Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Kerry

Boycotts Driven By Hate, Not Settlements

Last week Secretary of State John Kerry raised the hackles of Israelis when he warned that if the Jewish state didn’t make enough concessions to allow him to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians it would be targeted for boycotts. The stark threat was partially walked back later by the State Department when it claimed Kerry was merely taking note of a development he opposes. But he made his point. Israelis are acutely aware that they are particularly vulnerable to economic pressure from their European trading partners. Nor has it failed to come their attention that the BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—movement in Europe has been recently gaining ground. Though the administration must oppose such boycotts, Kerry’s remarks conferred a spurious legitimacy to the BDSers who will push to isolate Israel no matter who is to blame for the failure of Kerry’s initiative.

Lest anyone miss Kerry’s point, it was repeated yesterday by the European Union’s ambassador to Israel. As the European Jewish Press reports, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson said the boycotts represented the will of the European people who already blame Israel and its settlement policy for the lack of peace rather than the intransigent Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In recent months, a Dutch pension fund severed relations with Israeli banks and the country’s largest water supply company also ended ties with Mekorot, Israel’s principal water company. But whether this is, as Faaborg-Anderson claimed, a spontaneous outburst of ill will from the citizens of EU countries or, as Kerry’s remarks implied, a more coordinated effort designed to bludgeon the Israelis into submission, the reality the Jewish state confronts is that it must be prepared for such boycotts no matter what happens in the negotiations. That’s because the driving force behind the support for these measures isn’t principled disagreement with Israeli policies but rather the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Last week Secretary of State John Kerry raised the hackles of Israelis when he warned that if the Jewish state didn’t make enough concessions to allow him to achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians it would be targeted for boycotts. The stark threat was partially walked back later by the State Department when it claimed Kerry was merely taking note of a development he opposes. But he made his point. Israelis are acutely aware that they are particularly vulnerable to economic pressure from their European trading partners. Nor has it failed to come their attention that the BDS—boycott, divestment, and sanctions—movement in Europe has been recently gaining ground. Though the administration must oppose such boycotts, Kerry’s remarks conferred a spurious legitimacy to the BDSers who will push to isolate Israel no matter who is to blame for the failure of Kerry’s initiative.

Lest anyone miss Kerry’s point, it was repeated yesterday by the European Union’s ambassador to Israel. As the European Jewish Press reports, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Anderson said the boycotts represented the will of the European people who already blame Israel and its settlement policy for the lack of peace rather than the intransigent Palestinian refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In recent months, a Dutch pension fund severed relations with Israeli banks and the country’s largest water supply company also ended ties with Mekorot, Israel’s principal water company. But whether this is, as Faaborg-Anderson claimed, a spontaneous outburst of ill will from the citizens of EU countries or, as Kerry’s remarks implied, a more coordinated effort designed to bludgeon the Israelis into submission, the reality the Jewish state confronts is that it must be prepared for such boycotts no matter what happens in the negotiations. That’s because the driving force behind the support for these measures isn’t principled disagreement with Israeli policies but rather the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

Rumors floated by the Palestinians about such coordination between the U.S. and the EU are already making their way through the Middle East. But what Kerry left out of his warning is the plain fact that the impetus for such threats and the growing support for the boycott movement aren’t based on anything the Israelis are doing. While those warning Israel of the consequences of its settlement policy claim they are only responding to popular sentiment, the recent explosion of European anger over the settlements is, as it happens, strangely timed. Since Israel has just agreed to Kerry’s framework for negotiations—the ultimate goal of which is a peace deal with the Palestinians that will grant them a state in much of the West Bank—the existence of the settlements can’t logically be represented as an obstacle to peace. That’s a point that should have been made clear to the Europeans when the Palestinians rejected offers of statehood including a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Nor need one support the existence of all the settlements to understand that most of them—located in blocs near the 1967 lines—will remain within Israel in the event of a peace treaty.

So if the existence of the settlements doesn’t explain the recent upsurge in support for boycotting Israel, what does? The simple answer was supplied by the State Department when it described in its report on religious persecution a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” that was sweeping the continent. Since the publication of that report in 2012, evidence of even more violence against European Jews, widespread support in Europe for new laws that restrict Jewish religious practices, as well as efforts to smear Israel and its supporters have all increased and have grown ever more virulent. While Israel’s detractors have falsely attempted to blame Israel for the spread of Jew-hatred, that is a familiar tactic to anyone who knows the long and horrific history of European anti-Semitism, which has always found an aspect of alleged Jewish misbehavior to justify their own bigotry and crimes.

European anti-Semitism is currently being promoted by a noxious combination of traditional Jew-hatred at both ends of the social spectrum—from Muslim immigrant communities to elites, academics, and intellectuals who similarly delegitimize all Jews who speak up for Israel. That ought to make it all the more important that those who purport to oppose such hatred and profess friendship for Israel denounce the BDS movement. That Kerry missed an opportunity to do so and instead fed the simmering hatred on the continent was shameful. Whether his failure to speak out was deliberate or a negligent lost chance to put the U.S. clearly on record as adamantly against the BDS movement is not important. As long as the U.S. and the EU are working in tandem to taunt and threaten Israel in this fashion, they are both serving as the enablers of a highly dangerous and hate-driven movement.

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The Costs of Obama’s Syrian Disaster

When President Obama made the case for U.S. strikes on Syria last year and then ignominiously retreated in the face of congressional opposition and wound up agreeing to a deal that handed Russia responsibility for cleaning up that country’s chemical arms, it marked a new low for U.S. Middle East policy. But a war-weary America that wanted no part of yet another foreign war merely shrugged. Most acknowledged, however, that Obama’s retreat was humiliating. But the rise of a new isolationism has muted any potential public outcry over Obama’s irresponsibility in demanding the ouster of Bashar Assad or the hollow bravado of his talk of “red lines,” let alone any concern for the slaughter of more than 100,000. Even those initially inclined to support military action in Syria came to believe that it might now be too late to act since Obama’s dithering may have squandered the chance to replace Assad with pro-democracy rebels instead of al-Qaeda-related terrorists. When Obama punted the Syrian question to Russia, some observers hoped that the deal for the removal of the regime’s chemical weapons would, at least, limit the damage.

But several months later, the problem has not just disappeared as the president hoped it would. The American people may be no more interested in dealing with Syria today than they were last August, but at least Secretary of State John Kerry seems willing to admit, albeit privately, that the administration has been party to a complete disaster that may well come back to haunt the U.S. in a catastrophic way. Speaking with at least 15 members of Congress in an off-the-record meeting, as the Daily Beast reports, Kerry told them that the talks with the Russians have not succeeded in dealing with the chemical-weapons issue, let alone in ending the Syrian civil war. Even worse, he admitted that al-Qaeda-connected opposition groups are now entrenched in the country and may well be planning to attack the American homeland. But comments such as these weren’t likely to stay private for long, as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham leaked them yesterday, provoking the usual denials from both the White House and the State Department.

While McCain and Graham may hope to use this information to gain more support for their proposals to arm moderate Syrian rebels, there appears little appetite in either the Congress or the country for any intervention in Syria. But as much as administration officials may be counting on public apathy to shield them from being held accountable for their Syrian fiasco, Kerry’s admission about the strengthening of al-Qaeda should shock the nation. Just as importantly, these revelations shed new light on the utter bankruptcy of the administration’s groundless faith in the nuclear talks with the other major player in Syria: Iran. Although the administration has worked tirelessly to shout down the bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate that wants to pass more sanctions on Iran with the administration’s spurious claim that the alternative to the current diplomatic track is war, the tragic outcome in Syria illustrates that there is something even worse than a conflict with Iran.

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When President Obama made the case for U.S. strikes on Syria last year and then ignominiously retreated in the face of congressional opposition and wound up agreeing to a deal that handed Russia responsibility for cleaning up that country’s chemical arms, it marked a new low for U.S. Middle East policy. But a war-weary America that wanted no part of yet another foreign war merely shrugged. Most acknowledged, however, that Obama’s retreat was humiliating. But the rise of a new isolationism has muted any potential public outcry over Obama’s irresponsibility in demanding the ouster of Bashar Assad or the hollow bravado of his talk of “red lines,” let alone any concern for the slaughter of more than 100,000. Even those initially inclined to support military action in Syria came to believe that it might now be too late to act since Obama’s dithering may have squandered the chance to replace Assad with pro-democracy rebels instead of al-Qaeda-related terrorists. When Obama punted the Syrian question to Russia, some observers hoped that the deal for the removal of the regime’s chemical weapons would, at least, limit the damage.

But several months later, the problem has not just disappeared as the president hoped it would. The American people may be no more interested in dealing with Syria today than they were last August, but at least Secretary of State John Kerry seems willing to admit, albeit privately, that the administration has been party to a complete disaster that may well come back to haunt the U.S. in a catastrophic way. Speaking with at least 15 members of Congress in an off-the-record meeting, as the Daily Beast reports, Kerry told them that the talks with the Russians have not succeeded in dealing with the chemical-weapons issue, let alone in ending the Syrian civil war. Even worse, he admitted that al-Qaeda-connected opposition groups are now entrenched in the country and may well be planning to attack the American homeland. But comments such as these weren’t likely to stay private for long, as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham leaked them yesterday, provoking the usual denials from both the White House and the State Department.

While McCain and Graham may hope to use this information to gain more support for their proposals to arm moderate Syrian rebels, there appears little appetite in either the Congress or the country for any intervention in Syria. But as much as administration officials may be counting on public apathy to shield them from being held accountable for their Syrian fiasco, Kerry’s admission about the strengthening of al-Qaeda should shock the nation. Just as importantly, these revelations shed new light on the utter bankruptcy of the administration’s groundless faith in the nuclear talks with the other major player in Syria: Iran. Although the administration has worked tirelessly to shout down the bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate that wants to pass more sanctions on Iran with the administration’s spurious claim that the alternative to the current diplomatic track is war, the tragic outcome in Syria illustrates that there is something even worse than a conflict with Iran.

While granting Russia pre-eminence in Syria diplomacy was a matter of concern, many in Washington believed that doing so would at least contain the Syrian war and allow the administration to stay out of the conflict without paying any tangible penalty for its humiliation. But punting on Syria has left the country in the hands of two horrible forces: Assad and his Iran/Hezbollah allies and the potent Islamist forces that seem to have superseded moderates as the principal alternative to the ruling regime.

Just as Obama’s two years of fatal indecision on Syrian action left him with few good options by the time he woke up to the fact that he had to make some decision last summer, it appears that several more months of delay have only served to make the situation look even more grim. If Kerry has now conceded that the Russians can’t be trusted and has disclosed to Congress the potentially lethal nature of the threat from al-Qaeda, it is obvious that Obama’s diplomacy has succeeded only in creating new problems that may not be contained within Syria’s borders.

Much as the administration would prefer to stifle any efforts to use Kerry’s remarks as a way to initiate a new examination of its Syria policy, the U.S. failure must also unquestionably influence all present and future discussions of the president’s efforts to foster détente with Iran.

Armed conflict should always be the policy of last resort, but this administration’s avoidance of force has become its single, guiding principle. This does not go unnoticed by our foes, be they al-Qaeda or Iran. In Syria we have seen what happens when the West is unwilling and/or unable to muster forces to back its own threats of the use of force to end a brutal regime that murders its people by the tens of thousands. Rather than containing the problem to a small Middle Eastern country about which few Americans care, the implosion within Syria now threatens to mushroom into a conflict that could, if Kerry and intelligence director James Clapper are to be believed, eventually pose a threat to the United States. That is a problem that won’t be solved by U.S. reliance on the Russians or their Iranian partners in the Syrian catastrophe.

The connection to the Iran nuclear talks  can’t be denied. Syria did far more than highlight the irresolution of Obama’s foreign policy. It gave a textbook illustration of the mortal dangers of weakness on the international stage. That weakness was not lost on Iran when it negotiated an interim nuclear deal in which the U.S. discarded its economic and military leverage and tacitly recognized Tehran’s “right” to enrich uranium. Just as Assad believes the current diplomatic track in Syria will not undermine his rule, so, too, his Iranian backers are understandably confident of their ability to negotiate and achieve Western recognition for their nuclear program. And just as America’s inability to act in Syria may have engendered a powerful al-Qaeda enclave there, blind faith in diplomacy is setting in motion a train of events that could lead directly to an Iranian bomb. The result of all this is not only a more dangerous Middle East but also an American homeland that is demonstrably less secure because of Obama’s continuing and uncomprehending failures.

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Negotiations: The Never-Ending Story

As champions of “soft power” America and her allies have adopted an attitude of unprecedented powerlessness that has left the West with no other way to deal with our enemies than through negotiations. Unwilling to back these negotiations up with even the threat of tough action–shrinking from so much as further sanctions against Iran–Western diplomats find themselves trapped in an endless cycle of appeasement and protracted, yet fruitless, negotiations and peace conferences.   

