Commentary Magazine


Topic: Labour Party

Israeli Shakeup Another Setback for Obama

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East. Read More

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to break away from the Labor Party and form his own centrist faction is a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. With the remaining members of Labor now shifted to the opposition, Netanyahu has rid his coalition of several Knesset members who are opposed to his policies. In the long run, Barak’s new party will, as David Hazony noted yesterday, provide unwanted competition for the largest opposition party, Kadima, making the path to power for it and its leader, Tzipi Livni, far more difficult.

Livni is understandably upset about this development and vented her spleen today in some over-the-top comments when she complained that Barak’s decision was “the dirtiest act in history.” Given the fact that party-jumping has been a staple of Israeli politics throughout the country’s short history, it’s hard to make an argument that this understandable breakup between the centrists and the old leftists in Labor is any kind of a scandal. It is just the belated recognition on the part of Barak that he is better off letting Labor’s far-left activists merge with what remains of those factions that were to Labor’s left rather than sticking with them. Labor was once Israel’s dominant and natural party of government, but today it is as bankrupt — and obsolete — as the kibbutzim that symbolized the country’s socialist dreams.

But while Livni is the biggest Israeli loser in this transaction, there’s little doubt that it is just as much of a blow to President Barak Obama and his unrealistic approach to the Middle East.

From the moment he took office, Obama has sought to overturn the cozier relationship that existed between Washington and Jerusalem under his predecessor. Throughout his first year in office, Obama seemed to be aiming at unseating Netanyahu, who had been elected weeks after the president was sworn in. By picking pointless fights over settlements and Jewish building in Jerusalem, Obama sought to destabilize Netanyahu’s coalition and hoped Livni would soon replace him. But his ill-considered attacks merely strengthened Netanyahu, who wisely sought to avoid a direct confrontation with his country’s only ally. It was already obvious that, far from collapsing, Netanyahu’s government would survive to the end of its four-year term or close to it. While the outcome of the next Israeli election that will probably occur in 2013 is as difficult to predict as that of Obama’s own re-election effort in 2012, Barak’s move renders the hopes of Livni — the Israeli leader whom both Obama and Secretary of State Clinton continue to treat as America’s favorite Israeli — less likely.

That means Obama is going to have to spend the rest of his term continuing to try to learn to live with the wily Netanyahu. Both Obama and the Palestinian Authority have spent the past two years acting as if they were just waiting around for a new weaker-willed Israeli government to materialize that would then magically create the circumstances under which peace would be achieved. As Barak-faction member Einat Wilf told the New York Times today, “I don’t belong to the camp that believes Israel is solely responsible for the failure of these negotiations. The Palestinians bear responsibility for not entering the talks. Some people have sent them a message to wait around for a new government.”

Barak’s move makes it clear that isn’t going to happen. While Israel’s critics will lament this development, it is high time that Americans accept the fact that the verdict of the Jewish state’s voters must be respected and that the Israeli consensus that has developed about the futility of further unilateral concessions to the Palestinians is entirely justified.

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The Public Be Damned

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

Jonathan noted yesterday that foreign critics are outraged by Israel’s passage of a law this week mandating referenda on certain types of territorial concessions. But their outrage doesn’t hold a candle to that of Israel’s own left.

In today’s editorial, for instance, Haaretz complained bitterly that “the public is being given veto power over crucial decisions on foreign policy and security issues.” By “handcuffing the political leadership’s moves in the peace process,” it charged, Israel is spitting in the world’s face.

Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak similarly complained that “this is not a good law,” because the world will think “Israel is rejecting peace and is handcuffing itself to avoid progress in the diplomatic process.”

These arguments are mind-boggling. First, why should anyone in the democratic world object to giving the public a say in “crucial decisions on foreign policy and security”? Haaretz’s editors would evidently prefer a dictatorship of Plato’s philosopher-king, with themselves on the throne. But democracies are supposed to give the public a say in crucial decisions.

That’s why Britain, for instance, held a referendum on joining the European Economic Community, while France held one on leaving Algeria. In the U.S., this goal is achieved by requiring treaties to be ratified by a two-thirds Senate majority, which is unachievable without significant bipartisan consensus.

But the even more shocking assumption behind these plaints is that, given a choice, the public would reject any deal likely to be signed — yet the government should sign it anyway, and the public be damned.

Like Jonathan, I think Israelis would in fact support any reasonable agreement. But no reasonable agreement would ever be brought to a referendum, because the law requires a referendum only if an agreement doesn’t pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority. And any reasonable agreement would easily surpass this threshold.

The history of Israeli diplomatic agreements amply proves this point. The treaties with both Egypt and Jordan did pass the Knesset by a two-thirds majority, and both, despite producing a colder peace than Israelis hoped, have stood the test of time. In contrast, not a single agreement with the Palestinians ever came close to achieving a two-thirds majority — and every single one has proved a bloody failure.

Nor is this mere coincidence. The Jordanian and Egyptian treaties won sweeping majorities because both countries’ leaders had proved their commitment to peace: Anwar Sadat by his dramatic visit to the Knesset, in defiance of the pan-Arab boycott on Israel, and Jordan’s King Hussein by decades of quiet security cooperation. And both treaties succeeded because these leaders truly wanted peace.

The Palestinian agreements won only narrow majorities because many Israelis weren’t convinced that the Palestinians wanted peace. And these agreements failed because this skepticism proved well-founded.

Thus the referendum law won’t prevent any deal actually worth signing. Nor will it prevent another bad deal on the West Bank, since it applies only to territory annexed by Israel. But it will at least prevent a bad deal over East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. And therefore, its passage is genuine cause for rejoicing.

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Reaction to J Street

It’s interesting to watch the left cope with the realization that not only have the J Streeters copiously lied, but that they are in league with Richard Goldstone — shepherding him around Capitol Hill and writing his defense.

The left-leaning Haaretz sounds mournful, albeit realistic:

These days, J Street, the leftist pro-Israel lobby, is trying to appear business as usual. Following their ad campaign in the newspapers showcasing their support of the peace process and urging leaders to make history, J Street met this week with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren and with various congressional representatives, in hopes of tightening connections ahead of the November midterm elections.

But ever since the Washington Times exposed the discreet donations made by billionaire George Soros to the organization, the scandal surrounding J Street is only magnifying.

The reporter accurately details the series of lies and concludes:

J Street needs to make a clear decision — if they want to be truly inclusive, as they claim to be — they shouldn’t be afraid to be so, despite the price they may have to pay. By continuing their current modus operandi — trying to dodge controversy — they are actually creating more controversies and might lose credibility even among their left-wing supporters. If they want to become a unique voice, they should say: “We do not agree, but we listen to all voices — and not under the table.”

Not an unreasonable suggestion.

Over at Tikun Olam, Richard Silverstein goes on a rant against Eli Lake, who broke the story. But in the end, he too concedes:

All this goes to my main problem with J Street: they’re being too smart by half in trying to hide their true progressive views under a bushel.  If you want to be a Democratic version of Aipac as J Street has been over the past year, then do so and don’t take money from Soros or aid Goldstone.  Make Colette Avital happy, play in the sandbox with the moribund Labor Party, etc.  But if you want to be a truly independent progressive Jewish group why attempt to hide from anyone what you’ve done in taking Soros’ money or helping Goldstone?  Why make common cause with an unreliable figure like Avital?

The problem, might be, those bushel-hidden views are not palatable to the vast majority of American Jews.

Then there is Ron Kampeas’s column in the JTA. Kampeas has invested much credibility writing about and sourcing from the J Street crowd (and they, in spinning him); so I wasn’t all that surprised that he chose to go after the reporters who uncovered J Street’s lies. But his defense of J Street runs from odd to outrageous.

He’s not moved by the audiotape revealing Colette Avital’s false denial of her admission that Goldstone got the J Street tour around the Capitol. He acknowledges that Ben-Ami now concedes that “J Street had suggested contacts to the organizations that all sides agree did facilitate Goldstone’s Hill meetings, the Open Society Institute and the New America Foundation,” but seems not to grasp that this contradicted other Ben-Ami’s statements. He’s still giving Ben-Ami the benefit of the doubt. (“Now, it is true that Jeremy could be lying — he misled everyone about Soros’s involvement, after all, and his accounts of what was said to the Times and what was not have shifted slightly — but that doesn’t mean anything at this stage.” It doesn’t?) And on he goes, denying that there is anything here to see, nothing at all. (Even Jeffrey Goldberg figured out that this is curtains for the J Street gang.)

An official at a pro-Israel organization is aghast:

I guess it’s not enough for Ron Kampeas to be lied to, and lied to and lied to again. Maybe in that fairy land lies pass for truth, but in Washington and in the real world, lies are lies. And J Street has lied about taking money from George Soros, they lied about being an organization paid for by Americans. In fact, J Street is a sham astroturf collection of email addresses paid for by George Soros and a unknown person in Hong Kong named Connie Esdicul who covered half of their budget in the 2008-2009 year, when they were the “blocking back” for the White House policy beating up on Israel. I wonder what member of Congress will want to take their PAC money or keep signing their letters? Maybe only if Mort Halperin only if writes them, just like he did for Richard Goldstone when J Street called members of Congress to set up meetings for him so he could explain how Israel was guilty of war crimes.

And now they are lying again about their role in promoting the author of the Goldstone report — a anti-Israel document so vile that even the radical left group B’tselem condemned it. But J Street? No, they didn’t condemn it then, and they don’t now.

But here’s the outrageous part: Kampeas agrees with J Street that Goldstone got a raw deal. He’s incensed: “Why the hell shouldn’t Goldstone have met with the Congress members?” (Because he’s a vicious defamer of Israel and has presided over the multiple executions of blacks in South Africa?) He proclaims that “the original anti-Goldstone resolution that circulated was profoundly unfair to him.” Then the show stopper:

Here’s a postscript: I don’t think Goldstone is Uncle Evil any longer in Israel. His reputation morphed from Pompous Traitor to Wounded Grandpa after South African Zionists tried to muscle him out of his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah.

