Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian Elections Postponed, Obviously

As a rule, Palestinians don’t tend to do democracy. The last time there was a proper parliamentary election was in 2006. That one had been essentially foisted upon them by the United States, but Hamas topped the polls and most people have regretted it ever since. There should have been another in 2009, but it was simply never held and few seemed greatly troubled by this fact.

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As a rule, Palestinians don’t tend to do democracy. The last time there was a proper parliamentary election was in 2006. That one had been essentially foisted upon them by the United States, but Hamas topped the polls and most people have regretted it ever since. There should have been another in 2009, but it was simply never held and few seemed greatly troubled by this fact.

Similarly, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has managed to spin his four-year term into almost a decade as the head of the Palestinian Authority. When Abbas sabotaged the peace negotiations with Israel in May and instead signed a unity deal with the terrorists of Hamas, it was announced that Palestinian elections would be held within six months. European governments applauded. They welcomed the Palestinian return to democracy. But now, quite predictably, we hear that elections have been “postponed” once again.

This time the reason given is the aftermath of Hamas’s war with Israel. The PA prime minister Rami Hamdallah has claimed that rebuilding in Gaza is more of a priority than elections right now and that the war has made voting unpractical. This of course is nonsense. If elections could be held in the most war-torn parts of Iraq and Afghanistan then there is no material reason why they couldn’t be held in Gaza and in the West Bank.

A far more practical reason for why free and fair elections can’t be held in Gaza right now has nothing to do with the fact that parts of it are in ruins, and far more to do with the fact that it is run by Hamas. Of course the terror group’s left-wing apologists never tire of telling anyone who will listen that Hamas are the democratically elected government of Gaza. The fact that once Hamas took power they then promptly executed large numbers of their political opponents never seems to register with these people. And just like Abbas in the West Bank, Hamas has failed to ever hold any elections since.

Indeed, Abbas’s own record is little better than that of Hamas’s. At one point reports of how Hamas supporters in the West Bank were being imprisoned and tortured were common. Gradually, however, Fatah’s power in much of the West Bank has weakened. More recently in cities such as Nablus, Hebron, and Jenin PA security forces have seemingly abandoned their efforts to suppress Islamist groups such as Hamas and others.

This is the real reason that it was always impossible to imagine the Palestinian Authority giving the green light for another election. Back in 2006 Abbas’s Fatah had been assured that they would win. They are not about to make the same mistake again. Indeed, in the wake of Hamas’s recent war with Israel, the Islamists are boasting the kind of approval rating that Abbas could only dream of. Recent polling has shown that even In the West Bank, some 66 percent of Palestinians would vote for Hamas if elections were held today.

And so elections won’t be held today, or any time soon for that matter. Supposedly they are being put off until sometime next year. Of course, by then there will be a new reason not to hold elections. But the important thing for Abbas is that he is maintaining the veneer of democracy. It’s an act that only fools those who wish to be fooled by it. But for those in the Obama administration and the European Union who insist that Abbas is legitimate and that Israel and the world must treat him as such, these pretentions toward democracy are very convenient. In reality, however, Abbas is a despot.

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Abbas’s Rigged Peace Plan

Over the weekend Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo at the Arab League conference. Precisely what Abbas said to the foreign ministers of the other Arab countries remains unclear, as his keynote address was declared a closed session at the last minute. However, during his stay in Cairo Abbas was meeting with Egyptian President Sisi and others in an effort to drum up regional support for his new peace initiative. Indeed, the head of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, has hailed Abbas as being ready to negotiate a final settlement.

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Over the weekend Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo at the Arab League conference. Precisely what Abbas said to the foreign ministers of the other Arab countries remains unclear, as his keynote address was declared a closed session at the last minute. However, during his stay in Cairo Abbas was meeting with Egyptian President Sisi and others in an effort to drum up regional support for his new peace initiative. Indeed, the head of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, has hailed Abbas as being ready to negotiate a final settlement.

Washington is noticeably less confident. After Abbas dispatched his chief negotiators to meet with Secretary Kerry, U.S. officials have criticized the plan as “unilateral” and even hinted that there would be an American veto should Abbas seek to pursue his plan at the United Nations and in the Security Council.

This chilly response from the administration, usually so impetuous about racing ahead with the peace process, should certainly send some alarm bells ringing. After all, given that Abbas all but shut down the last round of peace negotiations, finally fleeing them just at the moment at which a decision had to be made about their extension, one has to wonder why he is suddenly so eager to resume the talks. And why now exactly? Having apparently been only too pleased to escape the negotiation table, why is Abbas suddenly so determined to be seen as reengaging?

After all, Abbas had every opportunity to continue with the U.S. sponsored negotiations that the Palestinian Authority had been participating in until May of this year. Yet Abbas had refused to extend the talks unless his extensive list of demands were met in advance, insisting that the Palestinians would instead pursue membership of several key international bodies. The Israelis had agreed to a dramatic increase in the number of Palestinian terror prisoners that they would release provided that Abbas agreed to press on with negotiations and stay away from the international bodies. Abbas chose to forgo both the additional prisoner releases and an extension of the talks. Now he insists he is ready to get back to talking peace with Israel.

One reason for Abbas’s sudden turnaround stems from his own Fatah faction’s standing in the wake of the recent war in Gaza. It might be assumed that after the death and destruction that Hamas’s war wrought on the people of Gaza, that terror group would have fallen permanently out of favor. Yet perversely the bloodletting has apparently only endeared Hamas to the Palestinian public. Recent polling shows that in both Gaza and the West Bank Hamas enjoys unprecedented levels of approval, with 74 percent expressing a desire to see Hamas’s terror tactics extended to the West Bank. Unlike Fatah, Hamas is seen as engaging in real “resistance.” And because both the Obama administration and the Europeans put such considerable pressure on Israel to reward Hamas’s terror war by granting far-reaching concessions, the message was received loud and clear on the Palestinian street: terrorism gets things done.

Abbas is desperate to be seen to be regaining the initiative. Yet given his past record, it would be mistaken to imagine that he has suddenly become serious about ending the conflict with Israel. Abbas has had multiple opportunities to achieve Palestinian statehood but has shirked the responsibility every time, knowing full well that an Israeli withdrawal would mean his inevitable overthrow by Hamas. Rather, as becomes apparent when one looks more closely at what is being put forward by Abbas, the focus is less on achieving peace and more on establishing a series of penalties against Israel for when the talks fail to bear fruit, as Abbas knows will be the case. This isn’t about reconciliation, this is about demonstrating to the Palestinian public that diplomacy is still an effective way of waging warfare by other means.

From what we know about the plan–from Abbas’s own words to Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog and from what has been leaked by former PA minister Mahmoud al-Habash–the plan is booby-trapped against Israel at every turn. The plan allows for negotiations to take place for a maximum of nine months, with that period being broken down into a timetable for reaching agreement on the key issues of Abbas’s choosing, with borders clearly featuring as his highest priority. If at any point this process doesn’t go according to plan and Abbas’s timetable isn’t kept to then Abbas is threatening to drag Israel before the International Criminal Court, to end cooperation on security in the West Bank and to resume efforts to achieve statehood via the UN.

There were many reasons to suspect that the last round of U.S. sponsored negotiations were unfavorable to the Israeli position, but even that playing field wasn’t uneven enough for Abbas. The only negotiations Abbas is interested in are ones that are fixed in his favor–fixed to ensure he gets what he wants, and more importantly, fixed to punish Israel if he doesn’t. For the moment even John Kerry appears nervous about backing so outrageous a proposal as this one. But with Abbas expected to announce his initiative later this month at the UN General Assembly meeting, we’ll see if the administration’s opposition holds out.

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Egypt, Abbas, Refugees, and Peace

When the Egyptian government reached out to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas recently, one surprising and one predictable thing happened. The tale of this offer and its rejection tells us all we need to know about Palestinian politics and the changing political landscape of the Middle East.

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When the Egyptian government reached out to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas recently, one surprising and one predictable thing happened. The tale of this offer and its rejection tells us all we need to know about Palestinian politics and the changing political landscape of the Middle East.

The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported today that in a speech given to members of his Fatah Party on Sunday, Abbas said that the Egyptian government had made a startling offer to the PA. The Egyptians told Abbas that they were willing to cede a 618-square mile area of the Sinai adjacent to Gaza for resettlement of the Palestinian refugees, an idea first floated by former Israeli National Security Adviser Giora Eiland.

“They [the Egyptians] are prepared to receive all the refugees, [saying] ‘let’s end the refugee story’,” Abbas was quoted by Ma’an news agency as saying.

The Palestinian leader noted that the idea was first proposed to the Egyptian government in 1956, but was furiously rejected by Palestinian leaders such as PLO militant Muhammad Youssef Al-Najjar and poet Muin Bseiso who “understood the danger of this.”

“Now this is being proposed once again. A senior leader in Egypt said: ‘a refuge must be found for the Palestinians and we have all this open land.’ This was said to me personally. But it’s illogical for the problem to be solved at Egypt’s expense. We won’t have it,” Abbas said.

The remarkable thing about this is the decision of the Sisi government to embrace such a practical solution to the long, sad tale of the 1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Like the rest of the Arab world, the Egyptians were never interested in resettling the refugees anywhere, let alone on a huge swath of the Sinai next door to Gaza. Not even during the 19 years during which Egypt illegally occupied Gaza and Jordan illegally occupied the West Bank and part of Jerusalem did either nation seek to ameliorate the suffering of the refugees by offering them the full rights of citizenship or a home anywhere but in the State of Israel. The same applies to every other Arab and Muslim country. All stuck by the demand of a “right of return” aimed at destroying the newborn Jewish state which was at that time absorbing an equal number of Jewish refugees that had fled or been thrown out of their homes in the Arab and Muslim world. Israel’s enemies purposely kept the Palestinian refugees in order to use them as props in their never-ending war on Israel.

Egypt’s offer was, of course, not merely aimed at finally doing the right thing by the refugees. The Hamas stronghold in Gaza is a threat to the Egyptian military government in Cairo because of its alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. They also recognize how toxic the situation in Gaza—where hundreds of thousands of the descendants of the refugees live—and the need to get these people out of a bad situation that is only made worse by their exploitation by the Hamas terrorist government of the strip.

Resettling the refugees could be the first step in neutralizing Hamas as well as in reforming the political culture of the Palestinians to the point where it might be possible for them to start thinking about making peace instead of sticking to demands for a return to Israel. That is something that could only happen after the demands in Hamas’s charter are fulfilled: the destruction of the Jewish state and the deportation/genocide of its Jewish population.

But in making this proposal, Egypt, which was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, wasn’t just seeking to deal with the threat from Hamas and its jihadist allies to the Sisi regime. It was making clear that the new unofficial alliance between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan and Israel isn’t mere talk. These Arab countries haven’t suddenly fallen in love with Zionism. The Jewish state is very unpopular even in Jordan, which has a peace treaty with it and also signed an agreement to import Israeli natural gas this week. But all these moderate Arab governments understand that the real threat to their future comes not from Israel but from Iran and its Islamist allies in the Middle East, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is nominally in the same boat as these governments since he knows that Hamas’s goal is to topple him in the West Bank just as they did in Gaza in 2007. He also has an interest in defusing the Gaza tinderbox and offering some alternative to the “right of return” to a refugee population whose adamant opposition to peace with Israel is one of the primary reasons why the PA has rejected offers of statehood and peace with Israel over the last 15 years.

