Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mahmoud Abbas

The Kidnapping and Palestinian Politics

The kidnapping of three Israeli teens last week by Hamas terrorists has largely flown below the radar in the mainstream American media over the weekend. The alarming developments in Iraq are part of the reason for this since Americans are generally indifferent to foreign news and have trouble focusing on more than one foreign crisis at a time. But just as the Sunni Islamist offensive overturned the Obama administration’s claim that it had successfully ended the war in Iraq, so, too, does the kidnapping challenge its assumptions about the Palestinians.

The ho-hum reaction of the international community, and especially the United States, to the recent decision of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to sign a unity pact with Hamas was rooted in a belief that both major Palestinian movements were essentially political entities that had transcended their violent pasts. Instead of understanding that the deal was a sign that both Fatah and Hamas were united in being irretrievably opposed to signing a peace accord with Israel rather than ready for peace, both the Obama administration and the European Union preferred to believe that the Jewish state was to blame for the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. The conventional wisdom peddled by the foreign-policy establishment instructed us that Hamas’s financial problems and its isolation in the wake of the fall last year of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government meant that it was being forced to knuckle under to the dictates of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, the man whom the administration had dubbed a courageous leader for peace.

If all that was true, what then could possibly explain the decision of Hamas to commit a spectacular act of terrorism that may well lead to further violence and endanger the vital foreign aid that keeps the new Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government afloat? The answer is simple. In hurting Israel in this fashion, Hamas is giving the West a basic lesson in Palestinian politics. Far from surrendering to Fatah, the kidnapping shows Hamas is hopeful of not only holding onto Gaza but of extending its influence in the West Bank.

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The kidnapping of three Israeli teens last week by Hamas terrorists has largely flown below the radar in the mainstream American media over the weekend. The alarming developments in Iraq are part of the reason for this since Americans are generally indifferent to foreign news and have trouble focusing on more than one foreign crisis at a time. But just as the Sunni Islamist offensive overturned the Obama administration’s claim that it had successfully ended the war in Iraq, so, too, does the kidnapping challenge its assumptions about the Palestinians.

The ho-hum reaction of the international community, and especially the United States, to the recent decision of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to sign a unity pact with Hamas was rooted in a belief that both major Palestinian movements were essentially political entities that had transcended their violent pasts. Instead of understanding that the deal was a sign that both Fatah and Hamas were united in being irretrievably opposed to signing a peace accord with Israel rather than ready for peace, both the Obama administration and the European Union preferred to believe that the Jewish state was to blame for the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. The conventional wisdom peddled by the foreign-policy establishment instructed us that Hamas’s financial problems and its isolation in the wake of the fall last year of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government meant that it was being forced to knuckle under to the dictates of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, the man whom the administration had dubbed a courageous leader for peace.

If all that was true, what then could possibly explain the decision of Hamas to commit a spectacular act of terrorism that may well lead to further violence and endanger the vital foreign aid that keeps the new Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government afloat? The answer is simple. In hurting Israel in this fashion, Hamas is giving the West a basic lesson in Palestinian politics. Far from surrendering to Fatah, the kidnapping shows Hamas is hopeful of not only holding onto Gaza but of extending its influence in the West Bank.

Abbas belatedly condemned the kidnapping today, but his reluctance to use the full force of his Western-backed regime on his would-be Islamist partner stems from his understanding of the political culture of his people. He knows that rather than undermining support for Hamas, the atrocity will bolster its popularity, especially on the West Bank where the lives of ordinary Palestinians may well be disrupted by Israeli efforts to find the kidnappers and their victims. Just as the national cause of Palestinian Arabs has always been inextricably tied to efforts to battle Zionism rather than the cause of building up their own culture and identity, their political factions have always understood that attacks on Jews were the only credentials that counted when it came to gaining support on the Palestinian street. Since neither Fatah nor Hamas can compete for such backing by pointing to their records in governance as the Islamists’ rule of Gaza has proved to be every bit as disastrous as Fatah’s West Bank kleptocracy, they must, instead, always revert to violence. The fact that the Palestinian media has generally welcomed the kidnapping rather than denouncing it illustrates this point.

As Avi Isacharoff writes in the Times of Israel, since the unity agreement was signed in April, Hamas has been working hard to foment unrest in the West Bank. Part of that was its exploitation of a hunger strike being undertaken by terrorists in Israeli prisons, but the main object of this activity hasn’t been so much an effort to undermine their Zionist enemy but to destabilize Abbas’s West Bank government even as it was in the process of absorbing Hamas and trying to retake control of Gaza.

Hamas must surely believe that a repeat of its triumph in both kidnapping Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and then trading him for over a thousand captured terrorists will put them in a stronger position to not only hold onto the independent Palestinian state in all but name that they have ruled in Gaza but also give them a shot at toppling Abbas in the West Bank. Even worse, they know that if Abbas cooperates with Israel in finding the kidnapped teens, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has rightly demanded, it will undermine him just at the moment when he was basking in praise for rejecting the Jewish state’s peace offers and bringing Hamas back into the PA’s fold.

All this illustrates the utter folly that was the foundation of both Kerry’s peace initiative and the complacence with which the administration accepted the Hamas unity pact. So long as the Palestinian factions believe they stand to gain by practicing terrorism, an end to the conflict is nowhere in sight. Though Washington preferred to believe that Fatah and even Hamas had abandoned violence and were amenable to peace if Israel could be pressured into making even more concessions than those contained in previous rejected peace offers, the kidnapping offers President Obama a lesson in the basics of Palestinian politics that he has so far chosen to ignore.

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Francis’s Misleading Middle East Symbolism

On Sunday, Pope Francis made good on his pledge to convene a summit of Israeli and Palestinian leaders for a prayer service in Rome. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was there along with Israel’s President Shimon Peres. Along with Francis, both made speeches calling for peace and listened as clergy from the three major faiths spoke of symbolic acts of reconciliation that were, as a number of commentators noted, supposed to show that at the very least, religion can be a uniting factor rather than the engine that drives separation and hostility. Even though no one is pretending that a few speeches or prayers in Rome will change the facts of a stalemate between the two sides in the peace talks, the gesture will reinforce the pope’s reputation as a man intent on healing the world.

Given the pope’s evident good will, it’s hard to argue with the idea that his summit will do no harm and might cause the two sides to think about working harder for peace. But this piece of conventional wisdom is misleading. Though no one should question the pope’s intentions, the event at the Vatican is more than empty symbolism. This piece of grandstanding on the part of the church not only did nothing to advance the cause of peace that was torpedoed by the Palestinian unity pact that brought the terrorists of Hamas into the PA along with Abbas’s Fatah. By lending the moral authority of a man who is rightly respected around the world for his probity and earnest desire to help others to a stunt that treats the partner of Islamist terrorists as a peacemaker, the event undermines any effort to pressure the PA to make a clear choice between peace with Israel or one with Hamas.

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On Sunday, Pope Francis made good on his pledge to convene a summit of Israeli and Palestinian leaders for a prayer service in Rome. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was there along with Israel’s President Shimon Peres. Along with Francis, both made speeches calling for peace and listened as clergy from the three major faiths spoke of symbolic acts of reconciliation that were, as a number of commentators noted, supposed to show that at the very least, religion can be a uniting factor rather than the engine that drives separation and hostility. Even though no one is pretending that a few speeches or prayers in Rome will change the facts of a stalemate between the two sides in the peace talks, the gesture will reinforce the pope’s reputation as a man intent on healing the world.

Given the pope’s evident good will, it’s hard to argue with the idea that his summit will do no harm and might cause the two sides to think about working harder for peace. But this piece of conventional wisdom is misleading. Though no one should question the pope’s intentions, the event at the Vatican is more than empty symbolism. This piece of grandstanding on the part of the church not only did nothing to advance the cause of peace that was torpedoed by the Palestinian unity pact that brought the terrorists of Hamas into the PA along with Abbas’s Fatah. By lending the moral authority of a man who is rightly respected around the world for his probity and earnest desire to help others to a stunt that treats the partner of Islamist terrorists as a peacemaker, the event undermines any effort to pressure the PA to make a clear choice between peace with Israel or one with Hamas.

In fairness to the pope, his foolish even-handed approach differs little from that of the Obama administration which has decided to continue to send aid to the PA despite the involvement of the Hamas terrorists in its administration following the signing of the unity pact. Together with the European Union, the United States has effectively given its stamp of approval to a PA government that is making peace impossible. Palestinian unity has not brought Hamas into a government bent on creating an agreement based on coexistence and an end to violence. Rather, it signifies the joint position of the two main Palestinian factions that proclaim their refusal to ever recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

Seen in that context, the ceremonial symbolism in Rome is not just a distraction from the reality of a PA that refused Israeli offers of independence and peace three times between 2000 and 2008 and also refused to negotiate seriously in the last year of American-sponsored talks that amounts to a fourth such refusal. So long as the world refuses to place the same kind of brutal pressure on the Palestinians to give up their war on Zionism and accept a two-state solution that it puts on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, peace will remain impossible for the foreseeable future.

It must also be pointed out that in the inclusion of Peres in the conclave rather than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the papal event engaged in the sort of cheap shot that is unworthy of a leader of the pope’s stature. While Abbas and Peres are technically both the heads of state of their respective government, the former is the leader of the PA while Peres’s role is purely ceremonial. Peres’s willingness to pretend that there is nothing wrong with a PA that partners with Hamas is in consistent with his past record of taking risks for peace. His Oslo led to the empowerment of a terrorist like Yasir Arafat but his international standing as a wise man has survived decisions that cost lives and did nothing to advance the goal he championed. But whatever we might think of Peres’s qualifications as a diplomat, going around Netanyahu’s back undermines Israeli democracy and allows those who seek to whitewash Abbas and the Fatah-Hamas government to say that they are merely agreeing with him. Peres’s presence at the summit was a rebuke to Israel’s government, which has rightly complained about the way the international community has given Abbas a free pass to make common cause with terrorists while still posing as a peacemaker. It bears repeating that it is only Netanyahu and his ministers who have the right to negotiate on behalf of the Israeli electorate that put them in office.

