Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Kerry

“Apartheid”? Blame the Geneva Convention

John Kerry’s infamous apartheid comment continues to make waves in Israel, eliciting pushback from some surprising places–like yesterday’s Haaretz column by Zvi Bar’el. Bar’el, whom nobody could accuse of being an Israel apologist (his column asserts Israeli control over the West Bank is even worse than the apartheid), points out that under apartheid, the legal regime discriminates between citizens of the same country. That’s fundamentally different from an occupation, under which the legal regime discriminates between the occupying power’s citizens and the occupied noncitizens. All occupying powers have given their own citizens more rights than the occupied noncitizens, from the British in India through the French in Algeria to the Americans in Iraq, he noted; yet none of these were ever labeled apartheid. Why should Israel be any different?

But Bar’el neglects to mention one important point: The legal distinction all occupations make between citizens and noncitizens isn’t just a whim of “racist” occupiers; it’s mandated by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

This convention largely bars occupiers from applying their own laws to the occupied population, requiring them instead to maintain the preexisting legal system except where alterations are necessary to ensure the occupier’s security. For instance, Article 64 states “The penal laws of the occupied territory shall remain in force”; Article 51 requires the occupier to uphold the “legislation in force in the occupied country concerning working conditions”; and so forth. One of the most discriminatory practices of all is explicitly mandated by Article 66, which states that if the occupier promulgates laws for its own security in the occupied territory, violators from among the occupied population shall be tried in “properly constituted, non-political military courts.”

Israel has never officially deemed the West Bank occupied territory; it considers it disputed territory to which Israel has a valid claim. But under pressure from the rest of the world, which insists the West Bank is occupied territory, Israel long ago agreed to voluntarily uphold most of the Geneva Convention’s provisions. The ironic result is that in many cases, West Bank Palestinians have fewer rights than Israelis.

Read More

John Kerry’s infamous apartheid comment continues to make waves in Israel, eliciting pushback from some surprising places–like yesterday’s Haaretz column by Zvi Bar’el. Bar’el, whom nobody could accuse of being an Israel apologist (his column asserts Israeli control over the West Bank is even worse than the apartheid), points out that under apartheid, the legal regime discriminates between citizens of the same country. That’s fundamentally different from an occupation, under which the legal regime discriminates between the occupying power’s citizens and the occupied noncitizens. All occupying powers have given their own citizens more rights than the occupied noncitizens, from the British in India through the French in Algeria to the Americans in Iraq, he noted; yet none of these were ever labeled apartheid. Why should Israel be any different?

But Bar’el neglects to mention one important point: The legal distinction all occupations make between citizens and noncitizens isn’t just a whim of “racist” occupiers; it’s mandated by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

This convention largely bars occupiers from applying their own laws to the occupied population, requiring them instead to maintain the preexisting legal system except where alterations are necessary to ensure the occupier’s security. For instance, Article 64 states “The penal laws of the occupied territory shall remain in force”; Article 51 requires the occupier to uphold the “legislation in force in the occupied country concerning working conditions”; and so forth. One of the most discriminatory practices of all is explicitly mandated by Article 66, which states that if the occupier promulgates laws for its own security in the occupied territory, violators from among the occupied population shall be tried in “properly constituted, non-political military courts.”

Israel has never officially deemed the West Bank occupied territory; it considers it disputed territory to which Israel has a valid claim. But under pressure from the rest of the world, which insists the West Bank is occupied territory, Israel long ago agreed to voluntarily uphold most of the Geneva Convention’s provisions. The ironic result is that in many cases, West Bank Palestinians have fewer rights than Israelis.

For instance, Israeli labor law provides more protections than the patchwork of Jordanian and Ottoman law in place when Israel captured the West Bank in 1967. But the world views any application of Israeli law to “occupied territory” as a sign of annexation (see, for instance, the international outcry when Israel applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights in 1981). Thus for fear of sparking international protests, Israel has refrained from applying its own labor laws to the West Bank.

Similarly, human-rights organizations repeatedly slam trials in military courts as inherently inferior to those in civilian courts, and not without reason: Most democratic countries, Israel included, have laws requiring civilians to be tried in civil rather than military courts. That’s why Israeli civilians who commit crimes in the West Bank are tried in Israel’s civil courts rather than military ones–just as American civilians who committed crimes in Iraq were tried in American civil courts rather than military ones. But the Geneva Convention requires Palestinian civilians to be tried in military courts instead.

In short, it’s precisely all those people who insist the West Bank is “occupied territory” who have no grounds to complain about the discriminatory legal system in place there–because occupied territories are supposed to be governed by the Geneva Convention, which mandates this discriminatory regime. That such people are now accusing Israel of “apartheid” for having bowed to their demand to apply the convention is hypocrisy on a truly epic scale.

Read Less

Fallout from Kerry’s Debacle Continues

The violence initiated by Yasser Arafat after his rejection of the Clinton-brokered peace deal was a worst-case scenario not only for those whose lives were now in danger in the Middle East but for Western negotiators and supporters of the peace process. It presented them with the nightmarish lesson that there is risk in negotiating; the failure of talks could mean years of war.

But this year’s failed talks pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry are demonstrating another way peace talks aren’t necessarily risk-free: the deterioration of relations between the PA and Israel. As the talks collapsed, Mahmoud Abbas went ahead with a unity deal with Hamas, which immediately raised questions about Israeli support and the sharing of intel with the previously Hamas-less government. And today Haaretz sheds light on the nasty business of the blame game, with a letter apparently written by Israel’s national security advisor to Western governments:

Read More

The violence initiated by Yasser Arafat after his rejection of the Clinton-brokered peace deal was a worst-case scenario not only for those whose lives were now in danger in the Middle East but for Western negotiators and supporters of the peace process. It presented them with the nightmarish lesson that there is risk in negotiating; the failure of talks could mean years of war.

But this year’s failed talks pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry are demonstrating another way peace talks aren’t necessarily risk-free: the deterioration of relations between the PA and Israel. As the talks collapsed, Mahmoud Abbas went ahead with a unity deal with Hamas, which immediately raised questions about Israeli support and the sharing of intel with the previously Hamas-less government. And today Haaretz sheds light on the nasty business of the blame game, with a letter apparently written by Israel’s national security advisor to Western governments:

Attached to the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by Haaretz, is a 65-page document that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat submitted to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on March 9, three weeks before Israel was to release the final batch of Palestinian prisoners. In it, Erekat proposed a strategy for the PA during the final month of negotiations and after April 29, when the talks were originally scheduled to end before their premature collapse.

Erekat recommended applying to join various international conventions, informing the U.S. and Europe that the Palestinians wouldn’t extend the talks beyond April 29, demanding that Israel nevertheless release the final batch of prisoners, intensifying efforts to reconcile with Hamas to thwart what he termed an Israeli effort to sever the West Bank from Gaza politically, and various other diplomatic and public relations moves.

Over the past month, the PA has implemented most of Erekat’s recommendations. This, Cohen wrote in his letter, shows that even while the Palestinians were talking with Washington about the possibility of extending the peace talks, they were actually planning to blow them up, and had been planning to do so even before Abbas met with U.S. President Barack Obama on March 17. …

The document also shows that the Palestinians planned in advance to take unilateral steps in defiance of the commitment they made when the talks were launched in July 2013, he wrote.

The Israeli leadership’s decision to share that information was apparently made in response to the Palestinians’ attempt to blame Israel for the stalled negotiations. Leaking the letter to the press is also a good way to push back on the craven and self-discrediting efforts by Martin Indyk’s team to blame Israel in order to settle old scores. The blame game is, of course, far better than an intifada, which was Arafat’s answer to an offer of peace and mutual coexistence. But that doesn’t make it any less unpleasant.

It’s worth pointing out that the letter isn’t necessarily the smoking gun it appears to be; the Palestinians will no doubt claim that it was a fall-back list of options in case talks fell apart, which they always do. But that’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the talks usually end with the Palestinians walking away.

Yet that’s really a side issue here. The larger implications of this have to do with the fact that Kerry’s obsessive and badly mismanaged drive for a deal that was not in the offing has consequences for just about everyone but Kerry. He and Indyk can turn their attention elsewhere as they hit the Israelis with a sneering parting shot, but their gamble has left the Israelis and Palestinians worse off and scrambling to pick up the pieces.

The fact that there is some risk in negotiations doesn’t mean such negotiations should never take place: it would be courting disaster if a negotiated solution were permanently taken off the table. But neither should peace talks be seen as all upside, the way Western diplomats have tended to believe. Nor should they always focus on grand final-status deals just because an arrogant secretary of state like Kerry wants his Nobel. Kerry and Indyk may be used to others cleaning up their messes for them, but it’s clear both Israel and the Palestinians are getting tired of it.

Read Less

Another Try for Kerry’s Middle East Fiasco?

Since the collapse of the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State John Kerry has been all dressed up with nowhere to go. But if the administration has anything to do with it, that may be about to change. The State Department is now denying earlier reports that it is dismantling its negotiating team. By all accounts plans are afoot to send them all back again. And if that wasn’t enough, apparently Kerry is still mulling submitting his parameters to the two sides. What on earth for? The last time he came close to doing so PA head Mahmoud Abbas preempted him by issuing his own impossibly outlandish list of red lines.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denies that there are any plans to dismantle “the team” and simply stated, “We’re going to see where this goes from here and, you know, figure out what makes sense in terms of staffing.” Perhaps what would “make sense in terms of staffing” would be for Kerry to let his chief negotiator Martin Indyk go, which after all seems to be what Indyk wants. Rumor has it that after some off-the-record comments were attributed to Indyk, he is looking to resign and is eager to return to the peace and quiet of the Brookings Institution in Washington, away from all those tiresome Israelis. For the comments widely attributed to Indyk certainly make no secret of the speaker’s feelings toward that quarter.

The comments in question were such that they would irreversibly burn any bridges of trust between the Israelis and whoever said them. Would Indyk have intentionally made sure that it became known that the comments had come from him? If so, it would make for a pretty one-directional escape from the sinking ship of Kerry’s hubristic peace mission. Much like President Obama’s now infamous Bloomberg interview, the voice speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview portrays Abbas as a Gandhi-like figure and the Netanyahu government as a cynical pack of colonialists, indifferent to peace, hell-bent on robbing the Palestinians of their land, and outrageously trying to nudge the outcome of the talks in a direction that might protect at least some of Israel’s security concerns.

Read More

Since the collapse of the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State John Kerry has been all dressed up with nowhere to go. But if the administration has anything to do with it, that may be about to change. The State Department is now denying earlier reports that it is dismantling its negotiating team. By all accounts plans are afoot to send them all back again. And if that wasn’t enough, apparently Kerry is still mulling submitting his parameters to the two sides. What on earth for? The last time he came close to doing so PA head Mahmoud Abbas preempted him by issuing his own impossibly outlandish list of red lines.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denies that there are any plans to dismantle “the team” and simply stated, “We’re going to see where this goes from here and, you know, figure out what makes sense in terms of staffing.” Perhaps what would “make sense in terms of staffing” would be for Kerry to let his chief negotiator Martin Indyk go, which after all seems to be what Indyk wants. Rumor has it that after some off-the-record comments were attributed to Indyk, he is looking to resign and is eager to return to the peace and quiet of the Brookings Institution in Washington, away from all those tiresome Israelis. For the comments widely attributed to Indyk certainly make no secret of the speaker’s feelings toward that quarter.

The comments in question were such that they would irreversibly burn any bridges of trust between the Israelis and whoever said them. Would Indyk have intentionally made sure that it became known that the comments had come from him? If so, it would make for a pretty one-directional escape from the sinking ship of Kerry’s hubristic peace mission. Much like President Obama’s now infamous Bloomberg interview, the voice speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview portrays Abbas as a Gandhi-like figure and the Netanyahu government as a cynical pack of colonialists, indifferent to peace, hell-bent on robbing the Palestinians of their land, and outrageously trying to nudge the outcome of the talks in a direction that might protect at least some of Israel’s security concerns.

