Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jackson Diehl

Mahmoud Abbas, Serial Liar

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has consistently refused to negotiate in good faith or to make peace with Israel since he succeeded the equally obdurate Yasir Arafat in 2004. He’s also been consistent in another way: he lies a lot. Abbas’s mendacity isn’t the garden-variety white lies, exaggerations and obfuscations that are the routine fare of American politicians. Instead, he is given to telling the barefaced lies we tend to associate with the heads of dictatorial regimes. Which is, of course, the sort of government the Palestinian Authority has more in common with than democratic systems such as that of Israel and the United States.

The latest example of this came in an interview Saturday night with Israel’s Channel Two in which Abbas was reduced to claiming that some well-documented statements of his never actually happened. According to Abbas, he never discussed Israel’s offer to allow some Palestinian refugees into the country with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also claimed he never told respected Washington Post editor and columnist Jackson Diehl that he had no intention of negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That both of those figures can prove he did say those things goes without saying. But the point here is not just that Abbas is a liar, though that is exactly what he is. Rather, it is that Palestinian political culture is such that Abbas knows he has no choice but to lie about these things. To do otherwise would place him in opposition to the overwhelming sentiment of those opposed to peace or to even the appearance of compromise with Israel.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has consistently refused to negotiate in good faith or to make peace with Israel since he succeeded the equally obdurate Yasir Arafat in 2004. He’s also been consistent in another way: he lies a lot. Abbas’s mendacity isn’t the garden-variety white lies, exaggerations and obfuscations that are the routine fare of American politicians. Instead, he is given to telling the barefaced lies we tend to associate with the heads of dictatorial regimes. Which is, of course, the sort of government the Palestinian Authority has more in common with than democratic systems such as that of Israel and the United States.

The latest example of this came in an interview Saturday night with Israel’s Channel Two in which Abbas was reduced to claiming that some well-documented statements of his never actually happened. According to Abbas, he never discussed Israel’s offer to allow some Palestinian refugees into the country with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also claimed he never told respected Washington Post editor and columnist Jackson Diehl that he had no intention of negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That both of those figures can prove he did say those things goes without saying. But the point here is not just that Abbas is a liar, though that is exactly what he is. Rather, it is that Palestinian political culture is such that Abbas knows he has no choice but to lie about these things. To do otherwise would place him in opposition to the overwhelming sentiment of those opposed to peace or to even the appearance of compromise with Israel.

Abbas is, after all, in a difficult position. In order to maintain the pose of moderation he has cultivated with the West, he has had to engage in talks with American and even Israeli leaders and say things about peace terms that he wouldn’t dare mention to an Arab audience. But conversations such as the one Rice documented in her memoir are not the sort of thing he can admit. Doing so will weaken his already shaky popularity among Palestinians at a time when his Hamas rivals are seeking to poach on his West Bank fiefdom.

As for his controversial interview with Diehl, Abbas’s candor about his unwillingness to talk to Israel in 2009 was as much the fault of President Obama as it was the Palestinian’s intransigence. In those early months of the Obama presidency, the hostility of the new administration for Israel was palpable, and Abbas figured it made no sense for him to accept Netanyahu’s offers of talks. With the president trying to extract concessions from Israel without the Palestinians having to do anything in return, Abbas’s stance made sense, especially because he may have shared the delusion held by many in the White House and State Department they could topple the newly elected Netanyahu.

In retrospect, Abbas probably regrets thinking that Obama would hand Israel to him on a silver platter as much as the administration may (or at least should) regret banking on the PA be willing to take advantage of all the help they were trying to give. Thus, Abbas must lie about his talk with Diehl as well as his conversations with Rice.

But lest you think Abbas’s fibs are merely the function of diplomacy, elsewhere in the interview, Abbas played to his Palestinian base with another lie about the events of 1948. He claimed that nearly a million Arabs left the territory of Israel during the fighting and they now numbered five million, among whom he counts himself. In fact, the number he cites would have included almost the entire Arab population of the Palestinian Mandate at the time. Because almost 200,000 remained inside the territory of the new state of Israel and hundreds of thousands more remained in their homes in Gaza and the West Bank (which were illegally occupied by Egypt and Jordan), the numbers don’t add up.