Nothing that happened in Rome today will help bring peace because the premise of the event is a foolish belief that what is needed is more dialogue. The two sides already know where they stand. Peace requires a Palestinian leader to have the guts to reject Hamas and those Fatah elements that are still supportive of terror and unwilling to bring the conflict to an end. Any prayer service or act of advocacy on behalf of Middle East peace that ignores this key question is part of the problem, not the solution. While we respect Pope Francis, like his misguided recent trip to the Middle East that bogged him down in dangerous acts of moral equivalency between terrorists and the victims of terror at Israel’s security barrier, this event was a mistake.

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Obama’s Embrace of Hamas Betrays Peace

When Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas chose to scuttle peace talks with Israel this spring by deciding to conclude a pact with Hamas rather than the Jewish state, he was taking a calculated risk. In embracing his Islamist rivals, Abbas sought to unify the two leading Palestinian factions not to make peace more possible but to make it impossible. Since Palestinian public opinion–indeed the entire political culture of his people–regards any pact that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state as a betrayal of their national identity, bringing Hamas back into the PA fold illustrated that he would not take the sort of risks that peacemaking required.

But given the PA’s almost complete dependency on the United States and Europe for the aid that keeps its corrupt apparatus operating, there was a genuine risk that the unity pact would generate a cutoff of assistance that could topple his kleptocracy. U.S. law mandated such a rupture of relations, as did the officially stated policy of the Obama administration that rightly regards Hamas as a terrorist group, not a legitimate political player. But there was a chance that Washington would accept a Palestinian deception in which technocrats would be appointed to rule in the name of the Fatah-Hamas coalition in order to pretend that the terrorists were not in charge.

In the weeks since the unity pact was concluded it wasn’t clear which way the U.S. would jump on the question of keeping the money flowing to Abbas, though at times Secretary of State John Kerry made appropriate noises at the PA leader about the danger of going into business with Hamas. But today’s press briefing at the State Department removed any doubt about President Obama’s intentions. When asked to react to today’s announcement of a new Fatah-Hamas government in Ramallah, spokesperson Jen Psaki said that the U.S. would accept the Palestinian trick. As the Times of Israel reports:

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that Washington believes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has “formed an interim technocratic government…that does not include members affiliated with Hamas.”

“With what we know now, we will work with this government,” Psaki said. She did, however, warn that the US “will continue to evaluate the composition and policies of the new government and if needed we’ll modify our approach.” She later added that the administration would be “watching carefully to make sure” that the unity government upholds the principles that serve as preconditions for continuing US aid to the Palestinian Authority.

In recognizing the fig leaf of a “technocratic” government that is meant to distract the world from the reality that Hamas is now in full partnership with Abbas, the Obama administration may think it has put Israel’s government—which publicly called for the world not to recognize the Palestinian coalition—into a corner. But by discarding its own principles about recognizing unrepentant terror groups, Obama has done more than betrayed Israel. He has betrayed the cause of peace.

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When Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas chose to scuttle peace talks with Israel this spring by deciding to conclude a pact with Hamas rather than the Jewish state, he was taking a calculated risk. In embracing his Islamist rivals, Abbas sought to unify the two leading Palestinian factions not to make peace more possible but to make it impossible. Since Palestinian public opinion–indeed the entire political culture of his people–regards any pact that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state as a betrayal of their national identity, bringing Hamas back into the PA fold illustrated that he would not take the sort of risks that peacemaking required.

But given the PA’s almost complete dependency on the United States and Europe for the aid that keeps its corrupt apparatus operating, there was a genuine risk that the unity pact would generate a cutoff of assistance that could topple his kleptocracy. U.S. law mandated such a rupture of relations, as did the officially stated policy of the Obama administration that rightly regards Hamas as a terrorist group, not a legitimate political player. But there was a chance that Washington would accept a Palestinian deception in which technocrats would be appointed to rule in the name of the Fatah-Hamas coalition in order to pretend that the terrorists were not in charge.

In the weeks since the unity pact was concluded it wasn’t clear which way the U.S. would jump on the question of keeping the money flowing to Abbas, though at times Secretary of State John Kerry made appropriate noises at the PA leader about the danger of going into business with Hamas. But today’s press briefing at the State Department removed any doubt about President Obama’s intentions. When asked to react to today’s announcement of a new Fatah-Hamas government in Ramallah, spokesperson Jen Psaki said that the U.S. would accept the Palestinian trick. As the Times of Israel reports:

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that Washington believes Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has “formed an interim technocratic government…that does not include members affiliated with Hamas.”

“With what we know now, we will work with this government,” Psaki said. She did, however, warn that the US “will continue to evaluate the composition and policies of the new government and if needed we’ll modify our approach.” She later added that the administration would be “watching carefully to make sure” that the unity government upholds the principles that serve as preconditions for continuing US aid to the Palestinian Authority.

In recognizing the fig leaf of a “technocratic” government that is meant to distract the world from the reality that Hamas is now in full partnership with Abbas, the Obama administration may think it has put Israel’s government—which publicly called for the world not to recognize the Palestinian coalition—into a corner. But by discarding its own principles about recognizing unrepentant terror groups, Obama has done more than betrayed Israel. He has betrayed the cause of peace.

It would be a mistake to waste much time debating whether the cabinet Abbas has presented to the world is not really affiliated with Hamas. The people he has appointed are nothing but stand-ins for the real power brokers in Palestinian politics—the leaders of Fatah who lord it over those portions of the West Bank under the sway of the PA and the Hamas chieftains who have ruled Gaza with an iron fist since the 2007 coup in which they seized power there. Just like Abbas’s previous attempt to swindle the West into thinking that the PA intended to embrace reform during Salam Fayyad’s ill-fated term as prime minister, the “technocratic” cabinet isn’t fooling anyone. Americans and Israelis may have lauded Fayyadism as a path to a responsible Palestinian government that would eschew corruption and try to actually improve the lives of its people. But Fayyad was a man without a political constituency and, despite the support he had in Washington, was thrown overboard by Abbas and the PA went back to business as usual without a backward glance.

Nor is there any use arguing about whether it is Hamas that has been co-opted by Abbas and Fatah rather than the other way around. The two rival parties have very different visions of Palestinian society with Hamas hoping to eventually install the same kind of theocratic rule in the West Bank that it established in the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza. But at the moment there is no fundamental difference between the two on dealing with Israel. Despite its unwillingness to recognize Israel even in principle and its refusal to back away from its charter that calls for the Jewish state’s destruction and the slaughter of its people, Hamas doesn’t want an open war with Israel anymore than Fatah. But by the same token, Fatah has demonstrated repeatedly over the last 15 years that it is as incapable of making peace with Israel, even on terms that would have gained it sovereignty over almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem, as Hamas. The two parties are genuinely unified in their desire to keep chipping away at Israel’s international legitimacy and to avoid peace at any cost.

Admitting this would be a bitter pill for an Obama administration that has invested heavily in Abbas, a man they have wrongly portrayed as a peacemaker even as they have vilified Netanyahu as an obstacle to a deal. So rather than honestly assessing their policy and owning up to the fact that five and a half years of attempts to appease Abbas and tilt the diplomatic playing field in his direction have done nothing to make him say yes to peace, the administration will go along with the PA’s deception.

That’s a blow to Israel, which now finds itself more isolated than ever. But the real betrayal doesn’t involve Obama’s broken promises to the Jewish state or to pro-Israel voters. By buying into the myth that Hamas isn’t involved with the new PA government, the president is putting a spike into the last remote chances for a peace deal in the foreseeable future. So long as the Palestinians are allowed to believe that there is no price to be paid for rejecting peace, there will be no change in their attitudes. By allowing American taxpayer dollars to flow to a government controlled in part by Hamas, Obama is violating U.S. law. But he’s also signaling that the U.S. has no intention of ever pressuring the Palestinians to take the two-state solution they’ve been repeatedly offered by Israel and always rejected. For a president that is obsessed with his legacy, that’s a mistake for which history ought never to forgive him.

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Barghouti and the PA Succession Question

The Tower magazine calls attention to the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion’s latest survey, which finds that Marwan Barghouti would be the popular pick if presidential elections were to be held for the Palestinian leadership. Barghouti, a founder of an Arafat-era paramilitary wing of Fatah, is currently serving life sentences in Israeli prison for his role in several murders, though he is believed to be behind even more terrorist attacks than those for which he was convicted.

Two things about Barghouti have remained constant over his career: he is soaked in the blood of innocents, and he is exceedingly popular among Palestinians. The two are, obviously, not unrelated. Such a result is of course troubling, but it should be noted that, according to the poll, the Palestinians are merely choosing one terrorist over other terrorists. The problem goes much deeper: the pipeline for Palestinian leadership remains greased with blood.

An understandable reaction to the poll will be: So what. Mahmoud Abbas is now in the tenth year of his four-year term, so immediate succession doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue right now, and Barghouti is in prison anyway.

But there are a few differences this time around. First, the Hamas-Fatah unity deal means it’s more likely that there will actually be elections in the near future. Second, Salam Fayyad’s exit means there isn’t at least a competing pipeline to leadership. Had Fayyad stayed on, he probably couldn’t win an election himself, but he might have staffed the bureaucracy with future contenders who were also reformers, and he might have effected some sort of change in the governing culture. Third, it is not out of the question that Israel would release Barghouti in some sort of prisoner exchange if the Israeli government thinks he’d be a preferable successor than the others in the race.

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The Tower magazine calls attention to the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion’s latest survey, which finds that Marwan Barghouti would be the popular pick if presidential elections were to be held for the Palestinian leadership. Barghouti, a founder of an Arafat-era paramilitary wing of Fatah, is currently serving life sentences in Israeli prison for his role in several murders, though he is believed to be behind even more terrorist attacks than those for which he was convicted.

Two things about Barghouti have remained constant over his career: he is soaked in the blood of innocents, and he is exceedingly popular among Palestinians. The two are, obviously, not unrelated. Such a result is of course troubling, but it should be noted that, according to the poll, the Palestinians are merely choosing one terrorist over other terrorists. The problem goes much deeper: the pipeline for Palestinian leadership remains greased with blood.

An understandable reaction to the poll will be: So what. Mahmoud Abbas is now in the tenth year of his four-year term, so immediate succession doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue right now, and Barghouti is in prison anyway.

