Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Kerry

No “Special Relationship” Bingo at AIPAC

In anticipation of the AIPAC conference, Yair Rosenberg over at Tablet published a mock bingo card, with all the buzzwords and catch phrases in U.S.-Israeli relations. As you sat listening to the speeches, you could mark your card as each speaker proclaimed Israel a “major strategic ally” or intoned that “no deal is better than a bad deal” (with Iran). In the center square of the card sits this couplet: “Special Relationship.” It’s the most hallowed of all ways to describe U.S.-Israeli ties, dating back John F. Kennedy and Golda Meir. Nothing more reassures Israelis than to hear that phrase, which elevates U.S.-Israel relations to a very select club.

In December, I provided the evidence here at Commentary that John Kerry, as secretary of state, has avoided using the phrase “special relationship” to describe ties with Israel, reserving it exclusively for the United Kingdom. I argued that this constituted a subtle demotion of Israel. Was he saving the magic words for AIPAC?

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In anticipation of the AIPAC conference, Yair Rosenberg over at Tablet published a mock bingo card, with all the buzzwords and catch phrases in U.S.-Israeli relations. As you sat listening to the speeches, you could mark your card as each speaker proclaimed Israel a “major strategic ally” or intoned that “no deal is better than a bad deal” (with Iran). In the center square of the card sits this couplet: “Special Relationship.” It’s the most hallowed of all ways to describe U.S.-Israeli ties, dating back John F. Kennedy and Golda Meir. Nothing more reassures Israelis than to hear that phrase, which elevates U.S.-Israel relations to a very select club.

In December, I provided the evidence here at Commentary that John Kerry, as secretary of state, has avoided using the phrase “special relationship” to describe ties with Israel, reserving it exclusively for the United Kingdom. I argued that this constituted a subtle demotion of Israel. Was he saving the magic words for AIPAC?

Obviously not: he didn’t utter them in his AIPAC speech. Sure, there were all sorts of emotive expressions of support for Israel. But “special relationship?” Kerry seems as reluctant to speak the words, as Mahmoud Abbas is loath to utter “Jewish state.”

I wonder whether even one of the 14,000 Israel supporters in the Washington Convention Center noticed the omission, in the flurry of sweet nothings floated by Kerry. But have no doubt: no words can substitute for “special relationship.” That’s why it stands at the very center of the U.S.-Israeli bingo card. Israelis know it, and you can be sure that John Kerry knows it too.

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How Quickly Will It Be Back to Business As Usual For Relations With Russia?

It’s good to hear that John Kerry is going to Kiev. It’s good to hear that Russia’s G-8 Summit might be canceled and that Russia might be booted out of the G-8 altogether. And good to hear, as Kerry said Sunday, “there could even be, ultimately, asset freezes, visa bans.”

The problem is the words “could be.” They suggest an escape clause—namely that none of this may actually come to pass or, if it does, it will be for only a short period of time and then it will be back to business as normal with Russia.

Certainly Vladimir Putin did not suffer any lasting consequences the last time he violated one of the most basic norms in international law by invading a neighboring state. His 2008 invasion of Georgia, which occurred in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, caused no more than temporary consternation in Washington. Within a few months President Obama took office, promising a “reset” of relations with Russia.

The benefits of this “reset” are hard to find, unless one counts the Russian-orchestrated deal on Syrian chemical weapons which Bashar Assad is not carrying out on the agreed upon schedule. The costs of the “reset” are more obvious–it has convinced Putin that no matter how brazenly and unlawfully and thuggishly he acts, the U.S. will look the other way because semi-amicable relations with Russia are so important to whoever occupies the White House.

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It’s good to hear that John Kerry is going to Kiev. It’s good to hear that Russia’s G-8 Summit might be canceled and that Russia might be booted out of the G-8 altogether. And good to hear, as Kerry said Sunday, “there could even be, ultimately, asset freezes, visa bans.”

The problem is the words “could be.” They suggest an escape clause—namely that none of this may actually come to pass or, if it does, it will be for only a short period of time and then it will be back to business as normal with Russia.

Certainly Vladimir Putin did not suffer any lasting consequences the last time he violated one of the most basic norms in international law by invading a neighboring state. His 2008 invasion of Georgia, which occurred in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, caused no more than temporary consternation in Washington. Within a few months President Obama took office, promising a “reset” of relations with Russia.

The benefits of this “reset” are hard to find, unless one counts the Russian-orchestrated deal on Syrian chemical weapons which Bashar Assad is not carrying out on the agreed upon schedule. The costs of the “reset” are more obvious–it has convinced Putin that no matter how brazenly and unlawfully and thuggishly he acts, the U.S. will look the other way because semi-amicable relations with Russia are so important to whoever occupies the White House.

It is no coincidence that Putin has now invaded a second neighbor, taking control of Crimea and threatening to do the same with other parts of eastern Ukraine. For the second time Putin has committed armed aggression against a neighboring state. He will do it again in the future–and so too will other predators who are watching carefully what happens in the present instance–unless it is clear there is a real price to be paid for his flagrant misconduct.

Admittedly our options to make Russia pay a price are limited, but they are not nonexistent. John Kerry outlined some steps that can inflict a small but significant cost on the Russian elite–a cost that will grow if Russian financial institutions are banned from the U.S. banking system and if assets controlled by Putin and his cronies in the West are frozen and if their ability to travel in the West is curtailed. All this is within the power of the president of the Untied State to achieve–some of it can be done unilaterally, while other steps will recover winning the support of allies, which is difficult but not impossible.

And the possible American response does not have to be limited to sanctions. There are other steps that can be taken such as rushing military, intelligence, and economic aid to Kiev, and agreeing to station U.S. troops in Eastern European NATO members such as Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to make clear that they will never share the fate of Ukraine. Such a step is guaranteed to cause considerable consternation in the Kremlin.

Western European states, which are dependent on Russian natural gas, might fear retaliation from Moscow but there are sharp limits on Russia’s ability to stop selling its gas–it cannot afford the loss of revenue for long. In any case, Russia exercises much less leverage over the US which correspondingly has the ability to take a sterner line with Moscow’s misconduct, provided the president has the willpower for a showdown. That is what we are about to find out in the next few days.

If I had to guess I would say that relations with Russia will be back to “normal” within a year but I hope to be proven wrong, because if my hunch is right, Putin will become even more brazen in the future–and so too will other autocrats.

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How Will Obama Soothe Abbas’s Rage?

President Obama came into the White House determined to prioritize the Middle East peace process in 2009. That decision caused him to spend much of his first term immersed in picking fights with the Israeli government while doing nothing to actually advance the chances of peace. Since his 2012 election-year Jewish charm offensive in which such disputes were avoided, the president has largely distanced himself from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, letting Secretary of State John Kerry bear the burden and the opprobrium for pursuing what most savvy observers think is a fool’s errand. But, if today’s report in the New York Times is correct, he may be returning to his old hobby with a vengeance next month and using meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to keep Kerry’s effort alive.

But the most important aspect of another presidential deep dive into the complicated negotiations isn’t about whether it will ultimately succeed. Given the distance between the parties on the main issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, and whether the Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it’s doubtful any amount of pressure exerted by the White House on either side will produce the document that will earn Kerry his Nobel Peace Prize. Rather, Obama’s objective is to merely keep the negotiations initiated by the secretary alive by getting Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a framework to keep the talks going beyond the nine-month period originally agreed upon last year. Since, despite some clear misgivings about Kerry’s purpose, the Israelis appear ready to agree to keep talking, the only real variable is whether the Palestinians will do the same. But rather than go along in order to avoid shouldering the blame for the collapse of the peace process, Abbas apparently intends to squeeze the Americans. The question is what will Obama give him in order to win his assent.

Altering the negotiations in his favor was the obvious intent of Abbas’s temper tantrum last week during his meeting with Kerry in Paris. Though widely reported in the Palestinian and Israeli press, Abbas’s fit over what he termed Kerry’s “insane” framework wasn’t even mentioned in the Times account. That means the key points to watch about the Washington meetings is whether Obama will change the framework by discarding its insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or security guarantees in order to keep Abbas talking.

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President Obama came into the White House determined to prioritize the Middle East peace process in 2009. That decision caused him to spend much of his first term immersed in picking fights with the Israeli government while doing nothing to actually advance the chances of peace. Since his 2012 election-year Jewish charm offensive in which such disputes were avoided, the president has largely distanced himself from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, letting Secretary of State John Kerry bear the burden and the opprobrium for pursuing what most savvy observers think is a fool’s errand. But, if today’s report in the New York Times is correct, he may be returning to his old hobby with a vengeance next month and using meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to keep Kerry’s effort alive.

But the most important aspect of another presidential deep dive into the complicated negotiations isn’t about whether it will ultimately succeed. Given the distance between the parties on the main issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, and whether the Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it’s doubtful any amount of pressure exerted by the White House on either side will produce the document that will earn Kerry his Nobel Peace Prize. Rather, Obama’s objective is to merely keep the negotiations initiated by the secretary alive by getting Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a framework to keep the talks going beyond the nine-month period originally agreed upon last year. Since, despite some clear misgivings about Kerry’s purpose, the Israelis appear ready to agree to keep talking, the only real variable is whether the Palestinians will do the same. But rather than go along in order to avoid shouldering the blame for the collapse of the peace process, Abbas apparently intends to squeeze the Americans. The question is what will Obama give him in order to win his assent.

Altering the negotiations in his favor was the obvious intent of Abbas’s temper tantrum last week during his meeting with Kerry in Paris. Though widely reported in the Palestinian and Israeli press, Abbas’s fit over what he termed Kerry’s “insane” framework wasn’t even mentioned in the Times account. That means the key points to watch about the Washington meetings is whether Obama will change the framework by discarding its insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or security guarantees in order to keep Abbas talking.

Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement has earned him a lot of criticism from some members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet, who wonder what’s the point of their country being badgered to make concessions to Palestinians who show no sign of being willing to end the conflict. Kerry’s approach takes for granted that Israel will give up almost all of the West Bank to create a new Palestinian state in the West Bank for Abbas and Fatah to go along with the one that exists in all but name in Gaza under the rule of Hamas. But Kerry has agreed to some far-reaching security commitments about the disposition of the West Bank that, while arguably impractical because of the commitment of NATO or U.S. troops, still are incompatible with the Palestinian conception of sovereignty. The Kerry framework also leaves the future of Jerusalem open and, more importantly, commits the Palestinians to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

The Jewish state demand has been much abused by Israel’s critics who wrongly claim it is a new and unnecessary demand cooked up by Netanyahu in order to derail the talks. But without it, the Palestinians are not obligating themselves to end the conflict for all time and thus alter the point of their national movement from one of eradicating every vestige of Zionism to a more positive one about building a better life for their people in a partitioned country.

