Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jordan Valley

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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Removing IDF from the Jordan Valley Would Destabilize Jordan

In the run-up to John Kerry’s arrival in Jerusalem today for yet another round of Israeli-Palestinian talks, media attention naturally focused less on real obstacles to peace than on an Israeli bill to annex the Jordan Valley that supporters and opponents agree hasn’t a prayer of becoming law. Yet despite this coverage, the most interesting fact about the bill has been largely overlooked: One of the biggest behind-the-scenes fans of Israel retaining control of this strategic location is none other than the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Last month, the Israeli daily Maariv reported that Jordan has been urging Kerry to support Israel’s demand for a permanent IDF presence in the valley under any deal with the Palestinians. Three months earlier, the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh quoted a senior Jordanian official’s response when asked in a closed briefing how Amman viewed the possibility of Palestinians replacing Israel along the Jordan border:

“May God forbid!” the official retorted. “We have repeatedly made it clear to the Israeli side that we will not agree to the presence of a third party at our border.”

The Jordanian official claimed this has been Jordan’s position ever since 1967. But it was undoubtedly reinforced by watching the deleterious effects on Egypt’s security of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

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In the run-up to John Kerry’s arrival in Jerusalem today for yet another round of Israeli-Palestinian talks, media attention naturally focused less on real obstacles to peace than on an Israeli bill to annex the Jordan Valley that supporters and opponents agree hasn’t a prayer of becoming law. Yet despite this coverage, the most interesting fact about the bill has been largely overlooked: One of the biggest behind-the-scenes fans of Israel retaining control of this strategic location is none other than the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Last month, the Israeli daily Maariv reported that Jordan has been urging Kerry to support Israel’s demand for a permanent IDF presence in the valley under any deal with the Palestinians. Three months earlier, the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh quoted a senior Jordanian official’s response when asked in a closed briefing how Amman viewed the possibility of Palestinians replacing Israel along the Jordan border:

“May God forbid!” the official retorted. “We have repeatedly made it clear to the Israeli side that we will not agree to the presence of a third party at our border.”

The Jordanian official claimed this has been Jordan’s position ever since 1967. But it was undoubtedly reinforced by watching the deleterious effects on Egypt’s security of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

With the IDF no longer there to impede the flow, radical ideology, terrorists, and weaponry began pouring from into Sinai, providing local terrorists not only with enhanced resources (as I explain in more detail here and here), but also with valuable training. As a result, Sinai quickly became a terrorist hotbed that poses a major threat not only to Israel–whose Shin Bet security service now devotes the same resources to monitoring Sinai that it does to the northern West Bank–but also to Egypt itself. A Sinai terrorist group, for instance, claimed responsibility for last week’s deadly bombing in Mansoura.

The last thing Jordan needs is a similar influx of arms, radicalism, and veteran Palestinian terrorists pouring over its border, especially given its large Palestinian population. Already destabilized by a massive influx of Syrian refugees and rumblings of homegrown discontent, such an influx would surely send it over the edge. And unless Israel remains in the Jordan Valley permanently (or at least for many decades to come), that’s exactly what will happen. Allowing the IDF to stay there merely for another few years, as Kerry is reportedly proposing, does nothing but temporarily postpone the inevitable.

Western leaders repeatedly say they want Israel out of the territories because its presence there is “a major source of instability” in the region, as President Obama put it his UN address in September. Yet experience shows that Israeli withdrawals may well be a far greater source of instability. The Gaza pullout certainly turned out that way for Egypt (as well as for Israel), and Amman clearly fears a Jordan Valley pullout would have a similarly negative impact on Jordan.

If the West truly cares about stability, pushing for an Israeli withdrawal that would destabilize Jordan, one of the region’s last remaining islands of stability, seems highly counterproductive. Indeed, given how often Israeli pullouts have had negative results, the West might do better to abandon this paradigm altogether and start searching for a new one. Supporting a permanent Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley would be a good place to start.

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USAID, Spanish Government Supporting Anti-Israel Tourism Group?

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem. Read More

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem.

The involvement of USAID with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism is more tenuous, though. Another pamphlet on the website includes the USAID logo and the ministry’s logo, implying that the project was a collaboration between the two organizations.

The ministry also claims that USAID facilitated its involvement in an international tourism conference last October. “This activity came as part of the Palestine Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ membership at the Adventure Travel Trade Association and part of the support provided by the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion (EDIP) project funded by the USAID,” says the website.

USAID’s own website says that it “supported Palestinian representation at the World Religious Tourism Expo,” though it doesn’t clarify who the representation was.

I’ve called USAID for comment, but as of now, they have been unable to get in touch with officials at their West Bank office, which is closed until after the holiday weekend. We’ll update this story as soon as more information arises.

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Margaret Thatcher and Defensible Borders

Among the documents released last week by the British National Archives is a February 14, 1980, memorandum to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, entitled “Arab/Israel” — and another document showing her handwritten reaction to it. The documents should be read in connection with Harry Kanigel’s excellent article on defensible borders for Israel in yesterday’s American Thinker.