But there are a few differences this time around. First, the Hamas-Fatah unity deal means it’s more likely that there will actually be elections in the near future. Second, Salam Fayyad’s exit means there isn’t at least a competing pipeline to leadership. Had Fayyad stayed on, he probably couldn’t win an election himself, but he might have staffed the bureaucracy with future contenders who were also reformers, and he might have effected some sort of change in the governing culture. Third, it is not out of the question that Israel would release Barghouti in some sort of prisoner exchange if the Israeli government thinks he’d be a preferable successor than the others in the race.

It’s interesting to note just how similar these stories have been throughout the post-intifada years. Contemplating the Abbas-Barghouti rivalry in the debate over succeeding Yasser Arafat, the New York Times noted in late 2004:

While it is not certain that Israel would release Barghouti if he won the election, the fact remains that whatever the outcome, he will present the Palestinians and Israelis with very difficult options. If he wins but is not set free, the Israelis and the Bush administration would be seen as depriving the Palestinians of democratic choice — something they have advocated as part of enabling Palestinians to create a democratic and responsible political system.

In such an event, Barghouti would become as much a symbol of Palestinian democracy and resistance as Arafat was the embodiment of the Palestinian nationalist movement.

If he loses the election, he will nevertheless have split the vote to the extent of depriving Abbas of a clear mandate to marginalize his radical Islamic opponents, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and to negotiate with the Israelis and Americans for a lasting settlement from a position of popular strength. And there is the additional possibility that a third candidate, like Barghouti’s cousin Mustafa, a human-rights activist, could emerge as the marginal winner.

Palestinians have always found Abbas somewhat underwhelming, and Barghouti has always presented this complicated challenge to Israeli political strategy. But the Israelis must also ponder whether their preference for Barghouti is worth releasing an arch-terrorist. Their dealings with Arafat may have convinced them that just because a Palestinian leader has the credibility to lead doesn’t mean he will. Yitzhak Rabin famously dismissed concerns about how Arafat would get his people in line as long as he actually did. In the end, Arafat was a coward, and Israelis have to wonder if Barghouti is as well.

This all demonstrates, once again, the steep hill to climb to strike a just and lasting peace deal with the Palestinians. It rests on the remote possibility that someone like Abbas or Barghouti would transform themselves into a Mandela or even a Michael Collins. It’s not impossible, sure, but no one would advise holding your breath.

The real path to peace would be a transformation of Palestinian society that didn’t elevate whichever candidate killed the most innocent men, women, and children. And such a society needs a government that doesn’t promote violence and hate; a government that provides services instead of no-show jobs; a government that empowers its own people rather than subjugates and steals from them; a government that allows real political competition so the people have a choice instead of a mirage of democracy or accountability.

If Marwan Barghouti is the best option to succeed Abbas and lead the Palestinian government, then Abbas is destined to leave the Palestinian Authority no better than he found it.

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Netanyahu’s Uncomfortable Fig Leaf

Israel’s far-left Meretz Party doesn’t often offer much in the way of insight about either the Middle East peace process or the country’s government, but today one of the group’s leaders, MK Nitzan Horowitz spoke at least a partial truth when he referred to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as nothing more than a “fig leaf” for Prime Minister Netanyahu. In an interview with the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz, the head of what is left of the once dominant “peace camp” decried Livni’s continued presence in the Cabinet. Horowitz’s evaluation of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a man of peace and willingness to place a good deal of the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Netanyahu is divorced from the facts and explains why his party and its allies retain only a small sliver of support from the Israeli public. But his comments were generally on target with respect to the anomalous position of Livni inside the government of the man who has been her nemesis.

An earlier Times of Israel report documented the blowback inside the country’s government about Livni’s decision to meet with Abbas in London last week even though Netanyahu had suspended negotiations with the PA after its alliance with Hamas. Reportedly, Netanyahu was livid at her insubordination and wanted to fire her. But after calming down, the prime minister realized that if he made Livni and her small parliamentary faction walk the plank, she would generate a coalition crisis that would leave him with only a small majority in the Knesset. That would put him at the mercy of his right-wing partner/antagonist Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party, who used Livni’s excursion to both call for her resignation and to posture at the prime minister’s expense to the voters.

In the end, Livni accomplished nothing with her mission to Abbas. He is no more willing to budge an inch toward peace now than he was throughout the long months of negotiations during which his representatives stonewalled the eager Livni, who headed Israel’s delegation. But the dustup involving the prime minister and the woman who has always thought that she, and not Netanyahu, should be leading the country is interesting because it illustrates just how wrongheaded the critics who bash Israel’s government as inflexibly right-wing really are.

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Israel’s far-left Meretz Party doesn’t often offer much in the way of insight about either the Middle East peace process or the country’s government, but today one of the group’s leaders, MK Nitzan Horowitz spoke at least a partial truth when he referred to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as nothing more than a “fig leaf” for Prime Minister Netanyahu. In an interview with the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz, the head of what is left of the once dominant “peace camp” decried Livni’s continued presence in the Cabinet. Horowitz’s evaluation of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a man of peace and willingness to place a good deal of the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Netanyahu is divorced from the facts and explains why his party and its allies retain only a small sliver of support from the Israeli public. But his comments were generally on target with respect to the anomalous position of Livni inside the government of the man who has been her nemesis.

An earlier Times of Israel report documented the blowback inside the country’s government about Livni’s decision to meet with Abbas in London last week even though Netanyahu had suspended negotiations with the PA after its alliance with Hamas. Reportedly, Netanyahu was livid at her insubordination and wanted to fire her. But after calming down, the prime minister realized that if he made Livni and her small parliamentary faction walk the plank, she would generate a coalition crisis that would leave him with only a small majority in the Knesset. That would put him at the mercy of his right-wing partner/antagonist Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party, who used Livni’s excursion to both call for her resignation and to posture at the prime minister’s expense to the voters.

In the end, Livni accomplished nothing with her mission to Abbas. He is no more willing to budge an inch toward peace now than he was throughout the long months of negotiations during which his representatives stonewalled the eager Livni, who headed Israel’s delegation. But the dustup involving the prime minister and the woman who has always thought that she, and not Netanyahu, should be leading the country is interesting because it illustrates just how wrongheaded the critics who bash Israel’s government as inflexibly right-wing really are.

Americans who buy into the mainstream media’s reflexive dismissal of Netanyahu as “hard-line” (a word that many readers may think is his first name) and intransigent need to understand that the term tells us nothing about his policies. He began his current term in office in 2013, by offering Livni a major Cabinet post (the Justice Ministry) and the portfolio for peace talks with the Palestinians. Doing so was more or less the equivalent of President Obama choosing Mitt Romney to be secretary of state. Such alliances are, of course, less unusual in parliamentary systems, and especially so in Israel where no party has ever won an absolute majority in the Knesset. But it should be understood that Livni campaigned in the last election as a critic of Netanyahu’s peace policies and was then given an opportunity to prove him wrong by being handed the chance to strike a deal with Abbas. While the failure of the initiative championed by Secretary of State John Kerry is rightly considered to be his fiasco, the unwillingness of the Palestinians to come even close to satisfying Livni—the one Israeli that the Obama administration thought was most likely to make peace—tells us everything we need to know about the Palestinians’ responsibility for the collapse of the talks.

Rather than being the beard for Netanyahu whose purpose it is to fool the world into thinking that Israel wanted peace as Meretz and other leftists think, Livni’s presence at the table with the Palestinians is actually the proof that if Abbas wanted peace and an independent state, he could have it.  Livni doesn’t have Netanyahu’s confidence but he did let her conduct the negotiations without too much interference. If he was concerned that she would give away too much to the Palestinians or the American team led by Martin Indyk that is intractably hostile to the Israeli government, he had nothing to worry about. The Palestinians never gave her chance.

Some may think she is serving as a fig leaf for Netanyahu, but if they thought more seriously about her role in the peace process over the past year they would realize that her presence in the government did nothing to ease criticism from Washington or from the usual suspects who like to bash the Jewish state. Instead, she proved her theories and those of other Netanyahu critics wrong by trying and failing to get the Palestinians to take yes for an answer. If she stays in the government, and given her history of rank opportunism and love of office, there’s no reason to think she won’t, it will be to continue to serve as a warning to Netanyahu’s detractors that their accusations of Israeli intransigence are without a factual basis. That isn’t a particularly comfortable role for her or Netanyahu. But it does illustrate how foolish those who still laud Abbas as a man of peace really are.

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The Rubber Man Meets the Peace Process

As I noted yesterday, there’s no lack of evidence that even “moderate” Palestinians aren’t interested in ending their war on Israel. Yet most of the world will go through contortions worthy of the rubber man rather than admit it. A classic example is the interview a “senior American official” (widely reputed to be special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian talks Martin Indyk) gave to Yedioth Ahronoth earlier this month.           

The official spent about 3,000 words blaming the talks’ breakdown on Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, and specifically its authorization of settlement construction during the negotiations. Only then did he describe what actually happened during those crucial final months when Secretary of State John Kerry was trying to broker a framework agreement:

“In February, Abbas arrived at a Paris hotel for a meeting with Kerry … He rejected all of Kerry’s ideas. A month later, in March, he was invited to the White House. Obama presented the American-formulated principles verbally – not in writing. Abbas refused.”

Then, in the very next sentence, came this astonishing defense: “The claim on your side that Abbas was avoiding making decisions is not true. He wasn’t running away.”

So long before the announcement of 700 new housing units that Kerry later termed the “poof” moment when everything blew up, Abbas had rejected all Kerry’s ideas and all President Barack Obama’s ideas. Yet he wasn’t “avoiding making decisions” or “running away”; he was a committed and engaged peace partner. Then who is to blame for his serial rejections? Why, Netanyahu, of course: Those “announcements of new housing tenders in settlements limited Abbas’ ability to show flexibility.”           

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As I noted yesterday, there’s no lack of evidence that even “moderate” Palestinians aren’t interested in ending their war on Israel. Yet most of the world will go through contortions worthy of the rubber man rather than admit it. A classic example is the interview a “senior American official” (widely reputed to be special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian talks Martin Indyk) gave to Yedioth Ahronoth earlier this month.           

The official spent about 3,000 words blaming the talks’ breakdown on Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, and specifically its authorization of settlement construction during the negotiations. Only then did he describe what actually happened during those crucial final months when Secretary of State John Kerry was trying to broker a framework agreement:

“In February, Abbas arrived at a Paris hotel for a meeting with Kerry … He rejected all of Kerry’s ideas. A month later, in March, he was invited to the White House. Obama presented the American-formulated principles verbally – not in writing. Abbas refused.”