Whoever made these comments either hasn’t been paying attention or is simply fabricating facts, particularly with their claim that talks collapsed on account of the settlements. Freezing settlement activity was never a predicate for the talks, and even after a dispute over prisoner releases and Palestinian moves at the United Nations the negotiations limped on, only finally and definitively collapsing when the Palestinians stunned Kerry and his team by announcing a Fatah-Hamas unity deal. That was the point at which talks were closed; settlements had nothing to do with it.

It is strange, however, that the U.S. official speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview was so praiseful of Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni. If it were true, as the official claims, that Israel had an unreasonable negotiating position then why all the praise for Livni? Or are these comments really just about attacking Netanyahu and the Israeli right? Livni has her own political rivalries to think of and if Netanyahu had really dealt her a bad hand to play wouldn’t she have protested, if not to smear the prime minister then at least to save herself from being setup as the government’s fall guy? Yet Livni’s only real protests were against Abbas and his unreasonable positions.

If there was any doubt about the bad faith coming from the individual who made these comments, that is surely settled by their remarks about how, whether the Israelis like it or not, the Palestinians “will get their state in the end — whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.” This blatant indifference to the repercussions for Israel, and blasé attitude to Palestinian terrorism, would certainly ensure that whoever is speaking here can never come back from this as an impartial negotiator. Not surprising, then, that many have tied these comments to reports of Indyk’s return to Washington. 

If Indyk is to retire from Kerry’s ill-advised foray into the delights of the Israel-Palestinian impasse, then it remains to be seen as to who will replace him. But no matter who Kerry puts on his team, it won’t change the fact that Abbas has just put Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh on his.  

Read Less

Assad Misses Chemical-Weapons Deadline

The deadline has come and gone for Bashar Assad to turn over all of his chemical weapons. Naturally, he did not fully comply with his obligations, turning over some 93 percent while holding onto a substantial stockpile. The Washington Post reports that “Syria is holding on to 27 tons of sarin precursor chemicals as leverage in a dispute with the international community over the future of facilities used to store the deadly agents.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the destruction of the Syrian arsenal, insists that the tunnels and buildings used to hold the weapons should be destroyed. Assad wants to keep them intact and he is holding onto the remaining 27 tons of precursors until he gets his way–in violation, of course, of the agreement reached between Russia and the U.S. back in September.

Read More

The deadline has come and gone for Bashar Assad to turn over all of his chemical weapons. Naturally, he did not fully comply with his obligations, turning over some 93 percent while holding onto a substantial stockpile. The Washington Post reports that “Syria is holding on to 27 tons of sarin precursor chemicals as leverage in a dispute with the international community over the future of facilities used to store the deadly agents.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is overseeing the destruction of the Syrian arsenal, insists that the tunnels and buildings used to hold the weapons should be destroyed. Assad wants to keep them intact and he is holding onto the remaining 27 tons of precursors until he gets his way–in violation, of course, of the agreement reached between Russia and the U.S. back in September.

Nor is this Assad’s only apparent violation. There have also been widespread reports of the Syrian government dropping bombs filled with chlorine on residential areas. “The use of the widely available industrial chemical in munitions known as barrel bombs,” the Post notes, “would constitute a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Damascus joined last fall under the threat of U.S. cruise missile strikes.” 

There is no sign of Assad being willing to give up his use of chlorine; indeed there are reports that Iran is replenishing his arsenal with Chinese-made chlorine bombs.

Why would Assad be flouting international norms in this way? Why not? The passing of the American red line on the use of chemical weapons last fall, without any military action on the part of the U.S., signaled clearly that Assad will not face any serious consequences no matter what he does. As long as he sort of–but not really–complies with the international agreement, he knows that President Obama will not launch air strikes. 

Indeed the U.S. has a strong incentive not to kick up too much of a fuss about Assad’s violations because everyone knows that last thing in the world that Obama wants is to get involved in another war. As Obama’s foreign policy goes from failure to failure, pretty much the only thing the president can boast of anymore is that he hasn’t gotten us involved in any fresh wars.

Of course Assad knows this. So does Putin. So does Khamenei. So does Xi Jinping. And Kim Jong-un. And pretty much everyone else who counts. They all know that they can get away with pretty much anything these days–and they are taking advantage of the opportunity.

Read Less

Is the Culture of the Senate to Blame?

The Obama administration is foundering, with its principals stumbling from gaffe to gaffe. Long after then-Senator John Kerry was famously for it before he was against it, Secretary of State Kerry’s rhetoric repeatedly serves to nurture extremism rather than achieve peace, as he convinces rejectionists that time is on their side and rejectionism works. Now Kerry, apparently speaking from the cuff, bashes religiosity. Vice President Joe Biden, of course, makes Kerry appear taciturn. After a disastrous confirmation hearing and ill-chosen words suggesting bigotry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has apparently learned that silence is golden because whenever he does open his mouth, he tends to get in trouble. Obama himself has mouthed off in ways that undercut both diplomacy and America’s strategic position. Indeed, USA Today asked whether Obama had actually made foreign policy by gaffe.

Senators are a funny bunch. They take several hundred votes per year, most on ordinary business—for example, confirmations and cloture votes—but some for more substantive bills. Whether they vote for or against, each is but one of 100 voices. Success is easy to claim, and responsibility easy to shirk. They must be masters of everything, and so are often skin deep on any particular issue. Rhetoric comes easy: Anyone who has ever testified at a hearing understands that he or she is merely a prop as senators make speeches geared more for their local papers before leaving the room. Over time, posturing becomes both second-nature and the key to success.

Being a leader, however, is different. The buck stops at the executive’s desk, whether for good or for bad. There’s a whole literature out there about why governors make better presidents, although some suggest the reality behind such conventional wisdom is uncertain. George Washington, John Adams, John Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry S. Truman were all great presidents, but none served as governor. Washington and Eisenhower, however, were generals and so did rise from a position of leadership. Adams was a lifelong politician and diplomat, and Kennedy and Truman both served time in the Congress.

Read More

The Obama administration is foundering, with its principals stumbling from gaffe to gaffe. Long after then-Senator John Kerry was famously for it before he was against it, Secretary of State Kerry’s rhetoric repeatedly serves to nurture extremism rather than achieve peace, as he convinces rejectionists that time is on their side and rejectionism works. Now Kerry, apparently speaking from the cuff, bashes religiosity. Vice President Joe Biden, of course, makes Kerry appear taciturn. After a disastrous confirmation hearing and ill-chosen words suggesting bigotry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has apparently learned that silence is golden because whenever he does open his mouth, he tends to get in trouble. Obama himself has mouthed off in ways that undercut both diplomacy and America’s strategic position. Indeed, USA Today asked whether Obama had actually made foreign policy by gaffe.

Senators are a funny bunch. They take several hundred votes per year, most on ordinary business—for example, confirmations and cloture votes—but some for more substantive bills. Whether they vote for or against, each is but one of 100 voices. Success is easy to claim, and responsibility easy to shirk. They must be masters of everything, and so are often skin deep on any particular issue. Rhetoric comes easy: Anyone who has ever testified at a hearing understands that he or she is merely a prop as senators make speeches geared more for their local papers before leaving the room. Over time, posturing becomes both second-nature and the key to success.

Being a leader, however, is different. The buck stops at the executive’s desk, whether for good or for bad. There’s a whole literature out there about why governors make better presidents, although some suggest the reality behind such conventional wisdom is uncertain. George Washington, John Adams, John Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry S. Truman were all great presidents, but none served as governor. Washington and Eisenhower, however, were generals and so did rise from a position of leadership. Adams was a lifelong politician and diplomat, and Kennedy and Truman both served time in the Congress.

The problem, however, might simply be treating the president in isolation. Even if a president has emerged from the Congress, often he surrounds himself with a diverse cabinet whose experience does not mirror his own. Kennedy might have appointed a career politician to be his vice president, but he chose former military officer and lifelong diplomat Dean Rusk to be his secretary of state, and Robert McNamara, his secretary of defense, had been president of the Ford Motor Company. Johnson, for his part, kept Rusk and McNamara in State and Defense, until he replaced McNamara with lawyer Clark Clifford toward the end. Gerald Ford nominated businessman Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president and kept Kissinger in place, even if he appointed politicians and bureaucrats to the defense portfolio. Truman might have chosen fellow politician Alben Barkley as his vice president, but surrounded himself with a host of secretaries of state, war, and later defense whose backgrounds were more varied.

Barack Obama seems to be the first president who has, at least in his second term, awarded all of his key foreign-policy posts to former senators, amplifying the unique personality of that position onto his administration. Poor policy and ill-thought out strategy are one-thing, but the number of own-goals Obama’s team has so far inflicted on American national security, as well as a superficial understanding of world affairs, seems to have at least some roots in Obama choosing to fish from a very narrow pool of like-minded politicians, all of whom tend to duplicate rather than correct the president’s own flaws.

Read Less

A Postmortem of Inept U.S. Diplomacy

Secretary of State John Kerry’s disastrous attempt to bring peace to the Middle East is not going quietly into the night after its collapse in the last month. Kerry made clear his own prejudices, as well as his misunderstanding about the reality of the conflict, when he told the Trilateral Commission that Israel would become an “apartheid state” if it failed to make peace. Though Kerry had to offer a non-apology apology in which he regretted his choice of words, the slur illustrated his own animus for the Jewish state’s positions. It also was fuel to the fire for the campaign of hatred that is bolstered by such canards. But not satisfied with that shot fired over the bow of the Netanyahu government, the administration doubled down on the “Israel is to blame” argument with an interview given by anonymous “senior American officials” with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea available here on YNet.com in English.

There is nothing terribly surprising with the postmortem on the talks, the source for which (if you believe Haaretz) is believed to be Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk. Indyk, who is resigning his post as U.S. negotiator and going back to his Washington sinecure at the Brookings Institution, has a long history of bad blood with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu dating back to his controversial tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel in the 1990s. But rather than merely file this away as another example of the poisonous personal politics that can intrude into diplomacy, a close yet critical reading of the interview reveals more about why the Obama administration’s peace efforts failed than anything about what the Israelis have done. Like the public statements made by both President Obama and Secretary Kerry in which they praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas while trashing Netanyahu, the U.S. has repeated the Clinton administration’s mistake in whitewashing Yasir Arafat in the 1990s. In doing so, they have effectively made the already slim chances for peace even more unlikely.

Read More

Secretary of State John Kerry’s disastrous attempt to bring peace to the Middle East is not going quietly into the night after its collapse in the last month. Kerry made clear his own prejudices, as well as his misunderstanding about the reality of the conflict, when he told the Trilateral Commission that Israel would become an “apartheid state” if it failed to make peace. Though Kerry had to offer a non-apology apology in which he regretted his choice of words, the slur illustrated his own animus for the Jewish state’s positions. It also was fuel to the fire for the campaign of hatred that is bolstered by such canards. But not satisfied with that shot fired over the bow of the Netanyahu government, the administration doubled down on the “Israel is to blame” argument with an interview given by anonymous “senior American officials” with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea available here on YNet.com in English.

There is nothing terribly surprising with the postmortem on the talks, the source for which (if you believe Haaretz) is believed to be Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk. Indyk, who is resigning his post as U.S. negotiator and going back to his Washington sinecure at the Brookings Institution, has a long history of bad blood with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu dating back to his controversial tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel in the 1990s. But rather than merely file this away as another example of the poisonous personal politics that can intrude into diplomacy, a close yet critical reading of the interview reveals more about why the Obama administration’s peace efforts failed than anything about what the Israelis have done. Like the public statements made by both President Obama and Secretary Kerry in which they praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas while trashing Netanyahu, the U.S. has repeated the Clinton administration’s mistake in whitewashing Yasir Arafat in the 1990s. In doing so, they have effectively made the already slim chances for peace even more unlikely.

The details of Indyk’s complaints about Israel aren’t terribly persuasive. Though he attempts to portray Netanyahu as intransigent, even his interviewer is forced to point out that even the prime minister’s rival Tzipi Livni, whom Indyk praises extravagantly as a “heroine,” admitted that in fact it was Netanyahu who had moved off of his previous positions on a possible agreement while Abbas had not moved an inch.

