Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel’s government

The Resistance Bloc Will Not Be Appeased

Hezbollah’s reaction to Israel’s plan to build 1,600 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem might help President Barack Obama understand something that has so far eluded him: the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah resistance bloc will not allow him to appease it.

“The scheme is yet another part of a Judaization campaign,” Hezbollah said in a statement quoted by the Tehran Times, “that targets the holy city of al-Quds [Jerusalem] and a provocation of Muslim feeling.” If Obama expected a little appreciation from Israel’s enemies for making the same point with more diplomatic finesse, he was mistaken. “The Zionist plan to construct hundreds of homes in al-Quds,” Hezbollah continued, “truly shows American cover to it.”

So not only is Obama denied credit for standing up to Israel’s government, he is accused of doing precisely the opposite.

Anti-Americanism is ideological oxygen for partisans of the resistance bloc. They will no sooner let it go than they will stop breathing. Their entire worldview and political program would turn to ashes without it, much as Fidel Castro’s would without socialism. When the United States doesn’t follow the script, they just lie.

If we extend a hand in friendship, they’ll bite it and try to chew off a finger. If we take their side once in a while to appear evenhanded, they’ll twist the truth until it looks like a sinister plot, then they’ll bite us again.

A couple of years ago Hezbollah stretched a banner across an overpass near Lebanon’s international airport that said, in English, “All our catastrophes come from America.” Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah would have an awfully hard time climbing down from that high a tree even if his Iranian masters would let him — and they won’t. They’ve been calling Israel the “Little Satan” and the U.S. the “Great Satan” since Jimmy Carter, of all people, was president.

The resistance bloc would remain viciously anti-American even if the United States declared war on Israel and bombed Tel Aviv. Maybe — maybe — that wouldn’t be true if the U.S. were the little Satan instead of the great Satan, but even then it probably wouldn’t matter that much. Resistance-bloc leaders, like anyone else in the world, may enjoy watching their enemies slugging it out with each other, but that doesn’t mean they’ll warm to one or the other all of a sudden because of it.

That’s how the Iran-Iraq war looked to us in the 1980s. It was a “red on red” fight where two regimes we detested bloodied and weakened each other. Henry Kissinger summed up the sentiment on our side: “It’s too bad they can’t both lose.”

And that’s how the American-led invasion of Iraq looked from the point of view of Iran’s rulers in 2003. They had every reason in the world to hate Saddam Hussein more than anyone else in the world. His army killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians in an eight-year war he started less than a year after Ayatollah Khomeini became Supreme Leader. (Israel, meanwhile, has never fought a war with Iran and hasn’t killed any Iranians.) Yet the United States earned no points whatsoever for taking out their most dangerous enemy and placing their Shia co-religionists in the saddle in Baghdad.

There are, of course, millions of Arabs and Iranians who detest the Khomeinist-led resistance bloc and feel threatened by it, including about half of Palestinians. Most are less ideologically severe, and some have already made peace with Israel. Perhaps the Obama administration is hoping the U.S. can increase its standing with them by publicly sparring with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even if it works, though, it won’t make any difference. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be divorced from the region-wide Arab-Israeli and Iranian-Israeli conflicts. If all the moderates in the whole Arab world were to drop their hostility to the U.S. and Israel and yearn for a peaceful solution, Hamas and Hezbollah, with Syrian and Iranian backing, could still scotch peace talks and peace treaties with kidnappings, suicide bombings, and missile attacks whenever they felt like it.

Resolving this mother of all quagmires would be excruciatingly difficult even if all four pieces of the resistance bloc were taken off the board yesterday. In the meantime, bruising our alliance with Israel to grease the skids on a peace process to nowhere is gratuitous.

Hezbollah’s reaction to Israel’s plan to build 1,600 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem might help President Barack Obama understand something that has so far eluded him: the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah resistance bloc will not allow him to appease it.

“The scheme is yet another part of a Judaization campaign,” Hezbollah said in a statement quoted by the Tehran Times, “that targets the holy city of al-Quds [Jerusalem] and a provocation of Muslim feeling.” If Obama expected a little appreciation from Israel’s enemies for making the same point with more diplomatic finesse, he was mistaken. “The Zionist plan to construct hundreds of homes in al-Quds,” Hezbollah continued, “truly shows American cover to it.”

So not only is Obama denied credit for standing up to Israel’s government, he is accused of doing precisely the opposite.

Anti-Americanism is ideological oxygen for partisans of the resistance bloc. They will no sooner let it go than they will stop breathing. Their entire worldview and political program would turn to ashes without it, much as Fidel Castro’s would without socialism. When the United States doesn’t follow the script, they just lie.

If we extend a hand in friendship, they’ll bite it and try to chew off a finger. If we take their side once in a while to appear evenhanded, they’ll twist the truth until it looks like a sinister plot, then they’ll bite us again.

A couple of years ago Hezbollah stretched a banner across an overpass near Lebanon’s international airport that said, in English, “All our catastrophes come from America.” Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah would have an awfully hard time climbing down from that high a tree even if his Iranian masters would let him — and they won’t. They’ve been calling Israel the “Little Satan” and the U.S. the “Great Satan” since Jimmy Carter, of all people, was president.