This is ludicrous. There is no significant segment of Israeli society and not a single prominent Israeli politician who thinks Goldstone is anything but evil. Well, at least we know why Kampeas is so sympathetic to J Street — they both have a soft spot for the man who has, through deliberate misrepresentation, done more than any living soul to aid Israel’s delegitimizers.

It’s interesting to watch the left cope with the realization that not only have the J Streeters copiously lied, but that they are in league with Richard Goldstone — shepherding him around Capitol Hill and writing his defense.

The left-leaning Haaretz sounds mournful, albeit realistic:

These days, J Street, the leftist pro-Israel lobby, is trying to appear business as usual. Following their ad campaign in the newspapers showcasing their support of the peace process and urging leaders to make history, J Street met this week with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren and with various congressional representatives, in hopes of tightening connections ahead of the November midterm elections.

But ever since the Washington Times exposed the discreet donations made by billionaire George Soros to the organization, the scandal surrounding J Street is only magnifying.

The reporter accurately details the series of lies and concludes:

J Street needs to make a clear decision — if they want to be truly inclusive, as they claim to be — they shouldn’t be afraid to be so, despite the price they may have to pay. By continuing their current modus operandi — trying to dodge controversy — they are actually creating more controversies and might lose credibility even among their left-wing supporters. If they want to become a unique voice, they should say: “We do not agree, but we listen to all voices — and not under the table.”

Not an unreasonable suggestion.

Over at Tikun Olam, Richard Silverstein goes on a rant against Eli Lake, who broke the story. But in the end, he too concedes:

All this goes to my main problem with J Street: they’re being too smart by half in trying to hide their true progressive views under a bushel.  If you want to be a Democratic version of Aipac as J Street has been over the past year, then do so and don’t take money from Soros or aid Goldstone.  Make Colette Avital happy, play in the sandbox with the moribund Labor Party, etc.  But if you want to be a truly independent progressive Jewish group why attempt to hide from anyone what you’ve done in taking Soros’ money or helping Goldstone?  Why make common cause with an unreliable figure like Avital?

The problem, might be, those bushel-hidden views are not palatable to the vast majority of American Jews.

Then there is Ron Kampeas’s column in the JTA. Kampeas has invested much credibility writing about and sourcing from the J Street crowd (and they, in spinning him); so I wasn’t all that surprised that he chose to go after the reporters who uncovered J Street’s lies. But his defense of J Street runs from odd to outrageous.

He’s not moved by the audiotape revealing Colette Avital’s false denial of her admission that Goldstone got the J Street tour around the Capitol. He acknowledges that Ben-Ami now concedes that “J Street had suggested contacts to the organizations that all sides agree did facilitate Goldstone’s Hill meetings, the Open Society Institute and the New America Foundation,” but seems not to grasp that this contradicted other Ben-Ami’s statements. He’s still giving Ben-Ami the benefit of the doubt. (“Now, it is true that Jeremy could be lying — he misled everyone about Soros’s involvement, after all, and his accounts of what was said to the Times and what was not have shifted slightly — but that doesn’t mean anything at this stage.” It doesn’t?) And on he goes, denying that there is anything here to see, nothing at all. (Even Jeffrey Goldberg figured out that this is curtains for the J Street gang.)

An official at a pro-Israel organization is aghast:

I guess it’s not enough for Ron Kampeas to be lied to, and lied to and lied to again. Maybe in that fairy land lies pass for truth, but in Washington and in the real world, lies are lies. And J Street has lied about taking money from George Soros, they lied about being an organization paid for by Americans. In fact, J Street is a sham astroturf collection of email addresses paid for by George Soros and a unknown person in Hong Kong named Connie Esdicul who covered half of their budget in the 2008-2009 year, when they were the “blocking back” for the White House policy beating up on Israel. I wonder what member of Congress will want to take their PAC money or keep signing their letters? Maybe only if Mort Halperin only if writes them, just like he did for Richard Goldstone when J Street called members of Congress to set up meetings for him so he could explain how Israel was guilty of war crimes.

And now they are lying again about their role in promoting the author of the Goldstone report — a anti-Israel document so vile that even the radical left group B’tselem condemned it. But J Street? No, they didn’t condemn it then, and they don’t now.

But here’s the outrageous part: Kampeas agrees with J Street that Goldstone got a raw deal. He’s incensed: “Why the hell shouldn’t Goldstone have met with the Congress members?” (Because he’s a vicious defamer of Israel and has presided over the multiple executions of blacks in South Africa?) He proclaims that “the original anti-Goldstone resolution that circulated was profoundly unfair to him.” Then the show stopper:

Here’s a postscript: I don’t think Goldstone is Uncle Evil any longer in Israel. His reputation morphed from Pompous Traitor to Wounded Grandpa after South African Zionists tried to muscle him out of his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah.

This is ludicrous. There is no significant segment of Israeli society and not a single prominent Israeli politician who thinks Goldstone is anything but evil. Well, at least we know why Kampeas is so sympathetic to J Street — they both have a soft spot for the man who has, through deliberate misrepresentation, done more than any living soul to aid Israel’s delegitimizers.

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Fayyad’s Bonfire Lights the Way to Hatred, Not Peace

The popularity of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad among Israeli and American observers has always greatly exceeded his standing among his own people. Both dovish and hawkish analysts hold the American-educated technocrat as a unique Palestinian politician: honest, skilled at economics and governing, and dedicated to peace. But lately, even his Israeli and American fans have begun to notice that Fayyad’s dedication to peace is being undermined by his efforts to make himself more loved by Palestinians.

Fayyad is at a disadvantage when he competes with Hamas and other factions because the bona fides of any Palestinian political faction has always been defined by the amount of Jewish blood spilled. Unlike other major Palestinian figures, the University of Texas-trained economist has no gunmen or terrorist cadres at his disposal. So instead, he must wage war against the Jews using the tools of his own trade — by championing the boycott of Israeli goods produced in Jewish communities in the territories.

Even an admirer like Dalia Itzik, an important figure in Kadima – the party that the Obama administration hopes will somehow eventually replace Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud – thinks Fayyad’s decision to embrace such tactics is a blow to the hopes for peace that Fayyad has done so much to encourage in the past. No right-winger, Itzik is a former Labor Party speaker of the Knesset, but even she understands that what Fayyad is doing when he allows himself to be photographed throwing Israeli products into a bonfire is burning the chances for cooperation between the two peoples. As Itzik writes in the Jerusalem Post, it is “hope that is being boycotted” most of all in this campaign.

As to be expected, Fayyad’s bonfire photo-op got more sympathetic coverage in the New York Times last week as its article played along with the notion that his mobilization of the slender resources of the PA to conduct a witch hunt weeding out Israeli goods in Palestinian stores was merely a matter of “nonviolent resistance.”

But Fayyad’s administration was supposed to focus on development, heightened security, and the promise of peaceful interaction with Israel. But as both Itzik and other Israelis have rightly noted, the whole premise behind the boycott is a campaign of incitement in which anything created or sold by Jews is seen as illegitimate. It also feeds into the Palestinian notion that, despite Fayyad’s talk of peace, the Jewish state is, itself, illegitimate.

If Fayyad’s notion of peace rests on the premise of the expulsion of every single Jew from the territories and a Palestinian boycott of Israel, it is hard to see how even this paragon of Palestinian politicians is doing much to foster a spirit of peace. Rather than fighting to create a saner Palestinian political culture, Fayyad appears to be attempting to gain points with his public by pandering to the basest Palestinian instincts. The problem with such a plan is that no matter how many bonfires of Jewish products Fayyad builds, he can never really compete with the guys who have the guns and the explosives for the affection of the Palestinian public. All of which ought to lead us to wonder why so much attention and so much hope is being wagered by both Israel and the United States on his success.

The popularity of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad among Israeli and American observers has always greatly exceeded his standing among his own people. Both dovish and hawkish analysts hold the American-educated technocrat as a unique Palestinian politician: honest, skilled at economics and governing, and dedicated to peace. But lately, even his Israeli and American fans have begun to notice that Fayyad’s dedication to peace is being undermined by his efforts to make himself more loved by Palestinians.

Fayyad is at a disadvantage when he competes with Hamas and other factions because the bona fides of any Palestinian political faction has always been defined by the amount of Jewish blood spilled. Unlike other major Palestinian figures, the University of Texas-trained economist has no gunmen or terrorist cadres at his disposal. So instead, he must wage war against the Jews using the tools of his own trade — by championing the boycott of Israeli goods produced in Jewish communities in the territories.

Even an admirer like Dalia Itzik, an important figure in Kadima – the party that the Obama administration hopes will somehow eventually replace Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud – thinks Fayyad’s decision to embrace such tactics is a blow to the hopes for peace that Fayyad has done so much to encourage in the past. No right-winger, Itzik is a former Labor Party speaker of the Knesset, but even she understands that what Fayyad is doing when he allows himself to be photographed throwing Israeli products into a bonfire is burning the chances for cooperation between the two peoples. As Itzik writes in the Jerusalem Post, it is “hope that is being boycotted” most of all in this campaign.

As to be expected, Fayyad’s bonfire photo-op got more sympathetic coverage in the New York Times last week as its article played along with the notion that his mobilization of the slender resources of the PA to conduct a witch hunt weeding out Israeli goods in Palestinian stores was merely a matter of “nonviolent resistance.”

But Fayyad’s administration was supposed to focus on development, heightened security, and the promise of peaceful interaction with Israel. But as both Itzik and other Israelis have rightly noted, the whole premise behind the boycott is a campaign of incitement in which anything created or sold by Jews is seen as illegitimate. It also feeds into the Palestinian notion that, despite Fayyad’s talk of peace, the Jewish state is, itself, illegitimate.