Indyk counters that by trashing Israel’s entirely reasonable demands for security guarantees that would ensure that West Bank territory it gave up would not turn into another version of Gaza after Ariel Sharon’s disastrous 2005 retreat. He also claims that Abbas made great concessions in agreeing to a deal in which Israel would keep Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and 80 percent of West Bank settlements. But having agreed to terms that roughly match what Netanyahu is believed to have offered, Abbas walked away from the talks rather than negotiate their implementation. That isn’t peacemaking. It’s obstruction that allowed him to avoid taking responsibility for making a peace that he fears his people don’t want.

Indyk also tells us a great deal about administration cluelessness when he admits he didn’t understand why Abbas refused to even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state even when the Israelis were preparing versions of a statement that would at the same time recognize “Palestine” as the nation state of Palestinian Arabs.

“We couldn’t understand why it bothered him so much,” the anonymous U.S. official said. Really? Saying those two symbolic words—“Jewish state”—would have gone a long way to convincing the Israeli public that Abbas was sincere about wanting to end the conflict for all time. His refusal signaled that the PA and its new partner Hamas want no part of any treaty that signals the end of their century-old war against Zionism. If Indyk and Kerry didn’t understand the significance of this issue, they are not only demonstrating their unwillingness to hold the Palestinians accountable, they are also showing an alarming lack of diplomatic skill.

Finally, Indyk’s focus on Israel’s diplomatic offenses during the process is also important. Indyk can’t let go of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s criticism of Kerry as a man in search of a Nobel Peace Prize, terming it a “great insult.” But it had nothing to do with the negotiations and might well have been a sign that the leading right-winger in the Cabinet was alarmed at how much Netanyahu was conceding in the talks.

Lastly, Indyk falls back on the same settlements excuse that Israel’s critics always cite as proof that the Jewish state is obstructing peace. But the focus on how many “settlements” were being built during the talks is a red herring because almost all of the “settlements”—which are actually merely new houses being built in existing communities and not new towns—were being built in exactly the places Abbas supposedly had conceded would stay in Israel. In other words, the building had no impact on the peace terms. For Indyk to specifically blame the announcement that several hundred new apartments would be built in the Gilo section of Jerusalem as the straw that broke the camel’s back of peace is absurd. Gilo, a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in the capital, would remain inside of Israel even if peace were reached. How, then, could a few more apartments in a place that would never be surrendered by Israel serve as an acceptable rationale for a Palestinian walkout, as Indyk indicates?

The answer to that question is that the Americans are so invested in Abbas’s shaky credibility as a peacemaker that they were prepared to swallow any excuse from him. The truth is Abbas never had any genuine interest in peace and fled the talks the first chance he got. He indicated that lack of interest by going back to the United Nations in an end run around the talks and sealed it by making a deal with Hamas rather than Israel. But all Indyk can do is blame Netanyahu. The interview tells us all we need to know about how inept American diplomacy has become.

Read Less

Assessing John Kerry

Almost all secretaries of state believe they shine but for most, their legacy is at best basic competence. Amidst all their ceremonial trips, with hindsight it is clear that for the majority, their legacy is simply to have done no harm. This certainly would be the case for Hillary Clinton, a woman who famously cannot name her accomplishments as secretary, as well as Bush-era secretaries Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Rice’s whole strategy was to make no waves and while Powell’s detractors point to his speech before the United Nations laying out the rationale for war against Iraq, that was less his initiative than the consensus policy of the Bush administration. Warren Christopher’s tenure was largely forgettable, and his successor Madeleine Albright was likewise just a manager. While I disagree with them on many issues, James Baker and Henry Kissinger set themselves apart, although for Baker, his success may have been less because of personal abilities and more the result of being in the right place at the right time.

Secretary of State John Kerry may be the exception: He has defined himself as a truly lousy secretary of state, with almost everything he touches turning to vinegar: The Middle East peace process is in shambles. Had Kerry simply ignored the process, the hurdles facing the two sides would be less. And, because of some ill-chosen and self-defeating words, there is virtually no choice to revive such talks under Kerry. While Vladimir Putin is the villain when it comes to the situation in Eastern Europe, the reverberations which the United States will feel for the impotency under Kerry’s watch will be felt for years to come. Libya continues to disintegrate; the Egyptians remain furious at American waffling; freedom-seeking Venezuelans wonder what American silence means; Argentina salivates over the Falklands; and a whole host of allies from Japan and South Korea to the Philippines and Indonesia fear what American weakness means in East Asia.

The Iran deal seems to be shaping up to be predicated on a willingness to sacrifice its substance rather than to win an agreement that bolsters regional or national security. Regardless, it’s hard to count as a success an agreement that has yet to be struck, especially with Tehran’s penchant for throwing a last-minute wrench into the cogs.

Read More

Almost all secretaries of state believe they shine but for most, their legacy is at best basic competence. Amidst all their ceremonial trips, with hindsight it is clear that for the majority, their legacy is simply to have done no harm. This certainly would be the case for Hillary Clinton, a woman who famously cannot name her accomplishments as secretary, as well as Bush-era secretaries Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Rice’s whole strategy was to make no waves and while Powell’s detractors point to his speech before the United Nations laying out the rationale for war against Iraq, that was less his initiative than the consensus policy of the Bush administration. Warren Christopher’s tenure was largely forgettable, and his successor Madeleine Albright was likewise just a manager. While I disagree with them on many issues, James Baker and Henry Kissinger set themselves apart, although for Baker, his success may have been less because of personal abilities and more the result of being in the right place at the right time.

Secretary of State John Kerry may be the exception: He has defined himself as a truly lousy secretary of state, with almost everything he touches turning to vinegar: The Middle East peace process is in shambles. Had Kerry simply ignored the process, the hurdles facing the two sides would be less. And, because of some ill-chosen and self-defeating words, there is virtually no choice to revive such talks under Kerry. While Vladimir Putin is the villain when it comes to the situation in Eastern Europe, the reverberations which the United States will feel for the impotency under Kerry’s watch will be felt for years to come. Libya continues to disintegrate; the Egyptians remain furious at American waffling; freedom-seeking Venezuelans wonder what American silence means; Argentina salivates over the Falklands; and a whole host of allies from Japan and South Korea to the Philippines and Indonesia fear what American weakness means in East Asia.

The Iran deal seems to be shaping up to be predicated on a willingness to sacrifice its substance rather than to win an agreement that bolsters regional or national security. Regardless, it’s hard to count as a success an agreement that has yet to be struck, especially with Tehran’s penchant for throwing a last-minute wrench into the cogs.

Perhaps the only success to which Kerry can point is the deal for Syria to forfeit its chemical-weapons arsenal, never mind that a cynic could see the precedent as rogue leaders getting a free shot to kill 1,400 civilians before coming in from the cold. In recent weeks, however, even that deal appears to be less than meets the eye. Last month, the Syrian regime apparently again used chemical weapons, an incident blogged about at the time and an attack subsequently acknowledged by the State Department, even if the State Department spokesman declined to assess blame.

Subsequently, the Brown Moses Blog, which tends to be the most careful and credible open source resource on Syrian chemical weapons, has posted video outlining claims of a new attack in Al-Tamanah. While the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says Syria has complied with the removal or disposal of Syrian chemical material, it is important to remember that is based on what Syria has declared, and there is no way of knowing whether it includes all Syrian chemical munitions. Meanwhile, the OPCW has concluded “sizeable and unambiguous traces of chlorine and ammonia” in the aftermath of apparent regime attacks on civilians in northern Syria. And so, while Kerry celebrates, Syrians suffocate.

Let us hope that Kerry can redeem himself. But if there’s one lesson he might learn as he assesses his tenure so far, it’s that he isn’t the center of the world and desire and rhetoric aren’t enough to win success. Perhaps he might look at his failures and recognize that many problems are more complicated than he—or the staff charged with preparing him—seems to recognize. In the meantime, while he assesses where the United States was diplomatically when he took office and where it is today, he might remember the maxim for doctors could just as easily apply to himself: First, do no harm.

Read Less

Why Is the State Department Supporting a Jewish Conspiracy Book Fair?

Tom Gross, probably Europe’s leading observer of the Middle East to whose work I have linked before, points out on his website that the U.S. State Department has become a “cultural partner” with the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which this year has run from April 30 until May 5. He writes:

Among the anti-Semitic publications on display at the fair (in both English and Arabic) – books which paved the way for The Holocaust – are “The International Jew,” “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.” “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” is now reported to be the second most widely published book in the Arab world. It promotes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Jews are planning global domination.

Read More

Tom Gross, probably Europe’s leading observer of the Middle East to whose work I have linked before, points out on his website that the U.S. State Department has become a “cultural partner” with the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which this year has run from April 30 until May 5. He writes:

Among the anti-Semitic publications on display at the fair (in both English and Arabic) – books which paved the way for The Holocaust – are “The International Jew,” “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.” “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” is now reported to be the second most widely published book in the Arab world. It promotes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Jews are planning global domination.

He notes, rightly, that there are many books on display that have absolutely nothing to do with Israel, Jews, or conspiracy theories. Still, no other U.S. government agency would even consider sponsoring a conference that promoted the works, for example, of racists David Duke and Louis Farrakhan, or conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, even if it also sold books by J.K Rowling or Michael Lewis’s Flash Boys. Why the State Department under the leadership of John Kerry believes that it should use American taxpayer money to do the equivalent is a question that goes to the very heart of how the State Department spends money and executes strategy which in theory should promote American interests and U.S. national security.

Perhaps it is long past due for those in Congress charged with oversight of Foggy Bottom to ask such basic questions and to examine such choices as the State Department’s decision to sponsor the Abu Dhabi book fair, and work backwards to see how the choice was made and what due diligence, if any, our Foreign Service conducted.

Read Less

Will Latest Russia Revelation Prompt Tougher Response from Obama?

Now they know that we know that they know. That’s the takeaway from Josh Rogin’s follow-up scoop on John Kerry’s address to the Trilateral Commission (this one co-authored with Eli Lake), in which Kerry reveals the administration has proof Russian officials are closely involved in fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine. The question is, will it impact the administration’s policy now that the White House knows that the public knows that the White House knows Russia is involved?

Of course, Russia’s involvement is not a surprise; everyone “knew,” on some level, precisely what Vladimir Putin was up to. But having proof is different, and having that proof in the hands of the administration is different as well, and so is the public knowing that the proof is in the hands of the administration, and that any policy recommendations are made with the full knowledge of Russian interventionism in Ukraine. Here’s Rogin with the crux of Kerry’s condemnation of Russia:

Read More

Now they know that we know that they know. That’s the takeaway from Josh Rogin’s follow-up scoop on John Kerry’s address to the Trilateral Commission (this one co-authored with Eli Lake), in which Kerry reveals the administration has proof Russian officials are closely involved in fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine. The question is, will it impact the administration’s policy now that the White House knows that the public knows that the White House knows Russia is involved?

Of course, Russia’s involvement is not a surprise; everyone “knew,” on some level, precisely what Vladimir Putin was up to. But having proof is different, and having that proof in the hands of the administration is different as well, and so is the public knowing that the proof is in the hands of the administration, and that any policy recommendations are made with the full knowledge of Russian interventionism in Ukraine. Here’s Rogin with the crux of Kerry’s condemnation of Russia:

“Intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow and everybody can tell the difference in the accents, in the idioms, in the language. We know exactly who’s giving those orders, we know where they are coming from,” Kerry said at a private meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Washington. A recording of Kerry’s remarks was obtained by The Daily Beast.

Kerry didn’t name specific Russian officials implicated in the recordings. But he claimed that the intercepts provided proof of the Russians deliberately fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine—and lying about it to U.S. officials and the public.

“It’s not an accident that you have some of the same people identified who were in Crimea and in Georgia and who are now in east Ukraine,” said Kerry. “This is insulting to everybody’s intelligence, let alone to our notions about how we ought to be behaving in the 21st century. It’s thuggism, it’s rogue state-ism. It’s the worst order of behavior.”

