Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kadima party

Morning Commentary

President Obama’s peace-process failure is actually a political win for both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, writes Benjamin Kerstein: “The reason for this is a simple one: It is in the interests of both these leaders to preserve the status quo. Therefore the Obama administration’s insistence on renewing negotiations was a threat. That threat, for the moment, has been alleviated. Indeed, over the last several months, the entire negotiating process amounted to little more than pantomime, with both sides making the necessary gestures at progress while supplying the necessary obstacles to ensure that progress would not actually happen.”

Chile became the seventh South American country to recognize Palestine as an official state in the past month. The move is part of a campaign by the Palestinian Authority to take unilateral steps toward statehood and build pressure on the Israeli government.

“It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots,” said 20-year-old Daniel Hernandez. “But people needed help.” In the midst of the nonstop media coverage of the deranged Arizona gunman, take a minute to read the story of the courageous congressional intern who may just have saved Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s life.

As Rep. Giffords fights for her life in Arizona, friends and colleagues discuss her career as a “rising star” in Congress: “She always had that ‘it’ factor, that something extra that drew people to her,” [Michael Frias, former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick aide] said. “Plenty of people succeed in politics, but you only meet a small few that have that extra spark. She’s the real deal. She’s Annie Oakley. Anything you can do, she can do better.”

And now the inevitable call to beef up security for members of Congress begins: “In many ways, the unprovoked shooting spree at a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event at a supermarket just north of Tucson was a terrifying nightmare come to life for elected officials who frequently find themselves face-to-face in uncomfortable conversations with angry and, at times, aggressive constituents. Rank-and-file lawmakers typically do not travel with security, and local police often are unaware of or do not send officers to their events.”

The Israeli government has approved a new law meant to increase the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the IDF. While the proposal is meant to double the IDF’s haredim membership by 2015, some Kadima Party politicians who oppose the legislation claim that loopholes in the law will actually make it easier to evade service.

President Obama’s peace-process failure is actually a political win for both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, writes Benjamin Kerstein: “The reason for this is a simple one: It is in the interests of both these leaders to preserve the status quo. Therefore the Obama administration’s insistence on renewing negotiations was a threat. That threat, for the moment, has been alleviated. Indeed, over the last several months, the entire negotiating process amounted to little more than pantomime, with both sides making the necessary gestures at progress while supplying the necessary obstacles to ensure that progress would not actually happen.”

Chile became the seventh South American country to recognize Palestine as an official state in the past month. The move is part of a campaign by the Palestinian Authority to take unilateral steps toward statehood and build pressure on the Israeli government.

“It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots,” said 20-year-old Daniel Hernandez. “But people needed help.” In the midst of the nonstop media coverage of the deranged Arizona gunman, take a minute to read the story of the courageous congressional intern who may just have saved Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s life.

As Rep. Giffords fights for her life in Arizona, friends and colleagues discuss her career as a “rising star” in Congress: “She always had that ‘it’ factor, that something extra that drew people to her,” [Michael Frias, former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick aide] said. “Plenty of people succeed in politics, but you only meet a small few that have that extra spark. She’s the real deal. She’s Annie Oakley. Anything you can do, she can do better.”

And now the inevitable call to beef up security for members of Congress begins: “In many ways, the unprovoked shooting spree at a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event at a supermarket just north of Tucson was a terrifying nightmare come to life for elected officials who frequently find themselves face-to-face in uncomfortable conversations with angry and, at times, aggressive constituents. Rank-and-file lawmakers typically do not travel with security, and local police often are unaware of or do not send officers to their events.”

The Israeli government has approved a new law meant to increase the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the IDF. While the proposal is meant to double the IDF’s haredim membership by 2015, some Kadima Party politicians who oppose the legislation claim that loopholes in the law will actually make it easier to evade service.

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Who’s out of Touch with Reality? Israelis or “Liberal Zionists”?

A consistent theme — not only of the post-Gaza-flotilla criticism of Israel but also of the entire thrust of the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” the Middle East — has been the notion that Israel is out of touch with the rest of the world. In this formulation, a reactionary, right-wing Israeli government is driving crazy the rest of the world and a basically sympathetic American ally by pursuing self-destructive policies. This thesis was sounded anew by Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast yesterday by means of a piece in which he attacked Elliott Abrams for accurately describing the pack of jackals who are attacking Israel’s right of self-defense as a “lynch mob.” Beinart considered that politically incorrect because it links an administration led by an African-American and a multi-cultural institution like the United Nations with a phrase that conjures up “black men hanging from trees.” For Beinart, talking about the siege of Israel in terms of life and death is apparently beyond his comprehension. In his worldview, the Hamas terrorists who control Gaza — and who would like to kill all the Jews of Israel — or the more moderate Palestinians who refuse to make peace because they are afraid of Hamas, don’t really count in a discussion of Israeli actions. Nor does he understand that the vicious global attacks on Israel can only be properly understood in the context of the rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism around the world.

Beinart goes on to knock the Netanyahu government and its American supporters as out of touch with America because Obama, as well as Hispanics and African-Americans, are less inclined to support the Jewish state than the rest of the country, which remains solidly pro-Israel. Sounding like James Carville in January 2009, Beinart assumes that Obama and the Democrats will rule in Washington forever, dismissing the overwhelming current pro-Israel majority in Congress as well as the near certainty that it will be even more pro-Israel next January because Obama’s party is likely to face heavy losses to the Republicans in November. Nor does he take into account that, as Jennifer noted earlier, a new Rasmussen poll shows most Americans side with Israel rather than the Palestinians on the Gaza flotilla, as they have on virtually every issue over the years. But because J Street and “liberal Zionist” critiques of Israel have little to do with the nonexistent chances of peace with the Palestinians and everything to do with attempting to replace a bipartisan pro-Israel American consensus with an Obama-like moral equivalence about the Middle East, it’s hard to take Beinart’s analysis seriously, despite the attention he has been getting lately.

