Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jerusalem

Abbas and the False Hope of Peace

The dynamic of the Middle East peace process hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Americans and Israelis long for Palestinian leaders to enunciate moderate positions that might make peace possible but tend to misinterpret the mixed signals that are sent from Israel’s negotiating partners. They seize on ambivalent statements that give some inkling of a desire for peace but ignore those utterances that make it clear the Palestinians still have no interest in ending the conflict, especially those made in Arabic to very different audiences. That was what happened every time Yasir Arafat spoke in English when meeting with Americans or Israelis and the same is true for Mahmoud Abbas, his more presentable successor.

This dynamic was on display this weekend when Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected, met with a group of Israeli students. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas told the delegation of Israelis that he didn’t want to flood Israel with refugees or to re-divide the city of Jerusalem. Taken out of context and ignoring contrary statements from Abbas and other Palestinian leaders and you get the impression that this is a man ready to make peace. No doubt that will be the interpretation placed on these remarks by those seeking to push the Israeli government for more concessions to the Palestinians or to blame it for the ultimate failure of the current negotiations championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But a clear-eyed look at Abbas shows just how misleading that would be. Rather than moving closer to peace, Abbas is repeating the routine Arafat perfected in which Israelis and Americans are told what they want to hear while Palestinians get a very different message from their government.

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The dynamic of the Middle East peace process hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Americans and Israelis long for Palestinian leaders to enunciate moderate positions that might make peace possible but tend to misinterpret the mixed signals that are sent from Israel’s negotiating partners. They seize on ambivalent statements that give some inkling of a desire for peace but ignore those utterances that make it clear the Palestinians still have no interest in ending the conflict, especially those made in Arabic to very different audiences. That was what happened every time Yasir Arafat spoke in English when meeting with Americans or Israelis and the same is true for Mahmoud Abbas, his more presentable successor.

This dynamic was on display this weekend when Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected, met with a group of Israeli students. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas told the delegation of Israelis that he didn’t want to flood Israel with refugees or to re-divide the city of Jerusalem. Taken out of context and ignoring contrary statements from Abbas and other Palestinian leaders and you get the impression that this is a man ready to make peace. No doubt that will be the interpretation placed on these remarks by those seeking to push the Israeli government for more concessions to the Palestinians or to blame it for the ultimate failure of the current negotiations championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But a clear-eyed look at Abbas shows just how misleading that would be. Rather than moving closer to peace, Abbas is repeating the routine Arafat perfected in which Israelis and Americans are told what they want to hear while Palestinians get a very different message from their government.

A shift on the Palestinian stance on refugees would mean a lot. As long as the PA holds onto its demand for the so-called “right of return” for refugees and their descendants, it means their goal remains Israel’s eradication. Similarly, recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn would also herald a redefinition of Palestinian nationalism from a creed rooted primarily in rejection of Zionism to one oriented toward developing their own nation.

But even in this seemingly positive statement, Abbas left himself plenty of wriggle room. Saying that he doesn’t wish to “flood” Israel doesn’t mean he’s renounced the right of return. How many Arabs constitute a flood? The answer is amorphous much in the same way previous comments by Abbas have hinted at a change without really delivering it. The point being that nothing short of a concrete renunciation of this longstanding demand means anything.

But let’s assume for a moment that Abbas is actually interested in giving up the right of return. If he were to make such an earth-shaking turnabout, is it remotely possible that he would do so while speaking to an Israeli audience rather than to a gathering of his own people in their own language? The answer is no.

As it was with Arafat, who would say to Western reporters he had chosen peace with Israel while telling Palestinians that all he had done was to sign a temporary truce that would be followed by more conflict, Abbas is also playing a double game. Far from echoing Abbas’s moderate statements to the Israeli students, the Palestinian media continues to broadcast and publish a never-ending stream of incitement against Jews and Israel in which terrorism is praised. Indeed, as Palestine Media Watch noted, Abbas has recently personally praised acts of terror against Israeli students.

The same point applies to his pledge not to divide Jerusalem since in the same address he told the Israelis that he would never allow Israel to control the Western Wall, let alone the Temple Mount in the capital’s Old City. In other words, even in the unlikely event of a peace treaty, worship at Judaism’s most sacred places would be dependent on Fatah goodwill rather than Jewish rights.

Another key obstacle to peace is the same one that deterred Kerry’s predecessors from attempting to revive the talks with Israel: Hamas. Though Abbas pretends that the terrorist rulers of Gaza will go along with any agreement he strikes with the Israelis, they continue to exercise a veto over peace that will deter him in much the same way Arafat knew that his signature on a treaty would be a death warrant.

So what is Abbas doing?

It’s not much of a mystery. The Palestinian leader is orchestrating a campaign aimed at diverting Western attention from a negotiating stance based on intransigence rather than moderation. Just as Arafat’s occasional statements about peace distracted both the Western media and the government of the United States from the actual policies he was pursuing as well as the rejectionist culture he had further entrenched via his media and the schools run by the PA, Abbas is trying to do the same thing. In this case, it is part of a game of chicken he’s been playing with Israel’s government to avoid blame for Kerry’s inevitable failure.

Israel should remain open to the possibility that someday the Palestinians will undergo the sort of sea change that will enable their leaders to embrace peace with Israel. But until that actually happens, both the Jewish state and its American ally should ignore Abbas’s deceptions.

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To Stand or to Kneel?

Aryeh Cohen, a leading voice in the left-wing Jewish social justice movement, has pointed out a hypocrisy on the left that has baffled some Jewish conservatives for a while. He doesn’t stand with Women of the Wall–a liberal organization in Israel looking to establish egalitarian prayer rights at the Western Wall (Kotel)–because it is seeking to advance Jewish rights in an area not only “occupied,” but where an Arab neighborhood once stood. In other words: how can Jewish liberals promote Jewish egalitarianism in a place they don’t even believe Jews should be?

Beyond the particular question of egalitarianism, Cohen’s article in Sh’ma in fact speaks to the wider issue of American Jewish liberal treatment of Israel. How are the competing claims of Jews and Arabs to be decided? “In some other world in which peace and justice reign, and nobody harbors any agendas aside from bettering the good of all,” Cohen writes, “everybody would be able to pray together, or as they wished, at the Western Wall or on the Temple Mount itself.” Unfortunately, as Cohen points out–and many conservatives would agree–this is not currently possible. The conclusion seems, then, that for now the will of one side must prevail over that of the other. The problem is that the American Jewish left believes the side that should prevail is that of the Arabs. If only one side of this conflict can pray on the Temple Mount, they say, it must be the Arabs. If only one side can have access to the Kotel, they say, it must be the Arabs. If only one side can have sovereignty in parts or all of the Land of Israel, they say, it must be the Arabs.

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Aryeh Cohen, a leading voice in the left-wing Jewish social justice movement, has pointed out a hypocrisy on the left that has baffled some Jewish conservatives for a while. He doesn’t stand with Women of the Wall–a liberal organization in Israel looking to establish egalitarian prayer rights at the Western Wall (Kotel)–because it is seeking to advance Jewish rights in an area not only “occupied,” but where an Arab neighborhood once stood. In other words: how can Jewish liberals promote Jewish egalitarianism in a place they don’t even believe Jews should be?

Beyond the particular question of egalitarianism, Cohen’s article in Sh’ma in fact speaks to the wider issue of American Jewish liberal treatment of Israel. How are the competing claims of Jews and Arabs to be decided? “In some other world in which peace and justice reign, and nobody harbors any agendas aside from bettering the good of all,” Cohen writes, “everybody would be able to pray together, or as they wished, at the Western Wall or on the Temple Mount itself.” Unfortunately, as Cohen points out–and many conservatives would agree–this is not currently possible. The conclusion seems, then, that for now the will of one side must prevail over that of the other. The problem is that the American Jewish left believes the side that should prevail is that of the Arabs. If only one side of this conflict can pray on the Temple Mount, they say, it must be the Arabs. If only one side can have access to the Kotel, they say, it must be the Arabs. If only one side can have sovereignty in parts or all of the Land of Israel, they say, it must be the Arabs.

This sentiment crosses the border of self-effacement into the region of self-hatred. To insist that the Jews owe so much to others and are themselves owed nothing is to ask of one’s tribe to be nothing more than a doormat. Such an analogy might describe much of Jewish history, yet now that, thanks to the achievements of the modern State of Israel, it may no longer be applicable, the American Jewish left is prescribing it. If rights are to clash in the Middle East, they declare, the Jews should sacrifice theirs. This, we are told, is “justice.”

We are also told it is “peace”–thus compounding the perverseness of these liberals’ recommendations. If the route to reconciliation in the Middle East is through the elevation of one side’s claims over the other’s, is peace likely to emerge from Arab hegemony, under which Jews are denied most rights (including, as it happens, the right to pray on the Temple Mount, which is administered by an Arab authority), or through Jewish democracy, where Arabs are afforded maximal rights?

(Those who contest this last point are referred to Cohen’s admission that “Nothing in Israel, or in the Middle East, is disconnected from anything else,” yet these issues are treated by North American Jews as if they “exist in a vacuum.”)

The Jewish left may think that the answer to Israel’s problems is to go back to the 1940s. Others, though, think “peace and justice” might come a different way.

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The Big Problem in Jerusalem Isn’t the Jews

In time for the Jewish calendar’s fall holiday season (Jews around the world are celebrating Sukkot—the feast of tabernacles—this week), today’s New York Times took up the delicate issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount where, we are told, troublemaking Jews are breaking the rules and making coexistence, if not peace, that much more difficult. Since some Jewish extremists do foolishly dream of replacing the mosques that are atop the Mount (which looks down on the Western Wall) with a rebuilt Third Temple, a scheme that would set off a religious war no sane person would want, Israel has always sought to keep the peace in the city by limiting Jewish visits and prohibiting Jewish prayer there. So with increasing numbers of Jews wanting to look around and perhaps even surreptitiously utter a prayer, the conceit of the Times piece appears to be that this is just one more instance in which Israelis are giving their Arab neighbors a hard time and pushing them out of a city that is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.

But however dangerous any idea of endangering the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque might be to world peace, the Jews are not the problem in Jerusalem. That’s because the dispute in the city isn’t really so much about who controls the Temple Mount but the Muslim effort to deny the Jewish history that is literally under their feet. Were it just a question of sharing sacred space, reasonable compromises that would give full Muslim autonomy over their holy sites while allowing Jewish prayer at the spiritual center of Judaism would be possible since Jewish extremists who want to evict Islam from the place are a tiny minority. Yet as long as the official position of both the Muslim Wakf religious authority, which has been allowed by Israel to govern the place since the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Palestinian Authority is that the Temples never existed and that Jews have no rights to their ancient capital, that will constitute the real obstacle to peace.

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In time for the Jewish calendar’s fall holiday season (Jews around the world are celebrating Sukkot—the feast of tabernacles—this week), today’s New York Times took up the delicate issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount where, we are told, troublemaking Jews are breaking the rules and making coexistence, if not peace, that much more difficult. Since some Jewish extremists do foolishly dream of replacing the mosques that are atop the Mount (which looks down on the Western Wall) with a rebuilt Third Temple, a scheme that would set off a religious war no sane person would want, Israel has always sought to keep the peace in the city by limiting Jewish visits and prohibiting Jewish prayer there. So with increasing numbers of Jews wanting to look around and perhaps even surreptitiously utter a prayer, the conceit of the Times piece appears to be that this is just one more instance in which Israelis are giving their Arab neighbors a hard time and pushing them out of a city that is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.