If Abbas is serious about peace with Israel, as his apologists in the West and in Israel insist he is, this is an offer that he should have jumped at. But he didn’t, and from the sound of it, it was not even a close call. Why?

Let’s first dismiss the idea that the offer was refused out of solicitude for Egypt as Abbas said. As Egyptians always used to say back in the decades when they were fighting wars against Israel, the Palestinians were always willing to fight Israel to the last Egyptian.

Rather, the refusal reflects Abbas’s recognition that although Hamas has followed in the path of his old boss Yasir Arafat and led the Palestinian people to more death and destruction with no hope in sight, it is the Islamists who seem to represent the wishes of the Palestinian people, not the so-called moderates that he leads. Any acceptance of any refugee solution that does not involve “return” to what is now Israel is the political third rail of Palestinian politics. Indeed, the refugees themselves are adamant about their rejection of any solution short of “victory” over Israel.

That is why Abbas, though supposedly in favor of a two-state solution, has rejected it every time the Israelis have offered the PA independence over almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and even a share of Jerusalem. As much as we are told that in the aftermath of the latest war in Gaza that the time of the moderates is upon us, Palestinian opinion polls indicate that they are still backing Hamas. That means they won’t make peace with Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. So long as the refugees remain homeless, when Palestinians speak of Israeli occupation, they are clearly referring to pre-1967 Israel, not the West Bank.

Egypt’s offer to the PA is a healthy sign that many in the Arab world are rising above their hatred for Israel and ready to make peace, if not for the sake of the Jews then to help them combat the Islamist terror threat. That is a remarkable thing that should be celebrated. The Palestinian refusal is, however, a very unremarkable confirmation of the fact that they remain unready and unwilling to make peace.

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Abbas’s Fake Ultimatum to Israel

Mahmoud Abbas has come up with what seems like a foolproof plan to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the West Bank and allowing the creation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority leader is reportedly planning to give an ultimatum to the Israelis demanding they agree to the borders of such a state and threatening to withdraw security cooperation and go to the United Nations for redress if they don’t. It sounds smart but, like virtually every other initiative undertaken by the PA, it’s entirely fake, and his threats are, for the most part, a transparent bluff.

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Mahmoud Abbas has come up with what seems like a foolproof plan to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the West Bank and allowing the creation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority leader is reportedly planning to give an ultimatum to the Israelis demanding they agree to the borders of such a state and threatening to withdraw security cooperation and go to the United Nations for redress if they don’t. It sounds smart but, like virtually every other initiative undertaken by the PA, it’s entirely fake, and his threats are, for the most part, a transparent bluff.

Abbas’s plan is to set up a nine-month negotiating period that would start with Israel being forced to agree to a map for a Palestinian state largely along the parameters of the 1967 lines at the outset. After that, the parties would negotiate other issues including refugees, water, settlements, and security cooperation. If the Israelis don’t do as Abbas bids, he will not only run to the UN to get it to grant the Palestinians independence and to the International Criminal Court to get the Jewish state indicted for their “crimes” against the Palestinians. He will also withdraw security cooperation.

Given the anger about Israel in the international community in the wake of the war in Gaza and the destruction and death suffered by the Palestinians during that conflict, Abbas thinks the timing is perfect for a round of pressure directed at the Jewish state. With President Obama openly displaying his anger and resentment about Israel’s government, the Palestinians may believe Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deeply divided government will crack up and give him what he wants.

While President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry may take Abbas seriously and use this initiative as the excuse for another round of Middle East diplomacy, I doubt that Netanyahu is foolish enough to take the bait. Despite his grandstanding, Abbas won’t sign any peace deal no matter where his putative state’s borders would be drawn. Nor has he the slightest interest in withdrawing security cooperation with Israel.

Why can Israel be so sure that Abbas doesn’t mean what he says?

First, it should be remembered that despite Abbas’s claims that Israel has yet to put forward a map of where an acceptable Palestinian state might be, the PA has already received several such maps and turned each one of them down over the course of negotiations stretching back to 2000. When former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a map pretty much along the lines he is demanding in 2008, he fled the negotiations and wouldn’t return to the table for years. In the latest round with the Netanyahu government during the past year, Abbas wouldn’t negotiate seriously on any issue and again seized the first pretext to break them off.

The reason for this behavior is that although Abbas sometimes talks a good game about peace, he knows his public is not ready for a deal that will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one. So as much as he has put on a good show in recent years about wanting a state, his goal has always been to avoid a peace deal or even being put in a position where he would be forced to say either yes or no to one.

Abbas does like the idea of going to the UN and the ICC since that allows him to avoid making reciprocal agreements with Israel, recognizing a Jewish state, and acting as if the future of the Palestinians lies in cooperation rather than futile “resistance.” But he also knows that the UN can’t give him a state.

As for the threat of Abbas ending security cooperation with Israel, that’s a bad joke. While the Israelis do view any help they get from the various PA security forces as useful, the main beneficiary of the cooperation is not the Jewish state; it’s Abbas. As the revelations of a planned Hamas coup against the PA uncovered by the Israelis proved, the PA leader’s hold on his office as well as his personal security depends on Israel’s good will.

That fact should also factor into an understanding of why Israelis are so reluctant to hand over more territory to Abbas. While his more moderate brand of Palestinian nationalism is certainly to be preferred over that of Hamas’s Islamist rejectionism, the lack of enthusiasm for peace among Palestinians and the popularity of Hamas both restrains the PA leader’s ability to make peace and would render any such deal a perilous risk for Israel.

These conclusions are bolstered by a new poll of Palestinian public opinion that shows Hamas’s popularity skyrocketing in the wake of the destructive war they imposed upon the country this summer. As the Times of Israel reports:

According to the data collected on August 26-30 by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) headed by pollster Khalil Shikaki, 79 percent of Palestinians questioned in Gaza and the West Bank said that Hamas had won the war against Israel, while only 3% said Israel had won. …

In stark contrast to predictions voiced during Operation Protective Edge by senior Israeli military officers saying the extent of damage in Gaza would likely turn the civilian population against Hamas, 94% of respondents said they were satisfied with Hamas’s performance in confronting the IDF and 78% were pleased with the movement’s defense of civilians in Gaza. Eighty-six percent of the 1,270 adults questioned in the survey said they supported the continuation of rocket attacks at Israel as long as the blockade on Gaza is maintained.

In other words, despite the expectations of some in both Israel and the United States, the war has not created an opening for Abbas or for the advancement of moderate Palestinian policies. To the contrary, the results make it all too plain that any withdrawal from the West Bank might ultimately produce the same result as in Gaza when the removal of every soldier, settler, and settlement paved the way for a Hamas terror state rather than peace and development. Even if Israel wanted to grant Abbas his wishes and accept his ultimatum on territory, the likelihood of the creation of another, larger and more dangerous Hamas state in the West Bank would make such a move impossible. Even if Abbas wasn’t bluffing—and he almost certainly is—no Israeli government of any political stripe will risk such an outcome. And it would be irresponsible for any of those who purport to be Israel’s friends to urge it do so.

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Can Abbas Challenge Hamas? Not Likely.

After 50 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, many in the international community are hoping the cease-fire will encourage a revival of the Middle East peace talks between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority that collapsed this past spring. But while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has welcomed the possibility, at least in theory, he does have one request of PA head Mahmoud Abbas: divorce Hamas. Is he being unreasonable?

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After 50 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, many in the international community are hoping the cease-fire will encourage a revival of the Middle East peace talks between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority that collapsed this past spring. But while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has welcomed the possibility, at least in theory, he does have one request of PA head Mahmoud Abbas: divorce Hamas. Is he being unreasonable?

The short answer is no.

Abbas has been the darling of the Western media and the Obama administration in recent years largely because of their antipathy for Netanyahu. His popularity has only increased recently because of the implicit comparison with Hamas whose decision to plunge the country into war resulted in death and destruction for the people of Gaza and achieved nothing for the Palestinians. Nothing, that is, except the satisfaction of killing 70 Jews and the spectacle of seeing most Israelis being obligated to run back and forth to bomb shelters to evade the largely ineffectual Hamas barrage of thousands of rockets. Hamas started the conflict when its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teens and they relentlessly escalated it at every turn despite Netanyahu’s acceptance of cease-fire offers that would have saved most of those Palestinians who were killed in the fighting.

This behavior was egregious enough that even Abbas felt he could get away with criticizing his Islamist rivals when he said this week that all of the deaths, injuries and damage done by the fighting could have been avoided and questioning the future of his unity pact with Hamas. But Abbas, who reportedly met with Netanyahu earlier this week, isn’t likely to throw Hamas out of his PA government. Though Hamas is unlikely to ever allow the PA back into Gaza as they agreed, the unity pact signed this past spring was Abbas’s ticket out of negotiations with Israel and, as such, allows him to posture as if he wants peace to Western audiences while reminding fellow Palestinians that he is just as committed to the long war against Israel as the Islamists.

The gap between reality and what Abbas says in public gets bigger all the time. While Abbas talks big about going back to the United Nations in order to force Israel to completely withdraw from the West Bank, there’s not much secret about the fact that the only thing keeping him in secure possession of his headquarters in Ramallah, not to mention, his life, is the protection afforded him by Israel’s security services. As the news about a planned Hamas coup against Abbas that was foiled by the Shin Bet proved, the last thing the PA leader actually wants is a West Bank without an Israeli security presence.

Yet if Abbas was really serious about obtaining an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem, he must know that the only way to do so is to convince Israelis that it would not turn into another version of Gaza. Israelis remember that they withdrew every soldier, settlement and settler from Gaza in 2005 in the hope of encouraging peace only to realize that what they had done was to provide Hamas with the opportunity of running a terrorist state on their doorstop. Given the ease with which Hamas ousted Fatah from the strip, it’s fair to ask why anyone would expect a different outcome if a similar experiment were tried in the West Bank.

Yet despite everything, Abbas clings to the pact with Hamas as if somehow this will save him. It won’t.

If we assume that Abbas truly wants a peace deal with Israel and statehood rather than just an excuse to keep avoiding peace talks, there is actually only one path to that outcome. While Netanyahu speaks of the necessity of a Fatah-Hamas divorce, what is needed is a PA decision to finally break with Hamas and to fight it just as Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has done with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Israel would love to see Abbas march into Gaza and oust Hamas from control as the unity pact supposedly promised. But given the weakness of the PA forces and the resolute nature of Hamas’s armed cadres (who massacred Fatah supporters when they seized the strip in a 2007 coup) that has about as much chance of happening as the Fatah government ridding itself of corruption. But if a two-state solution is to become a reality rather than a theory that is what it will take.

Until it does, all discussions of Israeli withdrawals or PA statehood initiatives are merely hot air. In his 10 years of power, Abbas has never shown the slightest indication that he is willing to do what it takes to achieve peace as opposed to just posture in order to appear belligerent in front of his own people. If Abbas is not a cipher that will never challenge Hamas, then he’s going to have to prove it. Unfortunately, nothing we have seen before, during or after the summer war with Hamas should lead anyone to think that he can.