Then, in the very next sentence, came this astonishing defense: “The claim on your side that Abbas was avoiding making decisions is not true. He wasn’t running away.”

So long before the announcement of 700 new housing units that Kerry later termed the “poof” moment when everything blew up, Abbas had rejected all Kerry’s ideas and all President Barack Obama’s ideas. Yet he wasn’t “avoiding making decisions” or “running away”; he was a committed and engaged peace partner. Then who is to blame for his serial rejections? Why, Netanyahu, of course: Those “announcements of new housing tenders in settlements limited Abbas’ ability to show flexibility.”           

In other words, if Netanyahu is intransigent, it’s Netanyahu’s fault. And if Abbas is intransigent, it’s also Netanyahu’s fault. Under this administration’s definition of “honest brokerage,” only one side is ever to blame; the Palestinians have no agency of their own.

But it gets even worse–because it turns out Netanyahu wasn’t intransigent. As interviewer Nahum Barnea noted, even chief Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni–whom the American official termed a “heroine” who “fought with all of her might to promote the agreement”–says Netanyahu “showed flexibility.” The American pooh-poohed this, insisting Netanyahu hadn’t moved “more than an inch.” Yet addressing the Washington Institute the following week, Indyk admitted that Netanyahu actually evinced dramatic flexibility and was in “the zone of a possible agreement” when he met Obama in early March.            

So the bottom line is that Abbas rejected every proposal Kerry and Obama offered, while Netanyahu was in “the zone of a possible agreement.” Yet the administration nevertheless blames the breakdown on Netanyahu. In short, no matter what happens, the Palestinians will never be blamed.           

The reasons for this are numerous. As Jonathan Tobin noted last week, it helps deflect blame from the administration’s own mistake of wasting so much time and diplomatic energy on a dead end. Additionally, as Michael Doran perceptively argued this week, keeping Netanyahu on the defensive over the Palestinian issue undermines his ability to pressure the administration over Iran’s nuclear program. Nor can anti-Israel animus be ruled out, given the American official’s shocking claim, when Barnea drew a comparison to China’s occupation of Tibet, that “Israel is not China. It was founded by a UN resolution”–the clear implication being that unlike other countries, Israel’s right to exist is revocable.           

The most important reason, however, is simply that if the main barrier to peace is the settlements, then the problem is easily solvable and peace is achievable. But if the main barrier is Palestinian unwillingness to end their war on Israel, the problem is unsolvable and peace is unachievable. And to most of the world, blaming Israel unjustly is infinitely preferable to acknowledging that unpleasant truth.

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The PA, Refugees, the Holocaust, and Peace

Haaretz reported yesterday that if the Palestinian Authority’s planned Fatah-Hamas unity government actually arises, the U.S., like the European Union, will probably recognize it. Since Hamas has repeatedly said it will neither recognize Israel nor renounce violence, Israel is understandably upset at American and European willingness to peddle the fiction that a government in which Hamas is a full partner complies with those requirements. But Israel itself has helped to peddle a no less outrageous fiction for years–that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, unlike Hamas, is a “partner for peace.” To understand how ridiculous this claim is, consider two recent developments: last week’s Haaretz op-ed by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and a decision by Al-Quds University’s academic union two weeks earlier.

Erekat’s op-ed consisted mainly of standard Palestinian lies and half-truths about the Nakba–like omitting any mention of the five Arab armies who invaded Israel in 1948, thereby starting the war that created the Palestinian refugees. Nevertheless, one sentence stood out: “In my own home town, Jericho, there are two refugee camps where thousands continue to live in miserable conditions.” That happens to be completely true. What Erekat neglected to mention, however, is that Jericho was the first city Israel turned over to Palestinian rule, way back in 1994. In other words, Jericho has been under Palestinian rule continuously for the last 20 years, during which time the PA has been the largest per capita recipient of foreign aid in the world. Yet not one cent of that money has been spent on improving conditions in Jericho’s refugee camps. Instead, 20 years later, Erekat is still blaming Israel for the “miserable conditions” in those camps.

This is not a trivial issue, because the entire peace process is predicated on the theory that Fatah actually wants a Palestinian state. Yet having a Palestinian state means taking responsibility for the Palestinians’ problems, including the refugees living in those camps, rather than continuing to blame Israel for them. And as Erekat’s statement shows, the Fatah-led PA has no interest in doing any such thing: It prefers leaving the refugees in their misery as a way to score points against Israel with international public opinion. In other words, it would rather pursue its war against Israel than actually exercise sovereignty by improving its people’s lives.

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Haaretz reported yesterday that if the Palestinian Authority’s planned Fatah-Hamas unity government actually arises, the U.S., like the European Union, will probably recognize it. Since Hamas has repeatedly said it will neither recognize Israel nor renounce violence, Israel is understandably upset at American and European willingness to peddle the fiction that a government in which Hamas is a full partner complies with those requirements. But Israel itself has helped to peddle a no less outrageous fiction for years–that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, unlike Hamas, is a “partner for peace.” To understand how ridiculous this claim is, consider two recent developments: last week’s Haaretz op-ed by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and a decision by Al-Quds University’s academic union two weeks earlier.

Erekat’s op-ed consisted mainly of standard Palestinian lies and half-truths about the Nakba–like omitting any mention of the five Arab armies who invaded Israel in 1948, thereby starting the war that created the Palestinian refugees. Nevertheless, one sentence stood out: “In my own home town, Jericho, there are two refugee camps where thousands continue to live in miserable conditions.” That happens to be completely true. What Erekat neglected to mention, however, is that Jericho was the first city Israel turned over to Palestinian rule, way back in 1994. In other words, Jericho has been under Palestinian rule continuously for the last 20 years, during which time the PA has been the largest per capita recipient of foreign aid in the world. Yet not one cent of that money has been spent on improving conditions in Jericho’s refugee camps. Instead, 20 years later, Erekat is still blaming Israel for the “miserable conditions” in those camps.

This is not a trivial issue, because the entire peace process is predicated on the theory that Fatah actually wants a Palestinian state. Yet having a Palestinian state means taking responsibility for the Palestinians’ problems, including the refugees living in those camps, rather than continuing to blame Israel for them. And as Erekat’s statement shows, the Fatah-led PA has no interest in doing any such thing: It prefers leaving the refugees in their misery as a way to score points against Israel with international public opinion. In other words, it would rather pursue its war against Israel than actually exercise sovereignty by improving its people’s lives.

This preference for continuing the war on Israel over making peace also emerges from an April 30 decision by Al-Quds University’s academic union to expel a professor for the “crime” of taking his students to Auschwitz. By so doing, the union said, Prof. Mohammed Dajani was guilty of “behavior that contravenes the [union’s] policies and norms.”

Al-Quds isn’t some Islamic university deep in Hamas-controlled Gaza; it’s a flagship PA institution, located in East Jerusalem, that even had a partnership with Brandeis University, and whose president for almost 20 years (until his resignation in March at age 65) was prominent Fatah member Sari Nusseibeh, considered a leading Palestinian moderate. Yet for this “moderate” university, simply daring to expose students to the historical truth of the Holocaust is a crime worthy of expulsion from the academic union. Why? Because, as another teacher explained, it might lead students to have some sympathy for “the false Zionist narrative.” Or in other words, it might actually contribute to peacemaking by facilitating mutual understanding.

As long as the “moderates” of Fatah are unwilling either to accept the basic responsibilities of sovereignty, like helping their own refugees, or to acknowledge basic historical truths like the Holocaust, they are no more “peace partners” than Hamas is. And by peddling the fiction that they are, Israel and the West aren’t bringing peace closer. They’re merely ensuring that Fatah has no incentive to change.

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Blaming Israel to Preserve a Theory

Secretary of State John Kerry was in London yesterday trying to sweet talk Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talking peace again with Israel. But the main front in the peace process appears to be in Washington where the State Department is still spinning the collapse of Kerry’s initiative and placing the primary fault for the failure of his fool’s errand on Israel. While Kerry fired the initial shots of this campaign himself when he had his “poof” moment at a Senate hearing, at which he claimed Israeli housing construction announcements had ended the negotiations, it was then continued by an in-depth interview given by American officials (widely and credibly attributed to Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk) to Yediot Aharonoth in which the Netanyahu government was thoroughly trashed and Abbas’s intransigence rationalized. But not satisfied with that, Kerry’s aides are back reinforcing their attacks on Israel this week helping to generate stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The point of the press barrage appears not, as with previous assaults on the Israelis, to pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians in future talks since, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no interest in sticking his neck out further on behalf of an effort that has no chance to succeed. Rather, the continued talk about settlements being the obstacle to peace seems to have two purposes. One is to defend Kerry’s reputation against accurate criticisms of his decision to waste so much time and effort on a negotiation that was always doomed to fail. The other is that the administration peace processors who largely repeated the same mistakes made by the Clinton administration during the Oslo period with regard to the Palestinians feel compelled to justify their behavior by blaming Israel. The problem with the focus on settlements is not just that it is both inaccurate and out of context but that railing at Israeli building is the only way to preserve belief in a theory about attaining Middle East peace that has failed again.

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Secretary of State John Kerry was in London yesterday trying to sweet talk Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talking peace again with Israel. But the main front in the peace process appears to be in Washington where the State Department is still spinning the collapse of Kerry’s initiative and placing the primary fault for the failure of his fool’s errand on Israel. While Kerry fired the initial shots of this campaign himself when he had his “poof” moment at a Senate hearing, at which he claimed Israeli housing construction announcements had ended the negotiations, it was then continued by an in-depth interview given by American officials (widely and credibly attributed to Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk) to Yediot Aharonoth in which the Netanyahu government was thoroughly trashed and Abbas’s intransigence rationalized. But not satisfied with that, Kerry’s aides are back reinforcing their attacks on Israel this week helping to generate stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The point of the press barrage appears not, as with previous assaults on the Israelis, to pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians in future talks since, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no interest in sticking his neck out further on behalf of an effort that has no chance to succeed. Rather, the continued talk about settlements being the obstacle to peace seems to have two purposes. One is to defend Kerry’s reputation against accurate criticisms of his decision to waste so much time and effort on a negotiation that was always doomed to fail. The other is that the administration peace processors who largely repeated the same mistakes made by the Clinton administration during the Oslo period with regard to the Palestinians feel compelled to justify their behavior by blaming Israel. The problem with the focus on settlements is not just that it is both inaccurate and out of context but that railing at Israeli building is the only way to preserve belief in a theory about attaining Middle East peace that has failed again.