But even as Beinart and J Street continue to trumpet their anger at Israel’s government, you have to ask what they make of the fact that the majority of his people support Netanyahu’s policies or that his coalition remains so stable. As it happens, writer Ethan Perlson weighed in with an explanation in the same Daily Beast that is now Beinart’s regular perch. Perlson reports that Israeli liberals and left-wingers — the people Beinart supposes he is speaking up for — are fed up with criticisms of their country and are rallying against the hypocritical Israel-bashers and in support of their government’s determination to continue trying to isolate Hamas. Even the opposition Kadima Party, led by supposed Obama favorite Tzipi Livni, which miserably failed to get a no-confidence motion passed by the Knesset this week, supported the government’s policy on the blockade.

The point is, even most of the Israeli left and those in the center, who are actually prepared to make painful territorial concessions if peace were a real possibility, understand that the failure to attain peace is the fault of the Palestinians, not of Netanyahu. They know that Israel withdrew from Gaza hoping that the Palestinians would use their freedom to work for peace and instead saw the area fall under the sway of the most violent and extreme Islamist factions, who used it as a launching pad for terror. They know that lifting the blockade of Hamas would give it — and its patron, Iran — a victory that would make the region even more dangerous.

Though they claim that Israelis are out of touch with America, given the continuing support for Israel by most Americans, it may be Beinart and his friends in the mainstream media who are out of sync with public opinion. And instead of chiding Israelis to adopt policies that they know make no sense, perhaps “liberal Zionists,” like Beinart and other Americans who purport to be friends of the Jewish state while incessantly bashing it, should start listening to the Israeli people.

A consistent theme — not only of the post-Gaza-flotilla criticism of Israel but also of the entire thrust of the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” the Middle East — has been the notion that Israel is out of touch with the rest of the world. In this formulation, a reactionary, right-wing Israeli government is driving crazy the rest of the world and a basically sympathetic American ally by pursuing self-destructive policies. This thesis was sounded anew by Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast yesterday by means of a piece in which he attacked Elliott Abrams for accurately describing the pack of jackals who are attacking Israel’s right of self-defense as a “lynch mob.” Beinart considered that politically incorrect because it links an administration led by an African-American and a multi-cultural institution like the United Nations with a phrase that conjures up “black men hanging from trees.” For Beinart, talking about the siege of Israel in terms of life and death is apparently beyond his comprehension. In his worldview, the Hamas terrorists who control Gaza — and who would like to kill all the Jews of Israel — or the more moderate Palestinians who refuse to make peace because they are afraid of Hamas, don’t really count in a discussion of Israeli actions. Nor does he understand that the vicious global attacks on Israel can only be properly understood in the context of the rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism around the world.

Beinart goes on to knock the Netanyahu government and its American supporters as out of touch with America because Obama, as well as Hispanics and African-Americans, are less inclined to support the Jewish state than the rest of the country, which remains solidly pro-Israel. Sounding like James Carville in January 2009, Beinart assumes that Obama and the Democrats will rule in Washington forever, dismissing the overwhelming current pro-Israel majority in Congress as well as the near certainty that it will be even more pro-Israel next January because Obama’s party is likely to face heavy losses to the Republicans in November. Nor does he take into account that, as Jennifer noted earlier, a new Rasmussen poll shows most Americans side with Israel rather than the Palestinians on the Gaza flotilla, as they have on virtually every issue over the years. But because J Street and “liberal Zionist” critiques of Israel have little to do with the nonexistent chances of peace with the Palestinians and everything to do with attempting to replace a bipartisan pro-Israel American consensus with an Obama-like moral equivalence about the Middle East, it’s hard to take Beinart’s analysis seriously, despite the attention he has been getting lately.

But even as Beinart and J Street continue to trumpet their anger at Israel’s government, you have to ask what they make of the fact that the majority of his people support Netanyahu’s policies or that his coalition remains so stable. As it happens, writer Ethan Perlson weighed in with an explanation in the same Daily Beast that is now Beinart’s regular perch. Perlson reports that Israeli liberals and left-wingers — the people Beinart supposes he is speaking up for — are fed up with criticisms of their country and are rallying against the hypocritical Israel-bashers and in support of their government’s determination to continue trying to isolate Hamas. Even the opposition Kadima Party, led by supposed Obama favorite Tzipi Livni, which miserably failed to get a no-confidence motion passed by the Knesset this week, supported the government’s policy on the blockade.

The point is, even most of the Israeli left and those in the center, who are actually prepared to make painful territorial concessions if peace were a real possibility, understand that the failure to attain peace is the fault of the Palestinians, not of Netanyahu. They know that Israel withdrew from Gaza hoping that the Palestinians would use their freedom to work for peace and instead saw the area fall under the sway of the most violent and extreme Islamist factions, who used it as a launching pad for terror. They know that lifting the blockade of Hamas would give it — and its patron, Iran — a victory that would make the region even more dangerous.

Though they claim that Israelis are out of touch with America, given the continuing support for Israel by most Americans, it may be Beinart and his friends in the mainstream media who are out of sync with public opinion. And instead of chiding Israelis to adopt policies that they know make no sense, perhaps “liberal Zionists,” like Beinart and other Americans who purport to be friends of the Jewish state while incessantly bashing it, should start listening to the Israeli people.