The path to peace won’t be found by soothing Abbas’s rage at being maneuvered into having to accept negotiations when signing a deal is the last thing he wants to do. Rather than returning to his default position of pressuring Netanyahu, the keynote of President Obama’s involvement should be making it clear to Abbas that he must accept the framework. The Israelis have already paid dearly, with concessions that included the release of over 100 Palestinian terrorist murderers and a de facto freeze in settlement building outside of their settlement blocs that would be retained in any agreement, in order to persuade Abbas to come back to the table last year. It would be outrageous for Obama to respond to Palestinian blackmail by simply acquiescing to their demands and expect Israel to proceed without the assurance that the framework will be kept in place.

If the president’s new foray into the peace process blindly follows the familiar pattern of Obama’s past conduct in which Netanyahu is ambushed and then strong-armed into making more concessions to Abbas, it would be grossly unfair. But more than that, it would undermine any chance of ever getting the Palestinians to realize that the price of independence means accepting the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Peace requires a sea change in Palestinian politics. But it will also mean a similar change in the president’s knee-jerk impulse to put the entire onus for the impasse on an Israel that has already proved it is willing to take risks for peace.

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Reading John B. Judis Very Closely

In a New Republic article entitled “Conservative Critics Say My New Israel Book Is Anti-Semitic. They Must Not Have Read It Very Closely,” John B. Judis challenges the “condemnatory reviews” of his book by Ron Radosh, Jordan Chandler Hirsch, and “Robert Richman in Commentary.” I’m pretty sure he means me, although I am not sure he read my review very closely, since he mangles the reviewer’s name and quotes only from the conclusion, without addressing any points in between. He writes that his “usual policy” with critical reviews is to ignore them, since “any publicity is good publicity as long as the reviewers spell my name correctly.”

His New Republic response denies that he wants to “abolish or delegitimize” Israel–but he is unable to support that claim by citing anything he actually wrote in his book. He suggests instead that reviewers should have read what he, as the author, did not write in the book, but which he thinks should be inferred from his encouraging words elsewhere for Barack Obama and John Kerry:

Radosh talks about delegitimization. Richman hints at darker designs. He accuses me of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state… Judis’s policy preference is entirely clear to those with eyes to see. Judis suggests he is bringing a moral vision to Americans who lack a historical perspective, but he lacks the courage to spell out his obvious conclusion.” Richman seems to think I support the replacement of Israel with an Arab-majority state, but that I was fearful of expressing this proposal in my book.

What I was fearful of doing was making proposals that would look outdated within months of my book’s publication, so I avoided any statements about borders or refugees or East Jerusalem. But you’d not have to graduate from a fancy law school to understand that I thought Barack Obama’s initial proposals in September 2009 and John Kerry’s in 2013 for a two-state solution were attempts to resolve rather than exacerbate the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. If Kerry succeeds, I conclude, “the time for an end to the irrepressible conflict could finally come.”

If Radosh or Richman had any doubts about my views, they could have consulted my articles that over the years supporting the attempt to achieve a two-state solution.

Here’s precisely why I accused Judis of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.”

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In a New Republic article entitled “Conservative Critics Say My New Israel Book Is Anti-Semitic. They Must Not Have Read It Very Closely,” John B. Judis challenges the “condemnatory reviews” of his book by Ron Radosh, Jordan Chandler Hirsch, and “Robert Richman in Commentary.” I’m pretty sure he means me, although I am not sure he read my review very closely, since he mangles the reviewer’s name and quotes only from the conclusion, without addressing any points in between. He writes that his “usual policy” with critical reviews is to ignore them, since “any publicity is good publicity as long as the reviewers spell my name correctly.”

His New Republic response denies that he wants to “abolish or delegitimize” Israel–but he is unable to support that claim by citing anything he actually wrote in his book. He suggests instead that reviewers should have read what he, as the author, did not write in the book, but which he thinks should be inferred from his encouraging words elsewhere for Barack Obama and John Kerry:

Radosh talks about delegitimization. Richman hints at darker designs. He accuses me of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state… Judis’s policy preference is entirely clear to those with eyes to see. Judis suggests he is bringing a moral vision to Americans who lack a historical perspective, but he lacks the courage to spell out his obvious conclusion.” Richman seems to think I support the replacement of Israel with an Arab-majority state, but that I was fearful of expressing this proposal in my book.

What I was fearful of doing was making proposals that would look outdated within months of my book’s publication, so I avoided any statements about borders or refugees or East Jerusalem. But you’d not have to graduate from a fancy law school to understand that I thought Barack Obama’s initial proposals in September 2009 and John Kerry’s in 2013 for a two-state solution were attempts to resolve rather than exacerbate the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. If Kerry succeeds, I conclude, “the time for an end to the irrepressible conflict could finally come.”

If Radosh or Richman had any doubts about my views, they could have consulted my articles that over the years supporting the attempt to achieve a two-state solution.

Here’s precisely why I accused Judis of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.”

He asserts the “darker side of Zionism” was “the attempt to impose a Jewish state on a people who had lived in Palestine for 1,300 years” (page 133). He argues that there was a “moral contradiction” in political Zionism: “by attempting to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, Zionists would be ‘encroaching upon the native population’” (page 170). He repeats the point 14 pages later, writing that there were “moral contradictions that afflicted political Zionism” (page 184). He declares it “correct” that the “Balfour Declaration was itself to blame” for the problem of Palestine (page 251). He asserts that Zionists “conspired” with the British “to screw the Arabs out of a country that by the prevailing standards of self-determination would have been theirs” (page 251). He asserts “Israel today has become one of the world’s last colonial powers” (page 356).

And lest any reader miss what he really thinks is the true source of the conflict, here is what Judis wrote on pages 351-352 as “the main lesson” of his entire book:

[T]he Zionists who came to Palestine to establish a state trampled on the rights of the Arabs who already lived there. That wrong has never been adequately addressed or redressed, and for there to be peace of any kind between the Israelis and Arabs, it must be.

You don’t have to be a graduate of a fancy law school–you just have to be able to read–to understand that Judis portrays political Zionism as infected by a dark side, premised on a fundamental moral defect, imposing a state on a native people who were “screwed” out of the state that in his view should have been theirs; that the Balfour Declaration supporting a Jewish national home in Palestine was “itself to blame”; that Israel is “one of the world’s last colonial powers”; and that the “trampling” on the rights of the Arabs by the “Zionists who came to establish a state” not only needs to be addressed but–even more seriously–“redressed.” That’s why I wrote that Judis “insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.” He spends the first 128 pages of his book arguing that position.

As for his refusal in his book to state his policy preference (thus leaving it to the imagination or inference of readers to divine what policy would follow from delegitimizing Zionism), Judis now alleges in the New Republic that he was “fearful” of making policy proposals because they might “look outdated” within a few months after his book’s publication. That, however, is not what he wrote in his book.

What he wrote in his book was that he did not specify his preferred policy because he was supposedly not “thoroughly acquainted with the current actors” (page 8). He thought he knew them well enough, however, to criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu, “who was nothing if not clever,” for setting conditions for a Palestinian state “that Palestinians had already rejected,” such as Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state (page 366). But that recognition has always been the core issue, long before Netanyahu raised it; it goes to the heart of whether the “peace process” is about peace, or about creating a state that retains a specious but relentlessly asserted “right of return” to “redress” what Judis spends 400 pages describing as a great historical screwing and trampling by what he deems an immoral movement, political Zionism.

It is nice that Judis wishes John Kerry well in ending what Judis calls an “irrepressible conflict.” But Judis’s book will be used to prop up those who object to any Jewish state, who think Israel is the sole cause of the conflict, who believe the philosophy that created Israel is fundamentally immoral, and who assert that Israel is a colonialist state. His faux-scholarly book will be used, in sum, not to end the conflict, but to continue it–by delegitimizing Israel, giving a tool to those whose ultimate goal is to abolish it completely.

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Why the President Don’t Get No Respect

“For the first time,” Gallup tells us today, “more Americans think President Barack Obama is not respected by other world leaders than believe he is.” The news is a bit worse for the president than it looks, as Gallup notes that “Americans’ opinions have shifted dramatically in the past year, after being relatively stable from 2010 to 2013.” While such perceptions often track closely with presidential approval numbers, Gallup explains, President Obama’s numbers have not followed that pattern: “a majority of Americans still thought world leaders respected Obama in 2010 and 2011, when his job approval was similar to what it is now.”

It would be difficult to locate one specific foreign-policy failure that would cause such a drop in ratings precisely because there are so many to choose from. It’s both the quality and the quantity of Obama’s foreign-policy miscues at fault here. To list them actually seems almost cruel. (But necessary.) It’s obvious why events in Syria, Ukraine, Russia, China, Egypt, and similar states would give the impression Obama isn’t respected abroad. But more interesting is the fact that while Obama stands by watching the flames of conflict spread and his “red lines” get tap danced across, the administration is also furiously conducting negotiations on major conflicts like Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Are respondents in the poll who think the world doesn’t respect Obama ignoring the high-level diplomacy being conducted by Secretary of State John Kerry? Or is it possible that the way those negotiations are taking shape only reinforces the narrative of a disrespected president? Consider: the Iranians got a very favorable deal and have since regularly and loudly mocked the idea that the agreement with the West requires any real sacrifice toward their nuclear-weapons program while the country has been reopened for business by the easing of sanctions.

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“For the first time,” Gallup tells us today, “more Americans think President Barack Obama is not respected by other world leaders than believe he is.” The news is a bit worse for the president than it looks, as Gallup notes that “Americans’ opinions have shifted dramatically in the past year, after being relatively stable from 2010 to 2013.” While such perceptions often track closely with presidential approval numbers, Gallup explains, President Obama’s numbers have not followed that pattern: “a majority of Americans still thought world leaders respected Obama in 2010 and 2011, when his job approval was similar to what it is now.”

It would be difficult to locate one specific foreign-policy failure that would cause such a drop in ratings precisely because there are so many to choose from. It’s both the quality and the quantity of Obama’s foreign-policy miscues at fault here. To list them actually seems almost cruel. (But necessary.) It’s obvious why events in Syria, Ukraine, Russia, China, Egypt, and similar states would give the impression Obama isn’t respected abroad. But more interesting is the fact that while Obama stands by watching the flames of conflict spread and his “red lines” get tap danced across, the administration is also furiously conducting negotiations on major conflicts like Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Are respondents in the poll who think the world doesn’t respect Obama ignoring the high-level diplomacy being conducted by Secretary of State John Kerry? Or is it possible that the way those negotiations are taking shape only reinforces the narrative of a disrespected president? Consider: the Iranians got a very favorable deal and have since regularly and loudly mocked the idea that the agreement with the West requires any real sacrifice toward their nuclear-weapons program while the country has been reopened for business by the easing of sanctions.

And neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians seem all that patient with Kerry’s diplomacy there, which they consider a vanity project. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon caused quite a stir by dismissing Kerry as a blundering obsessive with a messiah complex. While certainly impolitic, over time it appeared to be not so much a gaffe as a calculated, if indecorous, risk. Last month I quoted Shmuel Rosner’s explanation, which has plenty of logic: Yaalon “was a messenger that had to be sacrificed in order to send a clear message of dissent to the American mediator, a message that no polite disagreement behind closed doors can convey.”

It was, then, almost something of an intervention. This is the single most recognizable aspect of Kerry-as-diplomat: a man who will talk to everyone but listen to no one. The insult from Yaalon stung because it was true. It certainly didn’t help matters much when Susan Rice tweeted out her defense of Kerry that pleaded with others to stop making fun of Kerry and let him eat lunch at their table.

The episode was reminiscent of when Obama, anticipating criticism of letting Vice President Joe Biden handle important tasks, playfully warned “Nobody messes with Joe!” It was laughable, Rob Long commented at the time, “Because everybody messes with Joe.” He summed up the general attitude toward Biden’s oversight authority: “Biden couldn’t oversee a ham sandwich.”

Obama-era diplomacy ostensibly designed to increase respect for America abroad is having precisely the opposite effect. In fairness, however, there is much overlap between the world-on-fire conflicts and the administration’s negotiations. Syria is the prime example: a desire for a negotiated solution caused the administration to preempt its own military action in order to talk about getting rid of Syria’s chemical weapons. The Assad regime is, unsurprisingly, ignoring its responsibilities under the deal and letting the deadlines evaporate. While this is a case of America trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict, it’s clear that the Obama administration’s interlocutors think the president is a bit of a joke. A procession of empty threats will usually have that effect.

And the violence in Ukraine ended–or at least was greatly reduced–by a negotiating process that excluded the United States. The message is clear: productive diplomacy is conducted without the Obama administration. So it’s important to note that the impression of Obama as weak or not worth respecting abroad is not–as perhaps members of the administration might like to believe–a result of a lack of the use of force. It’s not solely about projecting strength; it’s also about projecting competence and trustworthiness. That the Obama White House doesn’t project any of the three helps explain his poll numbers abroad.

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The Myth of Israel’s Refusal to Make “Tough Decisions” for Peace

On the eve of the German government’s arrival in Israel, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has called on Israel to make the “difficult but necessary decisions” for the peace process to succeed. There is of course nothing particularly remarkable or unprecedented about Germany’s foreign minister having made these statements. Such phrases just so easily roll off of the tongues of statesmen trying to find something constructive sounding to say about a process that has proven to be anything but. However, these unthinking assertions are problematic, because they display an utter refusal to take account of the reality of the peace process as it actually exists.

Such vague talk of “difficult decisions” is easy, but precisely what tough decisions is it that Israel could make that these diplomats can honestly say would make an iota of difference to the current Palestinian attitude? This talk simply neglects to account for the present, and indeed longstanding, attitude of the Palestinian leadership. Last week Palestinian Authority head Abbas told Kerry formerly that he rejects Kerry’s current peace framework, while also having said that if no framework is agreed upon by the end of April, then the Palestinian side will exit negotiations. It should further be recalled that the only reason that the Palestinians are even at the negotiating table is because of the Obama administration’s bribery. In return for Abbas going through the motions of peace talks the U.S. government released large amounts of funding to the PA, held up on account of the Palestinians’ unilateral activities at the UN, while Israel was pressured into releasing several rounds of convicted terrorists for the pleasure of the Palestinians’ company at the negotiating table.

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On the eve of the German government’s arrival in Israel, Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has called on Israel to make the “difficult but necessary decisions” for the peace process to succeed. There is of course nothing particularly remarkable or unprecedented about Germany’s foreign minister having made these statements. Such phrases just so easily roll off of the tongues of statesmen trying to find something constructive sounding to say about a process that has proven to be anything but. However, these unthinking assertions are problematic, because they display an utter refusal to take account of the reality of the peace process as it actually exists.

Such vague talk of “difficult decisions” is easy, but precisely what tough decisions is it that Israel could make that these diplomats can honestly say would make an iota of difference to the current Palestinian attitude? This talk simply neglects to account for the present, and indeed longstanding, attitude of the Palestinian leadership. Last week Palestinian Authority head Abbas told Kerry formerly that he rejects Kerry’s current peace framework, while also having said that if no framework is agreed upon by the end of April, then the Palestinian side will exit negotiations. It should further be recalled that the only reason that the Palestinians are even at the negotiating table is because of the Obama administration’s bribery. In return for Abbas going through the motions of peace talks the U.S. government released large amounts of funding to the PA, held up on account of the Palestinians’ unilateral activities at the UN, while Israel was pressured into releasing several rounds of convicted terrorists for the pleasure of the Palestinians’ company at the negotiating table.

Then there is the matter of Abbas’s ever-changing and fluid list of demands, red lines, and negotiating positions, with the goal posts continuously on the move. Yet, as much as it is possible to pin down precisely what the Palestinian position is, it appears to be completely at odds with what any reasonable person would expect a final agreement to look like. The Palestinians have refused to even consider recognizing the Jewish state, demanded the release of all Palestinian prisoners in a final deal, and Abbas has additionally said he will not give up the claims of the descendants of Palestinian refugees to move to the Jewish state rather than the Palestinian one. And such positions also have to be considered alongside the PA’s continuous use of its media network and school system to stir up incitement against Jews and the very existence of Israel. 

There is also Abbas’s rediscovered aversion to mutually agreed-upon land swaps. In previous talks it appeared to be accepted that Israel would annex the major Israeli population centers in the West Bank, but that the Palestinians would be fully compensated with an equal amount of Israeli territory in return. Now, in response to Kerry’s framework, noises have once again resumed from the Palestinian Authority suggesting that it would only be willing to accept land swaps on a far more limited basis than previously understood. In this way the PA is now blocking what had appeared to be one of the primary avenues for overcoming a major impasse within negotiations.    

The relentless calls for Israel to take difficult decisions for peace not only neglect to account for the attitude of the Palestinian side but also of the extensive concessions already offered by the Israelis. Both under Ehud Barak during the Camp David talks in 2000 and certainly under Ehud Olmert in 2008, Israel’s offers for peace went just about as far as possible without Israel either ceasing to exist as a Jewish state or rendering its remaining territory indefensible. Similarly, the current Israeli negotiating position does not appear to be measurably different from that of Barak or Olmert’s. Certainly, if Prime Minister Netanyahu’s negotiating stance was falling significantly short of previous offers then his dovish chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, who served in the Olmert government and remains a political rival to Netanyahu, would doubtless call him out on this. Israel is once again offering as much as it can without ceasing to survive as Israel. But then this is the crux of the matter. It really looks as if it may just be the case that no offer that leaves the Jewish state in existence will be acceptable to Palestinians.

As ever, Israelis still have no shortage of difficult decisions to make. Yet with no serious partner for peace and with unilateral withdrawal in Gaza and Lebanon having proved strategically disastrous, Israel’s most pressing decisions do not currently concern the Palestinians. Foremost among Israel’s concerns right now must be the unparalleled threat of the Iranian nuclear program.

In her weekly video address German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that she would be pressing Netanyahu on the peace process. One wonders what she will find to press him on; that he give up on the demand for defensible borders? Give up on the demand not to be ended as a Jewish state by a flood of Palestinians claiming refugee status? Give up on the demand that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state as part of concluding their conflict? There’s nothing left for Israel to concede on. The game is up for Western leaders who only wish to talk of Israel’s “difficult decisions for peace.”

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The Rising Cost of Kerry’s Peace Charade

Listening to Palestinian officials bemoan the condition of the peace process can be disorienting, given that that they are the ones who have played no small part in sabotaging that very same process. Ahead of Secretary of State Kerry’s meeting with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, an unnamed PA official has been warning that the peace talks are in “real crisis.” The two are due to meet in Paris today, but to suggest that the negotiations are in crisis now would be to falsely imply that they were in a happier state at some previous point.

If they have taken on a particularly unpromising appearance in recent weeks it is because Abbas keeps issuing lists of demands so outlandish as to threaten the entire proceedings, which is precisely what such demands are intended to do. Ironically, despite this, Kerry is seeking a way to have the negotiation period extended for up to another year.

All of this, however, creates a serious headache for Israel. Since the Palestinians are currently saying that they will not remain at the negotiating table unless a framework is agreed upon by the end of April—while themselves saying that they reject Kerry’s current framework—it is likely that Israel will come under further pressure to concede still more. The Israeli press is reporting that as part of the framework the State Department is to request that Israel implement a partial settlement freeze on those Israeli communities in isolated parts of the West Bank.

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Listening to Palestinian officials bemoan the condition of the peace process can be disorienting, given that that they are the ones who have played no small part in sabotaging that very same process. Ahead of Secretary of State Kerry’s meeting with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, an unnamed PA official has been warning that the peace talks are in “real crisis.” The two are due to meet in Paris today, but to suggest that the negotiations are in crisis now would be to falsely imply that they were in a happier state at some previous point.

If they have taken on a particularly unpromising appearance in recent weeks it is because Abbas keeps issuing lists of demands so outlandish as to threaten the entire proceedings, which is precisely what such demands are intended to do. Ironically, despite this, Kerry is seeking a way to have the negotiation period extended for up to another year.

All of this, however, creates a serious headache for Israel. Since the Palestinians are currently saying that they will not remain at the negotiating table unless a framework is agreed upon by the end of April—while themselves saying that they reject Kerry’s current framework—it is likely that Israel will come under further pressure to concede still more. The Israeli press is reporting that as part of the framework the State Department is to request that Israel implement a partial settlement freeze on those Israeli communities in isolated parts of the West Bank.

Some might argue that this demand is not a particularly unreasonable one, although the families living in the communities in question can hardly be expected to see it this way. Yet, this is beside the point. The point is that yet again, the Obama administration is moving to pressure Israel to make real concessions in return for nothing more than the Palestinians continuing to maintain the veneer of participating in the charade of negotiations. And as has now been pointed out by so many, one of the primary beneficiaries of keeping up appearances on the peace front is Kerry himself.

This has become a recurring theme under this administration’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. In what has become a cyclical and self-perpetuating pattern, Israel is pressured by America into making real and difficult concessions in exchange for the Palestinians agreeing to participate in what only ever turn out to have been symbolic negotiations. These negotiations are inevitably restricted to a limited time frame; by the time each round comes to a close Abbas has spent the political capital he managed to extract from the previous Israeli concessions and begins to demand further concessions if he is to keep going through the motions of the peace process.