It cannot be emphasized enough that most of the discussion about the settlements from administration sources and their cheerleaders in the press is not only wrongheaded but also deliberately misleading. A perfect example of that comes today in David Ignatius’s column in the Post in which he writes:

The issue of Israeli settlements humiliated the Palestinian negotiators and poisoned the talks, according to statements by U.S. negotiators. When Israel announced 700 new settlements in early April, before the April 29 deadline for the talks, “Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry told a Senate panel.

Phrased that way it certainly sounds egregious. But Israel didn’t announce the start of 700 new settlements. It authorized 700 new apartments in Gilo, a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that no one, not even the Palestinians expects would be given to them in even a prospective peace treaty more to their liking than the Israelis. Israel has built almost no new “settlements,” i.e. brand new towns, villages, or cities in the West Bank since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 and claiming anything different isn’t just wrong, it’s a deliberate attempt to poison the atmosphere against the Jewish state. Later in the day, the Post corrected that line to read “settlement apartments,” but the intent to deceive on the part of Ignatius was clear.

More to the point, both Ignatius and the latest op-ed mislabeled as a news story by Times White House correspondent Mark Landler note their narratives of Israeli perfidy but fail to highlight that it was Netanyahu who agreed to Kerry’s framework for further peace talks and Abbas who turned the U.S. down. It was Abbas who refused to budge an inch during the talks even though Israel’s offers of territorial withdrawal constitute a fourth peace offer including independence that the Palestinians have turned down in the last 15 years. His decision to embrace Hamas in a unity pact rather than make peace with Israel sealed the end of Kerry’s effort, not announcements of new apartments in Jerusalem.

The reason for this obfuscation is not a mystery. Acknowledging the truth about the collapse of the talks would force Kerry and his State Department minions to admit that their theory about how to achieve peace has been wrong all along. It was primarily the Palestinians’ refusal to make the symbolic step of recognizing that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people that would live in peace alongside a nation state of the Palestinian people that sunk the talks. But acknowledging that would mean they understood that the political culture of the Palestinians—in which national identity is inextricably tied to rejection of Israel’s existence—must change before peace is possible. Israel, which has already made large-scale territorial withdrawals in the hope of peace, has already dismantled settlements and would uproot more if real peace were to be had. Moreover, since most of the building that Kerry and company blamed for the lack of peace are located in areas that would be kept by Israel, the obsession with them is as illogical as it is mean-spirited.

Just as the Clinton administration whitewashed Yasir Arafat and the PA in the ’90s, so, too, did the Obama crew whitewash his successor Abbas’s incitement and refusal to end the conflict. The result is that the Palestinians believe there will never be any serious consequences for rejecting peace. Throughout the Kerry initiative, Obama and the secretary praised Abbas while reviling Netanyahu but rather than nudging the Palestinians to make peace, it only encouraged them to refuse it. But if the U.S. is ever to help move the Middle East closer to peace, it will require honesty from the administration about the Palestinians and for it to give up its settlement obsession. Seen from that perspective, it was Kerry and Indyk who did as much to sabotage the process as Abbas, let alone Netanyahu. But instead, Obama, Kerry, and Indyk refuse to admit their faults and continue besmirching Israel to their friends in the press. Sticking to a discredited theory is always easier than facing the truth, especially about your own mistakes.

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Kerry’s Counterproductive Peace Diplomacy

Give Secretary of State John Kerry credit. His pursuit of Middle East peace may be futile, but it is determined. Weeks after Palestinian decisions to return to the United Nations for an end run around Kerry’s efforts and then a Fatah-Hamas unity pact blew them up, Kerry is back at it. He is scheduled to meet tomorrow in London with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process and the future of the relationship between the United States and the PA. Most observers are treating this meeting as evidence of Kerry’s determination never to give up the search for peace and therefore a praiseworthy act almost by definition.

But even if we are prepared to praise the secretary for never giving up hope for peace, this effort to entice Abbas back to the table to talk with Israel is misguided. While the U.S. has falsely sought to portray the collapse of the talks as being the fault of both sides in the negotiations in order not to alienate the Palestinians, the latest evidence of Kerry’s belief that sweet talking the PA is the only way to go is likely to do more harm than good. After nine months of praise of Abbas as a man of peace coming from the mouths of President Obama and Kerry while they were also trashing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the U.S. is not merely presiding over a standoff; the administration has become one of its main causes. If Kerry isn’t prepared to start pressuring Abbas to make peace and stating that there will be stark consequences for the PA if he fails to do so, the secretary would be better off avoiding the Palestinian leader.

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Give Secretary of State John Kerry credit. His pursuit of Middle East peace may be futile, but it is determined. Weeks after Palestinian decisions to return to the United Nations for an end run around Kerry’s efforts and then a Fatah-Hamas unity pact blew them up, Kerry is back at it. He is scheduled to meet tomorrow in London with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process and the future of the relationship between the United States and the PA. Most observers are treating this meeting as evidence of Kerry’s determination never to give up the search for peace and therefore a praiseworthy act almost by definition.

But even if we are prepared to praise the secretary for never giving up hope for peace, this effort to entice Abbas back to the table to talk with Israel is misguided. While the U.S. has falsely sought to portray the collapse of the talks as being the fault of both sides in the negotiations in order not to alienate the Palestinians, the latest evidence of Kerry’s belief that sweet talking the PA is the only way to go is likely to do more harm than good. After nine months of praise of Abbas as a man of peace coming from the mouths of President Obama and Kerry while they were also trashing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the U.S. is not merely presiding over a standoff; the administration has become one of its main causes. If Kerry isn’t prepared to start pressuring Abbas to make peace and stating that there will be stark consequences for the PA if he fails to do so, the secretary would be better off avoiding the Palestinian leader.

Kerry embarked on his quest for Middle East peace despite advice from nearly every veteran foreign-policy hand that he was wasting his time. The Palestinians were too divided and had demonstrated no sign that they had evolved from the rejectionist stance they adopted when Israel made three separate offers of statehood in 2000, 2001, and 2008. That skepticism was justified when, once again, Abbas refused Kerry’s entreaties to make a symbolic acceptance that Israel was the Jewish state and therefore signaling that the conflict was over. But despite Netanyahu’s willingness to talk about a large-scale withdrawal from the West Bank in exchange for peace, Abbas never budged from his previous positions on territory, Jerusalem, and refugees. He then fled the talks at the first pretext, an announcement of building in a 40-year-old neighborhood of the capital that everyone knows will never change hands even in the event of a peace treaty. In doing so, he walked away from what was, for all intents and purposes, a fourth Israeli offer of peace. He solidified that lack of interest in peace by signing an agreement with the Islamists of Hamas rather than with Israel. The new coalition may provide the Palestinians with unity, but it will be unity in favor of continued conflict, not peace.

At this point the only rational response to these Palestinian decisions ought to be to warn the Palestinians that the unity pact necessitates the end of U.S. aid to the PA. But Kerry has been soft-pedaling the fact that such aid is now illegal under U.S. law and continuing to pretend that Israel, rather than Palestinians, are the main problem. Just as important, even if Obama and Kerry think they must continue to play the even-handed moderator and criticize Israel at every conceivable opportunity, they need to understand that unless they use the considerable leverage the U.S. has over the Palestinians, there is not even a remote chance that Abbas will return to the talks, let alone do what he must to make peace.

If Kerry must meet with Abbas, it is not too late to stop coddling him. The secretary isn’t big on admitting failure, but unless he stops pretending that Abbas is a force for peace when he is anything but, Kerry will remain part of the peace process problem, not its solution. 

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Martin Indyk’s Appalling Answers

Ambassador Martin Indyk’s address last week to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, castigating Israel for “rampant settlement activity,” featured assertions that, as Elliott Abrams and Tom Wilson have noted, were simply wrong. Settlement activity was not rampant, and almost all of it was in areas Israel would retain under any peace agreement. Indyk nevertheless made it clear he subscribes to the “poof” theory of peace-process failure.  

Even more troubling than Indyk’s prepared remarks, however, were his unscripted replies in the Q & A session. By pre-arrangement, he took only three questions–all from the Institute’s executive director, Robert Satloff. In response to the first, about settlements, Indyk said he had no idea what Satloff was talking about. In response to the second, about Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, Indyk misstated the year Israel first raised the issue–by 14 years. In response to the third, about the U.S. role in the process, Indyk acknowledged that Mahmoud Abbas was “quite content to sit back and enjoy the show” of Israeli-American disharmony, but Indyk said it was a “puzzle” to figure out “what happened” after that. 

I think I can help here. I know what Satloff was talking about; I know when recognition of a Jewish state was first raised; and I have a theory about Abbas that might solve the mystery that puzzled Indyk. 

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Ambassador Martin Indyk’s address last week to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, castigating Israel for “rampant settlement activity,” featured assertions that, as Elliott Abrams and Tom Wilson have noted, were simply wrong. Settlement activity was not rampant, and almost all of it was in areas Israel would retain under any peace agreement. Indyk nevertheless made it clear he subscribes to the “poof” theory of peace-process failure.  

Even more troubling than Indyk’s prepared remarks, however, were his unscripted replies in the Q & A session. By pre-arrangement, he took only three questions–all from the Institute’s executive director, Robert Satloff. In response to the first, about settlements, Indyk said he had no idea what Satloff was talking about. In response to the second, about Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, Indyk misstated the year Israel first raised the issue–by 14 years. In response to the third, about the U.S. role in the process, Indyk acknowledged that Mahmoud Abbas was “quite content to sit back and enjoy the show” of Israeli-American disharmony, but Indyk said it was a “puzzle” to figure out “what happened” after that. 

I think I can help here. I know what Satloff was talking about; I know when recognition of a Jewish state was first raised; and I have a theory about Abbas that might solve the mystery that puzzled Indyk. 

In his first question, Satloff noted that an “unnamed American diplomat” (reliably reported to have been Martin Indyk) told the Israeli media that settlements were the reason talks ended, but Satloff informed Indyk that others took a different view, believing Prime Minister Netanyahu, far from authorizing “rampant” settlement activity, in fact limited it, but had failed to “take public credit for how little there was,” lest he isolate the Israeli right. Indyk replied: 

I’ve not heard of this second account — it doesn’t make any sense to me — and I honestly don’t understand what it means. Maybe someone else can explain it to me.  