The resistance bloc would remain viciously anti-American even if the United States declared war on Israel and bombed Tel Aviv. Maybe — maybe — that wouldn’t be true if the U.S. were the little Satan instead of the great Satan, but even then it probably wouldn’t matter that much. Resistance-bloc leaders, like anyone else in the world, may enjoy watching their enemies slugging it out with each other, but that doesn’t mean they’ll warm to one or the other all of a sudden because of it.

That’s how the Iran-Iraq war looked to us in the 1980s. It was a “red on red” fight where two regimes we detested bloodied and weakened each other. Henry Kissinger summed up the sentiment on our side: “It’s too bad they can’t both lose.”

And that’s how the American-led invasion of Iraq looked from the point of view of Iran’s rulers in 2003. They had every reason in the world to hate Saddam Hussein more than anyone else in the world. His army killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians in an eight-year war he started less than a year after Ayatollah Khomeini became Supreme Leader. (Israel, meanwhile, has never fought a war with Iran and hasn’t killed any Iranians.) Yet the United States earned no points whatsoever for taking out their most dangerous enemy and placing their Shia co-religionists in the saddle in Baghdad.

There are, of course, millions of Arabs and Iranians who detest the Khomeinist-led resistance bloc and feel threatened by it, including about half of Palestinians. Most are less ideologically severe, and some have already made peace with Israel. Perhaps the Obama administration is hoping the U.S. can increase its standing with them by publicly sparring with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even if it works, though, it won’t make any difference. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be divorced from the region-wide Arab-Israeli and Iranian-Israeli conflicts. If all the moderates in the whole Arab world were to drop their hostility to the U.S. and Israel and yearn for a peaceful solution, Hamas and Hezbollah, with Syrian and Iranian backing, could still scotch peace talks and peace treaties with kidnappings, suicide bombings, and missile attacks whenever they felt like it.

Resolving this mother of all quagmires would be excruciatingly difficult even if all four pieces of the resistance bloc were taken off the board yesterday. In the meantime, bruising our alliance with Israel to grease the skids on a peace process to nowhere is gratuitous.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

No affront, no insult taken when Hillary Clinton is dissed by Putin and told that Russia is going ahead with its plans to help the mullahs build a nuclear reactor. Condemnation to follow? “Another full affrontal from the forces of tyranny against visiting American diplos. Since the slap came to Hillary this time, who makes the sassy 43-minute phone call to Putin? Is it Joe? Barack Obama himself? Maybe Bill should step in for his gal?” Now, Bill Clinton — there’s an idea.

How’s the Russian “reset” working out? “Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia will help Iran launch its first nuclear power plant this summer, delivering a diplomatic slap to visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a blow to U.S.-led efforts to increase financial pressure on Tehran. … Mr. Putin’s comments come as the Obama administration has endured other slights on the global stage in recent weeks. Israel’s government announced new construction in disputed East Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden last week. Chinese officials have rebuffed U.S. calls for a revaluing of the yuan and greater Internet freedoms.”

Tony Rezko’s banker’s worst clients aren’t the mobsters. They’re the mullahs.

Eric Cantor blasts Obama’s double standard on Israel.

The ObamaCare effect: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows that 23% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-four percent (44%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -21. That matches the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President. … Each time the President leads a big push for his health care plan, his job approval ratings suffer.”

On a possible Obama meeting with Bibi, Ben Smith deadpans: “It seems reasonable at some point to ask what purpose the high-level American expressions of outrage last week wound up serving.”

What does Tom Campbell think of the Obama fight with Israel? At approximately 5:20 on the video, he seems not to have any problem with Joe Biden or the administration’s approach. His GOP opponents both excoriated the Obami.

They keep making it worse, explains Bill Kristol: “Nancy Pelosi and Louise Slaughter have come up with a parliamentary maneuver — ‘deem and pass’ — reeking of evasiveness and trickery that Democratic members are going to have to embrace. But it gets better! The point of ‘deem and pass’ is to allow representatives to vote directly only on the reconciliation ‘fixes’ rather than on the Senate health care bill (which will be deemed to be passed if reconciliation passes). But the reconciliation ‘fixes’ make the Senate bill even more politically unattractive.” Honest! More taxes and more Medicare cuts.

It didn’t sound like there was a deal to be had: “Even the leading proponent of a deal to close the Guantanamo Bay prison is throwing cold water on talk that such a compromise is imminent. A spokesman for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) dismissed a report in the Wall Street Journal Friday that the White House and a bipartisan group of senators were nearing agreement to close Guantanamo and settle a series of related thorny issues, including sending alleged September 11 plotters to military commissions.”

No affront, no insult taken when Hillary Clinton is dissed by Putin and told that Russia is going ahead with its plans to help the mullahs build a nuclear reactor. Condemnation to follow? “Another full affrontal from the forces of tyranny against visiting American diplos. Since the slap came to Hillary this time, who makes the sassy 43-minute phone call to Putin? Is it Joe? Barack Obama himself? Maybe Bill should step in for his gal?” Now, Bill Clinton — there’s an idea.

