing. In addition, another question asked whether respondents approved of the president’s handling of Iran. The response among all polled was almost an even split, with 44 percent approving of his Iran policy and 43 percent disapproving. Yet 50 percent of Jews approved, while only 42 percent disapproved.

What are we to make of these numbers? Well, one can always just dismiss polls as snapshots of opinion and say this one really means nothing. And given that Obama can point to positive results among Jews about his level of support for Israel as well as his handling of the nation that currently presents a possible existential threat to the Jewish state, perhaps we shouldn’t make too much of any of this.

However, even the positive results to the latter two questions show a remarkably low level of support for a Democratic president among the overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish community. Given that Obama ran in 2008 claiming that he was a strong supporter of Israel, it is significant that only half of American Jews now believe that pledge. Moreover, the 67-28 negative rating on Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian issue among Jews clearly shows that his anger towards Israel and lack of sensitivity toward its concerns is not viewed kindly.

Whether any of this will affect Jewish votes in 2010 or 2012 is still an open question. In the aftermath of the 2008 vote, leftists were quick to assert that Obama’s strong showing among American Jewish voters showed that knee-jerk support for Israel was no longer the defining issue for Jews. They were certainly right when they asserted that most Jews are not single-issue voters who judge a candidate solely from a pro-Israel frame of reference. But past elections have shown that when a candidate places himself in opposition to Israel, there are negative consequences when it comes to obtaining Jewish votes. Though even Obama’s hostility would surely not be enough to tilt a majority of Jews to support a Republican challenger to the president, as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush can attest, a president who is not seen as a strong supporter will get fewer Jewish votes when he runs for re-election.

Much can change in the next two years. On the one hand, Obama might come to his senses and back away from a policy bent on confrontation with Israel. On the other, the administration’s obvious willingness to live with a nuclear Iran may set off a catastrophic series of events that could overshadow all of Obama’s previous actions.  But no matter what lies ahead, this latest Quinnipiac poll ought to give the president and his supporters pause as they contemplate a clear weakening of support for Obama among a demographic group that was once one of his strongholds.

President Obama’s cheerleaders in the media and the Jewish community have been resolute in asserting that, despite his clear animus for Israel, American Jews still back him. However, a new Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows that despite the undoubted loyalty of Jews for the Democratic Party, a majority of Jews polled dislike Obama’s handling of the Middle East conflict.

Regarding Obama’s “handling [of] the situation between Israel and Palestine,” Jews responded with a whopping 67 percent disapproval of the president, while only 28 percent approved.

Given that Obama received more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, this is an astounding result. It also shows that, despite the clear partisan edge Obama enjoys among Jews, his animus toward the Jewish state has not gone without notice. Indeed, after 16 months of distancing America from Israel, feckless engagement with Iran, picking pointless fights with Israel’s government over the future of Jerusalem, and placing the onus for lack of progress toward peace on Israel rather than on a Palestinian leadership that won’t even sit down and talk, the administration has clearly lost ground among its most ardent supporters on this issue. Overall, the poll’s results showed that Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian dispute by a margin of 44 to 35 percent.

That said, administration supporters could still point to two other questions in the poll to cheer the president. Among all those polled, only 34 percent said that Obama was a strong supporter of Israel, while 42 percent believe he is not. Yet among Jews, 50 percent said that he was a strong supporter, with 46 percent disagreeing. In addition, another question asked whether respondents approved of the president’s handling of Iran. The response among all polled was almost an even split, with 44 percent approving of his Iran policy and 43 percent disapproving. Yet 50 percent of Jews approved, while only 42 percent disapproved.

What are we to make of these numbers? Well, one can always just dismiss polls as snapshots of opinion and say this one really means nothing. And given that Obama can point to positive results among Jews about his level of support for Israel as well as his handling of the nation that currently presents a possible existential threat to the Jewish state, perhaps we shouldn’t make too much of any of this.

However, even the positive results to the latter two questions show a remarkably low level of support for a Democratic president among the overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish community. Given that Obama ran in 2008 claiming that he was a strong supporter of Israel, it is significant that only half of American Jews now believe that pledge. Moreover, the 67-28 negative rating on Obama’s handling of the Israel-Palestinian issue among Jews clearly shows that his anger towards Israel and lack of sensitivity toward its concerns is not viewed kindly.