We saw how in 2009 Obama forced the Israelis to implement a nine-month settlement freeze just to get Abbas to the table. Then Abbas demanded that the freeze be extended to Jerusalem, and indeed it appeared that Israel unofficially capitulated to this too. Yet, only in the closing weeks of that nine-month period did Abbas finally arrive at the negotiating table, and by all accounts once there was only interested in talking about one thing: having the freeze and Israel’s concessions extended further. When it came to the current series of negotiations, this time around Israel refused to put life on hold for the half million of its citizens living over the green line. Instead it was compelled to release Palestinian terrorists, something which understandably caused the Israeli public great anguish, and surely cast doubt on Abbas’s credentials as a man of peace.

Now Abbas is once again threatening to walk. According to Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, hardly someone with a vested interest in derailing the peace process, the Palestinians have blocked all attempts at progress with a string of impossible demands. With Abbas having contributed nothing useful to the conversation, it seems that the State Department is now trying to bribe him into remaining in negotiations by pressuring Israel into making yet more concessions. As with their floundering negotiations with Iran, and indeed Syria, the administration is attempting to appease the unappeasable. Unwilling to take the tough actions necessary to achieve concrete end results, all that Kerry can do is keep up the façade of a process. There is something almost Buddhist in all this; the journey has become the destination. But all the while, it’s America’s allies that are paying an ever-higher price for this administration’s indulgences. 

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Palestinians Confirm: It’s a “No”

Few seemed to be listening earlier this week when the Palestinian Authority released a list of red lines that in practice meant an outright rejection of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace framework. Prior to this, noises were coming from PA officials suggesting that they are not happy with Kerry’s efforts or enthusiastic about his proposals. But, in contrast to when figures in the Israeli government express skepticism about the negotiations, remarkably few seemed to be willing to hear any of this from the Palestinians. The Washington Post and The Times of Israel both recounted that Abbas had indeed released new red lines. But there was little sense given that these red lines were effectively driving a stake through the heart of any viable framework agreement. The State Department released no official statement, and even the Israelis apparently decided they weren’t dignifying Abbas’s outlandish demands with a public response.

So now the Palestinians are turning up the volume on their rejectionism, perhaps in the hope that someone will acknowledge that they are serious about what they are saying. The PA has officially informed Kerry that they will not accept his framework in its present form. This itself is confusing since Kerry has not yet released a full framework, merely the vaguest of outlines of one, and less than ten days ago the State Department’s spokespeople were denying that such a framework even existed.

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Few seemed to be listening earlier this week when the Palestinian Authority released a list of red lines that in practice meant an outright rejection of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace framework. Prior to this, noises were coming from PA officials suggesting that they are not happy with Kerry’s efforts or enthusiastic about his proposals. But, in contrast to when figures in the Israeli government express skepticism about the negotiations, remarkably few seemed to be willing to hear any of this from the Palestinians. The Washington Post and The Times of Israel both recounted that Abbas had indeed released new red lines. But there was little sense given that these red lines were effectively driving a stake through the heart of any viable framework agreement. The State Department released no official statement, and even the Israelis apparently decided they weren’t dignifying Abbas’s outlandish demands with a public response.

So now the Palestinians are turning up the volume on their rejectionism, perhaps in the hope that someone will acknowledge that they are serious about what they are saying. The PA has officially informed Kerry that they will not accept his framework in its present form. This itself is confusing since Kerry has not yet released a full framework, merely the vaguest of outlines of one, and less than ten days ago the State Department’s spokespeople were denying that such a framework even existed.

As part of this concerted rejectionist push, one senior PA administrator even stressed, “We said ‘No’ to him in the past, and we will say it again in the future.” What is still more remarkable about all this is that it doesn’t simply concern the content of any agreement, but the very principle of the PA even participating in an agreement. According to the Times of Israel, all of the officials that spoke to them claimed that the PA could not reach an agreement because it does not have legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian public for taking such a move. They’re not wrong. Abbas is now ten years into his four-year electoral term as president. In the past Abbas has used the end of the Israeli prime minister’s term to walk away from an agreement, as he did with Ehud Olmert in 2008. Now it seems that the Palestinian Authority may use its own lack of legitimacy to flee peace talks.

The Palestinians may be aware that issuing an outright “no” to having any agreement with Israel ever would not play out well for their international standing. A “no” has to be delivered in such a way that it can at least be framed as merely a rejection of specific proposals. But by making every single proposal a red line it is clear that the Palestinians are in effect saying “no” to the whole thing. And if they are serious about pushing this line that they don’t have the authority to make an agreement with Israel, then they are essentially ruling out the very possibility of agreeing to anything. Presumably the only thing that would change this status would be new Palestinian elections–and there’s no sign of these coming anytime soon.

Whether the U.S. administration or the international community wish to acknowledge it, the Palestinians are saying loudly and clearly “no.” At some point policy will have to be adjusted to recognize this reality. 

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Is Geneva the Ghost of Negotiations Future?

Though Secretary of State John Kerry probably won’t heed the warnings, the disastrous Syrian peace negotiations are providing the service of at least demonstrating where the West’s current style of negotiating with rogue regimes leads. The talks are falling apart, as the New York Times reports today. But the process by which they are doing so has been nonetheless illuminating.

The Syrian peace track took a turn in September after the Obama administration began making the case for striking targets in Syria aligned with Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime. Kerry was asked how strikes could be avoided, and, seemingly caught off-guard, said Assad “could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.”

Critics of the Syria deal initially said it would be used by Russia and Assad as a delaying tactic. The Obama administration didn’t much care, because the cause of getting rid of Syria’s chemical weapons was deemed worth the time needed to accomplish it. But whatever the desirability of the goal here, the current form of the Syria peace process followed a familiar outline: it began with a delay considered reasonable, but soon expanded into various other demands to buy time. As the Times reports:

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Though Secretary of State John Kerry probably won’t heed the warnings, the disastrous Syrian peace negotiations are providing the service of at least demonstrating where the West’s current style of negotiating with rogue regimes leads. The talks are falling apart, as the New York Times reports today. But the process by which they are doing so has been nonetheless illuminating.

The Syrian peace track took a turn in September after the Obama administration began making the case for striking targets in Syria aligned with Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime. Kerry was asked how strikes could be avoided, and, seemingly caught off-guard, said Assad “could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.”

Critics of the Syria deal initially said it would be used by Russia and Assad as a delaying tactic. The Obama administration didn’t much care, because the cause of getting rid of Syria’s chemical weapons was deemed worth the time needed to accomplish it. But whatever the desirability of the goal here, the current form of the Syria peace process followed a familiar outline: it began with a delay considered reasonable, but soon expanded into various other demands to buy time. As the Times reports:

Russian officials accused the Syrian opposition’s Western backers on Friday of focusing solely on “regime change” and said the government would discuss political transition only if its opponents agreed on a joint fight against terrorism.

The declarations — unlikely to produce compromise because the government tends to define all its armed opponents, including those backed by the opposition delegation here, as terrorists — added to the state of suspense at peace talks that so far have produced no progress. The negotiations this week were the second round, and there is now uncertainty over whether there will be a third.

The statements came a day after a meeting of Russian, American and United Nations officials failed to produce a consensus on how to unblock the talks and push the parties toward substantive negotiations.

Theoretically, the drive to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons does not have to be linked in any way with the Geneva talks. But it’s undeniable that the chemical-weapons deal has altered the landscape of this particular peace process. Assad is in a stronger position by having elevated his Russian backers in the conflict and by his required cooperation–and therefore, effectively, his regime’s protection–with the West.

He is also more able to make demands, because the threat of force against his regime has been taken off the table for now. The West would be conducting these negotiations with or without the chemical-weapons deal, but the chemical-weapons deal has removed the most effective enforcement mechanism. Assad can play for time, and in fact the Times report shows him to be no longer even feigning interest in the process:

Mr. Brahimi, they said, complained that the Syrian delegation had refused to even touch, let alone read, a 24-point plan presented by the opposition on Wednesday on how to structure a political transition for Syria. Instead, they said, the government delegates left the paper on the table and walked away.

The opposition delegates have agreed to a compromise agenda that would simultaneously address their top priority — the formation of a fully empowered transitional governing body “by mutual consent” — and that of the government, which is to end violence and terrorism in Syria.

But the government delegates have so far refused, and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, on Friday seemed to back them up, declaring that the opposition and its backers appeared solely focused on deposing President Bashar al-Assad.

Just as the chemical-weapons deal and the transition negotiations became inextricably linked by the precedent one set for the other, so the Obama administration may find that the Syrian conflict is not taking place in a vacuum. Kerry has two other peace processes on his plate at the moment: the nuclear deal with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Ostensibly, they are separate from each other and the Syrian track. But in practice it just isn’t the case. For example the Iranian government is involved, on some level or another, in all three. Syria is its patron and it is helping to prosecute the war by proxy. And its relationship with Palestinian terror groups enables it to cause trouble there as well.

Additionally, they are watching in Geneva just how far delaying tactics can be taken. Already there has been talk of extending the deadlines for both the Iran talks and the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Ideally, Kerry would understand that Syria just may be the ghost of negotiations future. He seems determined, however, to find that out for himself the hard way.

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Abbas Shuts Down the Peace Process

Last week, Jonathan Tobin wrote here of how we were on the eve of a fourth Palestinian “no” to a peace agreement. It would appear that has now arrived, albeit slightly sooner than anyone had expected. Many observers assumed that once Secretary of State John Kerry got around to submitting his framework for a negotiated peace, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas would then set about finding an excuse for rejecting it. What few could have predicted was that Abbas would find a way to reject the proposal before it was even submitted. Yet, this is precisely the impressive feat that Abbas has now accomplished.

Earlier today, Abbas’s spokespeople in Ramallah announced the PA’s new set of red lines in any negotiated peace settlement. Each and every one of these red lines blows to pieces anything Kerry was about to propose, as it does to the prospects for an agreement between the two sides in general. These red lines which Abbas details in a letter being sent to the U.S. and the Quartet seamlessly preempts whatever Kerry was likely to outline in his own peace parameters. In this way Abbas artfully dodges a scenario in which the Israelis would agree to a peace plan and the Palestinians would come under pressure not to derail yet another effort to resolve the conflict.

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Last week, Jonathan Tobin wrote here of how we were on the eve of a fourth Palestinian “no” to a peace agreement. It would appear that has now arrived, albeit slightly sooner than anyone had expected. Many observers assumed that once Secretary of State John Kerry got around to submitting his framework for a negotiated peace, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas would then set about finding an excuse for rejecting it. What few could have predicted was that Abbas would find a way to reject the proposal before it was even submitted. Yet, this is precisely the impressive feat that Abbas has now accomplished.