Lord Hailsham’s memorandum responded to a plan that the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, wanted Thatcher to approve. Carrington argued that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provided a “unique opportunity” for the West to form an alliance with Islamic countries but that the “main obstacle” was those countries’ dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Arab/Israel conflict. He wanted to “build a bridge between the US and the Arabs” with a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian “right of self-determination” and “the right of Palestinian refugees … to return to their homes,” while assuring Israel of its security “within its 1967 frontiers.”

The Lord Chancellor wrote to Thatcher that he did not share Carrington’s optimism on the prospects of his proposed initiative — “unless, of course, we are prepared to sacrifice things which are too important morally, and too valuable to our interest to sacrifice.”

Were [Israel] to be destroyed by an aggressive war the devastating effects on the rule of law throughout the world could hardly be exaggerated. … Prior to 1967 the physical boundaries of Israel were virtually untenable militarily. South of the Jezreel valley, the geography of Israel is starkly simple, consisting virtually of three parallel straight lines running North and South, the sea, the Judean hills and the Jordan valley. Whoever commands the hills commands the rest. Prior to 1967 the waist-line of Israel was only 10 miles broad, and its main centers of population [were] exposed to artillery fire as well as the prospect of devastating air raids. After 1967 Israel has enjoyed reasonably viable military frontiers consisting of the Judean hills (and the no less important frontier heights on the Syrian border). Jerusalem is built on the Judean hills. [emphasis added]

He also noted that Jewish opinion was “fanatically involved in the fate of Israel” and that Manchester, Leeds, and the whole of North London would be “profoundly affected” by Jewish hostility on this issue. Then he concluded as follows:

If there be a reasonable chance of success without losing our honor yet again over the Balfour declaration; go ahead. But have we not enough on our plate just now not to consider leaving this hot potato alone?

On reading the Hailsham memorandum, perhaps Thatcher recalled the confrontation with Menachem Begin eight months before, when Begin told her that without settlements, Israel could be “at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria.” Perhaps she was impressed by Lord Hailsham’s immense stature as Lord Chancellor and his reference to British honor. Perhaps she took his point about Jewish opinion.

In any event, the files contain a note apparently written to her by her cabinet secretary that appeared to side with Carrington, asserting that “losing our honor” was not involved and suggesting that Jewish hostility was “a different kind of problem.” On the note, Thatcher wrote a single-sentence rebuttal: “I agree with the Lord Chancellor.”

Among the documents released last week by the British National Archives is a February 14, 1980, memorandum to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, entitled “Arab/Israel” — and another document showing her handwritten reaction to it. The documents should be read in connection with Harry Kanigel’s excellent article on defensible borders for Israel in yesterday’s American Thinker.

Lord Hailsham’s memorandum responded to a plan that the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, wanted Thatcher to approve. Carrington argued that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provided a “unique opportunity” for the West to form an alliance with Islamic countries but that the “main obstacle” was those countries’ dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Arab/Israel conflict. He wanted to “build a bridge between the US and the Arabs” with a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian “right of self-determination” and “the right of Palestinian refugees … to return to their homes,” while assuring Israel of its security “within its 1967 frontiers.”

The Lord Chancellor wrote to Thatcher that he did not share Carrington’s optimism on the prospects of his proposed initiative — “unless, of course, we are prepared to sacrifice things which are too important morally, and too valuable to our interest to sacrifice.”

Were [Israel] to be destroyed by an aggressive war the devastating effects on the rule of law throughout the world could hardly be exaggerated. … Prior to 1967 the physical boundaries of Israel were virtually untenable militarily. South of the Jezreel valley, the geography of Israel is starkly simple, consisting virtually of three parallel straight lines running North and South, the sea, the Judean hills and the Jordan valley. Whoever commands the hills commands the rest. Prior to 1967 the waist-line of Israel was only 10 miles broad, and its main centers of population [were] exposed to artillery fire as well as the prospect of devastating air raids. After 1967 Israel has enjoyed reasonably viable military frontiers consisting of the Judean hills (and the no less important frontier heights on the Syrian border). Jerusalem is built on the Judean hills. [emphasis added]

He also noted that Jewish opinion was “fanatically involved in the fate of Israel” and that Manchester, Leeds, and the whole of North London would be “profoundly affected” by Jewish hostility on this issue. Then he concluded as follows:

If there be a reasonable chance of success without losing our honor yet again over the Balfour declaration; go ahead. But have we not enough on our plate just now not to consider leaving this hot potato alone?

On reading the Hailsham memorandum, perhaps Thatcher recalled the confrontation with Menachem Begin eight months before, when Begin told her that without settlements, Israel could be “at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria.” Perhaps she was impressed by Lord Hailsham’s immense stature as Lord Chancellor and his reference to British honor. Perhaps she took his point about Jewish opinion.

In any event, the files contain a note apparently written to her by her cabinet secretary that appeared to side with Carrington, asserting that “losing our honor” was not involved and suggesting that Jewish hostility was “a different kind of problem.” On the note, Thatcher wrote a single-sentence rebuttal: “I agree with the Lord Chancellor.”

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Everyone Does Not Know What Everyone Supposedly Knows

For more than a decade, the guiding principle of the peace process has been that “everyone knows” what peace will look like: a Palestinian state on roughly the 1967 lines, with land swaps for the major Israeli settlement blocs, a shared Jerusalem, international compensation for the Palestinian refugees, and a “right of return” to the new Palestinian state rather than Israel.