But however dangerous any idea of endangering the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque might be to world peace, the Jews are not the problem in Jerusalem. That’s because the dispute in the city isn’t really so much about who controls the Temple Mount but the Muslim effort to deny the Jewish history that is literally under their feet. Were it just a question of sharing sacred space, reasonable compromises that would give full Muslim autonomy over their holy sites while allowing Jewish prayer at the spiritual center of Judaism would be possible since Jewish extremists who want to evict Islam from the place are a tiny minority. Yet as long as the official position of both the Muslim Wakf religious authority, which has been allowed by Israel to govern the place since the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Palestinian Authority is that the Temples never existed and that Jews have no rights to their ancient capital, that will constitute the real obstacle to peace.

At the heart of this conundrum is an error in Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s story. In an effort to give some historical background to the dispute, she writes the following:

In 2000, a visit by Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s opposition leader, accompanied by 1,000 police officers, prompted a violent outbreak and, many argue, set off the second intifada.

Many may argue that, but it is a flat-out lie. As figures within the Palestinian Authority have long since publicly admitted, the intifada was planned by then leader Yasir Arafat long before Sharon took a stroll on the site of the Temples around the Jewish New Year. The intifada was a deliberate strategy in which Arafat answered Israel’s offer of an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem that would have included the Temple Mount. The terrorist war of attrition was intended to beat down the Israelis and force them and the United States to offer even more concessions without forcing the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Sharon’s visit was merely a pretext that has long since been debunked.

Rudoren deserves to be roasted for passing along this piece of propaganda without even noting the proof to the contrary. But the problem here is more than just an error that shows the way she tends to swallow Palestinian lies hook, line, and sinker. That’s because the significance of the Sharon story lies in the way, Palestinian leaders have used the Temple Mount for generations to gin up hate against Israelis.

It bears pointing out that almost from the very beginning of the Zionist enterprise, those seeking to incite an Arab population that might regard the economic growth that came with the influx of immigrants as a good thing used the mosques on the Mount to whip up anti-Jewish sentiment. The pretext for the 1929 riots in which Jews were attacked across the country and the ancient community of Hebron was wiped out in a pogrom was a false rumor about the mosques being attacked. Arafat used the same theme to gain support for his otherwise inexplicable decision to tank the Palestinian economy in his terrorist war. Similarly, inflammatory sermons given in the mosques have often led to Muslim worshippers there raining down rocks on the Jewish worshippers in the Western Wall plaza below.

Israelis can argue about whether restoring even a minimal Jewish presence on the Temple Mount is wise. Some Orthodox authorities have always said that due to doubt about the presence of the Temple’s most sacred precincts no Jew should step foot on the plateau, although that is a point that seems less salient due to recent archeological discoveries. Others believe that any effort to contest Muslim ownership of the site converts a territorial dispute into a religious or spiritual one and should be avoided at all costs.

But, like so many internal Jewish and Israeli debates, these arguments miss the point about Arab opinion. As with other sacred sites to which Muslims lay claim, their position is not one in which they are prepared to share or guarantee equal access. The Muslim view of the Temple Mount is not one in which competing claims can be recognized, let alone respected. They want it Jew-free, the same way they envision a Palestinian state or those areas of Jerusalem which they say must be their capital.

It is in that same spirit that the Wakf has committed what many respected Israeli archeologists consider a program of vandalism on the Mount with unknown quantities of antiquities being trashed by their building program. Since they recognize no Jewish claim or even the history of the place, they have continued to act in this manner with, I might add, hardly a peep from the international community.

Thus while many friends of Israel will read Rudoren’s article and shake their heads about Israeli foolishness, the real story in Jerusalem remains the Palestinians’ unshakable determination to extinguish Jewish history as part of their effort to delegitimize the Jewish state. In the face of their intransigence and the fact that such intolerance is mainstream Palestinian opinion rather than the view of a few extremists, the desire of many Jews to visit a place that is the historic center of their faith (the Western Wall is, after all, merely the vestige of the Temple’s outer enclosure) doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

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Boycotting Ariel Not About Justice or Peace

In this week’s Forward, venerable columnist Leonard Fein imagines he will elicit gasps of shock from his readers when he suggests that they should boycott the city of Ariel. He writes that he can do so in good conscience because there is nothing inherently immoral about boycotts and because shunning Ariel, its people, institutions, and commerce is a blow struck for justice and the cause of peace. He’s right that boycotts can sometimes be appropriate if not a moral imperative. But he’s dead wrong about giving a small city filled with ordinary law-abiding Jews, synagogues, schools, and businesses the same treatment previous generations gave Nazi Germany or segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Doing so is not only morally obtuse, it also has not the slightest thing to do with peace.

Fein is pushing on an open door when he suggests there’s something controversial about boycotts. Boycotts that are rooted in moral indignation against a specific policy whether it is Nazi racism, American segregation, Soviet refusal to allow Jews to emigrate, or apartheid were all defensible boycotts since they were aimed at highlighting injustice that could be corrected. But boycotts that are themselves the product of a spirit of discrimination are less defensible. For example, the Arab boycott of Israel and the efforts of the BDS campaign—which aims at isolating it via boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, is rooted in a desire to eradicate the Jewish state, not to reform it.

Those who oppose the building of Jewish communities in the West Bank feel they constitute an obstacle to peace. That is an argument that is undermined by the fact that the Palestinians make few distinctions between the Jews who live in their midst and those in the settlements that were built on the other side of the 1949 cease-fire lines. But if there is to be a two-state solution to the conflict, do Fein and those who agree with him really think peace will be bought by dismantling Ariel? Is he prepared to take the same position about those Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that are also on the other side of the old “green line?” Seen in that light, it’s hard to see his attitude toward Ariel as anything but an expression of political venom directed against Israelis whose politics he doesn’t like. Whatever the merits of his arguments about settlements, such a boycott has nothing to do with justice or peace.

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In this week’s Forward, venerable columnist Leonard Fein imagines he will elicit gasps of shock from his readers when he suggests that they should boycott the city of Ariel. He writes that he can do so in good conscience because there is nothing inherently immoral about boycotts and because shunning Ariel, its people, institutions, and commerce is a blow struck for justice and the cause of peace. He’s right that boycotts can sometimes be appropriate if not a moral imperative. But he’s dead wrong about giving a small city filled with ordinary law-abiding Jews, synagogues, schools, and businesses the same treatment previous generations gave Nazi Germany or segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Doing so is not only morally obtuse, it also has not the slightest thing to do with peace.

Fein is pushing on an open door when he suggests there’s something controversial about boycotts. Boycotts that are rooted in moral indignation against a specific policy whether it is Nazi racism, American segregation, Soviet refusal to allow Jews to emigrate, or apartheid were all defensible boycotts since they were aimed at highlighting injustice that could be corrected. But boycotts that are themselves the product of a spirit of discrimination are less defensible. For example, the Arab boycott of Israel and the efforts of the BDS campaign—which aims at isolating it via boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, is rooted in a desire to eradicate the Jewish state, not to reform it.

Those who oppose the building of Jewish communities in the West Bank feel they constitute an obstacle to peace. That is an argument that is undermined by the fact that the Palestinians make few distinctions between the Jews who live in their midst and those in the settlements that were built on the other side of the 1949 cease-fire lines. But if there is to be a two-state solution to the conflict, do Fein and those who agree with him really think peace will be bought by dismantling Ariel? Is he prepared to take the same position about those Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that are also on the other side of the old “green line?” Seen in that light, it’s hard to see his attitude toward Ariel as anything but an expression of political venom directed against Israelis whose politics he doesn’t like. Whatever the merits of his arguments about settlements, such a boycott has nothing to do with justice or peace.

It should be understood that even those who are most ardent in advocating for the peace process understand that it will not be achieved by insisting that Israel retreat to the old “green line” border. Though the Palestinian Authority is making noises directed at liberal Jews and the Western media that it is ready to end the conflict for all time, there is good reason to doubt they will accept terms they have repeatedly refused in the recent past. But if they do, they know it will involve their having to accept that Israel will retain the large settlement blocs in exchange for some territory inside pre-1967 Israel.

Among those blocs that aren’t changing hands is the city of Ariel. So exactly what point is served by a boycott of a place whose existence as a Jewish community wouldn’t prevent a peace settlement? Ariel’s continued existence inside Israel is not really in question. Does Fein believe that every Jew must be removed from all of the areas that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 in order to create justice and peace for the Palestinian Arabs? If so, is he advocating for a similar boycott of the various Jerusalem neighborhoods and towns and villages that would also be kept by Israel in the event the “agreement whose terms everybody already knows” that fellow leftists keep talking about is signed?

I think not.

Just as calls for the eviction of Arabs from Israel are repugnant, if peace is ever to be achieved, it will have to be on the basis of mutual respect and coexistence, not on eradicating the Jewish presence in parts of the country. But even if some settlements were to be removed, as happened in Gaza, in the event of a peace settlement, why would Fein focus on one that is not in that category except to vent spleen against the settlement movement that is more about Israeli politics than the future of peace?

I understand the arguments of those who believe preserving Israel’s Jewish majority will require the separation of two peoples. Doing so may involve giving up some settlements. But the movement to boycott settlements does more to appeal to the Palestinian belief that all Jews should be evicted from the country than it does to the cause of two states for two peoples. Palestinians may think Ariel’s existence is an injustice and intolerable insult to their sensibilities. But so is every other Jewish village, town, and city inside Israel. In this case, it is the boycott that is the injustice, not the existence of Ariel.

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Another Sign Middle East Talks Are Fake

Both Israel and the Palestinians are doing their best to act as if they care about the peace talks that are about to resume this week at the behest of Secretary of State John Kerry. But in the absence of any real hope that a deal is possible, maintaining the pretense isn’t easy. Thus, the Palestinians are doing their best to turn the announcement that some 1,000 housing units will be built in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and in the large settlement blocs that would remain part of Israel in any possible future agreement into a major controversy. Yet the pro forma nature of the protest on the eve of the talks makes it hard to believe their hearts are really in it. But since providing an alibi for not making peace remains a higher priority for the Palestinian Authority than making the hard compromises needed to reach an accord, protest they must.

The announcement of the housing bids is being interpreted by critics of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government as a sign that he is not sincere about the talks or as a sop to his allies on the right who are upset about the concessions he has made at Kerry’s request to entice the Palestinians back to the table. They are right about the latter, since many in Netanyahu’s coalition are rightly outraged about the release of terrorist murderers who will be welcomed home as heroes rather than vicious criminals by the PA.

However, the focus on settlement building, both by the Palestinians and the Americans, is a clear sign of how removed the peace processers are from the reality of the conflict. If there was any chance at all that the Palestinians were actually willing to sign a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn or to end the conflict, the building of a few apartments in parts of Jerusalem that are not going to change hands wouldn’t be worth a mention. But since PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows there’s no way he could take such a step, he and his followers must continue to try to turn settlements into an issue that will, after a decent interval, give him an excuse for weaseling his way out of the talks. Just consider it a fake controversy to go along with a peace process that is, at its core, just as fake.

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Both Israel and the Palestinians are doing their best to act as if they care about the peace talks that are about to resume this week at the behest of Secretary of State John Kerry. But in the absence of any real hope that a deal is possible, maintaining the pretense isn’t easy. Thus, the Palestinians are doing their best to turn the announcement that some 1,000 housing units will be built in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and in the large settlement blocs that would remain part of Israel in any possible future agreement into a major controversy. Yet the pro forma nature of the protest on the eve of the talks makes it hard to believe their hearts are really in it. But since providing an alibi for not making peace remains a higher priority for the Palestinian Authority than making the hard compromises needed to reach an accord, protest they must.

The announcement of the housing bids is being interpreted by critics of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government as a sign that he is not sincere about the talks or as a sop to his allies on the right who are upset about the concessions he has made at Kerry’s request to entice the Palestinians back to the table. They are right about the latter, since many in Netanyahu’s coalition are rightly outraged about the release of terrorist murderers who will be welcomed home as heroes rather than vicious criminals by the PA.

