Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jerusalem Post

With Brothers Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

Following up on Alana’s post, this from the Jerusalem Post: “A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on Thursday evening repeatedly refused to commit to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel, or even recognizing Israel, if the Brotherhood becomes a player in the future governance of Egypt.”

Remind me again why the Obama administration said earlier this week that a new government in Egypt should “include a whole host of important non-secular actors” — meaning the Brotherhood?

As Hillel Fradkin of the Hudson Institute put it, “If we’re going to deal with people in the opposition, it makes the most sense for us to engage with groups that can be reasonably thought to support a liberal democratic outcome in Egypt. How are we going to persuade [the Muslim Brotherhood] to like us? They don’t, and they won’t.”

So here’s an idea: let’s stop trying to strengthen and legitimize them.

Following up on Alana’s post, this from the Jerusalem Post: “A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt on Thursday evening repeatedly refused to commit to maintaining the peace treaty with Israel, or even recognizing Israel, if the Brotherhood becomes a player in the future governance of Egypt.”

Remind me again why the Obama administration said earlier this week that a new government in Egypt should “include a whole host of important non-secular actors” — meaning the Brotherhood?

As Hillel Fradkin of the Hudson Institute put it, “If we’re going to deal with people in the opposition, it makes the most sense for us to engage with groups that can be reasonably thought to support a liberal democratic outcome in Egypt. How are we going to persuade [the Muslim Brotherhood] to like us? They don’t, and they won’t.”

So here’s an idea: let’s stop trying to strengthen and legitimize them.

Read Less

Food Now Being Smuggled Out of Gaza

A tunnel from Gaza to the Sinai that is normally used to transport weapons is now being used to smuggle food out of the Palestinian territory and into Egypt, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday. The report further debunks the claim that Gaza suffers from food shortages due to the Israeli military blockade:

According to the paper, which supports Hizbullah, traders in control of the tunnels have “been working for days” smuggling bread and food in the “opposite direction” – from Gaza into Egypt — because of “supply disruptions” from Cairo to the Sinai.

Anti-Israel activists have long argued that the Israeli blockade has led to starvation and lack of medical care for Gaza residents. But those claims have never been backed up by reality. Last summer, journalists released photos of fully stocked food markets, restaurants, and luxury swimming pools in the territory. Perhaps these new reports will dispel the food-shortage rumors once and for all — but with the anti-Israel bias of the human-rights groups in the region, it’s pretty doubtful.

A tunnel from Gaza to the Sinai that is normally used to transport weapons is now being used to smuggle food out of the Palestinian territory and into Egypt, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday. The report further debunks the claim that Gaza suffers from food shortages due to the Israeli military blockade:

According to the paper, which supports Hizbullah, traders in control of the tunnels have “been working for days” smuggling bread and food in the “opposite direction” – from Gaza into Egypt — because of “supply disruptions” from Cairo to the Sinai.

Anti-Israel activists have long argued that the Israeli blockade has led to starvation and lack of medical care for Gaza residents. But those claims have never been backed up by reality. Last summer, journalists released photos of fully stocked food markets, restaurants, and luxury swimming pools in the territory. Perhaps these new reports will dispel the food-shortage rumors once and for all — but with the anti-Israel bias of the human-rights groups in the region, it’s pretty doubtful.

Read Less

Is This the End of Land-for-Peace?

Some have noted that the situation in Egypt may mark the demise of Israel’s land-for-peace strategy. At the New York Post, Abby Wisse Schachter makes this point well, as she looks into Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt (h/t Israel Matzav):

Consider how the agreement with Egypt worked out. Because of its military success in 1967 and 1973, Israel actually had the entire Sinai Peninsula with which to bargain and that piece of land represented a massive physical buffer between the two countries. Then, after having relinquished the territory and removed hundreds of Israelis from their homes in Yamit (no they were not crazy religious ”settlers”), the Israelis got a cold, even belligerent, peace with Egypt that never prevented Egypt from remaining the greatest producer of anti-semitic literature in the world. … And finally, 30 years later, the agreement still rests in the hands of one man, the dictator of Egypt. If Mubarak had been assassinated as his predecessor Sadat was, the accord might have been cancelled years ago.

It’s still far from clear how a new Egyptian government would impact the peace treaty, but, according to the Jerusalem Post, protesters in Egypt have been calling for the peace treaty to be revised by the leadership that succeeds Mubarak:

[Egyptian protester Hazan] Ahmed said he didn’t want Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel completely demolished, but for it to undergo a serious change.

“It should be remodeled. With Mubarak leaving, we know that whoever comes next will remodel the agreement.”

And, of course, any land-for-peace deal with the increasingly unstable PA would be an even bigger strategic blunder if the West Bank government ends up collapsing. Israel undoubtedly has taken note of this, and it’s sure to be factored into the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Some have noted that the situation in Egypt may mark the demise of Israel’s land-for-peace strategy. At the New York Post, Abby Wisse Schachter makes this point well, as she looks into Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt (h/t Israel Matzav):

Consider how the agreement with Egypt worked out. Because of its military success in 1967 and 1973, Israel actually had the entire Sinai Peninsula with which to bargain and that piece of land represented a massive physical buffer between the two countries. Then, after having relinquished the territory and removed hundreds of Israelis from their homes in Yamit (no they were not crazy religious ”settlers”), the Israelis got a cold, even belligerent, peace with Egypt that never prevented Egypt from remaining the greatest producer of anti-semitic literature in the world. … And finally, 30 years later, the agreement still rests in the hands of one man, the dictator of Egypt. If Mubarak had been assassinated as his predecessor Sadat was, the accord might have been cancelled years ago.

It’s still far from clear how a new Egyptian government would impact the peace treaty, but, according to the Jerusalem Post, protesters in Egypt have been calling for the peace treaty to be revised by the leadership that succeeds Mubarak:

[Egyptian protester Hazan] Ahmed said he didn’t want Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel completely demolished, but for it to undergo a serious change.

“It should be remodeled. With Mubarak leaving, we know that whoever comes next will remodel the agreement.”

And, of course, any land-for-peace deal with the increasingly unstable PA would be an even bigger strategic blunder if the West Bank government ends up collapsing. Israel undoubtedly has taken note of this, and it’s sure to be factored into the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Read Less

Pro-Mubarak Demonstrators Attack Reporters

Pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt may have been following government instructions when they attacked members of the media today, according to the Jerusalem Post. Journalists from Sweden and Israel have allegedly been detained by the Egyptian government, and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were physically assaulted by the pro-government rioters:

Two Swedish reporters were held for hours on Wednesday by Egyptian soldiers accusing them of being Mossad spies, the reporters’ employer, daily newspaper Aftonbladet, reported.

The soldiers reportedly attacked the reporters, spitting in their faces and threatening to kill them.

Four Israeli journalists were arrested by Egyptian military police in Cairo on Wednesday. Three of those arrested work for Channel 2 and the fourth is from Nazareth.

In addition, renowned CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were roughed up by mobs favoring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as were Washington Post reporters. Cooper was reportedly punched in the head ten times.

Another CNN correspondent said that pro-government rioters were instructed to target the press.

The State Department has tweeted a statement condemned the attacks, saying that “We are concerned about detentions and attacks on news media in Egypt. The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press.” But the U.S. really needs to issue a much harsher condemnation on this. Not only is the Egyptian government now acting in direct defiance of Obama administration requests for nonviolence; it also appears that it may have instructed pro-Mubarak mobs to attack Americans. Based on this latest crackdown on the news media, and the recent suspension of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, it’s growing even clearer that Mubarak has no interest in pursuing the democratic reforms the U.S. has been calling for.

Pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt may have been following government instructions when they attacked members of the media today, according to the Jerusalem Post. Journalists from Sweden and Israel have allegedly been detained by the Egyptian government, and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were physically assaulted by the pro-government rioters:

Two Swedish reporters were held for hours on Wednesday by Egyptian soldiers accusing them of being Mossad spies, the reporters’ employer, daily newspaper Aftonbladet, reported.

The soldiers reportedly attacked the reporters, spitting in their faces and threatening to kill them.

Four Israeli journalists were arrested by Egyptian military police in Cairo on Wednesday. Three of those arrested work for Channel 2 and the fourth is from Nazareth.

In addition, renowned CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were roughed up by mobs favoring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as were Washington Post reporters. Cooper was reportedly punched in the head ten times.