Of course, Abbas has experience lying about numbers. His doctoral thesis claimed six million Jews were not killed during the Holocaust. What are a few lies about conversations with Rice and Diehl when compared to Holocaust denial?

If this is Israel’s peace partner, there’s no mystery about why the peace process has been dead in the water for years.

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The Daily Incitement

Andrew Sullivan’s dark soul is also an efficient one: he manages two slurs against Jackson Diehl in only an eight-word post. Linking to Diehl’s criticism of Obama, Sullivan titles his post “AIPAC Responds” and then calls Diehl a “Netanyahu channeler.”

Get it? Diehl, the deputy editorial-page editor of the Washington Post and a widely respected foreign-policy commentator, is pretty much an Israeli agent. How long will the Atlantic allow this hateful garbage to tarnish its reputation?

Andrew Sullivan’s dark soul is also an efficient one: he manages two slurs against Jackson Diehl in only an eight-word post. Linking to Diehl’s criticism of Obama, Sullivan titles his post “AIPAC Responds” and then calls Diehl a “Netanyahu channeler.”

Get it? Diehl, the deputy editorial-page editor of the Washington Post and a widely respected foreign-policy commentator, is pretty much an Israeli agent. How long will the Atlantic allow this hateful garbage to tarnish its reputation?

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It’s the Coherence

Listening to the West Point and Copenhagen speeches, many conservatives have been pleased or surprised, to varying degrees, by what they hope is a turn by the president away from a leftist, academic bent in foreign policy and toward a more muscular and mature assertion of American power. His decision to deploy 30,000 troops was enthusiastically received. As one conservative on Capitol Hill described his Nobel Peace Prize speech, “Grading on a curve, it was his best yet.” Others were even more enthusiastic.

But there is now, I would suggest, a problem of credibility and coherence that Obama must overcome. On the credibility front, the non-deadline deadline of his West Point speech raised questions about whether the president signaled a less than fulsome commitment to the difficult counterinsurgency. Will this war of necessity gain his full attention and elicit from him the robust leadership that is essential to maintaining public support and convincing friends and foes that we mean to stick it out even when casualties increase and antiwar voices scream for retreat? Obama will need to make it explicit that the transition out of Afghanistan, as his secretary of defense put it, “will be the same kind of gradual conditions-based transition, province by province, district by district, that we saw in Iraq … [and] will be made by our commanders on the ground, not here in Washington.”

There is also a problem of coherence. In his two major speeches, Obama has talked about human rights. However, his record in this regard has been appalling. Obama, as Jackson Diehl noted, couldn’t bring himself to mention Neda Agha-Soltan at Oslo, a fact which Jackson believes reflects “a continuing failure of nerve or judgment.” So will the president now come out forcefully for the funding of Iranian advocates of democracy? And will he rethink his engagement of Burma and Sudan, as well as his reticence regarding human rights in China?

Likewise, Obama’s moral preening on the war on terror — no enhanced interrogations, shuttling detainees off to terrorist laboratories like Yemen, a public trial for KSM, a war against the CIA — is badly out of sync with the nature of the enemy we face. Obama has conceded that we’re dealing with evil. Do we give an evil man free cable-news time in the “trial of the century,” as the president described in Oslo, “to justify the murder of innocents”? Can we not even slap evil men’s faces to save innocents?

And then there are the rogue states bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. At Oslo, Obama declared that “it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.” But we’ve been doing a lot of standing by idly and, by keeping mum about the secret Qom site and refusing to hear “no” for an answer in Geneva, we have assisted Iran in gaming the system. We did nothing to enforce international agreements that the mullahs violated with the construction of the Qom plant. As for North Korea, we’re engaging them once again, giving them the prestige and refuge from sanctions that go with endless talks. (Even the New York Times concedes that “American and South Korean officials remain unconvinced that the North would give up its nuclear weapons, fearing that it wants to use a new round of talks to escape sanctions and obtain aid.”) With regard to Obama’s Oslo rhetoric, we’re left wondering: what is he talking about?