However, the focus on settlement building, both by the Palestinians and the Americans, is a clear sign of how removed the peace processers are from the reality of the conflict. If there was any chance at all that the Palestinians were actually willing to sign a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn or to end the conflict, the building of a few apartments in parts of Jerusalem that are not going to change hands wouldn’t be worth a mention. But since PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows there’s no way he could take such a step, he and his followers must continue to try to turn settlements into an issue that will, after a decent interval, give him an excuse for weaseling his way out of the talks. Just consider it a fake controversy to go along with a peace process that is, at its core, just as fake.

As I wrote yesterday, the notion that Israel building in those areas that both sides know would remain part of the Jewish state is at all controversial is rooted in the notion that there really isn’t anything to negotiate about. If you consider, as do the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders, that every inch of the West Bank and those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 are stolen property and that Jews have no right to be there under any circumstances, then the negotiations are merely about Israeli surrender, not compromise. But since Israel rightly regards its rights there as rooted in international law and history and as valid as those of the Palestinians, compromise is what is needed to make peace. Israeli building in Jerusalem or the settlement blocs is no more an obstacle to peace than the homes Palestinians are building in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem or the new settlement north of Ramallah that was featured in yesterday’s New York Times.

Optimists continue to hope that Kerry’s desperate gambit will pay off because Israel is so afraid of the explosion in terrorism that may result from yet another failure in the talks (much like the experience after the Camp David summit of 2000) that Netanyahu will fold on territorial issues, as he did on the prisoner release. If the day ever arrives when the leadership of the Palestinians—which is now divided between the moderates who don’t want to make peace and extremists who will never consider it—ever chooses to accept Israel’s legitimacy and agree to end the conflict now and forever while giving up the right of return, Netanyahu will face a difficult dilemma which could potentially tear his government apart. But since the PA remains more intent on preserving its maximalist legacy with bogus settlement protests, it’s doubtful that the fears of Netanyahu’s right-wing critics that he will give in to pressure will be realized. If the process were not so fake, we would be hearing about dissent among Palestinians as they contemplated Abbas making compromises rather than protests about building in Jerusalem. 

Until that happens, we’re stuck watching the same movie as the Palestinians continue to find new reasons to avoid peace and the world moves on to deal with the real issues destabilizing the Middle East in Egypt and Syria. Staying awake until the inevitable conclusion of Kerry’s drama won’t be easy.

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An Israel-EU Peace Process?

During Bill Clinton’s attempts to achieve peace in the Middle East, the underestimated element that kept throwing the administration off course was the competition the peace process created among Arab states and entities. Clinton wanted to strike a peace deal between Israel and Syria, which was logical because Israel already had a peace deal with Egypt, a de facto peace with Jordan, and as much peace with Lebanon as it could achieve without striking a deal with Syria.

But the Arab states didn’t get along with each other, and tried repeatedly to interfere in parallel peace tracks to compete for Clinton’s attention. In a bizarro-world reflection of the Middle East’s “me-too” competition for negotiations and a sad indication of the devaluation of the European Union’s relationship with Israel, there is a new parallel track to the latest talks: the Israel-EU peace process.

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During Bill Clinton’s attempts to achieve peace in the Middle East, the underestimated element that kept throwing the administration off course was the competition the peace process created among Arab states and entities. Clinton wanted to strike a peace deal between Israel and Syria, which was logical because Israel already had a peace deal with Egypt, a de facto peace with Jordan, and as much peace with Lebanon as it could achieve without striking a deal with Syria.

But the Arab states didn’t get along with each other, and tried repeatedly to interfere in parallel peace tracks to compete for Clinton’s attention. In a bizarro-world reflection of the Middle East’s “me-too” competition for negotiations and a sad indication of the devaluation of the European Union’s relationship with Israel, there is a new parallel track to the latest talks: the Israel-EU peace process.

The background is the EU’s decision to institute new rules restricting its cooperation with Jews in Jerusalem or the West Bank. I wrote about the latest in the controversy here. The EU’s new rules are not a full trade boycott of Jewish goods but rather intended to preclude access to EU grants. The difference is that an economic boycott would hurt the EU as well; the new rules are designed only to hurt Israel–more specifically, Jews living in Israel’s capital and those living over the green line, unless those Jews are deemed sufficiently opposed to their own Israeli government, in which case the EU will consider waiving the discriminatory regulations.

I also pointed to a Times of Israel article that made clear the new EU rules were not based in international law, but rather were simply a manifestation of the EU’s increasingly hostile foreign policy toward Israel. Today, Reuters reports the evolving response from the Israeli government:

The rightist Israeli government responded on July 26 by announcing curbs on EU aid projects for thousands of West Bank Palestinians. On Thursday it accused the Europeans of harming Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and said it would not sign new deals with the 28-nation bloc given the planned sanctions.

But Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin took a more diplomatic tack on Friday, offering to negotiate with the European Union over the guidelines, which he described as a challenge to the Jewish state’s sovereignty.

“We are ready to hold a creative dialogue with the Europeans. We understand their position. We reject it, we don’t like it, but it’s their right when it comes to using their money,” Elkin told Israel Radio.

So that is where EU-Israel relations currently stand. It is necessary for the two sides to have their own bilateral talks to defuse tensions between them. The EU also seems determined to distract Israeli leaders from the renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinian leadership moderated by Secretary of State John Kerry. The EU’s timing all along has had a distinctive narcissistic flourish to it. While Kerry was trying to finalize an agreement to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, the EU released word of its new rules, which would give the Palestinians yet another reason to believe they didn’t need to negotiate to get what they wanted from the world.

The EU’s interference has not abated since it is asking Israel to justify its own sovereignty to the West at the risk of undermining its negotiating position with regard to the Palestinians. And it’s important to note that Israeli sovereignty is precisely what is at stake in the EU machinations. Not only will the EU continue approving grants for those Israelis willing to renounce their own government’s claim to land on which their fellow countrymen live, but the other side of that coin is the EU’s attempt to get the Israeli government to abandon its own citizens.

Elkin made it clear that Israel understands this aspect of the policy. Reuters notes that he downplayed the financial damage the new rules might do to Israel in favor of highlighting the much more consequential issues of sovereignty:

Elkin said the EU guidelines required Israel to take action against its own institutes with facilities in East Jerusalem.

“The dispute here is about Jerusalem and the dispute is over the question over whether the sovereign border that we laid down is in force or not,” he said. “If you begin to discriminate among various bodies located within your sovereign territory, it means you are effectively denying the sovereignty you declared.”

That is well said. Elkin is willing to negotiate with the EU over its new rules, but he wants to be crystal clear on what is at stake. The EU ignores the entire history of the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. To the EU, the Oslo process didn’t go far enough. But now that’s irrelevant anyway to the lawless Eurocrats. Forget final-status negotiations; the EU wants Israel to deny its own legitimacy.

It’s not really about economics or even diplomatic isolation. No doubt the Palestinians are watching closely to see if their negotiations with Israel are really as irrelevant as the EU makes them out to be by suggesting that the Jewish state can be tricked into unilateral surrender.

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Anti-Semitic Hate for Kids … and Adults

Prior to his wife’s illness, the assumption was that Secretary of State John Kerry would be returning to the Middle East this week for another round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But whenever Kerry does get back to wandering between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the same obstacles that have prevented peace will still be there. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas knows that if he does as Kerry bids and negotiates with Israel and signs an agreement ending the conflict, he will be running up against the Palestinian reluctance to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. But while the media continues to focus on the deadlocked talks about talks, they rarely devote much energy to determining what exactly is driving the Palestinian culture of rejection.

Part of the answer to that puzzle is supplied from those who, unlike the mainstream media, do pay attention to what is written and broadcast in the official Palestinian media run by Abbas’s PA. Those wondering why the Palestinians would reject peace offers including an independent state (as they have three times since 2000), can do no better than to view this PA TV excerpt brought to our attention from Palestinian Media Watch in which two little Palestinian girls are asked to recite a hateful poem that refers to Jews in the following manner:

“Most evil among creations, barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs,” condemned to “humiliation and hardship.”

It also went on to say the following about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity

Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate

And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.

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Prior to his wife’s illness, the assumption was that Secretary of State John Kerry would be returning to the Middle East this week for another round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But whenever Kerry does get back to wandering between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the same obstacles that have prevented peace will still be there. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas knows that if he does as Kerry bids and negotiates with Israel and signs an agreement ending the conflict, he will be running up against the Palestinian reluctance to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. But while the media continues to focus on the deadlocked talks about talks, they rarely devote much energy to determining what exactly is driving the Palestinian culture of rejection.

Part of the answer to that puzzle is supplied from those who, unlike the mainstream media, do pay attention to what is written and broadcast in the official Palestinian media run by Abbas’s PA. Those wondering why the Palestinians would reject peace offers including an independent state (as they have three times since 2000), can do no better than to view this PA TV excerpt brought to our attention from Palestinian Media Watch in which two little Palestinian girls are asked to recite a hateful poem that refers to Jews in the following manner:

“Most evil among creations, barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs,” condemned to “humiliation and hardship.”

It also went on to say the following about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity

Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate

And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.

It is shocking that the official media of the group that Kerry considers a partner for peace would be broadcasting hate and using children to do it. But, of course, as anyone who follows the PMW website regularly knows, there is actually nothing unusual about the PA acting in this manner.

The PA media has broadcast a steady diet of hatred against Israel and Jews since its inception after the Oslo Accords brought it into existence with numerous examples of them employing children and broadcasts specifically aimed at youngsters to do so. One of the great tragedies of the last 20 years has been the way Israel’s supposed peace partners have sowed the seeds of future conflict by inculcating their youth with doctrines that treat Jews as subhuman monsters with no rights or claims upon the land that both sides claim as their own.

There will be those who will argue that similar hatred exists among Israelis, as occasional incidents inside the green line and so-called “price tag” attacks on Palestinians in the territories indicate. But the difference between the two sides is actually illustrative of the way Israel has embraced the hope for peace while Palestinians have not.

The point is hatred of Jews by Palestinians is something that is officially endorsed by the Palestinian Authority while hatred of Arabs is incessantly condemned by the Israeli media and the government. Jewish prejudice against Arabs exists, but only as the actions of a minority, while mainstream Palestinian culture endorses hate. While Israeli schools adopted curricula seeking to promote “peace education,” the Palestinian schools still use textbooks that are filled with the same kind of vile delegitimization seen on PA TV.

But such hatred isn’t limited to just the Palestinians. As the Elder of Ziyon blog reports today, the American website Mondoweiss seems to be competing with the PA in the effort to delegitimize Jewish rights. In the course of a blog post alleging that Jewish settlers were infringing on the rights of Arab worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Mondoweiss editor and contributor Annie Robbins made the following claim in response to a comment from a reader who pointed out that the Tomb is an ancient site of Jewish worship that even predates the Holy Temples in Jerusalem:

allegedly. there’s no proof that was the location of some grand temple. maybe lots of jewish stuff retroactively lands itself right underneath islamic structures. did you ever think of that? jealous much?

For anyone commenting on the Middle East to not know that the Muslim Conquests involved the planting of mosques on top of the holy sites of other faiths in places like Turkey, India as well as Israel is to demonstrate historical illiteracy on an Olympic scale. The line that separates stupidity from religious prejudice in such assertions is nonexistent since the only possible motivation for these statements is malice rooted in anti-Semitic hatred.

But while we know that Mondoweiss represents the views of denizens of the fever swamps of the left, it is important to remember that it is quite common for Abbas to make similar statements denying any Jewish connection to Jerusalem or the existence of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah or the temple. So long as hate speech is mainstream among the Palestinians, peace with Israel is not something that can be conjured up by a hard working secretary of state.

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Building in Jerusalem Won’t Prevent Peace

Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today for another bout of what some wags are calling “couples therapy” for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. The chances of this push leading to fruitful negotiations, let alone a peace agreement, are slim. But what is most interesting about the chatter all this talking about talking is producing is the way the Palestinians and other critics of Israel are trying to raise the ante even before anyone sits down together. Thus, the willingness of PA negotiator Saeb Erekat to turn the announcement of building permits in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem into an excuse for not making peace tells us a lot more about the Palestinian mindset than it does about the Netanyahu government.