Another CNN correspondent said that pro-government rioters were instructed to target the press.

The State Department has tweeted a statement condemned the attacks, saying that “We are concerned about detentions and attacks on news media in Egypt. The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press.” But the U.S. really needs to issue a much harsher condemnation on this. Not only is the Egyptian government now acting in direct defiance of Obama administration requests for nonviolence; it also appears that it may have instructed pro-Mubarak mobs to attack Americans. Based on this latest crackdown on the news media, and the recent suspension of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, it’s growing even clearer that Mubarak has no interest in pursuing the democratic reforms the U.S. has been calling for.

Read Less

Media- and NGO-Fueled Ignorance on Egypt and Tunisia

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

Read Less

Democracy and the Egyptian Education System

According to a newly released study, Egyptian youth are less prepared for democracy than their Tunisian peers, the Jerusalem Post reported today.

The report, by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE), found that the curriculum taught in Egyptian classrooms “lower[s] the chances for the emergence of a liberal democratic government”:

“A comparative report shows that the Egyptian people have not been taught the importance of democracy and accepting others,” the report explains. “While school textbooks in Egypt urge tolerance towards Copts and call for religious moderation and peace, they deny the existence of the State of Israel and contain anti-Jewish material. … The Egyptian curriculum emphasizes self-sacrifice for the sake of the homeland and war narratives, rather than peace.”

The anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism taught in Egyptian schools could certainly have an impact on the country’s democratic development — but the U.S. isn’t blameless in this situation. This is exactly the type of cultural reform that the U.S. could have pushed for years ago.

And despite the problems that the intolerance in the education system may cause down the line, there’s not much that can be done to change the culture at the moment. Does this mean that Egyptians don’t deserve a shot at democracy as much as Tunisians do? Of course not. But it’s just one more example of how unprepared the U.S. government was for regime change in Egypt.

According to a newly released study, Egyptian youth are less prepared for democracy than their Tunisian peers, the Jerusalem Post reported today.

The report, by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE), found that the curriculum taught in Egyptian classrooms “lower[s] the chances for the emergence of a liberal democratic government”:

“A comparative report shows that the Egyptian people have not been taught the importance of democracy and accepting others,” the report explains. “While school textbooks in Egypt urge tolerance towards Copts and call for religious moderation and peace, they deny the existence of the State of Israel and contain anti-Jewish material. … The Egyptian curriculum emphasizes self-sacrifice for the sake of the homeland and war narratives, rather than peace.”

The anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism taught in Egyptian schools could certainly have an impact on the country’s democratic development — but the U.S. isn’t blameless in this situation. This is exactly the type of cultural reform that the U.S. could have pushed for years ago.

And despite the problems that the intolerance in the education system may cause down the line, there’s not much that can be done to change the culture at the moment. Does this mean that Egyptians don’t deserve a shot at democracy as much as Tunisians do? Of course not. But it’s just one more example of how unprepared the U.S. government was for regime change in Egypt.

Read Less

Is This the End for the Palestinian Authority Leadership?

As more Palestinian Papers continue to leak out, the Jerusalem Post is reporting this morning that Hamas has called on Palestinians to protest the alleged “concessions” the PA offered to Israel.

Hamas’s incitement is no surprise. Since yesterday, Al Jazeera has reported that the PA offered the Israelis many of the settlements and admitted that the “right of return” was impractical. And tomorrow, the news network has indicated it will be broadcasting a story on the PA’s alleged collaboration with the Israeli security forces.

Jerusalem Post columnist Khaled Abu Toameh writes that the manner in which Al Jazeera has covered the papers is the equivalent of a show trial.

“In other words, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men have been convicted of high treason — which, in the Arab and Islamic world, is a crime punishable by death,” he wrote. “Al-Jazeera is now waiting for the executioner (the Palestinians, in this case) to carry out the death sentence.”

That seems like a very possible fallout from the papers. While PA leaders claim that the documents are inaccurate, they have little ammunition to fight back against Al Jazeera’s reporting. Al Jazeera is a widely respected news outlet in the Arab world; in comparison, Mahmoud Abbas’s government was already viewed suspiciously by many Palestinians.

Toameh sees this as the beginning of the end for the current West Bank government:

It’s hard to see how, in light of this damning verdict, the PA will be able to salvage what’s left of its credibility. Al- Jazeera has succeeded in instilling in the minds of many Palestinians and Arabs the belief that the leaders of the PA are a bunch of corrupt traitors who serve Israeli and American interests.

The damage to the PA’s image and reputation is colossal and irreparable.

Maybe not irreparable, but it’s very hard to see how the already unstable PA will be able to survive this one.

As more Palestinian Papers continue to leak out, the Jerusalem Post is reporting this morning that Hamas has called on Palestinians to protest the alleged “concessions” the PA offered to Israel.

Hamas’s incitement is no surprise. Since yesterday, Al Jazeera has reported that the PA offered the Israelis many of the settlements and admitted that the “right of return” was impractical. And tomorrow, the news network has indicated it will be broadcasting a story on the PA’s alleged collaboration with the Israeli security forces.

Jerusalem Post columnist Khaled Abu Toameh writes that the manner in which Al Jazeera has covered the papers is the equivalent of a show trial.

“In other words, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men have been convicted of high treason — which, in the Arab and Islamic world, is a crime punishable by death,” he wrote. “Al-Jazeera is now waiting for the executioner (the Palestinians, in this case) to carry out the death sentence.”

That seems like a very possible fallout from the papers. While PA leaders claim that the documents are inaccurate, they have little ammunition to fight back against Al Jazeera’s reporting. Al Jazeera is a widely respected news outlet in the Arab world; in comparison, Mahmoud Abbas’s government was already viewed suspiciously by many Palestinians.

Toameh sees this as the beginning of the end for the current West Bank government:

It’s hard to see how, in light of this damning verdict, the PA will be able to salvage what’s left of its credibility. Al- Jazeera has succeeded in instilling in the minds of many Palestinians and Arabs the belief that the leaders of the PA are a bunch of corrupt traitors who serve Israeli and American interests.

The damage to the PA’s image and reputation is colossal and irreparable.

Maybe not irreparable, but it’s very hard to see how the already unstable PA will be able to survive this one.

Read Less

Palestine Papers: 99 Percent Hype, 1 Percent News

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

Read Less

Morning Commentary

What’s driving the disturbing trend of self-immolation in Arab countries? The Jerusalem Post editorial board writes that it’s a combination of pent-up frustration, a desire to encourage others through dramatic self-sacrifice, and the rise of new media: “Perhaps the recent flurry of self-immolation is an extreme aspect of this trend toward individualism. The personal stories of despair that led up to these acts of self-sacrifice are inevitably brought to the forefront. And the very nature of protest through self-immolation emphasizes the importance of exceptional individual acts and their capacity to generate widespread empathy via self-identification.”

Who said there wouldn’t be any benefit from Obama’s schmoozing with Hu Jintao last night? During the state dinner, Obama announced that China had made an exciting concession to the U.S.: “The Chinese and American people work together and create new opportunities together every single day. Mr. President [Hu], today we’ve shown that our governments can work together as well, for our mutual benefit. And that includes this bit of news — under a new agreement, our National Zoo will continue to dazzle children and visitors with the beloved giant pandas.”

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a pro-Palestinian group that was barred from running anti-Israel advertisements on Seattle buses. The lawsuit is aimed at forcing the transit agency to run the controversial ads: “’In a free and democratic society, we cannot allow the government to suppress lawful speech, even speech that may stir emotions,’ Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement about the suit on Wednesday.”

After the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the next big military debate may be over whether women should be allowed to serve as combat soldiers. Proponents of the policy change say that the current rules don’t give women the same advancement opportunities as men, while critics argue that women lack the physical and physiological qualities necessary for combat: “The number one thing that soldiers, men going into battle, especially ones going into battle for the first time, are afraid of is that they are going to be cowards,” Kingsley [Browne said]. “That kind of fear, fear of cowardice, is highly motivating.”

Less than two weeks after suffering a bullet through the head, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is almost ready to get transferred to a rehab facility, says her doctor. The tenuous date for her departure from the hospital is Friday, depending on how her condition progresses. So far, Giffords’s recovery sounds miraculous — her husband says she’s begun reading get-well-soon letters sent to her by elementary-school students.