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Abbas Can’t Solve Gaza or Make Peace

While both Hamas and Israel’s government have been trying to assert that they both won the war that apparently concluded with a cease-fire agreement yesterday, a third party is attempting to stake his claim as the man who can win the peace. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas anticipated the announcement of the cease-fire by vowing to go back to the United Nations on Monday to force Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank as well as Jerusalem. And some in the U.S. and Israel think the best response to the end of the fighting is to further empower Abbas as a counterweight to Hamas. While this sounds logical, it would be a colossal error.

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While both Hamas and Israel’s government have been trying to assert that they both won the war that apparently concluded with a cease-fire agreement yesterday, a third party is attempting to stake his claim as the man who can win the peace. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas anticipated the announcement of the cease-fire by vowing to go back to the United Nations on Monday to force Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank as well as Jerusalem. And some in the U.S. and Israel think the best response to the end of the fighting is to further empower Abbas as a counterweight to Hamas. While this sounds logical, it would be a colossal error.

Some critics of the Netanyahu government believe it has erred in recent years by being so critical of Abbas while essentially acquiescing to continued Hamas rule in Gaza. That school of thought holds that the prime minister thinks leaving Gaza in Hamas’s hands makes it impossible for Abbas to make peace and undermines the chances of a two-state solution. There is no doubt that some in the government would prefer the status quo to a peace deal that would give Abbas the West Bank for a Palestinian state. But those who believe that sort of Machiavellian thinking is responsible for the lack of peace are ignoring some hard truths about Abbas and the political culture of the Palestinians.

A rational analysis of the Palestinian predicament would lead one to think that this is Abbas’s moment. Hamas achieved nothing with its decision to launch a war of attrition with Israel after its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. Nothing, that is, except the utter devastation of Gaza, the loss of two thousand dead as well as the destruction of its terror tunnels and the expenditure of much of its rocket arsenal in return for only a few dozen dead Israelis and little damage to the Jewish state. By contrast, Abbas can now stride into Gaza with his PA forces and claim to be the man who can improve conditions for Palestinians and forge a deal that might give them independence. But those assumptions about Abbas’s ability to act decisively now completely ignore the realities of Palestinian politics as well as the utter incompetence of the PA.

Even if we were to take it as a given that Abbas is as dedicated to peace as some of his American and Jewish friends claim him to be, the notion that it has been Netanyahu’s disdain for the PA leader that has prevented peace is absurd. Throughout his years in power Abbas has had two key objectives: to portray himself as a peacemaker to the West and to avoid being trapped in any negotiations with Israel that might obligate him to sign a deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and end the conflict for all time. That’s why he fled the 2008 peace talks with Ehud Olmert even after Netanyahu’s predecessor offered virtually all of the West Bank and much of Jerusalem. It’s also why he boycotted peace talks from 2009 to 2013 and then fled them again at the first opportunity this spring when he signed a unity pact with Hamas rather than peace with Israel. And rather than ask the U.S. to drag Netanyahu back to the table now that the fighting in Gaza is over, he is running to the UN in a stunt that will discomfit the Israelis but do nothing to get Palestinians a state.

The reason he has stuck to this no-peace strategy can be discovered by asking why he has avoided elections (he’s currently serving the ninth year of a four-year term) in recent years with no sign that he is looking to take on Hamas at the ballot box even after their military failure. The unfortunate reality is that Abbas knows that even unsuccessful attempts to slaughter Jews—such as Hamas’s shooting of more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities or its attempt to use tunnels to pull off terrorist atrocities—boosts its credibility as the party that is doing the most to “resist” Israel. When Hamas talks about ending the “occupation” they are not referring to the West Bank (which the Palestinians could have had as long ago as 2000 when Israel made its first peace offer) but all of pre-June 1967 Israel, a stance that resonates more with the Palestinian street than Abbas’s clever equivocations. None of the positive statements he has made in recent years or the occasional help he provides Israel can override the fact that Palestinian national identity is still inextricably tied to the continuation of war on Zionism. Abbas may regret this, but he has showed time and again that he won’t do anything to change it.

As the revelations of a planned Hamas coup in the West Bank uncovered by the Shin Bet security service showed, the only thing keeping Abbas in charge in Ramallah is Israel and Palestinians know it. The notion that parachuting Abbas or his PA forces into Gaza will somehow stop Hamas from re-arming or using humanitarian aid to rebuild its bunkers and tunnels is a fantasy. So, too, is the idea that more Western or Israeli support will enable Abbas to govern either the West Bank or Gaza effectively with his corrupt and incompetent Fatah cadres.

It is an unfortunate fact that Israel’s decision to leave Hamas in place rather than seek its elimination has, despite its clear defeat in the field, bolstered the Islamist group. But Netanyahu can’t compensate for that by empowering Abbas. The PA leader hasn’t the guns or the guts to face down Hamas in its Gaza stronghold and doesn’t dare try his luck at the ballot box even in the West Bank where conditions are more favorable to him.

The vast majority of Israelis know that any withdrawals on the West Bank would probably mean the creation of a larger and more dangerous version of the mess in Gaza. That is something no rational government of any kind would countenance. So while neither Israelis or their American allies are satisfied with a reinstatement of the pre-Gaza war status quo, even the dangerous uncertainty such a decision represents is better than repeating the Jewish state’s calamitous decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005. Boosting Abbas at the expense of Hamas sounds logical, but it is part and parcel of the same fool’s errand diplomacy that brought the Middle East to the current impasse.

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Why Billions to Rebuild Gaza Will Go to Waste Yet Again

Though the fighting in Gaza shows no sign of ending, much of the world is already focusing on the next step–pouring billions of international aid dollars, for the umpteenth time, into repairing the damages caused by Hamas’s aggression. Germany, France, and Britain are working on a UN Security Council resolution dictating the terms of a cease-fire and reconstruction, while UN special envoy Robert Serry briefed the council on Gaza’s reconstruction needs earlier this week. All the international players agree that some form of international monitoring is needed to keep Hamas from diverting reconstruction aid into rebuilding its war machine. But that raises the question of who can provide this monitoring.

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Though the fighting in Gaza shows no sign of ending, much of the world is already focusing on the next step–pouring billions of international aid dollars, for the umpteenth time, into repairing the damages caused by Hamas’s aggression. Germany, France, and Britain are working on a UN Security Council resolution dictating the terms of a cease-fire and reconstruction, while UN special envoy Robert Serry briefed the council on Gaza’s reconstruction needs earlier this week. All the international players agree that some form of international monitoring is needed to keep Hamas from diverting reconstruction aid into rebuilding its war machine. But that raises the question of who can provide this monitoring.

Serry, who apparently inhabits a parallel universe, blithely asserted that the UN has successfully monitored projects in Gaza in the past and can do so today as well. This, of course, is the same UN that was shocked to discover Hamas rockets stored in three UNRWA schools in Gaza–and then promptly handed the rockets back to Hamas. It’s the same UN that allowed Hamas to booby-trap a UN clinic, resulting in its destruction when Hamas blew it up to kill nearby Israeli soldiers. It’s the same UN whose Gaza teacher’s union–i.e., the people who educate students at UNRWA schools–is run by Hamas, which controls all 11 seats on the union’s board, and whose “educators” include prominent members of Hamas’s military wing. And it’s the same UN whose own auditor recently released a damning report on the UN Development Program’s procurement in Gaza.

Inter alia, this report found that contract employees performed “core” procurement tasks that only regular staffers are supposed to perform, including for “significant” construction projects; that the UN wasn’t “monitoring and recording actual work” performed by contract employees handling “core” functions; that at least $8 million in construction spending was falsely recorded at far lower prices, thereby shielding it from scrutiny by higher-level officials who must approve major outlays; that many payments and receipts weren’t recorded; and that UNDP didn’t use an electronic fund transfer system that would let it monitor bank transactions and detect those “not made by UNDP.” In short, contrary to Serry’s assertion that “UN construction materials were not used for the [Hamas] tunnels,” the UN has no clue what was happening at its construction programs in Gaza.

Thus believing the UN could effectively monitor Gaza’s reconstruction is like believing cats can guard cream. Yet the main alternative–entrusting this task to the Palestinian Authority, bolstered by some unspecified “international monitoring and verification mission,” as the EU-3 proposes–is equally unrealistic.

Writing in The New Republic this week, Alexander Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky made a thoughtful case for the PA alternative, despite acknowledging that the PA is “monumentally corrupt.” And in principle, I agree with them. The fact that education, health, welfare, and development are currently largely handled by UNRWA encourages dysfunctional Palestinian government; Palestinian leaders can get away with being corrupt, irresponsible, and even diverting massive resources into rockets and tunnels precisely because the international community takes care of providing basic services to the public. Thus it’s long past time to defund UNRWA and force Palestinian governments–whether the PA or Hamas–to take responsibility for their own people.

But as veteran reporter Khaled Abu Toameh wrote this week, the idea that PA President Mahmoud Abbas can reassume control of Gaza now is ridiculous. First, he can’t afford to be seen as returning to Gaza “aboard an Israeli tank.” Second, Hamas remains the dominant military power in Gaza; Abbas’s forces are incapable of doing anything Hamas opposes, and even trying would be dangerous: Over the past month, Hamas has shot dozens of members of Abbas’s Fatah party just for daring to leave their homes. In other words, the PA can neither stop Hamas from firing rockets nor prevent it from diverting reconstruction aid. So all its return to Gaza would do is free Hamas of responsibility for day-to-day governance and allow it to focus all its energies on preparing for the next war.

In short, no international monitoring system can keep Hamas from rebuilding its war machine as long as it remains the dominant force in Gaza. And since the international community is vehemently opposed to letting Israel wage the kind of military operation needed to destroy Hamas, that means the billions it will soon spend to rebuild Gaza will be as wasted as all the previous billions were: All the gleaming new buildings will be destroyed again in another few years, when the next war erupts.

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Yes, Egypt Is Playing a Constructive Role in Gaza Conflict

With Hamas’s strategy of using human shields and threatening journalists, the blame-the-Jews strain running as strong as ever around the world, and the undeniably atrocious behavior of John Kerry, Egypt has mostly avoided the world’s ire as the conflict in Gaza continues. But with Cairo hosting the repeatedly failed talks, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s luck was bound to run out. And now his government is being unfairly castigated for its role in the ceasefire negotiations.

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With Hamas’s strategy of using human shields and threatening journalists, the blame-the-Jews strain running as strong as ever around the world, and the undeniably atrocious behavior of John Kerry, Egypt has mostly avoided the world’s ire as the conflict in Gaza continues. But with Cairo hosting the repeatedly failed talks, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s luck was bound to run out. And now his government is being unfairly castigated for its role in the ceasefire negotiations.

The complaint centers on Egypt’s post-Morsi role in the region. When the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was in power in Cairo, its Palestinian offshoot Hamas had a powerful friend next door. When violence last flared up between Israel and Hamas, Cairo facilitated a ceasefire–a process which left Hamas mostly unscathed and able to replenish its arsenal for the next round of fighting. But Sisi heads a military government that deposed the Brotherhood’s men in a coup. As such, Sisi doesn’t want Hamas to be able to rearm at will and cause trouble indefinitely.