The permits for constructing 69 apartments in the Har Homa neighborhood was treated as a big deal in today’s New York Times, which validated Erekat’s attempt to inflate the decision into a cause célèbre. The Times was also quick to compare it to the 2010 episode in which the Obama administration picked a fight with Netanyahu over a routine announcement about a housing start in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. The administration claimed it was an “insult” to Vice President Joe Biden, who happened to be passing through the city at the time. Little good came of that for anyone, especially since the Palestinians failed to use the U.S. tilt in their direction by returning to peace talks. But it bears repeating that the Palestinian desire to claim that any building in parts of Jerusalem that were once illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 and during which Jews were banned from even worshiping at the Western Wall–let alone living in those parts of their ancient capital–is an obstacle to peace simply doesn’t make any sense.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today for another bout of what some wags are calling “couples therapy” for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. The chances of this push leading to fruitful negotiations, let alone a peace agreement, are slim. But what is most interesting about the chatter all this talking about talking is producing is the way the Palestinians and other critics of Israel are trying to raise the ante even before anyone sits down together. Thus, the willingness of PA negotiator Saeb Erekat to turn the announcement of building permits in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem into an excuse for not making peace tells us a lot more about the Palestinian mindset than it does about the Netanyahu government.

The permits for constructing 69 apartments in the Har Homa neighborhood was treated as a big deal in today’s New York Times, which validated Erekat’s attempt to inflate the decision into a cause célèbre. The Times was also quick to compare it to the 2010 episode in which the Obama administration picked a fight with Netanyahu over a routine announcement about a housing start in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem. The administration claimed it was an “insult” to Vice President Joe Biden, who happened to be passing through the city at the time. Little good came of that for anyone, especially since the Palestinians failed to use the U.S. tilt in their direction by returning to peace talks. But it bears repeating that the Palestinian desire to claim that any building in parts of Jerusalem that were once illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 and during which Jews were banned from even worshiping at the Western Wall–let alone living in those parts of their ancient capital–is an obstacle to peace simply doesn’t make any sense.

Even under a peace plan, such as the one proposed by Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert, Israel would retain Har Homa and other Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem–though the former PM did concede sovereignty over the Old City (something few Israelis would accept). The point is, if the Palestinians really want a state in almost all the West Bank (something Netanyahu has signaled this week he can live with) and a share of Jerusalem, what does it matter to them how many Jews live in the parts they won’t get?

Palestinian objections about building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem are no more logical than Israeli complaints about Arabs building homes in the West Bank in parts of the country that would not remain under Israeli control. But Israel isn’t complaining about Arab building. They’re just asking the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table without preconditions after boycotting talks for four and a half years.

But, of course, such Palestinian complaints do make sense, at least from the point of view of most Palestinians. Their goal isn’t a state alongside Israel or to share Jerusalem. They want Jews out of Har Homa for the same reason they want them out of most other parts of the country since what they desire is a Palestinian state free of Jews.

Attempts to depict the Jewish presence in Jerusalem as illegal is deeply offensive, but in line with PA propaganda that has consistently sought to deny Jewish ties to the city and Jewish history itself. While the PA cannot be under any illusion that the Netanyahu government—or any Israeli government for that matter, regardless of who is at its head—would consent to giving up Jerusalem, what they want is to brand every Jew there a “settler” who can be treated as an outlaw rather than a party to talks with rights. Treating building even in those areas that no one thinks would be handed over to the Palestinians under any circumstance as off limits is not about making peace. It’s about delegitimizing Israel.

So long as the Palestinians cling to the delusion that Israel will be shifted out of Jerusalem or back to the 1967 lines—something that President Obama has reinforced with his frequent support for using those lines as the starting point for talks, should they ever be resumed—the chances that a peace agreement will ever be signed is nonexistent. Peace is theoretically possible on terms that would call for the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state. The focus on opposing the Jewish presence in the city is a sign that we are a long way away from that happening.

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Why Palestinians Block Wall Changes

As I predicted two months ago, the prospects that Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky’s fair-minded plan for changes at Jerusalem’s Western Wall will be implemented have run into an impassable obstacle. Sharansky’s plan was to create a third section of the Kotel that would create a space for egalitarian services that would remove a source of conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshipers. It has been met with generally good reviews among both Israelis and Diaspora Jews who don’t like the way this sacred place has become for all intents and purposes an open-air Orthodox synagogue rather than a place of pilgrimage for all Jews. But as nasty and as bitter as the infighting between Jewish factions may be, the real conflict in the city remains the one between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Post reports today that the Palestinian Authority’s religious affairs minister has said it will not permit Israel to change the entrance to the Temple Mount—which adjoins and looks down on the Wall Plaza—in order to expand the area where Jews may worship at the remnant of their ancient holy place. But the motivation of this veto isn’t pure spite. Just as they have used their power to set off violence and riots to protest even the most harmless alterations to the area in the last 20 years, Palestinian leaders are determined to stop Sharansky’s scheme in its tracks because they regard all of the Old City as not only theirs by right but a place that will be theirs in the event of any peace deal. Rather than this issue being a purely internecine conflict between women who wish to wear prayer shawls and read Torah and those Orthodox adherents who want to prevent them from doing so, the question of who is in charge at the Kotel still shrinks in significance when placed in the context of the Palestinian struggle to return to a period of history when Jews had no rights in Jerusalem.

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As I predicted two months ago, the prospects that Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky’s fair-minded plan for changes at Jerusalem’s Western Wall will be implemented have run into an impassable obstacle. Sharansky’s plan was to create a third section of the Kotel that would create a space for egalitarian services that would remove a source of conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshipers. It has been met with generally good reviews among both Israelis and Diaspora Jews who don’t like the way this sacred place has become for all intents and purposes an open-air Orthodox synagogue rather than a place of pilgrimage for all Jews. But as nasty and as bitter as the infighting between Jewish factions may be, the real conflict in the city remains the one between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Post reports today that the Palestinian Authority’s religious affairs minister has said it will not permit Israel to change the entrance to the Temple Mount—which adjoins and looks down on the Wall Plaza—in order to expand the area where Jews may worship at the remnant of their ancient holy place. But the motivation of this veto isn’t pure spite. Just as they have used their power to set off violence and riots to protest even the most harmless alterations to the area in the last 20 years, Palestinian leaders are determined to stop Sharansky’s scheme in its tracks because they regard all of the Old City as not only theirs by right but a place that will be theirs in the event of any peace deal. Rather than this issue being a purely internecine conflict between women who wish to wear prayer shawls and read Torah and those Orthodox adherents who want to prevent them from doing so, the question of who is in charge at the Kotel still shrinks in significance when placed in the context of the Palestinian struggle to return to a period of history when Jews had no rights in Jerusalem.

The problem is that in order for Sharansky’s plan to be implemented, alterations must be made to the Mugrabi Bridge that provides access to the Temple Mount from the Wall Plaza. Israel has sought to renovate the bridge in recent years, a move that would only benefit Muslims and the foreign tourists who visit the mosques on the hill (Jews are forbidden to pray there), but it has been prevented from doing so by the demands of the Muslim Wakf which administers the Temple Mount.

The issue here isn’t just preservation of an ancient site in pristine condition since the Temple Mount has already been the scene of massive vandalism committed by the Wakf, which is determined to ignore or bury the evidence of the Jewish origins of the place. The Wakf claims the Kotel is theirs and rejects Jewish sovereignty over any part of it or the city that surrounds it as well as any association with Judaism or the history of the Jewish people. Palestinian Authority leaders and their media have repeatedly claimed that the ancient temples were not built on the Mount where Muslim conquerors subsequently built mosques, just as they deny the associations of the Jews with the rest of their ancient homeland. The rejection of the Sharansky plan is a function of the desire of the PA to exercise control over the entire Old City.

The PA and the Wakf don’t want to stop the expansion of the areas where people can pray at the Wall only because they wish to discomfit the Jews but because they envision administering it themselves in the future.

The dispute between the Women of the Wall and Orthodox authorities is a significant issue that can poison the relationship between Israel and the vast majority of American Jews who affiliate with non-Orthodox denominations. But the PA’s pronouncement is a reminder that the real fight in Jerusalem is not between Jews. So long as Palestinians are determined to reverse the verdict of history and return Jews to a subordinate status in their ancient capital, the spat between Jewish factions will have to wait.

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The Palestinian Excuse Machine

Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the Middle East peace process hasn’t accomplished much so far and isn’t likely to do better in the future. But it has posed an interesting challenge to the Palestinians. Given that they don’t wish to further offend the United States or disrupt the flow of Western aid that keeps the corrupt Palestinian Authority afloat, and also don’t wish to return to negotiating with Israel under virtually any circumstances, how do they justify continuing their four-and-half-year-old boycott of peace talks? Their answer to that dilemma is clear: continue to pile on the calumnies against the Jewish state and hope that it will be seen to justify their ongoing refusal to even talk with Israel.

Their reasoning for sticking to this tried and true formula for avoiding peace talks is sound. Given that both Washington and much of the Western media has always been ready to buy into their abuse of Israel and to stick to the idea that the Palestinians are innocent victims rather than the principle authors of their own misery, why shouldn’t they continue to pretend that Israeli building in Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace that prevents them from returning to the table?

But anyone who is familiar with the parameters of past peace talks that they claim to wish to build on understands that their complaints about Jews in Jerusalem or canards about ethnic cleansing are not only false but simply excuses manufactured to justify their unwillingness to play ball with Kerry.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the Middle East peace process hasn’t accomplished much so far and isn’t likely to do better in the future. But it has posed an interesting challenge to the Palestinians. Given that they don’t wish to further offend the United States or disrupt the flow of Western aid that keeps the corrupt Palestinian Authority afloat, and also don’t wish to return to negotiating with Israel under virtually any circumstances, how do they justify continuing their four-and-half-year-old boycott of peace talks? Their answer to that dilemma is clear: continue to pile on the calumnies against the Jewish state and hope that it will be seen to justify their ongoing refusal to even talk with Israel.

Their reasoning for sticking to this tried and true formula for avoiding peace talks is sound. Given that both Washington and much of the Western media has always been ready to buy into their abuse of Israel and to stick to the idea that the Palestinians are innocent victims rather than the principle authors of their own misery, why shouldn’t they continue to pretend that Israeli building in Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace that prevents them from returning to the table?

But anyone who is familiar with the parameters of past peace talks that they claim to wish to build on understands that their complaints about Jews in Jerusalem or canards about ethnic cleansing are not only false but simply excuses manufactured to justify their unwillingness to play ball with Kerry.

The Palestinian complaints about Israeli building in East Jerusalem dooming peace talks are patently absurd. The plans, which consist of tenders for the construction of 300 apartments in the Ramot neighborhood and 800 in the Gilo area, would in no way affect the Palestinian position or their hopes for an independent state that might include part of the city.

Ramot and Gilo are located in parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 and thus are over the “green line” that once divided the city. But these are 40-year-old neighborhoods that are long established, not some remote hilltop settlements in parts of the West Bank that are assumed to be part of a future Palestinian state.

In every peace plan put forward by peace groups as well as the Israeli government’s offers of statehood to the Palestinians, the Jewish areas of East Jerusalem remain part of Israel. The Palestinians know that even in the most generous distribution of territory—including the one put forward by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 that called for the abandonment of the Old City by Israel—Ramot and Gilo and other such neighborhoods are not going to be handed over to them and emptied of their Jewish inhabitants. In other words, if the Palestinian goal is truly to have a state alongside Israel that includes the Arab sections of East Jerusalem, it doesn’t matter how many Jews are in Ramot and Gilo.