A new poll conducted jointly by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace shows that the Palestinian public opposes such a solution by a lopsided majority.

The poll presented a package modeled on the Clinton Parameters: (1) an Israeli withdrawal from more than 97 percent of the West Bank and a land swap for the remaining 2-3 percent; (2) a Palestinian state with a “strong security force” but no army, with a multinational force to ensure security; (3) Palestinian sovereignty over land, water, and airspace, but an Israeli right to use the airspace for training purposes and to maintain two West Bank early-warning stations for 15 years; (4) a capital in East Jerusalem and sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods and the Old City (other than the Jewish Quarter and the “Wailing Wall”); and (5) a “right of return” for refugees to the new state and compensation for their “refugeehood” and loss of property.

The package was opposed by 58 percent of the Palestinians, with only 40 percent favoring it.

It was not a case of one or more individual elements in the package causing a problem. Each of the five elements was polled separately; not one of them commanded majority support.

Writing today in Yediot Aharonot, Sever Plocker asserts that while most Israelis are prepared to support a Palestinian state, they have in mind a state “not much different from the Palestinian Authority that exists today.”

Ask now in a poll how many Israelis are ready for the evacuation of 150-200,000 settlers from Judea and Samaria, an IDF withdrawal from bases in the Jordan Valley, the deployment of Palestinian border police between Kalkilya and Kfar Saba, a new border in Jerusalem and turning the territories into a foreign country that will absorb hundreds of thousands of militant refugees from the camps in Lebanon – and see how the numbers of those who support a “two-state solution” drop to near zero.

Interestingly, the new poll showed that Israelis supported the hypothetical package by 52 percent to 39 percent, demonstrating that a majority or plurality of Israelis (the poll has a 4.5 percent margin of error) would support a demilitarized Palestinian state, as long as the IDF is empowered to keep it that way, the state does not assert a “right of return” to Israel, and there is a land swap that does not require the mass uprooting of Israelis from their homes. Plocker’s assertion may show, however, that a lot depends on how polling questions are framed, and the implications of flooding the West Bank with refugees (as opposed to resettling them where most have lived all their lives) deserve further study.

But all this is hypothetical. The Palestinians rejected the Clinton Parameters in 2000 and effectively rejected them again in 2008 in the Annapolis Process. The new poll makes it clear they would reject them a third time, despite what “everyone knows.”

For more than a decade, the guiding principle of the peace process has been that “everyone knows” what peace will look like: a Palestinian state on roughly the 1967 lines, with land swaps for the major Israeli settlement blocs, a shared Jerusalem, international compensation for the Palestinian refugees, and a “right of return” to the new Palestinian state rather than Israel.

A new poll conducted jointly by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace shows that the Palestinian public opposes such a solution by a lopsided majority.

The poll presented a package modeled on the Clinton Parameters: (1) an Israeli withdrawal from more than 97 percent of the West Bank and a land swap for the remaining 2-3 percent; (2) a Palestinian state with a “strong security force” but no army, with a multinational force to ensure security; (3) Palestinian sovereignty over land, water, and airspace, but an Israeli right to use the airspace for training purposes and to maintain two West Bank early-warning stations for 15 years; (4) a capital in East Jerusalem and sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods and the Old City (other than the Jewish Quarter and the “Wailing Wall”); and (5) a “right of return” for refugees to the new state and compensation for their “refugeehood” and loss of property.

The package was opposed by 58 percent of the Palestinians, with only 40 percent favoring it.

It was not a case of one or more individual elements in the package causing a problem. Each of the five elements was polled separately; not one of them commanded majority support.

Writing today in Yediot Aharonot, Sever Plocker asserts that while most Israelis are prepared to support a Palestinian state, they have in mind a state “not much different from the Palestinian Authority that exists today.”

Ask now in a poll how many Israelis are ready for the evacuation of 150-200,000 settlers from Judea and Samaria, an IDF withdrawal from bases in the Jordan Valley, the deployment of Palestinian border police between Kalkilya and Kfar Saba, a new border in Jerusalem and turning the territories into a foreign country that will absorb hundreds of thousands of militant refugees from the camps in Lebanon – and see how the numbers of those who support a “two-state solution” drop to near zero.

Interestingly, the new poll showed that Israelis supported the hypothetical package by 52 percent to 39 percent, demonstrating that a majority or plurality of Israelis (the poll has a 4.5 percent margin of error) would support a demilitarized Palestinian state, as long as the IDF is empowered to keep it that way, the state does not assert a “right of return” to Israel, and there is a land swap that does not require the mass uprooting of Israelis from their homes. Plocker’s assertion may show, however, that a lot depends on how polling questions are framed, and the implications of flooding the West Bank with refugees (as opposed to resettling them where most have lived all their lives) deserve further study.

But all this is hypothetical. The Palestinians rejected the Clinton Parameters in 2000 and effectively rejected them again in 2008 in the Annapolis Process. The new poll makes it clear they would reject them a third time, despite what “everyone knows.”