Earlier today, Abbas’s spokespeople in Ramallah announced the PA’s new set of red lines in any negotiated peace settlement. Each and every one of these red lines blows to pieces anything Kerry was about to propose, as it does to the prospects for an agreement between the two sides in general. These red lines which Abbas details in a letter being sent to the U.S. and the Quartet seamlessly preempts whatever Kerry was likely to outline in his own peace parameters. In this way Abbas artfully dodges a scenario in which the Israelis would agree to a peace plan and the Palestinians would come under pressure not to derail yet another effort to resolve the conflict.

Abbas’s new red lines block just about every concession that the Israelis, and even the U.S., have requested. Abbas demands: a total Israeli withdrawal from all territories that went to Israel in 1967; that Israel complete that withdrawal within three to four years; that the Palestinians not be required to recognize the Jewish state; that east Jerusalem be specified as the capital of a Palestinian state; the release of all Palestinian prisoners; and resolving the refugee issue along the lines of UN General Assembly resolution 194, which in essence means sending those Palestinians claiming to be refugees, not to a Palestinian state, but to Israel, thus terminating the existence of the Jewish state Abbas refuses to recognize.

“Without these principles there can be no just and comprehensive peace in the region,” stated Abbas’s spokesman Abu Rudeineh. So it seems we can now bid farewell to Kerry’s rather shambolic efforts for reaching a negotiated peace, much of which have been marred by the trading of insults and accusations between the State Department and Israeli politicians, all the while with the EU standing on the sidelines, issuing threats about the repercussions for Israel should talks fail. In fact, earlier today EU parliamentary president Martin Shulz was in Israel’s Knesset lecturing Israelis (in German) on making “painful concessions for peace,” bemoaning the hardships he accused Israel of having inflicted on the Palestinians.  

Israel’s chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, recently suggested that on the matter of the Palestinians accepting the Jewish state we might be in for a surprise. As it turned out, we weren’t. No one will be surprised by this rejection from the Palestinians, even if its early timing will have caught some a little off-guard. Even President Obama, who had been speaking of Kerry’s framework having a less than 50 percent likelihood of success, won’t be surprised when he receives Abbas’s letter. And Kerry, who was seeing all of this unfold close-up, surely won’t be able to claim to be surprised either.

As it was, the State Department was increasingly looking like it was about to try strong-arming the Israelis into accepting a framework, even on such unacceptable matters as a full Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan valley. Kerry was beginning to issue thinly veiled threats to the Israelis about what might become of Israel should it not find a way to appease Palestinian demands. There were also rumors that the State Department was trying to get the White House to back efforts to pressure the Israelis into accepting a deal even less to Israel’s liking than the one it originally seemed Kerry was about to come up with. Now, presumably, Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t have to worry about being asked to accept parameters that no Israeli leader could be expected to inflict on their people. Instead, Abbas has most likely deflected that whole unpleasant business.

What remains to be seen is how the EU, the State Department, J Street, the boycotters, the writers of Haaretz and the New York Times, and indeed Abbas himself will manage to pin this whole debacle on Israel and Netanyahu.    

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Liberals Ignore Palestinian Human Rights

Today’s New York Times featured a prominent news piece titled “In West Bank Settlements, Israeli Jobs Are Double-Edged Sword.” It engages in a good dose of disingenuous hand-wringing over its claim that employment for Palestinians, when provided by Israelis, is less a blessing and more a curse. This piece, and the outrageous attitude it propagates, warrants a full response of its own. But reflecting on this subject that the Times apparently deems so worthy of giving space to, it is difficult not to think of another story released yesterday, one that didn’t find its way into the pages of the Times. This concerns the single-edged sword–all curse no blessing–of Palestinian human-rights abuses against other Palestinians.  

Not of any concern to the mainstream media, it was left to Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh to draw attention to the release of a report by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) documenting human-rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank. It highlights how last month alone stacked up a disturbing, yet not unprecedented, count of abuses against Palestinians, by Palestinians. Given the great focus on Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to establish a Palestinian state, one might have thought that the Palestinian Authority’s record on governance would be of some considerable interest to commentators.

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Today’s New York Times featured a prominent news piece titled “In West Bank Settlements, Israeli Jobs Are Double-Edged Sword.” It engages in a good dose of disingenuous hand-wringing over its claim that employment for Palestinians, when provided by Israelis, is less a blessing and more a curse. This piece, and the outrageous attitude it propagates, warrants a full response of its own. But reflecting on this subject that the Times apparently deems so worthy of giving space to, it is difficult not to think of another story released yesterday, one that didn’t find its way into the pages of the Times. This concerns the single-edged sword–all curse no blessing–of Palestinian human-rights abuses against other Palestinians.  

Not of any concern to the mainstream media, it was left to Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh to draw attention to the release of a report by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) documenting human-rights abuses in Gaza and the West Bank. It highlights how last month alone stacked up a disturbing, yet not unprecedented, count of abuses against Palestinians, by Palestinians. Given the great focus on Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to establish a Palestinian state, one might have thought that the Palestinian Authority’s record on governance would be of some considerable interest to commentators.

Yet, the Times follows the script as provided in the good liberal’s handbook; human-rights abuses are only of any interest when committed by the West (which includes Israel). Far more interesting, from the liberal point of view, is attempting to spin economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians as oppression worthy of critical concern and lament. The notion that there might be any positive aspect to the Israeli presence in the West Bank is simply beyond unthinkable for liberal dogma.

In contrast to the employment opportunities that so offend the sensibilities of the Times, the latest ICHR report reveals a horrendous record, not only on the part of Hamas in Gaza, but also by the supposedly moderate Fatah-led Palestinian Authority that controls the West Bank and is the recipient of huge amounts of international aid. The report documents how in the course of the last month ten Palestinians died as a result of anarchy, lawlessness, and misuse of weapons, while disclosing that the ICHR received 56 complaints about torture and mistreatment in Palestinian prisons. During January there were 85 complaints regarding arbitrary arrests, with many being related to politically motivated charges. The PA police force in Ramallah employed excessive force to shut down protests on several occasions; in one instance 60-70 protesters were wounded when policemen attacked them with clubs and stun grenades, while in another case the police used live ammunition to disperse stone-throwers.

One has to hope that someone at the State Department is taking note of all of this. With Kerry having pushed impetuously for a negotiation framework that initially sought to reach an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state within just nine months, Kerry might want to ask precisely what kind of state it is he is attempting to help establish. Apparently, one with a total disregard for the rights and welfare of its own people. And if the PA is treating its own people in this way, what kind of treatment can we expect them to show toward their sworn enemies, the people of Israel? Nor should anyone forget that, given the amount of aid the U.S. provides the PA with annually, including some $500 million transferred to the Palestinians back in May, it’s not as if the administration has no leverage to try and prevent these kinds of activities.

It is, however, doubtful that anyone at the Times will pay much attention to this report, or the many others like it for that matter. They, apparently, are far too busy cataloguing the host of horrors that come with Palestinian employment in Israeli businesses to trouble themselves with such trifles as unlawful arrest and torture. 

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Washington’s Strange Silence on Iran

If you only got your news by following the statements put out by the Obama administration, you would currently be blithely unaware of the disturbing moves taken by Iran in recent days. That is because it would appear that the latest strategy of the Obama administration is to simply ignore those statements coming from the Iranians that they don’t wish to hear. Nuclear centrifuges can spin, ballistic missiles can be tested, bellicose speeches can be delivered by the Islamic Republic’s most senior figures–but if no one in the White House chooses to hear it, does it really make a sound? 

In the lead-up to Tehran’s no doubt charming celebrations marking the 35th anniversary of the country’s violent Islamic revolution, the regime’s warlike moves have been going into overdrive. As part of the festivities Iranian state television has aired simulated footage of its military bombarding Israel’s cities and attacking an American aircraft carrier. Senior military figures have spoken of dispatching warships to the North Atlantic and of their ability to strike the U.S. military. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has taunted America, expressing his amusement at the naivete of Americans for believing Iran would actually scale down its military. Indeed, they haven’t and Iran’s Defense Ministry has been celebrating the testing of new long-range ballistic missiles and laser guided surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missiles.

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If you only got your news by following the statements put out by the Obama administration, you would currently be blithely unaware of the disturbing moves taken by Iran in recent days. That is because it would appear that the latest strategy of the Obama administration is to simply ignore those statements coming from the Iranians that they don’t wish to hear. Nuclear centrifuges can spin, ballistic missiles can be tested, bellicose speeches can be delivered by the Islamic Republic’s most senior figures–but if no one in the White House chooses to hear it, does it really make a sound? 

In the lead-up to Tehran’s no doubt charming celebrations marking the 35th anniversary of the country’s violent Islamic revolution, the regime’s warlike moves have been going into overdrive. As part of the festivities Iranian state television has aired simulated footage of its military bombarding Israel’s cities and attacking an American aircraft carrier. Senior military figures have spoken of dispatching warships to the North Atlantic and of their ability to strike the U.S. military. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has taunted America, expressing his amusement at the naivete of Americans for believing Iran would actually scale down its military. Indeed, they haven’t and Iran’s Defense Ministry has been celebrating the testing of new long-range ballistic missiles and laser guided surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missiles.

And while Obama may have used his State of the Union address to showcase his achievements in holding back the Iranian nuclear program, yesterday Iran’s nuclear experts announced the unveiling of a new generation of centrifuges 15 times more powerful than the ones they currently have. This will allow them to resume uranium enrichment at 60 percent, somewhat higher than the less than 5 percent permitted under the U.S. brokered interim agreement.

How many emergency statements has the administration made in the face of these threats? How many press conferences called regarding Iran’s moves to breach the interim agreement? Cue tumbleweed. With the exception of some quotes that CNN managed to extract from the Pentagon, in which officials noted they were monitoring the ballistic missile tests and denied that there was evidence warships had been sailed into the North Atlantic, we have heard nothing from the U.S. government. Seemingly these matters are of little concern to the administration. On the one hand perhaps this speaks of a certain fatigue among the press who have grown tired of pursuing this matter in State Department press briefings. Yet it is also noteworthy that the administration has offered no statements of its own on these developments.

Given that National Security Advisor Susan Rice has a tendency to take to Twitter to slam Israeli ministers for unkind words about Secretary Kerry, one would have thought that she would also have no qualms about treating the Iranians to some of the same. Yet apparently the testing of ballistic missiles, Iran’s head of state calling the U.S. government liars, or the threat to sail warships up to American waters is of little interest to anyone in Washington.

But then, it is probably hardly surprising that the Obama administration isn’t exactly eager to highlight the fact that its Iran policy lies in tatters. The administration is in no rush to draw attention to the matter of Iran’s new centrifuges and thus confirm that the interim agreement they staked everything on was in fact never fit for purpose in the first place. Perhaps they are hoping that if they don’t make too much fuss about any of this then no one will notice. Or is the strategy now simply to ignore the Iranians and eventually they’ll shut up and go away? They won’t, of course. 