In recent days both Secretary of State John Kerry and the EU’s foreign-affairs representative Baroness Ashton have made announcements proposing an extension to the various Middle East negotiations they are involved in overseeing. To no one’s surprise, Kerry is now saying that the time period for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will need to be extended beyond the original, and always improbable, nine-month period that the State Department had set. Far more disturbingly, Baroness Ashton has suggested an extension on the five-month-long negotiation period over Iran’s nuclear program–an unbelievable suggestion given that the round of negotiations in question hasn’t even begun yet.  

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As champions of “soft power” America and her allies have adopted an attitude of unprecedented powerlessness that has left the West with no other way to deal with our enemies than through negotiations. Unwilling to back these negotiations up with even the threat of tough action–shrinking from so much as further sanctions against Iran–Western diplomats find themselves trapped in an endless cycle of appeasement and protracted, yet fruitless, negotiations and peace conferences.   

In recent days both Secretary of State John Kerry and the EU’s foreign-affairs representative Baroness Ashton have made announcements proposing an extension to the various Middle East negotiations they are involved in overseeing. To no one’s surprise, Kerry is now saying that the time period for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will need to be extended beyond the original, and always improbable, nine-month period that the State Department had set. Far more disturbingly, Baroness Ashton has suggested an extension on the five-month-long negotiation period over Iran’s nuclear program–an unbelievable suggestion given that the round of negotiations in question hasn’t even begun yet.  

Indeed, Baroness Ashton’s comments about the Iranian negotiations are by far the most concerning. A consensus seems to be forming among many intelligence experts who say that if Iran wished to produce nuclear weapons it could possibly achieve this within a month to six weeks. As it is, the next round of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, which are being overseen by Kerry and Ashton as part of the P5+1 grouping, are due to run for five months starting from February 18. During that period not only does Iran receive relief from some of the sanctions but it is also permitted to continue with enrichment of uranium and so far has not been obliged to dismantle any of its nuclear infrastructure.

Speaking at the security conference in Munich over the weekend, Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif had been pushing for precisely such an extension. This is hardly surprising given the benefits Iran derives from the current arrangements. For Ashton to be voicing such suggestions before negotiations are even underway seems recklessly irresponsible considering the gravity of the stakes involved. Yet, State Department spokespeople have also started hinting that the real time frame they have in mind may be more like six months to a year. In fact the phrase used by deputy State Department spokesperson Marie Harf was “six months, or a year or at any time.” Yes, any time. The message to the Iranians is clear. No need to get serious now, if you keep playing for time then really you can have all the time you need.

The Western powers seem to have adopted an attitude of hyperbolic weakness, in which the fear of assertive action is more frightening than the worst acts taken by our enemies against us. Paralyzed by this attitude, the U.S. and its allies refuse to employ any leverage to pressure the Iranians to cease what is after all an activity proscribed by six separate UN Security Council resolutions. Under this self-imposed attitude of powerlessness, the Western nations can do nothing but negotiate endlessly and offer ever more concessions to the Iranians so as to keep them at the negotiating table and avoid being exposed to their own publics for what they really are: appeasers.

This attitude of defenselessness to the will of the intransigent is even on display in America’s dealings with those whom the U.S. has nothing to fear from, in this case the Palestinians. Kerry’s latest suggestion that he won’t oblige the negotiating parties to accept his final-status parameters within the time frame he set has arisen out of the refusal by the Palestinians to accept the Jewish state. The nine-month period allotted to negotiate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse was always wildly unrealistic, but it at least recognized that the negotiations couldn’t be allowed to run indefinitely. Given the number of concessions the Palestinians had demanded from the Israelis before even agreeing to join peace talks, it was clear what their attitude to the whole process was going to be. Kerry set up the time frame precisely to compel both sides to take the talks seriously, and now he’s caved on just about his only ground rule.

The Ashton-Kerry mindset is one that appears to fundamentally loathe the use of Western power and is besotted with the notion of peaceful dialogue and coexistence in a world in which all parties are believed to be rational and reasonable. Yet, when you bring such an attitude to the unreasonable and the calculating you find yourself being strung along endlessly. The Palestinians know Kerry will not be secretary of state forever and the Iranians know that if they just drag talks out long enough they will get the concessions they need and will likely be able to achieve nuclear weapons beneath the radar, hidden behind the charade of august negotiations, in elegant European cities.      

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Israelis, Palestinians, and the Status Quo

With Secretary of State Kerry gradually unveiling his proposal for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is worth asking what it is that Kerry seeks to solve. The present situation is certainly far from ideal. Yet, most Israelis feel safe most of the time and most Palestinians don’t live under “occupation”; they live in areas controlled and governed by the Palestinian Authority. In the last decade this conflict has generated comparatively fewer casualties than those in nearby countries and if one doesn’t count Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon or Hamas-controlled Gaza, which are after all not even being included in Kerry’s peace plan, then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of recent years has been positively uneventful. A cold war between Israel and the PA.

For most Israelis and most Palestinians the present situation is tolerated with the understanding that this is not a permanent arrangement. What each side thinks a permanent arrangement should look like, however, is still vastly different. In this way the unresolved nature of the standoff leaves open the hope for each side that their vision will win out. Drawing from this, there are those on the two sides that prefer perpetuating and advancing the status quo, even if only as means of keeping open the possibility of achieving more far-reaching objectives in the long run. For these parties it has essentially become about playing the long game. For each the hoped-for future remaining just out of reach.

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With Secretary of State Kerry gradually unveiling his proposal for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is worth asking what it is that Kerry seeks to solve. The present situation is certainly far from ideal. Yet, most Israelis feel safe most of the time and most Palestinians don’t live under “occupation”; they live in areas controlled and governed by the Palestinian Authority. In the last decade this conflict has generated comparatively fewer casualties than those in nearby countries and if one doesn’t count Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon or Hamas-controlled Gaza, which are after all not even being included in Kerry’s peace plan, then the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of recent years has been positively uneventful. A cold war between Israel and the PA.

For most Israelis and most Palestinians the present situation is tolerated with the understanding that this is not a permanent arrangement. What each side thinks a permanent arrangement should look like, however, is still vastly different. In this way the unresolved nature of the standoff leaves open the hope for each side that their vision will win out. Drawing from this, there are those on the two sides that prefer perpetuating and advancing the status quo, even if only as means of keeping open the possibility of achieving more far-reaching objectives in the long run. For these parties it has essentially become about playing the long game. For each the hoped-for future remaining just out of reach.

While the Palestinian population in the West Bank is clearly far from happy with the status quo, it also seems that they prefer an outcome that is unachievable as things stand. Electoral support for Hamas and polling of Palestinians in recent years would suggest most Palestinians either reject the two-state proposal outright, or they believe two states should be used as a step toward eventually eliminating the Jewish state. The dream of seeing Israel ended and Palestinians return in its place has remained prominent and unaltered, constituting the core of Palestinian identity ever since it was formed in the aftermath of Israel’s establishment. This is what most Palestinian politicians continue to express support for–in Arabic at least–and it’s what they broadcast on their television networks and teach in their schools. 

The Palestinian leadership also has multiple practical reasons for maintaining the status quo. For one thing, they have long grown fat on the financial aid and sympathy that comes with playing the part of the ever-destitute nation. They are also confident that under the status quo they are better able to advance their strategy for weakening Israel, chipping away at its international legitimacy while believing that demographics are ultimately on their side. With every round of negotiations they have been able to win more concessions from Israel, the consensus about the final-status parameters gradually drifting in their favor. When new talks begin it is with Israel’s previous concessions assumed as given, with the expectation that Israel now agree to further demands. The division of Jerusalem and land swaps being a case in point. Each time the amount Israel is obliged to offer increases.        

The Israeli public became sick of policing the Palestinians decades ago. The electoral success of those promising to end the impasse has been persistent, even in the face of unrelenting Palestinian terrorism. However, this hope for peace accompanied by the constant background noise of violence against Israeli civilians creates a strange kind of cognitive dissonance. Israelis find themselves unwilling to stay with the present arrangement, while not quite able to embrace a new one. 

Land-for-peace compromises only served to weaken Israel’s security, undermining the left-wing peace camp, adding weight to the arguments of Israel’s security hawks who, like many Israelis, still hope for a complete and definitive defeat of Palestinian terrorism. These voices insist that given current Palestinian attitudes and incitement, for now it is safer to manage the conflict than attempt to solve it. For such an agreement would mean evacuating the strategically vital Jordan Valley and abandoning the West Bank hilltops that overlook Israel’s narrow coastal strip where its major population centers, industrial infrastructure, and transit network are all situated. Israel would have to do this knowing a Palestinian state has every likelihood of turning out to be another failed state, a terror state and an Iranian satellite. Far better, they argue, to have the IDF in the West Bank, keeping Hamas and Islamic Jihad at bay, while strengthening the Jewish presence in the settlement blocks ensures that the areas most vital to Israel’s future will be retained in any agreement. 

In this way the unhappy status quo at least leaves open the possibility to people on both sides of eventually achieving their most precious objectives. The problem with Kerry’s final-status plan is that it threatens to permanently slam the door firmly shut on these hopes. We have already seen what unsettling the status quo looks like. It was during the Oslo years that suicide bombers first ventured into Israel’s cities. Equally, the failure of the Camp David peace talks in 2000 played no small part in unleashing the horrors of the second intifada.

Israel and the PA have already agreed to disagree, for now. Kerry may yet come to wish he’d left well enough alone.   

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Netanyahu Still Betting on Palestinian “No”

Last night, Israel’s Channel Two reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to give his approval for continuing negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines of a framework presented by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. That framework reportedly will call for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 borders with land swaps that will enable 75-80 percent of Jews currently living in the West Bank to remain within the state of Israel. It will specifically call for the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state while denying the “right of return” for the descendants of the Palestinian refuges of 1948 and providing international security guarantees for Israel. The future of Jerusalem is left undecided.

Israel does get some of what it has long sought in this framework. But the idea of placing most of the West Bank in the hands of a Palestinian Authority that remains bent on fomenting hatred of Israel and Jews, as well as so weak and corrupt that it is likely to be unable to create a stable, let alone peaceful neighbor for Israel seems a dangerous gamble for Netanyahu to take, both from the perspectives of his nation’s security and the ability of his center-right coalition to survive.

Why would Netanyahu agree to this framework?

There are two reasons. One is that its non-binding nature commits him only to more talks and not to its implementation, a point that should help him to persuade worried coalition partners like the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett to stay in the Cabinet. But the other reason explains more about Netanyahu’s strategy in dealing with Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians: he believes that sooner or later the Palestinians will say no. In what has become the diplomatic version of playing chicken, the prime minister appears to be convinced that the PA will blink and abandon the talks long before Israel is forced to live with the real-life drawbacks of Kerry’s vision. And based on what the Palestinians are saying and what they have done in the past, there’s every reason to believe he’s right.

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Last night, Israel’s Channel Two reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to give his approval for continuing negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines of a framework presented by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. That framework reportedly will call for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 borders with land swaps that will enable 75-80 percent of Jews currently living in the West Bank to remain within the state of Israel. It will specifically call for the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state while denying the “right of return” for the descendants of the Palestinian refuges of 1948 and providing international security guarantees for Israel. The future of Jerusalem is left undecided.

Israel does get some of what it has long sought in this framework. But the idea of placing most of the West Bank in the hands of a Palestinian Authority that remains bent on fomenting hatred of Israel and Jews, as well as so weak and corrupt that it is likely to be unable to create a stable, let alone peaceful neighbor for Israel seems a dangerous gamble for Netanyahu to take, both from the perspectives of his nation’s security and the ability of his center-right coalition to survive.

Why would Netanyahu agree to this framework?

There are two reasons. One is that its non-binding nature commits him only to more talks and not to its implementation, a point that should help him to persuade worried coalition partners like the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett to stay in the Cabinet. But the other reason explains more about Netanyahu’s strategy in dealing with Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians: he believes that sooner or later the Palestinians will say no. In what has become the diplomatic version of playing chicken, the prime minister appears to be convinced that the PA will blink and abandon the talks long before Israel is forced to live with the real-life drawbacks of Kerry’s vision. And based on what the Palestinians are saying and what they have done in the past, there’s every reason to believe he’s right.

Like Netanyahu, the Palestinians also appear to be willing to agree to Kerry’s framework. That’s because the chief concern for both sides appears to avoid blame for the failure of Kerry’s diplomatic gambit. Since Kerry knows that there is no possibility of Israel and the Palestinians actually agreeing on a final-status treaty within the original nine-month time frame for the talks, the purpose of the framework is to extend the negotiations for at least another year. That gives both parties the ability to dodge the bullet of blame while enabling Kerry to keep shuttling to the Middle East and to pretend that he is about to cut the Gordian Knot of peace.

But even as the PA has agreed to continue talking, they again signaled that one of the key elements of the framework—recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn—is something they’ll never accept in a treaty. PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Munich Security Conference that Israel’s longstanding demand to be recognized as a Jewish state that had been incorporated by Kerry into the framework would require the Palestinian representative to “change my narrative” in which Jewish history is erased. Since Palestinian national identity is inextricably linked to the denial of the rights of Jews to any part of the country, they regard any peace as merely a truce rather than a conclusion to the conflict.