It’s a logical position, and one that should be echoed in the West. But not everyone’s happy with Sisi’s lack of urgency in ending the fighting. An example of this argument comes from Michele Dunne and Nathan Brown:

This subtle shift — from mediator with interests, to interested party that also mediates — has led to a longer and bloodier Gaza war than might otherwise have been the case. And while a strong Egypt-Israel alliance was supposed to cut Hamas down to size, this strategy has also backfired on the diplomatic front. However much it has bloodied Hamas — and particularly the population of Gaza — the war has actually led to a breaking of international taboos on dealing with Hamas, a former pariah.

Egypt has always brought its own long-standing national security interests to the table in previous Gaza mediation efforts. Cairo has never wanted militants or weapons to enter Egypt from Gaza, nor has it wanted to take over responsibility for humanitarian or security affairs there, having had the unhappy experience of occupying the Gaza Strip for almost 20 years following 1948. Egyptian intelligence officials have always taken the lead in dealing with Gaza — even during the yearlong presidency of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. While one might have thought that Morsi would have opened the floodgates to Hamas, the Brotherhood’s ideological bedfellow, in actuality Egypt kept the border with Gaza largely closed during his presidency and continued efforts to destroy tunnels. Whatever his personal sympathies, Morsi stayed within the lines of a policy designed to ensure that Egypt was not stuck holding the Gaza hot potato.

But after removing Morsi in a July 2013 coup, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, then defense minister and now president, transformed Egypt’s policy toward Gaza into part of his larger domestic and international political agenda. He is clearly using Gaza to prosecute his own relentless crackdown against the Brotherhood — an effort that also helps cement his alignment with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

There are a few problems with this argument.

First of all, Nunne and Brown claim that Hamas has punctured its isolation thanks to Cairo’s tough line. I’m not at all convinced this is really the case, but let’s say it is. The more important question than whether the world is talking to Hamas is how the world is talking about Hamas. There is an unprecedented consensus that this is the moment to disarm Hamas and demilitarize Gaza. Is it a pipe dream? Maybe. But the Israeli/Egyptian opposition to letting Hamas off the hook has raised serious discussions about ending the Gaza blockade in return for demilitarizing the strip. And this idea has broad support at the Pentagon, in Europe, and among Arab states in the Middle East.

It might be true that if this doesn’t happen, Dunne and Brown have a case. But that leads to the second problem with their thesis: they have fallen into the classic trap of prioritizing ending this war over preventing future wars. They are nearly mutually exclusive goals. “This war” is not really a separate war, after all, from the last one or the one before that. As long as Hamas is in power in Gaza and able to rearm and threaten Israel, each truce is temporary and each ceasefire comes with an expiration date.

Another problem is that Dunne and Brown give Morsi a bit too much credit for containing Hamas. It’s true that Morsi cracked down on tunnels to Egypt. But as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month:

Under the protective umbrella of Mr. Morsi’s Islamist-led government, Hamas had imported large quantities of arms from Libya and Sudan, as well as money to pay the salaries of government officials and members of their armed wing, Israeli and U.S. officials said. His successor abruptly changed that.

That’s a significant difference. Enabling weapons flows to Hamas guarantees future violence, so it’s a bit rich to see Morsi praised and Sisi criticized on this score.

And finally, Dunne and Brown–and the other critics of Egypt’s new role under Sisi–don’t seem to appreciate the fact that Sisi’s goals align quite nicely with those of the West. Doesn’t the West want terrorist groups like Hamas, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the rest to be defeated? I would think so.

And this is even more important in light of the news yesterday that Israel derailed an attempted West Bank coup by Hamas. According to Israel’s security officials, as the Times of Israel reported, “the plot was orchestrated by senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri, who is based in Turkey and enjoys the support of the local officials there.”

Any assessment of the balance of power in the Middle East has to incorporate the fact that Turkey is now not only helping Hamas, but enabling the planning of a coup against Mahmoud Abbas’s government in the West Bank. Egypt’s shift to dedicated foe of Hamas is a boon to the West’s otherwise fading influence in the region, and persuasively rebuts the idea that Cairo’s actions don’t align with Western strategic objectives.

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Hamas Coup Should Change Truce Equation

The news that Israel’s security services foiled a plot by Hamas that was aimed at toppling the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank will probably ignored by most of the Jewish state’s critics who are obsessed with damning its campaign in Gaza to suppress rocket fire and terror tunnel building. But rather than dismissing this as a minor story, those who are pushing Israel hard to make concessions to both Hamas and the PA should be paying closer attention to what the terrorists intend to do and the implication of their plans for a truce that would further empower the Islamists.

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The news that Israel’s security services foiled a plot by Hamas that was aimed at toppling the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank will probably ignored by most of the Jewish state’s critics who are obsessed with damning its campaign in Gaza to suppress rocket fire and terror tunnel building. But rather than dismissing this as a minor story, those who are pushing Israel hard to make concessions to both Hamas and the PA should be paying closer attention to what the terrorists intend to do and the implication of their plans for a truce that would further empower the Islamists.

The details of what Israel’s Shin Bet service discovered during the sweeps of the West Bank in May and June should curl Abbas’ hair. The group that he had embraced as a partner in the PA as a result of the unity pact he signed in April wasn’t planning on going along with Fatah’s leadership as Abbas and Secretary of State John Kerry naively believed. Instead they set up new terror cells in all the major towns and cities of the West Bank whose goal was to ultimately set off a new conflagration with Israel with a series of massive attacks throughout the area including one on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

What did Hamas think it could accomplish by pouring operatives, money, weapons and explosives into the West Bank? The point was to plunge the area into turmoil opening up a second front against Israel to relieve pressure on Hamas in Gaza as well as to make it impossible for Abbas to pretend to govern the West Bank.

This ought to change the conversation about the terms of the truce that the United States has been pushing Israel to accept to formally conclude the recent hostilities in Gaza. If, as reported, the West has pressured Israel to accept a loosening of the blockade on Gaza — the key Hamas demand throughout the fighting — then we can be sure that this summer’s bloodshed will be repeated before long. While it is hoped that easing the isolation of Gaza will ameliorate the suffering of Palestinians and perhaps even help Abbas gain back control of the strip, so long as Hamas is still armed and in power there, these hopes are in vain. Open borders for Gaza means an inevitable resupply of the Hamas arsenal, more building materials for tunnels and the rest of the underground city that enables the Islamist movement to continue fighting while its human hostages above ground continue to die every time they pick another fight with Israel.

But the decision to acquiesce to any of Hamas’s demands will have consequences for more than the future of Gaza. The assumption that Abbas can continue to hang on to the West Bank and maybe even assume some power in Gaza is based on the idea that Hamas is on the ropes and without options. But once the resupply of Hamas in Gaza begins, it will have serious implications for Abbas’s future.

The only reason Abbas has stayed in power in the West Bank is the protection he gets from Israel’s army and security services. But the more chances Hamas gets to topple him the more likely it is that sooner or later, the Islamist will launch the third intifada they are aiming at even if the Shin Bet manages to save Abbas’s hide. Any outcome in Gaza that can be portrayed as victory for Hamas will only hasten the day when that intifada will start with its consequent massive shedding of blood on both sides.

Those who have spoken of Hamas, as having evolved to the point where it is a legitimate political force and not a terror group should have had lost their illusions about the group amid the rocket launches and the discovery of the tunnels. But the revelation about the coup attempt should remove any doubt as to the Islamists’ intentions. The Obama administration, which has been eager to push Israel to do something to allow Hamas a way out of the conflict, should realize that the coup should end its illusions about Palestinian unity and the ability of Abbas to make peace while partnering with the terrorists.

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Don’t Count on Abbas to Save Gaza

After months in eclipse, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s stock is on the rise. Which is to say that if Abbas’s future depends solely on the international media, talking heads on American television, and some of his supporters within the Israeli government, he’s in very good shape. But though a lot of people are counting on Abbas to be the linchpin of a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the notion that he is strong enough to take advantage of the opening he is being offered is based on blind hope, not reality.

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After months in eclipse, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s stock is on the rise. Which is to say that if Abbas’s future depends solely on the international media, talking heads on American television, and some of his supporters within the Israeli government, he’s in very good shape. But though a lot of people are counting on Abbas to be the linchpin of a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the notion that he is strong enough to take advantage of the opening he is being offered is based on blind hope, not reality.

The case for Abbas was laid out in today’s New York Times in an article in which the PA’s role in the peace talks that have been going on in Cairo is discussed. The widely held assumption is that Abbas and his Fatah Party can be dropped into Gaza and monitor the border crossings so as to ensure that the aid that pours into the strip will be used for humanitarian work and reconstruction of civilian infrastructure and homes, not for helping Hamas prepare for the next round of fighting with Israel.

It’s a nice idea. Ideally, the West and the Israelis would ultimately like Abbas to take back the control of Gaza from Hamas that it lost in a 2007 coup. But that’s thinking big. For starters, they want the PA’s presence in Gaza to be the method by which Israel and Egypt can be persuaded to re-open the borders and to loosen, if not end, the blockade of the Islamist-run strip.

If the idea worked, it would not only make it harder for Hamas to start another war; it would also be the method by which Fatah could start the process of regaining the support of Gaza Palestinians. Investing in Abbas and Fatah would, according to this theory, help Israel out of a dilemma in which any concessions to the Palestinians are seen as endangering the Jewish state’s security. The newly empowered PA would then be in a stronger position to edge out Hamas but to also make peace with Israel.

With the PA in charge in Gaza, it would no longer be plausible for Israelis to worry about handing over most of the West Bank to Abbas. Nor would it be necessary for it to continue the blockade of Gaza.

It all sounds logical and a surefire path to peace. The only problem is that it almost certainly won’t work.

Let’s start with the first step of the plan: parachuting a small force of Palestinians loyal to Abbas into Gaza to deal with the border.

The first problem is that the notion of trusting Fatah security forces to keep weapons out of Gaza or to make sure that building materials are directed to humanitarian rather than “military” projects is a joke. The history of the PA police and other forces supposedly loyal to Abbas tells us that these forces are highly unlikely to be reliable monitors of the security situation. Fatah’s people are even more corrupt than Hamas’s despots and therefore highly susceptible to pressures and blandishments that will make it impossible for the group to do its job. Nor are most of its personnel dedicated to the peaceful mission outlined for it in the cease-fire deal drafts. To the contrary, Fatah’s members are just as dedicated to Israel’s destruction as Hamas, though they prefer the job to be done more gradually.

The idea that PA officials or security people will be an effective barrier to the re-militarization of Gaza—as opposed to the goal of demilitarization that Israel wants and which is a prerequisite for peace—is farcical. Even if the PA were parachuted into Gaza, the chances that they would stop Hamas from doing what it likes are minimal. Putting them in there might enable Israel to claim that they had degraded Hamas militarily as well as politically, but it is highly likely that this would merely be a fig leaf on an already bad situation as it reverted to the pre-Operation Protective Edge reality in which Hamas was actively preparing for the next war.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Abbas and his forces are sincere about wanting peace. The problem with the plan to use Abbas to police the Gaza border is that it places him in the position in which he has never been particularly comfortable as well as one in which he can easily be portrayed as Israel’s puppet, indeed its policeman, rather than an independent leader.