What’s driving the disturbing trend of self-immolation in Arab countries? The Jerusalem Post editorial board writes that it’s a combination of pent-up frustration, a desire to encourage others through dramatic self-sacrifice, and the rise of new media: “Perhaps the recent flurry of self-immolation is an extreme aspect of this trend toward individualism. The personal stories of despair that led up to these acts of self-sacrifice are inevitably brought to the forefront. And the very nature of protest through self-immolation emphasizes the importance of exceptional individual acts and their capacity to generate widespread empathy via self-identification.”

Who said there wouldn’t be any benefit from Obama’s schmoozing with Hu Jintao last night? During the state dinner, Obama announced that China had made an exciting concession to the U.S.: “The Chinese and American people work together and create new opportunities together every single day. Mr. President [Hu], today we’ve shown that our governments can work together as well, for our mutual benefit. And that includes this bit of news — under a new agreement, our National Zoo will continue to dazzle children and visitors with the beloved giant pandas.”

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a pro-Palestinian group that was barred from running anti-Israel advertisements on Seattle buses. The lawsuit is aimed at forcing the transit agency to run the controversial ads: “’In a free and democratic society, we cannot allow the government to suppress lawful speech, even speech that may stir emotions,’ Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement about the suit on Wednesday.”

After the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the next big military debate may be over whether women should be allowed to serve as combat soldiers. Proponents of the policy change say that the current rules don’t give women the same advancement opportunities as men, while critics argue that women lack the physical and physiological qualities necessary for combat: “The number one thing that soldiers, men going into battle, especially ones going into battle for the first time, are afraid of is that they are going to be cowards,” Kingsley [Browne said]. “That kind of fear, fear of cowardice, is highly motivating.”

Less than two weeks after suffering a bullet through the head, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is almost ready to get transferred to a rehab facility, says her doctor. The tenuous date for her departure from the hospital is Friday, depending on how her condition progresses. So far, Giffords’s recovery sounds miraculous — her husband says she’s begun reading get-well-soon letters sent to her by elementary-school students.

Read Less

Some Thoughts on Israel’s Problematic New NGO Law

When a group like NGO Monitor — which has spent years fighting for more transparency and less bias from human rights groups — comes out against a law that will supposedly make NGOs more transparent, you know there’s a problem.

I spoke with NGO Monitor’s director, Gerald Steinberg, this morning, who elaborated more on his Jerusalem Post column from last week. The column — worth reading in full here — outlined his concerns about the Knesset’s recent creation of a committee that will investigate the funding of NGOs involved in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

One of Steinberg’s main issues with the law is that it politicized the very important matter of foreign NGO funding.

“What happened in the Knesset was that one party [Israel Beiteinu] chose to make this part of their partisan political agenda,” said Steinberg. “And instead of building the coalition for dealing with this issue, they basically alienated potential partners by attacking them.”

Steinberg is also concerned that the proponents of the bill used inaccurate information in an effort to push the law through. One of the bill’s supporters at the Knesset “talked about Arab government and terrorist-funded organizations. And [Avigdor] Lieberman talked about the claim that these organizations were active in supporting terror, and that claim has not been substantiated,” said Steinberg.

While it’s certainly possible that some of these groups are funded by Arab governments or terror groups, NGO Monitor hasn’t yet found evidence of this. But the group has found substantial evidence of European governments funding anti-Israel NGOs.

“If this ends up letting the European governments off the hook, then it will have been counterproductive,” said Steinberg. “What I’m concerned about is, through the focus on the investigation and the claims of McCarthyism, that these organizations that don’t want to have the transparency extended to their European funding will succeed in diverting the focus.”

And besides that, there is some reason to believe that the committee won’t even have the subpoena powers necessary to carry on any practical type of investigation. “I don’t think that a Knesset committee or investigation is the best vehicle to deal with this issue either,” said Steinberg, who believes the issue might be best left to government offices that can produce reports on NGO funding.

Steinberg is also concerned that the NGO law will make it more difficult to get more practical legislation through the Knesset. “There are a couple of other legislative processes going on in the Knesset. And the law that would require full transparency, like the FARA law — that’s a bipartisan bill that has been working its way through the Knesset,” he said. “And in many ways, this new initiative by [Danny] Ayalon potentially undermines the very narrow FARA-type legislation that does have much broader support.”

The NGO law has been extremely controversial since it passed, with critics alleging that it targets groups based on political ideology. But based on NGO Monitor’s assessment, there are even more serious reasons to oppose the plan. It would create a powerless investigative body that serves only to undermine support for useful legislation, make martyrs out of anti-Israel NGOs, and obscure the troubling reality of Europe’s financial contributions to the Israel delegitimization movement. For anyone who cares about NGO accountability, this is a lose-lose situation.

When a group like NGO Monitor — which has spent years fighting for more transparency and less bias from human rights groups — comes out against a law that will supposedly make NGOs more transparent, you know there’s a problem.

I spoke with NGO Monitor’s director, Gerald Steinberg, this morning, who elaborated more on his Jerusalem Post column from last week. The column — worth reading in full here — outlined his concerns about the Knesset’s recent creation of a committee that will investigate the funding of NGOs involved in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

One of Steinberg’s main issues with the law is that it politicized the very important matter of foreign NGO funding.

“What happened in the Knesset was that one party [Israel Beiteinu] chose to make this part of their partisan political agenda,” said Steinberg. “And instead of building the coalition for dealing with this issue, they basically alienated potential partners by attacking them.”

Steinberg is also concerned that the proponents of the bill used inaccurate information in an effort to push the law through. One of the bill’s supporters at the Knesset “talked about Arab government and terrorist-funded organizations. And [Avigdor] Lieberman talked about the claim that these organizations were active in supporting terror, and that claim has not been substantiated,” said Steinberg.

While it’s certainly possible that some of these groups are funded by Arab governments or terror groups, NGO Monitor hasn’t yet found evidence of this. But the group has found substantial evidence of European governments funding anti-Israel NGOs.

“If this ends up letting the European governments off the hook, then it will have been counterproductive,” said Steinberg. “What I’m concerned about is, through the focus on the investigation and the claims of McCarthyism, that these organizations that don’t want to have the transparency extended to their European funding will succeed in diverting the focus.”

And besides that, there is some reason to believe that the committee won’t even have the subpoena powers necessary to carry on any practical type of investigation. “I don’t think that a Knesset committee or investigation is the best vehicle to deal with this issue either,” said Steinberg, who believes the issue might be best left to government offices that can produce reports on NGO funding.

Steinberg is also concerned that the NGO law will make it more difficult to get more practical legislation through the Knesset. “There are a couple of other legislative processes going on in the Knesset. And the law that would require full transparency, like the FARA law — that’s a bipartisan bill that has been working its way through the Knesset,” he said. “And in many ways, this new initiative by [Danny] Ayalon potentially undermines the very narrow FARA-type legislation that does have much broader support.”

The NGO law has been extremely controversial since it passed, with critics alleging that it targets groups based on political ideology. But based on NGO Monitor’s assessment, there are even more serious reasons to oppose the plan. It would create a powerless investigative body that serves only to undermine support for useful legislation, make martyrs out of anti-Israel NGOs, and obscure the troubling reality of Europe’s financial contributions to the Israel delegitimization movement. For anyone who cares about NGO accountability, this is a lose-lose situation.

Read Less

Goldberg Was Right About Israel’s Problems but Wrong About the JNF

Last week, Jeffrey Goldberg stirred up a minor hornet’s nest by writing in his Goldblog at the Atlantic that the proper reaction to the fire that devastated northern Israel was to stop contributing to the Jewish National Fund. His reasoning was that since the extent of the damage was due to the Israeli government’s decision not to adequately fund the fire service as well as its general incompetence, it would be wrong to donate funds to a charity that is best known for planting trees. As he wrote in a later post, since “There is no reasonable guarantee that the tree I donate will be adequately protected by the JNF or the State of Israel,” JNF won’t be getting any money from him.

Predictably, Goldberg has been torched by many readers who have wrongly interpreted his stance as one of turning his back on Israel. Equally predictably, Goldberg has been whining about his critics on his blog and telling them that “the Leon Uris phase of Jewish history is over,” which I suppose means we are no longer supposed to see all Israelis as carbon copies of Ari Ben Canaan, the superJew hero of Exodus. That’s fair enough, though I find it hard to believe in this era, in which Jewish Israel-bashing is a common phenomenon, that there was ever much doubt about that.