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The Real Demographic Threat

As Israel celebrates its 62nd Independence Day this evening, is the country actually independent? Judging by the remarks of some of its leading politicians, one would have to conclude that the answer is no.

Speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony yesterday, for instance, Defense Minister and Labor-party chairman Ehud Barak declared that only by signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians could Israel preserve its Jewish majority. Ehud Olmert made this claim even more bluntly in 2007, when he was prime minister, declaring that if “the two-state solution collapses … the State of Israel is finished.” Olmert’s successor as head of the Kadima party, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, has made similar remarks.

In other words, Israel has no control over its own fate; its continued existence depends entirely on the goodwill of a nation that would like nothing better than to see it disappear. Moreover, all the Palestinians have to do to secure this outcome is to continue doing exactly what they have done for the past 17 years: say “no” to every peace offer Israel makes. If that is true, Israel really is finished.

In reality, of course, the Barak-Olmert-Livni conclusion is ridiculous even if one believes the demographic doomsayers (there are grounds for skepticism, but that’s another story). Should Israel someday decide the status quo is untenable, it doesn’t need a peace agreement to leave; it can always quit the West Bank unilaterally, just as it did Gaza. After decades of condemning Israel’s “illegal occupation” and demanding its end, the world could hardly object if Israel complied.

Unfortunately, “ridiculous” is not the same as “harmless.” This credo is actually deadly dangerous, on at least four levels.

First, it encourages Palestinian intransigence: if Palestinians can destroy the Jewish state just by saying no, they have no incentive to ever say yes.

Second, it could lead Israeli leaders to make concessions that truly do endanger the state’s survival.

Third, it encourages world leaders to pressure Israel into such concessions, by enabling them to claim they’re really doing it for Israel’s own good. After all, if Israel’s own leaders say the state can’t survive without a peace deal, isn’t any concession that might appease the Palestinians, however dangerous, better than the alternative of certain death?

Finally, it demoralizes Israel’s own citizens, most of whom know perfectly well that no peace agreement is attainable in the foreseeable future. If Israel’s continued existence really depends on an unachievable peace, then Israelis have no reason to remain here and no reason to continue sending their sons to fight and die in the state’s defense. And should enough Israelis reach that conclusion, the state really will collapse.

Thus if Israel is to survive another 62 years, it desperately needs its leaders to relearn the wisdom that guided its founders in 1948, when the demographic situation was much worse: that the purpose of independence is precisely to enable the Jewish people to shape Israel’s fate, rather than being the helpless hostages of a hostile nation. The “demographic threat” cannot destroy Israel. But its leaders’ own folly can.

As Israel celebrates its 62nd Independence Day this evening, is the country actually independent? Judging by the remarks of some of its leading politicians, one would have to conclude that the answer is no.

Speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony yesterday, for instance, Defense Minister and Labor-party chairman Ehud Barak declared that only by signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians could Israel preserve its Jewish majority. Ehud Olmert made this claim even more bluntly in 2007, when he was prime minister, declaring that if “the two-state solution collapses … the State of Israel is finished.” Olmert’s successor as head of the Kadima party, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, has made similar remarks.

In other words, Israel has no control over its own fate; its continued existence depends entirely on the goodwill of a nation that would like nothing better than to see it disappear. Moreover, all the Palestinians have to do to secure this outcome is to continue doing exactly what they have done for the past 17 years: say “no” to every peace offer Israel makes. If that is true, Israel really is finished.

In reality, of course, the Barak-Olmert-Livni conclusion is ridiculous even if one believes the demographic doomsayers (there are grounds for skepticism, but that’s another story). Should Israel someday decide the status quo is untenable, it doesn’t need a peace agreement to leave; it can always quit the West Bank unilaterally, just as it did Gaza. After decades of condemning Israel’s “illegal occupation” and demanding its end, the world could hardly object if Israel complied.

Unfortunately, “ridiculous” is not the same as “harmless.” This credo is actually deadly dangerous, on at least four levels.

First, it encourages Palestinian intransigence: if Palestinians can destroy the Jewish state just by saying no, they have no incentive to ever say yes.

Second, it could lead Israeli leaders to make concessions that truly do endanger the state’s survival.

Third, it encourages world leaders to pressure Israel into such concessions, by enabling them to claim they’re really doing it for Israel’s own good. After all, if Israel’s own leaders say the state can’t survive without a peace deal, isn’t any concession that might appease the Palestinians, however dangerous, better than the alternative of certain death?

Finally, it demoralizes Israel’s own citizens, most of whom know perfectly well that no peace agreement is attainable in the foreseeable future. If Israel’s continued existence really depends on an unachievable peace, then Israelis have no reason to remain here and no reason to continue sending their sons to fight and die in the state’s defense. And should enough Israelis reach that conclusion, the state really will collapse.

Thus if Israel is to survive another 62 years, it desperately needs its leaders to relearn the wisdom that guided its founders in 1948, when the demographic situation was much worse: that the purpose of independence is precisely to enable the Jewish people to shape Israel’s fate, rather than being the helpless hostages of a hostile nation. The “demographic threat” cannot destroy Israel. But its leaders’ own folly can.

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The Escalation of U.S.-Israel Tensions Continues

Secretary of State Clinton, in the context of the decision by Israel to approve 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, said yesterday, “We are engaged in very active consultations with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process.”