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The Problem with the Obama Letter

Paul Mirengoff concurs with Evelyn Gordon’s suggestion that Barack Obama’s proposed letter, promising significant “goodies” for Israel if it extends its settlement moratorium, is unreliable — given Obama’s failure to abide by promises made by the U.S. in his predecessor’s letter. My own view is that the problem with the proposed letter is not simply its credibility but also its substance.

The Obama administration has refused 22 times to state whether it considers itself bound by the Bush letter, which conceded that it “seems clear” that Palestinian refugees must be resettled in a Palestinian state rather than in Israel and that it is “unrealistic” to expect a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, given the major Israeli population centers there. Those factual statements remain true notwithstanding Obama’s refusal to acknowledge them. But the critical part of the Bush letter was the promise that the U.S. would stand by its “steadfast commitment” to “defensible borders” (a term with a long diplomatic history and military meaning) — a commitment made not only by Bush, but by the Clinton administration in its own letter to Israel’s then-prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to David Makovsky’s quasi-official summary of the proposed Obama letter, the administration promises to help ensure “a complete ban” on the smuggling of arms and terrorists into a Palestinian state; maintain a “transitional period” for Israeli enforcement of security in the Jordan Valley; and enhance Israel’s defense capabilities in a “post-peace era.” But there was no reiteration of the prior U.S. commitment to such borders as are necessary for Israel to defend itself if the ban proves less than complete, the transitional period not quite long enough, and the “post-peace era” similar to the one that followed withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza.

The failure of the proposed letter to reiterate the commitment to defensible borders made by both Democratic and Republican administrations is another indication the Obama administration has reneged on it. In its place, the administration offers a “complete ban” that no one can guarantee; a “transitional period” no one can assure will be long enough; and a promised enhancement of Israel’s defense capabilities, which is an implicit admission that Israel’s current capabilities are insufficient for the risks involved in a “post-peace era.” Even if given in good faith, the Obama letter cannot substitute for defensible borders, but that is the function the proposed letter seems intended to serve.

Paul Mirengoff concurs with Evelyn Gordon’s suggestion that Barack Obama’s proposed letter, promising significant “goodies” for Israel if it extends its settlement moratorium, is unreliable — given Obama’s failure to abide by promises made by the U.S. in his predecessor’s letter. My own view is that the problem with the proposed letter is not simply its credibility but also its substance.

The Obama administration has refused 22 times to state whether it considers itself bound by the Bush letter, which conceded that it “seems clear” that Palestinian refugees must be resettled in a Palestinian state rather than in Israel and that it is “unrealistic” to expect a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, given the major Israeli population centers there. Those factual statements remain true notwithstanding Obama’s refusal to acknowledge them. But the critical part of the Bush letter was the promise that the U.S. would stand by its “steadfast commitment” to “defensible borders” (a term with a long diplomatic history and military meaning) — a commitment made not only by Bush, but by the Clinton administration in its own letter to Israel’s then-prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to David Makovsky’s quasi-official summary of the proposed Obama letter, the administration promises to help ensure “a complete ban” on the smuggling of arms and terrorists into a Palestinian state; maintain a “transitional period” for Israeli enforcement of security in the Jordan Valley; and enhance Israel’s defense capabilities in a “post-peace era.” But there was no reiteration of the prior U.S. commitment to such borders as are necessary for Israel to defend itself if the ban proves less than complete, the transitional period not quite long enough, and the “post-peace era” similar to the one that followed withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza.

The failure of the proposed letter to reiterate the commitment to defensible borders made by both Democratic and Republican administrations is another indication the Obama administration has reneged on it. In its place, the administration offers a “complete ban” that no one can guarantee; a “transitional period” no one can assure will be long enough; and a promised enhancement of Israel’s defense capabilities, which is an implicit admission that Israel’s current capabilities are insufficient for the risks involved in a “post-peace era.” Even if given in good faith, the Obama letter cannot substitute for defensible borders, but that is the function the proposed letter seems intended to serve.

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Obama’s Repudiation of Promises to Israel Comes Back to Haunt Him

The Israeli media ran a mind-boggling story today: in exchange for a two-month extension of the freeze on settlement construction, Barack Obama has offered Israel various mouth-watering goodies, as Jen noted in an earlier post. Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leaning toward refusing.

Obama’s offer reportedly includes the following (see here and here, for instance): support for Israel’s demand that any Israeli-Palestinian deal include a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley; a Security Council veto of any anti-Israel resolution submitted in the coming year; additional military aid; advanced weaponry; stringent measures to halt arms smuggling; and a pledge not to seek another extension when this one expires.

Israel needs all of the above, and Obama has hitherto often failed to provide them. Thus the offer’s benefits would seem to far outweigh the damage of extending the freeze for two months. Yet Netanyahu claims his cabinet — those same ministers who approved a 10-month freeze in exchange for nothing — wouldn’t approve another two months, even for these lavish promises. What gives?

I suspect Netanyahu resorted to this flimsy excuse because the real reason is too undiplomatic to state publicly: Obama, by his own actions, has shown he views presidential promises as made to be broken. And Israel’s government is loath to incur the real damage of extending the freeze (which J.E. Dyer ably explained here) in exchange for promises that will be conveniently forgotten when they come due.