Allow me. When Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009, he sought to correct what he saw as the main error in his first term (1996-99): governing from a narrow political base. In his second term, he formed as wide a coalition as possible to negotiate peace. Ron Dermer, currently Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., described Netanyahu’s approach in 2009. The approach gave Netanyahu support across the Israeli political spectrum, so he could explore a different path to peace than those that had failed. He supported the principle that Jews could build anywhere in their capital or in the disputed territories, while in practice significantly limited actual building. Indyk’s ungracious (not to say undiplomatic) response to Satloff’s question demonstrates that Indyk was oblivious to this.   

In his reply to Satloff’s second question, on the Palestinian refusal to discuss recognition of a Jewish state, Indyk seemed to accept Abbas’s assertion this was “a new requirement.” Just two months earlier, though, Ambassador Dennis Ross stated unequivocally that it was first raised in 2000, and he had pointed words for those who pretend otherwise: 

When I hear it said that this is the first time this issue has been raised – the people who say that think that no one knows history… When we were at Camp David [in 2000], this issue was raised. 

The Palestinians still refuse to recognize a Jewish state 14 years later. Credulous journalists may report the issue as a last-minute obstacle, but one would not have expected the current U.S. peace envoy to permit such disinformation to stand.   

Replying to Satloff’s third question, musing on the mystery of Abbas’s withdrawal from serious negotiations after he observed the American-Israeli split, Indyk seemed oblivious to the fact that this was precisely the strategy Abbas announced in 2009 in the Washington Post: that he planned to do “nothing” in the peace process but watch the Obama administration pressure Netanyahu on settlements. This year, Abbas resorted yet again to the pretext of settlements as a reason to abandon negotiations.  

Abbas bet that an American administration that conducts its foreign policy like a troupe of innocents abroad would once again blame Israel. Indyk’s appalling performance last week demonstrated it was a good bet.

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Fallout from Kerry’s Debacle Continues

The violence initiated by Yasser Arafat after his rejection of the Clinton-brokered peace deal was a worst-case scenario not only for those whose lives were now in danger in the Middle East but for Western negotiators and supporters of the peace process. It presented them with the nightmarish lesson that there is risk in negotiating; the failure of talks could mean years of war.

But this year’s failed talks pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry are demonstrating another way peace talks aren’t necessarily risk-free: the deterioration of relations between the PA and Israel. As the talks collapsed, Mahmoud Abbas went ahead with a unity deal with Hamas, which immediately raised questions about Israeli support and the sharing of intel with the previously Hamas-less government. And today Haaretz sheds light on the nasty business of the blame game, with a letter apparently written by Israel’s national security advisor to Western governments:

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The violence initiated by Yasser Arafat after his rejection of the Clinton-brokered peace deal was a worst-case scenario not only for those whose lives were now in danger in the Middle East but for Western negotiators and supporters of the peace process. It presented them with the nightmarish lesson that there is risk in negotiating; the failure of talks could mean years of war.

But this year’s failed talks pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry are demonstrating another way peace talks aren’t necessarily risk-free: the deterioration of relations between the PA and Israel. As the talks collapsed, Mahmoud Abbas went ahead with a unity deal with Hamas, which immediately raised questions about Israeli support and the sharing of intel with the previously Hamas-less government. And today Haaretz sheds light on the nasty business of the blame game, with a letter apparently written by Israel’s national security advisor to Western governments:

Attached to the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by Haaretz, is a 65-page document that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat submitted to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on March 9, three weeks before Israel was to release the final batch of Palestinian prisoners. In it, Erekat proposed a strategy for the PA during the final month of negotiations and after April 29, when the talks were originally scheduled to end before their premature collapse.

Erekat recommended applying to join various international conventions, informing the U.S. and Europe that the Palestinians wouldn’t extend the talks beyond April 29, demanding that Israel nevertheless release the final batch of prisoners, intensifying efforts to reconcile with Hamas to thwart what he termed an Israeli effort to sever the West Bank from Gaza politically, and various other diplomatic and public relations moves.

Over the past month, the PA has implemented most of Erekat’s recommendations. This, Cohen wrote in his letter, shows that even while the Palestinians were talking with Washington about the possibility of extending the peace talks, they were actually planning to blow them up, and had been planning to do so even before Abbas met with U.S. President Barack Obama on March 17. …

The document also shows that the Palestinians planned in advance to take unilateral steps in defiance of the commitment they made when the talks were launched in July 2013, he wrote.

The Israeli leadership’s decision to share that information was apparently made in response to the Palestinians’ attempt to blame Israel for the stalled negotiations. Leaking the letter to the press is also a good way to push back on the craven and self-discrediting efforts by Martin Indyk’s team to blame Israel in order to settle old scores. The blame game is, of course, far better than an intifada, which was Arafat’s answer to an offer of peace and mutual coexistence. But that doesn’t make it any less unpleasant.

It’s worth pointing out that the letter isn’t necessarily the smoking gun it appears to be; the Palestinians will no doubt claim that it was a fall-back list of options in case talks fell apart, which they always do. But that’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the talks usually end with the Palestinians walking away.

Yet that’s really a side issue here. The larger implications of this have to do with the fact that Kerry’s obsessive and badly mismanaged drive for a deal that was not in the offing has consequences for just about everyone but Kerry. He and Indyk can turn their attention elsewhere as they hit the Israelis with a sneering parting shot, but their gamble has left the Israelis and Palestinians worse off and scrambling to pick up the pieces.

The fact that there is some risk in negotiations doesn’t mean such negotiations should never take place: it would be courting disaster if a negotiated solution were permanently taken off the table. But neither should peace talks be seen as all upside, the way Western diplomats have tended to believe. Nor should they always focus on grand final-status deals just because an arrogant secretary of state like Kerry wants his Nobel. Kerry and Indyk may be used to others cleaning up their messes for them, but it’s clear both Israel and the Palestinians are getting tired of it.

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A Postmortem of Inept U.S. Diplomacy

Secretary of State John Kerry’s disastrous attempt to bring peace to the Middle East is not going quietly into the night after its collapse in the last month. Kerry made clear his own prejudices, as well as his misunderstanding about the reality of the conflict, when he told the Trilateral Commission that Israel would become an “apartheid state” if it failed to make peace. Though Kerry had to offer a non-apology apology in which he regretted his choice of words, the slur illustrated his own animus for the Jewish state’s positions. It also was fuel to the fire for the campaign of hatred that is bolstered by such canards. But not satisfied with that shot fired over the bow of the Netanyahu government, the administration doubled down on the “Israel is to blame” argument with an interview given by anonymous “senior American officials” with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea available here on YNet.com in English.

There is nothing terribly surprising with the postmortem on the talks, the source for which (if you believe Haaretz) is believed to be Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk. Indyk, who is resigning his post as U.S. negotiator and going back to his Washington sinecure at the Brookings Institution, has a long history of bad blood with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu dating back to his controversial tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel in the 1990s. But rather than merely file this away as another example of the poisonous personal politics that can intrude into diplomacy, a close yet critical reading of the interview reveals more about why the Obama administration’s peace efforts failed than anything about what the Israelis have done. Like the public statements made by both President Obama and Secretary Kerry in which they praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas while trashing Netanyahu, the U.S. has repeated the Clinton administration’s mistake in whitewashing Yasir Arafat in the 1990s. In doing so, they have effectively made the already slim chances for peace even more unlikely.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s disastrous attempt to bring peace to the Middle East is not going quietly into the night after its collapse in the last month. Kerry made clear his own prejudices, as well as his misunderstanding about the reality of the conflict, when he told the Trilateral Commission that Israel would become an “apartheid state” if it failed to make peace. Though Kerry had to offer a non-apology apology in which he regretted his choice of words, the slur illustrated his own animus for the Jewish state’s positions. It also was fuel to the fire for the campaign of hatred that is bolstered by such canards. But not satisfied with that shot fired over the bow of the Netanyahu government, the administration doubled down on the “Israel is to blame” argument with an interview given by anonymous “senior American officials” with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea available here on YNet.com in English.

There is nothing terribly surprising with the postmortem on the talks, the source for which (if you believe Haaretz) is believed to be Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk. Indyk, who is resigning his post as U.S. negotiator and going back to his Washington sinecure at the Brookings Institution, has a long history of bad blood with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu dating back to his controversial tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel in the 1990s. But rather than merely file this away as another example of the poisonous personal politics that can intrude into diplomacy, a close yet critical reading of the interview reveals more about why the Obama administration’s peace efforts failed than anything about what the Israelis have done. Like the public statements made by both President Obama and Secretary Kerry in which they praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas while trashing Netanyahu, the U.S. has repeated the Clinton administration’s mistake in whitewashing Yasir Arafat in the 1990s. In doing so, they have effectively made the already slim chances for peace even more unlikely.

The details of Indyk’s complaints about Israel aren’t terribly persuasive. Though he attempts to portray Netanyahu as intransigent, even his interviewer is forced to point out that even the prime minister’s rival Tzipi Livni, whom Indyk praises extravagantly as a “heroine,” admitted that in fact it was Netanyahu who had moved off of his previous positions on a possible agreement while Abbas had not moved an inch.

Indyk counters that by trashing Israel’s entirely reasonable demands for security guarantees that would ensure that West Bank territory it gave up would not turn into another version of Gaza after Ariel Sharon’s disastrous 2005 retreat. He also claims that Abbas made great concessions in agreeing to a deal in which Israel would keep Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and 80 percent of West Bank settlements. But having agreed to terms that roughly match what Netanyahu is believed to have offered, Abbas walked away from the talks rather than negotiate their implementation. That isn’t peacemaking. It’s obstruction that allowed him to avoid taking responsibility for making a peace that he fears his people don’t want.

Indyk also tells us a great deal about administration cluelessness when he admits he didn’t understand why Abbas refused to even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state even when the Israelis were preparing versions of a statement that would at the same time recognize “Palestine” as the nation state of Palestinian Arabs.