How’s the Russian “reset” working out? “Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Russia will help Iran launch its first nuclear power plant this summer, delivering a diplomatic slap to visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a blow to U.S.-led efforts to increase financial pressure on Tehran. … Mr. Putin’s comments come as the Obama administration has endured other slights on the global stage in recent weeks. Israel’s government announced new construction in disputed East Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden last week. Chinese officials have rebuffed U.S. calls for a revaluing of the yuan and greater Internet freedoms.”

Tony Rezko’s banker’s worst clients aren’t the mobsters. They’re the mullahs.

Eric Cantor blasts Obama’s double standard on Israel.

The ObamaCare effect: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Friday shows that 23% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-four percent (44%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -21. That matches the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for this President. … Each time the President leads a big push for his health care plan, his job approval ratings suffer.”

On a possible Obama meeting with Bibi, Ben Smith deadpans: “It seems reasonable at some point to ask what purpose the high-level American expressions of outrage last week wound up serving.”

What does Tom Campbell think of the Obama fight with Israel? At approximately 5:20 on the video, he seems not to have any problem with Joe Biden or the administration’s approach. His GOP opponents both excoriated the Obami.

They keep making it worse, explains Bill Kristol: “Nancy Pelosi and Louise Slaughter have come up with a parliamentary maneuver — ‘deem and pass’ — reeking of evasiveness and trickery that Democratic members are going to have to embrace. But it gets better! The point of ‘deem and pass’ is to allow representatives to vote directly only on the reconciliation ‘fixes’ rather than on the Senate health care bill (which will be deemed to be passed if reconciliation passes). But the reconciliation ‘fixes’ make the Senate bill even more politically unattractive.” Honest! More taxes and more Medicare cuts.

It didn’t sound like there was a deal to be had: “Even the leading proponent of a deal to close the Guantanamo Bay prison is throwing cold water on talk that such a compromise is imminent. A spokesman for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) dismissed a report in the Wall Street Journal Friday that the White House and a bipartisan group of senators were nearing agreement to close Guantanamo and settle a series of related thorny issues, including sending alleged September 11 plotters to military commissions.”

Read Less

False Charges of Israeli Racism Are No Defense of Obama’s Bias

Roger Cohen’s decision to join the crowd piling on Israel with a column that seeks to fan the flames of anger at Israel over the building of Jewish homes in Jerusalem was to be expected. Just about everything the Times columnist has written in the last year, including his shameful apologia for Iran’s dictators, has been related to his animus for Israel. Cohen’s bile is nothing new. Nor is his absurd characterization of a housing project in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem as an example of “the steady Israeli appropriation of the physical space for Palestine” or the “cynical scattering of the Palestinian people into enclaves that make a farce of statehood.” If the Palestinians wanted their own sovereign state with its capital in part of Jerusalem, they could have had it in 2000 or in 2008 when the Israelis offered it to them. They don’t, but rather than focus on the fact that the conflict isn’t about borders or settlements but about Israel’s existence, Israel-bashers like Cohen pretend that it’s all the fault of the Jews for insisting on their right to live in Jerusalem.

But Cohen’s column concludes with a new slur: the idea that the hostility with which most Israelis view Barack Obama is the result of racism. He writes that a cartoon in Ma’ariv depicts “Obama cooking Netanyahu in a pot.” But this is, he helpfully points out, not a symbol of an American trying to put an Israeli politician in hot water but “the image — a black man cooking a white man over an open fire — also said something about the way Israel views its critics.”

Israel’s liberal critics in this country are flummoxed by the fact that Obama is the least-liked American president by Israelis since Jimmy Carter. But rather than admit that this is the result of the administration’s conscious decision to distance itself from the Jewish state, writers like Cohen spin this understandable antagonism as being somehow the result of an Israeli character flaw. This is not the first time that the notion of Israeli racism has been claimed as the source of Obama’s unpopularity. On March 8, on MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews and New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner made the same claim when they discussed Obama’s low standing in Israel, though Bronner tried to put in some sort of context:

MATTHEWS: OK, that tells you a lot. So tell me why the president of the United States is so far at the bottom? Is it his middle name, Hussein?

BRONNER: I would say that there is some level of prejudice about the fact that he had some Islamic background through his stepfather. But I think it has to do more with the fact that when he came into office a year ago, he wanted to recalibrate the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. And the easiest and clearest way of doing that was to put some distance between the United States and Israel, and he did that. And that made people nervous. I think there‘s also some sense here that—some degree of racism, to be perfectly honest.

MATTHEWS: Yes. They—because they see it as a black man—you know.

But had Barack Hussein Obama come into office ready to make good on his campaign pledges of support for Israel and not chosen to pick pointless fights with Israel’s government or downplay the threat from Iran, his poll numbers would be very different. George W. Bush also came into office with low Israeli popularity ratings, but he proved his friendship for the Jewish state with actions that eventually overshadowed the hostility most Jews felt for his father. Had Obama not sought to downgrade the alliance with Jerusalem, no one would be talking about the color of his skin having any impact on the way Israelis think of him. The attempt to blame the justified skepticism of Israelis about Obama’s intentions toward their country on Jewish racism is nothing but a contemptible slur.