That’s the conundrum on which many previous peace efforts have also failed. Israel has always wanted the PA to neutralize Palestinian Islamist radicals without the same interference, as the late Yitzhak Rabin often put it, from a Supreme Court and the checks and balances that come with the Jewish state’s democratic legal system. But neither Yasir Arafat nor his successor Abbas ever embraced that role wholeheartedly no matter how great their antipathy for their Hamas rivals. Both understood that fighting Hamas or even acting as a restraint on the Islamists undermined their credibility with Palestinian public opinion.

Much though Israel and the West would like to change it, the perverse dynamic of the political culture of Palestinian society has always rewarded those groups that shed blood or demonstrate belligerence against Israel while punishing those who support peace or at least a cessation of hostilities. That’s why Abbas, who is currently serving the 10th year of a four-year term as president, has avoided new elections.

Moreover, even if PA forces were serious about stopping Hamas, the small border force currently envisaged would, as was the case in 2007, be no match for the Islamists if they choose to resist them.

No matter how you slice it, there simply is no scenario in which the PA really can wrench control of Gaza away from Hamas while the latter is still fully armed and in control of the strip’s government. Building a port in Gaza or anything else intended to make it easier to import materials and arms into the strip without first eliminating Hamas is asking for trouble. Nor is it reasonable to expect Abbas to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state and begin the process of ending the conflict while he is put in such an untenable situation.

Much as many in Israel and the United States would like to imagine that Abbas can somehow supplant Hamas, that just isn’t in the cards short of an all-out Israeli invasion of Gaza. More sensible Israelis know that the results of their nation’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 makes it obvious that any further territorial surrenders in the West Bank won’t enhance the chances of peace but will, instead, create new terror strongholds that will be even more dangerous and harder to wipe out. Though the Cairo talks have raised his profile from the near-anonymity that was forced upon him during the fighting, Abbas is just as irrelevant to the solution to the problem of Gaza as he ever was.

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Abbas Now Paying the Price of Martyrdom Culture He Nourished

If it weren’t so much his own fault, I’d feel deeply sorry for Mahmoud Abbas right now. A few weeks ago, the Palestinian Authority president was handily beating Hamas in the polls; now, his popularity is at a nadir. A whopping 85 percent of West Bank Palestinians approve of Hamas’s performance during the current fighting with Israel, while only 13 percent approve of Abbas’s performance. His own people have held stormy demonstrations denouncing him as a “traitor”; he was concerned enough to send his wife and grandchildren to Jordan for safety. And what heinous crime did he commit to merit this opprobrium? He urged Hamas to accept an immediate cease-fire in Gaza in order to save Palestinian lives.

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If it weren’t so much his own fault, I’d feel deeply sorry for Mahmoud Abbas right now. A few weeks ago, the Palestinian Authority president was handily beating Hamas in the polls; now, his popularity is at a nadir. A whopping 85 percent of West Bank Palestinians approve of Hamas’s performance during the current fighting with Israel, while only 13 percent approve of Abbas’s performance. His own people have held stormy demonstrations denouncing him as a “traitor”; he was concerned enough to send his wife and grandchildren to Jordan for safety. And what heinous crime did he commit to merit this opprobrium? He urged Hamas to accept an immediate cease-fire in Gaza in order to save Palestinian lives.

In short, Abbas forgot the ironclad rule of Palestinian politics: Taking Israeli lives is always more popular that saving Palestinian lives. The martyrdom culture Palestinian political and religious leaders have nurtured for generations means that even if a war kills far more Palestinians than Israelis, waging it “restores their feeling of human dignity,” as one former PA official said last week. And while Abbas didn’t create this culture, he has not only made no effort to wean his people off it in almost 10 years as PA president; he has actively reinforced it. Day in and day out, he has told his people that those who murder Israelis are the Palestinians’ greatest heroes, the model every Palestinian should strive to emulate.

On May 31, 2012, for instance, he presided over an official state ceremony to honor 91 terrorists whose bodies had just been returned by Israel. Collectively, these terrorists killed over 100 Israeli civilians; many were suicide bombers. As Abbas laid wreaths on their coffins, the secretary-general of his office and the PA-appointed mufti both gave eulogies saying the souls of the deceased were urging other Palestinians to “follow in their path.”

That’s one example out of hundreds; here’s some more from the last few months: In June, Abbas awarded the order of merit to the planner of several deadly suicide bombings, “in appreciation of his role in ‎the struggle and his commitment to ‎defending the Palestinian people.” In May, at a ceremony honoring another man responsible for several deadly attacks on Israeli civilians, Abbas’s representative declared, “Our Martyrs and prisoners will remain the beacon of our magnificent glory … We must be loyal to these heroes in all aspects.” In February, Abbas awarded the Star of Honor to yet another terrorist responsible for numerous attacks on Israeli civilians.

Under his leadership, the PA has named city squares, summer camps, and sports tournaments after terrorists; its official television station has broadcast videos and programs glorifying terrorism; his Fatah party has handed out candy to celebrate terror attacks and exalted terrorists as role models on its Facebook page; and much more.

In every possible way, Abbas has told his people for 10 years that the true heroes, the ones to be emulated, are those who kill Israelis, whatever the cost. And it’s worked so well that now, when he tries to tell them shooting rockets at Israel isn’t worth the price in Palestinian lives, they denounce him as a traitor.

So yesterday, he gave up. After days of trying to prevent Israeli-Palestinian clashes in the West Bank, he let his Fatah party organize a violent demonstration in which some 10,000 Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at Israeli police guarding the main checkpoint into Jerusalem, thereby producing yet more martyrs for the Palestinian cause: one Palestinian killed and 200 injured, three of them critically. That, after all, is what the Palestinians wanted.

And that’s also why Abbas never has and never will sign a peace agreement with Israel. You can’t sign an agreement ending the conflict when your own people denounce you as a traitor even for trying to arrange a cease-fire. And you can’t persuade your people to accept such an agreement as long as they consider saving Palestinian lives lower priority than taking Israeli ones.

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Lessons from the Failed Peace Process

There are a few conclusions to be drawn from Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon’s deeply reported and engagingly written investigation into the failure of the recent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The first is that, if the reporting is accurate, there is no longer any doubt that it was the Palestinian side that blew up the talks. They attempted to kill the process twice, but the first time the Israeli negotiators, led by Tzipi Livni, rescued the talks. The second time, the Palestinians ensured nothing could be done to save the process.

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There are a few conclusions to be drawn from Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon’s deeply reported and engagingly written investigation into the failure of the recent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The first is that, if the reporting is accurate, there is no longer any doubt that it was the Palestinian side that blew up the talks. They attempted to kill the process twice, but the first time the Israeli negotiators, led by Tzipi Livni, rescued the talks. The second time, the Palestinians ensured nothing could be done to save the process.

The second conclusion is that the way the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, blew up the talks bodes ill for any future peace process:

Over the next three weeks, with April 29 approaching, Indyk would meet nine times with Livni, Molho, Erekat, and Faraj in a bid to salvage the peace talks. He was determined to get everything in writing this time. No more misunderstandings. And by April 23, the sides seemed close to an extension agreement. Indyk drove to Ben Gurion Airport that day to pick up his wife, and while at the baggage claim, he got a call from Livni. She’d heard that the Palestinians had just done something to ruin all the progress they had made. Indyk immediately phoned Erekat, who said he wasn’t aware of the development, but would investigate. Back at the U.S. consulate, the Kerry team was combing over the details of the emerging deal, with the secretary calling periodically to check in. Soon, the news penetrated their office, too. Weeks earlier, they had been surprised by the timing of Abu Mazen’s U.N. ceremony, but not by the act. The Palestinians had put them on notice. But as the American officials huddled around a desktop computer, hungry for actual details about this rumor they were hearing, they couldn’t believe the headline that now flashed across the screen: FATAH, HAMAS END YEARS OF DIVISON, AGREE TO UNITY GOVERNMENT. The next day, the Israeli Cabinet had voted to suspend the talks. John Kerry’s peace process was over.

It’s one thing to threaten action, set a deadline, and then carry it out. That is essentially what the Palestinians did with their UN gambit. But the idea that the process could just end on a Palestinian whim can poison the well (or whatever’s left of it).

That’s because for the Palestinians, once the process begins it’s in the hands of Abbas, Erekat, and some high-level members of Abbas’s cabinet. That is not the case for Israel. As the report details, the day the Palestinians signed their applications to the UN agencies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding meetings throughout the day in his office seeking to reassure skeptics in his coalition without alienating Livni and the peace processors to their left. Additionally, he had to deal with the constant threat of rebellion from Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing party that held the third-most seats in the governing coalition.

The unity deal between Hamas and Fatah was an unmitigated disaster for the peace process. It was more than just a setback: it raised the possibility that any Israeli leader who risked his government for a peace process would get a more terroristic Palestinian government than he or she started with and would have imminent war looming. The Palestinians are willing to pull the plug without warning. That’s a lesson their Israeli and American counterparts will learn.

And it is related to the third conclusion to be drawn from the essay. The authors relate a conversation between Kerry and Netanyahu in which Netanyahu raises the issue of Palestinian incitement. Eventually, the following exchange occurs:

Kerry pressed on: “When I fought in Vietnam, I used to look at the faces of the local population and the looks they gave us. I’ll never forget it. It gave me clarity that we saw the situation in completely different ways.”

“This isn’t Vietnam!” Netanyahu shouted. “No one understands Israel but Israel.”

That comment may paint Netanyahu as defensive, but in fact he’s right–and the essay demonstrates that convincingly. Kerry and his negotiating team, as well as the Palestinian leadership, consistently misread the Israeli political scene and Netanyahu’s reaction to it. Autocrats don’t seem to understand democratic politics, and Kerry’s team exhibited no real grasp of what it takes to form a consensus and keep a government intact in Israel.

The reporters themselves even got tripped up by Israeli politics and leaned heavily on trite and completely inaccurate narratives. At one point in the article, they refer to Netanyahu as “a right-wing ideologue”–an absurdly reductionist and patently false claim. If Netanyahu, the famous dealmaker and pragmatist who elicits much Israeli wariness precisely because he is not an ideologue, can be classified as such, then everybody and nobody is an “ideologue.”

Elsewhere in the piece we are told, indefensibly, that “Tea Party types were continuing their slow-motion takeover of the Likud.” This is a common, but no less justifiable, trope. It is a sign either that the writer can only understand politics through shallow American analogies or that the writer assumes that to be true of the reader. Or both, I suppose. Whatever the reason, the “Tea Party” contention is obviously untrue, and those who offer it with regard to Israeli politics are doing their readers a considerable disservice.

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Hamas and the New Middle East

The spiraling conflict between Israel and Hamas may be part of an unfortunately regular pattern, but the recent events were also an indication of the new Middle East. That was clear earlier this week when Haaretz’s Barak Ravid published the tick-tock of how the attempts to strike a truce collapsed. Secretary of State John Kerry was getting ready to pick up nuclear diplomacy with his Iranian interlocutors in Vienna when he offered to take a temporary diversion to the Middle East. But, each for their own reasons, “Egyptians and Israelis both politely rejected that offer, telling Kerry they are already in direct contact and didn’t need American mediation.”