To further bolster his defense, Goldberg today quotes COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Gordis, who excoriated Israel’s current government (and its predecessors) in the Jerusalem Post for both its lack of planning for such a fire and the general lack of interest in thinking about the future that seems to characterize the Israeli bureaucracy as well as the political class. Gordis is, of course, dead right about all this. The 61-year-old Arab siege of the country has bred a crisis mentality in which non-military threats are often ignored. Its political system has failed to breed a sense of accountability, and the hangover from decades of socialist economics has created a corruption problem that has retarded efforts to improve governance on many levels.

But as much as foreign supporters of the Jewish state ought to share the frustration of Israelis about all this, Goldberg is still wrong about boycotting the JNF. The fund cannot guarantee that the trees Americans pay for won’t burn in a future fire, but that doesn’t mean that Israel’s forests shouldn’t be replanted. To punish the JNF because of governmental failures would be no different from a call to stop funding charities that served the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina because of the colossal failures of local government to protect their citizens as well as for the mistakes the Army Corps of Engineers made in estimating the damage that a storm might do to the city’s levees. Giving to the JNF is not, as Goldberg says, co-opting Diaspora Jews into supporting a cover-up of governmental failures. To the contrary, such donations will help fund the cleanup and recovery.

Goldberg is right when he says Israel should fully fund its fire-fighting capability, but the country’s mistakes on this issue will be rectified for the same reason that New Orleans’s flood prevention has been improved: it took a disaster and a bitter public backlash to force the government to prioritize this issue. This is the way with all democracies. Just as the defeats suffered during the Yom Kippur War and the Second Lebanon War prompted army reform in Israel, you can bet that Israel’s fire service will never be shorted again, or at least not anytime soon. This proves that for all its specific problems, Israeli democracy is not much different from the kind we practice here, where our leaders are just as guilty of fighting the last war rather than planning for the next one as they are in Jerusalem.

Last week, Jeffrey Goldberg stirred up a minor hornet’s nest by writing in his Goldblog at the Atlantic that the proper reaction to the fire that devastated northern Israel was to stop contributing to the Jewish National Fund. His reasoning was that since the extent of the damage was due to the Israeli government’s decision not to adequately fund the fire service as well as its general incompetence, it would be wrong to donate funds to a charity that is best known for planting trees. As he wrote in a later post, since “There is no reasonable guarantee that the tree I donate will be adequately protected by the JNF or the State of Israel,” JNF won’t be getting any money from him.

Predictably, Goldberg has been torched by many readers who have wrongly interpreted his stance as one of turning his back on Israel. Equally predictably, Goldberg has been whining about his critics on his blog and telling them that “the Leon Uris phase of Jewish history is over,” which I suppose means we are no longer supposed to see all Israelis as carbon copies of Ari Ben Canaan, the superJew hero of Exodus. That’s fair enough, though I find it hard to believe in this era, in which Jewish Israel-bashing is a common phenomenon, that there was ever much doubt about that.

To further bolster his defense, Goldberg today quotes COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Gordis, who excoriated Israel’s current government (and its predecessors) in the Jerusalem Post for both its lack of planning for such a fire and the general lack of interest in thinking about the future that seems to characterize the Israeli bureaucracy as well as the political class. Gordis is, of course, dead right about all this. The 61-year-old Arab siege of the country has bred a crisis mentality in which non-military threats are often ignored. Its political system has failed to breed a sense of accountability, and the hangover from decades of socialist economics has created a corruption problem that has retarded efforts to improve governance on many levels.

But as much as foreign supporters of the Jewish state ought to share the frustration of Israelis about all this, Goldberg is still wrong about boycotting the JNF. The fund cannot guarantee that the trees Americans pay for won’t burn in a future fire, but that doesn’t mean that Israel’s forests shouldn’t be replanted. To punish the JNF because of governmental failures would be no different from a call to stop funding charities that served the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina because of the colossal failures of local government to protect their citizens as well as for the mistakes the Army Corps of Engineers made in estimating the damage that a storm might do to the city’s levees. Giving to the JNF is not, as Goldberg says, co-opting Diaspora Jews into supporting a cover-up of governmental failures. To the contrary, such donations will help fund the cleanup and recovery.

Goldberg is right when he says Israel should fully fund its fire-fighting capability, but the country’s mistakes on this issue will be rectified for the same reason that New Orleans’s flood prevention has been improved: it took a disaster and a bitter public backlash to force the government to prioritize this issue. This is the way with all democracies. Just as the defeats suffered during the Yom Kippur War and the Second Lebanon War prompted army reform in Israel, you can bet that Israel’s fire service will never be shorted again, or at least not anytime soon. This proves that for all its specific problems, Israeli democracy is not much different from the kind we practice here, where our leaders are just as guilty of fighting the last war rather than planning for the next one as they are in Jerusalem.

Read Less

Iran Admits Stuxnet Damaged Centrifuges

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed today what the rest of the world had pretty much already assumed: Iran’s uranium-enrichment centrifuges have, in fact, taken a bruising from the Stuxnet worm.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday admitted that “software installed in electronic equipment” damaged “several” of the country’s uranium enrichment centrifuges, according to an AFP report.

“They were able to disable on a limited basis some of our centrifuges by software installed in electronic equipment,” Ahmadinejad responded to reporters after he was asked whether his country’s nuclear program encountered problems.

I guess it was getting tough for Iran to keep a straight face while denying that malware was responsible for the problems plaguing its nuclear program. But despite the admission, Ahmadinejad is claiming that the worm has now been stopped and that the program is proceeding on, unscathed.

Of course, it’s nearly impossible to believe that Stuxnet could have penetrated the facilities and caused only such minimal damage. According to Ed Barnes’s excellent Fox News investigation on Stuxnet — which should be read in its entirety — the worm was intended to cripple Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Eric Byres, a computer security expert who has studied Stuxnet, told Barnes that the “worm was designed not to destroy the plants but to make them ineffective. By changing the rotation speeds, the bearings quickly wear out and the equipment has to be replaced and repaired. The speed changes also impact the quality of the uranium processed in the centrifuges creating technical problems that make the plant ineffective.”

“In other words,” Barnes writes, “the worm was designed to allow the Iranian program to continue but never succeed, and never to know why.”

And apparently, the virus succeeded at its mission. Sources inside Iran told Fox News that the centrifuge program was operating “far below its capacity and that the uranium enrichment program had ‘stagnated’ during the time the worm penetrated the underground facility.” Less than half of Iran’s centrifuges were reportedly operable after Stuxnet hit the facilities.

A source with close knowledge of the situation also told Barnes that removing the worm from Iran’s system would probably take another year to complete, and the plants at Natanz and Bushehr would be unable to function at a normal level until then.

But of course, that’s probably not an admission Iran’s going to be making any time soon.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confirmed today what the rest of the world had pretty much already assumed: Iran’s uranium-enrichment centrifuges have, in fact, taken a bruising from the Stuxnet worm.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday admitted that “software installed in electronic equipment” damaged “several” of the country’s uranium enrichment centrifuges, according to an AFP report.

“They were able to disable on a limited basis some of our centrifuges by software installed in electronic equipment,” Ahmadinejad responded to reporters after he was asked whether his country’s nuclear program encountered problems.

I guess it was getting tough for Iran to keep a straight face while denying that malware was responsible for the problems plaguing its nuclear program. But despite the admission, Ahmadinejad is claiming that the worm has now been stopped and that the program is proceeding on, unscathed.

Of course, it’s nearly impossible to believe that Stuxnet could have penetrated the facilities and caused only such minimal damage. According to Ed Barnes’s excellent Fox News investigation on Stuxnet — which should be read in its entirety — the worm was intended to cripple Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Eric Byres, a computer security expert who has studied Stuxnet, told Barnes that the “worm was designed not to destroy the plants but to make them ineffective. By changing the rotation speeds, the bearings quickly wear out and the equipment has to be replaced and repaired. The speed changes also impact the quality of the uranium processed in the centrifuges creating technical problems that make the plant ineffective.”

“In other words,” Barnes writes, “the worm was designed to allow the Iranian program to continue but never succeed, and never to know why.”