The proof, as Kerry describes it, is helpful in a strategic sense since it would be easier to identify Russian troublemakers elsewhere in Moscow’s near abroad–Moldova, say–if they move on to other targets the way they did in invading Georgia and then Ukraine. And that latter point raises another issue here. This is about more than dueling protests and raising voices.

The New York Times illustrates the escalation of the conflict in a tale of two Ukrainian cities–Kharkiv, where the mayor was left in critical condition after an assassination attempt, and Konstantinovka, where power seemingly switched hands. The disturbing aspect to this is that neither of these two cities is a locus of violence compared to other parts of eastern Ukraine. The Times reports:

The crisis in eastern Ukraine took dark turns on Monday as the mayor of the country’s second-largest city was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt and masked antigovernment militants seized control of this city almost effortlessly, laying bare the limits of the interim government’s control.

The violence was followed by a pro-government rally in the eastern city of Donetsk that was broken up by a rival pro-Russian crowd that beat and scattered the demonstrators shortly after they gathered, while the police stepped aside and looked on.

One Ukrainian soldier was killed by an explosion in the Donetsk region and another wounded as they cleared an obstacle, the Defense Ministry said, in a statement suggesting its troops may have for the first time been struck by an improvised roadside bomb.

Taken together, the events pointed to the further enfeeblement of the interim government in Kiev, which came to power after chasing President Viktor F. Yanukovych from office in February.

They also provided further evidence of the near irrelevance of a diplomatic agreement reached in Geneva this month aimed at defusing what remains a still escalating crisis.

As Jonathan wrote earlier, the situation in Ukraine seems to be a drag on President Obama’s approval ratings, with his handling of the crisis finding fewer takers than his handling of the ObamaCare fiasco. The Times story offers a clue why that is. The president has taken to insisting he has neither the time nor the inclination to explain himself before launching into bizarre rants accusing his critics of being warmongers. The alternative to total war, according to the president and his allies, is the administration’s “smart diplomacy.”

But even his fellow antiwar voices in the press are ridiculing the deal his administration struck in Ukraine as being of “near irrelevance” and the government the White House is supposedly helping to stand up showing signs of “further enfeeblement.” The whole thing is a very sad, very dangerous, and increasingly bloody saga of American diffidence.

And Kerry’s comments (should) complicate this further for the White House because the Post/ABC poll was conducted before Rogin’s latest scoop. The public was already dissatisfied with the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s provocations, but now they’ve been told that the administration knew how much of this Moscow was directly responsible for.

Read Less

Hamas Decision Overshadows Kerry’s Slur

Secretary of State John Kerry’s apology for his use of the word apartheid to describe Israel’s future in the absence of peace has done nothing to lessen the impact of this slur. The secretary’s attempt to walk back his remarks was long on umbrage about anyone questioning his dubious pro-Israel bona fides and short on actual contrition. The aftermath of a taped speech in which he uses a misleading attempt to cast blame for the failure of his peace initiative equally between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is not the most appropriate moment to boast of his commitment to the Jewish state, especially when he has damned it as heading inevitably to racist tyranny if it doesn’t do as he says.

But though the Daily Beast’s scoop about Kerry’s speech to the Trilateral Commission has put the administration on the defensive for the moment, the statement has served the purpose of Israel’s critics since it has given them the opportunity to defend his assertion even as the secretary distanced himself from it. The notion that what he said is an unpalatable truth has become a piece of liberal conventional wisdom even though its premise is demographically dubious and rendered nonsensical when one considers that unless one includes the population of Gaza—which is already an independent Palestinian state in all but name—the day will probably never dawn when Arabs outnumber Jews in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel not only, as Kerry conceded in his apology, is not now and has no intention of ever becoming an apartheid state. The entire discussion is specious and tells us more about the effort to delegitimize the Jewish state than it does about Israel’s character. The real damage here is that Kerry has breathed new life into an old canard that neither facts nor logic seems to have the power to extinguish.

But for all the effort expended on this controversy, an even more important one is looming over Obama administration’s Middle East policy in the wake of the collapse of the peace talks. By entering into a unity coalition with the Hamas terrorist movement, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas put President Obama on the spot. The president has repeatedly pledged that the U.S., like Israel, will not deal with Hamas, at least until it repudiates its genocidal charter, recognizes Israel, and commits itself to peace. That ought to mean the end of all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (something mandated by law) as well as putting an end to negotiations that are aimed at empowering the PA. But no one in Israel should be taking the fulfillment of that pledge for granted.

Read More

Secretary of State John Kerry’s apology for his use of the word apartheid to describe Israel’s future in the absence of peace has done nothing to lessen the impact of this slur. The secretary’s attempt to walk back his remarks was long on umbrage about anyone questioning his dubious pro-Israel bona fides and short on actual contrition. The aftermath of a taped speech in which he uses a misleading attempt to cast blame for the failure of his peace initiative equally between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is not the most appropriate moment to boast of his commitment to the Jewish state, especially when he has damned it as heading inevitably to racist tyranny if it doesn’t do as he says.

But though the Daily Beast’s scoop about Kerry’s speech to the Trilateral Commission has put the administration on the defensive for the moment, the statement has served the purpose of Israel’s critics since it has given them the opportunity to defend his assertion even as the secretary distanced himself from it. The notion that what he said is an unpalatable truth has become a piece of liberal conventional wisdom even though its premise is demographically dubious and rendered nonsensical when one considers that unless one includes the population of Gaza—which is already an independent Palestinian state in all but name—the day will probably never dawn when Arabs outnumber Jews in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel not only, as Kerry conceded in his apology, is not now and has no intention of ever becoming an apartheid state. The entire discussion is specious and tells us more about the effort to delegitimize the Jewish state than it does about Israel’s character. The real damage here is that Kerry has breathed new life into an old canard that neither facts nor logic seems to have the power to extinguish.

But for all the effort expended on this controversy, an even more important one is looming over Obama administration’s Middle East policy in the wake of the collapse of the peace talks. By entering into a unity coalition with the Hamas terrorist movement, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas put President Obama on the spot. The president has repeatedly pledged that the U.S., like Israel, will not deal with Hamas, at least until it repudiates its genocidal charter, recognizes Israel, and commits itself to peace. That ought to mean the end of all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (something mandated by law) as well as putting an end to negotiations that are aimed at empowering the PA. But no one in Israel should be taking the fulfillment of that pledge for granted.

It is theoretically possible that Hamas might renounce its charter or pass some sort of measure that will be falsely interpreted by peace advocates as a sign of its new moderation. But since Hamas’s political capital within Palestinian society rests primarily on its ability to pose as a more rabidly anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish force than Abbas’s Fatah, the chances of them being willing to engage in this sort of ruse are fairly slim. But so long as Abbas is the front man for this coalition, the administration may be tempted to stick to its characterization of him as a man of peace despite the fact that he deliberately chose to make peace with Hamas rather than with Israel. Thus, it is entirely possible that President Obama and Kerry may choose to treat the unity deal as irrelevant to the peace process.

If the administration does violate its long-held principles about working with an entity compromised by its terrorist connection, it will mark a clear turning point not only in the U.S.-Israel relationship but also in America’s attempts to combat Islamist terrorism. Though its apologists sometimes speak of Hamas as having evolved into a government in Gaza and being ready for peace, the U.S. has always rightly drawn a bright line between even the most dubious of governments in the Middle East and open practitioners of terror. Erasing or even blurring that line will render Obama’s avowed hard line against terrorism meaningless.

If the administration should choose to walk down this road toward recognition of Hamas, it will do so to the cheers of the foreign-policy establishment and liberal mainstream media that have always chafed against the idea that Hamas was beyond the pale. But if it does, it should also expect that Congress as well as a united pro-Israel community would make them pay a high political price for this betrayal. This is not a battle Obama wants to be fighting in an already difficult midterm elections year. If Abbas is counting on the president to risk some of his scarce political capital on such a cause, then both he and Kerry may have badly miscalculated. But should the Palestinian alliance last into 2015 with a lame duck president already feeling he has little left to lose, then it is entirely possible that Obama could make Kerry’s apartheid flap look like a picnic compared to a decision to recognize Hamas.

Read Less

Farewell Mahmoud, Mon Amour

Today marks the official end of the Kerry Process–initiated July 30, 2013 with a White House meeting and State Department press conference proclaiming an effort to achieve a “final status agreement” in nine months; then simply a non-binding “framework”; then just an agreement to talk beyond nine months. The end result: no agreement, no framework, no talks.

The concept of a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas was always a romantic idea, featuring the triumph of hope over experience, the repeated pursuit of a “peace partner” who kept saying “no,” and the failure of peace processors to understand every part of that answer. If there has been any benefit from the Kerry Process, it’s that it has made it clear that the Palestinians do not want a state–not if it requires recognizing a Jewish one, or releasing the specious “right” of “return” to the state they repeatedly tried to destroy, or an end-of-claims agreement that would actually resolve the conflict. You can’t have a “two state solution” when one of the parties refuses to acknowledge “two states for two peoples” as the goal. 

Read More

Today marks the official end of the Kerry Process–initiated July 30, 2013 with a White House meeting and State Department press conference proclaiming an effort to achieve a “final status agreement” in nine months; then simply a non-binding “framework”; then just an agreement to talk beyond nine months. The end result: no agreement, no framework, no talks.

The concept of a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas was always a romantic idea, featuring the triumph of hope over experience, the repeated pursuit of a “peace partner” who kept saying “no,” and the failure of peace processors to understand every part of that answer. If there has been any benefit from the Kerry Process, it’s that it has made it clear that the Palestinians do not want a state–not if it requires recognizing a Jewish one, or releasing the specious “right” of “return” to the state they repeatedly tried to destroy, or an end-of-claims agreement that would actually resolve the conflict. You can’t have a “two state solution” when one of the parties refuses to acknowledge “two states for two peoples” as the goal. 

The romance has been a bad romance not just for nine months but ten years. In 2003, Abbas accepted the Roadmap and then later that year bragged to the Palestinian Legislative Council about refusing to dismantle terrorist groups, as the Roadmap required. In 2005, he was given Gaza without a single settler or soldier remaining, announced “from this day forward, there will be no more security turmoil and weapons chaos and abductions, which are not characteristic of our culture”and then did nothing as Gaza turned into Hamastan in one week.

In 2006, after his corrupt party lost the election, he cancelled all future ones, including his own. In 2007, after Hamas took over half of the putative state, he was reduced to being the mayor of Ramallah. In 2008, he was offered a state on land equivalent to all of the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem, and he walked away. In 2010, after Netanyahu became the fourth Israeli prime minister to endorse a Palestinian state and implemented an unprecedented ten-month construction freeze, Abbas did nothing for nine months, had to be dragged to the negotiating table in the tenth, and then simply demanded the freeze be continued.

In 2013, he demanded pre-negotiation concessions to return to the table to discuss the Palestinian state that is purportedly his goal, got a promise of prisoner releases as long as he stayed at the table, and made it clear he would leave the table as soon as he finished collecting them. Now he has come full circle, agreeing again to form a government with the terrorist group he promised to dismantle in 2003.

You don’t have to have been a Jewish mother to know this guy was not going to be the guy.

President Obama recently suggested that Israel transfer more land to him, because the next Palestinian leader could be worse. The larger question is why the United States should continue to support creation of a Palestinian state if this is the best leader the Palestinians can present. He has essentially been a concession-reception device–a receptacle for concessions from those with the romantic belief that concessions would produce peace–while never making any concessions himself. In Ari Shavit’s words in Haaretz last week, “There is no document that contains any real Palestinian concession with Abbas’ signature. None. There never was, and there never will be.” 

Lost in the process over the past ten years has been the recognition that American support for a Palestinian state was, at least at the beginning, conditional. When President Bush announced U.S. support for a Palestinian state in 2002, he made it contingent on the Palestinians first building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty,” with democratically elected leaders and “new institutions” that would promise a peaceful state. A Palestinian state, from an American standpoint, was intended as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.