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The spiraling conflict between Israel and Hamas may be part of an unfortunately regular pattern, but the recent events were also an indication of the new Middle East. That was clear earlier this week when Haaretz’s Barak Ravid published the tick-tock of how the attempts to strike a truce collapsed. Secretary of State John Kerry was getting ready to pick up nuclear diplomacy with his Iranian interlocutors in Vienna when he offered to take a temporary diversion to the Middle East. But, each for their own reasons, “Egyptians and Israelis both politely rejected that offer, telling Kerry they are already in direct contact and didn’t need American mediation.”

According to Ravid, the Israelis expected a visit from Kerry to be interpreted as pressure on Israel, a lesson probably learned from Kerry’s time as secretary of state thus far. The Egyptians, on the other hand, wanted to prove they could still play the role of mediator. But while that certainly could be true, it seems incomplete. The Egyptians, apparently, excluded Hamas from early deliberations to craft the truce. Whether the Egyptian leadership truly wanted a truce or not, it’s clear they were most concerned that the truce not undermine the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas or the Israeli leadership in favor of Hamas. As Avi Issacharoff writes in the Times of Israel:

Hamas wants this in order to bring an end to the blockade on Gaza, open the Rafah Border Crossing, and in many ways to ensure its own survival.

On Tuesday morning, many people in Israel raised an eyebrow at Hamas’s rejection of the Egyptian ceasefire. But if we examine the crisis from the prism of Egypt-Hamas relations, we can see things differently.

Cairo offered the organization the same language it rejected from the outset: quiet for quiet. But for Hamas, the big problem was the way the Egyptian ceasefire was presented: At the same time that Razi Hamid, Hamas representative in Gaza, received the Egyptian document, the initiative was already being published in the Egyptian media.

This was a humiliation for Hamas, since no one thought to consult with its leadership. And still, as even senior Hamas officials admit, there is no other mediator in the region. Just like real estate agents who have a monopoly on a certain area, Egypt has a monopoly on Israel-Hamas relations.

At the very least, the Egyptian leadership does not seem to be in any rush to see Hamas given any breathing space. And neither does Abbas, whose leverage over Hamas has become all the more important in light of the recent unity deal between Hamas and Fatah.

Abbas, arguably, had the most to lose in the continued Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Hamas was able to essentially shut down the country, sending Israelis fleeing to bomb shelters and disrupting air travel and Israel’s economic activity and productivity. This is where Hamas’s relative weakness works to its advantage among its own people. Israel may have superior firepower, and both Israel and Fatah may have the United States in their corner, but Hamas can bring life to a (temporary) standstill in Israel at a moment’s notice. They can make the argument that Abbas’s cooperation with Israel and his participation in the peace talks has done nothing to bring about the ostensible goal of an independent Palestine.

Hamas doesn’t care about that, having made clear its objective has nothing to do with a two-state solution but with a genocidal war against the Jewish state. As such, its ability to disrupt and sabotage any attempts at a peaceful solution are crucial to its own raison d’être. By the same token, then, any weakening of Hamas helps both Abbas and any prospects, however remote, for a negotiated solution.

So while Egypt’s “failure” to step in and constructively play the role of mediator has been lamented, the priorities of the new regime in Cairo are actually geared much more toward those of the West. The defeat of Hamas, its diplomatic isolation, and the depletion of its terrorist capabilities are not just beneficial to Israel but also to Egypt, the Palestinian Authority structure in the West Bank, and America and its allies’ desire to limit Iranian influence in the region.

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No Easy Answer in Gaza

Hamas firing rockets into Israel. Israel retaliating with air strikes and sometimes ground attacks into the Gaza Strip. The “international community” bemoaning Israel’s supposedly “disproportionate” response and demanding an immediate ceasefire.

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Hamas firing rockets into Israel. Israel retaliating with air strikes and sometimes ground attacks into the Gaza Strip. The “international community” bemoaning Israel’s supposedly “disproportionate” response and demanding an immediate ceasefire.

If you feel like you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because you have. It’s been running on endless repeat like a cheesy late-night horror show ever since Israel pulled all of its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005. Hamas took advantage of the Israeli evacuation to seize power from the corrupt and unpopular Fatah apparatchiks with whom Israel and the West prefer to deal. Hamas then began stockpiling missiles, smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt, which it unloads on Israel at periodic intervals. Israel naturally hits back and, because Hamas military installations are hidden in civilian areas, the predictable result is civilian casualties which can then be paraded before the television cameras to turn international opinion against the big bad Zionists.

After a while, both Hamas and Israel decide they have had enough–the former because it does not want to suffer any more damage, the latter because it does not want to reoccupy Gaza. Then the two sides agree to a ceasefire which lasts perhaps 18 months if we’re lucky (before today the last such round of fighting occurred in November 2012). Eventually, however, some fresh incident occurs (such as the recent murder of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinian extremists and the equally odious revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists) to trigger a fresh outbreak of conflict.

Is there no way out of what is known, with some justification, as a “cycle of violence”? Not that I can see.

The preferred solution of the U.S. and the European Union is an Israeli pullout from the West Bank. This is intended to hasten a “final settlement” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Israel will do no such thing because it has seen in Gaza the wages of withdrawal–not peace but rather more conflict.

But if the doves have no real answer to the threat from Gaza, neither do the hawks who urge that Israel annihilate Hamas. The only way this can happen is if Israel reoccupies the Gaza Strip. Otherwise, as has happened so often in the past, Hamas will simply regenerate itself after suffering some casualties.

The problem is that the Israeli public has no desire to assume the role of occupier in Gaza once again–which would undoubtedly reduce rocket attacks on Israel but increase casualties among the conscripts of the Israel Defense Forces. The fact that the Iron Dome system provides a fair degree of protection against Hamas rockets makes it all the more unlikely that Prime Minister Netanyahu will take the drastic step of reoccupying Gaza.

It would be nice if Fatah were able to topple Hamas from power and install a regime in Gaza committed to peaceful co-existence with Israel. But this is unlikely on multiple levels, not least because even Fatah has not truly accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

Perhaps things will change now that Egypt is unwilling and Syria unable to provide aid to Hamas. Perhaps Hamas will be weakened enough to be toppled by other Palestinian factions. But unfortunately Hamas’s successors may be al-Qaeda-style Salafists who would be no improvement.

So for the immediate future there appears to be no way out of the strategic impasse in which Hamas and Israel are trapped. Hamas would love to destroy Israel but is too weak to do so. Israel has the power to destroy Hamas but not the will. Both sides thus keep conflict within manageable bounds and preserve their resources for future battles.

There is, for the foreseeable future, no exit from this grim deadlock–and attempts to achieve one (by, for example, forcing Israeli territorial concessions) are only likely to make the situation worse.

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Obama’s Mixed Middle East Messages

President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and offered to help mediate a cease-fire with Hamas that was accompanied by a statement of support for Israel’s right to self-defense. But Israel is not jumping at the proposal. And, as much as Israelis would love for the rocket attacks from Gaza to stop, that reluctance is well founded.

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President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and offered to help mediate a cease-fire with Hamas that was accompanied by a statement of support for Israel’s right to self-defense. But Israel is not jumping at the proposal. And, as much as Israelis would love for the rocket attacks from Gaza to stop, that reluctance is well founded.

It’s still not clear if the Israeli ground operation that many have suggested is inevitable will actually take place. In a rare press conference held today, Netanyahu played his cards pretty close to his vest, merely saying that he will continue Israeli operations against Hamas terrorist bases in Gaza “until all quiet is restored to Israeli citizens.” But the assumption is that while the characteristically cautious Netanyahu is deeply reluctant to send troops into Gaza—a move that would likely cause casualties on both sides to spike—he also knows that merely letting Hamas stop shooting and then declare victory is not in Israel’s interest either.

Though Gaza is being pounded hard by strikes aimed at silencing the rocket attacks that have rained down by their hundreds on Israel in the last week without causing a single fatality, Hamas may well emerge as the victor in this exchange if it is allowed to exit the conflict with its rocket arsenal and infrastructure intact. More importantly, if, thanks to U.S. diplomacy, Hamas is allowed to remain inside the Palestinian Authority government and strengthened by its stance defying Israel, then the result will make it even less likely that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will ever summon the will to break with the Islamists and make peace with the Jewish state.

The irony here is that even though Hamas is clearly losing the military battle in this contest of Israeli air power and missile defense against the terrorist rocket launchers, it believes it is winning the political battle. In its isolation after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and the sealing of the Gaza smuggling tunnels by the new military regime in Cairo, causing a severe cash-flow problem, Hamas was forced to embrace unity with Abbas’s Fatah. That exposed them to criticism from Palestinians who said they had given up the struggle against Israel but also offered the group a chance to strengthen its organization in the West Bank.

In the wake of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas operatives, Israel rounded up many of the group’s members on the West Bank. Hamas then stepped up the missile fire from Gaza that had never really stopped completely even after the latest cease-fire brokered by Egypt and the U.S. in 2012. But by starting what appears to be a new war, the Islamists have regained their credibility among Palestinians as the address for violence against Israelis, a quality that has always served as the principal credential for any party seeking their support.

That means Hamas gains ground—at least in a political sense—vis-à-vis Fatah no matter whether the Israelis invade Gaza. If the Israelis don’t strike back on the ground and a cease-fire leaves Hamas’s infrastructure and arsenal intact, it can claim victory. But even if the Israelis do attack and take out much of their armaments, they can also claim that they stood up to the Israelis and strengthened their claim of being a better exponent of Palestinian nationalism than Fatah in an environment that will have become more radicalized.

Where does the United States fit into this?

The problem with the president’s expressions of support for Israel is that they have also been accompanied not only by calls for “restraint”—which are rightly interpreted as a not-so-subtle demand that the Jewish state’s armed forces stand down—but by continuing ambivalence about Hamas’s presence in the PA government. Just this week Obama praised Abbas, who embraced Hamas as his partner in April, while pointedly snubbing Netanyahu. The U.S. has refused to cut aid to the PA even though U.S. law demands that it be shut down due to the Fatah alliance with Hamas.

While the Palestinians don’t need encouragement from the U.S. to cause them to embrace radical positions that make peace impossible, the mixed messages from Washington, including today’s offer of mediation with a group that even Obama’s State Department still classifies as a terror group, heightens Israel’s sense of isolation and makes it harder for the Jewish state to deter Hamas terror.

Deterrence is the key word here since the Israelis understandably have no appetite to a return to control of Gaza or even of toppling Hamas since they worry about which radical group would replace it. However, the goal of making it more difficult for Hamas to launch strikes such as the ones that have paralyzed Israeli life the past few days remains.

The Obama administration has strengthened security ties with Israel and been generous with military aid, a point that has re-emphasized the importance of the Iron Dome system. But it has accompanied that help with constant criticism and diplomatic maneuvering that has made it clear that Netanyahu cannot count on Washington’s support if he seeks to significantly weaken Hamas in Gaza.