And apparently, the virus succeeded at its mission. Sources inside Iran told Fox News that the centrifuge program was operating “far below its capacity and that the uranium enrichment program had ‘stagnated’ during the time the worm penetrated the underground facility.” Less than half of Iran’s centrifuges were reportedly operable after Stuxnet hit the facilities.

A source with close knowledge of the situation also told Barnes that removing the worm from Iran’s system would probably take another year to complete, and the plants at Natanz and Bushehr would be unable to function at a normal level until then.

But of course, that’s probably not an admission Iran’s going to be making any time soon.

Read Less

A Rabbi Breaks Ranks

Here’s an Israel story everyone should keep tabs on. For the first time that I can recall, an ultra-Orthodox member of the Knesset has openly defied the authority of his party’s spiritual leaders. This comes after Rabbi Haim Amsalem of Shas spoke out against the lifestyle of married yeshiva students who prefer to study Torah and live off handouts rather than get a job — in other words, against the central ideal that defines ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel today. Over the weekend, his party’s official newspaper ran a series of articles slamming him, and now the party leadership, its four-man Council of Torah Sages headed by Shas’s spiritual leader, former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has called on him to quit, adding that if he does not, he’ll be little more than a “thief in the night.” One Shas commentator likened him to Amalek, the Ur-enemy of the Jews, whose memory is, according to the Bible, to be “wiped out.”

Amsalem, however, is sticking to his guns. Calling the handouts “shameful,” he has refused to give up his Knesset post, arguing (probably correctly) that his views reflect those of the great majority of Shas voters.

Why is this story so important? First, because Amsalem is giving voice to an increasingly discontented voter base for Shas — an electorate that walks a thin line between embracing Rabbi Yosef and his defense of Sephardic Judaism while living a lifestyle that, for the most part, is traditional rather than ultra-Orthodox, which means that they work for a living and don’t necessarily buy into the Ashkenazic-invented ideal of Torah study as a full-time job. For the first time, they have a rabbi that speaks his mind for the things they actually believe in.

Second, because here we have the most vivid example of the clash between democracy and religious authority. As a duly elected member of parliament, Amsalem has every legal right to keep his post. Yet the Orthodox parties in Israel have always been run according to a model in which their representatives in parliament accept party discipline not just as a political duty but as a religious one as well. Amsalem’s fate will tell us a lot about whether democracy or religion has supremacy in the Jewish state.

Third, because Amsalem has raised a powerful challenge to the very idea of rabbinic authority. Over the centuries, rabbis have claimed a moral right to tell their flocks what to do, on the grounds that their extensive study gives them the requisite expertise in the religious law. The dirty little secret, however, is that there is no formal hierarchical establishment in Judaism akin to what exists in the Catholic Church. In practice, rabbis have authority only over whoever chooses to follow them. The result is that rabbis who don’t take seriously the underlying values of their followers end up having no one to lead. Beneath the veneer of top-down authority, rabbinic politics has always been far more democratic than most rabbis would admit.

If Shas’s rabbis are reacting wildly to Amsalem’s challenge, it’s because they perceive a real threat to their hold on power. But as the Jerusalem Post‘s Jeff Barak points out, Amsalem is giving a rare, clear voice to what a great many of Shas’s own voters already believe. How this plays out could well determine the future of the Shas party, the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate as a whole, and a certain slice of democratic life in Israel as well.

Here’s an Israel story everyone should keep tabs on. For the first time that I can recall, an ultra-Orthodox member of the Knesset has openly defied the authority of his party’s spiritual leaders. This comes after Rabbi Haim Amsalem of Shas spoke out against the lifestyle of married yeshiva students who prefer to study Torah and live off handouts rather than get a job — in other words, against the central ideal that defines ultra-Orthodoxy in Israel today. Over the weekend, his party’s official newspaper ran a series of articles slamming him, and now the party leadership, its four-man Council of Torah Sages headed by Shas’s spiritual leader, former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has called on him to quit, adding that if he does not, he’ll be little more than a “thief in the night.” One Shas commentator likened him to Amalek, the Ur-enemy of the Jews, whose memory is, according to the Bible, to be “wiped out.”

Amsalem, however, is sticking to his guns. Calling the handouts “shameful,” he has refused to give up his Knesset post, arguing (probably correctly) that his views reflect those of the great majority of Shas voters.

Why is this story so important? First, because Amsalem is giving voice to an increasingly discontented voter base for Shas — an electorate that walks a thin line between embracing Rabbi Yosef and his defense of Sephardic Judaism while living a lifestyle that, for the most part, is traditional rather than ultra-Orthodox, which means that they work for a living and don’t necessarily buy into the Ashkenazic-invented ideal of Torah study as a full-time job. For the first time, they have a rabbi that speaks his mind for the things they actually believe in.

Second, because here we have the most vivid example of the clash between democracy and religious authority. As a duly elected member of parliament, Amsalem has every legal right to keep his post. Yet the Orthodox parties in Israel have always been run according to a model in which their representatives in parliament accept party discipline not just as a political duty but as a religious one as well. Amsalem’s fate will tell us a lot about whether democracy or religion has supremacy in the Jewish state.

Third, because Amsalem has raised a powerful challenge to the very idea of rabbinic authority. Over the centuries, rabbis have claimed a moral right to tell their flocks what to do, on the grounds that their extensive study gives them the requisite expertise in the religious law. The dirty little secret, however, is that there is no formal hierarchical establishment in Judaism akin to what exists in the Catholic Church. In practice, rabbis have authority only over whoever chooses to follow them. The result is that rabbis who don’t take seriously the underlying values of their followers end up having no one to lead. Beneath the veneer of top-down authority, rabbinic politics has always been far more democratic than most rabbis would admit.

If Shas’s rabbis are reacting wildly to Amsalem’s challenge, it’s because they perceive a real threat to their hold on power. But as the Jerusalem Post‘s Jeff Barak points out, Amsalem is giving a rare, clear voice to what a great many of Shas’s own voters already believe. How this plays out could well determine the future of the Shas party, the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate as a whole, and a certain slice of democratic life in Israel as well.

Read Less

Anti-Israel Website Indirectly Funded by Dutch Government

The next time you come across an Electronic Intifada article alleging some devious Israeli plot to annex Palestinian olive groves, direct your eye-rolls toward The Hague. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Dutch government may have been unwittingly helping to finance the radical anti-Israel website for years.

The Post reported Friday that the Electronic Intifada is funded by the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, which is apparently being subsidized quite heavily by the Dutch government and the European Union:

The Dutch government has been funding the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, a Dutch aid organization that finances the Electronic Intifada website that, NGO Monitor told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, is anti-Semitic and frequently compares Israeli policies with those of the Nazi regime.

NGO Monitor’s exposure of Dutch government funding for the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) prompted Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal to say on Thursday, “I will look into the matter personally. If it appears that the government subsidized NGO ICCO does fund Electronic Intifada, it will have a serious problem with me.”

The Post reports that the Dutch government provided €124 million to the ICCO in 2008, which the NGO Monitor says makes up 90 percent of the group’s budget. The European Union reportedly contributed another 6 percent.

The Electronic Intifada is one of the most prominent peddlers of anti-Israel demagoguery on the English-speaking Web. Founded and run by Ali Abunimah, its articles promote a one-state solution, accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” and regularly compare the Jewish state to Nazi Germany. Abunimah has also published the personal information of IDF soldiers, including home addresses.

Anti-Semitism is punishable by law in the Netherlands, and the Dutch foreign ministry said that the public prosecutor will look into whether the ICCO’s financing of the Electronic Intifada constitutes the promotion of anti-Semitism.

Random musing: If even the Dutch government thinks the Electronic Intifada is toxic, what does that say about the New York Times, which has published Abunimah’s columns and quoted him in news articles as an objective expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The next time you come across an Electronic Intifada article alleging some devious Israeli plot to annex Palestinian olive groves, direct your eye-rolls toward The Hague. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Dutch government may have been unwittingly helping to finance the radical anti-Israel website for years.

The Post reported Friday that the Electronic Intifada is funded by the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, which is apparently being subsidized quite heavily by the Dutch government and the European Union:

The Dutch government has been funding the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation, a Dutch aid organization that finances the Electronic Intifada website that, NGO Monitor told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, is anti-Semitic and frequently compares Israeli policies with those of the Nazi regime.