Here we go again. It is Israel that has to “demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process” — despite the fact that over the decades no nation on earth has given away more tangible assets or offered to give up more of its land for peace than Israel. That was the case with the Sinai Desert, the oil-rich land that Israel returned to Egypt in 1978 in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. For those keeping track, the Sinai desert is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel in 1967. This was the case in 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all the territories in the West Bank and Gaza to Yasir Arafat, who rejected the offer and instead began a second intifada. And it was the case in Gaza in 2005, when Israel withdrew and did what no other nation — not the Jordanians, not the British, not anyone — has done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial, as Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has written; it is existential. The Palestinian leadership has yet to make its own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. Until that happens, issues like building new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem — whatever you think of the idea and the timing of the most recent announcement — are at most peripheral matters. Yet the Obama administration has chosen to make the issue of the settlements not only of central importance; it has (as the Jerusalem Post story says) “led many to believe that US-Israeli ties may be at their lowest point in history.”

What is the end game for the Obama administration? It could well be that Obama and his team are simply amateurish, reacting emotionally rather than strategically. It may be that there is an unusual animus toward Israel within the administration. Or it may be that, as Jeffrey Goldberg reports, Obama wants to “force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for [Benjamin] Netanyahu to take into his government [Tzipi] Livni’s centrist Kadima Party” in the hopes of creating a “stable, centrist coalition” that is the “key to success.”

If that’s the case, then, as Noah Pollack argues here, Obama is in for a rude awakening. Inserting himself into the affairs of Israel to this degree, via this method, would be quite astonishing. And it’s worth recalling that in order to justify his timid early words regarding the Iranian suppression of liberty in the aftermath of the June 12 elections, Obama declared, “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling … in Iranian elections.” There’s that old double standard again. When it comes to our ally Israel, like our Latin American ally Honduras, meddling seems to be a habit. With Iran we need to speak with solicitousness, with respect, and with words of assurance.

Tough on your friends and weak on your adversaries isn’t a winning formula in international affairs, or in life, as Barack Obama will (hopefully) soon discover during his tenure as president. Unfortunately, there is quite a cost to our nation in the process. Let’s hope that it’s Mr. Obama’s learning curve that accelerates and not tensions between America and Israel.

Secretary of State Clinton, in the context of the decision by Israel to approve 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, said yesterday, “We are engaged in very active consultations with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process.”

Here we go again. It is Israel that has to “demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process” — despite the fact that over the decades no nation on earth has given away more tangible assets or offered to give up more of its land for peace than Israel. That was the case with the Sinai Desert, the oil-rich land that Israel returned to Egypt in 1978 in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. For those keeping track, the Sinai desert is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel in 1967. This was the case in 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all the territories in the West Bank and Gaza to Yasir Arafat, who rejected the offer and instead began a second intifada. And it was the case in Gaza in 2005, when Israel withdrew and did what no other nation — not the Jordanians, not the British, not anyone — has done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial, as Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has written; it is existential. The Palestinian leadership has yet to make its own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. Until that happens, issues like building new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem — whatever you think of the idea and the timing of the most recent announcement — are at most peripheral matters. Yet the Obama administration has chosen to make the issue of the settlements not only of central importance; it has (as the Jerusalem Post story says) “led many to believe that US-Israeli ties may be at their lowest point in history.”

What is the end game for the Obama administration? It could well be that Obama and his team are simply amateurish, reacting emotionally rather than strategically. It may be that there is an unusual animus toward Israel within the administration. Or it may be that, as Jeffrey Goldberg reports, Obama wants to “force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for [Benjamin] Netanyahu to take into his government [Tzipi] Livni’s centrist Kadima Party” in the hopes of creating a “stable, centrist coalition” that is the “key to success.”

If that’s the case, then, as Noah Pollack argues here, Obama is in for a rude awakening. Inserting himself into the affairs of Israel to this degree, via this method, would be quite astonishing. And it’s worth recalling that in order to justify his timid early words regarding the Iranian suppression of liberty in the aftermath of the June 12 elections, Obama declared, “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling … in Iranian elections.” There’s that old double standard again. When it comes to our ally Israel, like our Latin American ally Honduras, meddling seems to be a habit. With Iran we need to speak with solicitousness, with respect, and with words of assurance.

Tough on your friends and weak on your adversaries isn’t a winning formula in international affairs, or in life, as Barack Obama will (hopefully) soon discover during his tenure as president. Unfortunately, there is quite a cost to our nation in the process. Let’s hope that it’s Mr. Obama’s learning curve that accelerates and not tensions between America and Israel.

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Obama Officials: Relax, We’re Just Trying to Break up Bibi’s Coalition

Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with White House officials today and posted this report.

So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset…

Obama knows that this sort of stable, centrist coalition is the key to success. He would rather, I understand, not have to deal with Netanyahu at all — people near the President say that, for one thing, Obama doesn’t think that Netanyahu is very bright, and there is no chemistry at all between the two men — but he’d rather have a Netanyahu who is being pressured from his left than a Netanyahu who is being pressured from the right.

So here we have on record the Obama administration saying 1) that it is trying to topple the government of a democratic ally (if only we could try this in Tehran!) 2) that it believes it has such mastery of Israeli politics that publicly bludgeoning Bibi will result in such a shakeup, and that 3) even if the hoped-for new government is formed, the White House thinks it’s a good idea to go on record stating that the Prime Minister they will have to deal with is stupid.