If Fayyad’s notion of peace rests on the premise of the expulsion of every single Jew from the territories and a Palestinian boycott of Israel, it is hard to see how even this paragon of Palestinian politicians is doing much to foster a spirit of peace. Rather than fighting to create a saner Palestinian political culture, Fayyad appears to be attempting to gain points with his public by pandering to the basest Palestinian instincts. The problem with such a plan is that no matter how many bonfires of Jewish products Fayyad builds, he can never really compete with the guys who have the guns and the explosives for the affection of the Palestinian public. All of which ought to lead us to wonder why so much attention and so much hope is being wagered by both Israel and the United States on his success.

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So, What’s the British Outcome Mean?

Jokes abound. One colleague tells me it’s a Mick Jagger election: no one got any satisfaction. I’m reminded of Zhou Enlai’s response when asked about the significance of the French Revolution: it’s too soon to tell. But at the risk of being proved wrong by political developments over the next few hours, and analysis of the results over the next few years, let me offer a take.

First, one really heartening fact: as Martin Bright points out, it was a bad night for Islamists and fascists. The Respect coalition — Ken Livingstone’s ill-sorted collection of Islamist sympathizers — was crushed all around. George Galloway (what a relief to no longer have to describe him as George Galloway, MP) got the boot. The BNP was routed. Various MPs targeted by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee survived. This is all very satisfactory.

The second fact was the unexpectedly bad performance of the Liberal Democrats. When the first exit poll appeared at 10 p.m. local time, showing that the Lib Dems were likely to lose seats, no one — myself included — thought it had any credibility. It did. The tricky question is why. The explanation now percolating in commentators’ columns is that Nick Clegg rode a boomlet up and then rode it down.

I don’t discount that possibility, but here’s another: there never was that much support for the Lib Dems in the first place. The so-called Golden Rule of British political opinion polling for the past 20 years has been that the poll showing the worst result for Labour is the most accurate. The Tories are, usually, the beneficiary on the day of this nonexistent Labour support.

It may be that, in the middle weeks of the campaign, this non-support abandoned Labour (perhaps because no one wanted to say they were voting for Gordon Brown when they weren’t) and jumped ship to the Lib Dems. And then came the day that the non-support did what it usually does — slosh back to the Tories. That’s just speculation, but for now I incline to the belief that the Lib Dems became, for a brief moment, the verbally acceptable alternative for voters who actually had entirely different plans in mind.

The third fact, obviously, was that Cameron was unable to climb the mountain. And it was a mountain. Only once in Britain’s post-1945 electoral history has a government with a clear majority in the Commons been defeated and replaced by a different government, also with a clear majority. And that was in 1970, which was a shock result. It’s fair, probably, to say that Cameron might have been expected — should have been expected, maybe — to do better. But the mountain was really, really big.

The fourth fact is that the Tory successes were surprisingly random. Seats relatively high on their target list were not won — but this was (almost) balanced by successes where their odds seemed slim. The conclusion I draw is that this was an election where good constituency MPs were rewarded, and bad ones were punished. The expenses scandal of last year may have had a lot to do with this — Jacqui Smith, for example, went down to defeat. But it may also say something about the decay of parties as the organizing force in British politics, a subject I’ve complained about before. If so, it helps explain why Cameron couldn’t quite pull it off.

So, what’s next? As Yogi Berra supposedly said, predictions are dangerous, especially when they’re about the future. There are three things that will be decided over the next few hours, or days: who’ll be PM, whether there will be a coalition government, and when the next election is. My bet on the third point is October 2010: I see no way a coherent, stable government can be formed from the existing alignment in the Commons. As for the first point: Cameron. No one appears to want to do a deal with Gordon Brown except Brown himself.

The interesting question is how and on what terms Cameron will be installed in No. 10. One possibility is a full coalition government, with the Liberal Democrats. But except for the fact that both the Tories and the Lib Dems want to be in government, they have very little in common. They are miles apart on foreign policy and have less in common domestically than the Tories and Labour. A coalition between them would lack any organizing principle. Its price would probably be some sort of electoral reform — a possibility that is chewing up the newswires right now. I have written at length on the genesis of proportional representation in Britain, and I won’t burden anyone with that now. Suffice it to say that my research makes me very skeptical about its desirability.

A second possibility, therefore, is a Tory government drawing support on an issue-by-issue basis from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Ulster Unionists, and the other minor parties. This, to my mind, is the most likely possibility, but it’s also one of the least capable of offering strong leadership in response to the fiscal crisis. Come the next election, this might evolve into a Tory and Lib Dem agreement that each would focus its fire on Labour. That would gain the Tories enough seats to form a government, and the Lib Dems enough seats to move out of their status as the eternal bridesmaid of British politics.

And then there’s a third possibility. The Tories and Labour, in fact, have at least as much in common with each other as they do with the Liberal Democrats. In 1931, during the greatest of Britain’s previous fiscal crises, the collapse of the Labour government led to the election of a Tory-dominated government of national unity, with only the more extreme elements in British politics (elements of the Labour Party, the Lloyd George Liberals, and Oswald Mosely) left on the side.

I don’t expect this to happen again. But if it did, and if the Tories and Labour both concentrated their electoral fire in the subsequent election on the Lib Dems, the result would probably be a Lib Dem wipeout. I wonder if this thought has occurred to Nick Clegg as he entertains offers from Cameron and Brown.

Jokes abound. One colleague tells me it’s a Mick Jagger election: no one got any satisfaction. I’m reminded of Zhou Enlai’s response when asked about the significance of the French Revolution: it’s too soon to tell. But at the risk of being proved wrong by political developments over the next few hours, and analysis of the results over the next few years, let me offer a take.

First, one really heartening fact: as Martin Bright points out, it was a bad night for Islamists and fascists. The Respect coalition — Ken Livingstone’s ill-sorted collection of Islamist sympathizers — was crushed all around. George Galloway (what a relief to no longer have to describe him as George Galloway, MP) got the boot. The BNP was routed. Various MPs targeted by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee survived. This is all very satisfactory.

The second fact was the unexpectedly bad performance of the Liberal Democrats. When the first exit poll appeared at 10 p.m. local time, showing that the Lib Dems were likely to lose seats, no one — myself included — thought it had any credibility. It did. The tricky question is why. The explanation now percolating in commentators’ columns is that Nick Clegg rode a boomlet up and then rode it down.

I don’t discount that possibility, but here’s another: there never was that much support for the Lib Dems in the first place. The so-called Golden Rule of British political opinion polling for the past 20 years has been that the poll showing the worst result for Labour is the most accurate. The Tories are, usually, the beneficiary on the day of this nonexistent Labour support.

It may be that, in the middle weeks of the campaign, this non-support abandoned Labour (perhaps because no one wanted to say they were voting for Gordon Brown when they weren’t) and jumped ship to the Lib Dems. And then came the day that the non-support did what it usually does — slosh back to the Tories. That’s just speculation, but for now I incline to the belief that the Lib Dems became, for a brief moment, the verbally acceptable alternative for voters who actually had entirely different plans in mind.

The third fact, obviously, was that Cameron was unable to climb the mountain. And it was a mountain. Only once in Britain’s post-1945 electoral history has a government with a clear majority in the Commons been defeated and replaced by a different government, also with a clear majority. And that was in 1970, which was a shock result. It’s fair, probably, to say that Cameron might have been expected — should have been expected, maybe — to do better. But the mountain was really, really big.

The fourth fact is that the Tory successes were surprisingly random. Seats relatively high on their target list were not won — but this was (almost) balanced by successes where their odds seemed slim. The conclusion I draw is that this was an election where good constituency MPs were rewarded, and bad ones were punished. The expenses scandal of last year may have had a lot to do with this — Jacqui Smith, for example, went down to defeat. But it may also say something about the decay of parties as the organizing force in British politics, a subject I’ve complained about before. If so, it helps explain why Cameron couldn’t quite pull it off.

So, what’s next? As Yogi Berra supposedly said, predictions are dangerous, especially when they’re about the future. There are three things that will be decided over the next few hours, or days: who’ll be PM, whether there will be a coalition government, and when the next election is. My bet on the third point is October 2010: I see no way a coherent, stable government can be formed from the existing alignment in the Commons. As for the first point: Cameron. No one appears to want to do a deal with Gordon Brown except Brown himself.

The interesting question is how and on what terms Cameron will be installed in No. 10. One possibility is a full coalition government, with the Liberal Democrats. But except for the fact that both the Tories and the Lib Dems want to be in government, they have very little in common. They are miles apart on foreign policy and have less in common domestically than the Tories and Labour. A coalition between them would lack any organizing principle. Its price would probably be some sort of electoral reform — a possibility that is chewing up the newswires right now. I have written at length on the genesis of proportional representation in Britain, and I won’t burden anyone with that now. Suffice it to say that my research makes me very skeptical about its desirability.

A second possibility, therefore, is a Tory government drawing support on an issue-by-issue basis from the Lib Dems, Labour, the Ulster Unionists, and the other minor parties. This, to my mind, is the most likely possibility, but it’s also one of the least capable of offering strong leadership in response to the fiscal crisis. Come the next election, this might evolve into a Tory and Lib Dem agreement that each would focus its fire on Labour. That would gain the Tories enough seats to form a government, and the Lib Dems enough seats to move out of their status as the eternal bridesmaid of British politics.

And then there’s a third possibility. The Tories and Labour, in fact, have at least as much in common with each other as they do with the Liberal Democrats. In 1931, during the greatest of Britain’s previous fiscal crises, the collapse of the Labour government led to the election of a Tory-dominated government of national unity, with only the more extreme elements in British politics (elements of the Labour Party, the Lloyd George Liberals, and Oswald Mosely) left on the side.

I don’t expect this to happen again. But if it did, and if the Tories and Labour both concentrated their electoral fire in the subsequent election on the Lib Dems, the result would probably be a Lib Dem wipeout. I wonder if this thought has occurred to Nick Clegg as he entertains offers from Cameron and Brown.