NGO Monitor’s exposure of Dutch government funding for the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) prompted Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal to say on Thursday, “I will look into the matter personally. If it appears that the government subsidized NGO ICCO does fund Electronic Intifada, it will have a serious problem with me.”

The Post reports that the Dutch government provided €124 million to the ICCO in 2008, which the NGO Monitor says makes up 90 percent of the group’s budget. The European Union reportedly contributed another 6 percent.

The Electronic Intifada is one of the most prominent peddlers of anti-Israel demagoguery on the English-speaking Web. Founded and run by Ali Abunimah, its articles promote a one-state solution, accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” and regularly compare the Jewish state to Nazi Germany. Abunimah has also published the personal information of IDF soldiers, including home addresses.

Anti-Semitism is punishable by law in the Netherlands, and the Dutch foreign ministry said that the public prosecutor will look into whether the ICCO’s financing of the Electronic Intifada constitutes the promotion of anti-Semitism.

Random musing: If even the Dutch government thinks the Electronic Intifada is toxic, what does that say about the New York Times, which has published Abunimah’s columns and quoted him in news articles as an objective expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Read Less

Good News on Durban III?

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

The 10th-anniversary commemoration of the UN’s “Durban I” conference on racism will apparently face opposition from the United States. It was announced earlier this month that the conference, billed as Durban III, will be held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly session in September 2011. That would make New York City host to the third in a series of conferences that have twice served as forums for vociferous anti-Semitism and invective against Israel.

The Jerusalem Post reports today, however, that the U.S. opposes holding Durban III at the proposed time. This was to be expected, considering that the U.S. delegation walked out of the first Durban conference and pulled out of the second one in advance. But the proposal to hold Durban III in New York raises a deeper issue. Will the U.S. merely oppose holding Durban III on our soil, or will we prohibit it? We may have to do the latter if we want to prevent an episode of unseemly triumphalism in our most iconic metropolis. But doing so would not be without hazards. The choice of the UN headquarters in New York sets up the potential for a confrontation. It’s an ambiguous venue from the standpoint of sovereignty: on American soil, but in theory dedicated to multilateral UN purposes.

The traditional U.S. reluctance to exercise force majeure over the UN’s political activities has good arguments behind it. In the case of Durban III, however, American national sentiment is unlikely to tolerate the principle of host-nation quiescence regarding UN activism. The New York Daily News captured it crudely but accurately with its assessment of the Durban III planners: “Clearly, they intend to stick it in America’s eye.”

President Obama’s speech of national self-abnegation to the General Assembly in September 2009, delivered on America’s behalf, opened the door to attempts of this kind. I have no doubt that his representatives in the UN honestly oppose the current plan for Durban III, but it’s a natural consequence of the president’s rhetoric and policies. This is what the UN’s anti-liberal factions do: take miles when inches are given. In terms of posturing and rhetoric, there is no meeting them halfway.

If American diplomats can induce our fellows on the UN Human Rights Council to think better of their Durban III plan, that will be a satisfactory outcome. If the Durban III proponents force the issue, the U.S. will have some choices to make. I’m optimistic that the American people will oppose a Durban III in New York with vigor; if it ends up being held here, it will galvanize and focus domestic political opposition to the Durban process in a way neither previous conference has. Unfortunately, it will also increase public alienation from the Obama presidency. Americans are accustomed — and properly so — to presidents keeping our nation’s name out of the foreign political movements we find vile and distasteful.

Read Less

The Latest Trend in Delegitimizing Israel

The ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel has recently started featuring a bizarre new argument: Israel isn’t really a democracy, because its Arab citizens lack basic civil rights. Good examples include last month’s New York Times column by Ahmad Tibi and today’s Jerusalem Post column by Ray Hanania.

Tibi urged the international community to demand that “in any political agreement, Israel would be required to grant full political and civil equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel. American mediators such as George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, rather than pushing the supremacist notion of a Jewish state, should be pressing Israel to provide equal rights and fair treatment to the Palestinian minority in its midst.” The obvious conclusion is that currently, Israeli Arabs lack civil rights.

That conclusion is somewhat marred by the final line: “Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli, is deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.” Neither Tibi nor the Times bothers explaining how a country that denies its Arab citizens “political and civil equality” has an Arab as deputy speaker of its parliament — let alone one who uses this prestigious position mainly to slander his country.

But anyone who didn’t read this tagline, or missed its implications, would come away thinking that Israeli Arabs don’t enjoy “political and civil equality.”

Then there’s Hanania, a self-proclaimed “award-winning columnist,” peace activist, and Chicago radio talk-show host.

“Criticism is a hallmark of true democracies,” he proclaims. “The more Israel tries to silence Arab critics, the more it exposes the limits of its democracy.” Specifically, “the backlash against Arabs citizens challenging Israeli policies started with Azmi Bishara, a Knesset member who was very critical.” Now Israel is persecuting the equally critical MK Haneen Zoabi: “Jewish Knesset members have called for her to be prosecuted and stripped of the immunity that Knesset members enjoy … Zoabi symbolizes a crack that continues to grow in the wall of Israel’s claim to the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’”

In reality, the “backlash” wasn’t against these MKs’ views but their actions. Bishara was indicted for passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. Zoabi’s potential indictment (should Israel’s independent prosecution decide to file one) is for trying to run her own country’s blockade of an enemy with which it’s at war. In short, both allegedly tried to aid an enemy during wartime. That’s not voicing “criticism”; it’s a crime in every democracy on the planet.

Yet Hanania implies that Zoabi’s presence on May’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza was a mere peaceful protest, while the charges against Bishara were simply trumped up, a crude attempt to silence a critical voice. And uninformed readers might well believe him. They wouldn’t know, for instance, that Bishara himself was acquitted on unrelated charges just a year earlier — meaning he preferred flight and exile to standing trial, not because “critical” Arabs stand no chance in Israeli courts, but because this time the evidence against him was solid.

It’s hard to believe a slander as demonstrably false as that Israeli Arabs lack civil rights could gain traction. But clearly, it has. Otherwise, two such eminently mainstream newspapers wouldn’t have printed it.

The ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel has recently started featuring a bizarre new argument: Israel isn’t really a democracy, because its Arab citizens lack basic civil rights. Good examples include last month’s New York Times column by Ahmad Tibi and today’s Jerusalem Post column by Ray Hanania.

Tibi urged the international community to demand that “in any political agreement, Israel would be required to grant full political and civil equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel. American mediators such as George Mitchell and Dennis Ross, rather than pushing the supremacist notion of a Jewish state, should be pressing Israel to provide equal rights and fair treatment to the Palestinian minority in its midst.” The obvious conclusion is that currently, Israeli Arabs lack civil rights.

That conclusion is somewhat marred by the final line: “Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli, is deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.” Neither Tibi nor the Times bothers explaining how a country that denies its Arab citizens “political and civil equality” has an Arab as deputy speaker of its parliament — let alone one who uses this prestigious position mainly to slander his country.

But anyone who didn’t read this tagline, or missed its implications, would come away thinking that Israeli Arabs don’t enjoy “political and civil equality.”

Then there’s Hanania, a self-proclaimed “award-winning columnist,” peace activist, and Chicago radio talk-show host.

“Criticism is a hallmark of true democracies,” he proclaims. “The more Israel tries to silence Arab critics, the more it exposes the limits of its democracy.” Specifically, “the backlash against Arabs citizens challenging Israeli policies started with Azmi Bishara, a Knesset member who was very critical.” Now Israel is persecuting the equally critical MK Haneen Zoabi: “Jewish Knesset members have called for her to be prosecuted and stripped of the immunity that Knesset members enjoy … Zoabi symbolizes a crack that continues to grow in the wall of Israel’s claim to the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.’”

In reality, the “backlash” wasn’t against these MKs’ views but their actions. Bishara was indicted for passing information to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. Zoabi’s potential indictment (should Israel’s independent prosecution decide to file one) is for trying to run her own country’s blockade of an enemy with which it’s at war. In short, both allegedly tried to aid an enemy during wartime. That’s not voicing “criticism”; it’s a crime in every democracy on the planet.