Roger Cohen’s decision to join the crowd piling on Israel with a column that seeks to fan the flames of anger at Israel over the building of Jewish homes in Jerusalem was to be expected. Just about everything the Times columnist has written in the last year, including his shameful apologia for Iran’s dictators, has been related to his animus for Israel. Cohen’s bile is nothing new. Nor is his absurd characterization of a housing project in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem as an example of “the steady Israeli appropriation of the physical space for Palestine” or the “cynical scattering of the Palestinian people into enclaves that make a farce of statehood.” If the Palestinians wanted their own sovereign state with its capital in part of Jerusalem, they could have had it in 2000 or in 2008 when the Israelis offered it to them. They don’t, but rather than focus on the fact that the conflict isn’t about borders or settlements but about Israel’s existence, Israel-bashers like Cohen pretend that it’s all the fault of the Jews for insisting on their right to live in Jerusalem.

But Cohen’s column concludes with a new slur: the idea that the hostility with which most Israelis view Barack Obama is the result of racism. He writes that a cartoon in Ma’ariv depicts “Obama cooking Netanyahu in a pot.” But this is, he helpfully points out, not a symbol of an American trying to put an Israeli politician in hot water but “the image — a black man cooking a white man over an open fire — also said something about the way Israel views its critics.”

Israel’s liberal critics in this country are flummoxed by the fact that Obama is the least-liked American president by Israelis since Jimmy Carter. But rather than admit that this is the result of the administration’s conscious decision to distance itself from the Jewish state, writers like Cohen spin this understandable antagonism as being somehow the result of an Israeli character flaw. This is not the first time that the notion of Israeli racism has been claimed as the source of Obama’s unpopularity. On March 8, on MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews and New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner made the same claim when they discussed Obama’s low standing in Israel, though Bronner tried to put in some sort of context:

MATTHEWS: OK, that tells you a lot. So tell me why the president of the United States is so far at the bottom? Is it his middle name, Hussein?

BRONNER: I would say that there is some level of prejudice about the fact that he had some Islamic background through his stepfather. But I think it has to do more with the fact that when he came into office a year ago, he wanted to recalibrate the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. And the easiest and clearest way of doing that was to put some distance between the United States and Israel, and he did that. And that made people nervous. I think there‘s also some sense here that—some degree of racism, to be perfectly honest.

MATTHEWS: Yes. They—because they see it as a black man—you know.

But had Barack Hussein Obama come into office ready to make good on his campaign pledges of support for Israel and not chosen to pick pointless fights with Israel’s government or downplay the threat from Iran, his poll numbers would be very different. George W. Bush also came into office with low Israeli popularity ratings, but he proved his friendship for the Jewish state with actions that eventually overshadowed the hostility most Jews felt for his father. Had Obama not sought to downgrade the alliance with Jerusalem, no one would be talking about the color of his skin having any impact on the way Israelis think of him. The attempt to blame the justified skepticism of Israelis about Obama’s intentions toward their country on Jewish racism is nothing but a contemptible slur.

Read Less

Another Cairo Speech

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

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Year Two of Obama Means More of the Same Hostility on Israel

According to the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, convened his nation’s consuls in the country for an emergency briefing and told them that last week’s dispute, which began with the announcement of new apartments being built in East Jerusalem, has become the “worst crisis” between Israel and the U.S. since 1975.

Given the escalation of American attacks on Israel’s government from a variety of sources in the last few days, it’s hard to argue with Oren’s analysis. Israel was in the wrong to have let such an announcement be made while Biden was in the country, but the escalation of the incident from a minor kerfuffle to a genuine crisis seems to be a conscious decision on the part of the administration. After all, had Obama wanted to be truly even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians, he could have treated the Palestinian decision to honor a mass murderer during Biden’s visit as being every bit as insulting as the building of apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood.

Others have already started to dissect the administration’s motivation. As John wrote, pique and a lack of caring about the consequences play a big role in this crisis. The willingness to push back so disproportionately against Israel, to single it out for opprobrium in a way not customary to this administration even in its treatment of open foes (think back to Obama’s equivocal reaction to the stolen election and repression of dissent in Iran last summer) should also force friends of the Jewish state to return to a question that was much discussed last summer: Why has Obama decided to downgrade relations with Israel?

In 2009, relations between Israel and the United States were primarily characterized by a ginned-up dispute about settlement construction. Not only did Washington choose to make more of an issue about settlements than previous administrations had, it also escalated the problem by specifically rejecting past agreements with Israel regarding construction in those places which the U.S. had acknowledged that Israel would keep even in the event of a far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. Even more troubling for the Israelis was a demand that construction of Jewish homes be halted in Jerusalem.