This is pretty amazing. And it’s more evidence that not only is Obama ignorant of how Israel and the Middle East work, but that he refuses to do any on-the-job learning. He is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer. He appears to be unconcerned with the importance to the Israeli public of his reversal on the terms of the settlement freeze, which the White House was praising just a few months ago. He clearly does not understand one of the basic lessons they teach in Peace Process 101 — that Israel does not take risks for peace when it feels threatened, especially not when it feels threatened by the United States. Obama clearly doesn’t understand this, although I remain skeptical that all of this is really about the peace process.

So, Obama has made new, unrealistic demands; Netanyahu has rejected them; and now the world waits to see what Obama is going to do in response. Meanwhile, he has chased the Arabs even further up a tree, encouraging them to raise their demands while undermining Mahmoud Abbas’s ability to join talks. Lesson definitely not learned from the previous go-round.

And it’s particularly rich that Obama’s people told Goldberg that they think Bibi isn’t very smart. Remember what the president himself admitted to Joe Klein a few months ago about his management of the peace process?

This is just really hard. … I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.

He’s still not anticipating.

Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with White House officials today and posted this report.

So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset…

Obama knows that this sort of stable, centrist coalition is the key to success. He would rather, I understand, not have to deal with Netanyahu at all — people near the President say that, for one thing, Obama doesn’t think that Netanyahu is very bright, and there is no chemistry at all between the two men — but he’d rather have a Netanyahu who is being pressured from his left than a Netanyahu who is being pressured from the right.

So here we have on record the Obama administration saying 1) that it is trying to topple the government of a democratic ally (if only we could try this in Tehran!) 2) that it believes it has such mastery of Israeli politics that publicly bludgeoning Bibi will result in such a shakeup, and that 3) even if the hoped-for new government is formed, the White House thinks it’s a good idea to go on record stating that the Prime Minister they will have to deal with is stupid.

This is pretty amazing. And it’s more evidence that not only is Obama ignorant of how Israel and the Middle East work, but that he refuses to do any on-the-job learning. He is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer. He appears to be unconcerned with the importance to the Israeli public of his reversal on the terms of the settlement freeze, which the White House was praising just a few months ago. He clearly does not understand one of the basic lessons they teach in Peace Process 101 — that Israel does not take risks for peace when it feels threatened, especially not when it feels threatened by the United States. Obama clearly doesn’t understand this, although I remain skeptical that all of this is really about the peace process.

So, Obama has made new, unrealistic demands; Netanyahu has rejected them; and now the world waits to see what Obama is going to do in response. Meanwhile, he has chased the Arabs even further up a tree, encouraging them to raise their demands while undermining Mahmoud Abbas’s ability to join talks. Lesson definitely not learned from the previous go-round.

And it’s particularly rich that Obama’s people told Goldberg that they think Bibi isn’t very smart. Remember what the president himself admitted to Joe Klein a few months ago about his management of the peace process?

This is just really hard. … I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.

He’s still not anticipating.

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Jerusalem: It’s All in the Timing

The New York Times has taken the plunge. In a report today about the Israeli government’s decision to build 1,600 housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood — which, like most of Jerusalem, lies across the “Green Line” separating pre- and post-1967 territory, the NYT headline proudly refers to the “new settlements” that are, according to another NYT headline about the responses to the declaration, “clouding” the visit of Vice President Biden to the Middle East, who had arrived to announce the renewal of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. An earlier version of the piece, which has since been edited, described Jerusalem as home to “thousands of settlers.” This whole terminology is fairly new, but we can hardly blame the Times. It is, after all, the official position of the U.S. government.

Netanyahu is denying that he knew of the decision, and the NYT piece takes him at his word. Many commentators in Israel are not so quick to believe it, seeing in his denial a classic Bibi move to fake Left, go Right, deny and obfuscate whenever it serves his purposes. Assuming he really did know about the decision, why did he do it? And if he didn’t, why doesn’t he intervene to stop it?

The NYT puts the blame on his coalition partners: ”when he formed his coalition a year ago,” we are told, “he joined forces with several right-wing parties, and has since found it hard to keep them in line.” This is, of course, a bizarre distortion: Netanyahu chose his coalition partners as a product of their strength, which in turn reflects what the voters actually wanted on issues like these. It’s also a distortion because the left-wing Labor party, which is in the coalition, doesn’t seem to be pulling out any time soon. And it’s a distortion because the Kadima party, the leading opposition party and the only alternative to Netanyahu’s coalition partners, was founded on a platform that included the indivisibility of Jerusalem.

What Netanyahu knows, and Biden apparently does not, is that the vast majority of Israelis, including those who favor a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians, do not, and will never, look at Jerusalem as a settlement or at residents of its neighborhoods as “settlers.” We can fully understand why Biden might have thought the move to be “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.” At a time when he’s trying to show the American public that he and the president are capable of bringing a new era of peace in the region, such an announcement certainly does not make his job easier. But unlike the U.S., Israel is an actual party to the negotiations and has a right to draw red lines. One such line that must not be crossed is undoing the unification of Jerusalem that happened in 1967 and that still captures the imagination and commitment of both the great majority of Israelis and a very large number of Diaspora Jews. Jerusalem is home to more than 700,000 citizens, of whom two-thirds are Jews. It has granted far greater and more liberal access to non-Jews worshiping at its shrines than the Palestinians have ever done with regard to Jewish (and Christian) freedom in the territories it controls. This is a great deal to ask in time of ongoing war.