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Iranian Poet Hanged

Iranian authorities have reportedly hanged Hashem Shaabani, a poet which the regime has accused of being “an enemy of God.” His execution should do more than anything else to provide an opportunity for Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power to embrace moral clarity, for it does more than anything to show the undeniable cruelty of the Islamic Republic and its murderous ideology.

There is a tendency in the State Department—the administration does not matter—to repress discussion of human rights out of fear that to discuss them will risk progress on harder national-security issues like the nuclear deal or terrorism. This is a mistake: If the Iranian commitment to come in from the cold is so shaky that it can’t deal with rightful criticism of its treatment of political prisoners and internal dissidents, then the deal is so fragile as to be not worth relying upon.

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Iranian authorities have reportedly hanged Hashem Shaabani, a poet which the regime has accused of being “an enemy of God.” His execution should do more than anything else to provide an opportunity for Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power to embrace moral clarity, for it does more than anything to show the undeniable cruelty of the Islamic Republic and its murderous ideology.

There is a tendency in the State Department—the administration does not matter—to repress discussion of human rights out of fear that to discuss them will risk progress on harder national-security issues like the nuclear deal or terrorism. This is a mistake: If the Iranian commitment to come in from the cold is so shaky that it can’t deal with rightful criticism of its treatment of political prisoners and internal dissidents, then the deal is so fragile as to be not worth relying upon.

At the same time, the incident reminds how insincere European leaders and diplomats are when they promise critical engagement. It has now been 21 years since German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel unveiled Germany’s “critical engagement.” The idea was to talk with the Iranians, but put critical issues such as human rights at the center of dialogue. However, once European diplomats sit down at the table—and Kerry models himself after his European counterparts—the ‘critical’ aspect of the dialogue goes out the window. Make no mistake, Tehran, Damascus, and other rogue states know this. They understand that they can break their isolation, revive their economy, and not only continue business as usual, but actually augment internal terror because American and European officials will be so scared of insulting their partners, that they will simply accept whatever outrage rogue regimes dish up.

Shaabani is the latest victim of this pattern. Unless Kerry and his European counterparts are willing to speak up forcefully and demand such outrages cease, Shaabani will not be the last victim. If Kerry is convinced that Iran really is changing, he should not be afraid to stand on principle. If the character of the regime hasn’t changed, the United States should place no faith it Iran’s commitment to abide by its nuclear deal.

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Pivot on the Rocks

Max’s questions about why John Kerry is paying far less attention to helping tamp down the tension in Asia are echoed throughout the region. On Thursday, Kerry is leaving for his fifth visit to Asia since taking office last year. The State Department claims this is proof of his commitment to the administration’s pivot. Yet the White House continues to believe that merely showing up is 90 percent of success. This Woody Allen approach has worn thin with countries looking at Washington’s continuing refusal to confront China head-on over its increasingly coercive behavior. Nor were our partners in Asia appeased by once-regular statements that D.C. budget battles would not reduce the American presence in the Pacific.

Now they read comments by the commander of Pacific Air Forces, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, that “resources have not followed the … rebalance.” They see that U.S. Pacific Command has cut back on travel throughout the region and joint exercises, and that the U.S. Navy is planning on dropping down to just two carriers deployed globally. Far better than most in Washington, our friends and allies in Asia understand the immense distances separating the U.S. homeland from the areas in which it has rather daunting commitments.

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Max’s questions about why John Kerry is paying far less attention to helping tamp down the tension in Asia are echoed throughout the region. On Thursday, Kerry is leaving for his fifth visit to Asia since taking office last year. The State Department claims this is proof of his commitment to the administration’s pivot. Yet the White House continues to believe that merely showing up is 90 percent of success. This Woody Allen approach has worn thin with countries looking at Washington’s continuing refusal to confront China head-on over its increasingly coercive behavior. Nor were our partners in Asia appeased by once-regular statements that D.C. budget battles would not reduce the American presence in the Pacific.

Now they read comments by the commander of Pacific Air Forces, Gen. Hawk Carlisle, that “resources have not followed the … rebalance.” They see that U.S. Pacific Command has cut back on travel throughout the region and joint exercises, and that the U.S. Navy is planning on dropping down to just two carriers deployed globally. Far better than most in Washington, our friends and allies in Asia understand the immense distances separating the U.S. homeland from the areas in which it has rather daunting commitments.

The problem the administration faces is that Kerry, and President Obama for that matter, come to Asia bearing no gifts. There was a brief flurry a few years ago, after the announcement that we would rotate U.S. Marines through Darwin, Australia as well as a few other minor adjustments. All these were good moves, but they certainly did not add up to a major shift in American resources. Worse, the administration never explained just what the pivot was for: containing China, promoting democracy, forging a regional coalition of the willing?

Now, Washington is getting worried enough about the heated rhetoric in the region that it is telling our allies Japan and the Philippines to cool it and not provoke China over the territorial disputes each has with Beijing. The problem, of course, is that both Tokyo and Manila have been urging Washington for years to get more involved. They see little evidence that the Obama team is willing to stand up to China, except for more rhetoric, like that of NSC Asia head Evan Medieros last week, in which he said that another Chinese air defense identification zone would result in a change in U.S. posture in Asia. Such bravado is increasingly discounted, if not dismissed, in Asia.

The ultimate answer may well be the one the Asians already believe: the administration is afraid of provoking China and does not feel that the risks of countering Beijing’s moves are worth it. To me, the most interesting question is whether they are acting in this way because they feel militarily superior (and thus can give the Chinese space to “act out”), or because fear that they are not strong enough in depth in Asia to risk a clash that they could not control with our stretched forces. Either one is sending a signal to our allies and other nations that they increasingly are on their own.

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A Good Time for that “Pacific Pivot”

I was struck by Michael Auslin’s item regarding the possibility of war breaking out between China and Japan–something that has been much discussed in recent weeks and that is no longer so unthinkable with nationalist politicians in power in both Beijing and Tokyo. Japan’s prime minister has compared the current situation to 1914 with Japan in the role of Britain and China that of Wilhelmine Germany. The president of the Philippines has cited a historical comparison of his own–to the 1930s with China in the role of Nazi Germany and his own country cast as Czechoslovakia, ripe for dismemberment.

Whatever one thinks of these historical analogies, there is no doubt that China is going on the offensive, using aggressive nationalism as a ruling ideology to replace defunct Communist dogma, and Japan is less and less inclined to be pushed around by its bigger neighbor: a potentially explosive combination.

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I was struck by Michael Auslin’s item regarding the possibility of war breaking out between China and Japan–something that has been much discussed in recent weeks and that is no longer so unthinkable with nationalist politicians in power in both Beijing and Tokyo. Japan’s prime minister has compared the current situation to 1914 with Japan in the role of Britain and China that of Wilhelmine Germany. The president of the Philippines has cited a historical comparison of his own–to the 1930s with China in the role of Nazi Germany and his own country cast as Czechoslovakia, ripe for dismemberment.

Whatever one thinks of these historical analogies, there is no doubt that China is going on the offensive, using aggressive nationalism as a ruling ideology to replace defunct Communist dogma, and Japan is less and less inclined to be pushed around by its bigger neighbor: a potentially explosive combination.

And yet where does Secretary of State John Kerry choose to devote his time? He has made clear that his primary objective is to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace, which seems to be as unlikely as ever. His secondary objectives seem to be focused on Iran and Syria, both important areas to be sure. But the Syria conflict, for one, does not appear to be amenable to diplomatic solution, as the failure of Geneva II should have made clear. The prospects are, admittedly, more promising in the case of Iran but only if the U.S. is willing to accept a lopsided deal that lifts a significant amount of the sanctions in return for a commitment to slow but not stop, much less dismantle, its nuclear program.

This leads one to wonder why Kerry isn’t devoting more time to Asian diplomacy? The explosive situation between China and Japan is hardly the only area of tension that cries out for amelioration. As the comments from Benigno Aquino of the Philippines quoted above make clear, China has dangerous relations with many of its neighbors who are offended by its expansive territorial claims.

Two U.S. allies–South Korea and Japan–also have poisonous relations that hinder efforts to contain both China and North Korea and could also be the subject of productive bridge-building work by an American secretary of state.

Finally, India remains a wild card in all of this–a major country on the other side of China that could be of crucial importance in containing the rise of Chinese power, playing the same role that Russia played in containing Germany in the two world wars. President George W. Bush made real progress in improving U.S.-India ties but more needs to be done, not only to bring the U.S. and India closer together but also to improve ties between India and other U.S. allies in the Asia Pacific region, from Australia to Japan.

There is, in short, ample work to be done here by a leading American diplomat and more potential for progress than in the Middle East. Yet Kerry is largely MIA in this crucial region. Whatever happened to the “Pacific pivot”?

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Iranian Rhetoric Isn’t Just Bluster

The Iranian Navy’s dispatch of ships into the Atlantic surprised both American journalists and diplomats. It should not have, for Iranian officials have long telegraphed their desire to expand Iran’s naval outreach. Back in 2011, Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the Iranian Navy, declared it to be Iran’s intention to establish a presence in the Atlantic Ocean near the territorial waters of the United States.

When it comes to the Obama administration’s current diplomacy with Tehran, it is important to focus more on Iranian actions than the promises of its diplomats. When it comes to the supreme leader, the Iranian military, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, however, rhetoric is important because, all too often, they have shown their determination to put into action plans announced regarding future developments of the Iranian military and Iranian power projection. Official statements, for example, about talk of launching aircraft carriers might seem silly and unrealistic, but that depends on the meaning of aircraft carrier: Shortly thereafter, the U.S. navy began seeing Iranian boats launching Iran’s indigenous drones.

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The Iranian Navy’s dispatch of ships into the Atlantic surprised both American journalists and diplomats. It should not have, for Iranian officials have long telegraphed their desire to expand Iran’s naval outreach. Back in 2011, Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the Iranian Navy, declared it to be Iran’s intention to establish a presence in the Atlantic Ocean near the territorial waters of the United States.

When it comes to the Obama administration’s current diplomacy with Tehran, it is important to focus more on Iranian actions than the promises of its diplomats. When it comes to the supreme leader, the Iranian military, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, however, rhetoric is important because, all too often, they have shown their determination to put into action plans announced regarding future developments of the Iranian military and Iranian power projection. Official statements, for example, about talk of launching aircraft carriers might seem silly and unrealistic, but that depends on the meaning of aircraft carrier: Shortly thereafter, the U.S. navy began seeing Iranian boats launching Iran’s indigenous drones.