“We couldn’t understand why it bothered him so much,” the anonymous U.S. official said. Really? Saying those two symbolic words—“Jewish state”—would have gone a long way to convincing the Israeli public that Abbas was sincere about wanting to end the conflict for all time. His refusal signaled that the PA and its new partner Hamas want no part of any treaty that signals the end of their century-old war against Zionism. If Indyk and Kerry didn’t understand the significance of this issue, they are not only demonstrating their unwillingness to hold the Palestinians accountable, they are also showing an alarming lack of diplomatic skill.

Finally, Indyk’s focus on Israel’s diplomatic offenses during the process is also important. Indyk can’t let go of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s criticism of Kerry as a man in search of a Nobel Peace Prize, terming it a “great insult.” But it had nothing to do with the negotiations and might well have been a sign that the leading right-winger in the Cabinet was alarmed at how much Netanyahu was conceding in the talks.

Lastly, Indyk falls back on the same settlements excuse that Israel’s critics always cite as proof that the Jewish state is obstructing peace. But the focus on how many “settlements” were being built during the talks is a red herring because almost all of the “settlements”—which are actually merely new houses being built in existing communities and not new towns—were being built in exactly the places Abbas supposedly had conceded would stay in Israel. In other words, the building had no impact on the peace terms. For Indyk to specifically blame the announcement that several hundred new apartments would be built in the Gilo section of Jerusalem as the straw that broke the camel’s back of peace is absurd. Gilo, a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in the capital, would remain inside of Israel even if peace were reached. How, then, could a few more apartments in a place that would never be surrendered by Israel serve as an acceptable rationale for a Palestinian walkout, as Indyk indicates?

The answer to that question is that the Americans are so invested in Abbas’s shaky credibility as a peacemaker that they were prepared to swallow any excuse from him. The truth is Abbas never had any genuine interest in peace and fled the talks the first chance he got. He indicated that lack of interest by going back to the United Nations in an end run around the talks and sealed it by making a deal with Hamas rather than Israel. But all Indyk can do is blame Netanyahu. The interview tells us all we need to know about how inept American diplomacy has become.

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Latest Palestinian ‘No’ Leaves Israel Pondering Unattractive Options

Today Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu went to Israel’s Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to announce his push for the Knesset to adopt a new basic law that would formally declare that Israel was the nation state of the Jewish people. The proposal, uttered in the same spot where David Ben Gurion declared Israel’s independence in 1948, would not compromise the rights of Israel’s non-Jewish minorities but does seek to remove any doubt about the future of the country either in the aftermath of a peace treaty with the Palestinians or without it. Some of his domestic critics were right to point out that the passage of such a law would change nothing in Israel since it is already a Jewish state with full and equal rights for non-Jews. But the latest revelations about the recently scuttled peace talks speak volumes about why the negotiations promoted by Secretary of State John Kerry failed.

As the Times of Israel reports, Israel tried to get Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to agree to anything that would acknowledge that Israel was a Jewish state. They even proposed wording that would at the same time say that the new Palestinian nation was the state of the Palestinian Arabs. But the two states for two peoples formula that has always been at the heart of the pro-peace agenda among Jews is not one that Abbas could swallow even in its most even-handed form. The goal was mutual recognition rather than forcing the Palestinians to accept an Israeli ultimatum. But not even the most flexible formula was something the PA would even discuss let alone accept because doing so would implicitly concede that the Palestinians were concluding the conflict and accepting that the verdict of the War of Independence is final.

This leaves Israelis pondering what their next step will be now that the Palestinians have blown up the process.

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Today Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu went to Israel’s Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to announce his push for the Knesset to adopt a new basic law that would formally declare that Israel was the nation state of the Jewish people. The proposal, uttered in the same spot where David Ben Gurion declared Israel’s independence in 1948, would not compromise the rights of Israel’s non-Jewish minorities but does seek to remove any doubt about the future of the country either in the aftermath of a peace treaty with the Palestinians or without it. Some of his domestic critics were right to point out that the passage of such a law would change nothing in Israel since it is already a Jewish state with full and equal rights for non-Jews. But the latest revelations about the recently scuttled peace talks speak volumes about why the negotiations promoted by Secretary of State John Kerry failed.

As the Times of Israel reports, Israel tried to get Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to agree to anything that would acknowledge that Israel was a Jewish state. They even proposed wording that would at the same time say that the new Palestinian nation was the state of the Palestinian Arabs. But the two states for two peoples formula that has always been at the heart of the pro-peace agenda among Jews is not one that Abbas could swallow even in its most even-handed form. The goal was mutual recognition rather than forcing the Palestinians to accept an Israeli ultimatum. But not even the most flexible formula was something the PA would even discuss let alone accept because doing so would implicitly concede that the Palestinians were concluding the conflict and accepting that the verdict of the War of Independence is final.

This leaves Israelis pondering what their next step will be now that the Palestinians have blown up the process.

With the PA having embraced the Hamas terrorist movement, negotiations are not likely to be resumed soon. With the U.S. perhaps considering issuing its own peace plan that is likely to be more in line with Palestinian demands than Israel’s position, some in the Jewish state feel the time is right for some unilateral steps. It is in this context that Netanyahu’s Jewish state proposal must be seen. But that symbolic gesture aside, Israel would be wise to avoid seeking to repeat the mistake it made in 2005 when Ariel Sharon sought to unilaterally set Israel’s borders by withdrawing from Gaza. No matter what Israel gives up, it will get no credit from the international community.

Respected thinkers like Michael Oren, the immediate past Israeli ambassador to the U.S., believe that there must be a “plan B” in the aftermath of the collapse of the talks. He suggests a withdrawal to the security fence that would remove some settlements and make it clear that the settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem will forever be part of Israel.

But the problem here is that withdrawing from one place won’t convince anyone that Israel has a right to keep another. To the contrary, as with the various withdrawals that Israel has undertaken since the start of the Oslo Accords, every retreat is considered by both the Palestinians and the international community as proof that the territories are all stolen property that must be returned to the Arabs rather than as disputed lands that should be split as part of a rational compromise. The Gaza fiasco should have taught the Israelis this truth as well as making clear how costly in terms of its security such retreats can be.

Nor should anyone be holding out much hope for another try at the process even though it is doubtful that Kerry is ready to concede that his quest was nothing more than a fool’s errand. Ironically, former President Bill Clinton spoke at length during an appearance at Georgetown University this week about his own peace process push in 2000. Not for the first time, Clinton exploded the myths put forward by Obama National Security Council staffer Robert Malley that the Palestinians were not at fault for the failure of the Camp David Summit. Clinton repeated his previous assertions that it was Yasir Arafat who turned down Israel’s offer of peace in spite of the fact that then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak was ready to concede control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

This is significant because it set the pattern that Abbas has followed in the years after Arafat left the scene. The rejection of even a mutual declaration of recognition by Abbas constituted the fourth Palestinian no to peace and statehood in 15 years. That won’t change until the political culture of the Palestinians that inextricably links rejection of Zionism to their national identity changes.

But rather than seeking unilateral moves that will strengthen neither Israel’s security nor its popularity abroad or another deep dive into a peace process that is doomed to failure, the Jewish state must be prepared to wait patiently until the Palestinians are finally ready to make peace. Managing the conflict doesn’t satisfy those who want to resolve the conflict. But, as the Israelis have shown over the last forty years, it is the safest and most reasonable approach to a problem that, despite their best intentions, they can’t solve by themselves. It remains the best of a number of poor choices available to them.

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Farewell Mahmoud, Mon Amour

Today marks the official end of the Kerry Process–initiated July 30, 2013 with a White House meeting and State Department press conference proclaiming an effort to achieve a “final status agreement” in nine months; then simply a non-binding “framework”; then just an agreement to talk beyond nine months. The end result: no agreement, no framework, no talks.

The concept of a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas was always a romantic idea, featuring the triumph of hope over experience, the repeated pursuit of a “peace partner” who kept saying “no,” and the failure of peace processors to understand every part of that answer. If there has been any benefit from the Kerry Process, it’s that it has made it clear that the Palestinians do not want a state–not if it requires recognizing a Jewish one, or releasing the specious “right” of “return” to the state they repeatedly tried to destroy, or an end-of-claims agreement that would actually resolve the conflict. You can’t have a “two state solution” when one of the parties refuses to acknowledge “two states for two peoples” as the goal. 

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Today marks the official end of the Kerry Process–initiated July 30, 2013 with a White House meeting and State Department press conference proclaiming an effort to achieve a “final status agreement” in nine months; then simply a non-binding “framework”; then just an agreement to talk beyond nine months. The end result: no agreement, no framework, no talks.

The concept of a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas was always a romantic idea, featuring the triumph of hope over experience, the repeated pursuit of a “peace partner” who kept saying “no,” and the failure of peace processors to understand every part of that answer. If there has been any benefit from the Kerry Process, it’s that it has made it clear that the Palestinians do not want a state–not if it requires recognizing a Jewish one, or releasing the specious “right” of “return” to the state they repeatedly tried to destroy, or an end-of-claims agreement that would actually resolve the conflict. You can’t have a “two state solution” when one of the parties refuses to acknowledge “two states for two peoples” as the goal. 

The romance has been a bad romance not just for nine months but ten years. In 2003, Abbas accepted the Roadmap and then later that year bragged to the Palestinian Legislative Council about refusing to dismantle terrorist groups, as the Roadmap required. In 2005, he was given Gaza without a single settler or soldier remaining, announced “from this day forward, there will be no more security turmoil and weapons chaos and abductions, which are not characteristic of our culture”and then did nothing as Gaza turned into Hamastan in one week.

In 2006, after his corrupt party lost the election, he cancelled all future ones, including his own. In 2007, after Hamas took over half of the putative state, he was reduced to being the mayor of Ramallah. In 2008, he was offered a state on land equivalent to all of the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem, and he walked away. In 2010, after Netanyahu became the fourth Israeli prime minister to endorse a Palestinian state and implemented an unprecedented ten-month construction freeze, Abbas did nothing for nine months, had to be dragged to the negotiating table in the tenth, and then simply demanded the freeze be continued.

In 2013, he demanded pre-negotiation concessions to return to the table to discuss the Palestinian state that is purportedly his goal, got a promise of prisoner releases as long as he stayed at the table, and made it clear he would leave the table as soon as he finished collecting them. Now he has come full circle, agreeing again to form a government with the terrorist group he promised to dismantle in 2003.

You don’t have to have been a Jewish mother to know this guy was not going to be the guy.