Though eventually, the Netanyahu government would give way and accept a temporary settlement freeze in the West Bank, it stood its ground on Jerusalem and won. By the end of the year, it appeared as though Obama had understood that his decision to test the Israelis was a failure. The hope that some in the White House had harbored about using their influence to topple the Netanyahu government had been unrealistic. Challenging Netanyahu on Jerusalem had strengthened his popularity. Distancing themselves from Israel had also not gotten the Palestinians to budge on making peace. Nor had it won the United States any extra goodwill in the Muslim world. It had just raised unreasonable expectations about Obama delivering Israel to them on a silver platter while motivating no one to greater efforts to cope with a real threat to both the United States and Israel: Iran’s nuclear program.

By the time of Biden’s visit last week, it had appeared that the administration had learned its lesson and was no longer placing any faith in the idea that pressure on Israel would do anyone any good. But the way they have gone off the deep end about an issue that was supposedly resolved last year makes you wonder how much Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have learned from their first year in office. Specifically, have they decided that this is an opportunity to make another push to get rid of Netanyahu by leveraging the dismay that Israelis feel about last week’s blunder?

The administration’s dispute with Netanyahu and with the mainstream pro-Israel community, which continues to support Israel’s democratically-elected government (as demonstrated by the statements from the Anti-Defamation League and the AIPAC condemning Obama’s overreaction), was never so much about boosting the non-existent chances for peace with the Palestinians as it was about changing the relationship between the two countries from one of close friendship to a more adversarial one. Hillary Clinton’s reported demands for more pointless Israeli concessions and the prospects for another year of non-action on Iranian nukes leave us with the same question we were asking a few months ago: When will Obama’s Jewish supporters face up to the fact that the man in the White House is no friend to the Jewish state?

According to the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, convened his nation’s consuls in the country for an emergency briefing and told them that last week’s dispute, which began with the announcement of new apartments being built in East Jerusalem, has become the “worst crisis” between Israel and the U.S. since 1975.

Given the escalation of American attacks on Israel’s government from a variety of sources in the last few days, it’s hard to argue with Oren’s analysis. Israel was in the wrong to have let such an announcement be made while Biden was in the country, but the escalation of the incident from a minor kerfuffle to a genuine crisis seems to be a conscious decision on the part of the administration. After all, had Obama wanted to be truly even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians, he could have treated the Palestinian decision to honor a mass murderer during Biden’s visit as being every bit as insulting as the building of apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood.

Others have already started to dissect the administration’s motivation. As John wrote, pique and a lack of caring about the consequences play a big role in this crisis. The willingness to push back so disproportionately against Israel, to single it out for opprobrium in a way not customary to this administration even in its treatment of open foes (think back to Obama’s equivocal reaction to the stolen election and repression of dissent in Iran last summer) should also force friends of the Jewish state to return to a question that was much discussed last summer: Why has Obama decided to downgrade relations with Israel?

In 2009, relations between Israel and the United States were primarily characterized by a ginned-up dispute about settlement construction. Not only did Washington choose to make more of an issue about settlements than previous administrations had, it also escalated the problem by specifically rejecting past agreements with Israel regarding construction in those places which the U.S. had acknowledged that Israel would keep even in the event of a far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. Even more troubling for the Israelis was a demand that construction of Jewish homes be halted in Jerusalem.

Though eventually, the Netanyahu government would give way and accept a temporary settlement freeze in the West Bank, it stood its ground on Jerusalem and won. By the end of the year, it appeared as though Obama had understood that his decision to test the Israelis was a failure. The hope that some in the White House had harbored about using their influence to topple the Netanyahu government had been unrealistic. Challenging Netanyahu on Jerusalem had strengthened his popularity. Distancing themselves from Israel had also not gotten the Palestinians to budge on making peace. Nor had it won the United States any extra goodwill in the Muslim world. It had just raised unreasonable expectations about Obama delivering Israel to them on a silver platter while motivating no one to greater efforts to cope with a real threat to both the United States and Israel: Iran’s nuclear program.

By the time of Biden’s visit last week, it had appeared that the administration had learned its lesson and was no longer placing any faith in the idea that pressure on Israel would do anyone any good. But the way they have gone off the deep end about an issue that was supposedly resolved last year makes you wonder how much Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have learned from their first year in office. Specifically, have they decided that this is an opportunity to make another push to get rid of Netanyahu by leveraging the dismay that Israelis feel about last week’s blunder?

The administration’s dispute with Netanyahu and with the mainstream pro-Israel community, which continues to support Israel’s democratically-elected government (as demonstrated by the statements from the Anti-Defamation League and the AIPAC condemning Obama’s overreaction), was never so much about boosting the non-existent chances for peace with the Palestinians as it was about changing the relationship between the two countries from one of close friendship to a more adversarial one. Hillary Clinton’s reported demands for more pointless Israeli concessions and the prospects for another year of non-action on Iranian nukes leave us with the same question we were asking a few months ago: When will Obama’s Jewish supporters face up to the fact that the man in the White House is no friend to the Jewish state?