Likewise, Iranian authorities have pursued intercontinental ballistic missile capability through their satellite launching program. Given the fact that Iranian authorities at least try to fulfill their military rhetoric, the number of Iranian officials who have spoken about the need to achieve a nuclear-weapons capability if not nuclear weapons themselves should concern the White House. Alas, it seems that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s desire for a deal has trumped the caution which normally accompanies such high-profile outreach.

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Kerry’s Motives Are Beside the Point

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a point when he chided those Israelis—especially some of his Cabinet colleagues—who have been attacking U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Though he has a well-earned reputation as the political equivalent of a bull in a china shop, Lieberman played the diplomat to help calm a growing dispute after the Obama administration took umbrage when Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and then Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett tore into Kerry for his “obsessive” pursuit of a deal with the Palestinians and his warning that the Jewish state would be boycotted if his quest failed. Lieberman vouched for Kerry’s bona fides as “a true friend of Israel” and even praised the secretary for behaving appropriately in seeking to create a framework of principles on which the parties could negotiate.

What is Lieberman—who is every bit as right-wing on settlements and security as either Yaalon or Bennett—up to? First, there’s Lieberman’s desire to be viewed as a credible successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than just an ideologue. He also relished the chance to take a swipe at Bennett (another would-be Netanyahu successor) and to mock him for the fact that his response to the peace process hasn’t caused him to abandon the governing coalition.

But there’s another important reason that Israelis shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to personalize the dispute with Kerry. Making the secretary’s personality or statements the issue is a distraction from the substance of the major differences between the U.S. and Israel. Reducing those differences to accusations of anti-Semitism undermines the arguments against Kerry’s positions since it turns him into a victim. The greater problem with John Kerry’s policies is not that his intentions are evil; it’s that the process he advocates—and the threats he’s made to America’s only democratic ally in the region—and which he’s determined to pursue regardless of the obstacles or his dim chances of success is setting into motion a series of events that are deeply damaging to Israel. If Israel is to minimize the harm he’s doing while also maintain its alliance with the United States, the wisest course is to keep this from becoming a personal quarrel.

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Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a point when he chided those Israelis—especially some of his Cabinet colleagues—who have been attacking U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Though he has a well-earned reputation as the political equivalent of a bull in a china shop, Lieberman played the diplomat to help calm a growing dispute after the Obama administration took umbrage when Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and then Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett tore into Kerry for his “obsessive” pursuit of a deal with the Palestinians and his warning that the Jewish state would be boycotted if his quest failed. Lieberman vouched for Kerry’s bona fides as “a true friend of Israel” and even praised the secretary for behaving appropriately in seeking to create a framework of principles on which the parties could negotiate.

What is Lieberman—who is every bit as right-wing on settlements and security as either Yaalon or Bennett—up to? First, there’s Lieberman’s desire to be viewed as a credible successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than just an ideologue. He also relished the chance to take a swipe at Bennett (another would-be Netanyahu successor) and to mock him for the fact that his response to the peace process hasn’t caused him to abandon the governing coalition.

But there’s another important reason that Israelis shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to personalize the dispute with Kerry. Making the secretary’s personality or statements the issue is a distraction from the substance of the major differences between the U.S. and Israel. Reducing those differences to accusations of anti-Semitism undermines the arguments against Kerry’s positions since it turns him into a victim. The greater problem with John Kerry’s policies is not that his intentions are evil; it’s that the process he advocates—and the threats he’s made to America’s only democratic ally in the region—and which he’s determined to pursue regardless of the obstacles or his dim chances of success is setting into motion a series of events that are deeply damaging to Israel. If Israel is to minimize the harm he’s doing while also maintain its alliance with the United States, the wisest course is to keep this from becoming a personal quarrel.

Many Israelis and their friends abroad tend to treat all American advocacy for land-for-peace deals, concessions to the Palestinians, or opposition to settlements as prima facie evidence of hatred for Israel. Some of those who do take those positions are, in fact, hostile to Israel. Yet many of those who believe it is in Israel’s interest to divest itself of the West Bank do so in good faith. Like some Israelis, they believe the country must be saved from itself. When stands such as theirs are expressed in terms as if they’re unquestionably right and therefore should override the views of those elected by the Israeli people to run their own government, it is highly offensive. But it is not the same as being a supporter of boycotts of Israel or an opponent of the existence of the state.

What Kerry has done and said in the last six months provides ample of evidence for those who think he’s no friend to Israel. His evident indifference to the violence of Palestinian incitement and to the spectacle of terrorist murderers being freed by Israel at his behest being embraced as heroes by the Palestinian Authority was deeply offensive. The same could be said of his recent rationalization, if not endorsement, of those seeking to boycott Israel when he said such efforts would succeed if his peace treaty weren’t signed by the Israelis. After such statements, it’s clear that Kerry’s affection for Israel seems dependent on Israeli obedience to him rather than on the common values that bind the U.S. and the Jewish state.

But making Kerry’s personality or any implied animus on his part the issue does little to help Israel navigate this crisis.

Fortunately, Lieberman, like the prime minister, has understood that Israel’s government does better by keeping as close as it can to the Obama administration. That’s why they have apparently decided to make to the Palestinians what amounts to a fourth offer of an independent state that would include 90 percent of the West Bank and are even willing to accept a framework of principles that would allow the negotiations Kerry is sponsoring to continue beyond the original nine-month period originally envisioned. Netanyahu and Lieberman are, as I wrote earlier this week, clearly betting on a Palestinian rejection of their peace offer. Though this won’t convince Israel’s foes and critics to change their minds, Netanyahu and Lieberman are correct in believing that as long as the Obama administration and Kerry know that they weren’t the ones to say no, they will be able both to preserve Israel’s security and its alliance with the United States.

The success of this gambit depends not so much on the Palestinians playing their familiar rejectionist role in this drama but on Kerry’s psychological makeup. The hope is that, like Bill Clinton, who never forgave Yasir Arafat for rejecting peace at Camp David in 2000 thus denying him a Nobel Peace Prize, Kerry will have no choice but to feel the same after he fails. It is a matter of opinion whether Kerry is as good a friend of Israel as Lieberman says. But the odds that he will react rationally after the ultimate and inevitable failure of his mission won’t be hurt by Israel’s senior leaders behaving as if his motives are as untainted as they would like them to be.

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On the Eve of the Fourth Palestinian “No”

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to orchestrate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has breathed new life into old arguments about West Bank settlements and the need for Israel to take risks for peace. Kerry’s clear advice to the Israelis that they must give the Palestinians what they want or find themselves boycotted and isolated is widely accepted as conventional wisdom by the foreign-policy establishment. The movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel assumes Israel’s foes will ultimately win because in the absence of peace, frustration about failed negotiations will cause the Jewish state to be portrayed as the new South Africa, a crumbling nation that will be brought to its knees by economic warfare.

Israel’s enemies have always underestimated its resiliency and this time is no exception. But the problem with many of the discussions about such boycotts is that they invariably ignore some basic facts about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. If, in fact, Israel is willing to give up almost all of the West Bank and allow the Palestinians their independence, that renders moot Kerry’s condescending advice echoed by his supporters in the media. The majority of Israelis are rightly concerned about the consequences of a West Bank withdrawal and the very real possibility that the Hamas terror state in Gaza will be replicated in any other land that the Jewish state surrenders.

But the key question that those, like Kerry, who are urging the Netanyahu government to do just that is not about the merits of a pact that would make the Jewish state more vulnerable. Rather, it is about what Kerry and his minions will do after the Palestinians once again say, “no.” After all, they’ve already done it three times. And, if news reports are correct, they may be on the verge of a fourth rejection of American-imposed terms in the wake of Israel putting an offer of 90 percent of the West Bank while being compensated for the remaining ten percent with land swaps inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, or other exchanges.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to orchestrate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has breathed new life into old arguments about West Bank settlements and the need for Israel to take risks for peace. Kerry’s clear advice to the Israelis that they must give the Palestinians what they want or find themselves boycotted and isolated is widely accepted as conventional wisdom by the foreign-policy establishment. The movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel assumes Israel’s foes will ultimately win because in the absence of peace, frustration about failed negotiations will cause the Jewish state to be portrayed as the new South Africa, a crumbling nation that will be brought to its knees by economic warfare.

Israel’s enemies have always underestimated its resiliency and this time is no exception. But the problem with many of the discussions about such boycotts is that they invariably ignore some basic facts about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. If, in fact, Israel is willing to give up almost all of the West Bank and allow the Palestinians their independence, that renders moot Kerry’s condescending advice echoed by his supporters in the media. The majority of Israelis are rightly concerned about the consequences of a West Bank withdrawal and the very real possibility that the Hamas terror state in Gaza will be replicated in any other land that the Jewish state surrenders.

But the key question that those, like Kerry, who are urging the Netanyahu government to do just that is not about the merits of a pact that would make the Jewish state more vulnerable. Rather, it is about what Kerry and his minions will do after the Palestinians once again say, “no.” After all, they’ve already done it three times. And, if news reports are correct, they may be on the verge of a fourth rejection of American-imposed terms in the wake of Israel putting an offer of 90 percent of the West Bank while being compensated for the remaining ten percent with land swaps inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, or other exchanges.

Though most in the news media treat this information as being only slightly more arcane than the details of the Peloponnesian Wars, the fact is, Israel has already offered the Palestinians an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem three times. And three times they refused to say yes to Israel. The first two refusals were straightforward “no’s” from Yasir Arafat in 2000 and 2001, who answered Ehud Barak’s peace offers with a terrorist war of attrition called the second intifada. The third time, Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas was so worried about being forced to say no again that he fled the U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel in 2008 as soon as the Israelis made their offer in order to avoid giving an answer at all.

If Abbas finds another reason to avoid accepting a generous deal that would give the Palestinians the independence they claim is their goal, it raises the question of how Israel’s critics will justify the BDS campaign that Kerry threatened the Jewish state’s punishment if an agreement is not reached. Will they dismiss Israel’s offers as insignificant or not worthy of an answer? Or will they claim the difference between 90 percent of the West Bank plus swaps and every inch of the territories that Israel won in a defensive war in 1967 is so significant that it justifies an economic war on the Jewish state, terrorism, or both?

The answer to those questions is yes to all. As was the case after 2000 and each time since then, apologists for the Palestinians will find a way to justify the indefensible and to rationalize the Palestinians’ inevitable resort to violence, in addition to international campaign bent on Israel’s delegitimization. But for the most part they will do what they have done since 2000 and merely ignore Israel’s offers of peace and consider the absence of an agreement as proof of the Jewish state’s sole responsibility for the continuation of the conflict.