Somewhere along the line, the means and the end got confused. Perhaps it was after the Gaza disengagement produced not peace but new rocket wars. Perhaps it was after the Palestinian failure to complete even Phase I of the three-phase Roadmap, when Condoleezza Rice responded by deciding to “accelerate” it and skip the first two phases. Perhaps it was after President Obama ignored the written and oral promises to Israel from prior peace processes and made new demands on Israel, but none on the Palestinians. Perhaps it was when Kerry decided that, notwithstanding the refusal of Mahmoud Abbas even to endorse a Jewish state as one of the two states in the “solution,” the U.S. should proceed with the process anyway. In any event, as Ari Shavit’s article last week indicated, the affair is over.

Read Less

John Kerry’s Calumny Against Israel

After having said to a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission that Israel could become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying he “would have chosen a different word” if he had to do it all over again.

In fact, Kerry’s initial comments clearly reflect his unvarnished views; his backtracking is merely the result of the criticisms he’s received. Remember, just a few weeks ago Secretary Kerry testified before Congress and falsely placed all of the blame for the collapse of the most recent negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on Israel. 

As for the calumny against Israel by the secretary of state, let’s start out with a few observations, the first of which is that Israel is the only country in the region that permits citizens of all faiths to worship freely and openly. A few facts: Around 20 percent of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, with most of them being Arab. And while Jews are not permitted to live in many Arab countries, Arabs are granted full citizenship, have the right to vote in Israel, and have served in the Knesset. Consider this: Arabs living in Israel have more rights and are freer than most Arabs living in Arab countries, with Arab women in Israel enjoying the same rights and status as men.

Read More

After having said to a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission that Israel could become an “apartheid state” if it doesn’t reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement saying he “would have chosen a different word” if he had to do it all over again.

In fact, Kerry’s initial comments clearly reflect his unvarnished views; his backtracking is merely the result of the criticisms he’s received. Remember, just a few weeks ago Secretary Kerry testified before Congress and falsely placed all of the blame for the collapse of the most recent negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on Israel. 

As for the calumny against Israel by the secretary of state, let’s start out with a few observations, the first of which is that Israel is the only country in the region that permits citizens of all faiths to worship freely and openly. A few facts: Around 20 percent of Israeli citizens are not Jewish, with most of them being Arab. And while Jews are not permitted to live in many Arab countries, Arabs are granted full citizenship, have the right to vote in Israel, and have served in the Knesset. Consider this: Arabs living in Israel have more rights and are freer than most Arabs living in Arab countries, with Arab women in Israel enjoying the same rights and status as men.

As for a two-state solution: Israel, bone-weary of war, has repeatedly offered the Palestinians their own homeland–at Camp David in 2000, in Taba in 2001, and again (from Ehud Olmert) in 2008. The offers were enormously generous: Palestinian statehood, the West Bank, Gaza, the division of Jerusalem, and more. The reaction? Palestinian rejectionism, followed in some cases by a new intifada. (For a more expansive discussion of this matter, see this definitive column by Charles Krauthammer.) That rejectionism still exists to this day.

But there’s still more.

On the matter of “land for peace,” Israel has shown its good faith repeatedly. For example, Israel offered to return all the land it captured during the 1967 war in exchange for peace and normal relations. The offer was rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three no’s”: no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel, and no recognition of Israel. (For the record, the PLO, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. The 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel happened before the so-called occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue.)

In 1978, under the leadership of Likud’s Menachem Begin, Israel returned to Egypt the Sinai Desert in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations.

In 1994, Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan, which involved compromise on territory, water rights, and border crossings.

In 2000, Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon.

In Gaza in 2005, Israel did what no Arab nation (when it controlled the West Bank and Gaza) had ever done: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

John Kerry is part of an administration that has a very troubling reflex against Israel, a nation whose sacrifices for peace exceed those of any other country and whose achievements and moral accomplishments are staggering. I will leave it to others to speculate what could possibly motivate them. Suffice it to say that enemies of the Jewish state will latch on to Kerry’s invocation of apartheid.

In reflecting on Kerry’s incendiary language, I was reminded of another Democrat. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan was serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a resolution declaring that “Zionism is racism” was adopted. A majority of the world’s nations condemned Israel, claiming there was an “unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism.” Ambassador Moynihan rose to speak, declaring that the “United States … does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.”

It was a luminous and proud moment. It’s a travesty that almost 40 years later, another Democrat, John Kerry, has himself committed an infamous act.

Read Less

Kerry’s Apartheid Slur Sabotages Peace

Last Friday while speaking to a closed meeting of the Trilateral Commission, Secretary of State John Kerry raised the ante in his bid to keep his Middle East peace initiative alive. While lamenting the latest collapse of the talks, Kerry cast blame for the outcome on both Israel and the Palestinians but made it clear that the consequences for the former would be far more serious. In the recording of his comments, which was obtained by the Daily Beast, Kerry not only repeated his past warnings that if peace wasn’t reached Israel would be faced with a new round of violence from the Palestinians as well as increased boycott efforts. He went further and said that the alternative to an Israeli acceptance of a two-state solution was that it would become “an apartheid state.”

In doing so, Kerry exploded the notion that he is an evenhanded broker since he is, as he has done previously, effectively rationalizing, if not justifying the next intifada as well as the continued efforts of the BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement against Israel. The point here is that if the maintenance of the status quo will make Israel an apartheid state, then it must already be one. Given the odious nature of such a regime, that would not only justify the boycotts but also violence on the part of the Palestinians against Israel.

Identifying Israel as even a potential apartheid state is not only an incendiary slur; it demonstrates the fundamental flaw at the heart of Kerry’s effort. There is no comparison between apartheid South Africa and Israel. But that term is not merely an inexact analogy. Since the Palestinians allege that the desire for a Jewish state is racist, claiming that the lack of peace means apartheid is a tacit acceptance of the Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Though this may not be Kerry’s direct intent, his resort to the ultimate slander in order to pressure Israel’s leaders to be more accommodating reinforces both Palestinians’ intransigence and their conviction that it is in their interest to keep saying no to Israeli peace offers. Rather than a mere expression of frustration, as Kerry’s apologists will insist, the use of the “A” word does more to doom the already dim chances of peace. As such, Kerry’s already dubious utility as a peace process facilitator is officially at an end.

Read More

Last Friday while speaking to a closed meeting of the Trilateral Commission, Secretary of State John Kerry raised the ante in his bid to keep his Middle East peace initiative alive. While lamenting the latest collapse of the talks, Kerry cast blame for the outcome on both Israel and the Palestinians but made it clear that the consequences for the former would be far more serious. In the recording of his comments, which was obtained by the Daily Beast, Kerry not only repeated his past warnings that if peace wasn’t reached Israel would be faced with a new round of violence from the Palestinians as well as increased boycott efforts. He went further and said that the alternative to an Israeli acceptance of a two-state solution was that it would become “an apartheid state.”

In doing so, Kerry exploded the notion that he is an evenhanded broker since he is, as he has done previously, effectively rationalizing, if not justifying the next intifada as well as the continued efforts of the BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement against Israel. The point here is that if the maintenance of the status quo will make Israel an apartheid state, then it must already be one. Given the odious nature of such a regime, that would not only justify the boycotts but also violence on the part of the Palestinians against Israel.

Identifying Israel as even a potential apartheid state is not only an incendiary slur; it demonstrates the fundamental flaw at the heart of Kerry’s effort. There is no comparison between apartheid South Africa and Israel. But that term is not merely an inexact analogy. Since the Palestinians allege that the desire for a Jewish state is racist, claiming that the lack of peace means apartheid is a tacit acceptance of the Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Though this may not be Kerry’s direct intent, his resort to the ultimate slander in order to pressure Israel’s leaders to be more accommodating reinforces both Palestinians’ intransigence and their conviction that it is in their interest to keep saying no to Israeli peace offers. Rather than a mere expression of frustration, as Kerry’s apologists will insist, the use of the “A” word does more to doom the already dim chances of peace. As such, Kerry’s already dubious utility as a peace process facilitator is officially at an end.

Kerry’s defenders are arguing that there is nothing new about a discussion centered on the belief that the status quo is unsustainable for Israel. Kerry’s position, which echoes that of the Jewish left in Israel and the United States, is that Israel’s best interests are served by a separation from the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank. Without a peace treaty that would create a Palestinian state alongside Israel, they argue that the continuation of the current situation means that the population there would have neither self-determination nor the rights of Israeli citizens. The question of unsustainability is one that I think is, at best, highly debatable. As I wrote last week, even as dim a light as the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has realized that the predictions about Israel’s doom are insupportable. But it is true that a majority of Israelis would, understandably, prefer a two-state solution. The notion that the Palestinians share this desire is equally debatable given the refusal of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, to accept Israel’s repeated offers of peace and independence.

But by including the word “apartheid” in this discussion, Kerry has done the cause of peace to which he has devoted so much effort this past year a grave disservice. Though the standoff in the West Bank is deeply troubling, it is not remotely comparable to the situation in South Africa that preceded the end of the old white minority regime in the 1994. Arabs have complete equality before the law and political rights inside Israel. Even in the West Bank where the failure to make peace has led to a situation in which Israel maintains its security presence, the Palestinian Authority is the governing authority for the overwhelming majority of those who live there. More importantly, the Jews, who remain a majority of the population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River rather than an apartheid-style minority, have repeatedly offered the Palestinians statehood and been turned down every time, the last refusal coming during the talks Kerry sponsored.

Whether the Palestinians are ever able to take the leap of faith to make peace or not, Israel will remain a full democracy within its borders. More to the point, the continuation of the situation in the West Bank will be one that is not a matter of a Jewish minority willfully dominating the Arab majority as was the case in South Africa for blacks and whites. Rather it is one in which a largely belligerent power—the PA—prefers the current anomalous situation over actual peace with Israel since signing a treaty would obligate them to end the century-old war they have been fighting against Zionism. And the more Americans throw around the apartheid slur, the less likely they will ever be to take such a decision.

Kerry may, as he indicated in the tape, present his own peace plan to the parties at some point on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. But his ability to influence events in a positive way is finished. By injecting the apartheid slur into the negotiations, Kerry has poisoned the waters in a manner that will only make it more rather than less difficult for Palestinian leaders to do what they must to bring about peace. Rather than pushing the parties toward an agreement, he has sabotaged the process. Just as the end of the conflict will have to wait until a new generation of Palestinians is willing to put aside their rejection of a Jewish state, so, too, must a productive American intervention be put off until Kerry leaves the diplomatic stage.

Read Less

Kerry’s Regime-Change Fantasy

Despite the attention received by yesterday’s scoop from the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin, in which we learned that Secretary of State John Kerry raised the specter of Israeli apartheid, it probably deserves a bit more. That’s because there was more to Kerry’s comments than the apartheid claim, and they demonstrate the extent of Kerry’s ignorance on Middle Eastern politics. As Rogin notes:

It wasn’t the only controversial comment on the Middle East that Kerry made during his remarks to the Trilateral Commission, a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast. Kerry also repeated his warning that a failure of Middle East peace talks could lead to a resumption of Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens. He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible. He lashed out against Israeli settlement-building. And Kerry said that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders share the blame for the current impasse in the talks.

The key part in that parade of nonsense is: “He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible.” The most harmful effect of such comments is not that they insult Israeli and Palestinian leaders–they do, but Kerry doesn’t care, and they’re all adults anyway and can roll with the punches. The real danger here is that Kerry is revealing that he doesn’t know anything about Israeli or Palestinian politics if he thinks that “regime change,” so to speak, on either side might get him closer to his Nobel Prize.

Read More

Despite the attention received by yesterday’s scoop from the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin, in which we learned that Secretary of State John Kerry raised the specter of Israeli apartheid, it probably deserves a bit more. That’s because there was more to Kerry’s comments than the apartheid claim, and they demonstrate the extent of Kerry’s ignorance on Middle Eastern politics. As Rogin notes:

It wasn’t the only controversial comment on the Middle East that Kerry made during his remarks to the Trilateral Commission, a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast. Kerry also repeated his warning that a failure of Middle East peace talks could lead to a resumption of Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens. He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible. He lashed out against Israeli settlement-building. And Kerry said that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders share the blame for the current impasse in the talks.