Moreover, so long as the administration refuses to pressure Abbas to cut ties with Hamas, it is impossible to expect the so-called moderates of Fatah—whose members have joined in the launching of rockets from Gaza at civilian targets in Israel—to reject the Islamists or their determination to keep the conflict simmering. Indeed, it is a given that any cease-fire with Hamas will be followed by renewed American calls for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and other concessions. Rewarding Hamas for terror won’t convince either side to take risks for peace. In exchange for real peace, most Israelis would be willing to make painful sacrifices. But the latest bout of terrorism and the barrage of hundreds of rockets aimed at Israeli cities understandably make most citizens of the Jewish state reluctant to replicate the independent Palestinian state in all but name that exists in Gaza in the West Bank.

Palestinians can be forgiven for thinking Obama’s mixed messages give them no reason to make their own hard decisions about embracing peace.

Israelis can also draw conclusions from America’s ambivalent attitude toward Hamas. While it’s not clear that any Israeli strike on Gaza will restore a sense of deterrence, Netanyahu would be wise not to base a decision about his country’s security on any assumptions about how to retain the good will of the Obama administration. Either way, they are very much on their own.

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Hamas’s Human Shield War

Hamas terrorists continued shooting rockets at Israel today as air raid sirens sounded all over the country including in Jerusalem. But the international media’s focus on the conflict continues to be the rising toll of Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet, as with previous conflicts, not much attention is being paid to the way Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

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Hamas terrorists continued shooting rockets at Israel today as air raid sirens sounded all over the country including in Jerusalem. But the international media’s focus on the conflict continues to be the rising toll of Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet, as with previous conflicts, not much attention is being paid to the way Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

As I noted yesterday, even the New York Times found it necessary to report that the Israel Defense Forces are issuing warnings to Palestinians living in and around Hamas missile launchers and operations center in Gaza. But having decided to escalate another round of violence by launching hundreds of rockets into Israel, the Islamist group is still hoping to use the presence of Palestinian civilians around legitimate military targets as a weapon against the Jewish state.

In the past, this merely meant putting missile launchers next to schools, hospitals, and mosques as well among civilian homes in the densely populated strip. But as Israel has stepped up its efforts to try and spare civilians even as it seeks to silence the terrorist fire, Hamas has also increased its efforts to ensure that as many inhabitants of Gaza as possible are hurt in the fighting.

As Memri.org reports, speaking on Tuesday on Hamas’s Al Asqua-TV in Gaza, the group’s spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri urged the population of the strip to refuse to heed warnings and to use their bodies to shield Hamas facilities:

This attests to the character of our noble, Jihad-fighting people, who defend their rights and their homes with their bare chests and their blood. The policy of people confronting the Israeli warplanes with their bare chests in order to protect their homes has proven effective against the occupation. Also, this policy reflects the character of our brave, courageous people. We in Hamas call upon our people to adopt this policy, in order to protect the Palestinian homes.

The talk of defending “Palestinian homes” with “bare chests” is an allusion to the fact that instead of evacuating buildings after IDF warnings, Palestinians have instead surged into them in an effort to either deter the attack or to incur the maximum casualties from the attack.

The cynicism of this tactic is transparent but even though Hamas is making no secret of its intentions, the news reports about the conflict remain centered on the “disproportionate” force used by Israel and the contrast between Palestinian and Israeli casualty figures.

It is true that Hamas’s weaponry is no match for the sophisticated Israeli missile defense system that has, with U.S. help, been created to shield civilians from rocket fire from Gaza. Since, as the media continue to remind us, Palestinians have no “Iron Dome” system to protect them against Israeli counter-attacks, it is assumed that the war between Israel and Hamas is not a fair fight. In this manner, Hamas, cheered on by the so-called “moderate” Palestinians like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas who accused Israel of “genocide” in its attacks on Gaza, reinforces the idea that it is a “David” fighting the Jewish “Goliath.”

That Israel faces challenges in what is a classic case of asymmetrical warfare is a given in this conflict. The Palestinians have perpetuated this war by continually refusing to make peace and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. They are also attempting to manipulate Western opinion into believing their version of the conflict in which they falsely portray Israel as a “colonial” power occupying another people’s land rather than admitting that the dispute is part of an existential struggle aimed at wiping out the one Jewish state on the planet. The lopsided casualty figures bolster these specious talking points.

But it cannot be emphasized too much that Palestinian intent plays a much greater role in the casualties than technology. Hamas situates its weapons and fighters next to or among civilians not just because Gaza is crowded but because it is hoping that Israel will kill as many of their own people as possible. It indiscriminately fires rockets at Israeli population centers in part to kill as many Jews as possible though it has, to date, failed in that effort. But it is just as important to them to generate the Israeli counter-attacks that inevitably lead to Palestinian civilian deaths even if those numbers are inflated because many of those killed are actually Hamas terrorists.

In a war of perceptions, Hamas’s human shield tactics have given its leaders a winning strategy even if the result is tragedy for their own people. But the problem with those who draw superficial conclusions from the casualty figures is not just that they don’t understand what Hamas is doing to inflict as much pain on their own people as they can. It’s that these numbers obscure the basic point of the conflict. Hamas is not seeking to end the occupation of Gaza or the West Bank or to force Israel to draw its borders differently. Hamas’ purpose is to destroy Israel and kill its people. When they speak of “resistance” it is not an effort to push back against particular Israeli policies but a refusal to accept the permanence of the return of the Jews to their land. The misleading blood feud narrative adopted by the media in response to the carnage may seem even-handed. But there should be no mistake about the fact that the human shields of Gaza are merely a ploy aimed at diverting the world from the truth about Palestinian intentions.

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Even the Media’s Corrections Are Deceptive

Earlier this week I wrote about the thoroughly dishonest and ignorant editorial in the New York Times on the recent abduction and killing of four teens in Israel. The Times strove for moral equivalence since the victims included Jews and an Arab. To review: the Times editorial wrongly accused Benjamin Netanyahu of a delay in condemning the killing of an Arab teen and the editors took a Netanyahu quote that denounced the desire for vengeance and claimed it meant Netanyahu was doing the opposite and inciting vigilante terrorism. After wide condemnation, the Times corrected the editorial. Sort of.

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Earlier this week I wrote about the thoroughly dishonest and ignorant editorial in the New York Times on the recent abduction and killing of four teens in Israel. The Times strove for moral equivalence since the victims included Jews and an Arab. To review: the Times editorial wrongly accused Benjamin Netanyahu of a delay in condemning the killing of an Arab teen and the editors took a Netanyahu quote that denounced the desire for vengeance and claimed it meant Netanyahu was doing the opposite and inciting vigilante terrorism. After wide condemnation, the Times corrected the editorial. Sort of.

Here is the Times’s correction of just one of the falsehoods the editors pushed:

An editorial on Tuesday about the death of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem referred incorrectly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. On the day of the killing, Mr. Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying he had told his minister for internal security to quickly investigate the crime; it is not the case that “days of near silence” passed before he spoke about it.

But in reality the way the editorial now reads is not all that much better. Here is the initial, false sentence, as pointed out immediately by CAMERA’s Tamar Sternthal:

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, after days of near silence, condemned that killing and promised that anyone found guilty would “face the full weight of the law.”

Sternthal had made it clear that even the Times’s own reporting showed this to be wrong; Netanyahu had spoken up days earlier. Yet here is how the corrected sentence now reads:

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel condemned that killing and promised that anyone found guilty would “face the full weight of the law.”

Notice the problem? The editorial still uses Netanyahu’s condemnation days after the murder instead of his earlier statements on the crime, leaving the reader to come away with the same mistaken impression. The Times’s new version of the editorial is closer to the truth, but still not all that close. The Times editors’ allergy to the truth is inexcusable: they should pop a Claritin, endure the hives, and be honest about Israel.

But that’s not the end of the objectionable content in the Times’s faux correction. The correction makes no mention of the other, arguably greater mistake on the Israeli poem, and the editorial still includes that line. It’s one thing to get the date of Netanyahu’s condemnation of the attack wrong; that’s bad, especially because it shows the Times editors don’t read their own (or any other) newspaper. But there is a dangerous aspect to the editors’ pernicious misreading of the poem.

To put this in simple terms: Netanyahu read a poem that denounced earthly vengeance and vigilantism. The Times editorial claims the poem encourages earthly vengeance and vigilantism. This is a serious slander of Netanyahu, the poet, and the Israeli people. It includes Netanyahu in a group of Israelis the Times accuses of displaying vicious anti-Arab bigotry and violent tendencies, when in fact the prime minister was criticizing them in a bid to lower the temperature and promote restraint.

Only the New York Times can so blithely add a “correction” to its own false claims that muddy the waters even more and further concretize a dishonest narrative that tosses a match into a tinderbox. And the really dispiriting aspect to this is that we can expect more of the same. The desire of the leftist media to perpetuate a lie that the Israeli and Palestinian leadership are morally equivalent will only produce more hateful anti-Israel propaganda now that Hamas and Fatah have joined in their unity government.

That’s because Hamas is guilty of even more terrorism and anti-Semitism than Fatah is, so if the media want to equate the Israeli leadership with the Palestinian leadership they’ll have to drop Israel to Hamas’s level. And they’ll be taking their cues from Washington, apparently. While the State Department recently offered the laughable nonsense that America’s leaders “have no evidence that Hamas plays any role in the interim technocratic government,” other countries are taking a more serious approach to foreign affairs and recognizing reality.

In a Times of Israel story about how several Western countries have been more supportive of Israel during this crisis and possessed a greater degree of moral clarity than the Obama administration, we read the following tweet from Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird:

The new Palestinian government must exercise its authority in #Gaza and bring an immediate end to Hamas’s rocket attacks on #Israel

I don’t know whether the New York Times editors are getting their information from the Obama administration or the White House is getting its information on the conflict from the Times, but there’s a quite delusional feedback loop here. And it helps explain why even the Times’s corrections warrant their own corrections.

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Obama’s Indefensible Palestinian Policy

It might be considered an indication of just how warped the Obama administration’s position on Israel has become when the U.S. is sounding less supportive of Israel than several of the European countries. Germany’s Angela Merkel was quick to unequivocally condemn the latest barrage of Hamas rockets while Downing Street was also uncharacteristically forceful in its statement. There was none of the usual calls for Israeli restraint, and no attempt to pin casualties in Gaza on Israel. Instead the press release simply announced: “The Prime Minister strongly condemned the appalling attacks being carried out by Hamas against Israeli civilians,” and “The Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s staunch support for Israel in the face of such attacks, and underlined Israel’s right to defend itself from them.”

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It might be considered an indication of just how warped the Obama administration’s position on Israel has become when the U.S. is sounding less supportive of Israel than several of the European countries. Germany’s Angela Merkel was quick to unequivocally condemn the latest barrage of Hamas rockets while Downing Street was also uncharacteristically forceful in its statement. There was none of the usual calls for Israeli restraint, and no attempt to pin casualties in Gaza on Israel. Instead the press release simply announced: “The Prime Minister strongly condemned the appalling attacks being carried out by Hamas against Israeli civilians,” and “The Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s staunch support for Israel in the face of such attacks, and underlined Israel’s right to defend itself from them.”

Yet from the State Department any cursory remarks about Israel defending itself were immediately invalidated by the usual moral equivalence that spoke of “both sides” and called for restraint, which in reality is just diplomacy speak for opposing any meaningful efforts taken by Israel to stop these unprovoked attacks on its people. However, the recent events raise pressing questions about the administration’s wider policy on the Palestinians, not least because just weeks ago President Mahmoud Abbas entered into a unity government with Hamas, a move that the Obama administration acquiesced in despite the many cautionary warnings they received against doing so.