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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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Gordon Brown: Stand-up Guy

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hasn’t had an easy time of it since finally succeeding Tony Blair in 2007. The dour Scotsman has suffered from the fallout of his Labour party’s having been in power too long to retain the public’s goodwill. His reputation as an expert on financial issues turned out to be a liability rather than an asset when the global economy went in the tank in 2008. And to top it all off, he now has an alliance partner in Washington in Barack Obama, whose contempt for the United Kingdom and its government, as well as the whole concept of the “special relationship” with Britain, is not exactly a secret.

Brown is facing an election sometime this spring, which no one thinks he can win — even though his Conservative opponent David Cameron seems to be losing popularity as he tries to coast into office by simply not being Brown. So when he was called today before the commission investigating Britain’s decision to go to war alongside the United States in Iraq, Brown might have thrown both the Americans and his former boss and rival Blair under the bus and tried to curry favor with a British electorate, which seems to view the war and the close ties between the U.S. and the Blair government with equal disdain.

But if Brown is going down, he’s not doing it like an anti-American weasel. He told the Chilcot Commission that the decision to go to war in Iraq “was the right decision made for the right reasons.” Though he later said that he thought the Americans hadn’t planned adequately for the rebuilding of the country (no kidding) and also made it clear that he was not included in most of the high-level conversations about the war, he stuck by the decision made by Blair and didn’t give any ground to those who have tried to argue that the former prime minister made inappropriate promises of support to George W. Bush.

History, and not the leftist propaganda that has dominated the media discussion of Iraq in both the United States and Britain in recent years on this issue, will be the ultimate judge of the rightness of the decision to liberate Iraq. Many mistakes were made and many lives were lost. But though the testimonies of both Blair and Brown were different in tone — with Blair emphasizing the morality of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, while Brown stuck to the legal questions of the Iraqi dictator’s flouting of UN resolutions — both reaffirmed the just nature of the war. Whether or not Brown is reelected, and there are plenty of good reasons for the British to throw Labour out — it must be stipulated that he conducted himself as an American ally today. If Brown is on the way out, let’s just hope David Cameron proves to be as faithful a friend to the United States as were Blair and Brown. And let’s also hope that Barack Obama treats him better than he has treated Brown.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hasn’t had an easy time of it since finally succeeding Tony Blair in 2007. The dour Scotsman has suffered from the fallout of his Labour party’s having been in power too long to retain the public’s goodwill. His reputation as an expert on financial issues turned out to be a liability rather than an asset when the global economy went in the tank in 2008. And to top it all off, he now has an alliance partner in Washington in Barack Obama, whose contempt for the United Kingdom and its government, as well as the whole concept of the “special relationship” with Britain, is not exactly a secret.

Brown is facing an election sometime this spring, which no one thinks he can win — even though his Conservative opponent David Cameron seems to be losing popularity as he tries to coast into office by simply not being Brown. So when he was called today before the commission investigating Britain’s decision to go to war alongside the United States in Iraq, Brown might have thrown both the Americans and his former boss and rival Blair under the bus and tried to curry favor with a British electorate, which seems to view the war and the close ties between the U.S. and the Blair government with equal disdain.

But if Brown is going down, he’s not doing it like an anti-American weasel. He told the Chilcot Commission that the decision to go to war in Iraq “was the right decision made for the right reasons.” Though he later said that he thought the Americans hadn’t planned adequately for the rebuilding of the country (no kidding) and also made it clear that he was not included in most of the high-level conversations about the war, he stuck by the decision made by Blair and didn’t give any ground to those who have tried to argue that the former prime minister made inappropriate promises of support to George W. Bush.

History, and not the leftist propaganda that has dominated the media discussion of Iraq in both the United States and Britain in recent years on this issue, will be the ultimate judge of the rightness of the decision to liberate Iraq. Many mistakes were made and many lives were lost. But though the testimonies of both Blair and Brown were different in tone — with Blair emphasizing the morality of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, while Brown stuck to the legal questions of the Iraqi dictator’s flouting of UN resolutions — both reaffirmed the just nature of the war. Whether or not Brown is reelected, and there are plenty of good reasons for the British to throw Labour out — it must be stipulated that he conducted himself as an American ally today. If Brown is on the way out, let’s just hope David Cameron proves to be as faithful a friend to the United States as were Blair and Brown. And let’s also hope that Barack Obama treats him better than he has treated Brown.

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Is Israel’s Safety No Longer a Western Interest?

A senior Hamas leader reportedly told a British emissary yesterday that Hamas is ready to amend its charter calling for Israel’s destruction and recognize Israel’s right to exist. A breakthrough? Unfortunately, no. But the real bad news is the emissary’s response.

What Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dwaik told major Labour Party donor David Martin Abrahams is clearly eyebrow-raising. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza that “our goal is Palestine, all of Palestine” — which, in Palestinian parlance, includes all of Israel. So was Dwaik speaking without authorization, or has Hamas’s stance really shifted radically since December?

Actually, neither, as the Jerusalem Post’s report makes clear: Dwaik said he was merely reiterating Hamas’s well-known support for a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. What he neglected to mention is that this support has always come with two caveats: first, Israel must agree to absorb millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, thereby eradicating the Jewish state demographically; and second, in exchange, Israel would get not a peace agreement, but a long-term truce — meaning that if death by demography failed to materialize, Hamas reserved the right to resume trying to finish Israel off militarily.

Needless to say, none of this bothered Abrahams, who is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on his meeting this weekend. He said he would urge Miliband to “consider the implications of Hamas’s positive overtures” and was “very excited” about facilitating dialogue between Hamas and the international community. “I’m prepared to give them [Hamas] a chance because I’ve got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh,” he gushed. “We can’t allow 1.5 million to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated.”

Dialogue with the European Union is, as Dwaik acknowledged, precisely what Hamas wants. As long, of course, as it can be achieved by mouthing slogans that useful idiots like Abrahams willfully misconstrue as moderate, without actually having to stop launching rockets at Israel or otherwise working toward Israel’s destruction. Certainly, it’s hard to find any explanation other than willful idiocy for why, if Abrahams has “confidence” in Haniyeh, he so readily assumes Haniyeh is lying when he publicly proclaims his goal as “all of Palestine.” Or why he views “well-educated” as apparently synonymous with “good,” given that most leaders of terrorist organizations are extremely well-educated: think physicians Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas or Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda.

But the truly chilling part was his conclusion. “Hamas is different from Al-Qaida,” Abrahams asserted. “Hamas is no threat to Western interests.”

Yet even Abrahams would presumably admit that, currently, Hamas is still a threat to Israel. So if Hamas is no threat to Western interests, then Israel’s safety is evidently not a Western interest.

Many Europeans may think this, but public statements to this effect have so far been confined to the fringes. That a mainstream, highly influential (and, of course, Jewish) member of Britain’s ruling party is now willing to say it openly is a development that should keep Israel supporters awake at night.

A senior Hamas leader reportedly told a British emissary yesterday that Hamas is ready to amend its charter calling for Israel’s destruction and recognize Israel’s right to exist. A breakthrough? Unfortunately, no. But the real bad news is the emissary’s response.

What Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dwaik told major Labour Party donor David Martin Abrahams is clearly eyebrow-raising. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza that “our goal is Palestine, all of Palestine” — which, in Palestinian parlance, includes all of Israel. So was Dwaik speaking without authorization, or has Hamas’s stance really shifted radically since December?

Actually, neither, as the Jerusalem Post’s report makes clear: Dwaik said he was merely reiterating Hamas’s well-known support for a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. What he neglected to mention is that this support has always come with two caveats: first, Israel must agree to absorb millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, thereby eradicating the Jewish state demographically; and second, in exchange, Israel would get not a peace agreement, but a long-term truce — meaning that if death by demography failed to materialize, Hamas reserved the right to resume trying to finish Israel off militarily.

Needless to say, none of this bothered Abrahams, who is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on his meeting this weekend. He said he would urge Miliband to “consider the implications of Hamas’s positive overtures” and was “very excited” about facilitating dialogue between Hamas and the international community. “I’m prepared to give them [Hamas] a chance because I’ve got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh,” he gushed. “We can’t allow 1.5 million to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated.”

Dialogue with the European Union is, as Dwaik acknowledged, precisely what Hamas wants. As long, of course, as it can be achieved by mouthing slogans that useful idiots like Abrahams willfully misconstrue as moderate, without actually having to stop launching rockets at Israel or otherwise working toward Israel’s destruction. Certainly, it’s hard to find any explanation other than willful idiocy for why, if Abrahams has “confidence” in Haniyeh, he so readily assumes Haniyeh is lying when he publicly proclaims his goal as “all of Palestine.” Or why he views “well-educated” as apparently synonymous with “good,” given that most leaders of terrorist organizations are extremely well-educated: think physicians Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas or Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda.

But the truly chilling part was his conclusion. “Hamas is different from Al-Qaida,” Abrahams asserted. “Hamas is no threat to Western interests.”

Yet even Abrahams would presumably admit that, currently, Hamas is still a threat to Israel. So if Hamas is no threat to Western interests, then Israel’s safety is evidently not a Western interest.

Many Europeans may think this, but public statements to this effect have so far been confined to the fringes. That a mainstream, highly influential (and, of course, Jewish) member of Britain’s ruling party is now willing to say it openly is a development that should keep Israel supporters awake at night.

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Calling a Crime a Crime

It’s a measure of how badly the “peace process” has warped Israel’s language of values that the most intelligent response to Friday’s torching of a mosque near Nablus, allegedly by extremist settlers, came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Its secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, correctly identified the crime as “blatant aggression against the sanctity of sacred places.”

That’s more than Israeli politicians seemed capable of doing. Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak, for instance, sounded as if the real crime were the potential damage to the peace process. “This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government’s efforts to advance the political process,” he declared. Similarly, opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned it as a “despicable act of provocation” — as if the crime were the response it might provoke.