Whether any of this will affect Jewish votes in 2010 or 2012 is still an open question. In the aftermath of the 2008 vote, leftists were quick to assert that Obama’s strong showing among American Jewish voters showed that knee-jerk support for Israel was no longer the defining issue for Jews. They were certainly right when they asserted that most Jews are not single-issue voters who judge a candidate solely from a pro-Israel frame of reference. But past elections have shown that when a candidate places himself in opposition to Israel, there are negative consequences when it comes to obtaining Jewish votes. Though even Obama’s hostility would surely not be enough to tilt a majority of Jews to support a Republican challenger to the president, as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush can attest, a president who is not seen as a strong supporter will get fewer Jewish votes when he runs for re-election.

Much can change in the next two years. On the one hand, Obama might come to his senses and back away from a policy bent on confrontation with Israel. On the other, the administration’s obvious willingness to live with a nuclear Iran may set off a catastrophic series of events that could overshadow all of Obama’s previous actions.  But no matter what lies ahead, this latest Quinnipiac poll ought to give the president and his supporters pause as they contemplate a clear weakening of support for Obama among a demographic group that was once one of his strongholds.

Read Less

The Times Makes It Official: Obama Has Shifted U.S. Policy Against Israel

If there were any lingering doubts in the minds of Democrats who care about Israel that the president they helped elect has fundamentally altered American foreign policy to the Jewish state’s disadvantage, they are now gone. The New York Times officially proclaimed the administration’s changed attitude in a front-page story this morning that ought to send chills down the spine of anyone who believed Barack Obama when he pledged in 2008 that he would be a loyal friend of Israel.

In the view of the paper’s Washington correspondents, the moment that signaled what had already been apparent to anyone who was paying attention was the president’s declaration at a Tuesday news conference that resolving the Middle East conflict was “a vital national security interest of the United States.” Mr. Obama went on to state that the conflict is “costing us significantly in terms of blood and treasure,” thus attempting to draw a link between Israel’s attempts to defend itself with the safety of American troops who are fighting Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. By claiming the Arab-Israeli conflict to be a “vital national security interest” that must be resolved, the “frustrated” Obama is making it clear that he will push hard to impose a solution on the parties.

The significance of this false argument is that it not only seeks to wrongly put the onus on Israel for the lack of a peace agreement but that it also now attempts to paint any Israeli refusal to accede to Obama’s demands as a betrayal in which a selfish Israel is stabbing America in the back. The response from Obama to this will be, the Times predicts, “tougher policies toward Israel,” since it is, in this view, ignoring America’s interests and even costing American lives.

The problem with this policy is that the basic premise behind it is false. Islamists may hate Israel, but that is not why they are fighting the United States. They are fighting America because they rightly see the West and its culture, values, and belief in democracy as antithetical to their own beliefs and a threat to its survival and growth as they seek to impose their medieval system everywhere they can. Americans are not dying because Israelis want to live in Jerusalem or even the West Bank or even because there is an Israel. If Israel were to disappear tomorrow, that catastrophe would certainly be cheered in the Arab and Islamic world, but it would not end the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, cause Iran to stop its nuclear program, or put al-Qaeda out of business. In fact, a defeat for a country allied with the United States would strengthen Iran and al-Qaeda.

But undeterred by the facts and the experience of a generation of failed peace plans that have always foundered not on Israeli intransigence but rather on the absolute refusal of any Palestinian leader to put his signature on a document that will legitimize a Jewish state within any borders, Obama is pushing ahead. In the view of unnamed administration officials who have helpfully explained Obama’s policies to the Times, it is now only a matter of time before the president puts forward his own peace plan. And as the debate on health care illustrated, Obama will attempt to shove his diktat down the throats of the Israelis, whether the vast majority of Americans who support Israel like it or not.

As the Times notes, there is a great irony to Obama’s blazing anger at the Israelis and the urgency with which he views the issue. It comes at a time when the overwhelming majority of Israelis have “become disillusioned with the whole idea of resolving the conflict. Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government has long been skeptical about the benefits of a peace deal with the Palestinians. But skepticism has taken root in the Israeli public as well, particularly after Israel saw little benefit from its traumatic withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.” In other words, after countless concessions made to the Arabs at Oslo, and in subsequent accords and after offers from Israel of a state comprising Gaza, the West Bank, and parts of Jerusalem were refused by the Palestinians in 2000 and 2008, most Israelis have finally figured out that the other side doesn’t want to end the conflict. And they are baffled as to why Obama and his advisers haven’t come to the same all too obvious conclusion.