Yet Hanania implies that Zoabi’s presence on May’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza was a mere peaceful protest, while the charges against Bishara were simply trumped up, a crude attempt to silence a critical voice. And uninformed readers might well believe him. They wouldn’t know, for instance, that Bishara himself was acquitted on unrelated charges just a year earlier — meaning he preferred flight and exile to standing trial, not because “critical” Arabs stand no chance in Israeli courts, but because this time the evidence against him was solid.

It’s hard to believe a slander as demonstrably false as that Israeli Arabs lack civil rights could gain traction. But clearly, it has. Otherwise, two such eminently mainstream newspapers wouldn’t have printed it.

Read Less

Oh No, Not Israel!

The left is plainly miffed that liberal candidates are being called out for their inconsistent or downright hostile stance toward Israel. In a scurrilous column (in the Jerusalem Post no less), we are told of the menacing ”Republican efforts to transform support for Israel from a long-standing bipartisan national consensus into a divisive partisan wedge issue.” That means that a Republican is challenging the pro-Israel bona fides of his J Street–endorsed opponent.

There are a few problems with this formulation. First, a candidate’s receipt of donations and support by any group is fair game in an election. If a candidate wants to defend J Street, he has every right to, but his opponent has every right to cite chapter and verse on the nature of the organization that finds his opponent so attractive. Likewise, if a candidate has signed on to the Gaza 54 letter or keynoted for CAIR or, or that matter, sat idly by as the administration bashed the Jewish state, that is fair game, too.

Second, if the bipartisan support for Israel were as strong as it has historically been, there would be no issue to divide candidates. But as we’ve examined over the past year, that bipartisan support has frayed, in large part because of a president hostile to the Jewish state. There simply is no rationale for excluding Israel or Iran or any foreign policy issue from political campaigns. They actually have presidential debates devoted solely to such topics.

And finally, this is yet another variation on the “Shut up, the left explained” theme that has become rampant in the Obama era. It’s odd that the cognitively superior among us (according to the president) would shun rational debate and demand that certain topics be off-limits. And strange, isn’t it, that those topics (the Ground Zero mosque, Israel, etc.) are ones in which the left is badly out of sync with popular opinion?

Frankly, I think liberals are stunned that they are being held to account for their associations, statements, and votes on Israel. No one has ever tried this in such a concerted fashion. Don’t they get that I call myself pro-Israel? Yes, they get that part; what they don’t get is how a supposedly pro-Israel candidate can act and vote in ways inimical to the interests of the Jewish state.

The left is plainly miffed that liberal candidates are being called out for their inconsistent or downright hostile stance toward Israel. In a scurrilous column (in the Jerusalem Post no less), we are told of the menacing ”Republican efforts to transform support for Israel from a long-standing bipartisan national consensus into a divisive partisan wedge issue.” That means that a Republican is challenging the pro-Israel bona fides of his J Street–endorsed opponent.

There are a few problems with this formulation. First, a candidate’s receipt of donations and support by any group is fair game in an election. If a candidate wants to defend J Street, he has every right to, but his opponent has every right to cite chapter and verse on the nature of the organization that finds his opponent so attractive. Likewise, if a candidate has signed on to the Gaza 54 letter or keynoted for CAIR or, or that matter, sat idly by as the administration bashed the Jewish state, that is fair game, too.

Second, if the bipartisan support for Israel were as strong as it has historically been, there would be no issue to divide candidates. But as we’ve examined over the past year, that bipartisan support has frayed, in large part because of a president hostile to the Jewish state. There simply is no rationale for excluding Israel or Iran or any foreign policy issue from political campaigns. They actually have presidential debates devoted solely to such topics.

And finally, this is yet another variation on the “Shut up, the left explained” theme that has become rampant in the Obama era. It’s odd that the cognitively superior among us (according to the president) would shun rational debate and demand that certain topics be off-limits. And strange, isn’t it, that those topics (the Ground Zero mosque, Israel, etc.) are ones in which the left is badly out of sync with popular opinion?

Frankly, I think liberals are stunned that they are being held to account for their associations, statements, and votes on Israel. No one has ever tried this in such a concerted fashion. Don’t they get that I call myself pro-Israel? Yes, they get that part; what they don’t get is how a supposedly pro-Israel candidate can act and vote in ways inimical to the interests of the Jewish state.

Read Less

Why We Don’t Have Peace

Here’s how it works in the Middle East. An Israeli security guard travels through a section of the nation’s capital (no, dear liberals, East Jerusalem is not a “settlement”). Palestinians set upon him, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Afraid for his life, the guard shoots in self defense, killing one assailant. (“The guard, fearing for his life, allegedly opened fire with his personal firearm at a group of rock throwers and killed a resident. Police found two knives and screwdriver on the body of the victim, who had a previous criminal history and was known to police.”) The Palestinians commence a riot, injuring innocent Israelis. The world blames Israel.

Here’s the Palestinian mindset, displaying all its splendid victimology. The residents complain that the assailants should have been “warned” (before of after the Molotov cocktails rained down?) .Everyone gets into the act:

There’s going to be a huge mess in Silwan, something big will happen. They killed a man, what should I do, be quiet? What about his family, his little kids?” asked another neighbor of the victim, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of police reprisal.

“This was a calculated, violent act with political goals,” Dimitri Diliani, the head of Fatah’s Social Development Committee, told the Jerusalem Post as he was standing with mourners outside the family’s house. “We view it as a right-wing Israeli effort to undermine the peace process and to draw Palestinians into violent action so that the right-wing government will be provided with a window of opportunity to escape into national pressure regarding illegal settlement activities.”

Not sure if the “calculated” maneuver he refers to is meant to suggest that Israelis deployed the rock throwers, but then the facts are utterly irrelevant here.

Meanwhile the rioters — calculated and violent, one would say — injured ten (including “a 35-year-old Israeli in moderate condition who was stabbed in the back near the Mount of Olives”) and destroyed vehicles.

This certainly highlights the delusional nature of the peace process. The Israelis can only make peace with those who want it and are prepared to put down the guns, the stones, the knives, the rocks, and the Molotov cocktails to build a civil (in both senses of the word) society. Peace won’t come from any conference room. We’ll have peace, as a commentator elegantly described it, when and if Palestinians “can renounce once and for all the creeping Islamism that would sooner see them suffering the miseries and oppression of twelfth-century religious and cultural practice than thriving in a modern society; if they can cast off at last the self-strangling mythology of their own victimhood;  and if they can shed their century-old yearning to set the blood of their Jewish neighbors flowing in the streets.” No sign of that so far.

Here’s how it works in the Middle East. An Israeli security guard travels through a section of the nation’s capital (no, dear liberals, East Jerusalem is not a “settlement”). Palestinians set upon him, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Afraid for his life, the guard shoots in self defense, killing one assailant. (“The guard, fearing for his life, allegedly opened fire with his personal firearm at a group of rock throwers and killed a resident. Police found two knives and screwdriver on the body of the victim, who had a previous criminal history and was known to police.”) The Palestinians commence a riot, injuring innocent Israelis. The world blames Israel.

Here’s the Palestinian mindset, displaying all its splendid victimology. The residents complain that the assailants should have been “warned” (before of after the Molotov cocktails rained down?) .Everyone gets into the act:

There’s going to be a huge mess in Silwan, something big will happen. They killed a man, what should I do, be quiet? What about his family, his little kids?” asked another neighbor of the victim, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of police reprisal.

“This was a calculated, violent act with political goals,” Dimitri Diliani, the head of Fatah’s Social Development Committee, told the Jerusalem Post as he was standing with mourners outside the family’s house. “We view it as a right-wing Israeli effort to undermine the peace process and to draw Palestinians into violent action so that the right-wing government will be provided with a window of opportunity to escape into national pressure regarding illegal settlement activities.”

Not sure if the “calculated” maneuver he refers to is meant to suggest that Israelis deployed the rock throwers, but then the facts are utterly irrelevant here.

Meanwhile the rioters — calculated and violent, one would say — injured ten (including “a 35-year-old Israeli in moderate condition who was stabbed in the back near the Mount of Olives”) and destroyed vehicles.

This certainly highlights the delusional nature of the peace process. The Israelis can only make peace with those who want it and are prepared to put down the guns, the stones, the knives, the rocks, and the Molotov cocktails to build a civil (in both senses of the word) society. Peace won’t come from any conference room. We’ll have peace, as a commentator elegantly described it, when and if Palestinians “can renounce once and for all the creeping Islamism that would sooner see them suffering the miseries and oppression of twelfth-century religious and cultural practice than thriving in a modern society; if they can cast off at last the self-strangling mythology of their own victimhood;  and if they can shed their century-old yearning to set the blood of their Jewish neighbors flowing in the streets.” No sign of that so far.