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“Traditionally” Ill-Informed Times Slants News on Jerusalem

The timing of the announcement that Israel planned to build more homes in East Jerusalem has, as others have already written here, rightly provoked criticism of the adroitness of Israel’s government. It did neither Israel nor the Netanyahu government any good to announce such plans during the visit of Vice President Biden. Biden’s efforts to prop up a pointless search for more negotiations with a Palestinian negotiating partner that is clearly not interested in negotiating is risible. So is his message to Israel about the threat from Iran. Assurances of America’s dedication to the security of the Jewish state are welcome but the real context of this mission is an effort to stifle Israel’s concerns about the Obama administration’s wasted year of engagement with Iran, which has given Tehran more time to build nukes with no realistic prospect of the sort of crippling sanctions that might make the Islamist regime halt its nuclear drive. Yet there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost from embarrassing the vice president of the United States. That the announcement was probably a ploy on the part of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to embarrass the prime minister and limit his maneuvering room is little consolation to those who already had reason to worry about the shaky nature of the Obama’s administration’s support for Israel.

However, concern about the foolish timing of the announcement in no way diminishes Israel’s right to build homes in its own capital. Netanyahu rightly opposed extending the freeze on building in the West Bank to Jerusalem. President Obama’s criticisms of Jewish building there were met with almost universal opposition on the part of Israelis, a factor that helped solidify Netanyahu’s popularity and the stability of his coalition. But foreign journalists operating in the city can always find a small number of Israelis to protest the presence of Jews in East Jerusalem. Such articles, like this one from yesterday’s New York Times, are old standbys of Israel coverage. In it, the argument is made that if Israelis expect the world to support their opposition to the Palestinians’ assertion of a so-called “right of return” to parts of the country they fled in 1948, Jews cannot at the same time claim their own right to return to property that was lost to the Arabs even in Jerusalem. Thus, according to this reasoning, the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem or even the reassertion of control over existing buildings that were Jewish property in 1948 across the Green Line is illegitimate and hypocritical as well as an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state with parts of Jerusalem as its capital.

The problem here is that while Arabs and their Jewish supporters assume that keeping all Jews out of East Jerusalem is a prerequisite of Palestinian independence, no one questions the right of Israeli Arabs to live in any part of Jerusalem, including the sections that were under Israeli control from 1949 to 1967. Thus, the hypocrisy is not on the part of Israel but rather its critics. So long as Arabs are free to buy and/or build in West Jerusalem, banning Jews from doing the same in the eastern part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is discriminatory. And even if a peace deal were ever adopted in which parts of the city were given to a Palestinian state, why would the presence of Jews there prevent such a pact, since no responsible person would expect such an agreement to also specify the eviction of Arabs from Israel?

Moreover, the idea that it is a form of colonialism for Israelis to have the chutzpah to attempt to live in parts of Jerusalem is not only wrong-headed; it is based on a historical mistake that East Jerusalem has always been off-limits to Jews. This was reflected in a post on the Lede, the Times’s news blog, in which Robert Mackey referred to Israel building homes in “a traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem.” This is nonsense, as there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since the mid-19th century. These areas are seeped in both ancient and modern Jewish history. Indeed, even Mackey’s own post included the information that the most controversial building site, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, was “a Jewish enclave” until 1948. The only real tradition here is the Times‘s misreporting of the situation, as well as the Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the city.

The timing of the announcement that Israel planned to build more homes in East Jerusalem has, as others have already written here, rightly provoked criticism of the adroitness of Israel’s government. It did neither Israel nor the Netanyahu government any good to announce such plans during the visit of Vice President Biden. Biden’s efforts to prop up a pointless search for more negotiations with a Palestinian negotiating partner that is clearly not interested in negotiating is risible. So is his message to Israel about the threat from Iran. Assurances of America’s dedication to the security of the Jewish state are welcome but the real context of this mission is an effort to stifle Israel’s concerns about the Obama administration’s wasted year of engagement with Iran, which has given Tehran more time to build nukes with no realistic prospect of the sort of crippling sanctions that might make the Islamist regime halt its nuclear drive. Yet there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost from embarrassing the vice president of the United States. That the announcement was probably a ploy on the part of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to embarrass the prime minister and limit his maneuvering room is little consolation to those who already had reason to worry about the shaky nature of the Obama’s administration’s support for Israel.

However, concern about the foolish timing of the announcement in no way diminishes Israel’s right to build homes in its own capital. Netanyahu rightly opposed extending the freeze on building in the West Bank to Jerusalem. President Obama’s criticisms of Jewish building there were met with almost universal opposition on the part of Israelis, a factor that helped solidify Netanyahu’s popularity and the stability of his coalition. But foreign journalists operating in the city can always find a small number of Israelis to protest the presence of Jews in East Jerusalem. Such articles, like this one from yesterday’s New York Times, are old standbys of Israel coverage. In it, the argument is made that if Israelis expect the world to support their opposition to the Palestinians’ assertion of a so-called “right of return” to parts of the country they fled in 1948, Jews cannot at the same time claim their own right to return to property that was lost to the Arabs even in Jerusalem. Thus, according to this reasoning, the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem or even the reassertion of control over existing buildings that were Jewish property in 1948 across the Green Line is illegitimate and hypocritical as well as an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state with parts of Jerusalem as its capital.