One of the worst things about the Oslo Accords was the logic that said, “Let’s take care of the easy things first, and wait on the hard issues until later.” And so, while the Palestinians were allowed to create a heavily armed, ideologically belligerent, terror-supporting government in the territories Israel vacated, Israel gained nothing in terms of security, while the “hard issues” like Jerusalem and the repatriation of millions of Palestinians remained up in the air, not as questions to be resolved, but as threats hanging over Israelis’ heads: You can give us these, and face demographic and symbolic decimation; or you can refuse, and face a renewal of violence. When it became clear to Arafat that Israel had no intention of giving in on these core issues, all the “trust” that had been built was suddenly meaningless. He launched the second intifada, and the rest is too well known.

In making the move on Jerusalem, the Israeli government is trying to avoid the ambiguities that were the undoing of Oslo. Anyone hoping for a successful negotiation leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, they are saying, had better forget about the division of Jerusalem. Sometimes, it’s the timing that drives the point home.

The New York Times has taken the plunge. In a report today about the Israeli government’s decision to build 1,600 housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood — which, like most of Jerusalem, lies across the “Green Line” separating pre- and post-1967 territory, the NYT headline proudly refers to the “new settlements” that are, according to another NYT headline about the responses to the declaration, “clouding” the visit of Vice President Biden to the Middle East, who had arrived to announce the renewal of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. An earlier version of the piece, which has since been edited, described Jerusalem as home to “thousands of settlers.” This whole terminology is fairly new, but we can hardly blame the Times. It is, after all, the official position of the U.S. government.

Netanyahu is denying that he knew of the decision, and the NYT piece takes him at his word. Many commentators in Israel are not so quick to believe it, seeing in his denial a classic Bibi move to fake Left, go Right, deny and obfuscate whenever it serves his purposes. Assuming he really did know about the decision, why did he do it? And if he didn’t, why doesn’t he intervene to stop it?

The NYT puts the blame on his coalition partners: ”when he formed his coalition a year ago,” we are told, “he joined forces with several right-wing parties, and has since found it hard to keep them in line.” This is, of course, a bizarre distortion: Netanyahu chose his coalition partners as a product of their strength, which in turn reflects what the voters actually wanted on issues like these. It’s also a distortion because the left-wing Labor party, which is in the coalition, doesn’t seem to be pulling out any time soon. And it’s a distortion because the Kadima party, the leading opposition party and the only alternative to Netanyahu’s coalition partners, was founded on a platform that included the indivisibility of Jerusalem.

What Netanyahu knows, and Biden apparently does not, is that the vast majority of Israelis, including those who favor a land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians, do not, and will never, look at Jerusalem as a settlement or at residents of its neighborhoods as “settlers.” We can fully understand why Biden might have thought the move to be “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.” At a time when he’s trying to show the American public that he and the president are capable of bringing a new era of peace in the region, such an announcement certainly does not make his job easier. But unlike the U.S., Israel is an actual party to the negotiations and has a right to draw red lines. One such line that must not be crossed is undoing the unification of Jerusalem that happened in 1967 and that still captures the imagination and commitment of both the great majority of Israelis and a very large number of Diaspora Jews. Jerusalem is home to more than 700,000 citizens, of whom two-thirds are Jews. It has granted far greater and more liberal access to non-Jews worshiping at its shrines than the Palestinians have ever done with regard to Jewish (and Christian) freedom in the territories it controls. This is a great deal to ask in time of ongoing war.

One of the worst things about the Oslo Accords was the logic that said, “Let’s take care of the easy things first, and wait on the hard issues until later.” And so, while the Palestinians were allowed to create a heavily armed, ideologically belligerent, terror-supporting government in the territories Israel vacated, Israel gained nothing in terms of security, while the “hard issues” like Jerusalem and the repatriation of millions of Palestinians remained up in the air, not as questions to be resolved, but as threats hanging over Israelis’ heads: You can give us these, and face demographic and symbolic decimation; or you can refuse, and face a renewal of violence. When it became clear to Arafat that Israel had no intention of giving in on these core issues, all the “trust” that had been built was suddenly meaningless. He launched the second intifada, and the rest is too well known.

In making the move on Jerusalem, the Israeli government is trying to avoid the ambiguities that were the undoing of Oslo. Anyone hoping for a successful negotiation leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, they are saying, had better forget about the division of Jerusalem. Sometimes, it’s the timing that drives the point home.

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Going, Going . . .

This is really not how prime ministers should behave. According to Haaretz, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has been handling his interrogations relating to the corruption charges facing him rather poorly: He granted police investigators precisely one hour for the latest questioning, and he did his best to make sure police could get in as few new questions as possible. He starts by launching into an extended tirade against leaks of the details of the investigation. Then he changes his testimony, asking that he re-answer questions from previous rounds. (Especially the part where he denies taking money from Morris Talansky.) According to another report, he also insisted that all his answers be written down, not just audio-recorded. “It was clear Olmert was taking up interrogation time deliberately,” said one source. “He knew well that the detectives asked for only one hour, and he felt he was waging a power struggle.”

In the meantime, Olmert’s Kadima party is already fighting over the spoils of their leader’s demise. Olmert has  promised to quit if indicted, a prospect that seems increasingly likely: Even if they can’t prove a quid pro quo for Talansky’s cash-in-envelopes donations that would be required for a bribery charge to stick, the donations themselves were apparently unreported and therefore in apparent flagrant breach of campaign-finance and money-laundering laws. Ehud Barak, head of the Labor party, Kadima’s main coalition partner, has already told Olmert that either he quits or Labor pulls out, bringing on elections. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, front-runner to replace Olmert, has already started pushing for primaries in the party, to give Kadima a head-start in preparing for elections.