So the rhetoric, to the delight of many conservatives, has improved. Yet it’s also wildly at odds with the administration’s conduct. Cynics will call it hypocrisy. Optimists will call it a leading indicator of a shift in policy. We simply don’t know at this stage. What we do know is that the Left’s favored approach — incessant apologizing, bullying and betraying of friends, and vision of American un-exceptionalism — has proved to be a colossal failure. Observers as diverse as Leslie Gelb and Dick Cheney agree that we have nothing to show for all the bowing and scraping. So it may be that the Obami are preparing to pivot and leave their hippy-dippy, we-are-the-worldism behind. We’ll know when Obama’s actions better match his more mature rhetoric. And not before.

Listening to the West Point and Copenhagen speeches, many conservatives have been pleased or surprised, to varying degrees, by what they hope is a turn by the president away from a leftist, academic bent in foreign policy and toward a more muscular and mature assertion of American power. His decision to deploy 30,000 troops was enthusiastically received. As one conservative on Capitol Hill described his Nobel Peace Prize speech, “Grading on a curve, it was his best yet.” Others were even more enthusiastic.

But there is now, I would suggest, a problem of credibility and coherence that Obama must overcome. On the credibility front, the non-deadline deadline of his West Point speech raised questions about whether the president signaled a less than fulsome commitment to the difficult counterinsurgency. Will this war of necessity gain his full attention and elicit from him the robust leadership that is essential to maintaining public support and convincing friends and foes that we mean to stick it out even when casualties increase and antiwar voices scream for retreat? Obama will need to make it explicit that the transition out of Afghanistan, as his secretary of defense put it, “will be the same kind of gradual conditions-based transition, province by province, district by district, that we saw in Iraq … [and] will be made by our commanders on the ground, not here in Washington.”

There is also a problem of coherence. In his two major speeches, Obama has talked about human rights. However, his record in this regard has been appalling. Obama, as Jackson Diehl noted, couldn’t bring himself to mention Neda Agha-Soltan at Oslo, a fact which Jackson believes reflects “a continuing failure of nerve or judgment.” So will the president now come out forcefully for the funding of Iranian advocates of democracy? And will he rethink his engagement of Burma and Sudan, as well as his reticence regarding human rights in China?

Likewise, Obama’s moral preening on the war on terror — no enhanced interrogations, shuttling detainees off to terrorist laboratories like Yemen, a public trial for KSM, a war against the CIA — is badly out of sync with the nature of the enemy we face. Obama has conceded that we’re dealing with evil. Do we give an evil man free cable-news time in the “trial of the century,” as the president described in Oslo, “to justify the murder of innocents”? Can we not even slap evil men’s faces to save innocents?

And then there are the rogue states bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. At Oslo, Obama declared that “it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.” But we’ve been doing a lot of standing by idly and, by keeping mum about the secret Qom site and refusing to hear “no” for an answer in Geneva, we have assisted Iran in gaming the system. We did nothing to enforce international agreements that the mullahs violated with the construction of the Qom plant. As for North Korea, we’re engaging them once again, giving them the prestige and refuge from sanctions that go with endless talks. (Even the New York Times concedes that “American and South Korean officials remain unconvinced that the North would give up its nuclear weapons, fearing that it wants to use a new round of talks to escape sanctions and obtain aid.”) With regard to Obama’s Oslo rhetoric, we’re left wondering: what is he talking about?

So the rhetoric, to the delight of many conservatives, has improved. Yet it’s also wildly at odds with the administration’s conduct. Cynics will call it hypocrisy. Optimists will call it a leading indicator of a shift in policy. We simply don’t know at this stage. What we do know is that the Left’s favored approach — incessant apologizing, bullying and betraying of friends, and vision of American un-exceptionalism — has proved to be a colossal failure. Observers as diverse as Leslie Gelb and Dick Cheney agree that we have nothing to show for all the bowing and scraping. So it may be that the Obami are preparing to pivot and leave their hippy-dippy, we-are-the-worldism behind. We’ll know when Obama’s actions better match his more mature rhetoric. And not before.

Read Less




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