Read Less

A Two-State Solution but Not Two Peoples?

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has long been the poster child for Palestinian moderation toward Israel, but his transparent attempts to manufacture a domestic constituency (as opposed to his considerable cheering section in the United States) are rapidly undermining the notion that he is a stalwart advocate of peace. Earlier this year, he staged a photo opportunity in which he led the burning of Israeli goods that he wished Palestinians to boycott. Now he is refusing to pay even lip service to the idea that a two-state solution to the conflict would allow one of those states to be the home of the Jews.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Fayyad stormed out of a United Nations committee meeting in New York and canceled a scheduled joint press conference with Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, because Ayalon refused to sign off on a summary of the encounter that mentioned the goal of the negotiation as being “two states” but that also did not include the phrase “two states for two peoples.”

Some peace processors have viewed Ayalon as a troublemaker, but he does not deserve to be blamed for upsetting the Americans’ favorite Palestinian. During the course of this round of peace talks — and every previous one — the Palestinians have always refused to accept the idea that a final resolution of the conflict will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, even as they demand that the other half of the two-state solution be recognized not only as a Palestinian state but one in which no Jews or Jewish community will be permitted to dwell. The “moderate” Fayyad has now apparently extended this lack of recognition to not even acknowledging that another people has a right to live there either. As Ayalon put it, “If the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about and … if the Palestinians mean, at the end of the process, to have one Palestinian state and one bi-national state, this will not happen.”

The point here is more than mere sophistry. If the peace talks do not result in recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, then the conflict will not be over. While some groups are putting pressure on Israel to concede its right to build in disputed territories prior to even the start of negotiations (such as the left-wing lobby J Street, which published a full page ad in the New York Times today demanding that Israel freeze settlements without mentioning any corresponding concessions from the Palestinians), the PA won’t even admit that a two-state solution will allow for one of the two to be Jewish. One needn’t be a peace-process cynic to understand that what is going on now is a charade, not a genuine negotiation.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has long been the poster child for Palestinian moderation toward Israel, but his transparent attempts to manufacture a domestic constituency (as opposed to his considerable cheering section in the United States) are rapidly undermining the notion that he is a stalwart advocate of peace. Earlier this year, he staged a photo opportunity in which he led the burning of Israeli goods that he wished Palestinians to boycott. Now he is refusing to pay even lip service to the idea that a two-state solution to the conflict would allow one of those states to be the home of the Jews.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Fayyad stormed out of a United Nations committee meeting in New York and canceled a scheduled joint press conference with Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, because Ayalon refused to sign off on a summary of the encounter that mentioned the goal of the negotiation as being “two states” but that also did not include the phrase “two states for two peoples.”

Some peace processors have viewed Ayalon as a troublemaker, but he does not deserve to be blamed for upsetting the Americans’ favorite Palestinian. During the course of this round of peace talks — and every previous one — the Palestinians have always refused to accept the idea that a final resolution of the conflict will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, even as they demand that the other half of the two-state solution be recognized not only as a Palestinian state but one in which no Jews or Jewish community will be permitted to dwell. The “moderate” Fayyad has now apparently extended this lack of recognition to not even acknowledging that another people has a right to live there either. As Ayalon put it, “If the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about and … if the Palestinians mean, at the end of the process, to have one Palestinian state and one bi-national state, this will not happen.”

The point here is more than mere sophistry. If the peace talks do not result in recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, then the conflict will not be over. While some groups are putting pressure on Israel to concede its right to build in disputed territories prior to even the start of negotiations (such as the left-wing lobby J Street, which published a full page ad in the New York Times today demanding that Israel freeze settlements without mentioning any corresponding concessions from the Palestinians), the PA won’t even admit that a two-state solution will allow for one of the two to be Jewish. One needn’t be a peace-process cynic to understand that what is going on now is a charade, not a genuine negotiation.

Read Less

Maybe the Peace Processors Just Don’t Have a Clue

Leslie Gelb fervently hopes that “the Obama administration did not shove Palestinians and Israelis into direct talks, for the first time in over two years, just to get them talking to each other.” Umm … but there really isn’t any evidence to the contrary, is there? No, sighs Gelb, there isn’t:

Many officials tell me that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nor President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority came close to giving Mr. Obama any specific indications of compromise in their White House meetings two weeks ago. In other words, neither offered any concrete basis for accommodation. They spoke only of being serious and bargaining in good faith, the usual stuff. Nor did either leader push Mr. Obama into these talks; Mr. Obama pushed them. Netanyahu wasn’t eager for talks at all, and Abbas favored them only with good and prior indications of success.

In fact, a PA official told the Jerusalem Post that “he had ‘no explanation’ for why some US government officials were sounding optimistic about the direct talks.” That may be the most honest statement ever uttered by a Palestinian spokesman in the past 60 years. Read More

Leslie Gelb fervently hopes that “the Obama administration did not shove Palestinians and Israelis into direct talks, for the first time in over two years, just to get them talking to each other.” Umm … but there really isn’t any evidence to the contrary, is there? No, sighs Gelb, there isn’t:

Many officials tell me that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel nor President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority came close to giving Mr. Obama any specific indications of compromise in their White House meetings two weeks ago. In other words, neither offered any concrete basis for accommodation. They spoke only of being serious and bargaining in good faith, the usual stuff. Nor did either leader push Mr. Obama into these talks; Mr. Obama pushed them. Netanyahu wasn’t eager for talks at all, and Abbas favored them only with good and prior indications of success.

In fact, a PA official told the Jerusalem Post that “he had ‘no explanation’ for why some US government officials were sounding optimistic about the direct talks.” That may be the most honest statement ever uttered by a Palestinian spokesman in the past 60 years.

As many of us predicted, Obama, a peace-process worshiper of the first order, and his envoy, who is convinced that if he solved the Northern Ireland crisis he can bring peace to the Middle East, are now facing the collapse of their 18-month venture into Middle East policymaking. (By the way, given Mitchell’s performance in the Middle East, do you get the feeling that the settlement of the Northern Ireland conflict was coincidental to, not a result of, his presence?) Gelb, as many of us on the right have argued, explains why peace talks can be quite dangerous if you really don’t know what you’re doing:

The real danger between these two star-crossed inhabitants of the same Holy Land is not failure to negotiate; it’s the failure of the negotiations. Flashpoints in the Holy Land tend to burst after they sit down at the negotiating table, give their speeches, fail to agree, and watch the process collapse. That is when the explosions begin. That is when Palestinian terrorism reignites in Israel. People tend to resort to violence when their hopes and expectations are dashed formally and frontally, not when they are merely hoping.

Actually, in this case, “people” don’t — the Palestinians do. (There’s no Jewish intifada.) And the Palestinians also resorted to violence in anticipation of the talks. Really, any excuse will do.

The collapse of the talks would not merely raise the specter of another intifada; it would threaten to decimate what is left of the president’s prestige and credibility. Hence, Gelb sees reason for Bibi to spare Obama that humiliation:

The Israeli hawk understands full well, though he doesn’t like it, that he must burnish and safekeep ties with America. For the time being, that requires good ties with Mr. Obama, whom Netanyahu and his fellow hawks don’t like very much. To them, Mr. Obama sounded too pro-Arab in his first years in office, and they don’t have much trust in him. So, they have to get along with him well enough for at least another year – or until the American presidential election season erupts. At that point, these particular Israelis will pray for rain and a Republican president.

But, of course, both sides must stay in the room, and so far it seems that Abbas is itching to get out.

This brings us back to Gelb’s concern: maybe the Obami had not a clue what they were doing and now have a mess they are not equipped to clean up. And gosh, maybe the same is true of Iran. Perhaps they were silly to assume that engagement and Swiss-cheese sanctions were going to work to disarm the mullahs and now have no idea what to do. To be blunt, the president’s supporters and even some critics have both assumed that there is at work here a level of foreign policy competence and clearheadedness that may not, in fact, exist. Gelb hints that what we are dealing with are rank and arrogant amateurs. Yes, it’s scary.

Read Less