But with the Obama administration now so passionately committed to hammering Israel even as it apparently neglects to take action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the question remains what will be the response of pro-Israel Democrats. As Obama draws closer to all-out diplomatic war on Israel’s government, the obligation for principled Democrats to speak up in open opposition to these policies cannot be avoided. While many Democrats have sought to confuse the issue or avoid conflict with the president, stories such as the one on the front page of the Times this morning make it clear that sooner or later, pro-Israel Democrats are going to have to decide whether partisan loyalties will trump their support for the Jewish state’s survival.

If there were any lingering doubts in the minds of Democrats who care about Israel that the president they helped elect has fundamentally altered American foreign policy to the Jewish state’s disadvantage, they are now gone. The New York Times officially proclaimed the administration’s changed attitude in a front-page story this morning that ought to send chills down the spine of anyone who believed Barack Obama when he pledged in 2008 that he would be a loyal friend of Israel.

In the view of the paper’s Washington correspondents, the moment that signaled what had already been apparent to anyone who was paying attention was the president’s declaration at a Tuesday news conference that resolving the Middle East conflict was “a vital national security interest of the United States.” Mr. Obama went on to state that the conflict is “costing us significantly in terms of blood and treasure,” thus attempting to draw a link between Israel’s attempts to defend itself with the safety of American troops who are fighting Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. By claiming the Arab-Israeli conflict to be a “vital national security interest” that must be resolved, the “frustrated” Obama is making it clear that he will push hard to impose a solution on the parties.

The significance of this false argument is that it not only seeks to wrongly put the onus on Israel for the lack of a peace agreement but that it also now attempts to paint any Israeli refusal to accede to Obama’s demands as a betrayal in which a selfish Israel is stabbing America in the back. The response from Obama to this will be, the Times predicts, “tougher policies toward Israel,” since it is, in this view, ignoring America’s interests and even costing American lives.

The problem with this policy is that the basic premise behind it is false. Islamists may hate Israel, but that is not why they are fighting the United States. They are fighting America because they rightly see the West and its culture, values, and belief in democracy as antithetical to their own beliefs and a threat to its survival and growth as they seek to impose their medieval system everywhere they can. Americans are not dying because Israelis want to live in Jerusalem or even the West Bank or even because there is an Israel. If Israel were to disappear tomorrow, that catastrophe would certainly be cheered in the Arab and Islamic world, but it would not end the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, cause Iran to stop its nuclear program, or put al-Qaeda out of business. In fact, a defeat for a country allied with the United States would strengthen Iran and al-Qaeda.

But undeterred by the facts and the experience of a generation of failed peace plans that have always foundered not on Israeli intransigence but rather on the absolute refusal of any Palestinian leader to put his signature on a document that will legitimize a Jewish state within any borders, Obama is pushing ahead. In the view of unnamed administration officials who have helpfully explained Obama’s policies to the Times, it is now only a matter of time before the president puts forward his own peace plan. And as the debate on health care illustrated, Obama will attempt to shove his diktat down the throats of the Israelis, whether the vast majority of Americans who support Israel like it or not.

As the Times notes, there is a great irony to Obama’s blazing anger at the Israelis and the urgency with which he views the issue. It comes at a time when the overwhelming majority of Israelis have “become disillusioned with the whole idea of resolving the conflict. Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government has long been skeptical about the benefits of a peace deal with the Palestinians. But skepticism has taken root in the Israeli public as well, particularly after Israel saw little benefit from its traumatic withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.” In other words, after countless concessions made to the Arabs at Oslo, and in subsequent accords and after offers from Israel of a state comprising Gaza, the West Bank, and parts of Jerusalem were refused by the Palestinians in 2000 and 2008, most Israelis have finally figured out that the other side doesn’t want to end the conflict. And they are baffled as to why Obama and his advisers haven’t come to the same all too obvious conclusion.

But with the Obama administration now so passionately committed to hammering Israel even as it apparently neglects to take action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the question remains what will be the response of pro-Israel Democrats. As Obama draws closer to all-out diplomatic war on Israel’s government, the obligation for principled Democrats to speak up in open opposition to these policies cannot be avoided. While many Democrats have sought to confuse the issue or avoid conflict with the president, stories such as the one on the front page of the Times this morning make it clear that sooner or later, pro-Israel Democrats are going to have to decide whether partisan loyalties will trump their support for the Jewish state’s survival.

Read Less




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