The most recent flare-up makes the ongoing U.S. relationship with Abbas’s Hamas-Fatah unity government all the more awkward, but the administration has been seeking to get around the inconvenient facts of the matter with the most preposterous double-think, insisting that Abbas’s unity government with Hamas doesn’t actually have Hamas playing “any role” within it. The subtlety of this distinction will no doubt be lost on almost everyone but the State Department’s Jen Psaki, who has the unfortunate task of having to peddle this line to the press.

Nevertheless, even if we suspend our overriding sense of disbelief and buy into the State Department line for a moment, the truth is that Abbas and his supposedly moderate Fatah movement are far from innocent with regard to these latest attacks on Israel. Indeed, as Khaled Abu Toameh has pointed out, Fatah militiamen who serve in the Palestinian Authority security force—which is funded by the U.S. among others—have openly participated in rocket fire into Israeli civilian areas during this latest assault.

Yet far from hearing any condemnation from Abbas on account of these barbaric acts of terrorism, President Abbas—lauded by Obama and Kerry as Israel’s fabled and long awaited partner for peace—has been engaging in the most inflammatory incitement against Israel. At yesterday’s emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership Abbas accused Israel of perpetrating “genocide” in Gaza and even invoked a reference to Auschwitz, another apparent case of double-think given that Abbas holds a Ph.D. in Holocaust denial from the University of  Moscow.

To add to this unhinged rhetoric Abbas instructed the Palestinian Authority to ready for an application for membership of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Now this could just be a bluff, but as Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren noted, in the event that the Palestinians launched a successful prosecution campaign against Israel at the ICC, Israel would have “no Iron Dome for this,” and the threat of sanctions could suddenly become very real. Of course, this move could also backfire terribly for Abbas; given that the unity government theoretically puts Gaza under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, genuine and fully warranted charges of war crimes could well be leveled against the Palestinians. But when one considers that in 2004 the so-called International Court of Justice disgracefully ruled that Israel’s security barrier—its last line of defense against suicide bombings—is illegal under international law, it is hard to hold out much hope for decent rulings where Israel is concerned.

And when it comes to acting decently, if Abbas continues down the path that he has already progressed quite someway along, then it will become increasingly difficult for the Obama administration to defend its ongoing closeness with the Palestinian Authority, or to justify the significant amount of U.S. financial support that keeps Abbas in power. Yet after the administration has invested so much in so publicly championing Abbas as a kind of Palestinian Mandela, it would be rather awkward for them to have to admit that they were wrong all along.

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John Kerry’s War

Being a pessimist means that having your predictions come true rarely brings much joy. That’s the situation I and many other Israelis and Palestinians are in right now–all those who warned that John Kerry’s insistence on restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks would likely spark a new round of Palestinian-Israeli violence, but were drowned out by those who insist that talking never does any harm. It’s already too late to spare Israelis and Palestinians the bloody consequences of Kerry’s hubris. But it’s important to understand why such initiatives so frequently result in bloodshed, so that future secretaries of state can avoid a recurrence.

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Being a pessimist means that having your predictions come true rarely brings much joy. That’s the situation I and many other Israelis and Palestinians are in right now–all those who warned that John Kerry’s insistence on restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks would likely spark a new round of Palestinian-Israeli violence, but were drowned out by those who insist that talking never does any harm. It’s already too late to spare Israelis and Palestinians the bloody consequences of Kerry’s hubris. But it’s important to understand why such initiatives so frequently result in bloodshed, so that future secretaries of state can avoid a recurrence.

First, as repeated efforts over the last 14 years have shown, Palestinians and Israelis aren’t ready to make a deal. Serious efforts were made at the Camp David talks in 2000, the Taba talks in 2001, the Livni-Qureia talks in 2007-08, the Olmert-Abbas talks in 2008, and, most recently, Kerry’s talks, but all failed because the gaps between the parties couldn’t be bridged. As Shmuel Rosner noted in a perceptive New York Times op-ed in May, that’s because many issues Westerners don’t much care about, and therefore imagine are easy to compromise on, are actually very important to the parties involved and thus impossible to compromise on. That isn’t likely to change anytime soon, and until it does, negotiations will never bring peace.

But failed peace talks inevitably make violence more likely, for two main reasons. First, they force both sides to focus on their most passionate disagreements–the so-called “core issues” that go to the heart of both Israeli and Palestinian identity–rather than on less emotional issues. On more mundane issues, Israel and the Palestinian Authority can sometimes agree–as they did on a series of economic cooperation projects last June, before Kerry’s peace talks gummed up the works. But even if they don’t, it’s hard for people on either side to get too upset when their governments squabble over, say, sewage treatment. In contrast, people on both sides do get upset when their governments argue over, say, the “right of return,” because that’s an issue where both sides view the other’s narrative as negating their own existence.

Second, failed peace talks always result in both sides feeling that they’ve lost or conceded something important without receiving a suitable quid pro quo. Palestinians, for instance, were outraged when Kerry reportedly backed Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state, while Israelis were outraged by Kerry’s subsequent U-turn on the issue. Thus both sides ended up feeling as if their positions on this issue were undermined during the talks. The same goes for the Jordan Valley, where both Israelis and Palestinians felt Kerry’s proposals didn’t meet their respective needs, but now fear these proposals will serve as the starting point for additional concessions next time.

Added to this were the “gestures” Kerry demanded of both sides: that Israel free dozens of vicious killers and the PA temporarily refrain from joining international organizations. Though the price Kerry demanded of Israel was incomparably greater, neither side wanted to pay its assigned share. So when the talks collapsed, both felt they had made a sacrifice for nothing.

In short, failed peace talks exacerbate Israeli-Palestinian tensions rather than calming them. And when tensions rise, so does the likelihood of violence. That’s true in any situation, but doubly so for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because terrorist groups like Hamas are always happy to throw a match into a barrel of explosives. The unsurprising result is that spasms of violence, like the second intifada and the current war, have frequently followed failed peace talks.

So if Washington truly wants to avoid Israeli-Palestinian violence, the best thing it could do is stop trying to force both sides into talks that are doomed to fail. For contrary to the accepted wisdom, which holds that “political negotiations” are the best way to forestall violence, they’re actually the best way to make violence more likely.

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As Rockets Fly, Administration Blasts Israel

Give the Obama administration credit. Its Middle East policies may be counterproductive, but the White House is consistent. Rather than let the fact that hundreds of terrorist rockets were launched at Israeli cities affect their public pronouncements, the administration went ahead and let a White House official blast the Jewish state and its government yesterday.

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Give the Obama administration credit. Its Middle East policies may be counterproductive, but the White House is consistent. Rather than let the fact that hundreds of terrorist rockets were launched at Israeli cities affect their public pronouncements, the administration went ahead and let a White House official blast the Jewish state and its government yesterday.

Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and a special assistant to President Barack Obama, gave the keynote address at the Haaretz Conference on Peace in Tel Aviv yesterday. Yet rather than use the opportunity to focus on American support for Israel’s right to self-defense at a time when the very city he was speaking in was being targeted by Hamas rockets, Gordon centered his remarks on harsh criticism of the Israeli government and lavished praise on the Palestinian leader who had embraced unity with the people currently shooting at Tel Aviv and scores of other Israeli cities, towns, and villages.

Gordon’s thesis was familiar. The Obama administration believes that Israel must negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority because it cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state while continuing to rule over millions of Arabs in the West Bank. And he blames Israel for the failure to conclude such an agreement with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.

That’s the position Secretary of State John Kerry adopted after the predictable collapse of his peace initiative in April and echoed by various administration officials since then. The U.S. preferred to blame Israel for this failure rather than recognize that Abbas was never truly interested in signing any agreement. Faith in Abbas’s commitment to negotiations was lost when he fled the talks to return to efforts to get the United Nations to recognize Palestinian independence. Any remaining trust in his bona fides should have evaporated when he concluded a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas rather than agreeing to continue to talk to Israel. The administration compounded that error when it decided to continue to keep sending aid to the PA despite the presence of Hamas in its ranks, which U.S. law forbade.

But as egregious as those misjudgments were before this latest outbreak of violence, they were rendered even more absurd by the spectacle of an American official sticking to this line even as a Hamas rocket offensive rained down on the Jewish state.

Perhaps the president believes that timing is irrelevant when it comes to pressuring the Netanyahu government but if the U.S. goal is to persuade the Israeli people to make more concessions to the Palestinians, then yesterday’s speech was a disaster.

It bears repeating that Israel made three offers of statehood and independence to the Palestinians in 2000, 2001, and 2008 that would have given them control of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem. The Palestinians, first under Yasir Arafat and then Abbas, turned them down each time. Abbas’s recent decision to flee the latest talks and his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn constitute a fourth “no” to peace. This is a fact that has caused most Israelis to give up on the process even though the overwhelming majority—including the supposedly intransigent Netanyahu—favor a two-state solution in theory and would be willing to make serious territorial concessions in exchange for an end to the conflict, as opposed to a truce.

But the rocket fire from Gaza provided more than an inconvenient background noise for Gordon’s speech. It was a reminder of what happens when Israel gives up territory to the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon heeded the international calls for Israel to make concessions and to separate from the Palestinians and in 2005 he withdrew every Israeli settlement, soldier, and civilian from Gaza. But rather than use this as a steppingstone to comprehensive peace, the Palestinians used the retreat to turn Gaza into a giant missile-launching pad and terrorist base. Since Hamas’s 2007 coup when they seized control of the strip, Gaza has been an independent Palestinian state in all but name. As such, it is a standing argument against further such withdrawals in the West Bank that abuts Israel’s main population centers. No Israeli government will ever contemplate ceding security control of more territory unless it can be sure that it will not be used to replicate the Gaza experiment.

But instead of sending a strong message to the Palestinians that they must renounce violence and make peace, Gordon’s speech made clear that the U.S. has no intention of holding Abbas accountable for his embrace of Hamas. Gordon’s pointed dismissal of Netanyahu’s recent comments about the need for Israel to secure the Jordan River security line in light of the growing Islamist threat from the East in Iraq as well as Syria will also inspire no Israeli confidence in the judgment or the reliability of American promises.

As I wrote yesterday, the Obama administration bears a not inconsiderable degree of responsibility for the current mess. Kerry’s initiative was undertaken with complete disregard of the consequences of its likely failure. The secretary’s prediction of a third intifada in the wake of its collapse was a self-fulfilling prophecy that Israelis are now witnessing as they mourn the three teenagers who were murdered by Hamas terrorists and see their skies filled with rockets. The decision to treat the Fatah-Hamas pact as not being a threat to peace was similarly misguided. The idea that a weakling like Abbas could force Hamas to embrace peace wasn’t so much a mistake as a demonstration of the administration’s complete lack of understanding of the situation.

When a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians happens that will allow their leaders to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and end the conflict, they will find their neighbors willing to talk and to once again offer them sovereignty over part of the land they share with the Jews. But if Obama, Kerry, or Gordon think Israelis are likely to embrace Abbas or to start more withdrawals on the West Bank at a time when the Palestinians are using the only territory they control to wage war on them, they’re as arrogant as they are clueless.

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