Israel, after all, received its last presidential promise just six years ago, in exchange for leaving Gaza. In writing, George W. Bush said the Palestinian Authority must end incitement and terror, voiced support for Israel “as a Jewish state,” vowed to “strengthen Israel’s capability” to defend itself, and said any Israeli-Palestinian deal should leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders” and resettle Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state rather than Israel. He also promised orally that Israel could continue building in the settlement blocs.

But when Obama took office, he denied the oral pledge’s very existence, infuriating even Israeli leftists. As Haaretz’s Aluf Benn wrote, it was possible to argue the policy should change, “but not to lie.”

And while Obama hasn’t denied the written document’s existence, he’s nullified it de facto through his every word and action: he’s never challenged PA incitement; he’s advocated the indefensible pre-1967 borders, including in East Jerusalem (where he bullied Israel into halting construction even in huge Jewish neighborhoods that will clearly remain Israeli under any deal); he hasn’t publicly demanded that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state or said the refugees can’t be resettled in Israel; and far from strengthening Israel’s defensive capabilities, he’s condemned Israel’s enforcement of an arms blockade on Hamas-run Gaza, bullied Israel into accepting a UN probe of its raid on a blockade-busting flotilla, imposed unprecedented restrictions on Israel’s purchase of F-35 fighters, and more. He has supported Israel only when domestic pressure necessitated it.

With enough domestic pressure, Obama would probably do everything in the latest offer anyway. But without it, Israelis fear he’ll renege the moment he finds it convenient.

And for that, Obama has only himself to blame.

The Israeli media ran a mind-boggling story today: in exchange for a two-month extension of the freeze on settlement construction, Barack Obama has offered Israel various mouth-watering goodies, as Jen noted in an earlier post. Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leaning toward refusing.

Obama’s offer reportedly includes the following (see here and here, for instance): support for Israel’s demand that any Israeli-Palestinian deal include a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley; a Security Council veto of any anti-Israel resolution submitted in the coming year; additional military aid; advanced weaponry; stringent measures to halt arms smuggling; and a pledge not to seek another extension when this one expires.

Israel needs all of the above, and Obama has hitherto often failed to provide them. Thus the offer’s benefits would seem to far outweigh the damage of extending the freeze for two months. Yet Netanyahu claims his cabinet — those same ministers who approved a 10-month freeze in exchange for nothing — wouldn’t approve another two months, even for these lavish promises. What gives?

I suspect Netanyahu resorted to this flimsy excuse because the real reason is too undiplomatic to state publicly: Obama, by his own actions, has shown he views presidential promises as made to be broken. And Israel’s government is loath to incur the real damage of extending the freeze (which J.E. Dyer ably explained here) in exchange for promises that will be conveniently forgotten when they come due.

Israel, after all, received its last presidential promise just six years ago, in exchange for leaving Gaza. In writing, George W. Bush said the Palestinian Authority must end incitement and terror, voiced support for Israel “as a Jewish state,” vowed to “strengthen Israel’s capability” to defend itself, and said any Israeli-Palestinian deal should leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders” and resettle Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state rather than Israel. He also promised orally that Israel could continue building in the settlement blocs.

But when Obama took office, he denied the oral pledge’s very existence, infuriating even Israeli leftists. As Haaretz’s Aluf Benn wrote, it was possible to argue the policy should change, “but not to lie.”

And while Obama hasn’t denied the written document’s existence, he’s nullified it de facto through his every word and action: he’s never challenged PA incitement; he’s advocated the indefensible pre-1967 borders, including in East Jerusalem (where he bullied Israel into halting construction even in huge Jewish neighborhoods that will clearly remain Israeli under any deal); he hasn’t publicly demanded that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state or said the refugees can’t be resettled in Israel; and far from strengthening Israel’s defensive capabilities, he’s condemned Israel’s enforcement of an arms blockade on Hamas-run Gaza, bullied Israel into accepting a UN probe of its raid on a blockade-busting flotilla, imposed unprecedented restrictions on Israel’s purchase of F-35 fighters, and more. He has supported Israel only when domestic pressure necessitated it.

With enough domestic pressure, Obama would probably do everything in the latest offer anyway. But without it, Israelis fear he’ll renege the moment he finds it convenient.

And for that, Obama has only himself to blame.

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Bad to Worse

The Obami are now groveling with Bibi to extend the moratorium: please, please, 60 more days, and we won’t ask again! They throw in promises to do what any administration should do: veto UN resolutions against Israel (but just for a year), “accept the legitimacy of Israel’s security needs and not seek to redefine them,” agree Israel could leave forces “in the Jordan Valley for an extended period of time,” and agree to further upgrades of Israel’s “defense capabilities in the even the parties reach security arrangements.” It’s embarrassing that Obama should plead so in public and pathetic that he is essentially offering nothing more than what a pro-Israel administration would grant under ordinary circumstances.

And, of course, it is making matters worse. The Arab League has postponed a meeting with its minion Abbas. Why meet if Obama can bribe Israel for them?

This won’t end well. Either Bibi will rebuff Obama again, humiliating the administration, or he’ll agree, convincing the Palestinians that throwing a temper tantrum pays off. Either way, we’re no closer to “peace.” Before the Obama team pulls any more stunts like this, perhaps they should consult with someone who actually understands the Middle East. Plainly, there is no one in the current administration who does.