Why then would the Palestinians also accept the framework? Part of the reason stems from the dynamic that was on display in Munich at which Kerry openly speculated that if he failed, Israel would be subjected to economic boycotts. While the State Department later tried to rationalize if not walk back these comments by saying the secretary was merely commenting on a trend with which he didn’t agree rather than threatening the Jewish state, the Palestinians and their enablers in the European Union well understand that all the pressure in the talks is being directed at the Israelis, and not at them.

The history of the last 20 years of negotiations since the Oslo Accords were signed justifies that conclusion. No matter how much land the Jewish state has conceded since 1993, the onus has always been placed on Israel to sacrifice even more no matter what the Palestinians do or say to demonstrate their unwillingness to make peace or live by the terms of the agreements they’ve signed. But no matter how far Kerry tilts the diplomatic playing field against Israel, Netanyahu appears to be counting on the Palestinians inability to agree to Israel’s demand for recognition at the conclusion of Kerry’s talks.

Considering that Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat turned down two such offers of statehood in 2000 and 2001 and the PA leader fled talks with the Israelis in 2008 so as to avoid being forced to do the same thing, Netanyahu has reason to think this negotiation will end in the same way. With Hamas still in control of Gaza and Abbas only holding onto power in the West Bank with the help of the Israelis, there’s no sign of a sea change in Palestinian public opinion that would enable him to survive signing a peace deal with Israel that would renounce the “right of return” and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu understands that additional negotiations based on Kerry’s framework will mean another year of intense U.S. pressure that will add to the increased European efforts to isolate Israel. Agreeing to the framework is a dangerous game that leaves him little room to maneuver to defend his country’s rights or its security, since he knows the arrangements for guaranteeing Israel’s safety in the document won’t be worth the paper they’re printed on once a deal is in place. But he appears confident that the political culture of the Palestinians will once again determine the outcome of these talks in the same manner that it has sealed the doom of every other negotiation dating back to the 1930s. Judging by the tone and the content of the non-stop incitement to hatred being conducted by the PA, it’s difficult to argue with his conclusion.

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How Much Will Kerry’s Peace Cost?

It doesn’t take a great deal of investigation to discover that neither Palestinians nor Israelis are particularly enthusiastic about the latest U.S.-backed peace initiative. Neither side has been subtle about making known precisely what they think of Secretary of State John Kerry’s suggestions for a final-status framework. Perhaps Israelis and Palestinians can be forgiven for being inclined toward cynicism on this matter. Yet, Kerry seems not to detect the mood and plows on regardless.

This attitude, that the Israelis and Palestinians are going to have a peace agreement whether they like it or not, would appear not to be Kerry’s alone. Despite even President Obama warning that third parties can’t want peace more than the two sides themselves, world diplomats are now gathering to set about doing just that.

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It doesn’t take a great deal of investigation to discover that neither Palestinians nor Israelis are particularly enthusiastic about the latest U.S.-backed peace initiative. Neither side has been subtle about making known precisely what they think of Secretary of State John Kerry’s suggestions for a final-status framework. Perhaps Israelis and Palestinians can be forgiven for being inclined toward cynicism on this matter. Yet, Kerry seems not to detect the mood and plows on regardless.

This attitude, that the Israelis and Palestinians are going to have a peace agreement whether they like it or not, would appear not to be Kerry’s alone. Despite even President Obama warning that third parties can’t want peace more than the two sides themselves, world diplomats are now gathering to set about doing just that.

On Saturday Kerry and the EU’s Foreign Affairs representative, Baroness Ashton, are convening the Quartet (the U.S., the EU, the UN, and Russia) to discuss how they can best help implement John Kerry’s peace plan. Also present for the meeting will be UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Quartet’s Middle East envoy Tony Blair. The fact that the Palestinians have dragged their feet through this entire process, or that the Israelis clearly have about as much confidence in the Palestinians standing by their commitments as they do in Kerry’s ability to make them do so, appears to have been simply disregarded by those rushing to be part of Ashton and Kerry’s feel-good peace extravaganza. Where will the Israelis and Palestinians be amidst this high-profile standing-room-only diplomatic photo opportunity? Who knows, who cares? Onwards anyway. 

The State Department’s chief negotiator Martin Indyk has already revealed roughly what Kerry’s final-status parameters will look like, which both sides are going to be expected to accept shortly. The problem is that there’s barely a single point in the parameters outlined by Indyk that isn’t still being fiercely and publicly disputed by one side or the other. Indeed, for this very reason we are told that the parameters will be vague on Jerusalem. Yet, they are also incredibly vague on the fate of the future of Israelis living in the West Bank, with no decision on whether Jews will be allowed to stay behind in a Palestinian state.

Allegedly 75-85 percent of these Israelis are in settlements that would be annexed to Israel. However, what isn’t clear is whether the State Department considers Jews living in suburbs of Jerusalem to be settlers. If they do, then it has been suggested that these parameters may actually mean the forcible evacuation of 150,000 Jews from their homes. In this way, the Quartet meeting, which is to be held in Munich, will in part be about how to facilitate the transfer of huge numbers of West Bank Jews from their communities.

Perhaps the delegates will find this whole event a little more sobering when they discover how much all of this will cost and how much they may be asked to contribute to cover these costs. For, increasingly Kerry’s efforts are looking like an exercise in bribing each side into submission. The Palestinians have long been promised astronomical levels of investment in the event that they agree to accept statehood. Then the Israeli evacuation from the West Bank alone is estimated to come with a price tag running into the billions of dollars. Once Israeli settlers have been evacuated, re-housed, and compensated, the parameters also make provision for the compensation of both Palestinian refugees and for Jews who were forced out of Arab lands. In both cases the descendants of these refugees now number into the millions. Israel is also being told that under Kerry’s parameters it would have to leave the strategically vital Jordan Valley, but that someone else will foot the bill for all manner of unmanned high-tech security paraphernalia to take the place of actual Israeli troops.

Anyone looking to rain on Ashton and Kerry’s peace parade in Munich this Saturday need only mention even a low estimate for how much all of this is going to cost.  

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Kerry’s Dance of the Deadlocked

Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he could envision some Jewish settlements remaining in place inside a Palestinian state after a peace agreement. While many in Israel thought it was a ploy to embarrass the Palestinians (who want no Jews in their state), it could also have been interpreted as a sign that Netanyahu is edging closer to agreeing to a framework for peace in which a Palestinian state (with or without Jews within its borders) would become a reality.

Yesterday, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas responded by telling a conference in Israel (he spoke via a video hookup) that he could envision Israeli military forces remaining in the West Bank for up to three years after the signing of a peace agreement. While he added that he would dismiss any lengthier interim security force out of hand, like Netanyahu’s statement this, too, could be interpreted as a sign that in spite of formidable obstacles, Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative is actually succeeding.

With both Netanyahu and Abbas indicating acceptance of relatively minor final status details, it’s likely that some naifs in the State Department will attempt to persuade themselves and their media accomplices that this means that Kerry’s peace framework is a realistic one. If the two leaders are preparing their respective constituencies for some sacrifices—the implicit acceptance of withdrawal from the West Bank and a Palestinian state on Netanyahu’s part, and Abbas’s willingness to countenance limits on Palestinian sovereignty for a time—then it may be possible that Kerry believes he is closer to pulling off this gambit than anyone–other than himself, that is–ever thought possible.

But peace process enthusiasts need to calm down. Not only are both of these seeming concessions only a minuscule dose of an enormous number of bitter pills each side must swallow in the event of an accord, they may actually be more of an indication that this process is, in fact, hopelessly deadlocked. What we may well be witnessing with these statements is not so much signs that the two sides are edging closer to each other but a bizarre dance in which both seek to deflect blame for the inevitable failure.

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Last week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he could envision some Jewish settlements remaining in place inside a Palestinian state after a peace agreement. While many in Israel thought it was a ploy to embarrass the Palestinians (who want no Jews in their state), it could also have been interpreted as a sign that Netanyahu is edging closer to agreeing to a framework for peace in which a Palestinian state (with or without Jews within its borders) would become a reality.

Yesterday, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas responded by telling a conference in Israel (he spoke via a video hookup) that he could envision Israeli military forces remaining in the West Bank for up to three years after the signing of a peace agreement. While he added that he would dismiss any lengthier interim security force out of hand, like Netanyahu’s statement this, too, could be interpreted as a sign that in spite of formidable obstacles, Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative is actually succeeding.

With both Netanyahu and Abbas indicating acceptance of relatively minor final status details, it’s likely that some naifs in the State Department will attempt to persuade themselves and their media accomplices that this means that Kerry’s peace framework is a realistic one. If the two leaders are preparing their respective constituencies for some sacrifices—the implicit acceptance of withdrawal from the West Bank and a Palestinian state on Netanyahu’s part, and Abbas’s willingness to countenance limits on Palestinian sovereignty for a time—then it may be possible that Kerry believes he is closer to pulling off this gambit than anyone–other than himself, that is–ever thought possible.

But peace process enthusiasts need to calm down. Not only are both of these seeming concessions only a minuscule dose of an enormous number of bitter pills each side must swallow in the event of an accord, they may actually be more of an indication that this process is, in fact, hopelessly deadlocked. What we may well be witnessing with these statements is not so much signs that the two sides are edging closer to each other but a bizarre dance in which both seek to deflect blame for the inevitable failure.

It should be remembered that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians sought Kerry’s intervention when he made a resumption of the long moribund peace process his top priority upon assuming his post. No one, other than Kerry himself, expressed the slightest optimism about his quest with even veteran peace process fans expressing skepticism.

With the Palestinians hopelessly divided between Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank and the Hamas terrorists in Gaza, there seemed little indication that the PA could agree to a genuine peace agreement or implement it if such a treaty were ever signed. Nor was there any sign the Palestinians were prepared to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state (a requirement that President Obama reiterated last night during his State of the Union address) regardless of its borders. Moreover, any peace deal that renounced, as it must, the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees would place its Palestinian signatories in peril.

As for the Israelis, while Netanyahu has repeatedly endorsed the concept of a two-state solution, neither his coalition nor the majority of the Israeli people seem interested in a repeat of the late Ariel Sharon’s 2005 Gaza withdrawal with another such retreat in the West Bank where the creation of a new terror state would be an even greater danger to Israel than the Hamasistan that exists in Gaza.

Months of talks have produced no visible progress on the substantive issues of Jerusalem, borders, refugees or security. With time running out on the nine months allocated for negotiations, the main fear on both sides is not a failure to reach an agreement that always seemed impossible to the parties but the possibility that they will be blamed for Kerry’s own ignorant folly.

Thus, it is hardly surprising that both Netanyahu and Abbas are now making noises indicating their willingness to embrace a two-state solution even though neither of them believes for a second that a deal is a possibility.

Netanyahu’s statement earned him a vehement rebuke from his right-wing partner, Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett. The prime minister’s office ruthlessly answered Bennett with a threat that he might be forced to resign from his Cabinet post if he failed to apologize. But the back-story reveals more to about Netanyahu’s annoyance at Bennett’s inability to realize that all the prime minister was doing was posturing.

Abbas, who is entering his 10th year of a four-year elected term as Palestinian president, isn’t worried about losing votes from his right wing but he is concerned about being outflanked by Hamas. Nevertheless, like Netanyahu, he is concerned about the consequences of being the one to say no to the United States even though, if push came to shove, he knows that is exactly what he will do. While the international community is more likely to blame Israel no matter how intransigent the Palestinians prove to be on final-status issues, Abbas understands that his predecessor Yasir Arafat paid a heavy price for torpedoing offers of statehood in 2000 and 2001 and that he also suffered for turning down Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008.

Though this dance of the deadlocked may appear to Kerry and his posse like progress toward peace, it’s far more likely that all we are witnessing is a desperate effort to avoid responsibility for the failure of talks that never stood a chance of success in the first place.

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The Folly of “Symmetrical Negotiation”

Ridiculing Tom Friedman’s famous habit of letting his cab drivers determine his column ideas is a popular pastime for foreign-policy commentators. But the truth is those columns are generally more sensible than the ones he comes up with all on his own. Today’s piece is a case in point, and it’s a convincing answer to those who say Friedman’s columns should just be ignored.

Getting the Middle East conflict wrong can be dangerous for those, unlike Friedman, who actually have to live with the consequences. So the following sentence should be printed and framed in the office of every aspiring Western diplomat, because it is about as wrong as you can get:

That is, has Israel become so much more powerful than its neighbors that a symmetrical negotiation is impossible, especially when the Palestinians do not seem willing or able to mount another intifada that might force Israel to withdraw?

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Ridiculing Tom Friedman’s famous habit of letting his cab drivers determine his column ideas is a popular pastime for foreign-policy commentators. But the truth is those columns are generally more sensible than the ones he comes up with all on his own. Today’s piece is a case in point, and it’s a convincing answer to those who say Friedman’s columns should just be ignored.