According to inside sources, Olmert himself is stalling, trying to figure out the most graceful way to step down. He could start by behaving himself with the police.

This is really not how prime ministers should behave. According to Haaretz, Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has been handling his interrogations relating to the corruption charges facing him rather poorly: He granted police investigators precisely one hour for the latest questioning, and he did his best to make sure police could get in as few new questions as possible. He starts by launching into an extended tirade against leaks of the details of the investigation. Then he changes his testimony, asking that he re-answer questions from previous rounds. (Especially the part where he denies taking money from Morris Talansky.) According to another report, he also insisted that all his answers be written down, not just audio-recorded. “It was clear Olmert was taking up interrogation time deliberately,” said one source. “He knew well that the detectives asked for only one hour, and he felt he was waging a power struggle.”

In the meantime, Olmert’s Kadima party is already fighting over the spoils of their leader’s demise. Olmert has  promised to quit if indicted, a prospect that seems increasingly likely: Even if they can’t prove a quid pro quo for Talansky’s cash-in-envelopes donations that would be required for a bribery charge to stick, the donations themselves were apparently unreported and therefore in apparent flagrant breach of campaign-finance and money-laundering laws. Ehud Barak, head of the Labor party, Kadima’s main coalition partner, has already told Olmert that either he quits or Labor pulls out, bringing on elections. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, front-runner to replace Olmert, has already started pushing for primaries in the party, to give Kadima a head-start in preparing for elections.

According to inside sources, Olmert himself is stalling, trying to figure out the most graceful way to step down. He could start by behaving himself with the police.

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The Futility of Talking to Tehran

In today’s Washington Times, Michael O’Hanlon suggests the U.S. should engage Iran diplomatically, for “hawkish” reasons:

U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran, the sooner the better, still makes sense — not because it will likely produce any breakthroughs, but because . . . “hawkish engagement” can set the U.S. up more effectively to galvanize the kind of growing international pressure on Iran that is probably our only long-term hope of producing better behavior from Tehran. By trying to talk, we better position ourselves to get tough and have others join the effort.

Through negotiation, we can prove to the world that American recalcitrance, Texas cowboy foreign policymaking, and pre-emption doctrine are not the real problems here. Only by patiently trying to work with Iran, and consistently failing to make progress, will we gradually convince Bush-haters and U.S. doubters around the world that the real problem does not lie in Washington.

Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah! When people said that Israel’s handing over Gaza would give the Jewish state the moral high ground in the eyes of the world. And how did that work out? International opinion described the second Lebanon War as a violent overreaction, and the international community talks about the Israeli government as if the Kadima party was formed in the sole hope of occupying more land.

O’Hanlon’s recommendation is based on two false premises, and together they create a circular bind. The first falsehood is the notion that America (like Israel) incurs more hatred through its actions than through its mere existence. If expressed sentiment toward America was based only on American policy, then most nations of the world would celebrate America Is Great Day every day of the year. In the history of the world there’s simply never been a country to extend either the largess or make the sacrifices of the United States today. Whether it’s monetary aid for Palestinians, natural disaster relief for Indonesia, military action on behalf of Muslims being killed in the Balkans, AIDS relief to Africa, or missile defense for Eastern Europe, if the rest of the world were to respond to the U.S. reciprocally, we’d never have another problem again.

The second false premise is that America’s ally deficit on Iran is one of number rather than approach. We have allies in opposition to Iran—many European countries are on board with tougher sanctions. But, in the end, these countries aren’t doing much aside from offering lip service. Why? Because the U.S. has ended up taking care of their geostrategy problems for half a century—which brings us right back to the first false premise.

If the U.S. talked to Iran, anti-Americans would point to it as a sign of defeat and weakness. They’d switch from enjoying self-righteous rage to savoring perceived superiority. And America’s allies wouldn’t pay all that much attention. They know full well that if the talks failed, the U.S. would still do something to keep the threat at bay.

In today’s Washington Times, Michael O’Hanlon suggests the U.S. should engage Iran diplomatically, for “hawkish” reasons:

U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran, the sooner the better, still makes sense — not because it will likely produce any breakthroughs, but because . . . “hawkish engagement” can set the U.S. up more effectively to galvanize the kind of growing international pressure on Iran that is probably our only long-term hope of producing better behavior from Tehran. By trying to talk, we better position ourselves to get tough and have others join the effort.

Through negotiation, we can prove to the world that American recalcitrance, Texas cowboy foreign policymaking, and pre-emption doctrine are not the real problems here. Only by patiently trying to work with Iran, and consistently failing to make progress, will we gradually convince Bush-haters and U.S. doubters around the world that the real problem does not lie in Washington.

Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah! When people said that Israel’s handing over Gaza would give the Jewish state the moral high ground in the eyes of the world. And how did that work out? International opinion described the second Lebanon War as a violent overreaction, and the international community talks about the Israeli government as if the Kadima party was formed in the sole hope of occupying more land.

O’Hanlon’s recommendation is based on two false premises, and together they create a circular bind. The first falsehood is the notion that America (like Israel) incurs more hatred through its actions than through its mere existence. If expressed sentiment toward America was based only on American policy, then most nations of the world would celebrate America Is Great Day every day of the year. In the history of the world there’s simply never been a country to extend either the largess or make the sacrifices of the United States today. Whether it’s monetary aid for Palestinians, natural disaster relief for Indonesia, military action on behalf of Muslims being killed in the Balkans, AIDS relief to Africa, or missile defense for Eastern Europe, if the rest of the world were to respond to the U.S. reciprocally, we’d never have another problem again.