But, of course, the PA isn’t really interested in a partition of Jerusalem or the 1967 lines as it is in finding a reason to avoid talking to Israel. That’s why they are forced to try to blow up the issue of Jews in East Jerusalem as a provocation that prevents them from negotiating.

To be fair to the Palestinians, they are in some ways merely following the lead of the Obama administration that has made an issue of building in Jerusalem during the president’s first term. But, fortunately, Obama and Kerry have seen sense and abandoned past attempts to get Israel to agree to a building freeze in its own capital and instead urged the Palestinians to negotiate without preconditions.

But that is something that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows he cannot do. Abbas fled from Olmert’s offer that would have given him virtually everything he says he wants because he knows that he could not survive after signing a deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

Despite Kerry’s naïve optimism that he can succeed where all his predecessors have failed, the intervening years have not altered Abbas’s position. With his Hamas rivals ensconced in Gaza and his own political position still precarious as he serves the ninth year of his four-year term as president, Abbas has no leeway to agree to a peace that would conclude the conflict. Palestinian politics remains mired in the rejectionism that has characterized its relationship toward Zionism since its inception. Nor is Abbas strong enough to resist the demands of the descendants of the 1948 refugees for Israel’s destruction even if he really were willing to make peace.

But faced with Kerry’s pleas for talks, all Abbas can do is to stall and pretend that Jews building in areas that the Palestinians will never get even in a division of Jerusalem is reason to avoid talking. Both Washington and the Western press shouldn’t fall for the latest version of the PA’s excuses.

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Why Didn’t the 1967 Borders Bring Peace?

The constant refrain of Israel’s critics in the last few decades has been the need for the Jewish state to withdraw from every inch of territory it won in the Six-Day War and to return to what they erroneously refer to as the “1967 borders.” But as Israelis celebrate the 46th anniversary of the re-unification of their capital city today that was made possible by that war, it’s appropriate to ask why peace did not reign in the Middle East on June 4, 1967 prior to the beginning of the “occupation.”

There may be reasonable arguments to be made about the need for Israel and the Palestinians to live under separate sovereignty rather than the unsatisfactory status quo. But the problem with most of the discussions about the topic is the assumption that merely recreating the situation that existed before that war will bring about peace. Hard as it may be to ask news consumers to think that far back into history, it is necessary to remind those who harp on “1967” as the only possible solution that when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, there was no peace. Not only that, prior to that war, when the area now dubbed the “occupied territories” were in the possession of Jordan and Egypt, the focus of the Arab and Muslim world was not on the creation of a Palestinian state but on ending Jewish sovereignty over the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

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The constant refrain of Israel’s critics in the last few decades has been the need for the Jewish state to withdraw from every inch of territory it won in the Six-Day War and to return to what they erroneously refer to as the “1967 borders.” But as Israelis celebrate the 46th anniversary of the re-unification of their capital city today that was made possible by that war, it’s appropriate to ask why peace did not reign in the Middle East on June 4, 1967 prior to the beginning of the “occupation.”

There may be reasonable arguments to be made about the need for Israel and the Palestinians to live under separate sovereignty rather than the unsatisfactory status quo. But the problem with most of the discussions about the topic is the assumption that merely recreating the situation that existed before that war will bring about peace. Hard as it may be to ask news consumers to think that far back into history, it is necessary to remind those who harp on “1967” as the only possible solution that when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, there was no peace. Not only that, prior to that war, when the area now dubbed the “occupied territories” were in the possession of Jordan and Egypt, the focus of the Arab and Muslim world was not on the creation of a Palestinian state but on ending Jewish sovereignty over the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

The 1967 borders actually were not internationally recognized but merely the armistice lines that marked where the armies were standing when a cease-fire ended Israel’s War of Independence. In particular, those lines left the city of Jerusalem, which had a Jewish majority since the mid-19th century, divided. The Old City of Jerusalem, which fell during the fighting during a siege of the city conducted by Jordan’s Arab Legion, was off limits to Jews from 1948 to 1967. The Western Wall never heard Jewish prayer and was used as a garbage dump. The Jordanians paved a road through the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and used some of the tombstones as construction material. A wall ran through the city much like the barrier that divided Berlin.

But those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by the Jordanians (only the United Kingdom and Pakistan recognized their annexation of part of the city as well as the West Bank, which got that illogical name because it differentiated it from the East Bank–which is now Jordan) did not constitute a Palestinian capital. Nor was Egyptian-occupied Gaza considered part of a Palestinian state.

What those who demand a return to the 1967 lines also forget is that Israel’s liberation of the city marked the beginning of the first period in Jerusalem’s modern history that complete religious freedom and open access to all holy sites was protected.

But the situation prior to that war did bear some resemblance to what is happening today. The territories under Jordanian and Egyptian control were used as bases for Palestinians who attempted to infiltrate into pre-1967 Israel and carry out terror attacks. And it was along those borders that Arab armies massed in May 1967 while their leaders repeated threats that they would drive the Jews into the sea.

Israel survived that perilous month of waiting as the world wondered whether a second Holocaust would ensue from those Arab threats by striking first and defeating its enemies. At that moment, the Jewish state ceased to be seen as a latter-day David standing up to the Goliath of an Arab world that outnumbered its forces and became the bogeyman of the international press.

As much as that dismal pre-1967 era seems like ancient history, what those who harp on 1967 ignore is that there has been no sea change in Arab opinion about Israel since then. Even in those countries like Egypt and Jordan that have signed peace treaties with Israel, the prevailing sentiment among the populace remains one of support for their neighbor’s destruction.

Until that happens and Palestinians come to terms with the permanence of the Jewish return to the land, arguing that just forcing Israel to give up the territory it won in a war of self-defense will solve the conflict is not only illogical; it’s a demand for national suicide.

For all of contemporary Jerusalem’s problems, its re-division would immeasurably worsen the quality of life there, as well as compromise open access to holy places (the only exception to that is the Temple Mount where Jews and Christians are still forbidden from praying in order to appease the Muslim religious authorities).

As Ruthie Blum wrote in Israel Hayom, Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem didn’t start a conflict that had already existed for decades, “it was precisely the pan-Arab attempt to eliminate the ‘Zionist entity’ that sparked the three-front war in the first place. And it was Israel that liberated Jerusalem from Jordanian occupation.”

As she notes, the day Jerusalem was reunited, then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan issued the following statement:

This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors we extend, also at this hour — and with added emphasis at this hour — our hand in peace. And to our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights. We did not come to Jerusalem for the sake of other peoples’ holy places, and not to interfere with the adherents of other faiths, but in order to safeguard its entirety, and to live there together with others, in unity.

Israel has kept its promise, but the Palestinians and most of their supporters have never come to terms with the reality or the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Peace may be possible when the Palestinians change. But let us hope Jerusalem will never again be torn apart as it was in 1948 when Arab armies invaded and that the security of Israel will never be compromised or rights to the ancient homeland of the Jewish people abrogated merely in order to recreate the dangerous situation of June 4, 1967.

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Netanyahu Won’t Get Credit for Freeze

The narrative of the Middle East peace process according to the international media has pretty much been set in stone for the last 17 years since the first time Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister of Israel: the “hard line” leader’s intransigence is the primary obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. Ever since then, we have been endlessly told that his ideology has prevented the Jewish state from making efforts to negotiate with the Palestinians. The fact that Netanyahu signed peace deals during his first term and has called for a two-state solution that would allow for an independent state for Palestinians, and even froze building in the West Bank to entice Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table, hasn’t altered this. Nor will the prime minister’s latest attempt to bend over backwards to accommodate the Obama administration.

According to Haaretz, “senior Israeli officials” are confirming that Netanyahu “promised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ‘to rein in’ construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem until mid-June.” In doing so, Netanyahu will be depriving the Palestinian Authority of its standard excuse for not returning to peace talks four and a half years after fleeing them in the wake of Ehud Olmert’s offer of a state that included parts of Jerusalem as well as almost all of the West Bank. But don’t expect anyone in the liberal Western media that treats Netanyahu like a piñata to give him credit for playing ball with Kerry’s hubristic effort to achieve a deal that has eluded all of his predecessors. Even worse, this very far-reaching concession is unlikely to coax the leaders of Fatah, let alone the Hamas terrorists who rule the independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza, to negotiate.

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The narrative of the Middle East peace process according to the international media has pretty much been set in stone for the last 17 years since the first time Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister of Israel: the “hard line” leader’s intransigence is the primary obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. Ever since then, we have been endlessly told that his ideology has prevented the Jewish state from making efforts to negotiate with the Palestinians. The fact that Netanyahu signed peace deals during his first term and has called for a two-state solution that would allow for an independent state for Palestinians, and even froze building in the West Bank to entice Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table, hasn’t altered this. Nor will the prime minister’s latest attempt to bend over backwards to accommodate the Obama administration.

According to Haaretz, “senior Israeli officials” are confirming that Netanyahu “promised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ‘to rein in’ construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem until mid-June.” In doing so, Netanyahu will be depriving the Palestinian Authority of its standard excuse for not returning to peace talks four and a half years after fleeing them in the wake of Ehud Olmert’s offer of a state that included parts of Jerusalem as well as almost all of the West Bank. But don’t expect anyone in the liberal Western media that treats Netanyahu like a piñata to give him credit for playing ball with Kerry’s hubristic effort to achieve a deal that has eluded all of his predecessors. Even worse, this very far-reaching concession is unlikely to coax the leaders of Fatah, let alone the Hamas terrorists who rule the independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza, to negotiate.

Let’s understand that by even informally freezing building in Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, Netanyahu is tacitly agreeing to a measure that undermines Israel’s very legitimate legal claims in these areas. The freeze, which will not prevent Arabs from building in these areas during this time, is an indication that the prime minister accepts the right of Americans to dictate, even for a short period and for symbolic purposes, where Jews may live in their ancient homeland. While Netanyahu’s futile 2010 freeze was only in the West Bank, this appears to include parts of Jerusalem. As such, it is a very significant measure that ought, along with his recent reaffirmation of his support for “two states for two peoples,” convince both the Palestinians and the world that he is ready to deal if they are prepared to talk.

Understandably, the move has already generated considerable pushback from the Jewish right with even, as Haaretz reports, members of Netanyahu’s own government saying that he has gone too far. But the problem that this episode illustrates is not just that the prevailing narrative about Netanyahu is false but that his latest attempt to give the administration the room it says it needs to promote peace will boomerang against him when it inevitably fails.

That Abbas won’t bite on Obama and Kerry’s invitation for direct peace talks without preconditions is almost a certainty that Netanyahu’s quiet acceptance of a very important precondition won’t alter. The political culture of Palestinian society still regards any deal that would recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn as impossible. Nor can Abbas give up on the Palestinian “right of return” and definitively end the conflict and survive. Even if he wanted to do so, the threat of Hamas means that he can’t.

Thus when June comes and goes and there are no negotiations and no prospect of any in the foreseeable future, Netanyahu will understandably lift the quiet freeze and allow building in areas that Israel would keep even in the event of a peace deal. But once he does so, the Palestinians will scream bloody murder about his “provocation” and pretend that this is the real obstacle to talks, secure in the knowledge that most of the international media would revert to their “hard line” Netanyahu narrative and echo their lies.

Would Netanyahu and Israel be better off skipping this farce by not making this concession? Maybe. But Netanyahu understands that his job is to keep the U.S.-Israel alliance intact and must harbor the hope that after four years of being stiffed by the Palestinians, President Obama will understand who the real obstacles are. Hopes such as these spring eternal, but like those he may have about the press changing its tune about him, that’s probably not a realistic scenario.