The Obami are now groveling with Bibi to extend the moratorium: please, please, 60 more days, and we won’t ask again! They throw in promises to do what any administration should do: veto UN resolutions against Israel (but just for a year), “accept the legitimacy of Israel’s security needs and not seek to redefine them,” agree Israel could leave forces “in the Jordan Valley for an extended period of time,” and agree to further upgrades of Israel’s “defense capabilities in the even the parties reach security arrangements.” It’s embarrassing that Obama should plead so in public and pathetic that he is essentially offering nothing more than what a pro-Israel administration would grant under ordinary circumstances.

And, of course, it is making matters worse. The Arab League has postponed a meeting with its minion Abbas. Why meet if Obama can bribe Israel for them?

This won’t end well. Either Bibi will rebuff Obama again, humiliating the administration, or he’ll agree, convincing the Palestinians that throwing a temper tantrum pays off. Either way, we’re no closer to “peace.” Before the Obama team pulls any more stunts like this, perhaps they should consult with someone who actually understands the Middle East. Plainly, there is no one in the current administration who does.

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Peace Through Self-Defenestration

In a New York Times op-ed entitled “For Once, Hope in the Middle East,” Martin Indyk argues that while “the commentariat is already dismissing [Obama’s] chances of reaching a peace agreement,” the “negotiating environment is better suited to peacemaking today than it has been at any point in the last decade.” Take security for example – no problem:

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. But one year is ample time to resolve this.

The “increased threat of rocket attacks… among other developments” is Indyk’s diplomatic way of describing the two rocket wars waged on Israel from Lebanon and Gaza after it withdrew every soldier and settler from those areas. The all-but-settled arrangements in 2000 would not have worked, as Indyk implicitly acknowledges with his admission that arrangements would have to be “stricter” today.

But the key word in Indyk’s sunny description is his proposal for a “robust” third-party force. The word “robust” is a familiar term in Middle East diplomacy. It is the adjective commonly used to give meaning to an otherwise unimpressive noun. One might be skeptical of a third-party force, but a robust third-party force – that would be effective virtually by definition.

The most recent experience with a “robust” third-party force, however, might give one pause. In July 2006, 10 days into the Second Lebanon War, Condoleezza Rice told reporters she wanted a “robust” international military force to replace Hezbollah’s forces because a “cease-fire would be a false promise if it just returns us to the status quo.” On Aug. 11, 2006, as the UN Security Council prepared to vote on Resolution 1701, she told Wolf Blitzer the force would have an “absolutely robust mandate.” In an Aug. 16 interview with Susan Page, who congratulated her on passage of the UN resolution, Rice noted the force’s “quite robust mandate, which is a really very robust mandate.”

We now know that the “robust” force turned into 15,000 de facto human shields for Hezbollah, which today has at least twice the number of rockets trained on Israel as before the insertion of the “robust” force.

Indyk ends his piece by quoting Shimon Peres that “history is like a horse that gallops past your window and the true test of statesmanship is to jump from that window onto the horse.” Indyk suggests it is time for Abbas and Netanyahu to take that “politically perilous leap.” Trying to leap out your window onto a galloping horse seems an apt metaphor for Indyk’s solution of a “robust” third-party force — particularly if you remember the last time Israel was persuaded to jump out the window.

In a New York Times op-ed entitled “For Once, Hope in the Middle East,” Martin Indyk argues that while “the commentariat is already dismissing [Obama’s] chances of reaching a peace agreement,” the “negotiating environment is better suited to peacemaking today than it has been at any point in the last decade.” Take security for example – no problem:

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. But one year is ample time to resolve this.

The “increased threat of rocket attacks… among other developments” is Indyk’s diplomatic way of describing the two rocket wars waged on Israel from Lebanon and Gaza after it withdrew every soldier and settler from those areas. The all-but-settled arrangements in 2000 would not have worked, as Indyk implicitly acknowledges with his admission that arrangements would have to be “stricter” today.

But the key word in Indyk’s sunny description is his proposal for a “robust” third-party force. The word “robust” is a familiar term in Middle East diplomacy. It is the adjective commonly used to give meaning to an otherwise unimpressive noun. One might be skeptical of a third-party force, but a robust third-party force – that would be effective virtually by definition.

The most recent experience with a “robust” third-party force, however, might give one pause. In July 2006, 10 days into the Second Lebanon War, Condoleezza Rice told reporters she wanted a “robust” international military force to replace Hezbollah’s forces because a “cease-fire would be a false promise if it just returns us to the status quo.” On Aug. 11, 2006, as the UN Security Council prepared to vote on Resolution 1701, she told Wolf Blitzer the force would have an “absolutely robust mandate.” In an Aug. 16 interview with Susan Page, who congratulated her on passage of the UN resolution, Rice noted the force’s “quite robust mandate, which is a really very robust mandate.”

We now know that the “robust” force turned into 15,000 de facto human shields for Hezbollah, which today has at least twice the number of rockets trained on Israel as before the insertion of the “robust” force.

Indyk ends his piece by quoting Shimon Peres that “history is like a horse that gallops past your window and the true test of statesmanship is to jump from that window onto the horse.” Indyk suggests it is time for Abbas and Netanyahu to take that “politically perilous leap.” Trying to leap out your window onto a galloping horse seems an apt metaphor for Indyk’s solution of a “robust” third-party force — particularly if you remember the last time Israel was persuaded to jump out the window.