The second false premise is that America’s ally deficit on Iran is one of number rather than approach. We have allies in opposition to Iran—many European countries are on board with tougher sanctions. But, in the end, these countries aren’t doing much aside from offering lip service. Why? Because the U.S. has ended up taking care of their geostrategy problems for half a century—which brings us right back to the first false premise.

If the U.S. talked to Iran, anti-Americans would point to it as a sign of defeat and weakness. They’d switch from enjoying self-righteous rage to savoring perceived superiority. And America’s allies wouldn’t pay all that much attention. They know full well that if the talks failed, the U.S. would still do something to keep the threat at bay.

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Peres’s Poodle

I am always impressed by the particular fondness for critiquing the New York Times shared by writers on contentions. Without judging one way or another, from my perch here in Jerusalem all I can say is: If you think that’s bad, you should read Haaretz. Today there’s an editorial offering a fawning political eulogy for Yossi Beilin, the last remaining luminary of the Israeli far Left, whom Yitzhak Rabin famously called “Peres’s Poodle.” Beilin has just declared he is out of the race for leadership of Meretz, Israel’s peace party. According to a recent poll for the daily Yediot Aharonot, the peace camp in Israel has been so devastated by the sobering conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizballah of the last few years, that if an election were held today, Meretz would receive five seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset—half its strength from the heady early ’90’s. (More broadly, parties on the Left are expecting a drubbing, with the Likud the current heavy favorite. Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, too, is in freefall, with the poll giving them just twelve seats, as opposed to their current 29.)

But Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, reveals the extent of its disconnect with the Israeli public when it calls Beilin a “brave” leader who “managed to carry away the center of the political map and get it to adopt his political path.” Meretz now has, the editorial concludes, “an important role to play in setting the public agenda and in fighting for values which tend to be easily neglected because of a too-heavy security agenda.” Read the whole thing here.

I am always impressed by the particular fondness for critiquing the New York Times shared by writers on contentions. Without judging one way or another, from my perch here in Jerusalem all I can say is: If you think that’s bad, you should read Haaretz. Today there’s an editorial offering a fawning political eulogy for Yossi Beilin, the last remaining luminary of the Israeli far Left, whom Yitzhak Rabin famously called “Peres’s Poodle.” Beilin has just declared he is out of the race for leadership of Meretz, Israel’s peace party. According to a recent poll for the daily Yediot Aharonot, the peace camp in Israel has been so devastated by the sobering conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizballah of the last few years, that if an election were held today, Meretz would receive five seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset—half its strength from the heady early ’90’s. (More broadly, parties on the Left are expecting a drubbing, with the Likud the current heavy favorite. Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, too, is in freefall, with the poll giving them just twelve seats, as opposed to their current 29.)

But Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, reveals the extent of its disconnect with the Israeli public when it calls Beilin a “brave” leader who “managed to carry away the center of the political map and get it to adopt his political path.” Meretz now has, the editorial concludes, “an important role to play in setting the public agenda and in fighting for values which tend to be easily neglected because of a too-heavy security agenda.” Read the whole thing here.

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Livni’s Half-Measure

For Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, it was a moment of truth: would she call for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s resignation following the devastating Winograd report on the 2006 war in Lebanon? If he refused, would she herself resign?

From the public’s point of view, her duty seemed clear. Even before the report’s release, Olmert’s approval ratings had hit rock bottom. And the report more than confirmed the conventional wisdom: his government had launched a war without having any idea how to fight it or how to end it.

The public expected Livni to start the political process that would bring down the government. Instead, she chose a half-measure: calling on Olmert to resign while staying in his government in order to help him implement the report’s recommendations. Though polls today indicate that the Israeli public is split down the middle on whether she should have resigned, her fence-straddling position is ultimately untenable. If Olmert should resign, as Livni’s statement suggests, how can he be fit to implement the changes outlined in the report?

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For Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, it was a moment of truth: would she call for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s resignation following the devastating Winograd report on the 2006 war in Lebanon? If he refused, would she herself resign?

From the public’s point of view, her duty seemed clear. Even before the report’s release, Olmert’s approval ratings had hit rock bottom. And the report more than confirmed the conventional wisdom: his government had launched a war without having any idea how to fight it or how to end it.

The public expected Livni to start the political process that would bring down the government. Instead, she chose a half-measure: calling on Olmert to resign while staying in his government in order to help him implement the report’s recommendations. Though polls today indicate that the Israeli public is split down the middle on whether she should have resigned, her fence-straddling position is ultimately untenable. If Olmert should resign, as Livni’s statement suggests, how can he be fit to implement the changes outlined in the report?

Livni herself comes out relatively clean in the report: she was one of two ministers who voted against escalating the conflict and who pressed for taking advantage of early international support. There was nothing in the report, aside from collective responsibility, suggesting that she should resign. But her actions speak far more loudly than her words, and have undermined her reputation for being a notch above the political fray—even though she is arguably behaving much better than her Kadima colleagues, who are completely backing Olmert. Doing the right thing halfway is better than nothing, even though her straddling will prove, I think, to have been a big political mistake.

In Livni’s defense, the choice to resign would not have been an easy one to make. Her goal, after all, is to lead Kadima into the next elections—and all of the party’s other ministers are backing Olmert. But if this concern animated her decision, it was extremely shortsighted. Olmert and Livni herself, to the extent she is standing by his side, are bringing the entire Kadima party down with them. By leading a rebellion against Olmert, Livni just might have saved Kadima—and possibly her own political career.

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