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Palestinians and the Western Wall

Five women were arrested today at the Western Wall as the dispute about the right of non-Orthodox Jews to conduct egalitarian services there continued. The confrontation that came, as it always does, on the first day of the Hebrew month displayed the usual nastiness as an Orthodox man was also arrested reportedly for trying to burn a prayer book of one of the Women of the Wall. But there were some hopeful signs that the compromise proposed by Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky won’t be opposed by Orthodox leaders. In particular, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the head of the Western Wall Foundation that currently runs things at the Wall, said he wouldn’t oppose Sharansky’s plan to expand the Western Wall Plaza so as to create another equally large space in which egalitarian services may be held.

Sharansky’s idea for creating “One Kotel for One People” based on the principles of access, equality and unity is a good one. If implemented, it would not only substantially improve the site; it would effectively end a long-running argument that serves only to alienate the majority of American Jews from Israel. But as I wrote yesterday, the real obstacle to this project is not the desire of some to keep the Wall functioning solely as an Orthodox synagogue rather than as a national shrine for all Jews. The problem is the willingness of Palestinians to use threats of violence to prevent any changes in the area. What I did not discuss fully yesterday was why exactly the Muslim religious authorities that control the Temple Mount compound above the Wall Plaza would care about stopping Jewish religious services. The answer goes to the heart of the Palestinian rejection of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem or any part of the country.

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Five women were arrested today at the Western Wall as the dispute about the right of non-Orthodox Jews to conduct egalitarian services there continued. The confrontation that came, as it always does, on the first day of the Hebrew month displayed the usual nastiness as an Orthodox man was also arrested reportedly for trying to burn a prayer book of one of the Women of the Wall. But there were some hopeful signs that the compromise proposed by Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky won’t be opposed by Orthodox leaders. In particular, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the head of the Western Wall Foundation that currently runs things at the Wall, said he wouldn’t oppose Sharansky’s plan to expand the Western Wall Plaza so as to create another equally large space in which egalitarian services may be held.

Sharansky’s idea for creating “One Kotel for One People” based on the principles of access, equality and unity is a good one. If implemented, it would not only substantially improve the site; it would effectively end a long-running argument that serves only to alienate the majority of American Jews from Israel. But as I wrote yesterday, the real obstacle to this project is not the desire of some to keep the Wall functioning solely as an Orthodox synagogue rather than as a national shrine for all Jews. The problem is the willingness of Palestinians to use threats of violence to prevent any changes in the area. What I did not discuss fully yesterday was why exactly the Muslim religious authorities that control the Temple Mount compound above the Wall Plaza would care about stopping Jewish religious services. The answer goes to the heart of the Palestinian rejection of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem or any part of the country.

Any attempt to expand the area of the ancient remnant of the Second Temple will hinge on a renovation of the Mugrabi Bridge, a ramp that allows access to the Temple Mount from the area around the Wall. As I noted previously, Muslims reacted to an Israeli plan to repair that facility with threats of violence even though it would have been to their benefit. They did the same thing in 1996 about the opening of a Western Wall tunnel exit that had nothing to do with them.

Some put this down only to the bad feelings that have poisoned all relations between Jews and Arabs in the dispute over sovereignty over Jerusalem and the land of Israel/Palestine. But this is not just a manifestation of malice. Muslim clerics associated with both the “moderates” of the Palestinian Authority and the extremists of Hamas agree that Jews have no claim to any part of the Western Wall, no matter how they wish to pray there.

The Wakf, the Muslim authority that governs the Temple Mount compound, claims that the Kotel is part of their bailiwick and reject Jewish sovereignty over any part of it or the city that surrounds it. Palestinian Authority leaders and their media have repeatedly claimed that the ancient temples were not built on the Mount where Muslim conquerors subsequently built mosques, just as they deny the associations of the Jews with the rest of their ancient homeland.

As Haaretz notes, the Wakf is opposed to any plans that might expand Jewish worship at the Wall or allow more people to have access to it. They also oppose all archeological digs in the area since they further establish the historical validity of Jewish claims. They also use spurious claims that Jews are trying to undermine the structure of the Mount—the same sort of libel that led to bloody Arab pogroms against Jews in the past—in order to whip up anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda in the Muslim and Arab worlds.

There is no doubt that these unscrupulous Palestinian leaders will use the same tactics to prevent Sharansky’s plan from ever being realized. That is regrettable. But what American Jews who rightly lament the situation at the Wall should understand is that the bigger problem in Jerusalem isn’t the dispute between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews but the one in which Palestinians attempt to deny the rights of all Jews. Prior to June 1967, no Jews could pray at any part of the Wall or step foot in the Old City of Jerusalem, and that is the situation Palestinians are trying to restore. Those determined to fight to the bitter end on issues of Jewish pluralism should remember that the bigger, far more important battle is part of the ongoing Arab war to destroy Israel.

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Qatar’s Apartheid Fund

As Jews in America were preparing for their second seder (or perhaps recovering from the first), during which they sang “next year in Jerusalem,” representatives of the states that make up the Arab League were trying to figure out how to prevent that from occurring. Specifically, Mahmoud Abbas–the man some people still fancifully claim is a brave man of peace–was pleading for help from the Arab states to stop Jews from being able to live in their eternal capital and the spiritual center of their universe.

His hateful speechifying was not in vain. Qatar–a country on a singular mission to empower jihadists throughout the region–pledged to establish a special apartheid fund in the hopes of raising $1 billion. It won’t be called an apartheid fund, obviously, but its beneficiaries speak the language of bigotry. The Jerusalem Post reports:

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As Jews in America were preparing for their second seder (or perhaps recovering from the first), during which they sang “next year in Jerusalem,” representatives of the states that make up the Arab League were trying to figure out how to prevent that from occurring. Specifically, Mahmoud Abbas–the man some people still fancifully claim is a brave man of peace–was pleading for help from the Arab states to stop Jews from being able to live in their eternal capital and the spiritual center of their universe.

His hateful speechifying was not in vain. Qatar–a country on a singular mission to empower jihadists throughout the region–pledged to establish a special apartheid fund in the hopes of raising $1 billion. It won’t be called an apartheid fund, obviously, but its beneficiaries speak the language of bigotry. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Abbas hailed Qatar’s announcement that it would establish a special fund for Jerusalem with a $1 billion budget to support the Arab residents of the city and foil Israel’s attempts to “judaize” east Jerusalem.

This has been a Palestinian complaint for some time. Under Israeli control, both Jews and non-Jews are permitted to live throughout Jerusalem. Between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan invaded and captured the city, Jews were not permitted to enter Jordanian territory. When Israel regained the Jewish capital, the apartheid policies were of course lifted and worshipers of any religion could live in the city and visit their respective holy sites.

The preferred Palestinian policy is one in which Arabs are permitted to live in any part of Jerusalem but Jews are forbidden from living in certain parts of the city. The State of Israel, obviously, rejects this. It isn’t quite clear how the Qatari apartheid fund is supposed to work. It can’t control housing policy in Israeli territory, but Qatari money is quite often put to violent purposes, so this is sure to raise alarm. On Monday, Haaretz had previewed the conference:

Speaking from his capital city, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani will reportedly commit a large sum of money to the cause and call on Arab states – especially in the Persian Gulf – to chip in. The fund will be managed by an Islamic investment bank and is expected to attract around $1 billion.

Palestinian Authority officials are skeptical, noting the Arab League has made and broken generous promises in the past, including one to provide their government with a financial safety net.

“We hope this time the decisions will be implemented in full,” a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz.

It is my great hope that one day Palestinian officials will be embarrassed to make these comments to newspapers, and it says something about the West’s bigotry of low expectations toward the Palestinians that it doesn’t express any outrage at the talk of apartheid funds as soon as President Obama leaves the region.

Complaints about “Judaizing” anything reflect the mindset of people with no interest in living in peace with their Jewish neighbors–they, in fact, would like there to be no Jewish neighbors at all. It also offers a good indication of the intentions of the current Palestinian leadership were they to get their own fully sovereign state. And this “Judenrein” mindset inculcates a predilection toward separatism and xenophobia in Palestinian youth. It’s the sort of thing Hillary Clinton used to call child abuse when she was running for Senate in New York. Perhaps we’ll hear such forthright language if and when Clinton runs for president and reclaims the kind of moral leadership anathema to Foggy Bottom.

It also has broader consequences. In his Tablet column today, Michael Moynihan writes of Danish journalist Martin Krasnik’s experiment in which he walked through his town in Denmark wearing a yarmulke. It did not go very well, and he received all manner of threats. Krasnik is a political liberal, but he and other Danes are expressing both sorrow and fear at the anti-Semitism “imported from the Middle East,” especially in more heavily Palestinian neighborhoods and schools. It seems Palestinians, taking a cue from their nominal political leader Abbas, do not constrain their opposition to “Judaization” to Jerusalem or even the Palestinian territories. Abbas feeds and encourages hatred of Jews to such an extent that Palestinians seem resistant to living in peace with Jews anywhere in the world.

And Qatar hopes to encourage this mindset to the tune of $1 billion.

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Do Jerusalem Homes Prevent Peace?

The lead article above the fold in Sunday’s New York Times teases President Obama’s visit to Israel by focusing on what it represents as a serious threat to the chances of peace: the building of homes by Jews in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. As the piece states, the government of Israel is not looking to provide any pretext for a fight with the Obama administration. So there will be no announcements of government-sponsored housing starts in the capital that have been portrayed as “insults” to the U.S. in order for the president to gin up spats between the two allies. As Eli Lake writes today in the Daily Beast, a “détente” now exists between the two governments that de-emphasizes the moribund peace process with the Palestinians and is allowing them to cooperate more closely on the nuclear threat from Iran. But for those determined to pin blame on Israelis for the lack of progress toward an end to the conflict with the Palestinians, Jerusalem remains a hot-button issue.

As the Times reports, the purchase of property in the Old City and in other parts of Jerusalem that are majority Arab is viewed as an unwelcome provocation by the United States, but it can’t pin the blame for it on Prime Minister Netanyahu since these are private initiatives. In the past, Obama foolishly picked fights about building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that even he understands would remain part of Jerusalem in the event the Palestinians ever decided to make peace. Such building in those places as well as in the settlement blocs that Israel would also retain has no effect on the prospects for peace. But peace plans backed by the U.S. and offered by past Israeli governments did offer the Palestinian Authority sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in the city. So would the presence of a few scattered groups of Jews in those areas really “complicate” a solution for peace if the will for peace existed on both sides? The only honest answer to that question is no.

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The lead article above the fold in Sunday’s New York Times teases President Obama’s visit to Israel by focusing on what it represents as a serious threat to the chances of peace: the building of homes by Jews in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. As the piece states, the government of Israel is not looking to provide any pretext for a fight with the Obama administration. So there will be no announcements of government-sponsored housing starts in the capital that have been portrayed as “insults” to the U.S. in order for the president to gin up spats between the two allies. As Eli Lake writes today in the Daily Beast, a “détente” now exists between the two governments that de-emphasizes the moribund peace process with the Palestinians and is allowing them to cooperate more closely on the nuclear threat from Iran. But for those determined to pin blame on Israelis for the lack of progress toward an end to the conflict with the Palestinians, Jerusalem remains a hot-button issue.

As the Times reports, the purchase of property in the Old City and in other parts of Jerusalem that are majority Arab is viewed as an unwelcome provocation by the United States, but it can’t pin the blame for it on Prime Minister Netanyahu since these are private initiatives. In the past, Obama foolishly picked fights about building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that even he understands would remain part of Jerusalem in the event the Palestinians ever decided to make peace. Such building in those places as well as in the settlement blocs that Israel would also retain has no effect on the prospects for peace. But peace plans backed by the U.S. and offered by past Israeli governments did offer the Palestinian Authority sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in the city. So would the presence of a few scattered groups of Jews in those areas really “complicate” a solution for peace if the will for peace existed on both sides? The only honest answer to that question is no.

It should first be understood that the whole discussion of what Israeli policies would or would not enhance the chances for peace is itself something of a diversion from reality. Successive Israeli governments, including the present one, have endorsed a two-state solution. Three times—in 2000, 2001 and 2008—it offered the Palestinians an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem that would include the areas that are discussed in the Times feature. Each time, they rejected the offers.