The problem here is that while Arabs and their Jewish supporters assume that keeping all Jews out of East Jerusalem is a prerequisite of Palestinian independence, no one questions the right of Israeli Arabs to live in any part of Jerusalem, including the sections that were under Israeli control from 1949 to 1967. Thus, the hypocrisy is not on the part of Israel but rather its critics. So long as Arabs are free to buy and/or build in West Jerusalem, banning Jews from doing the same in the eastern part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is discriminatory. And even if a peace deal were ever adopted in which parts of the city were given to a Palestinian state, why would the presence of Jews there prevent such a pact, since no responsible person would expect such an agreement to also specify the eviction of Arabs from Israel?

Moreover, the idea that it is a form of colonialism for Israelis to have the chutzpah to attempt to live in parts of Jerusalem is not only wrong-headed; it is based on a historical mistake that East Jerusalem has always been off-limits to Jews. This was reflected in a post on the Lede, the Times’s news blog, in which Robert Mackey referred to Israel building homes in “a traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem.” This is nonsense, as there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since the mid-19th century. These areas are seeped in both ancient and modern Jewish history. Indeed, even Mackey’s own post included the information that the most controversial building site, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, was “a Jewish enclave” until 1948. The only real tradition here is the Times‘s misreporting of the situation, as well as the Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the city.

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RE: Defending the Gaza 54

A reader of Jeffrey Goldberg argues that Israel’s government shouldn’t have “snubbed” J Street’s sponsored delegation of congressmen, arguing that this is somehow an embarrassment for Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. (Why? Because five congressmen who call for lifting the Gaza blockade and who reflexively vote against Israel should be rewarded with attention?) The reader, however, then makes a U-turn toward reason, arguing:

There’s a fine line between pushing a friend to do something that you believe is in her best interest and taking pleasure in sticking your finger in the eye of someone who has the audacity not to see the correctness of your position. I believe that J-Street crosses that line. So while I couldn’t claim that they are anti-Israel — not like, say, Syria — I certainly don’t see them as friends of mine. And especially now, with Israel’s precarious diplomatic position, we could use less “friends” causing us harm (like being the catalyst of the stir with the congressmen in the first place) in the name of friendship.

So if J Street is no friend of “ours” — presumably, friends of Israel — then why should Israel meet and greet with its handpicked congressional delegation? Israel is not obligated to bolster the credibility of those who take positions antagonistic to its interests. The congressmen do not represent the official position of the U.S. government nor are they offering Israel anything of benefit. (Unlike an Arab state, J Street doesn’t really have anything Israel might be remotely be interested in obtaining or discussing.)

The J Streeters are there to create the appearance that J Street is something that it is not (supportive of Israel’s fundamental interests) and that it is able to influence American and Israeli decision makers. Israeli leaders have figured out, just as Goldberg’s reader has, that the J Street gang is causing harm (to the extent the group is relevant at all) “in the name of friendship.” J Street can take whatever positions it wants. It can call itself pro-Israel or pro-anti-mullah or anti-neocon or anything else it chooses. But Israel doesn’t have to buy it and doesn’t have to encourage the pantomime of those who always seem to be on the side of those seeking to enfeeble the Jewish state.

A reader of Jeffrey Goldberg argues that Israel’s government shouldn’t have “snubbed” J Street’s sponsored delegation of congressmen, arguing that this is somehow an embarrassment for Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. (Why? Because five congressmen who call for lifting the Gaza blockade and who reflexively vote against Israel should be rewarded with attention?) The reader, however, then makes a U-turn toward reason, arguing:

There’s a fine line between pushing a friend to do something that you believe is in her best interest and taking pleasure in sticking your finger in the eye of someone who has the audacity not to see the correctness of your position. I believe that J-Street crosses that line. So while I couldn’t claim that they are anti-Israel — not like, say, Syria — I certainly don’t see them as friends of mine. And especially now, with Israel’s precarious diplomatic position, we could use less “friends” causing us harm (like being the catalyst of the stir with the congressmen in the first place) in the name of friendship.

So if J Street is no friend of “ours” — presumably, friends of Israel — then why should Israel meet and greet with its handpicked congressional delegation? Israel is not obligated to bolster the credibility of those who take positions antagonistic to its interests. The congressmen do not represent the official position of the U.S. government nor are they offering Israel anything of benefit. (Unlike an Arab state, J Street doesn’t really have anything Israel might be remotely be interested in obtaining or discussing.)

The J Streeters are there to create the appearance that J Street is something that it is not (supportive of Israel’s fundamental interests) and that it is able to influence American and Israeli decision makers. Israeli leaders have figured out, just as Goldberg’s reader has, that the J Street gang is causing harm (to the extent the group is relevant at all) “in the name of friendship.” J Street can take whatever positions it wants. It can call itself pro-Israel or pro-anti-mullah or anti-neocon or anything else it chooses. But Israel doesn’t have to buy it and doesn’t have to encourage the pantomime of those who always seem to be on the side of those seeking to enfeeble the Jewish state.