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RE: Imposed Arrogance

Parsing through David Ignatius’s column on the potential (threat, I think is a more apt term) for an imposed Middle East peace deal, Elliott Abrams — who managed as deputy national-security advisor to induce Israel to take “risks for peace” by cementing an actually rock-solid relationship between the countries — takes issue with the Obami’s assertion that really everyone knows what the peace deal is and that what we need is an American president to impose one:

This is false and dangerous. First, if indeed everyone has known the terms for nearly 20 years (since Oslo) yet agreement has never been reached, is it not obvious that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing and able to accept those terms? Does their embrace by an ambitious American president make them any more palatable to the people who will have to live with them? Second, the conclusion that all the terms are known is quite wrong. Is the fate of Jerusalem’s Old City agreed? Do Palestinians accept that Israel will keep every major settlement bloc? Do Israelis and Palestinians agree on the terms needed to guarantee Israel’s security once the IDF must leave the West Bank? (Examples: Is it agreed that Israel will control the air space and electromagnetic spectrum? Is it agreed that Israel can keep troops in the West Bank for some years? Do Palestinians accept that Israel can control the Jordan Valley and patrol the border with Jordan?) This is nonsense. One of Ignatius’s sources says the Obama plan will “take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security.” After 14 months of harassment by Obama and his team, will any Israeli risk his nation’s safety on that assurance?

It is such nonsense that one suspects this is another bullying tactic by the Obami. They haven’t been able to club Bibi into submitting to their demand with regard to Jerusalem building. Snubbing him at the White House didn’t do the trick. His government isn’t teetering on the brink of collapse. So what to do? Ah! Scare the Israelis with the prospect that if they don’t start “cooperating,” the Obami will whip out their own plan and that’ll be that.

And through this one can see the petulance of the neophyte president, who is peeved the world does not bend to his will. The New York Times reports on his confab with former national security figures:

The fact that President Obama was willing to have such an impromptu discussion with former advisers illustrates his increasing frustration with the foot-dragging over Middle East peace talks, and a growing sense that he may have to present a specific plan, rather than wait for the two sides to come to any sort of agreement.

And not even the Gray Lady can avoid reminding its readers that much (all?) of the stalemate and heightened tensions are attributable to the Obami’s own diplomatic malpractice: “So far, administration officials are still smarting from their first attempt at sticking their collective necks out, as they did last summer when they demanded a freeze of Jewish settlements, and then had to stand back with no contingency plan after Israel refused outright.” And the administration learned what from that experience? Nothing apparently. Onward they plunge, immune to experience and impervious to history. It seems that ideology isn’t, as Hillary said, really “so yesterday” after all.

Parsing through David Ignatius’s column on the potential (threat, I think is a more apt term) for an imposed Middle East peace deal, Elliott Abrams — who managed as deputy national-security advisor to induce Israel to take “risks for peace” by cementing an actually rock-solid relationship between the countries — takes issue with the Obami’s assertion that really everyone knows what the peace deal is and that what we need is an American president to impose one:

This is false and dangerous. First, if indeed everyone has known the terms for nearly 20 years (since Oslo) yet agreement has never been reached, is it not obvious that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are willing and able to accept those terms? Does their embrace by an ambitious American president make them any more palatable to the people who will have to live with them? Second, the conclusion that all the terms are known is quite wrong. Is the fate of Jerusalem’s Old City agreed? Do Palestinians accept that Israel will keep every major settlement bloc? Do Israelis and Palestinians agree on the terms needed to guarantee Israel’s security once the IDF must leave the West Bank? (Examples: Is it agreed that Israel will control the air space and electromagnetic spectrum? Is it agreed that Israel can keep troops in the West Bank for some years? Do Palestinians accept that Israel can control the Jordan Valley and patrol the border with Jordan?) This is nonsense. One of Ignatius’s sources says the Obama plan will “take on the absolute requirements of Israeli security.” After 14 months of harassment by Obama and his team, will any Israeli risk his nation’s safety on that assurance?

It is such nonsense that one suspects this is another bullying tactic by the Obami. They haven’t been able to club Bibi into submitting to their demand with regard to Jerusalem building. Snubbing him at the White House didn’t do the trick. His government isn’t teetering on the brink of collapse. So what to do? Ah! Scare the Israelis with the prospect that if they don’t start “cooperating,” the Obami will whip out their own plan and that’ll be that.

And through this one can see the petulance of the neophyte president, who is peeved the world does not bend to his will. The New York Times reports on his confab with former national security figures:

The fact that President Obama was willing to have such an impromptu discussion with former advisers illustrates his increasing frustration with the foot-dragging over Middle East peace talks, and a growing sense that he may have to present a specific plan, rather than wait for the two sides to come to any sort of agreement.

And not even the Gray Lady can avoid reminding its readers that much (all?) of the stalemate and heightened tensions are attributable to the Obami’s own diplomatic malpractice: “So far, administration officials are still smarting from their first attempt at sticking their collective necks out, as they did last summer when they demanded a freeze of Jewish settlements, and then had to stand back with no contingency plan after Israel refused outright.” And the administration learned what from that experience? Nothing apparently. Onward they plunge, immune to experience and impervious to history. It seems that ideology isn’t, as Hillary said, really “so yesterday” after all.