While critics of Israel keep saying that settlements are precluding the chance of peace, were the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table (which they have refused to do since the end of 2008), these offers might or might not be put back in play. Especially after the disastrous withdrawal from Gaza, which resulted in the territory becoming a huge terror base rather than advancing the chances for peace, the Israeli people are far more skeptical about such schemes. But were the PA ever to show its commitment to ending the conflict, anything would be possible.

But in the absence of such a commitment, talk about Israeli home building preventing peace is simply an attempt to divert attention from Palestinian rejectionism.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas did take up Netanyahu’s offer to conduct peace talks anywhere, anytime. Would the building in Arab areas stop such an initiative from succeeding?

As the Times relates, the sum total of Jews living in those neighborhoods amounts to approximately 2,200 people living in scattered homes and apartments. They, like the Jews living in far-flung settlements deep in the West Bank, would oppose being put into a putative state of Palestine. But were such an agreement truly promising peace, rather than a truce that would only postpone further Palestinian efforts to destroy Israel, it is not likely they would prevail in stopping such an agreement from being ratified or implemented. But if peace were really in the offing, the question arises: why would the presence of a few Jews in parts of their ancient capital be so offensive to the Palestinians?

The fact is, it is not a few people whom the Times characterize as extremists that oppose a partition of Jerusalem. The overwhelming majority of Israelis think division of the city is unworkable and not likely to enhance the chances of peace. Moreover, unlike the editors of the Times and others who insist that only an Israeli commitment to leave parts of Jerusalem will bring peace, most Israelis understand the Palestinians aren’t remotely interested in peace on virtually any terms that would require them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

Given the ongoing Palestinian hostility to Israel’s existence and support for terror, many Israelis would question the wisdom of further entangling the Jewish and Arab populations by building in Arab neighborhoods. But few would question the right of Jews to live there.

As the final Palestinian quoted in the piece says, the Arabs are still laboring under the delusion that the Jews can be made to think Jerusalem isn’t “their place” or “their land” and will be made to leave. So long as attitudes such as these prevail, peace is truly impossible no matter what Israel’s government or its citizens say or do.

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The European Union’s Misplaced Priorities

In December, I wrote that despite all the misunderstanding and misinformation in the press about Israel’s construction plans for the area around Jerusalem, specifically the E-1 corridor, there was one very illuminating aspect to the controversy. The reaction by Western European leaders and diplomats to the Israeli government’s restatement of the official policy of every Israeli government–right, left, and center–exposed a fault line in EU-Israel relations. The Israeli consensus crosses the EU’s “red line,” and therefore the two are unlikely to find common ground in the peace process.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise to read in the Times of Israel that a new EU report recommends the European Union more actively boycott and sanction Israeli products and companies on the other side of the Green Line. Europe’s growing hostility to Israel and its vast ignorance of Mideast geopolitics are frustrating all by themselves, but a thorough report in the Washington Post today on Hezbollah’s operations in Europe put the EU’s manifest lack of seriousness in stark relief. First, the Times of Israel reports:

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In December, I wrote that despite all the misunderstanding and misinformation in the press about Israel’s construction plans for the area around Jerusalem, specifically the E-1 corridor, there was one very illuminating aspect to the controversy. The reaction by Western European leaders and diplomats to the Israeli government’s restatement of the official policy of every Israeli government–right, left, and center–exposed a fault line in EU-Israel relations. The Israeli consensus crosses the EU’s “red line,” and therefore the two are unlikely to find common ground in the peace process.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise to read in the Times of Israel that a new EU report recommends the European Union more actively boycott and sanction Israeli products and companies on the other side of the Green Line. Europe’s growing hostility to Israel and its vast ignorance of Mideast geopolitics are frustrating all by themselves, but a thorough report in the Washington Post today on Hezbollah’s operations in Europe put the EU’s manifest lack of seriousness in stark relief. First, the Times of Israel reports:

In a new report sent to Brussels and foreign ministries in 27 member states, the consuls general representing the EU in the Palestinian territories call on the EU to “prevent, discourage and raise awareness about problematic implications of financial transactions including foreign direct investments, from within the EU in support of settlement activities, infrastructure and services,” Haaretz reported Wednesday.

The EU’s office in Israel declined to directly comment on the leaked document, but diplomats representing EU member states told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that while the report’s language seemed strong, suggesting a call for active EU divestment from the settlements, it signified no actual change in the union’s policy. The 2012 Heads of Mission report, which will be discussed by policymakers in Brussels but is nonbinding, merely calls for stricter implementation of already existing EU legislation, according to a European diplomat.

Contrast the vigilance EU diplomats recommend be employed against Israeli companies with the EU’s continued, exasperating, and fundamentally indefensible reluctance to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The issue was brought to light again this month as Hezbollah was connected by authorities to last year’s terrorist attack in Bulgaria. Hezbollah has long been among the world’s most resilient and dangerous terrorist organizations, and declaring it as such–as the U.S. and Israel have–would greatly advance security efforts on the continent and would enable increased diligence in tracking and preventing Hezbollah’s funding and communications.

As Joby Warrick writes in the Post, the case of a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus has enabled officials and the public to widen the scope of the terrorist group’s surveillance operations in Europe. And officials are well aware of the implications:

Now, seven months after that attack, new details emerging in Yaakoub’s case are providing chilling insights into what investigators describe as a far broader effort by the Lebanon-based militant group to lay the groundwork for killing Israeli citizens and perhaps others in multiple countries.

Some details have come from Yaakoub himself, who made his first public appearance last week during his trial in Cyprus. But a much fuller account comes from legal documents summarizing the Swedish man’s statements to police during weeks of questioning last summer and obtained by The Washington Post.

The evidence echoes discoveries by investigators in Bulgaria and prosecutors in Thailand, India, Azerbaijan, Kenya and other countries hit by a wave of attempted assassinations and bombings linked to Hezbollah or its chief sponsor, Iran. U.S. officials characterize the plots as part of a shadow war directed by Iran in part to retaliate for Western efforts to derail Iran’s nuclear program. Evidence uncovered by investigators portrays a professional, well-funded effort by Hezbollah to recruit, train and position European-based operatives for what U.S. analysts describe as preparations for future terrorist operations.

It’s important to put the revelations about Hezbollah–which, we can imagine, are not revelations to EU law enforcement and intelligence officials–in the larger context of Hezbollah’s patron, Iran. As Warrick notes, American officials are getting impatient with their European counterparts’ unwillingness to take necessary action against Hezbollah because time is of the essence. The U.S. is working to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear capability, and one element of that has been the stepped-up shadow war between Iran and the West.

In the world of asymmetric warfare, eliminating terrorist safe havens is crucial–as we attempted to do in Afghanistan. But it’s even more important to do so in Europe, both because it’s easier to target Americans and Jews–Iran’s favorite victims–in Europe, where both are far more numerous than in, say, Central Asia or North Africa, and because giving them a safe haven in the West makes it easier to target other Western states. Thus, the EU’s incredibly dangerous actions don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s time for European leaders to stop pretending otherwise.

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Lapid Gives the Lie to Election Peace Spin

Liberal critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were quick to seize on the results of the recent Knesset election that the Israeli people had rendered a negative verdict on his stands on the peace process. Left-wing parties that blamed Netanyahu and his government may have fared poorly in the vote and even the Labor Party abandoned a peace platform in the hope of winning back centrist voters who have understandably given up on the Palestinians. Yet that hasn’t stopped some talking heads from jumping to the conclusion that Netanyahu’s showing was proof that Israelis were actually voting for a renewed emphasis on negotiations and would approve of foreign pressure on their government to make concessions.

But the latest statement by the man whose party was the big winner in the election makes it clear that any idea that Israelis cast their ballot on other issues. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party was the runner up in the vote as the former journalists new faction came out of nowhere to win 19 Knesset seats and made him the lynchpin of any future coalition headed by Netanyahu. Yet despite the hopes of some Americans that he represents a different point of view about peace, yesterday he told a gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that his views were very much in line with those of Netanyahu. As Haaretz reports, the only criticism about Israel’s negotiating stance that he uttered was of Netanyahu’s predecessor for offering to give away too much:

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid opposes any division of Jerusalem as part of negotiations with the Palestinians, he said on Tuesday evening.

“Ehud Olmert’s government went too far” in its talks with the Palestinians, Lapid said. “It was wrong when it began discussing issues that bore waiting on, such as Jerusalem and the right of return. I oppose any withdrawal in Jerusalem, which isn’t only a place, but an idea as well.”

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Liberal critics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were quick to seize on the results of the recent Knesset election that the Israeli people had rendered a negative verdict on his stands on the peace process. Left-wing parties that blamed Netanyahu and his government may have fared poorly in the vote and even the Labor Party abandoned a peace platform in the hope of winning back centrist voters who have understandably given up on the Palestinians. Yet that hasn’t stopped some talking heads from jumping to the conclusion that Netanyahu’s showing was proof that Israelis were actually voting for a renewed emphasis on negotiations and would approve of foreign pressure on their government to make concessions.

But the latest statement by the man whose party was the big winner in the election makes it clear that any idea that Israelis cast their ballot on other issues. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party was the runner up in the vote as the former journalists new faction came out of nowhere to win 19 Knesset seats and made him the lynchpin of any future coalition headed by Netanyahu. Yet despite the hopes of some Americans that he represents a different point of view about peace, yesterday he told a gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations that his views were very much in line with those of Netanyahu. As Haaretz reports, the only criticism about Israel’s negotiating stance that he uttered was of Netanyahu’s predecessor for offering to give away too much:

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid opposes any division of Jerusalem as part of negotiations with the Palestinians, he said on Tuesday evening.

“Ehud Olmert’s government went too far” in its talks with the Palestinians, Lapid said. “It was wrong when it began discussing issues that bore waiting on, such as Jerusalem and the right of return. I oppose any withdrawal in Jerusalem, which isn’t only a place, but an idea as well.”

This places Lapid very much on the same page with Netanyahu and in clear opposition to the terms that many American liberals and President Obama has endorsed. In 2008, Olmert offered Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a large share of Jerusalem. Abbas fled the talks rather than formally turn the deal down. But Lapid, along with most Israelis, believes Jerusalem shouldn’t be divided.

President Obama has treated Netanyahu’s decision to build homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as an insult to the U.S. but Lapid agrees with the prime minister that cutting up the country’s capital is unthinkable. Since, like Lapid, Netanyahu has reaffirmed his support for a two state solution, there likely will be very little tension on peace issues between the two men in the next government.

Lapid’s rise reflects the way the overwhelming majority of Israelis have moved on from their prior obsession with the peace process. Since the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected peace and used Israeli withdrawals to create terror enclaves like Gaza, there is a consensus that until a sea change occurs among Arabs, more such concessions are unthinkable. Lapid and Netanyahu may have their disagreements over the economic issues that helped propel Yesh Atid to second place in the vote. But they appear willing to work together along with Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party (which is to the right of the Likud on peace issues) to craft new legislation that would end the ultra-Orthodox draft exemptions that anger the rest of the country.

The next Israeli government may not be as stable as its predecessor due to the outsized personalities and egos of its predecessor. But as Lapid’s statement indicates, any American expectation that Yesh Atid will change Netanyahu’s negotiating position has no basis in fact.

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UN: Return Golan Residents to Syrian Slaughterhouse “Forthwith”

The UN General Assembly, as Elliott Abrams noted yesterday, just passed nine resolutions in a single day condemning Israel, mainly for its treatment of the Palestinians, while completely ignoring the real disaster that befell the Palestinians this week: the Assad regime’s bombing of the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, which reportedly killed dozens of Palestinians and caused about 100,000 to flee. But the situation becomes even more surreal when one examines the actual content of the resolutions–because it turns out that while the UN is voting to condemn Israel, its alleged victims are voting the opposite with their feet.