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The Perils of Freelance Diplomacy

Shaul Mofaz has spent the past two weeks hawking his peace plan overseas. He has met with Obama administration officials Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and Jeffrey Feltman; U.S. congressmen; UN officials; and the American, Turkish, Russian, Egyptian, and Jordanian ambassadors to Israel. But unless you follow Israeli politics closely, you’re probably wondering, “Who?”

And that’s the point: Mofaz isn’t a member of Israel’s government or even a party leader; he’s the No. 2 man in the largest opposition party, Kadima — which has yet to even discuss his plan. In other words, the plan he’s marketing abroad is one he hasn’t yet managed to sell even to his own party, much less to the Israeli public; moreover, he occupies no post that would enable him to implement it.

Nor is this unprecedented: other freelance Israeli diplomats have received equal or greater attention overseas. Yossi Beilin, for instance, met with high-ranking officials worldwide about his Geneva Initiative (a proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement) in 2003, though he held no public office at the time. And when he did run for the Knesset three years later, the party he headed won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence from Israel’s public.

Were these foreign officials merely wasting their time, nobody would care. But this behavior has two pernicious effects.

First, it feeds the illusion among overseas governments that they don’t have to contend seriously with the positions of actual Israeli governments elected by actual Israeli voters; they can just sit and wait until the inconvenient incumbents are replaced by their pet opposition politician. Barack Obama’s failure to realize that treating Israel’s capital as a “settlement” would bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than weaken him, since Netanyahu’s positions on Jerusalem in fact reflect those of Israel’s majority, is a classic example of the pitfalls of such illusions.

In reality, people freelance precisely because they are unable to convince their own public to put them in power. Beilin, for instance, went freelance after failing to make it into the Knesset in 2003; Mofaz is freelancing now because he lost Kadima’s leadership contest last fall. And there is no reason to believe such freelancers will be more electable in the future.

Second, international backing for freelancers can panic Israeli governments into moves that undermine the world’s stated goals. Global enthusiasm for the Geneva Initiative, for instance, helped push Ariel Sharon to unilaterally quit Gaza: he considered Geneva disastrous and wanted to distract attention from it. Yet the disengagement, which Palestinians considered a victory for terror, led to Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007, both of which complicated peacemaking efforts.

Thus the proper response to freelance diplomats should be “first, convince your own public; then we’ll talk.” Granted, that would force world leaders to deal with actual Israeli positions rather than unelectable fantasies. But since Israel must ultimately approve any deal, a plan that can’t command an Israeli majority isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anyway.

Shaul Mofaz has spent the past two weeks hawking his peace plan overseas. He has met with Obama administration officials Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and Jeffrey Feltman; U.S. congressmen; UN officials; and the American, Turkish, Russian, Egyptian, and Jordanian ambassadors to Israel. But unless you follow Israeli politics closely, you’re probably wondering, “Who?”

And that’s the point: Mofaz isn’t a member of Israel’s government or even a party leader; he’s the No. 2 man in the largest opposition party, Kadima — which has yet to even discuss his plan. In other words, the plan he’s marketing abroad is one he hasn’t yet managed to sell even to his own party, much less to the Israeli public; moreover, he occupies no post that would enable him to implement it.

Nor is this unprecedented: other freelance Israeli diplomats have received equal or greater attention overseas. Yossi Beilin, for instance, met with high-ranking officials worldwide about his Geneva Initiative (a proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement) in 2003, though he held no public office at the time. And when he did run for the Knesset three years later, the party he headed won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence from Israel’s public.

Were these foreign officials merely wasting their time, nobody would care. But this behavior has two pernicious effects.

First, it feeds the illusion among overseas governments that they don’t have to contend seriously with the positions of actual Israeli governments elected by actual Israeli voters; they can just sit and wait until the inconvenient incumbents are replaced by their pet opposition politician. Barack Obama’s failure to realize that treating Israel’s capital as a “settlement” would bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than weaken him, since Netanyahu’s positions on Jerusalem in fact reflect those of Israel’s majority, is a classic example of the pitfalls of such illusions.

In reality, people freelance precisely because they are unable to convince their own public to put them in power. Beilin, for instance, went freelance after failing to make it into the Knesset in 2003; Mofaz is freelancing now because he lost Kadima’s leadership contest last fall. And there is no reason to believe such freelancers will be more electable in the future.

Second, international backing for freelancers can panic Israeli governments into moves that undermine the world’s stated goals. Global enthusiasm for the Geneva Initiative, for instance, helped push Ariel Sharon to unilaterally quit Gaza: he considered Geneva disastrous and wanted to distract attention from it. Yet the disengagement, which Palestinians considered a victory for terror, led to Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007, both of which complicated peacemaking efforts.

Thus the proper response to freelance diplomats should be “first, convince your own public; then we’ll talk.” Granted, that would force world leaders to deal with actual Israeli positions rather than unelectable fantasies. But since Israel must ultimately approve any deal, a plan that can’t command an Israeli majority isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anyway.

Read Less




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