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The Return of “Defensible Borders”?

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told foreign journalists last week that under any peace agreement, Israel would insist on maintaining a presence along the Palestinian-Jordanian border to thwart arms smuggling, he provoked some predictably negative responses. Writing in the Jerusalem Post this week, for instance, Ben-Gurion University Professor David Newman termed this “a return to a way of thinking … thought to have disappeared over a decade ago.” Claiming that “most generals” no longer consider this necessary, he accused Netanyahu of simply trying “to hammer the nails even more strongly into the coffin of peace.”

In fact, Newman is almost entirely wrong but through no fault of his own — because the one thing he’s right about is that Netanyahu’s statement “reinserted the defensible border concept into public discourse,” whence it had virtually disappeared. And since Israeli premiers stopped talking about it more than a decade ago, how was anyone to know that every prime minister, and the defense establishment, continued to insist on defensible borders in practice?

Two weeks ago, Haaretz’s veteran diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn detailed the security demands that Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert received from the defense establishment, which Olmert approved, forwarded to then president George Bush, and later asked Bush to pass on to Barack Obama. These demands included “the rights to supervise Palestine’s border crossings, to fly in Palestinian airspace, to regulate radio frequencies and to build hilltop warning stations.”

And Olmert is the prime minister who offered the most far-reaching concessions in Israel’s history, including the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount.

Indeed, as Benn noted yesterday, “Netanyahu’s political positions, which call for annexing the major West Bank settlement blocs and maintaining military control over the Jordan Valley, are no different from those of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.”

This invites an obvious question: if all Israeli prime ministers agreed that Israel needs defensible borders under any agreement, why did they stop saying so — thereby leading the world, and their own citizens, to assume that this demand had been dropped and that the security issue could thus be easily resolved, whereas in fact, as one veteran negotiator told Benn, it’s the hardest of all, the one on which “the agreement will stand or fall”? Did they assume the world would oppose these demands and want to avoid opening yet another front of international criticism of Israel? Or did they simply consider it irrelevant, given that Israeli-Palestinian disagreements on other issues show no signs of being resolved anytime soon?

Whatever the reason, it was a disastrous negotiating tactic. If Israel is to have any hope of achieving these demands, it cannot spring them as a surprise at the last minute, when an agreement is otherwise at hand; it must state them upfront — clearly, forcefully, and consistently — both to prepare international public opinion and to make it clear that Israel deems this issue critical.

It is therefore encouraging that Netanyahu has finally started reviving the “defensible borders” concept. Now he must ensure that it remains on the public agenda.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told foreign journalists last week that under any peace agreement, Israel would insist on maintaining a presence along the Palestinian-Jordanian border to thwart arms smuggling, he provoked some predictably negative responses. Writing in the Jerusalem Post this week, for instance, Ben-Gurion University Professor David Newman termed this “a return to a way of thinking … thought to have disappeared over a decade ago.” Claiming that “most generals” no longer consider this necessary, he accused Netanyahu of simply trying “to hammer the nails even more strongly into the coffin of peace.”

In fact, Newman is almost entirely wrong but through no fault of his own — because the one thing he’s right about is that Netanyahu’s statement “reinserted the defensible border concept into public discourse,” whence it had virtually disappeared. And since Israeli premiers stopped talking about it more than a decade ago, how was anyone to know that every prime minister, and the defense establishment, continued to insist on defensible borders in practice?

Two weeks ago, Haaretz’s veteran diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn detailed the security demands that Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert received from the defense establishment, which Olmert approved, forwarded to then president George Bush, and later asked Bush to pass on to Barack Obama. These demands included “the rights to supervise Palestine’s border crossings, to fly in Palestinian airspace, to regulate radio frequencies and to build hilltop warning stations.”

And Olmert is the prime minister who offered the most far-reaching concessions in Israel’s history, including the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount.

Indeed, as Benn noted yesterday, “Netanyahu’s political positions, which call for annexing the major West Bank settlement blocs and maintaining military control over the Jordan Valley, are no different from those of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.”

This invites an obvious question: if all Israeli prime ministers agreed that Israel needs defensible borders under any agreement, why did they stop saying so — thereby leading the world, and their own citizens, to assume that this demand had been dropped and that the security issue could thus be easily resolved, whereas in fact, as one veteran negotiator told Benn, it’s the hardest of all, the one on which “the agreement will stand or fall”? Did they assume the world would oppose these demands and want to avoid opening yet another front of international criticism of Israel? Or did they simply consider it irrelevant, given that Israeli-Palestinian disagreements on other issues show no signs of being resolved anytime soon?

Whatever the reason, it was a disastrous negotiating tactic. If Israel is to have any hope of achieving these demands, it cannot spring them as a surprise at the last minute, when an agreement is otherwise at hand; it must state them upfront — clearly, forcefully, and consistently — both to prepare international public opinion and to make it clear that Israel deems this issue critical.

It is therefore encouraging that Netanyahu has finally started reviving the “defensible borders” concept. Now he must ensure that it remains on the public agenda.

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