If the perpetrators were settlers, they probably did intend to undermine the peace process by provoking a violent Palestinian response. But that’s not what made their act criminal. The crime isn’t the impact on the peace process; it’s the wanton destruction of a house of worship.

This perversion of language began when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres deemed the suicide bombings that followed the 1993 Oslo Accord “crimes against the peace process” and the victims, “sacrifices for peace.” For them, this was a political necessity: If Oslo were seen as producing more anti-Israel terror rather than less, Israelis would turn against Oslo — and its sponsors. Hence they had to paint the attacks not as the same old anti-Israel terror, but as a new form of terror, aimed equally at Israel and its Palestinian partner — i.e., at the peace process itself.

This recasting of the crime led inevitably to the next perversion: the frequent labeling of settlers by leftist politicians and journalists as Israel’s equivalent of Hamas. If Hamas’s crime is mass murder, this comparison is clearly false: Blowing up buses and cafes is not a standard practice of settlers. But if the real crime is opposition to the “peace process,” the comparison becomes plausible: Settlers were trying to stop Oslo. The only difference was their choice of tactics: demonstrations and lobbying rather than violence.

And that is precisely what makes this new language, and the value system it embodies, so warped. If the crime is what you oppose rather than how you choose to oppose it, there is no difference between a peaceful protest and blowing up a bus. So why shouldn’t settler extremists torch a mosque, if they deem that a more effective means of “harming … the political process”? Their very opposition to the process makes them criminals regardless of what tactics they use.

Clearly, most Israelis think no such thing. But language does shape thought. So if they don’t want to raise a generation that indeed sees no difference between peaceful and violent tactics, Israelis need to realign their language with their values. That starts with saying clearly that the crime is torching the mosque — not its impact on the peace process.

It’s a measure of how badly the “peace process” has warped Israel’s language of values that the most intelligent response to Friday’s torching of a mosque near Nablus, allegedly by extremist settlers, came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Its secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, correctly identified the crime as “blatant aggression against the sanctity of sacred places.”

That’s more than Israeli politicians seemed capable of doing. Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak, for instance, sounded as if the real crime were the potential damage to the peace process. “This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government’s efforts to advance the political process,” he declared. Similarly, opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned it as a “despicable act of provocation” — as if the crime were the response it might provoke.

If the perpetrators were settlers, they probably did intend to undermine the peace process by provoking a violent Palestinian response. But that’s not what made their act criminal. The crime isn’t the impact on the peace process; it’s the wanton destruction of a house of worship.

This perversion of language began when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres deemed the suicide bombings that followed the 1993 Oslo Accord “crimes against the peace process” and the victims, “sacrifices for peace.” For them, this was a political necessity: If Oslo were seen as producing more anti-Israel terror rather than less, Israelis would turn against Oslo — and its sponsors. Hence they had to paint the attacks not as the same old anti-Israel terror, but as a new form of terror, aimed equally at Israel and its Palestinian partner — i.e., at the peace process itself.

This recasting of the crime led inevitably to the next perversion: the frequent labeling of settlers by leftist politicians and journalists as Israel’s equivalent of Hamas. If Hamas’s crime is mass murder, this comparison is clearly false: Blowing up buses and cafes is not a standard practice of settlers. But if the real crime is opposition to the “peace process,” the comparison becomes plausible: Settlers were trying to stop Oslo. The only difference was their choice of tactics: demonstrations and lobbying rather than violence.

And that is precisely what makes this new language, and the value system it embodies, so warped. If the crime is what you oppose rather than how you choose to oppose it, there is no difference between a peaceful protest and blowing up a bus. So why shouldn’t settler extremists torch a mosque, if they deem that a more effective means of “harming … the political process”? Their very opposition to the process makes them criminals regardless of what tactics they use.

Clearly, most Israelis think no such thing. But language does shape thought. So if they don’t want to raise a generation that indeed sees no difference between peaceful and violent tactics, Israelis need to realign their language with their values. That starts with saying clearly that the crime is torching the mosque — not its impact on the peace process.

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British Corruption

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal. Read More

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal.

The impact of that scandal is an illustration of John Hay’s remark that “it is curious how a concise impropriety hits the public.” But it is also small beer: New Labour has brought Britain many “improprieties” that were a good deal worse but that failed to catch Transparency’s eye. There was the 2005-07 “cash for peerages” controversy, in which it was alleged that the Labour party was selling seats in the House of Lords in exchange for donations. There was — indeed, there is — the scandal of Labour’s immigration policy, which a former Labour speechwriter confessed last month deliberately sought to deceive Parliament, the public, and its own supporters.

There is the ongoing refusal of ministers to treat Parliament with any seriousness, as witnessed by the relentless leaking of government proposals in advance of the Queen’s Speech, a formerly great occasion of state. And, above all, there is the fact that more than 90 percent of all British law is now made by the EU. Compared to this, the expenses scandal is nothing: if the MPs can’t make law for their own constituents, the money they pocket on the side by fiddling second mortgages and buying expensive wallpaper is hardly the most vital national issue. Not all government corruption is financial, and the nonmonetary kinds are by far the most vicious.

But the expenses scandal is an attention grabber nonetheless. It is a very British saga — only in the UK, and a few other countries, would the public be exercised by this kind of corruption. In too many countries, it’s taken for granted that public service is an opportunity for personal enrichment. It goes to show that, though the standards have been traduced, the British public’s view of what is right in political life still stems from the Victorian era. And in my eyes, there is no higher praise than that.

It is of course true that that era was not free from corruption. If you’re a fan of old political scandals, I recommend G.R. Searle’s superb study of “Corruption in British Politics, 1895-1930,” which proves that this century was not the first time the House of Lords has been for sale. But that era nonetheless created standards that, even if they were in part aspirational, are of real value. MPs are not supposed to seek their private good. The British armed forces are not supposed to have their budget cut in the face of the enemy. Brussels is not supposed to make British law. Yet all these things happen openly and repeatedly.

Part of the sour tone of British politics today is obviously the result of the recession. But it is more than that: it is the result of the grating divergence between basic political ideals and obvious political realities in Britain. And given how influential those ideals have been around the world, and the high expectations that people abroad still have of Britain, it is not surprising that Britain has been punished by the Transparency survey.

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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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Sunset for Olmert

Yesterday saw a dramatic turn in Ehud Olmert’s bribery scandal, as Morris Talansky, the New York businessman at the center of the storm, testified before an Israeli court.

There was some good news here for Olmert. The prosecution questioned the witness for seven hours, during which time he insisted he neither asked nor received anything in return for the $150,000 in cash he gave Olmert over a fifteen-year period. This is plausible: There are many American philanthropists who, acting out of a genuine desire to help the Jewish state, regularly support one Israeli politician or another, and Talansky came across to reporters as motivated by ideology rather than business interests. Olmert’s people immediately began claiming that his testimony proves their side of the story.

But the rest of the story is wildly disgraceful for Olmert, and even if he never sees a prison cell, it is hard to imagine Israelis ever voting again for a party that counts him among its leadership. According to Talansky, in addition to the cash he handed Olmert in envelopes whenever they met, Talansky also covered Olmert’s intensely decadent lifestyle, such as flying first-class rather than business, a $30,000 vacation to Italy, or $4,700 for a single night at the Ritz Carlton in Washington. Such expenses may seem unremarkable in certain high-flying American circles, but for an Israeli public servant they are outrageous, an utter humiliation for Olmert.

And then there is the odd matter of an additional $380,000 which was apparently wired from Talansky’s own Israeli-based companies directly to Olmert’s assistant. It is very difficult to prove bribery in cases like these, since very often payment comes well before the favor is returned, and the quid pro quo is by implicit agreement rather than anything traceable in an email. Yet this is one of the main reasons that campaign finance is so heavily guarded, and why giving thousands of dollars in cash to politicians is regarded as highly problematic. Whatever Olmert’s legal case, it really looks like his political career is heading to its end.

This end may come sooner than it takes for the wheels of justice to do their work. Today’s Jerusalem Post tells us that Ehud Barak, head of Olmert’s main coalition partner, the Labor Party, is expected to hand Olmert an ultimatum: You quit, or we’re out. Which means either that Olmert’s own party will have the good sense to sack him, or we are going to elections.

Yesterday saw a dramatic turn in Ehud Olmert’s bribery scandal, as Morris Talansky, the New York businessman at the center of the storm, testified before an Israeli court.

There was some good news here for Olmert. The prosecution questioned the witness for seven hours, during which time he insisted he neither asked nor received anything in return for the $150,000 in cash he gave Olmert over a fifteen-year period. This is plausible: There are many American philanthropists who, acting out of a genuine desire to help the Jewish state, regularly support one Israeli politician or another, and Talansky came across to reporters as motivated by ideology rather than business interests. Olmert’s people immediately began claiming that his testimony proves their side of the story.

But the rest of the story is wildly disgraceful for Olmert, and even if he never sees a prison cell, it is hard to imagine Israelis ever voting again for a party that counts him among its leadership. According to Talansky, in addition to the cash he handed Olmert in envelopes whenever they met, Talansky also covered Olmert’s intensely decadent lifestyle, such as flying first-class rather than business, a $30,000 vacation to Italy, or $4,700 for a single night at the Ritz Carlton in Washington. Such expenses may seem unremarkable in certain high-flying American circles, but for an Israeli public servant they are outrageous, an utter humiliation for Olmert.

And then there is the odd matter of an additional $380,000 which was apparently wired from Talansky’s own Israeli-based companies directly to Olmert’s assistant. It is very difficult to prove bribery in cases like these, since very often payment comes well before the favor is returned, and the quid pro quo is by implicit agreement rather than anything traceable in an email. Yet this is one of the main reasons that campaign finance is so heavily guarded, and why giving thousands of dollars in cash to politicians is regarded as highly problematic. Whatever Olmert’s legal case, it really looks like his political career is heading to its end.