Getting the Middle East conflict wrong can be dangerous for those, unlike Friedman, who actually have to live with the consequences. So the following sentence should be printed and framed in the office of every aspiring Western diplomat, because it is about as wrong as you can get:

That is, has Israel become so much more powerful than its neighbors that a symmetrical negotiation is impossible, especially when the Palestinians do not seem willing or able to mount another intifada that might force Israel to withdraw?

Let’s take the second part of that sentence first. The idea that only another intifada can save Israel from itself, and thus save the peace process, is grotesque. Secretary of State John Kerry flirted with this assault on logic and morality in his tirade on Israeli TV. This is a form of blackmail: Israel must agree to the terms of Kerry’s peace deal or there will be bombs in cafes again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s not a surprise Friedman would wade into this territory either; once you’ve accepted the Walt-Mearsheimer conspiracy theories of furtive Jewish domination, as Friedman has, you’ll believe anything. But the first part of the sentence in question should not be overshadowed by the wistful phrasing on the intifada. Because it’s a mistake that warrants correcting.

The plain fact, demonstrated by the history of this conflict in every instance, is that the “symmetrical negotiation” Friedman hopes for would bury the chances for peace. Israel’s neighbors made peace with the Jewish state only when they learned once and for all that they could not destroy her militarily, and they could not isolate her, and thus strangle her economically, from the world.

That’s because Israel was always willing to make peace, as is still the case. The Arab states in the neighborhood were not, because they viewed a peace deal as a strategic defeat, a capitulation to the reality that their dream of annihilating the Jews in their midst was untenable. A peace deal was a consolation prize for them.

What enabled the peace between Israel and her neighbors was precisely the absence of “symmetrical negotiation.” In his remembrance of Ariel Sharon’s dealings with the Arab world, Lee Smith opens with the following story:

During Anwar Sadat’s historic trip to Jerusalem in 1977, he met Ariel Sharon, the Israeli general credited by his countrymen as one of the heroes of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Sharon’s crossing of the Sinai and his encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army had turned the tables on Sadat’s forces, ensuring a victory that had once been uncertain. “I tried to catch you when you were on our side of the canal,” Sadat told Sharon. And now, replied Sharon, “you have the chance to catch me as a friend.”

Once Sadat had failed enough times to destroy Israel, his relationship with the state changed immediately. He didn’t try to “catch [Sharon] as a friend” first; he tried to kill Sharon first. When that couldn’t be done, friendship could be spoken of.

The development of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel was another aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict that offered more hope for peace. Whether or not individual subscribers to the odious boycott-Israel movement would support Israel’s continued existence, the Palestinian leadership doesn’t see strangling Israel economically as a way to bring the Israelis to the negotiating table. Israel is already at the negotiating table, having yet again made concessions just to get the Palestinians to join them there.

The Palestinians would not see an Israel brought to its knees as an ideal state with which to strike a deal. They would see it as a weakened state on its way to the dustbin of history, to be replaced by a Palestinian state. Similarly, military parity between the Israelis and Palestinians is a foolish goal, because it cannot be brought about except through ways that would convince the Palestinian leadership that a peace deal isn’t necessary or in their interest. It should be an obvious point–one Friedman’s cab driver could have explained to him–but nonetheless bears repeating to counteract the dangerous, though predictable, misinformation of the New York Times op-ed page.

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Obama and Kerry’s Lobby in Israel

In the course of the past month, a persistent campaign appears to have been taking place, away from public attention, to change the thinking of Israel’s defense establishment. The State Department’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Martin Indyk, and his officials have been meeting with a number of Israeli security personnel and IDF generals to discuss their thinking on future Israeli territorial compromise. Indyk, who was also part of Middle East peace negotiations under President Clinton, has reportedly been seeking to convince Israel’s defense officials of the wisdom of plans that would seek to bring about a full Israeli withdrawal from such key strategic areas as the Jordan Valley. To be sure, these lobbying efforts are not being focused on Israeli parliamentarians, but they aim to impact the position of a constituency no less politically decisive.    

There is a great irony in all this. As Seth Mandel highlighted yesterday, amidst the ongoing battle of wills over Iran sanctions, the Obama administration currently appears to be operating under the impression that the Israeli government is telling the American Jewish community what to think and that, in turn, American Jews are determining what congressmen believe and how Congress ultimately votes. As has already been pointed out, it is bizarre and disturbing that the administration would buy into this version of events over the far more simple explanation that members of Congress, perfectly able to think for themselves, might have just concluded that the Obama administration’s policy of holding off on Iran sanctions is fundamentally flawed. Either way, what officials appear to so object to is the notion that a foreign government would seek to influence U.S. policy via another constituency. The point being that if the government of one state wishes to have a say on the policies of another, then the proper and above-board way to approach this is through open and direct diplomatic channels.

Fine. But how then to explain the Obama administration’s own efforts to determine events in Israel, by bypassing the Israeli government and seeking to influence a third party? As the Daily Beast has reported, the reservist generals involved in those meetings that have taken place so far have not given any reason to believe that Indyk and his team are being particularly forceful or aggressive in how they have approached this strategy. Yet, by pursuing a sustained campaign of pushing State Department views on territorial compromise in the Jordan Valley to Israel’s security establishment, Indyk and his officials are not only seeking to determine the views of those who advise the Israeli government on these matters, but they are also lobbying a group in Israel who have a tremendous amount of leverage over Israeli public opinion.

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In the course of the past month, a persistent campaign appears to have been taking place, away from public attention, to change the thinking of Israel’s defense establishment. The State Department’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Martin Indyk, and his officials have been meeting with a number of Israeli security personnel and IDF generals to discuss their thinking on future Israeli territorial compromise. Indyk, who was also part of Middle East peace negotiations under President Clinton, has reportedly been seeking to convince Israel’s defense officials of the wisdom of plans that would seek to bring about a full Israeli withdrawal from such key strategic areas as the Jordan Valley. To be sure, these lobbying efforts are not being focused on Israeli parliamentarians, but they aim to impact the position of a constituency no less politically decisive.    

There is a great irony in all this. As Seth Mandel highlighted yesterday, amidst the ongoing battle of wills over Iran sanctions, the Obama administration currently appears to be operating under the impression that the Israeli government is telling the American Jewish community what to think and that, in turn, American Jews are determining what congressmen believe and how Congress ultimately votes. As has already been pointed out, it is bizarre and disturbing that the administration would buy into this version of events over the far more simple explanation that members of Congress, perfectly able to think for themselves, might have just concluded that the Obama administration’s policy of holding off on Iran sanctions is fundamentally flawed. Either way, what officials appear to so object to is the notion that a foreign government would seek to influence U.S. policy via another constituency. The point being that if the government of one state wishes to have a say on the policies of another, then the proper and above-board way to approach this is through open and direct diplomatic channels.

Fine. But how then to explain the Obama administration’s own efforts to determine events in Israel, by bypassing the Israeli government and seeking to influence a third party? As the Daily Beast has reported, the reservist generals involved in those meetings that have taken place so far have not given any reason to believe that Indyk and his team are being particularly forceful or aggressive in how they have approached this strategy. Yet, by pursuing a sustained campaign of pushing State Department views on territorial compromise in the Jordan Valley to Israel’s security establishment, Indyk and his officials are not only seeking to determine the views of those who advise the Israeli government on these matters, but they are also lobbying a group in Israel who have a tremendous amount of leverage over Israeli public opinion.

Leading Israeli defense officials regularly and publicly make their views on the key security matters of the day widely known within the Israeli public discourse. In a country where the military plays such a visible role in the day-to-day survival of the state and the safety of its citizens, the views of these men matter and carry extraordinary clout. U.S. officials undoubtedly realize that if they can play a decisive role in shaping what these individuals believe, then they stand a considerable chance of influencing where much of wider Israeli society stands on these issues, thus undercutting the negotiating position of Israel’s elected government.

And this is not the first time that the Obama administration has tried such lobbying of Israel’s military. Last month there were reports circulating of Indyk and his staff seeking to dissuade IDF generals from publicly speaking out about the concerns they have regarding Israel’s security and Secretary of State Kerry’s peace plan.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have made very clear that Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley is simply not a feasible option. Such a move would leave Israel dangerously exposed on its eastern border, with nothing to prevent the flow of arms from as far as Iran all the way to the hands of militants sitting on the West Bank’s hilltops over looking Ben Gurion Airport and the major population centers of Israel’s coastal plain.

Yet, from what has been leaked from negotiations so far, it is becoming apparent that Kerry and those of his diplomats involved in negotiations may well be sympathetic to Palestinian demands for a total Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley. Sensing that the Netanyahu government has no intention of compromising on this aspect of Israel’s security, it would now appear that the State Department strategy is to win friends and influence people in a place that will give them the most leverage over the Israeli government and its negotiating position.       

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Obama Is Netanyahu’s Ace in the Hole

When Israelis went to the polls last year the big story was what wasn’t the focus of the campaign. The January 22, 2013 Knesset election was largely fought on domestic issues, with the biggest winner being the new Yesh Atid party led by former journalist Yair Lapid that won 19 seats to finish a surprising second to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu. Yesh Atid’s success came about because the Palestinian conflict had reached such a stalemate that many Israelis no longer considered the traditional right-left positions on territory and settlements to be issues that determined their votes. Lapid symbolized the hope that a new centrism would come to dominate Israeli politics and eventually eclipse parties rooted in Israel’s historic conflict with the Arab world. Though Netanyahu became the first prime minister to win two consecutive terms since Menachem Begin in a race where he was the only plausible candidate to lead the country, he lost considerable ground in the months leading up to the election in no small part because of this shift in opinion.

But one year later, it appears that the pendulum has swung back in favor of Netanyahu. A new Times of Israel poll shows that if elections were held now, Likud-Beytenu would not only finish first but would gain a whopping 15 Knesset seats, recouping its 2013 losses and adding five more. Meanwhile Lapid, who seemed destined a year ago to overtake Netanyahu, has lost considerable ground and it is the Labor Party and its new leader Isaac Herzog that seems to have attained the status of Likud’s main rival, albeit trailing by a huge 46-18 margin in Knesset seats in the poll.

What brought about this transformation? Some of it has to do with last year’s political stars, such as Lapid and the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett losing some of their independent luster while serving in Netanyahu’s Cabinet. But the drastic shift from the center to support for the right—indicating that the Israeli electorate is returning to its traditional preoccupation with security issues—and the lack of any noticeable change in Netanyahu’s personal favorability ratings makes it clear that the two individuals most responsible for the conspicuous change in Israeli public opinion are Barack Obama and John Kerry.

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When Israelis went to the polls last year the big story was what wasn’t the focus of the campaign. The January 22, 2013 Knesset election was largely fought on domestic issues, with the biggest winner being the new Yesh Atid party led by former journalist Yair Lapid that won 19 seats to finish a surprising second to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu. Yesh Atid’s success came about because the Palestinian conflict had reached such a stalemate that many Israelis no longer considered the traditional right-left positions on territory and settlements to be issues that determined their votes. Lapid symbolized the hope that a new centrism would come to dominate Israeli politics and eventually eclipse parties rooted in Israel’s historic conflict with the Arab world. Though Netanyahu became the first prime minister to win two consecutive terms since Menachem Begin in a race where he was the only plausible candidate to lead the country, he lost considerable ground in the months leading up to the election in no small part because of this shift in opinion.

But one year later, it appears that the pendulum has swung back in favor of Netanyahu. A new Times of Israel poll shows that if elections were held now, Likud-Beytenu would not only finish first but would gain a whopping 15 Knesset seats, recouping its 2013 losses and adding five more. Meanwhile Lapid, who seemed destined a year ago to overtake Netanyahu, has lost considerable ground and it is the Labor Party and its new leader Isaac Herzog that seems to have attained the status of Likud’s main rival, albeit trailing by a huge 46-18 margin in Knesset seats in the poll.

What brought about this transformation? Some of it has to do with last year’s political stars, such as Lapid and the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett losing some of their independent luster while serving in Netanyahu’s Cabinet. But the drastic shift from the center to support for the right—indicating that the Israeli electorate is returning to its traditional preoccupation with security issues—and the lack of any noticeable change in Netanyahu’s personal favorability ratings makes it clear that the two individuals most responsible for the conspicuous change in Israeli public opinion are Barack Obama and John Kerry.

In the year since Israelis went to the polls, domestic problems such as the high cost of living and secular-religious tensions have not been solved. What has changed dramatically, however, is that the Obama administration has, after a hiatus that coincided with the American presidential election cycle, returned to its feckless efforts to pressure Israel in order to revive the moribund peace process with the Palestinians. Kerry forced Netanyahu to agree to the release of more than 100 terrorist murderers who were greeted as heroes by Israel’s so-called partner in peace, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Though Netanyahu has agreed in principle to the creation of a Palestinian state—a stand that alienates much of his base—the PA still refuses to agree to positions that would signal its readiness to end the conflict. These include renouncing the “right” of return for the 1948 refugees and their descendants as well as recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Since the overwhelming majority of Israelis regard Obama and Kerry’s push to force Israel to retreat to the 1967 borders as madness, support for Netanyahu’s position has increased. This means the Israeli public is back where it was during Obama’s first term when the president sought to undermine the prime minister but found that every fight he picked with Netanyahu only strengthened him at home.