One resolution, for instance, slams Israel’s 1981 annexation of the “occupied Syrian Golan” and demands that Israel “rescind forthwith its decision.” Given what’s happening across the border in Syria, where the ongoing civil war has killed over 44,000 people and created over 500,000 refugees, I suspect most of the 20,000 Syrian Druze on the Golan are thanking their lucky stars to be living safely under Israel’s “occupation.” But you needn’t take my word for it: According to the Hebrew daily Maariv, whose report was subsequently picked up the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Israeli government statistics show that the number of Golan Druze applying for Israeli citizenship (for which the annexation made them eligible) has risen by hundreds of percent since the Syrian civil war erupted, after 30 years in which very few did so.

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The UN General Assembly, as Elliott Abrams noted yesterday, just passed nine resolutions in a single day condemning Israel, mainly for its treatment of the Palestinians, while completely ignoring the real disaster that befell the Palestinians this week: the Assad regime’s bombing of the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus, which reportedly killed dozens of Palestinians and caused about 100,000 to flee. But the situation becomes even more surreal when one examines the actual content of the resolutions–because it turns out that while the UN is voting to condemn Israel, its alleged victims are voting the opposite with their feet.

One resolution, for instance, slams Israel’s 1981 annexation of the “occupied Syrian Golan” and demands that Israel “rescind forthwith its decision.” Given what’s happening across the border in Syria, where the ongoing civil war has killed over 44,000 people and created over 500,000 refugees, I suspect most of the 20,000 Syrian Druze on the Golan are thanking their lucky stars to be living safely under Israel’s “occupation.” But you needn’t take my word for it: According to the Hebrew daily Maariv, whose report was subsequently picked up the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Israeli government statistics show that the number of Golan Druze applying for Israeli citizenship (for which the annexation made them eligible) has risen by hundreds of percent since the Syrian civil war erupted, after 30 years in which very few did so.

“More and more people comprehend that this [Israel] is a well-managed country and it’s possible to live and raise children here,” one Druze who acquired Israeli citizenship explained. “In Syria there is mass murder, and if [the Druze are] under Syrian control they would likely be turned into the victims of these atrocities. People see murdered children and refugees fleeing to Jordan and Turkey, lacking everything, and ask themselves: Where do I want to raise my children. The answer is clear–in Israel and not Syria.”

But what the Golan’s own residents want, of course, is of no interest to the UN: It would rather Israel return the area, and its Druze, to the Syrian hellhole “forthwith.”

Then there was the resolution condemning Israel for violating “the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.” But in East Jerusalem, too, the number of Palestinians requesting Israeli citizenship has risen sharply in recent years (West Bank and Gazan Palestinians aren’t eligible for citizenship, since Israel hasn’t annexed those areas). And while the number of Palestinians actually receiving citizenship remains small, Haaretz reports, “everyone involved agrees” it would be higher if Israel’s notoriously slow Interior Ministry would just process the applications faster.

The number of East Jerusalem Palestinians registering for the Israeli matriculation exam rather than the Palestinian one has also recently risen by dozens of percent, meaning these young Palestinians aspire to study at an Israeli university and work in Israel rather than studying and working in the Arab world. This, too, is a sea change: For years, Palestinians refused to allow their children to study the Israeli curriculum; now, private preparatory schools are springing up to enable these children to pass the Israeli exams.

Moreover, repeated polls have shown that if Jerusalem were redivided, many Palestinians–at least a sizable minority, and possibly a majority–would want to remain in Israel. But again, what East Jerusalem residents want is of no interest to the UN.

All of which just goes to show, if anyone had any doubts, that the UN and its member states have no interest whatsoever in the actual wellbeing of those under Israeli “occupation.” All they’re interested in is bashing Israel.

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The Real Obstacle to Peace: Israel’s Critics

The Obama administration joined the chorus of United Nations, European and Arab critics of Israel this week when it blasted the decision of the Netanyahu government to approve plans to build new housing in two Jerusalem neighborhoods and one in the adjacent suburban area known as E1. While the Obama administration did not join its European allies and other members of the UN Security Council declaring the building illegal and an obstacle to a two-state solution that must cease immediately, it did declare that the activity put peace “further at risk.” Israel’s critics make the argument that this sort of condemnation is heightening the country’s isolation and is to blame for the lopsided vote in favor of upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s status at the UN earlier this month. But the hypocrisy of these charges makes it easy to understand why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is ignoring them.

The point here isn’t just—as we have repeatedly pointed out here at Contentions—that building in these areas of Jerusalem as well as in E1 wouldn’t prevent a two-state solution were the Palestinians inclined to negotiate with Israel to get one. The building within Jerusalem’s city limits in Jewish neighborhoods that were built decades ago, such as Ramat Sharon and Gilo, are in places that no one envisions being given to the Palestinians even in the most generous offer possible. The same is true of the new Givat Hamatos project. As for the E1 area in between the city and the suburb of Ma’ale Adumim, it, too, is in an area that Israel has always intended to keep. That is a point underlined by the fact that it was Yitzhak Rabin that put it under the jurisdiction of the adjacent Jewish town.

But the real hypocrisy isn’t the fact that all those countries as well as the Palestinians know very well that it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference to a two-state solution if Israel built 100,000 new homes in these places or none at all. It is the fact that these countries continue to ignore the fact that it is the Palestinians who refuse to negotiate and who continue to issue statements making clear their intention to destroy Israel without drawing much comment from nations that are supposedly so interested in peace.

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The Obama administration joined the chorus of United Nations, European and Arab critics of Israel this week when it blasted the decision of the Netanyahu government to approve plans to build new housing in two Jerusalem neighborhoods and one in the adjacent suburban area known as E1. While the Obama administration did not join its European allies and other members of the UN Security Council declaring the building illegal and an obstacle to a two-state solution that must cease immediately, it did declare that the activity put peace “further at risk.” Israel’s critics make the argument that this sort of condemnation is heightening the country’s isolation and is to blame for the lopsided vote in favor of upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s status at the UN earlier this month. But the hypocrisy of these charges makes it easy to understand why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is ignoring them.

The point here isn’t just—as we have repeatedly pointed out here at Contentions—that building in these areas of Jerusalem as well as in E1 wouldn’t prevent a two-state solution were the Palestinians inclined to negotiate with Israel to get one. The building within Jerusalem’s city limits in Jewish neighborhoods that were built decades ago, such as Ramat Sharon and Gilo, are in places that no one envisions being given to the Palestinians even in the most generous offer possible. The same is true of the new Givat Hamatos project. As for the E1 area in between the city and the suburb of Ma’ale Adumim, it, too, is in an area that Israel has always intended to keep. That is a point underlined by the fact that it was Yitzhak Rabin that put it under the jurisdiction of the adjacent Jewish town.

But the real hypocrisy isn’t the fact that all those countries as well as the Palestinians know very well that it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference to a two-state solution if Israel built 100,000 new homes in these places or none at all. It is the fact that these countries continue to ignore the fact that it is the Palestinians who refuse to negotiate and who continue to issue statements making clear their intention to destroy Israel without drawing much comment from nations that are supposedly so interested in peace.

After all, it was just 11 days ago that Khaled Mashaal, the head of the Hamas movement that already rules the independent Palestinian state in all but name, stated the following to a cheering crowd in Gaza: 

Palestine from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, is our land and we will never give up one inch or any part of it.

Though the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas subsequently took issue with this declaration and then disingenuously tried to assert that Hamas has already recognized Israel (it hasn’t), the fact remains that the Fatah leader has signed a unity agreement with its Islamist partner that sooner or later will be put into effect. Do the U.S. or the Europeans really expect Israel to hand over more land to such an alliance? There is a broad consensus inside Israel against any such plan that explains why Netanyahu’s coalition is set to romp in next month’s elections.

Nor do the claims that Israel’s building plans make it harder for Abbas hold up. Were Netanyahu building new towns deep inside the West Bank, as the settlement movement would like him to do, it could be credibly argued that such plans would prevent the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. But why would that be true of building in existing Jewish neighborhoods on territory that would be part of the land swaps that even President Obama has acknowledged would be part of a deal that was based on the 1967 lines?

The problem here is not just that what Israel is doing is no obstacle to peace. It is that by joining in condemnations of building inside Jerusalem, President Obama and the Europeans are encouraging the Palestinians to believe that they will someday force the Jewish state to give up not just the West Bank but its capital too. An end to the conflict will only come on the day when the Palestinian so-called moderates like Abbas and extremists like Meshaal understand this. Far from Netanyahu being the obstacle to peace, it is the administration and its friends at the UN that are doing more to make that goal impossible than the Israelis.  

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Why Israel Has to Build in E-1

Yesterday, I took issue with the Union for Reform Judaism for condemning planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 region. Many liberal American Jews would doubtless respond that they don’t object to E-1 remaining Israeli under an Israeli-Palestinian agreement; they merely object to building there before such an agreement exists. That, after all, is precisely what Ehud Olmert said last week when asked how he could condemn the Netanyahu government for doing something he himself supported as prime minister.

Unfortunately, this response betrays a serious lack of understanding of how the “peace process” actually works. First, as I noted yesterday, insisting that Israeli construction is an “obstacle to peace” even in areas that every proposed agreement has assigned to Israel merely encourages Palestinian intransigence by feeding their fantasies that the world will someday pressure Israel into withdrawing to the 1967 lines. Equally important, however, is that in a world where Israeli security concerns are routinely dismissed as unimportant, construction has proven the only effective means of ensuring Israel’s retention of areas it deems vital to its security.

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Yesterday, I took issue with the Union for Reform Judaism for condemning planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 region. Many liberal American Jews would doubtless respond that they don’t object to E-1 remaining Israeli under an Israeli-Palestinian agreement; they merely object to building there before such an agreement exists. That, after all, is precisely what Ehud Olmert said last week when asked how he could condemn the Netanyahu government for doing something he himself supported as prime minister.

Unfortunately, this response betrays a serious lack of understanding of how the “peace process” actually works. First, as I noted yesterday, insisting that Israeli construction is an “obstacle to peace” even in areas that every proposed agreement has assigned to Israel merely encourages Palestinian intransigence by feeding their fantasies that the world will someday pressure Israel into withdrawing to the 1967 lines. Equally important, however, is that in a world where Israeli security concerns are routinely dismissed as unimportant, construction has proven the only effective means of ensuring Israel’s retention of areas it deems vital to its security.

In theory, construction shouldn’t be necessary to stake Israel’s claim, because the world has already recognized it: UN Security Council Resolution 242, still officially the defining document of the peace process, explicitly recognized Israel’s right to obtain “secure” borders by retaining some of the territory it captured in 1967, since, as then-U.S. Ambassador to the UN Arthur Goldberg explained, “Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

But in practice, the only parts of the West Bank that successive peace plans have envisaged Israel retaining are the ones where there are just too many Jews to easily remove. As former President George W. Bush put it in his 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”

In contrast, the world has generally dismissed Israeli demands to keep sparsely settled areas, even when they are equally vital for security. For instance, all Israeli governments have considered military control over the Jordan Valley essential for security, but even Washington hasn’t backed this demand. And the European Union is much worse: It officially views the entire West Bank as occupied Palestinian territory to which Israel has no claim whatsoever unless the Palestinians allow it.

For this reason, Israel should long since have built in E-1–an area every Israeli premier has deemed vital for security–rather than leaving it vacant at the urging of successive U.S. administrations. But the issue received new urgency after the UN overwhelmingly recognized a Palestinian state last month “on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.” With virtually the entire world having just declared that Israel has no right to any part of the West Bank, it has become imperative for Israel to strengthen its claim via the only means that has ever proven effective: by building.

The question now is whether Israel will actually do so, or whether its government will once again sacrifice the country’s long-term security needs on the altar of global opposition.

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