This end may come sooner than it takes for the wheels of justice to do their work. Today’s Jerusalem Post tells us that Ehud Barak, head of Olmert’s main coalition partner, the Labor Party, is expected to hand Olmert an ultimatum: You quit, or we’re out. Which means either that Olmert’s own party will have the good sense to sack him, or we are going to elections.

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Brownout

Things are looking bad for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The man who spent ten years plotting, complaining about and backstabbing his boss Tony Blair has now achieved the lowest approval ratings for a Prime Minister in the history of polling on the subject. 55% of Labour’s own supporters believe that their party will have a better chance of winning the country’s next general election (which will have to be held on or before June 3, 2010) if Brown steps down to make way for a new leader. Brown also trails David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, and even the leader of the third-party Liberal Democrats, in approval ratings.

Brown’s fall from grace has been sweet to witness. For so long he believed that the job of Prime Minister was rightfully his, yanked away by a conniving Tony Blair. Now, it seems that the tactics he used to launch an internal coup against Blair two years ago are coming back to haunt him from all sides. Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, a Conservative MP asked Brown

As you are the only person in the House with experience of unseating a sitting Prime Minister, what is your own estimate as to how long you’ve got?

Even Tony Blair’s opponents in the left wing of the Labor Party respected him for his political cunning and ability to mainstream Labour into a workable political majority. Brown can’t even accomplish that, and has earned the enmity of many within his own ranks for his recent decision to eliminate the 10 percent income tax rate for the country’s lowest-income citizens, a decision that would have forced over 5 million people into a tax bracket of 20 percent, double what they’re used to paying. Brown had to amend the policy change after a backbench revolt among his party.

I was in London a few weeks ago and attended Prime Minister’s Questions, where I witnessed Conservative leader David Cameron lay into Brown, telling the Prime Minister that he was “a loser, not a leader.” This was a stunning rebuke, even by the normally heated standards of British parliamentary debate. Somewhere from the political depths you could hear Tony Blair laughing, not least because he delivered a similar rhetorical sting to then-Prime Minister John Major in 1995: “I lead my party. He follows his.”

Things are looking bad for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The man who spent ten years plotting, complaining about and backstabbing his boss Tony Blair has now achieved the lowest approval ratings for a Prime Minister in the history of polling on the subject. 55% of Labour’s own supporters believe that their party will have a better chance of winning the country’s next general election (which will have to be held on or before June 3, 2010) if Brown steps down to make way for a new leader. Brown also trails David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, and even the leader of the third-party Liberal Democrats, in approval ratings.

Brown’s fall from grace has been sweet to witness. For so long he believed that the job of Prime Minister was rightfully his, yanked away by a conniving Tony Blair. Now, it seems that the tactics he used to launch an internal coup against Blair two years ago are coming back to haunt him from all sides. Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, a Conservative MP asked Brown

As you are the only person in the House with experience of unseating a sitting Prime Minister, what is your own estimate as to how long you’ve got?

Even Tony Blair’s opponents in the left wing of the Labor Party respected him for his political cunning and ability to mainstream Labour into a workable political majority. Brown can’t even accomplish that, and has earned the enmity of many within his own ranks for his recent decision to eliminate the 10 percent income tax rate for the country’s lowest-income citizens, a decision that would have forced over 5 million people into a tax bracket of 20 percent, double what they’re used to paying. Brown had to amend the policy change after a backbench revolt among his party.

I was in London a few weeks ago and attended Prime Minister’s Questions, where I witnessed Conservative leader David Cameron lay into Brown, telling the Prime Minister that he was “a loser, not a leader.” This was a stunning rebuke, even by the normally heated standards of British parliamentary debate. Somewhere from the political depths you could hear Tony Blair laughing, not least because he delivered a similar rhetorical sting to then-Prime Minister John Major in 1995: “I lead my party. He follows his.”

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Israel at 60

Today is Israel’s independence day, and the country has taken two days off from everything–the war, the corruption, the politics–to celebrate six decades of Jewish sovereignty. The unofficial theme this year, I believe, is “warts and all”: Yes, we haven’t yet found a way either to defeat our enemies or make peace with them. Yes, we elected a President who appears to have been a thoroughbred sleazeball, and our Prime Minister is now in the thick of his fifth criminal investigation. But hey, we’re alive, our economy is very strong, our democracy works, and even if we don’t know where we’re going, we’re still standing, and that’s a lot given what’s happening around us.

The unlikely hero of the hour is Shimon Peres. After a career of political opportunism and ideological naivete culminating in the somewhat delusional and not-entirely-uncatastrophic Oslo Accords, Peres has emerged as the elder statesman, the last remaining leader from the founding generation, a dignified President who has served as a much-needed corrective to Moshe Katzav, who is about to be put on trial for rape. Peres has managed to stay out of controversy and represent the nation, both as a Zionist and as a man who understands the weight of his largely-symbolic post. His speech to the nation on Remembrance Day Tuesday night, honoring the fallen soldiers of Israel’s wars, was not merely uniting, it was deeply moving.

No-one could be further from Peres than Ehud Olmert. For a week his political life has been put entirely on hold, as a sudden and intense new criminal investigation has opened up, so serious that the police have slapped a far-reaching gag order on the whole thing. You won’t find details in the Israeli press, though the New York Post broke it open on Tuesday, with the New York Times following yesterday. If the rumors are true, then there is a good chance he’s finished as Prime Minister. Either a new coalition will emerge with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni taking Olmert’s place, or we will head to elections. The choice will be mostly in the hands of Labor party leader Ehud Barak. My bet is that he takes his chances on elections. I can hear Netanyahu’s engines revving.

Today is Israel’s independence day, and the country has taken two days off from everything–the war, the corruption, the politics–to celebrate six decades of Jewish sovereignty. The unofficial theme this year, I believe, is “warts and all”: Yes, we haven’t yet found a way either to defeat our enemies or make peace with them. Yes, we elected a President who appears to have been a thoroughbred sleazeball, and our Prime Minister is now in the thick of his fifth criminal investigation. But hey, we’re alive, our economy is very strong, our democracy works, and even if we don’t know where we’re going, we’re still standing, and that’s a lot given what’s happening around us.

The unlikely hero of the hour is Shimon Peres. After a career of political opportunism and ideological naivete culminating in the somewhat delusional and not-entirely-uncatastrophic Oslo Accords, Peres has emerged as the elder statesman, the last remaining leader from the founding generation, a dignified President who has served as a much-needed corrective to Moshe Katzav, who is about to be put on trial for rape. Peres has managed to stay out of controversy and represent the nation, both as a Zionist and as a man who understands the weight of his largely-symbolic post. His speech to the nation on Remembrance Day Tuesday night, honoring the fallen soldiers of Israel’s wars, was not merely uniting, it was deeply moving.

No-one could be further from Peres than Ehud Olmert. For a week his political life has been put entirely on hold, as a sudden and intense new criminal investigation has opened up, so serious that the police have slapped a far-reaching gag order on the whole thing. You won’t find details in the Israeli press, though the New York Post broke it open on Tuesday, with the New York Times following yesterday. If the rumors are true, then there is a good chance he’s finished as Prime Minister. Either a new coalition will emerge with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni taking Olmert’s place, or we will head to elections. The choice will be mostly in the hands of Labor party leader Ehud Barak. My bet is that he takes his chances on elections. I can hear Netanyahu’s engines revving.

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Olmert’s Mystery Scandal

Because of a massive gag order, the Israeli press is not allowed to tell us any details about Ehud Olmert’s newest criminal investigation. But it looks big. We do know that he was interrogated by the police’s National Fraud Unit on Friday morning, and that he will be further interrogated in the coming weeks. We know that a high-ranking police source told the Jerusalem Post that it is worse than previous investigations, so “severe” that he will likely have to quit. We know that officials in the Labor party, his senior coalition partner, are calling for him to step down. And we know that Olmert has cancelled his whole series of press interviews for this week’s Independence Day, and has spoken out against the “wicked and malicious” rumors that have been spread. (Sorry about sparse links. The best web sources right now are in Hebrew, especially NRG’s website.)

Undoubtedly we’ll find out more in a few days, when the order is lifted. In the meantime, we’ll start thinking about elections. Again.

Because of a massive gag order, the Israeli press is not allowed to tell us any details about Ehud Olmert’s newest criminal investigation. But it looks big. We do know that he was interrogated by the police’s National Fraud Unit on Friday morning, and that he will be further interrogated in the coming weeks. We know that a high-ranking police source told the Jerusalem Post that it is worse than previous investigations, so “severe” that he will likely have to quit. We know that officials in the Labor party, his senior coalition partner, are calling for him to step down. And we know that Olmert has cancelled his whole series of press interviews for this week’s Independence Day, and has spoken out against the “wicked and malicious” rumors that have been spread. (Sorry about sparse links. The best web sources right now are in Hebrew, especially NRG’s website.)

Undoubtedly we’ll find out more in a few days, when the order is lifted. In the meantime, we’ll start thinking about elections. Again.

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Palestine, Jordan, and the Hijacking of History

Thirty years ago this month, the journalist Sidney Zion wrote an article for New York magazine titled “The Palestine Problem: It’s All in A Name,” which he would update in 2003 for The Jewish Press. Zion essentially supported the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of the Kingdom of Jordan, while upending the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of a Palestinian people.

Not that the latter was necessarily an exclusively right-wing conceit — Labor party icon Golda Meir, for example, insisted publicly on more than one occasion that “There are no Palestinians, there are only Jordanians.”

“Of course,” wrote Zion, “she was wrong. In fact, there are no Jordanians, only Palestinians.”

Zion’s contention was that by pushing the idea that there was no such thing as a Palestinian Arab and acquiescing in the myth that Jordan is “an immutable entity, as distinct from Palestine as are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq,” Israeli leaders had helped obscure the empirical truths that Jordan was the artificial nation and “Jordanian” the artificial nationality. And their doing so lent important credence to the misperception, by now almost universally accepted, that Israel sits on the entirety of what was once Palestine.