The dispute between Israel and the U.S. over Iran policy is also a major factor in strengthening Netanyahu’s coalition. If there is any consensus issue in Israeli politics that unites the entire political spectrum it is the grave nature of the Iranian threat and opposition to any gesture, statement or action that smacks of appeasement of the ayatollahs. The U.S. decision to loosen sanctions on Iran in order to achieve a weak interim nuclear deal is widely seen by Israelis as a betrayal of the promises Obama has made never to allow Tehran to achieve its nuclear goal. That means the U.S. drift toward détente with Iran is yet another reminder to Israelis that security issues remain paramount. Since Israelis don’t trust Obama on Iran or the peace process, it’s little wonder that every time he pressures or criticizes Israel, support for he prime minister increases. Netanyahu’s ace in the hole remains the Israeli public’s justly negative feelings about Obama.

However, because of reforms enacted after last January’s vote, Netanyahu can’t call a snap election to take advantage of the surge to Likud. The next Knesset election won’t take place until November 2017. Although much can change between now and then, there is no indication that a viable alternative to Netanyahu will emerge in the next three years. Even worse for the prime minister, in 2017 he won’t be able to count on Israeli antipathy to the president of the United States. By then Barack Obama will have retired and will perhaps have been replaced by a president who may be more sensitive to the threats facing the Jewish state. It’s doubtful that the next president could be less so.

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Obama Administration to Israel: Call Off the Jews, Please

The latest dustup in U.S.-Israel relations is one that makes you wonder if Obama administration officials have a shred of self-awareness. The Jerusalem Post reports that the president is unhappy with the Israeli government because his consistent opposition to sanctions on Iran is not meeting with universal approval from American Jewish groups. And why does this make him upset with Israel? Because he apparently believes that such dissent must be the product of foreign influence:

A US official close to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry said both men are disturbed over what is being perceived in their inner circle as “Jewish activism in Congress” that they think is being encouraged by the Israeli government, Israel Radio reported on Thursday.

The official has informed Israeli government figures that the president and secretary of state are disappointed over repeated attacks made against them by leading members of the Jewish community in the US.

The president and secretary of state would like American Jews’ foreign handlers and sponsors to please stop riling up the Jews, because those Jews then practice their voodoo on members of Congress. Now, while this is obviously a very stupid thing for the president and secretary of state to believe–conspiracy theorists love the Walt-Mearsheimer dark tales of Jewish influence, but rarely do serious or intelligent people fall for it–it is even dumber to, you know, say out loud.

But that’s not to say it’s a slip of the tongue; these statements are usually calculated warnings: nice special relationship you got here, etc. The phrase “Jewish activism in Congress” is especially clumsy, because it’s so obvious and appalling and insulting. I suppose we should be thankful the official managed not to use the word “elders.”

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The latest dustup in U.S.-Israel relations is one that makes you wonder if Obama administration officials have a shred of self-awareness. The Jerusalem Post reports that the president is unhappy with the Israeli government because his consistent opposition to sanctions on Iran is not meeting with universal approval from American Jewish groups. And why does this make him upset with Israel? Because he apparently believes that such dissent must be the product of foreign influence:

A US official close to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry said both men are disturbed over what is being perceived in their inner circle as “Jewish activism in Congress” that they think is being encouraged by the Israeli government, Israel Radio reported on Thursday.

The official has informed Israeli government figures that the president and secretary of state are disappointed over repeated attacks made against them by leading members of the Jewish community in the US.

The president and secretary of state would like American Jews’ foreign handlers and sponsors to please stop riling up the Jews, because those Jews then practice their voodoo on members of Congress. Now, while this is obviously a very stupid thing for the president and secretary of state to believe–conspiracy theorists love the Walt-Mearsheimer dark tales of Jewish influence, but rarely do serious or intelligent people fall for it–it is even dumber to, you know, say out loud.

But that’s not to say it’s a slip of the tongue; these statements are usually calculated warnings: nice special relationship you got here, etc. The phrase “Jewish activism in Congress” is especially clumsy, because it’s so obvious and appalling and insulting. I suppose we should be thankful the official managed not to use the word “elders.”

In one sense, it’s ironic: American Jews vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and this is the thanks they get. But in another sense, it’s typical of the enforced groupthink of the American left: “overwhelmingly” is not enough. Everyone needs to get in line, lest any unapproved thought escape someone’s lips and influence others, unleashing the dreaded “Jewish activism.” When people are permitted to speak freely, who knows what the Congress will do? Better to not find out, according to the Obama administration.

It’s also extremely creepy behavior, because it aims to chill legitimate political speech by warning Jews–specifically–that if they disagree with the Obama administration they will be seen to be acting on orders from a foreign government. And it then transfers that suspicion of dual loyalty to the members of Congress whose constituents include the Jews of which the administration disapproves.

The sentiment as expressed to the press and attributed to Obama and Kerry appears to be a fusion of the two: Obama’s distaste for dissent and Kerry’s inability to communicate. The problem the White House is having is this: the president’s deal with Iran was not a good deal, and that fact is becoming more and more obvious to everyone, even those not under the spell of Jewish voodoo. So left to their own devices, many in Congress and in the public are going to draw the correct conclusion–the president is getting played–and the president does not like that prospect.

But how is the president going to chill the speech of others? Take, for example, Fareed Zakaria, a man of the left and someone Obama consults on foreign policy. As the Washington Free Beacon notes, Zakaria interviewed the Iranian president and was left with the same sinking feeling as others. Zakaria’s reaction:

This strikes me as a train wreck. This strikes me as potentially a huge obstacle because the conception of what the deal is going to look like and the American conception now look like they are miles apart. The Iranian conception seems to be they produce as much nuclear energy as they want, but it is a civilian program. The American position is that they have to very substantially scale back the enrichment of uranium and the production of centrifuges. For the first time you have the president of Iran unequivocally saying there will be no destruction of centrifuges. So this seems like — you know, this is still — I’m not even quite sure what they’re going to talk about.

Do Obama and Kerry believe Zakaria is acting under orders from a foreign government? Or do they understand how repellant such talk is when removed from under the weight of their Bibi derangement syndrome?

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Martin Indyk vs. Moshe Ya’alon

Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon violated the first rule of diplomacy–always compliment the emperor on his wardrobe, and limit your comments to concerns about his well-intentioned but possibly counterproductive wardrobe policy. But as Seth Mandel noted, Ya’alon is not alone in his concerns, and the private expression of them has had no effect on the Obama administration–other than to lead it to attack Ya’alon. Israeli columnist Ron Ben-Yishai writes that Ya’alon’s comments were a long time coming:  

Ya’alon is mainly against the security aspect [of the framework agreement], and [Kerry and his team] are presenting him as the chief party pooper in briefings they are giving politicians and former senior Israeli military officials. Kerry’s personal emissary, former Ambassador Martin Indyk, has not been shy about his opinion on Ya’alon either, and this has all reached the 14th floor at the Defense Ministry building. Ya’alon didn’t like the defamation and the brawl broke out after bubbling for quite a long time in utmost discretion.

In 2009, Martin Indyk wrote that Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians “allow Israel the means to defend itself” sounded “like a new precondition”–a “well-practiced Netanyahu negotiating tactic.” In 2010, Indyk took to the New York Times op-ed page to castigate Israel for approving Jewish housing in a longstanding Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state. He considered it a “strategic setback” that required reversal as “the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the common cause of curbing Iran’s nuclear enthusiasm.” In the same op-ed, he concluded that “nothing could better help Obama to isolate Iran than for Netanyahu to offer to cede the Golan” to Syria. Later, Indyk urged Israel to jump out a window for peace.

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Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon violated the first rule of diplomacy–always compliment the emperor on his wardrobe, and limit your comments to concerns about his well-intentioned but possibly counterproductive wardrobe policy. But as Seth Mandel noted, Ya’alon is not alone in his concerns, and the private expression of them has had no effect on the Obama administration–other than to lead it to attack Ya’alon. Israeli columnist Ron Ben-Yishai writes that Ya’alon’s comments were a long time coming:  

Ya’alon is mainly against the security aspect [of the framework agreement], and [Kerry and his team] are presenting him as the chief party pooper in briefings they are giving politicians and former senior Israeli military officials. Kerry’s personal emissary, former Ambassador Martin Indyk, has not been shy about his opinion on Ya’alon either, and this has all reached the 14th floor at the Defense Ministry building. Ya’alon didn’t like the defamation and the brawl broke out after bubbling for quite a long time in utmost discretion.

In 2009, Martin Indyk wrote that Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians “allow Israel the means to defend itself” sounded “like a new precondition”–a “well-practiced Netanyahu negotiating tactic.” In 2010, Indyk took to the New York Times op-ed page to castigate Israel for approving Jewish housing in a longstanding Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state. He considered it a “strategic setback” that required reversal as “the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the common cause of curbing Iran’s nuclear enthusiasm.” In the same op-ed, he concluded that “nothing could better help Obama to isolate Iran than for Netanyahu to offer to cede the Golan” to Syria. Later, Indyk urged Israel to jump out a window for peace.

Indyk’s self-defenestration suggestion was contained in another 2010 New York Times op-ed, entitled “For Once, Hope in the Middle East,” where Indyk also wrote that:

Security arrangements were all but settled in 2000 at Camp David before the talks collapsed. The increased threat of rocket attacks since then, among other developments, require the two sides to agree on stricter border controls and a robust third-party force in the Jordan Valley.

In other words, he belatedly conceded that the “all but settled” security arrangements of 2000 would not have been effective against the “increased threat of rocket attacks” and the “other developments” that occurred thereafter, and he agreed that something more was necessary. So he revised his position to endorse a “robust” international force in the Jordan Valley.

The word “robust” is the adjective diplomats use to make unimpressive nouns sound convincing. It is the word Condoleezza Rice repeatedly used to describe the international force in Lebanon, which had no effect on Hezbollah’s rearming other than to serve as a human shield for it. In 1967, the “robust” international force in the Sinai was withdrawn days before the Six-Day War, which helped lead to it. The reasons why Israel cannot rely on international forces for its security are shown succinctly (and persuasively) in this short video.

Ron Ben-Yishai’s article also noted that “Ya’alon, and many in Israel” are skeptical about what is behind Kerry’s current intensive campaign, because:

Ya’alon and quite a few Israeli government ministers believe that the conditions for such an agreement have actually not matured at the moment. The turmoil in the Arab world, the growing tsunami of al-Qaeda activists on our border and the refugees filling Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, are all causing Abbas to be concerned and avoid reaching an agreement with Israel, which might even cost him his life.

Indyk’s effort is part of a co-ordinated campaign to sideline Israel’s defense minister, by a peace processor whose past policy prescriptions for Israel’s security have been consistently wrong, but who–one must hasten to add–is a very snappy dresser.

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Yaalon’s Not Alone

Moshe Yaalon’s comments about John Kerry appear to have been something of a Kinsleyan gaffe, when a politician is caught telling the truth. The accuracy of the comments may explain the swift and pained How dare you response from Foggy Bottom, and Yaalon declined to immediately deny or disavow the comments, instead preferring to apologize for their offense.

Not much attention has been paid to why Yaalon made the comments, though. Israeli officials do sometimes forget the delicate egos of some Western politicians, so it can perhaps be written off as sabra prickliness. But surely Yaalon knows better. If the Israeli administration–this being the most English-proficient one in memory–had concerns, they could have spelled them out in private. Why cause a stir? Shmuel Rosner floats one rather convincing explanation:

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Moshe Yaalon’s comments about John Kerry appear to have been something of a Kinsleyan gaffe, when a politician is caught telling the truth. The accuracy of the comments may explain the swift and pained How dare you response from Foggy Bottom, and Yaalon declined to immediately deny or disavow the comments, instead preferring to apologize for their offense.

Not much attention has been paid to why Yaalon made the comments, though. Israeli officials do sometimes forget the delicate egos of some Western politicians, so it can perhaps be written off as sabra prickliness. But surely Yaalon knows better. If the Israeli administration–this being the most English-proficient one in memory–had concerns, they could have spelled them out in private. Why cause a stir? Shmuel Rosner floats one rather convincing explanation:

It is funny how both left and right use “messianic” as the ultimate insult. But even if Defense Minister Yaalon should not have publically stated that State Secretary Kerry is “obsessive and messianic”, it doesn’t mean he is not right in making this assessment. David Horovitz aptly summed it up in one sentence: “Ya’alon’s been thoroughly dumb. But he’s not entirely wrong”. In fact, a majority of Israelis would say that he is right. And while the Americans have been rushing to get some diplomatic mileage out of Yaalon’s mistake – to “put Israel in its place, perhaps to put it on the defensive as Kerry comes back to continue his diplomatic efforts”, as Herb Keinon remarks – one would hope that this fact was not lost on them. One would hope that they realized that their initiative hardly impresses the Israeli public and its leadership. In other words, if you want to put a positive spin on Yaalon’s carelessness, try this: He was a messenger that had to be sacrificed in order to send a clear message of dissent to the American mediator, a message that no polite disagreement behind closed doors can convey.