The key part in that parade of nonsense is: “He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible.” The most harmful effect of such comments is not that they insult Israeli and Palestinian leaders–they do, but Kerry doesn’t care, and they’re all adults anyway and can roll with the punches. The real danger here is that Kerry is revealing that he doesn’t know anything about Israeli or Palestinian politics if he thinks that “regime change,” so to speak, on either side might get him closer to his Nobel Prize.

On the Israeli side, the idea of helping to collapse Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition to get more obedient peaceniks in office is an ongoing farce during the Obama presidency. Even the president’s staunch defenders noticed quite early on that he was intent on spending energy and political capital trying to compel change in the Israeli coalition so he could get what he wanted. (This is the same administration that legitimized Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “election” “victory” in Iran.)

Barack Obama’s irrational hatred of Netanyahu was mirrored by the left in general, so he didn’t get quite the pushback such a scheme deserved. Putting aside the moral implications of destabilizing an ally in order to control it, the Obama administration should have learned by now that it would fail anyway. There has been an election since Obama’s early Mideast foibles, and that election produced a governing coalition that reflected precisely what I talked about last week: There is a broad political consensus in Israel, especially regarding the peace process, and Israeli democracy, however imperfect, tends to keep that consensus in office.

What the Obama administration wants for Israel is not what the Israeli people want for their country. The beauty of democracy is that this can be expressed at the ballot box for all to see. Kerry, then, has no excuse. We all know he’s wrong about Israeli politics, and thanks to regular parliamentary elections there’s no hiding it. Kerry, for obvious reasons, did not have much credibility on this issue to begin with; he would be foolish to bury whatever’s left of it with such pronouncements.

He is no less wrong about the Palestinians, but for different reasons. I can understand any frustration he might have with Mahmoud Abbas. The PA leader demanded pricey preconditions even to participate in talks, and then abandoned them to run into the arms of Hamas. Though it should have been obvious from the beginning that Abbas was not going to make peace and that he was playing Kerry, it probably still stings.

But who, exactly, does Kerry think is waiting in the wings to replace Abbas? Palestinian society is shot-through with hatred for Jews and anti-Semitic propaganda, and the high-profile alternative to Abbas’s crew has always been the more extreme Hamas. Additionally, Salam Fayyad’s exit from the PA government proved that the Palestinian Authority couldn’t even tolerate a reformer whose hands they had already tied. The mere presence of a man with liberalizing ideas was enough for the antibodies to attack the infection.

The Fayyad fiasco shows something else: it’s not true that there aren’t Palestinian moderates or Palestinians who want peace (or would at least prefer it to their leaders’ bombs-and-poverty governance). But they do not appear to be in the majority and, even more significantly, they do not reside in a democracy. Abbas governs by suffocating authoritarianism. There is simply no institutional structure to empower moderates.

This is one reason Fayyad’s departure was so deeply mourned in the West. Even when stymied by his rivals, Fayyad accomplished something modest by simply existing within the Palestinian bureaucracy. Though he couldn’t put his ideas into practice, he could infuse the internal debate with them and perhaps even hire likeminded staffers who, in the future, would be nearer the levers of power and greater in number. It might have been a long shot, but it was something.

As the American aid to the PA and Israeli military cooperation with it demonstrates, the alternatives to Abbas currently are unthinkable as peace partners and almost uniformly more enamored of violence. Abbas is no hero, but if Kerry thinks a change in Palestinian leadership would benefit his quest for peace, he’s even more confused than he appears.

Read Less

Obama Deserves Blame for Talks Collapse

When speaking at a press conference in South Korea today about the collapse of the Middle East peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State Kerry, President Obama adopted a tone of sorrowful resignation about the intransigence of both sides:

“As far as the Middle East is concerned, this is a problem that’s been going on for 60, 70, 80 years.  We didn’t anticipate that we were going to solve it during the course of a six or nine-month negotiation.  … What we haven’t seen is, frankly, the kind of political will to actually make tough decisions.  And that’s been true on both sides. And the fact that most recently President Abbas took the unhelpful step of rejoining talks with Hamas is just one of a series of choices that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have made that are not conducive to trying to resolve this crisis. … Folks can posture; folks can cling to maximalist positions; but realistically, there’s one door, and that is the two parties getting together and making some very difficult political compromises in order to secure the future of both Israelis and Palestinians for future generations.”

In doing so, the president not only deflected blame from Kerry and the administration but also refused to frankly acknowledge that it has been the Palestinian Authority who torpedoed the talks both by violating their agreements and going to the United Nations for recognition but also by concluding an alliance with the Hamas terrorists which the U.S. has always acknowledged to be incompatible with the peace process.

But the blame doesn’t only belong to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas. Were he truly being honest about the events of the past several months, the president would have to acknowledge that the series of events that led up the current debacle has been set in motion in no small measure by himself. When the history of the fool’s errand that Kerry has wasted so much of the last year on is written, Obama must bear much of the responsibility for the mixed signals sent to the region that encouraged Abbas to think he would be let off the hook for delivering what amounts to a fourth Palestinian “no” to Israeli offers of statehood and peace.

Read More

When speaking at a press conference in South Korea today about the collapse of the Middle East peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State Kerry, President Obama adopted a tone of sorrowful resignation about the intransigence of both sides:

“As far as the Middle East is concerned, this is a problem that’s been going on for 60, 70, 80 years.  We didn’t anticipate that we were going to solve it during the course of a six or nine-month negotiation.  … What we haven’t seen is, frankly, the kind of political will to actually make tough decisions.  And that’s been true on both sides. And the fact that most recently President Abbas took the unhelpful step of rejoining talks with Hamas is just one of a series of choices that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have made that are not conducive to trying to resolve this crisis. … Folks can posture; folks can cling to maximalist positions; but realistically, there’s one door, and that is the two parties getting together and making some very difficult political compromises in order to secure the future of both Israelis and Palestinians for future generations.”

In doing so, the president not only deflected blame from Kerry and the administration but also refused to frankly acknowledge that it has been the Palestinian Authority who torpedoed the talks both by violating their agreements and going to the United Nations for recognition but also by concluding an alliance with the Hamas terrorists which the U.S. has always acknowledged to be incompatible with the peace process.

But the blame doesn’t only belong to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas. Were he truly being honest about the events of the past several months, the president would have to acknowledge that the series of events that led up the current debacle has been set in motion in no small measure by himself. When the history of the fool’s errand that Kerry has wasted so much of the last year on is written, Obama must bear much of the responsibility for the mixed signals sent to the region that encouraged Abbas to think he would be let off the hook for delivering what amounts to a fourth Palestinian “no” to Israeli offers of statehood and peace.

Throughout the period of negotiations Obama has concentrated all of his criticisms and all public criticism on Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu. In interviews and public statements, he has continually warned Israel that it must make concessions and take risks for peace. He bolstered the conventional wisdom accepted by most of the international media and the U.S. foreign-policy establishment that Israel had not done the necessary soul searching or come to the conclusion that it must embrace peace rather than maximal territorial demands. In doing so, he acted as if the history of the last 20 years, during which Israel has made far-reaching territorial concessions, empowered the Palestinian Authority, and withdrawn completely from Gaza, never happened. American promises given to past Israeli prime ministers about support for Israel’s claims to settlement blocs and Jerusalem were treated as irrelevant. The three Palestinian refusals of Israeli peace offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008, including an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem, were thrown down the memory hole. Despite his embrace of a two-state solution and another offer of statehood made during the recent talks, Netanyahu was depicted as intransigent.

At the same time, Obama spoke of Abbas as a strong champion of peace even when the PA leader was embracing the released terrorist murderers that the U.S. had pressured Israel into releasing as a bribe for the Palestinians to return to the talks. The Palestinians never budged during the talks. Nor were they willing, even in principle, to drop their demands for a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees or to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Yet, even as he was continually bashing Netanyahu, Abbas got off scot-free. And when Abbas fled the negotiations that he had never wanted to be part of by going to the U.N., Kerry inexplicably blamed it all on an Israeli building project in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that no one—not even the Palestinians—expects Israel to give up even in the event of peace.

Tilting the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction may have been intended to weaken Netanyahu and empower Abbas to make peace. But it had the opposite effect. Perhaps Obama and Kerry thought Abbas—now serving in the 10th year of a five-year presidential term and under pressure from Hamas—was too fragile to withstand pressure to make peace. But by giving him a pass, they sent a clear signal that not even a unity deal with Hamas would result in severe consequences for the PA.

It’s entirely possible, if not probable, that not even tough pressure on Abbas to do what had to be done to make peace would have worked. Palestinian political culture is still predicated on a vision of national identity that is inextricably linked to the cause of Israel’s elimination. But the U.S. didn’t even try to push Abbas while hammering Netanyahu. When given the chance to make it clear to Abbas that his choice was between peace and complete isolation, the president punted. The result is—assuming the unity pact doesn’t collapse—a new PA that is bound to Hamas’s rejectionism that will also strengthen the most radical elements in Fatah. Rather than taking bows for a gallant effort, the administration ought to be admitting that it has taken a bad situation and made it worse.

It is no surprise that the peace process failed since the conditions that would have made it possible were not present. But any slim hopes for a deal were destroyed by Obama’s obsession with battering Israel and his delusions about the Palestinians.

Read Less

Time to Rethink Basic Logic of Peace Process

The collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be met with the usual recriminations, as supporters of both sides will blame the other for their failure. Perhaps with the process collapsed—for the time being irretrievably so—it’s time for American policymakers and especially the State Department to question some fundamental assumptions they have with regard to making peace in the Middle East. Here are some lessons that they might learn, or at least subjects which policymakers might debate before wasting any more jet fuel for Kerry’s travels or diplomatic energy when there are so many more pressing issues in the world:

  • Peace comes not from a process, but from a fundamental decision by both parties that peace is what they want. A lot of journalists, diplomats, and analysts rightly remember the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as a great peacemaker. What they forget is that Sadat only chose peace after he tried to eradicate Israel through war. Only after he concluded that he simply could not achieve his aims through violence did he make his bold gesture to Jerusalem. The problem with Palestinian leaders today is that they have not abandoned terrorism and violence as a policy tool: They will extract what incentives they can at the table—for example, the release of child killers and other terrorists—but then walk away and seek to win through violence what they could not through diplomacy. An endless process will not change Palestinian minds. Perhaps the Palestinian leadership will only come to such a conclusion when they suffer a decisive defeat, much as Sadat once did. A responsible international community would let them suffer such a defeat. The only precondition that matters is for the Palestinian leadership in its current form or whatever grassroots leadership takes its place to come to the conclusion that the only way to achieve their goals is through diplomacy. Read More

The collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be met with the usual recriminations, as supporters of both sides will blame the other for their failure. Perhaps with the process collapsed—for the time being irretrievably so—it’s time for American policymakers and especially the State Department to question some fundamental assumptions they have with regard to making peace in the Middle East. Here are some lessons that they might learn, or at least subjects which policymakers might debate before wasting any more jet fuel for Kerry’s travels or diplomatic energy when there are so many more pressing issues in the world:

  • Peace comes not from a process, but from a fundamental decision by both parties that peace is what they want. A lot of journalists, diplomats, and analysts rightly remember the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as a great peacemaker. What they forget is that Sadat only chose peace after he tried to eradicate Israel through war. Only after he concluded that he simply could not achieve his aims through violence did he make his bold gesture to Jerusalem. The problem with Palestinian leaders today is that they have not abandoned terrorism and violence as a policy tool: They will extract what incentives they can at the table—for example, the release of child killers and other terrorists—but then walk away and seek to win through violence what they could not through diplomacy. An endless process will not change Palestinian minds. Perhaps the Palestinian leadership will only come to such a conclusion when they suffer a decisive defeat, much as Sadat once did. A responsible international community would let them suffer such a defeat. The only precondition that matters is for the Palestinian leadership in its current form or whatever grassroots leadership takes its place to come to the conclusion that the only way to achieve their goals is through diplomacy.
  • Aid can be a detriment to peace, rather than an enabler. The Palestinians have been, per capita, the largest recipient of foreign aid on Earth and yet the Palestinian state is a disaster. That is not because of the border fence, the blockade of Gaza, or Israel. Rather, it is because of poor Palestinian governance. Accountability matters. The problem with aid is that it erodes accountability. If Palestinian officials need not worry about schooling, clothing, or feeding their own people because they are assured of international subsidy, then why not spend money on political or military adventurism? Aid also undercuts democracy, for it supplants the job of an elected government. At the very least, it is time to rethink the notion that aid helps when there is no evidence that it has and much evidence that it has not. Indeed, perhaps it’s time to cut off aid and assistance—there are many other peoples who are in far greater need of international assistance, for example, in Guinea, Mali, South Sudan, or even Ukraine. American assistance is not an entitlement.
  • Incitement matters. It has been almost twenty years since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Rather than prepare the Palestinian people for peace, the Palestinian media fed a new generation a steady doctrine of hatred and rejectionism. While the vast majority of Israelis favor a two-state solution, the same cannot be said about Palestinians who continue to be told that Israel is an illegitimate entity. The State Department will always ignore reality in order to continue processes. Had Congress taken a no-nonsense approach toward incitement, and demanded an immediate cessation of aid when it occurred, then perhaps the region could have avoided 20 years of poison.
  • Terrorism can’t be swept under the rug. In the course of researching my new book, Dancing With the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, it became apparent that senior State Department officials in the 1990s had lied to Congress about Palestinian terrorism, fearing that if they acknowledged the involvement of senior Palestinian officials in terrorism, they might need to end the process. Simply put, senior Middle East peace processors—several of whom have served or now still serve in the Obama administration—had intelligence at their fingertips but purposely ignored it. There is no process that can succeed in the long term if the basis of that process is a lie.
  • Agreements don’t have an expiration date nor do changes of administration cancel them. Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accord in 1993. Since then, the Palestinians have, with Arafat’s death, had a change in leadership although Mahmoud Abbas is now more than five years past the end of his legal term. Israel has had seven prime ministers (counting Bibi Netanyahu twice). While pundits can quip about the he-said, she-said of Israeli and Palestinian compliance, the fact of the matter is that the Palestinian Authority exists because the Palestinian leadership agreed to recognize Israel and foreswear terrorism. That Hamas now forms part of the Palestinian government means that the Palestinian government no longer adheres to the agreement that forms the very basis of its existence. Israel would be perfectly within its right, should it so desire, to push the Palestinian Authority back out of Gaza and the West Bank and roll the clock back to before 1993. That might not be desirable, but if the Palestinians are going to absolve themselves of their contractual responsibilities, there is no reason why Israel should continue remitting payments or doing anything to facilitate the Palestinian Authority’s job or existence. If Abbas wants his partner to be Hamas, then he should pay the price for that decision.

Read Less

Sorry, Israel Doomsayers, the Conflict Can Be Managed

The last place one expects to find common sense about the Middle East conflict is Roger Cohen’s column in the New York Times. A reflexive critic of the Jewish state, Cohen has been rightly criticized for sloppy writing and threadbare clichés, and he earned lasting infamy in 2009 for a series of columns he wrote seeking to whitewash the Iranian regime of the charge of anti-Semitism. That was an endeavor so transparently false and despicable that it was rightly compared to the Times’s Walter Duranty who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for seeking to depict Josef Stalin as innocent of the crime of genocide in Ukraine. But Cohen has his occasional moments of clarity and today’s piece is one of them. In it, he rightly takes on the oft-repeated charge that the current standoff between Israel and the Palestinians is “unsustainable.”

The notion that Israel must seize any opportunity to make peace on any terms is rooted in a belief that the economic and military strength of the Jewish state is a house of cards that will, sooner or later, come tumbling down as the Palestinians and their supporters undermine both its prosperity and its political legitimacy. But as Cohen writes today, this piece of conventional wisdom that has been embraced by the president of the United States as well as the Jewish left is utter rubbish. As Cohen notes:

Behind its barriers and wall, backed by military might, certain of more or less unswerving American support, technologically innovative and democratically stable, Israel has the power to prolong indefinitely its occupation of the West Bank and its dominion over several million Palestinians. The Jewish state has grown steadily stronger in relation to the Palestinians since 1948. There is no reason to believe this trend will ever be reversed. Holding onto all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, while continuing to prosper, is feasible. This, after all, is what Israel has already done for almost a half-century. …

Throughout this year the Obama administration has pushed the unsustainability argument to make its case for peace. “Today’s status quo, absolutely to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in February. “It is not sustainable. It is illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”…

But that “point” of unmanageability is a vanishing one. Permanent occupation is what several ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition government advocate. Backed by the evidence, they are certain it can be managed. They are right.

Cohen believes this “permanent occupation” is not desirable and the majority of Israelis probably agree with him about that. But the problem is that in the absence of a credible Palestinian peace partner, the idea of retreating from the West Bank as Israel did with Gaza in 2005 is rightly seen as an act of utter folly.

Read More

The last place one expects to find common sense about the Middle East conflict is Roger Cohen’s column in the New York Times. A reflexive critic of the Jewish state, Cohen has been rightly criticized for sloppy writing and threadbare clichés, and he earned lasting infamy in 2009 for a series of columns he wrote seeking to whitewash the Iranian regime of the charge of anti-Semitism. That was an endeavor so transparently false and despicable that it was rightly compared to the Times’s Walter Duranty who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for seeking to depict Josef Stalin as innocent of the crime of genocide in Ukraine. But Cohen has his occasional moments of clarity and today’s piece is one of them. In it, he rightly takes on the oft-repeated charge that the current standoff between Israel and the Palestinians is “unsustainable.”

The notion that Israel must seize any opportunity to make peace on any terms is rooted in a belief that the economic and military strength of the Jewish state is a house of cards that will, sooner or later, come tumbling down as the Palestinians and their supporters undermine both its prosperity and its political legitimacy. But as Cohen writes today, this piece of conventional wisdom that has been embraced by the president of the United States as well as the Jewish left is utter rubbish. As Cohen notes:

Behind its barriers and wall, backed by military might, certain of more or less unswerving American support, technologically innovative and democratically stable, Israel has the power to prolong indefinitely its occupation of the West Bank and its dominion over several million Palestinians. The Jewish state has grown steadily stronger in relation to the Palestinians since 1948. There is no reason to believe this trend will ever be reversed. Holding onto all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, while continuing to prosper, is feasible. This, after all, is what Israel has already done for almost a half-century. …

Throughout this year the Obama administration has pushed the unsustainability argument to make its case for peace. “Today’s status quo, absolutely to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in February. “It is not sustainable. It is illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”…

But that “point” of unmanageability is a vanishing one. Permanent occupation is what several ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition government advocate. Backed by the evidence, they are certain it can be managed. They are right.

Cohen believes this “permanent occupation” is not desirable and the majority of Israelis probably agree with him about that. But the problem is that in the absence of a credible Palestinian peace partner, the idea of retreating from the West Bank as Israel did with Gaza in 2005 is rightly seen as an act of utter folly.

Cohen and others believe Israel’s presence in the West Bank and the corrosive nature of its anomalous relationship with the Palestinians undermines its democratic ethos. But as problematic as that situation may be, as Cohen acknowledges, the vast majority of Israelis prefer to go on living with that conundrum rather than endanger their future by repeating the mistakes of Oslo and Ariel Sharon’s Gaza retreat.

Cohen concludes his largely sensible piece by foolishly claiming that Israel must embrace the new Palestinian unity coalition in which Fatah and Hamas have come together as the best path to peace. He even compares the myth that Israel can be destroyed with the idea that the Palestinian Authority “represents the Palestinian national movement” by itself. That latter point may be true, but that is exactly why it is necessary for Israel to refrain from empowering the Islamists of Hamas as it did for the nationalists of Fatah under the Oslo Accords. Given the choice of making peace with Israel or with Hamas, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas chose Hamas. The idea that Hamas or even most of Fatah is willing to accept peace with Israel is a myth that is every bit as baseless as the one about Israel’s impending doom.

But Cohen’s broader point about sustainability is one the doomsayers about Israel on the left need to come to terms with. By feeding the Palestinian fantasy about Israel running out of time to make peace, President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and their cheerleaders on the Jewish left are actually undermining the chances for peace. The notion that Israel is living on borrowed time has been a staple of Middle East commentary since its victory in 1967 and it is just as much of a fallacy today as it was then. Indeed, despite numerous problems, both domestic and foreign, Israel has become an economic and military powerhouse that cannot be wished away. While some toy with unrealistic notions about a one-state solution, most Israelis would prefer a two-state answer to their current predicament but sensibly understand that must be deferred until the Palestinians come to their senses and reject a concept of national identity that is not inextricably tied to a quest for Israel’s destruction. If and when they do, they will find that Israel is ready to deal with them. But until then, they will remain mired in their current dilemma while the Jewish state continues to wax stronger.

Read Less

Blair’s Puzzling Middle East Address

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now serves as the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, has given a major speech to Bloomberg, urging greater Western engagement in the Middle East. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Blair’s message was his warning about the ongoing dangers of radical Islam. The speech gets a lot right, and yet some of its conclusions seemed confused–at odds with the sound premises that Blair laid out in other parts of the very same speech.

It is hard to account for this anomaly. Given the “warmonger” status that some in his own country still try to relegate him to, perhaps the former prime minister feels the need to temper his statements with some politically correct platitudes? Still, it is quite possible that Blair’s worldview is just fundamentally a confused one.

As Douglas Murray has already pointed out, Blair’s encouraging statements about the critical threat posed by radical Islam were somewhat offset by his insistence that political Islam “distorts and warps Islam’s true message.” For as Murray reminds us, Blair’s longstanding line about Islam being a “religion of peace” has not always allowed for an entirely honest discussion of the extent to which hardline Islam simply draws on existing themes within the Islamic tradition. Yet, where Blair’s speech really appeared to become confused was on the matter of Israel and the Palestinians. Here there seemed to be an almost inexplicable incongruence between Blair’s premises and his recommendations for policy.

Read More

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now serves as the Quartet’s Middle East envoy, has given a major speech to Bloomberg, urging greater Western engagement in the Middle East. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Blair’s message was his warning about the ongoing dangers of radical Islam. The speech gets a lot right, and yet some of its conclusions seemed confused–at odds with the sound premises that Blair laid out in other parts of the very same speech.

It is hard to account for this anomaly. Given the “warmonger” status that some in his own country still try to relegate him to, perhaps the former prime minister feels the need to temper his statements with some politically correct platitudes? Still, it is quite possible that Blair’s worldview is just fundamentally a confused one.

As Douglas Murray has already pointed out, Blair’s encouraging statements about the critical threat posed by radical Islam were somewhat offset by his insistence that political Islam “distorts and warps Islam’s true message.” For as Murray reminds us, Blair’s longstanding line about Islam being a “religion of peace” has not always allowed for an entirely honest discussion of the extent to which hardline Islam simply draws on existing themes within the Islamic tradition. Yet, where Blair’s speech really appeared to become confused was on the matter of Israel and the Palestinians. Here there seemed to be an almost inexplicable incongruence between Blair’s premises and his recommendations for policy.

As ever, Blair’s comments about Israel were hearteningly supportive. He emphasized the importance of Israel as an ally to the West and reminded listeners that the West couldn’t be indifferent to Israel’s fate in the event that Israel should find itself in a regional conflict—a reference to Iran perhaps. Yet, when it came to the matter of the peace process, Blair’s comments turned from reassuring to puzzling. The former prime minister laid out a number of key foundational truths on this matter–truths that Western leaders could do with asserting far more often–and yet Blair still seemed to end up endorsing the same failed conclusions that have so far led Secretary of State John Kerry to such a humiliating defeat in his efforts on this front.

Most importantly, Blair reminded his audience that the Israel-Palestinian dispute is not the cause of the region’s problems, despite the widespread and mistaken thinking to contrary. Blair explained: “It remains absolutely core to the region and the world. Not because the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the cause of our problems. But because solving it would be such a victory for the very forces we should support. Now it may be that after years of it being said that solving this question is the route to solving the regions’ problems, we’re about to enter a new phase where solving the region’s problems a critical part of solving the Israeli/Palestinian issue.”