The first time Israel sought to give the Palestinians the West Bank, Arafat’s answer confused the Israeli left-wing that staked its political life on the transaction. The government of Ehud Barak went to Camp David in the summer of 2000 determined to give the Palestinians an offer they couldn’t refuse. But when Arafat did refuse it, they hardly knew what to think. At a press event I covered in the fall of 2000, Shlomo Ben Ami, Israel’s foreign minister conveyed his shock at the way his effort to satisfy the Palestinian desire for independence had somehow led to yet another bloody conflict. Yet he said there was a silver lining to these tragic events since at least the world would now know which side wanted peace and which had chosen war. More than 13 years later, I still don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at his naive faith in international public opinion.

As we now know, rather than undermine the Palestinian narrative of victimization those events only increased international support for their position and criticism of Israel. That was repeated after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 when, again, an Israeli effort to make peace was repaid in blood as the evacuated territory was transformed into a launching pad for Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli civilians.

The prime obstacle to peace remains the Palestinian political culture that continues to view Israel’s existence as a crime and considers Tel Aviv, let alone the blocs of communities along the old border or in Jerusalem’s suburbs, to be as much of an “illegal settlement” as the most remote hilltop holdout of Jewish extremists in the West Bank. In the absence of a change in that culture that will allow Abbas to sign a peace treaty without a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state, there is little chance that the Netanyahu government’s offer of 90 percent of the West Bank will be accepted. Nor is a slightly more generous formula likely to do the trick. As they did in 2000, 2001, and 2008, the Palestinian leadership seems to be preparing their public for continued conflict rather than for an acceptance of an accord that would force them to give up their dream of Israel’s complete annihilation.

Rather than twisting Netanyahu’s arm to do what it his country has already tried to accomplish in the past—trade land for the non-credible promise of peace—Israel’s critics should be thinking about how they will react to the fourth Palestinian “no.” Unfortunately, the odds are that most will barely notice it when it  happens and will simply continue blaming Israel. Indeed, that’s exactly what the Palestinians—who know that’s what happened the first three times they rejected Israeli offers of peace—are counting on.

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The Administration’s Tangled Web on Jerusalem

The State Department has condemned plans by the Jerusalem municipality to issue building permits for 558 new homes in Jewish neighborhoods of the city. This reaction only highlights the administration’s confused and messy policy on Jerusalem, which has become a tangled web of inconsistencies, inaccuracies, double standards, and even outright hostility to Jewish rights in Jerusalem, or indeed such basic things as Israel’s right to enforce the law in its own capital.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said of the building plans, “Our position on Jerusalem is clear. We oppose any unilateral actions by either party that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem.” This of course is untrue, both in regards to the claim that the administration opposes equally moves by “either party” and in relation to the suggestion that these building plans somehow pertain to an attempt to “prejudge final status issues.”

First, it’s far from true that the State Department opposes unilateral moves by both sides. When it comes to claims in Jerusalem, they only condemn one side, the Jewish side. The municipality issues housing permits in east Jerusalem all the time, for both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Yet, it is only the permits for the Jewish neighborhoods that provoke any kind of reaction from the Obama administration. Furthermore, illegal Arab building is rife throughout many parts of Jerusalem. As in any municipality, the law must be upheld and construction without planning permission cannot go on unabated. Yet, in the past when the law has been enforced and illegal structures have been demolished, the State Department has protested Israel’s right to uphold the law. In this way the same State Department that claims to oppose unilateral actions by both sides has actively supported unilateral building by the Arab side, while opposing building homes for Jews–in Jerusalem.

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The State Department has condemned plans by the Jerusalem municipality to issue building permits for 558 new homes in Jewish neighborhoods of the city. This reaction only highlights the administration’s confused and messy policy on Jerusalem, which has become a tangled web of inconsistencies, inaccuracies, double standards, and even outright hostility to Jewish rights in Jerusalem, or indeed such basic things as Israel’s right to enforce the law in its own capital.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said of the building plans, “Our position on Jerusalem is clear. We oppose any unilateral actions by either party that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem.” This of course is untrue, both in regards to the claim that the administration opposes equally moves by “either party” and in relation to the suggestion that these building plans somehow pertain to an attempt to “prejudge final status issues.”

First, it’s far from true that the State Department opposes unilateral moves by both sides. When it comes to claims in Jerusalem, they only condemn one side, the Jewish side. The municipality issues housing permits in east Jerusalem all the time, for both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Yet, it is only the permits for the Jewish neighborhoods that provoke any kind of reaction from the Obama administration. Furthermore, illegal Arab building is rife throughout many parts of Jerusalem. As in any municipality, the law must be upheld and construction without planning permission cannot go on unabated. Yet, in the past when the law has been enforced and illegal structures have been demolished, the State Department has protested Israel’s right to uphold the law. In this way the same State Department that claims to oppose unilateral actions by both sides has actively supported unilateral building by the Arab side, while opposing building homes for Jews–in Jerusalem.

Second, the very notion that this is somehow about “prejudging final status issues” is absurd. All of the building permits are for housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods. This isn’t about placing new neighborhoods in otherwise Arab areas of Jerusalem. More importantly, the WikiLeaks documents revealed that in 2008 the Palestinians already accepted that the “final status” of these neighborhoods would be Israeli. Its not as if the people at the State Department aren’t aware of this, so why they would insist on picking a fight over this while supposedly trying to play the role of evenhanded mediator is no minor question.

Besides, even when the Israelis agreed to a ten-month building freeze for the last round of fruitless negotiations in 2009, that freeze was never supposed to extend to Jerusalem. This time around, rather than freeze building in West bank Jewish communities, Israel has been forced to release a cohort of terrorists just to get the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Now the U.S. government seems to be demanding a building freeze as well.

There is one other noteworthy point here about the final status of Jerusalem. Last week both John Kerry and Martin Indyk were treating everyone to a tantalizing sneak-peek of Kerry’s glittering proposals for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These, we were being told, were about to be put to the two parties for them to either accept or reject as part of Kerry’s negotiation deadline due in April. Then it became apparent that that the Palestinians really weren’t joking when they said they were never going to accept the Jewish state. (Who could have guessed?) Now Psaki is denying that these same proposals even exist. Speaking yesterday Psaki asserted “nobody knows what is in the framework (agreement), there is not a final framework.”

Anyway, in the framework that now never existed, we were told that the aspect relating to Jerusalem would be vague, but that the Palestinians were going to have part of Jerusalem for a capital, although by all accounts not enough of it for Abbas’s liking. So it seems that Kerry has been sent back to the drawing board to come up with something better on that. Meanwhile the State Department would appear to be trying to create a smokescreen and a distraction by condemning Israeli building in Israeli neighborhoods that even the Palestinians say will remain part of Israel.   

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Defending Kerry While Blaming Israel

White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice has hit back at Israel for criticism from government ministers concerning recent comments by Secretary of State John Kerry. In a succession of tweets sent last night, Rice was at pains to defend Kerry’s record, yet she also didn’t hold back when it came to putting Kerry’s Israeli critics in their place. In one tweet she asserted, “Personal attacks in Israel directed at Sec Kerry totally unfounded and unacceptable.” It might be tempting to read these statements as an attempt to manufacture another minor spat between the two countries–to put some daylight between the U.S. government and Israel, as some have argued was the strategy in the past. Yet, whether this is being done consciously or not, it creates a public perception so that, if and when negotiations fail, the Israeli government will be less able to direct the blame toward the Palestinians.

The alleged “personal attacks” in question focused on widespread criticism, certainly not restricted to the Israeli press or politicians, that came in response to the implicit threats that Kerry has voiced about anti-Israel boycotts. Speaking over the weekend, he had raised the possibility of an advancing boycott campaign against Israel in the event that the two sides fail to reach an agreement. In November of last year Kerry had made an even more extreme version of this implicit threat; talking about the prospect of talks failing, Kerry asked, “does Israel want a third intifada?”

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White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice has hit back at Israel for criticism from government ministers concerning recent comments by Secretary of State John Kerry. In a succession of tweets sent last night, Rice was at pains to defend Kerry’s record, yet she also didn’t hold back when it came to putting Kerry’s Israeli critics in their place. In one tweet she asserted, “Personal attacks in Israel directed at Sec Kerry totally unfounded and unacceptable.” It might be tempting to read these statements as an attempt to manufacture another minor spat between the two countries–to put some daylight between the U.S. government and Israel, as some have argued was the strategy in the past. Yet, whether this is being done consciously or not, it creates a public perception so that, if and when negotiations fail, the Israeli government will be less able to direct the blame toward the Palestinians.

The alleged “personal attacks” in question focused on widespread criticism, certainly not restricted to the Israeli press or politicians, that came in response to the implicit threats that Kerry has voiced about anti-Israel boycotts. Speaking over the weekend, he had raised the possibility of an advancing boycott campaign against Israel in the event that the two sides fail to reach an agreement. In November of last year Kerry had made an even more extreme version of this implicit threat; talking about the prospect of talks failing, Kerry asked, “does Israel want a third intifada?”

If anything is “unacceptable” then it might be argued that it’s Kerry’s comments, not the backlash to them. In making these kind of remarks, Secretary Kerry may not be endorsing these moves against Israel, but he serves to legitimize them by suggesting that they are the natural response, only to be expected, if Israel won’t find a way to make a deal with the Palestinians. Indeed, one has to ask: if Kerry is serious about presenting the two sides with a fair offer then why the need for all these thinly veiled threats? If the deal genuinely offers Israel peace and security, we can be confident Israelis will jump at it. These threats would suggest Kerry knows he won’t be able to get the Palestinians to give the Israelis a fair deal, so with no carrot, it’s going to have to be all stick from here on in.

But Rice’s reaction is both suspect and telling. She has slammed the Israeli criticism that Kerry has received, but where is her response to the criticism Kerry receives from Palestinians? It’s not as if there isn’t enough of it. Senior Palestinian Authority officials regularly accuse Kerry of having a pro-Israel bias and Kerry’s visits to Ramallah are routinely met by public protests, although admittedly nothing on the scale of the Palestinian protests that greeted Obama when demonstrators trampled on pictures of the president, festooning with swastikas the billboards bearing his image. If Susan Rice was looking for a Twitter slanging match then that was quite the opportunity.

In making these comments, administration officials contribute to an atmosphere that will ultimately put Israel in the dock for the failure of the negotiation process. Talks appear to be stalling over the Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state. In every previous round of negotiations they have ended with the Palestinians walking and thus taking much of the blame for the failures of peace efforts. The administration has long been signaling that Israel better find a way to make sure the Palestinians don’t walk this time around, otherwise, this time it can expect to take the blame. By causing a stir over the backlash to Kerry’s comments, or by hyping-up their reaction to Israeli Defense Minister Yaalon’s criticism of Kerry’s strategy, the administration lays the groundwork for ensuring that Israel will be perceived internationally as the party that lacked good faith and ultimately undermined the peace process.    

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