The public fracas was the only way to get the message across. The harsh reaction from the U.S. suggests why: this administration doesn’t listen. Washington was shocked by comments that shouldn’t have surprised them in the least, but they famously pay no attention to the concerns of others.

I wrote about this in November, on the heels of Kerry’s Iran deal. The secretary of state was surprised by virtually everything–French objections, Israeli protestations, Saudi warnings, even Iranian declarations–that everyone else had been hearing for weeks, if not longer. Kerry’s single-minded quest for a deal with Iran had led him to stick his fingers in his ears, which had the practical effect of our secretary of state being the last to know much of the relevant information.

And so it’s important to note that whatever the wisdom of his comments, Yaalon’s not alone, even among close allies. The Daily Beast talks to Hew Strachan, the British military historian and defense advisor, and gets a brutal judgment of the Obama administration’s foreign policy and sense of strategy:

Sir Hew Strachan, an advisor to the Chief of the Defense Staff, told The Daily Beast that the United States and Britain were guilty of total strategic failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Obama’s attempts to intervene on behalf of the Syrian rebels “has left them in a far worse position than they were before.”

The extraordinary critique by a leading advisor to the United States’ closest military ally comes days after Obama was undermined by the former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who questioned the President’s foreign policy decisions and claimed he was deeply suspicious of the military.

Strachan, a current member of the Chief of the Defense Staff’s Strategic Advisory Panel, cited the “crazy” handling of the Syrian crisis as the most egregious example of a fundamental collapse in military planning that began in the aftermath of 9/11. “If anything it’s gone backwards instead of forwards, Obama seems to be almost chronically incapable of doing this. Bush may have had totally fanciful political objectives in terms of trying to fight a global War on Terror, which was inherently astrategic, but at least he had a clear sense of what he wanted to do in the world. Obama has no sense of what he wants to do in the world,” he said.

In this sense John Kerry is a symptom of the underlying problem: personnel is policy, especially when it comes to the leader of the free world. There were talented, experienced, and well-respected options for Obama’s top Cabinet posts, so it threw many for a loop when he picked Kerry and Chuck Hagel at State and Defense. But Obama doesn’t appreciate constructive criticism or robust debate. Obama, the Washington Post explained a year ago, “spent the last four years immersed in all of this stuff and can now make decisions based on his own observations not the idea that you always just need to get the ‘best person for the job’.”

This lack of talent was deliberate, and our allies noticed. They then tried to mitigate the damage by raising their concerns behind closed doors. They were ignored, of course. As a last resort, they have taken to voicing their alarm aloud. It’s not always constructive or diplomatic. But the administration would be mistaken to assume that Yaalon is an outlier.

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Belief Undeterred by the Facts

After the Israeli defense minister’s undiplomatic skepticism about the peace process prompted a diplomatic flap earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced yesterday that he is “undeterred,” explaining, “I believe strongly in the prospects for peace.” In that, Kerry isn’t alone: An entire industry has arisen around the belief that Israeli-Palestinian peace is imminently attainable, and it is consistently “undeterred” by the facts. For a classic example, consider the joint Israeli-Palestinian poll released in late December under the unequivocal headline, “The majority of Israelis (63%) and of Palestinians (53%) support the two states solution.”

That sounds very promising, until you read the fine print. And then it turns out that most Palestinians don’t support the two-state solution at all–or at least, not the one whose terms “everyone knows.” In fact, when presented with the elements of that “everyone knows” package, defined by the researchers as based on the Clinton parameters and the Geneva Initiative, 53 percent of Palestinians opposed it, while only 46 percent supported it.

Moreover, several specific clauses were rejected by both Palestinians and Israelis, though Israelis supported the overall package by 54 percent to 37 percent.

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After the Israeli defense minister’s undiplomatic skepticism about the peace process prompted a diplomatic flap earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced yesterday that he is “undeterred,” explaining, “I believe strongly in the prospects for peace.” In that, Kerry isn’t alone: An entire industry has arisen around the belief that Israeli-Palestinian peace is imminently attainable, and it is consistently “undeterred” by the facts. For a classic example, consider the joint Israeli-Palestinian poll released in late December under the unequivocal headline, “The majority of Israelis (63%) and of Palestinians (53%) support the two states solution.”

That sounds very promising, until you read the fine print. And then it turns out that most Palestinians don’t support the two-state solution at all–or at least, not the one whose terms “everyone knows.” In fact, when presented with the elements of that “everyone knows” package, defined by the researchers as based on the Clinton parameters and the Geneva Initiative, 53 percent of Palestinians opposed it, while only 46 percent supported it.

Moreover, several specific clauses were rejected by both Palestinians and Israelis, though Israelis supported the overall package by 54 percent to 37 percent.

For instance, Palestinians opposed the “everyone knows” plan for dividing Jerusalem (Israel retains Jewish neighborhoods, including the Old City’s Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, while Palestinians get Palestinian neighborhoods, including the rest of the Old City and the Temple Mount) by a whopping 68 percent to 32 percent. That’s consistent with their longstanding refusal to recognize any Jewish connection whatsoever to Jerusalem. But Israelis also rejected it overwhelmingly, 56 percent to 37 percent, consistent with their longstanding opposition to ceding Judaism’s holy site, the Temple Mount. The shared opposition also reflects both sides’ understanding of the proposal’s sheer impracticality (as I explained here).  

By an even larger majority, 71 percent to 28 percent, Palestinians opposed the idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state (Israelis, unsurprisingly, supported it). Yet this has long been recognized by international mediators as an essential security element of any deal.

On refugees, the researchers managed to craft a proposal that both parties rejected. Palestinians opposed it by a relatively narrow margin, 52 percent to 46 percent, which initially surprised me: Most polls show much stronger Palestinian opposition to abandoning their dream of eliminating the Jewish state by resettling millions of Palestinians there. But after reading the fine print, I understood why: On this issue, the researchers ditched the Clinton parameters in favor of the Geneva Initiative, which no Israeli government ever has accepted or will accept.

Under this plan, Israel cedes its right to determine how many Palestinians to let into its territory, committing instead to accept the average number accepted by third-party states–some of which, like Jordan, have granted citizenship to millions of Palestinians. Hence it garnered less Palestinian opposition than the standard version, which lets Israel decide how many Palestinians to accept. But, unsurprisingly, Israelis rejected it decisively (50 percent to 39 percent).

Finally, there’s the most important clause of all: Even “after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the settlement of all issues in dispute,” Palestinians still rejected “mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people,” by a majority of 56 percent to 43 percent. In short, even after all other issues are “resolved,” Palestinians still refuse to recognize the Jewish people’s right to a state of their own.

So what exactly does it mean that Palestinians “support a two-state solution”? The same thing it has always meant, as an unusually honest 2011 poll revealed: not two states living side by side in peace and security, but two states as a stepping-stone to Israel’s ultimate eradication. That’s why they insist on resettling millions of Palestinians in Israel; that’s why they reject any Jewish connection to Jerusalem; and that’s why they can’t recognize Israel as “the state of the Jewish people.”

And as long as that remains true, Kerry’s belief in “the prospects for peace” really is “messianic”–however unwise it was of Moshe Ya’alon to say so.

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Palestinian Incitement and the Endless War

Last week, the Israeli government sought to focus the world’s attention on one of the chief obstacles to peace in the Middle East: Palestinian incitement aimed at fomenting hatred of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. The report detailed the way the Palestinian Authority uses its official media, school textbooks, as well as the influence of many of its leaders to reinforce the notion that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state irrespective of its borders. The hate that is routinely broadcast on Palestinian television, published in its newspapers, or taught in schools seeks to demonize Jews and inculcate the notion that they are evil and have no rights to any part of the country. In doing so, the PA—which is supposed to be Israel’s partner for peace—doesn’t merely exacerbate an already tense situation but also sows the seeds of future conflict by teaching new generations to hate their Jewish neighbors.

Unfortunately, the reaction from the United States and much of the international media to this information was apathetic if not one of complete indifference. While some try to draw a false moral equivalence between official Palestinian government hate speech and honors for terrorist murderers on the one hand and stray comments by a tiny minority of Israelis who express hate for Arabs on the other, American officials and media pundits determined to place the blame for the lack of peace on the Jewish state simply ignore the subject. As was the case in the 1990s when both the United States and the Israeli government turned a blind eye to the incitement carried out by the newly empowered PA in the wake of the Oslo Accords, most peace processers treat talk about Palestinian incitement as a distraction from the real issues. Anything that diverts attention from attempts to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians is seen as off the point, if not a destructive effort to derail peace.

But the issue of incitement isn’t limited to hate speech on Palestinian TV or in textbooks. As today’s New York Times reports, the PA’s rivals in Gaza have managed to put their even more extreme program of hate into action. The Hamas government there used the winter break for its schools to enroll more than 13,000 youngsters at terrorist training mini-camps throughout the Gaza Strip. The recruitment of school-age children in this manner is child abuse on a massive scale as well as a potential war crime. But just as important, it is a sign that the issue of incitement isn’t so much a theoretical problem as a literal guarantee of endless war.

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Last week, the Israeli government sought to focus the world’s attention on one of the chief obstacles to peace in the Middle East: Palestinian incitement aimed at fomenting hatred of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. The report detailed the way the Palestinian Authority uses its official media, school textbooks, as well as the influence of many of its leaders to reinforce the notion that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state irrespective of its borders. The hate that is routinely broadcast on Palestinian television, published in its newspapers, or taught in schools seeks to demonize Jews and inculcate the notion that they are evil and have no rights to any part of the country. In doing so, the PA—which is supposed to be Israel’s partner for peace—doesn’t merely exacerbate an already tense situation but also sows the seeds of future conflict by teaching new generations to hate their Jewish neighbors.

Unfortunately, the reaction from the United States and much of the international media to this information was apathetic if not one of complete indifference. While some try to draw a false moral equivalence between official Palestinian government hate speech and honors for terrorist murderers on the one hand and stray comments by a tiny minority of Israelis who express hate for Arabs on the other, American officials and media pundits determined to place the blame for the lack of peace on the Jewish state simply ignore the subject. As was the case in the 1990s when both the United States and the Israeli government turned a blind eye to the incitement carried out by the newly empowered PA in the wake of the Oslo Accords, most peace processers treat talk about Palestinian incitement as a distraction from the real issues. Anything that diverts attention from attempts to pressure Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians is seen as off the point, if not a destructive effort to derail peace.

But the issue of incitement isn’t limited to hate speech on Palestinian TV or in textbooks. As today’s New York Times reports, the PA’s rivals in Gaza have managed to put their even more extreme program of hate into action. The Hamas government there used the winter break for its schools to enroll more than 13,000 youngsters at terrorist training mini-camps throughout the Gaza Strip. The recruitment of school-age children in this manner is child abuse on a massive scale as well as a potential war crime. But just as important, it is a sign that the issue of incitement isn’t so much a theoretical problem as a literal guarantee of endless war.

The Futwaa program is funded by the Hamas Education Ministry and focuses on teaching boys and young teenagers the finer points about the use of weapons, street fighting (in which civilians are used as human shields), and ferreting out Palestinians who might give information to Israel. This massive effort not only prepares children for future service in the so-called military wing of Hamas, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which supervises the Futwaa camps, but also enables them to intensify the hate education about Israel and Jews that is already integral to public education in Gaza. As the Times notes, Hamas officials are pleased with the results and are thinking about expanding their program:

Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, told Futwaa participants at a graduation ceremony on Tuesday in Gaza City that theirs was “the generation that will achieve the liberation and independence” of Palestine. Suggesting that the program would soon be provided for girls as well, Mr. Haniya predicted that Israel would face “a Palestinian generation that weakness knows no way into their hearts.”

One participant, Osama Shehada, 15, said he wanted to study physical engineering to learn how to make bombs and explosives to target Israel.

Lest there be any confusion about what this indoctrination consists of, by “liberation and independence” of Palestine, Hamas isn’t referring to a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem that is supposed to be the solution to the conflict. When they say “liberation” that means “liberating” all of Israel, including those areas inside the June 1967 lines, from its Jewish population–which is to say exterminating the Jews. That the Times article refers to Hamas using bases evacuated by Israel in 2005 in an effort to separate the two peoples and therefore achieve peace for these camps is a cruel but telling irony.

Instead of ignoring Israeli efforts to focus on incitement, Secretary of State John Kerry should be paying close attention to the issue. While a solution that would create two states for two peoples regardless of the borders would be something an overwhelming majority of Israelis would happily accept, Palestinian educators, both in the West Bank governed by PA “moderates” and in Hamas-run Gaza, have ensured that most Palestinians would reject any such deal. Until a sea change in Palestinian culture occurs that would allow their leaders to make peace, all efforts to craft a compromise to resolve the conflict are doomed to fail.