The reality, Zion noted, was that “what began in 1920 as a mandate to turn Palestine into a Jewish homeland turned into a reverse Balfour Declaration, creating an Arab nation in four-fifths of Palestine and leaving the Jews to fight for statehood against the Arabs on the West Bank.”

Writing about Jordan in a 1981 New York Times op-ed column, Zion encapsulated in one paragraph the real history of Jordan and the repercussions of that history having disappeared down the memory hole:

I know people who think it’s two thousand years old. But Jordan was only the name of a river until 1922, when Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, turned its East Bank into the Emirate of Transjordan – created an emirate out of the British Mandate territory of Palestine. Transjordan was 80 percent of the land mass of Palestine. Transjordan is Palestine. In 1946, by British fiat, [then-King] Hussein’s grandfather, Abdullah, became King of Transjordan. In 1948, Abdullah changed the name of his country to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Presto! The Ancient Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. So what? So everything. What was in every respect Palestine became a refugee camp for Palestinian Arabs, a host country for those “driven out” by the Jews. And so it is viewed today. The Hussein family, brought out of Arabia by Churchill, are the only true non-Palestinians living in Jordan today. Yet the world sees Palestine as wherever the Jews live.

Would history have turned out differently had Israel and its supporters, loudly and consistently, focused on the fact that the real “theft of Palestine” had been pulled off by the British for the sake of an Arab client and that almost without exception “Jordanians” are in fact Palestinians?

In his 1978 New York article, Zion felt that it indeed would make at least some difference “if the world were to understand that Israel now occupies only 20 percent of Palestine” and that “if it becomes clear that the Arab refugees and their children who crossed over to Jordan in 1948 did not enter a ‘host country’ but rather the Arab part of their own country . . . ”

Zion may have had some basis for hope 30 years ago, when Israel was but three decades old and not quite yet the international outcast it has since become. But now that Israel is twice as old as it was in 1978 and the world – including an appreciable number of Jews – has largely come to view the Arab-Israeli conflict through the prism of Israel’s enemies, such conjecture seems like nothing more than a sad joke.

It’s a story of missed opportunities, and of how a people lauded for their smarts permitted their history and patrimony to be hijacked while barely putting up a fight.

Thirty years ago this month, the journalist Sidney Zion wrote an article for New York magazine titled “The Palestine Problem: It’s All in A Name,” which he would update in 2003 for The Jewish Press. Zion essentially supported the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of the Kingdom of Jordan, while upending the right-wing Zionist argument against the historicity of a Palestinian people.

Not that the latter was necessarily an exclusively right-wing conceit — Labor party icon Golda Meir, for example, insisted publicly on more than one occasion that “There are no Palestinians, there are only Jordanians.”

“Of course,” wrote Zion, “she was wrong. In fact, there are no Jordanians, only Palestinians.”

Zion’s contention was that by pushing the idea that there was no such thing as a Palestinian Arab and acquiescing in the myth that Jordan is “an immutable entity, as distinct from Palestine as are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq,” Israeli leaders had helped obscure the empirical truths that Jordan was the artificial nation and “Jordanian” the artificial nationality. And their doing so lent important credence to the misperception, by now almost universally accepted, that Israel sits on the entirety of what was once Palestine.

The reality, Zion noted, was that “what began in 1920 as a mandate to turn Palestine into a Jewish homeland turned into a reverse Balfour Declaration, creating an Arab nation in four-fifths of Palestine and leaving the Jews to fight for statehood against the Arabs on the West Bank.”

Writing about Jordan in a 1981 New York Times op-ed column, Zion encapsulated in one paragraph the real history of Jordan and the repercussions of that history having disappeared down the memory hole:

I know people who think it’s two thousand years old. But Jordan was only the name of a river until 1922, when Winston Churchill, then colonial secretary, turned its East Bank into the Emirate of Transjordan – created an emirate out of the British Mandate territory of Palestine. Transjordan was 80 percent of the land mass of Palestine. Transjordan is Palestine. In 1946, by British fiat, [then-King] Hussein’s grandfather, Abdullah, became King of Transjordan. In 1948, Abdullah changed the name of his country to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Presto! The Ancient Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. So what? So everything. What was in every respect Palestine became a refugee camp for Palestinian Arabs, a host country for those “driven out” by the Jews. And so it is viewed today. The Hussein family, brought out of Arabia by Churchill, are the only true non-Palestinians living in Jordan today. Yet the world sees Palestine as wherever the Jews live.

Would history have turned out differently had Israel and its supporters, loudly and consistently, focused on the fact that the real “theft of Palestine” had been pulled off by the British for the sake of an Arab client and that almost without exception “Jordanians” are in fact Palestinians?

In his 1978 New York article, Zion felt that it indeed would make at least some difference “if the world were to understand that Israel now occupies only 20 percent of Palestine” and that “if it becomes clear that the Arab refugees and their children who crossed over to Jordan in 1948 did not enter a ‘host country’ but rather the Arab part of their own country . . . ”

Zion may have had some basis for hope 30 years ago, when Israel was but three decades old and not quite yet the international outcast it has since become. But now that Israel is twice as old as it was in 1978 and the world – including an appreciable number of Jews – has largely come to view the Arab-Israeli conflict through the prism of Israel’s enemies, such conjecture seems like nothing more than a sad joke.

It’s a story of missed opportunities, and of how a people lauded for their smarts permitted their history and patrimony to be hijacked while barely putting up a fight.

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Israel to Elections?

So, against my predictions, the Winograd Commission report came and went, and Ehud Olmert’s government weathered the storm, right? Not so fast. It is true that, to everyone’s astonishment, the report essentially gave Olmert a much-needed bye, and his biggest coalition partner, Ehud Barak of the Labor party, announced he is not resigning for now. But last week Israel was awash in scandal, when a member of the esteemed commission, Yehezkel Dror, implied in an interview that the commission’s findings were skewed towards protecting Olmert’s government for political reasons. As he put it, “If we believe that the prime minister could promote the peace process, this is quite a lofty consideration. If the peace process succeeds, this could save so many lives, and therefore this is a substantial consideration.” If the message were not clear enough, Dror added the following: “What would you prefer? A government under Olmert and Barak, or new elections that would see Bibi [Netanyahu] rise to power?” Subtle.

But the most important news comes from a third party in the coalition, Shas, which holds twelve seats and can bring down the government on its own. Thursday, the head of the party, Eli Yishai, told his supporters that “I don’t know how long this government will last. I estimate that soon we will have elections.” According to radio reports, Yishai also instructed his party’s local branches to begin preparations for elections this coming November — a year and a half earlier than scheduled. Ehud Barak has also hinted that he is leaning towards early elections.

There are good reasons to think that this is not just posturing. True, historically speaking Shas is one of the least likely parties to bring down a government — its main goal in life is to secure maximum government funding for its religious schools, and being in opposition is not very good for that. But today Olmert’s government is deeply unpopular, reeking of both corruption and incompetence. In such a case, parties that cling to the government do so at their peril: As soon as one party seriously considers bolting under popular pressure, the other stands to be left clinging to a sinking ship — and voters will punish those who didn’t leave when they had the chance. The result is that contrary to ordinary politics, where parties hold on to power as long as they can, prophecies of a falling government are often self-fulfilling, as each party jockeys for the best advantage in the next election. Stay tuned.

So, against my predictions, the Winograd Commission report came and went, and Ehud Olmert’s government weathered the storm, right? Not so fast. It is true that, to everyone’s astonishment, the report essentially gave Olmert a much-needed bye, and his biggest coalition partner, Ehud Barak of the Labor party, announced he is not resigning for now. But last week Israel was awash in scandal, when a member of the esteemed commission, Yehezkel Dror, implied in an interview that the commission’s findings were skewed towards protecting Olmert’s government for political reasons. As he put it, “If we believe that the prime minister could promote the peace process, this is quite a lofty consideration. If the peace process succeeds, this could save so many lives, and therefore this is a substantial consideration.” If the message were not clear enough, Dror added the following: “What would you prefer? A government under Olmert and Barak, or new elections that would see Bibi [Netanyahu] rise to power?” Subtle.

But the most important news comes from a third party in the coalition, Shas, which holds twelve seats and can bring down the government on its own. Thursday, the head of the party, Eli Yishai, told his supporters that “I don’t know how long this government will last. I estimate that soon we will have elections.” According to radio reports, Yishai also instructed his party’s local branches to begin preparations for elections this coming November — a year and a half earlier than scheduled. Ehud Barak has also hinted that he is leaning towards early elections.

There are good reasons to think that this is not just posturing. True, historically speaking Shas is one of the least likely parties to bring down a government — its main goal in life is to secure maximum government funding for its religious schools, and being in opposition is not very good for that. But today Olmert’s government is deeply unpopular, reeking of both corruption and incompetence. In such a case, parties that cling to the government do so at their peril: As soon as one party seriously considers bolting under popular pressure, the other stands to be left clinging to a sinking ship — and voters will punish those who didn’t leave when they had the chance. The result is that contrary to ordinary politics, where parties hold on to power as long as they can, prophecies of a falling government are often self-fulfilling, as each party jockeys for the best advantage in the next election. Stay tuned.

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The Ruddslide

The Labor Party swept to power in today’s election in Australia, ending eleven years of rule by the center-right coalition led by the Liberals. The result is being called “a Ruddslide.” Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat, will be the nation’s next leader.

The losers in the election were the long-serving John Howard—and George W. Bush. No other national leader—not even Tony Blair—was a stauncher supporter of the American President than the now-defeated Australian prime minister. The two shared a conservative outlook on almost every matter of importance.

“Today Australia has looked to the future,” Rudd said as he claimed victory. So what does his version of the future hold for the United States? Howard famously accepted the job of America’s “deputy sheriff” in the Asia-Pacific region. Canberra under Rudd will move away from Washington. The Labor Party, for instance, will sign the Kyoto Protocol, abandoning President Bush on climate change. More important, Rudd will withdraw Australia’s 550 combat troops from Iraq (although he will keep about a thousand Australians in supporting positions in that troubled country).

Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker and Sinophile, will also move his nation closer to China, which has been fueling Australia’s economic boom by purchasing iron ore and coal in large quantities. The United States already has its problems in Asia, some of them self-inflicted but most caused by the Chinese. The Australian election was not a referendum on the United States, but the ignominious removal of Howard from the scene—it appears that he will be the first sitting prime minister to lose his seat in Parliament since 1929—does mean that Washington can no longer count on an important voice in this critical part of the world.

The Labor Party swept to power in today’s election in Australia, ending eleven years of rule by the center-right coalition led by the Liberals. The result is being called “a Ruddslide.” Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat, will be the nation’s next leader.

The losers in the election were the long-serving John Howard—and George W. Bush. No other national leader—not even Tony Blair—was a stauncher supporter of the American President than the now-defeated Australian prime minister. The two shared a conservative outlook on almost every matter of importance.

“Today Australia has looked to the future,” Rudd said as he claimed victory. So what does his version of the future hold for the United States? Howard famously accepted the job of America’s “deputy sheriff” in the Asia-Pacific region. Canberra under Rudd will move away from Washington. The Labor Party, for instance, will sign the Kyoto Protocol, abandoning President Bush on climate change. More important, Rudd will withdraw Australia’s 550 combat troops from Iraq (although he will keep about a thousand Australians in supporting positions in that troubled country).

Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker and Sinophile, will also move his nation closer to China, which has been fueling Australia’s economic boom by purchasing iron ore and coal in large quantities. The United States already has its problems in Asia, some of them self-inflicted but most caused by the Chinese. The Australian election was not a referendum on the United States, but the ignominious removal of Howard from the scene—it appears that he will be the first sitting prime minister to lose his seat in Parliament since 1929—does mean that Washington can no longer count on an important voice in this critical part of the world.

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Barak’s Back

After six years out of public life, Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister from 1999-2001, re-emerged as Minister of Defense a little over three months ago—and rarely has someone effected such a dramatic improvement, in such a short period of time, of Israel’s standing in the region. When Barak was elected Labor Party leader in June and obtained the defense portfolio, Israel was in the midst of several crises. Some of these had been exacerbated by Israeli mishandling, but all of them demanded far more in the way of self-assured and competent leadership than what the Olmert administration (and especially Barak’s feckless predecessor at Defense, Amir Peretz) were able to offer: the 2006 Lebanon War had gone badly and emboldened Syria and Iran; the Winograd Commission report had exposed a great deal of genuinely astonishing incompetence in the Israeli political and military echelon; Hamas had just taken Gaza; tensions along the border with Syria were escalating; and perhaps worst of all, there existed inside of Israel a debilitating lack of confidence in the government’s ability to handle the impending challenges.

The mood in Israel today is hardly one of wild optimism, especially regarding Iran, but Barak’s leadership has already demonstrated both to the Israeli public and to antagonistic regimes that the IDF intends to correct its blunders. According to many reports, Barak’s first priority upon returning to the government was planning Israel’s recent strike on Syria, a sophisticated and daring mission that appears to have been a perfect success on many levels—not least of which is a demonstration to Syria and Iran that the Israeli air force can easily defeat their new Russian air defense systems, and is not afraid of trying. Barak has warned Hamas that it faces a large-scale ground operation in Gaza in response to continued rocket fire, and has declared the implementation of comprehensive missile defense to be a central precondition of any IDF withdrawal from the West Bank. Read More

After six years out of public life, Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister from 1999-2001, re-emerged as Minister of Defense a little over three months ago—and rarely has someone effected such a dramatic improvement, in such a short period of time, of Israel’s standing in the region. When Barak was elected Labor Party leader in June and obtained the defense portfolio, Israel was in the midst of several crises. Some of these had been exacerbated by Israeli mishandling, but all of them demanded far more in the way of self-assured and competent leadership than what the Olmert administration (and especially Barak’s feckless predecessor at Defense, Amir Peretz) were able to offer: the 2006 Lebanon War had gone badly and emboldened Syria and Iran; the Winograd Commission report had exposed a great deal of genuinely astonishing incompetence in the Israeli political and military echelon; Hamas had just taken Gaza; tensions along the border with Syria were escalating; and perhaps worst of all, there existed inside of Israel a debilitating lack of confidence in the government’s ability to handle the impending challenges.

The mood in Israel today is hardly one of wild optimism, especially regarding Iran, but Barak’s leadership has already demonstrated both to the Israeli public and to antagonistic regimes that the IDF intends to correct its blunders. According to many reports, Barak’s first priority upon returning to the government was planning Israel’s recent strike on Syria, a sophisticated and daring mission that appears to have been a perfect success on many levels—not least of which is a demonstration to Syria and Iran that the Israeli air force can easily defeat their new Russian air defense systems, and is not afraid of trying. Barak has warned Hamas that it faces a large-scale ground operation in Gaza in response to continued rocket fire, and has declared the implementation of comprehensive missile defense to be a central precondition of any IDF withdrawal from the West Bank.

Meanwhile, the IDF has stepped up the intensity of its training, especially in reserve units and among ground forces, and has begun pouring resources into developing a multi-tiered missile defense system that will be capable of defeating every type of enemy rocket. The IDF is also developing sophisticated countermeasures for installation on its Merkava tanks to defend against the kind of advanced anti-tank missiles that proved so deadly in southern Lebanon last summer. And Barak has pursued all of these operations and goals with an uncharacteristic sense of quiet determination, bluntly warning the Israeli public in one of his few public appearances against being “deceived by the illusion of a bogus calm.”

Barak has even attempted to rescue Gilad Shalit from captivity in Gaza, with a recent mission in which the Hamas chief who was in charge of the Gaza territory from which terrorists tunneled into Israel to abduct Shalit was himself abducted by IDF special operators, apparently dressed as members of Hamas’s Executive Force. The reemergence of Ehud Barak is emblematic of one of Israel’s greatest strengths: its ability to evaluate failure, assign blame, and quickly take corrective action. During the past three months, Israel has significantly renewed the deterrence and credibility of its armed forces. And Israel’s enemies surely have noticed.

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Arrest Mugabe

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has set African leaders astir with his ultimatum concerning an upcoming European Union/African Union conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Brown has laid down a simple condition for his attendance at the December conference: that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe not attend. “We should not sit down at the same table as President Mugabe,” Brown told the Labour Party conference last week. He elaborated

We will play our part also in helping all those people who want to work together to make sure there is social and economic justice, and then political justice, also for the Zimbabwean people. We are ready to play our part in the reconstruction and in the building of a democracy…. There must be democracy restored to Zimbabwe.

Many of Tony Blair’s friends in America were unsure of his successor’s commitment to global freedom, but Brown’s principled and uncompromising stand on the Mugabe tyranny should assuage most, if not all, of those doubts.

African leaders, who have done nothing of substance to assist Mugabe’s exit from power (and have actually aided him whenever the democratic opposition to his rule came close to weakening his regime) are angry at Mr. Brown’s provocation. It is expected that if the EU follows the British Prime Minister’s suggestion and retracts Mugabe’s invitation, the entire summit will collapse due to African states’ boycotting the event. European diplomats, unwilling to take any step that would cause offense or discomfort to dictators, are already busying themselves condemning Mr. Brown to the media.

I have a compromise solution to this seemingly intractable quandary. Brown should at once rescind his opposition to Mugabe’s attendance at the Lisbon summit, and instead express his giddy anticipation at greeting the Zimbabwean president in Portugual come December. The EU should officially waive the travel ban it placed on Mugabe in 2002 and ceremoniously grant him a visa. When Mugabe steps off his plane (AirZimbabwe’s only international jet, which Mugabe regularly commandeers on a whim, throwing the national carrier’s schedule into chaos), he will be greeted by a Hague-appointed prosecutor serving him an indictment for crimes against humanity. The Portuguese police will then take him promptly into custody. I hope this is an idea Brown is already contemplating.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has set African leaders astir with his ultimatum concerning an upcoming European Union/African Union conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Brown has laid down a simple condition for his attendance at the December conference: that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe not attend. “We should not sit down at the same table as President Mugabe,” Brown told the Labour Party conference last week. He elaborated

We will play our part also in helping all those people who want to work together to make sure there is social and economic justice, and then political justice, also for the Zimbabwean people. We are ready to play our part in the reconstruction and in the building of a democracy…. There must be democracy restored to Zimbabwe.

Many of Tony Blair’s friends in America were unsure of his successor’s commitment to global freedom, but Brown’s principled and uncompromising stand on the Mugabe tyranny should assuage most, if not all, of those doubts.

African leaders, who have done nothing of substance to assist Mugabe’s exit from power (and have actually aided him whenever the democratic opposition to his rule came close to weakening his regime) are angry at Mr. Brown’s provocation. It is expected that if the EU follows the British Prime Minister’s suggestion and retracts Mugabe’s invitation, the entire summit will collapse due to African states’ boycotting the event. European diplomats, unwilling to take any step that would cause offense or discomfort to dictators, are already busying themselves condemning Mr. Brown to the media.

I have a compromise solution to this seemingly intractable quandary. Brown should at once rescind his opposition to Mugabe’s attendance at the Lisbon summit, and instead express his giddy anticipation at greeting the Zimbabwean president in Portugual come December. The EU should officially waive the travel ban it placed on Mugabe in 2002 and ceremoniously grant him a visa. When Mugabe steps off his plane (AirZimbabwe’s only international jet, which Mugabe regularly commandeers on a whim, throwing the national carrier’s schedule into chaos), he will be greeted by a Hague-appointed prosecutor serving him an indictment for crimes against humanity. The Portuguese police will then take him promptly into custody. I hope this is an idea Brown is already contemplating.

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