This mention of “a victory for the forces we should support” of course relates to Blair’s wider point about supporting liberal and democratic forces in the region so as to vanquish the extremist ones. And here Blair was able to outline why all attempts to solve the Israel-Palestinian dispute thus far have failed. “The issue in which we have expended extraordinary energy and determination through US Secretary Kerry, still seems as intractable as ever” Blair conceded, “Yet the explanation for all of these apparently unresolvable contradictions is staring us in the face.” The whole point is that the emphasis on what Israel does or does not do is really immaterial when what we are really facing is an ideology of unappeasable extremism. As Blair outlined:

It is that there is a Titanic struggle going on within the region between those who want the region to embrace the modern world…and those who instead want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity. This is the battle. This is the distorting feature. This is what makes intervention so fraught but non-intervention equally so. This is what complicates the process of political evolution. This is what makes it so hard for democracy to take root. This is what, irrespective of the problems on the Israeli side, divides Palestinian politics and constrains their leadership.

And yet after having spoken so much sense, Blair proceeded to praise Kerry and to disagree with those who condemned the secretary of state for the wildly disproportionate amount of energy and time that he has put into forcing hopeless negotiations between the two sides. One wonders if it is only Blair’s position as Middle East envoy that compels him to parrot this pro-peace process line. It is, however, possible that while doing the former, this is Blair’s way of telling the world that there will be no meaningful peace process until extremism can be dealt with and that the last people who should be blamed or undermined are the Israelis. If not, then it is difficult to know how else to explain the confused conclusions of an otherwise praiseworthy address. 

Read Less

Why Hamas and Fatah Carry on the Charade

Progress in Hamas-Fatah unity talks may appear to be fertile ground for jokes at Secretary of State John Kerry’s expense, since it seems the one divide he hasn’t been feverishly trying to bridge is the one place where prospects for reconciliation have improved. But Kerry can rest easy on this score: whatever Kerry’s diplomatic faults (and they are many), he is not going to be outdone on the peace score by the terrorists of Hamas.

In fact, the Hamas-Fatah unity talks–a staple of those truly dedicated to wasting everyone’s time–are worth watching, but not for the reason the region’s idealists think. Instead, the Palestinian civil war and attempts to end it demonstrate, for those paying attention, why Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have so often been a fool’s errand. Even the Western media’s most excitable Palestinian boosters–Israel’s leftist daily Haaretz–can’t quite conceal the contradiction at the heart of the internecine compromise we are told is within reach. The paper reports:

Read More

Progress in Hamas-Fatah unity talks may appear to be fertile ground for jokes at Secretary of State John Kerry’s expense, since it seems the one divide he hasn’t been feverishly trying to bridge is the one place where prospects for reconciliation have improved. But Kerry can rest easy on this score: whatever Kerry’s diplomatic faults (and they are many), he is not going to be outdone on the peace score by the terrorists of Hamas.

In fact, the Hamas-Fatah unity talks–a staple of those truly dedicated to wasting everyone’s time–are worth watching, but not for the reason the region’s idealists think. Instead, the Palestinian civil war and attempts to end it demonstrate, for those paying attention, why Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have so often been a fool’s errand. Even the Western media’s most excitable Palestinian boosters–Israel’s leftist daily Haaretz–can’t quite conceal the contradiction at the heart of the internecine compromise we are told is within reach. The paper reports:

The headlines were all referring to a meeting expected to take place Tuesday between the Fatah delegation to the reconciliation talks and the Hamas leadership, with the participation of Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy to Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal. Will reconciliation come about this time between the factions, which have been at loggerheads since 2007? Will the reconciliation agreement they signed in 2011 be implemented?

That last sentence is quite the red flag. The two sides have signed agreements in the past: not only does signing a new one concede the fact that the last agreement hasn’t been honored, but the new agreement might not even require the last agreement’s implementation. The concern by Israelis has always been that even if Mahmoud Abbas signs a peace deal with them, his successor might not honor it. But the history of Hamas-Fatah reconciliation suggests it won’t get that far: the Palestinian signatories themselves are unlikely to honor it.

Haaretz continues:

If the parties reach agreement, Israel might view this as intentional Palestinian abandonment of the negotiations with Israel, and use reconciliation as a pretext to halt the peace process. This, despite the fact that Hamas had agreed at the time to allow PA President Mahmoud Abbas to continue negotiations without Hamas committing to accept their outcome, and the fact that in 2010, Hamas made clear that it does not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state within in the 1967 boundaries.

At the same time, Abbas can present himself as the legitimate representative of all parts of the Palestinian state and thus bolster his demand for international recognition for the state.

It is unclear from the agreements attained so far what the status will be of the accords signed between the PLO and Israel, whether the PA will be able to continue implementing them and what will happen to security cooperation with Hamas still supporting armed struggle. For Hamas, which is in deep economic trouble and in a hostile relationship with Egypt, reconciliation could be an indispensable way out. The funding sources that reach the PA could then be used to cover civil activities of government ministries that would be under Hamas control. Abbas could then ask Egypt to change its position toward Hamas and also open lines of communication for Hamas with other Arab countries.

The tone of that section is typical of the Israeli left: the Israeli government would use the talks as “pretext” to skip out on their own negotiations with a government quite different from the one they were negotiating with. How unreasonable. Additionally, even Haaretz notes that this is “despite the fact” that Hamas is allowing Abbas to continue talks with Israel “without Hamas committing to accept their outcome.” So they are meaningless.

By this logic, Israeli skepticism toward the Hamas-Fatah deal is warranted: were Abbas’s faction to strike a deal with Israel, Hamas is reserving the right not to accept it. So the Hamas-Fatah deal and the theoretical Palestinian-Israeli deal are very likely mutually exclusive. The Palestinians are playing games. Again.

Why are they playing games? Abbas knows he does not have nearly enough control over the Palestinian polity to claim to be a legitimate head of state even if he were to sign a deal with Israel. Hamas’s inclusion can potentially make him president of a failed state instead of failed president of a non-state.

The benefits to Hamas are obvious, as the Haaretz report makes clear. Those benefits are chiefly financial, since Hamas’s inclusion in the government would make them eligible to share in the PA’s revenue and perhaps ease trade and migration restrictions imposed on Gaza by Egypt. Since history shows Hamas doesn’t actually have to abide by the agreement, they can take the money and run, leaving Abbas weaker than ever while eating into his popular approval by temporarily improving the economic condition of the Gaza Strip.

It’s a great deal for Hamas. And Kerry should be glad he had nothing to do with it.

Read Less

Obama’s eBay Diplomacy in Action

“My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days,” President Obama said yesterday of the deal to ease the crisis in eastern Ukraine, “but I don’t think, given past performance, that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine.” Such skepticism was warranted; as the Washington Post reports, the deal requiring pro-Russian forces to end their occupation of government buildings in Ukraine is being amended on the fly by those protesters. They’ll leave, they say–if the Ukrainian government does too:

“It is an illegal junta,” said Anatoliy Onischenko, of the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the organization that has occupied the regional parliament building. A separate group is occupying the Donetsk City Hall.

Other pro-Russian activists also said they would not leave the occupied buildings as long as pro-government protesters still were massed in Kiev’s Independence Square.

Obama seemed to anticipate this, which is a good sign. But it’s worth asking why such deals are signed in the first place, knowing that Vladimir Putin is not an honest broker and that there is really no enforcement mechanism for such agreements. As the president also said yesterday, he’s “been very clear that military options are not on the table in Ukraine because this is not a situation that would be amenable to a clear military solution.” Force isn’t needed, the president said, when Secretary of State John Kerry can simply wave a magic wand instead: “What we have to do is to create an environment in which irregular forces disarm, that the seizing of buildings cease, that a national dialogue by Ukrainians — not by Russians, not by Americans or anybody else, but by Ukrainians — takes place.”

Read More

“My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days,” President Obama said yesterday of the deal to ease the crisis in eastern Ukraine, “but I don’t think, given past performance, that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine.” Such skepticism was warranted; as the Washington Post reports, the deal requiring pro-Russian forces to end their occupation of government buildings in Ukraine is being amended on the fly by those protesters. They’ll leave, they say–if the Ukrainian government does too:

“It is an illegal junta,” said Anatoliy Onischenko, of the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the organization that has occupied the regional parliament building. A separate group is occupying the Donetsk City Hall.

Other pro-Russian activists also said they would not leave the occupied buildings as long as pro-government protesters still were massed in Kiev’s Independence Square.

Obama seemed to anticipate this, which is a good sign. But it’s worth asking why such deals are signed in the first place, knowing that Vladimir Putin is not an honest broker and that there is really no enforcement mechanism for such agreements. As the president also said yesterday, he’s “been very clear that military options are not on the table in Ukraine because this is not a situation that would be amenable to a clear military solution.” Force isn’t needed, the president said, when Secretary of State John Kerry can simply wave a magic wand instead: “What we have to do is to create an environment in which irregular forces disarm, that the seizing of buildings cease, that a national dialogue by Ukrainians — not by Russians, not by Americans or anybody else, but by Ukrainians — takes place.”

This is classic diplospeak, in that it says absolutely nothing of substance but sounds nice. And that, in many ways, is the crux of the matter: the current American diplomatic team is being routed by their Russian counterparts. Why is that? Earlier this week James Bruno, a retired Foreign Service officer, argued that the politicization of American diplomacy has reached a point at which expertise becomes a luxury. Obama has essentially been auctioning off even high-level ambassadorships, which is no surprise considering the revelations that Obama has politicized the Foreign Service to an unprecedented degree.

Bruno expanded the argument:

Three-quarters of the top policy and management positions at the State Department currently are occupied by non-diplomats, mainly Democratic Party activists or liberal think tankers. “Most are competent, but must pass an ideological test to be appointed,” a former senior official who worked with Obama’s appointees at State told me. “These positions,” she added, “are handed out based on party connections and loyalty.” In the hands of these decision-makers, all major foreign policy issues are viewed through an “ideological prism as opposed to an eye toward the long-term interests of the United States,” she said. The White House’s National Security Council staff, furthermore, has ballooned from about four dozen three decades ago to more than twice that today, a shift that has had the effect of concentrating power in the White House, and infusing key decisions with political calculations.

The answer, according to this logic, is simple: Russia takes international affairs seriously, and the Obama administration doesn’t. But the U.S. and Russia are not the only actors in this drama, and this is where managing American alliances–another glaring weakness of the Obama administration–could make up some of the difference.

Those opposed to American defense alliances complain that the U.S. props up NATO, especially former Soviet or Russian satellite states. But those states’ relationships with Russia have their own advantages. One common myth of NATO enlargement to Russia’s near abroad has held that the process is adversarial enough to prevent negotiations instead of military confrontation. This is untrue, of course. As Vincent Pouliot writes in International Security in Practice: The Politics of NATO-Russia Diplomacy, according to Polish officials, Poland’s accession to NATO was driven in large part by fear of Russian military invasion. Once in NATO for purely defensive reasons, Polish officials became “less allergic to Russia.” NATO facilitates dialogue between otherwise mutually suspicious actors.

“Among NATO’s international military personnel,” Pouliot writes, “I met a Lithuanian colonel who was a Red Army conscript in 1987; his dispositions were obviously heavily influenced by that experience.” In one meeting Pouliot was told Lithuanians can read Russians’ minds; he was then told a similar thing about officials of the Baltic states. This may not be the norm, at least with regard to officials’ past service in Russian armed forces. But it does reveal how, when negotiating with Russia, the perspective of NATO allies can be of value.

The Obama administration is perhaps less likely to agree than both his predecessors in the post-Cold War era, which is why Obama is also far less inclined to make any progress toward upgrading the alliance. But his eBay diplomacy of auctioning off ambassadorships and other foreign-policy jobs means Obama would have far more to gain by listening to our allies who take European affairs and the maintenance of the international order a bit more seriously.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.