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Kerry’s Moral Inversion on Terrorism

Speaking yesterday at the Vatican, Secretary of State John Kerry let slip a comment so ludicrous that one has to wonder how much wider the gap between reality and Kerry’s worldview can yet grow. Following his meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, in which the two discussed the violence in Syria and prospects for Middle East peace, Kerry delivered a public statement in which he remarked, “And so we have a huge common interest in dealing with this issue of poverty, which in many cases is the root cause of terrorism or even the root cause of the disenfranchisement of millions of people on this planet.”

In making such a claim, America’s Secretary of State commits a terrible moral inversion, one in which the terrorists are cast as the victims, driven to such desperate acts by poverty, while the people they murder, particularly when Westerners, are really the ones who are guilty–guilty of having allowed the great injustice of poverty in the first place.

Had a comment of similar thoughtlessness come from a Republican politician it would have instantly been set upon as a credibility-terminating gaffe. Yet, in this instance Kerry’s thinking is entirely in step with the line pushed by much of the liberal media. Kerry’s assertion here is, of course, completely untrue. But as Jeryl Bier at the Weekly Standard has already pointed out, this isn’t the first time Kerry has peddled such beliefs. Speaking last October at the Global Counterterrorism Forum the Secretary of State proclaimed, “Getting this right isn’t just about taking terrorists off the street. It’s about providing more economic opportunities for marginalized youth at risk of recruitment.”

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Speaking yesterday at the Vatican, Secretary of State John Kerry let slip a comment so ludicrous that one has to wonder how much wider the gap between reality and Kerry’s worldview can yet grow. Following his meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, in which the two discussed the violence in Syria and prospects for Middle East peace, Kerry delivered a public statement in which he remarked, “And so we have a huge common interest in dealing with this issue of poverty, which in many cases is the root cause of terrorism or even the root cause of the disenfranchisement of millions of people on this planet.”

In making such a claim, America’s Secretary of State commits a terrible moral inversion, one in which the terrorists are cast as the victims, driven to such desperate acts by poverty, while the people they murder, particularly when Westerners, are really the ones who are guilty–guilty of having allowed the great injustice of poverty in the first place.

Had a comment of similar thoughtlessness come from a Republican politician it would have instantly been set upon as a credibility-terminating gaffe. Yet, in this instance Kerry’s thinking is entirely in step with the line pushed by much of the liberal media. Kerry’s assertion here is, of course, completely untrue. But as Jeryl Bier at the Weekly Standard has already pointed out, this isn’t the first time Kerry has peddled such beliefs. Speaking last October at the Global Counterterrorism Forum the Secretary of State proclaimed, “Getting this right isn’t just about taking terrorists off the street. It’s about providing more economic opportunities for marginalized youth at risk of recruitment.”

To be clear, terrorism does not have its “root cause” in poverty. For one thing it is paid for by “rich people.” If we look to Islamic terrorism specifically, Sunni terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and al-Nusra get much of their funding from wealthy benefactors in the oil producing Gulf states, while Shia groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Mahdi Army-related groups in Iraq have received their funding from Iran’s state sponsored terror network.

Nor are the terrorists themselves primarily from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds. Research has consistently shown that terrorists predominantly come from not only middle class backgrounds, but also highly educated ones. It can’t be that none of these findings have found their way onto the secretary of state’s desk. But presumably they don’t fit Kerry’s worldview and so he chooses not to recall them. Yet, the reality of the privileged terrorist is certainly not in doubt if we look to the Middle East where no shortage of studies have found Palestinian terrorists, for example, to often be more affluent and better educated than the surrounding population. And similarly when it came to the 9/11 hijackers, their Egyptian leader Mohammed Atta had graduated from the University of Cairo before going on to become a graduate student in Hamburg, Germany.

When it comes to homegrown terrorism from the West, the point becomes even more stark. Britain’s MI5 intelligence service has said that more than 60 percent of terror suspects there are from educated and well-to-do backgrounds, with one of the 2005 London bombers possessing assets worth over $150,000. And the suspects of the Boston bombings can hardly be ruled to be particularly disadvantaged; one of them majored in marine biology with plans to enter dentistry.

The nonsense of claiming poverty as the underlying cause of terrorism becomes apparent just as soon as one considers the millions and millions of people all over the world, who live amidst the most terrible conditions and hardships, without ever coming remotely close to turning to terrorism, that preferred route out of the poverty trap. 

It is of course concerning that Secretary Kerry would so readily make a claim of such self-evident inaccuracy. But what is really troubling here is the shameful moral inversion that he gives voice to by making such statements. Terrorists are not the victims, not of poverty or anything else. They are the adherents of hate-fueled and nihilistic ideologies. This is the root cause of terrorism.    

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Yaalon’s Unwelcome Peace Process Truths

Give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some credit. In his first term as Israel’s leader in the 1990s, he might well have issued a statement like the one attributed to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon yesterday in which the former general trashed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and damned the security plan that he presented to Israel this month as “not worth the paper it’s written on.” Since returning to the prime minister’s office in 2009 Netanyahu has done his best to keep the relationship with Washington from overheating. If there have been a series of scrapes with the Obama administration, that is largely the fault of the president’s desire to pick policy fights with him and the prime minister has done his best not to overreact. No matter how wrong Israel’s leaders may think their American counterparts are, little good comes from public spats. As Netanyahu knows, the only ones who benefit from exposing the daylight between the two countries’ positions are the Palestinians and other foes.

But apparently Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon hasn’t gotten the memo about not telling off the Americans. In an apparently unguarded moment, the former general spouted off about Kerry, the peace process, and the Palestinians yesterday, and the subsequent report in Yediot Ahronot published in English on their Ynetnews.com site brought down a firestorm on the Israeli government. Though Yaalon walked back his comments in a statement to the media, he did not deny the accuracy of the original Yediot story. This indiscretion won’t help Netanyahu in his dealings with either Obama or Kerry. It is especially foolish coming from a cabinet minister whose department has worked closely with the administration on security measures throughout the last five years to Israel’s benefit in spite of the political differences between the governments. But leaving aside the diplomatic harm he has done his country, honest observers must admit that what Yaalon said was true. The question facing both Israel and the United States is not so much what to do about Yaalon or other members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet who can’t keep their mouths shut, but at what point it will behoove the two governments to acknowledge the futility of Kerry’s endeavor.

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Give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some credit. In his first term as Israel’s leader in the 1990s, he might well have issued a statement like the one attributed to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon yesterday in which the former general trashed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and damned the security plan that he presented to Israel this month as “not worth the paper it’s written on.” Since returning to the prime minister’s office in 2009 Netanyahu has done his best to keep the relationship with Washington from overheating. If there have been a series of scrapes with the Obama administration, that is largely the fault of the president’s desire to pick policy fights with him and the prime minister has done his best not to overreact. No matter how wrong Israel’s leaders may think their American counterparts are, little good comes from public spats. As Netanyahu knows, the only ones who benefit from exposing the daylight between the two countries’ positions are the Palestinians and other foes.

But apparently Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon hasn’t gotten the memo about not telling off the Americans. In an apparently unguarded moment, the former general spouted off about Kerry, the peace process, and the Palestinians yesterday, and the subsequent report in Yediot Ahronot published in English on their Ynetnews.com site brought down a firestorm on the Israeli government. Though Yaalon walked back his comments in a statement to the media, he did not deny the accuracy of the original Yediot story. This indiscretion won’t help Netanyahu in his dealings with either Obama or Kerry. It is especially foolish coming from a cabinet minister whose department has worked closely with the administration on security measures throughout the last five years to Israel’s benefit in spite of the political differences between the governments. But leaving aside the diplomatic harm he has done his country, honest observers must admit that what Yaalon said was true. The question facing both Israel and the United States is not so much what to do about Yaalon or other members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet who can’t keep their mouths shut, but at what point it will behoove the two governments to acknowledge the futility of Kerry’s endeavor.

Having already conceded that Yaalon was stupid to say such things within earshot of a reporter, the defense minister gets no sympathy here for the abuse he is taking today in Israel’s press as well as from parliamentary allies and foes. The Israeli government has to be frustrated with Kerry’s persistence in pushing for concessions from them, especially when they see no sign of moderation on the part of their Palestinian peace partners who will not accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn nor renounce the right of return for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. But as damaging as pressure on Israel to accept the 1967 borders and the division of Jerusalem may be, so long as Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas is prevented by the reality of his people’s political culture and the threat from Hamas and other opposition groups from ever signing a deal that would end the conflict, Netanyahu knows that the best policy is to avoid an overt conflict with the U.S.

That said, Yaalon’s reminder of the absurdity of Kerry’s quest does help clarify the situation for those naïve enough to believe the talks have some chance of success.

Yaalon’s assertion that the negotiations are not between Israel and the Palestinians but between the Jewish state and the U.S. is self-evident. The PA has repeatedly demonstrated that it won’t budge from uncompromising positions against realistic territorial swaps or security guarantees, much less the existential questions of refugees and two states for two peoples. All that has happened in the past year is that Israel has been prevailed upon to bribe the PA by releasing terrorist murderers for the privilege of sitting at a table again with Abbas.

Nor can there be any real argument with Yaalon’s assessment of Kerry’s behavior when he described the secretary’s crusade as “inexplicably obsessive and messianic.” Few in either Israel or the United States, even those who are most in favor of his efforts, thought he had much of a chance to start with and there’s been no evidence that the odds have improved. His crack that “all that can save us is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace” makes no sense since the only way the secretary will get such an honor is if Abbas signs on the dotted line. But it probably also reflects what Abbas is thinking since his goal is to prevent an agreement without actually having to turn one down publicly.

Yaalon is also right to dismiss the security guarantees Kerry has offered Israel in exchange for a withdrawal from the West Bank. The example of the Gaza withdrawal—which Yaalon opposed when he was chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, a stand that led to his term being cut short by former prime minister Ariel Sharon—as well as the situation along the border with Lebanon illustrates what happens when Israel tries to entrust its security either to Palestinian good will or third parties.

But perhaps the most incisive of Yaalon’s controversial comments was his assertion that Abbas’s future was dependent on Israel’s remaining in the West Bank, not on its departure from the territories:

Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is alive and well thanks to us. The moment we leave Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) he is finished.

Without an Israeli security umbrella, Hamas or more radical Fatah factions would have deposed Abbas a long time ago. His administration over most of the West Bank is simply impossible without Israeli help. Pretending that this isn’t the case is one of the key fictions that form the foundation of Kerry’s conceit about giving Abbas sovereignty over the area and why such a deal or a unilateral Israeli retreat, as some are now suggesting, would repeat the Gaza fiasco.

Most Israelis would applaud any effort to separate the two peoples and desperately want an agreement that would end the conflict for all time rather than merely to pause it in order for the Palestinians to resume it later when they are in a more advantageous position. Though the minister shouldn’t have criticized Kerry publicly, until the secretary and those who are supporting his pressure on Israel and not on the Palestinians can answer Yaalon’s politically incorrect comments, the peace process is doomed. 

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What Ariel Sharon Knew

The grudging respect that Ariel Sharon garnered from the Western press after the Gaza disengagement was misleading. They still reviled the Israeli military might he represented and the ideas he never let go of. Consequently, Sharon inspired the kind of praise that was both insincere and couched in so many weaselly qualifications as to make it twice as insulting as the condemnations he was used to. At least the condemnations were honest. His newfound, reluctant admirers couldn’t even look him in the eye. And boy, did Arik detest cowards.

If the Newseum in Washington ever puts together an exhibit of such media behavior, they will surely center it on this masterpiece of the genre, from the Economist. It was published after the Gaza withdrawal was underway, but before Sharon was chased from the Likud Party for it. Lamenting that “the chances of a Labour victory are, alas, fairly negligible,” the magazine focused on Benjamin Netanyahu’s intention to vie for the Likud leadership against Sharon, and weighed in on which one was preferable. One imagines the psychological torment the editors withstood in order to choose between Bibi and Arik.

When it came time to hand down its verdict, the Economist offered a pox on both their houses, but slightly less of one on the House of Arik:

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The grudging respect that Ariel Sharon garnered from the Western press after the Gaza disengagement was misleading. They still reviled the Israeli military might he represented and the ideas he never let go of. Consequently, Sharon inspired the kind of praise that was both insincere and couched in so many weaselly qualifications as to make it twice as insulting as the condemnations he was used to. At least the condemnations were honest. His newfound, reluctant admirers couldn’t even look him in the eye. And boy, did Arik detest cowards.

If the Newseum in Washington ever puts together an exhibit of such media behavior, they will surely center it on this masterpiece of the genre, from the Economist. It was published after the Gaza withdrawal was underway, but before Sharon was chased from the Likud Party for it. Lamenting that “the chances of a Labour victory are, alas, fairly negligible,” the magazine focused on Benjamin Netanyahu’s intention to vie for the Likud leadership against Sharon, and weighed in on which one was preferable. One imagines the psychological torment the editors withstood in order to choose between Bibi and Arik.

When it came time to hand down its verdict, the Economist offered a pox on both their houses, but slightly less of one on the House of Arik:

This is not because of some fundamental difference of vision or character between the two men. It is because of where each has chosen to take his stand in this contest.

To unseat the prime minister, Bibi has thrown in his lot with the least flexible elements of Likud—the bitter-enders who cling to the nonsensical idea that Israel can remain a Jewish democracy while ruling over millions of Palestinians. If he wins power with their support, he will find it extremely difficult to change position afterwards. Mr Sharon, in contrast, has just shown most dramatically in Gaza that he has the temerity to challenge and defeat this bunch, even if it means betraying those who previously lionised him. If the first Israeli leader to take such a risk is rewarded with the boot, peace with the Palestinians will remain as elusive as ever.

Those last two sentences are ever so revealing. Asks the Economist: Who is courageous? Answer: He who rises up against the Likud. And look how carefully constructed that last sentence is–so hedged and watered down as to be meaningless. And what happened? Arik was not “rewarded with the boot” by the voters (though he had to disengage from Likud). He won the following election by the sheer force of his own name and personality.

He left the most talented Likudniks behind when he formed Kadima. It showed–he was succeeded by Ehud Olmert, who was succeeded in Kadima by Tzipi Livni. Choose Arik over Bibi, the Economist advised, in the name of peace. In other words, the world assured the Israelis, this time is different. This time the disengagement, the withdrawal, will lead to … what exactly? Well the Economist isn’t so bold as to say, because one suspects that deep down the editors, and the highly refined opinion of the international community they represented, knew the truth. And boy, did Arik detest cowards.

The truth was that it would not lead to a change in Palestinian behavior. Israel unilaterally leaving all of Gaza and parts of the West Bank was supposed to be John Cusack holding the boombox blaring In Your Eyes outside the Palestinians’ window. But the Palestinians weren’t interested in Ariel Sharon’s gestures–which Sharon didn’t think of as gestures so much as essential actions that would secure the safety of the state he spent his life defending on the battlefield. And how much less interested must they be in lesser gestures, like settlement freezes or White House invites?

Obituaries and reminiscences of Sharon’s life are not lacking for lessons. But surely one lesson of Sharon’s life is this: the gesture politics that are a mark of the Western left’s decadent narcissism and intellectual boredom are useless in the very conflict they are applied most often. Worse than useless, perhaps–dangerous. John Kerry’s shawarma diplomacy is aimed at getting a piece of paper signed so he can pretend peace is at hand. Sharon never had the luxury of pretending.

And Sharon never needed a piece of paper. He left Gaza without a formal agreement because he understood the difference between peace agreements and peace. The two often have nothing to do with each other. When he felt he needed to do something for Israel’s security–withdrawal, security fence–he did it, because without security there is no peace. (People often think it’s the other way around, but history says otherwise.)

Sharon made mistakes. His judgment was not infallible. What was seemingly infallible was his iron will, for good and for ill. Because Sharon believed in reality. The politicians and journalists hectoring and heckling him from thousands of miles away were living in a fantasy world. They hated him, because he wouldn’t join them there. And he wouldn’t join them there because he believed it was cowardly for a man responsible for the survival of his people to play make-believe when lives were on the line.

And boy, did Arik detest cowards.

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The Loss of Momentum

In politics, war, sports, and other realms momentum counts for a lot. If you maintain the momentum, you can give the appearance that your victory is inevitable. This disheartens your adversaries, emboldens your side, and leads waverers to root for your cause. If, however, you lose momentum the entire process is reversed and you are put on the defensive, with numerous negative consequences.

Well, guess what? The West has just lost momentum in the battle to keep Iran from going nuclear. The Obama administration claims that the deal which takes effect next week is only temporary and phased in–that in return for a partial slowdown in its nuclear program (which, according to the New York Times, will add as little as “several weeks to the time Iran would need to acquire enough enriched uranium for a bomb”) Iran will get “only” $6 billion to $7 billion worth of sanctions relief.

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In politics, war, sports, and other realms momentum counts for a lot. If you maintain the momentum, you can give the appearance that your victory is inevitable. This disheartens your adversaries, emboldens your side, and leads waverers to root for your cause. If, however, you lose momentum the entire process is reversed and you are put on the defensive, with numerous negative consequences.

Well, guess what? The West has just lost momentum in the battle to keep Iran from going nuclear. The Obama administration claims that the deal which takes effect next week is only temporary and phased in–that in return for a partial slowdown in its nuclear program (which, according to the New York Times, will add as little as “several weeks to the time Iran would need to acquire enough enriched uranium for a bomb”) Iran will get “only” $6 billion to $7 billion worth of sanctions relief.

But Iran has won something far more valuable than that limited sanctions relief, which is valuable enough as it is to a cash-strapped regime. It has stopped the momentum of the West’s sanctions and is beginning to reverse it. After having worked so hard to impose crippling economic sanctions on the Iranian regime, the U.S. is now backing off, even going so far as to implicitly recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium–i.e., its “right” to maintain breakout capacity to build a bomb within a few weeks or months.

This is sending a signal to the entire world that we are no longer serious about containing Iran. Instead, we are going to accommodate it. Given that reality, the hordes of waverers and finger-to-the-wind countries which have been very reluctant to give up their business dealings with Iran are now likely to open up the spigots and let trade flow.

An initial sign of this comes from Dubai. The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, has long had an equivocal relationship with Iran. Like other Sunni states in the region, it has been terrified of the rise of Iranian power but, as a small state located across a narrow waterway from the Persian powerhouse, it has also sought to accommodate the Iranians as much as possible. Dubai, which lives on trade, has been especially active in providing a market where Iran can buy and sell what it needs.

Thus it is hardly surprising but nevertheless significant to read the ruler of Dubai quoted as follows:

Asked whether he thought it was time to lift the sanctions, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, told British broadcaster the BBC:

“I think so and give Iran a space… Iran is our neighbor and we don’t want any problem, he said, adding that “everybody will benefit”.

This is indicative of a broader reaction that is sure to set in almost immediately. Countries which had been brought reluctantly to support sanctions on Iran are going to ease off. This is especially true of states in the Middle East whose rulers are wily survivors. They can read which way the wind is blowing, and they now recognize that the Iranians have what George H.W. Bush once referred to as “big mo” and the U.S. doesn’t. They will act accordingly.

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John Kerry and Israel’s Security Priorities

In recent days a series of disturbing reports have emerged regarding the acquisition by Hezbollah of powerful long-range and radar-guided missiles via Syria. Given that the source of these reports, first revealed by the Wall Street Journal January 2, come from U.S. military intelligence officials it would seem prudent to take them seriously. If accurate, this brings Hezbollah’s military capabilities into a new league with the potential to significantly shift the calculus of risk for Israel and its population. That these events come amidst a delay in the deployment of Iron Dome air defense systems along Israel’s northern border, on account of budgetary difficulties, only adds to any assessment of just how troubling Israel’s security situation is regarding the Iranian proxies in Lebanon.

Yet, with Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians now in full swing, it seems that many of Israel’s far more critical security concerns risk being crowded out. The great irony here being that Kerry is expending huge amounts of energy, and indeed Israel’s time, on a peace process that cannot possibly hope to bring Israel peace or security in the places where it arguably needs them most.

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In recent days a series of disturbing reports have emerged regarding the acquisition by Hezbollah of powerful long-range and radar-guided missiles via Syria. Given that the source of these reports, first revealed by the Wall Street Journal January 2, come from U.S. military intelligence officials it would seem prudent to take them seriously. If accurate, this brings Hezbollah’s military capabilities into a new league with the potential to significantly shift the calculus of risk for Israel and its population. That these events come amidst a delay in the deployment of Iron Dome air defense systems along Israel’s northern border, on account of budgetary difficulties, only adds to any assessment of just how troubling Israel’s security situation is regarding the Iranian proxies in Lebanon.

Yet, with Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians now in full swing, it seems that many of Israel’s far more critical security concerns risk being crowded out. The great irony here being that Kerry is expending huge amounts of energy, and indeed Israel’s time, on a peace process that cannot possibly hope to bring Israel peace or security in the places where it arguably needs them most.

Speaking from Jerusalem about the progress of negotiations last week, Kerry told reporters: “These are complicated issues that involve the survival and the future of peoples. And this is a conflict that has gone on for too long.” Few could disagree with that, least of all Israelis, who have long lived with the disorienting awareness of just how precarious the survival of their nation really is. Yet Kerry went on to say more. Of the focus of the negotiations he added, “Now is not the time to get trapped in the sort of up and down of the day-to-day challenges … We don’t have the luxury of dwelling on the obstacles that we all know could distract us from our goal. What we need to do is lift our sights and look ahead and keep in mind the vision of what can come, and if we can move forward.”

Touching as visions of the future may well be and true as it is that both sides should seek to avoid becoming bogged down in a petty exchange of accusations, we must also wonder about precisely what it is that Israel should and shouldn’t allow itself to be “distracted” by right now. For if Kerry is as committed to the survival of peoples and the ending of conflicts as his above statements would suggest, then there are serious questions that Israelis need to be asking about where the Obama administration has been trying to direct their attention in recent years. What really counts as a luxury and a distraction?

Given that Kerry has undertaken no less than ten visits to Israel since assuming his office less than a year ago, it can hardly be in doubt just how much of a priority overseeing a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is for him. The only trouble is that getting an agreement signed between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas and bringing about peace almost certainly isn’t the same thing. Israel cannot truly make a deal based on land for peace with Abbas, because even if Abbas genuinely wished to do so, neither peace nor security are things that he is able to give Israelis. This is not simply the case because Mahmoud Abbas is almost nine years into his four-year-long presidential term and represents few of the people he claims to speak for or have authority over. Rather, negotiations with Abbas can’t possibly hope to bring Israel peace and security because the Palestinians in the West Bank are not remotely close to being Israel’s primary security concern.

The greatest threat to Israel’s security and continued survival is not even the other group of Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, who almost certainly would not hold by any agreement Kerry might be able to somehow conjure up. The single greatest threat to Israel comes from the Islamic regime in Iran and its proxies. Most ominously of all it comes from the Iranian nuclear program. Something which the Obama administration has so far completely failed to bring under control, perhaps unsurprising given how preoccupied Secretary Kerry has been with the matter of trying to get Mahmoud Abbas to agree to accept a state from Israel in exchange for little more than his simple recognition of the Jewish state in return.  

From what has been leaked from the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority so far, it would seem that there has been a great deal of focus on whether or not Israel would maintain a security force in the Jordan Valley. This security matter is clearly of great importance, but right now it pales in comparison to the mounting threat from Iran’s primary proxy Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. And if Abbas can do next to nothing to assure Israel’s security from Hamas rockets in Gaza, how much less can he do about the critical danger to Israel coming from north of its border?

In addition to having stockpiles of an estimated 100,000 rockets and a growing ground force of Iranian-trained troops, it now appears that Hezbollah is acquiring new devastating weaponry via Syria. In recent days there have been statements from U.S. intelligence officials expressing their belief that Russian-made Yakhon anti-ship cruise missiles are now being brought into Lebanon. Despite attempts by the Israeli Air Force to strike weapons stores in Syria in an effort to prevent their transfer to Hezbollah, U.S. officials believe components of advanced radar-guided missiles have already entered southern Lebanon. Although primarily designed for use against ships, these missiles have a range that reach almost the full length of Israel’s territory and are equipped with armor-piecing highly explosive warheads. Additionally, some of the weaponry Hezbollah has been acquiring from Syria would give it the capabilities to attack Israeli planes and stave off the kind of air strikes used to stop the stream of rockets fired into Israeli civilian areas during Hezbollah’s 2006 war against Israel. 

Concurrent with this has come news that Israel’s military will have to delay the deployment of its defensive Iron Dome batteries in the north of the country due to budget cuts. The air defense batteries which were supposed to be positioned to protect Israel’s north reportedly cannot be placed for the moment due to a shortage of manpower related to recent budgetary cuts from Israel’s Ministry of Defense, something which representatives of the military have warned will have serious consequences. As it is, these air defense systems place a huge financial strain on Israel’s ability to defend itself, with each Tamir interception rocket fired costing Israel $50,000. In a war of attrition by Iranian proxies this means of defense could quickly become unsustainable. As one senior military representative stated, “In recent years the enemy has understood that the cheapest and most effective way to harm Israel is by missiles, and therefore the defense establishment is forced to equip itself with the appropriate defense systems, which have a monumental cost.”

These matters are then Israel’s real and primary concern, or at least they should be. Yet, at the moment Israel risks being distracted by the relentless circus of Kerry’s sideshow diplomacy. When it comes to ending conflicts, securing peace and securing the survival of peoples, the most pressing matters do not center on the Palestinians but Iran and its proxy armies. Yet, the Obama administration’s softly-softly approach on Iran, currently materializing in the form of its efforts to ease sanctions on the mullahs, mean that the really serious threats to Israel are now becoming critical. Kerry is quite right when he counsels from Jerusalem on Israel not being able to afford the luxury of dwelling on distractions. Right now, however, Kerry’s shoot-for-the-stars negotiations with Abbas are serving as the most dangerous distraction of all. 

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