President Obama recently suggested that Israel transfer more land to him, because the next Palestinian leader could be worse. The larger question is why the United States should continue to support creation of a Palestinian state if this is the best leader the Palestinians can present. He has essentially been a concession-reception device–a receptacle for concessions from those with the romantic belief that concessions would produce peace–while never making any concessions himself. In Ari Shavit’s words in Haaretz last week, “There is no document that contains any real Palestinian concession with Abbas’ signature. None. There never was, and there never will be.” 

Lost in the process over the past ten years has been the recognition that American support for a Palestinian state was, at least at the beginning, conditional. When President Bush announced U.S. support for a Palestinian state in 2002, he made it contingent on the Palestinians first building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty,” with democratically elected leaders and “new institutions” that would promise a peaceful state. A Palestinian state, from an American standpoint, was intended as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.

Somewhere along the line, the means and the end got confused. Perhaps it was after the Gaza disengagement produced not peace but new rocket wars. Perhaps it was after the Palestinian failure to complete even Phase I of the three-phase Roadmap, when Condoleezza Rice responded by deciding to “accelerate” it and skip the first two phases. Perhaps it was after President Obama ignored the written and oral promises to Israel from prior peace processes and made new demands on Israel, but none on the Palestinians. Perhaps it was when Kerry decided that, notwithstanding the refusal of Mahmoud Abbas even to endorse a Jewish state as one of the two states in the “solution,” the U.S. should proceed with the process anyway. In any event, as Ari Shavit’s article last week indicated, the affair is over.

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EU Doublethink on the Palestinians

That the European Union’s foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton should have come out reiterating her support for the U.S.-sponsored peace process is hardly surprising. The fact that she has chosen to do this in the wake of a Hamas-Fatah unity deal–at a time when even the U.S. has conceded there should be a letup in the talks–is a little more troubling. Out of Ashton’s refusal to see what even the Obama administration reluctantly acknowledges has come a statement filled with incomprehensible contradictions.

Ashton at once lauds the importance of democratic elections while also endorsing Palestinian head Mahmoud Abbas as having a mandate, insisting on the importance of non-violence and Palestinian recognition of Israel, and yet at the same time welcoming the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement. These various sentiments are simply incompatible with one another. So what is going on?

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That the European Union’s foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton should have come out reiterating her support for the U.S.-sponsored peace process is hardly surprising. The fact that she has chosen to do this in the wake of a Hamas-Fatah unity deal–at a time when even the U.S. has conceded there should be a letup in the talks–is a little more troubling. Out of Ashton’s refusal to see what even the Obama administration reluctantly acknowledges has come a statement filled with incomprehensible contradictions.

Ashton at once lauds the importance of democratic elections while also endorsing Palestinian head Mahmoud Abbas as having a mandate, insisting on the importance of non-violence and Palestinian recognition of Israel, and yet at the same time welcoming the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement. These various sentiments are simply incompatible with one another. So what is going on?

Coming from Brussels, that insistence upon Israel’s right to exist is no doubt supposed to be considered wildly pro-Israel, although there is of course no reference to anything about a Jewish state. But what is so strange is that in the very same speech, Ashton declares that the EU has always supported “intra-Palestinian reconciliation.” And yet to hold these two positions, Eurocrats are obliged to believe two contradictory things at once. Because Hamas, who this much favored intra-Palestinian reconciliation must necessarily concern, is innately the antithesis of all the things that Ashton outlined above.

Of course, it isn’t just Hamas that fails to meet the EU’s alleged criteria for participation in government and negotiations. Abbas’s sham-moderate Fatah movement has also struggled to live up to these “principles.” And yet Ashton’s repeated endorsement of Abbas is unequivocal. On the subject of reconciliation, Ashton stresses that the EU holds that this should take place under the authority of Abbas. But why? Abbas has no legitimacy. The Palestinian president is presently serving out the tenth year of what was supposed to have been a four-year term of office. Yet the contradiction here runs deeper still. 

The concluding part of Ashton’s announcement is by far the most problematic. Ashton states, “The EU welcomes the prospect of genuine democratic elections for all Palestinians. The fact that President Abbas will remain fully in charge of the negotiation process and have a mandate to negotiate in the name of all Palestinians provides further assurance that the peace negotiations can and must proceed.” This is astonishing. Not only is there no real prospect of free and fair elections for the Palestinians, either under Hamas in Gaza or Fatah in the West Bank, but the very fact that “President Abbas will remain fully in charge” is an affront to the very principle of democratic elections that Ashton has just invoked. Indeed, to speak of Abbas as having a mandate is farcical. If there really were the “genuine democratic elections” that Ashton claims she wants, it is impossible to imagine that Abbas would still be where he is today.

In one sense the attitudes displayed here are quite in keeping with the EU’s own conduct: to praise democracy in principle while performing precious little of it practice. But while the EU’s habit of only paying lip service to democracy no doubt makes it easier for Brussels to adopt this policy, it doesn’t explain why it would wish to do so in the first place. After all, if even the Obama administration, with all its investments and delusions, can take a reluctant step back from the negotiations at this point, why can’t the EU?

For Ashton and the EU to concede that in joining with Hamas Abbas has really gone too far this time, they would have to make their support for the Palestinians contingent upon what the Palestinians actually do. But the truth is that Palestinian conduct has nothing to do with European support for the Palestinians and their cause. European support for the Palestinians is simply innate. According to the EU’s own worldview, the Palestinians are third-world victims–of Western colonialism, of U.S. financial and military might, and yes, of the Jews and their Zionism.

And because the people who run the EU don’t much care for any of those just listed, in the Palestinians they find a pet cause like no other. And so the EU has poured millions of Euros into the Palestinian Authority when it knows full well that this money is used by Abbas to shore up his regime, to crackdown on political opposition, and to incite hatred against Jews and Israel among the Palestinian citizenry.

Of course, Ashton could never come out and say just what she and the European elites really think and feel about the Palestinian cause. EU high-minded moral superiority is predicated upon democratic and non-violent values. And so Ashton must talk as if she’s praising the Palestinians for embodying all the things the EU claims to love, while being well aware that they are the archetypes of everything enlightened Europe is supposed to oppose. 

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Kerry’s Regime-Change Fantasy

Despite the attention received by yesterday’s scoop from the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin, in which we learned that Secretary of State John Kerry raised the specter of Israeli apartheid, it probably deserves a bit more. That’s because there was more to Kerry’s comments than the apartheid claim, and they demonstrate the extent of Kerry’s ignorance on Middle Eastern politics. As Rogin notes:

It wasn’t the only controversial comment on the Middle East that Kerry made during his remarks to the Trilateral Commission, a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast. Kerry also repeated his warning that a failure of Middle East peace talks could lead to a resumption of Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens. He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible. He lashed out against Israeli settlement-building. And Kerry said that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders share the blame for the current impasse in the talks.

The key part in that parade of nonsense is: “He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible.” The most harmful effect of such comments is not that they insult Israeli and Palestinian leaders–they do, but Kerry doesn’t care, and they’re all adults anyway and can roll with the punches. The real danger here is that Kerry is revealing that he doesn’t know anything about Israeli or Palestinian politics if he thinks that “regime change,” so to speak, on either side might get him closer to his Nobel Prize.

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Despite the attention received by yesterday’s scoop from the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin, in which we learned that Secretary of State John Kerry raised the specter of Israeli apartheid, it probably deserves a bit more. That’s because there was more to Kerry’s comments than the apartheid claim, and they demonstrate the extent of Kerry’s ignorance on Middle Eastern politics. As Rogin notes:

It wasn’t the only controversial comment on the Middle East that Kerry made during his remarks to the Trilateral Commission, a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast. Kerry also repeated his warning that a failure of Middle East peace talks could lead to a resumption of Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens. He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible. He lashed out against Israeli settlement-building. And Kerry said that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders share the blame for the current impasse in the talks.

The key part in that parade of nonsense is: “He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible.” The most harmful effect of such comments is not that they insult Israeli and Palestinian leaders–they do, but Kerry doesn’t care, and they’re all adults anyway and can roll with the punches. The real danger here is that Kerry is revealing that he doesn’t know anything about Israeli or Palestinian politics if he thinks that “regime change,” so to speak, on either side might get him closer to his Nobel Prize.

On the Israeli side, the idea of helping to collapse Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition to get more obedient peaceniks in office is an ongoing farce during the Obama presidency. Even the president’s staunch defenders noticed quite early on that he was intent on spending energy and political capital trying to compel change in the Israeli coalition so he could get what he wanted. (This is the same administration that legitimized Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s “election” “victory” in Iran.)

Barack Obama’s irrational hatred of Netanyahu was mirrored by the left in general, so he didn’t get quite the pushback such a scheme deserved. Putting aside the moral implications of destabilizing an ally in order to control it, the Obama administration should have learned by now that it would fail anyway. There has been an election since Obama’s early Mideast foibles, and that election produced a governing coalition that reflected precisely what I talked about last week: There is a broad political consensus in Israel, especially regarding the peace process, and Israeli democracy, however imperfect, tends to keep that consensus in office.

What the Obama administration wants for Israel is not what the Israeli people want for their country. The beauty of democracy is that this can be expressed at the ballot box for all to see. Kerry, then, has no excuse. We all know he’s wrong about Israeli politics, and thanks to regular parliamentary elections there’s no hiding it. Kerry, for obvious reasons, did not have much credibility on this issue to begin with; he would be foolish to bury whatever’s left of it with such pronouncements.

He is no less wrong about the Palestinians, but for different reasons. I can understand any frustration he might have with Mahmoud Abbas. The PA leader demanded pricey preconditions even to participate in talks, and then abandoned them to run into the arms of Hamas. Though it should have been obvious from the beginning that Abbas was not going to make peace and that he was playing Kerry, it probably still stings.

But who, exactly, does Kerry think is waiting in the wings to replace Abbas? Palestinian society is shot-through with hatred for Jews and anti-Semitic propaganda, and the high-profile alternative to Abbas’s crew has always been the more extreme Hamas. Additionally, Salam Fayyad’s exit from the PA government proved that the Palestinian Authority couldn’t even tolerate a reformer whose hands they had already tied. The mere presence of a man with liberalizing ideas was enough for the antibodies to attack the infection.

The Fayyad fiasco shows something else: it’s not true that there aren’t Palestinian moderates or Palestinians who want peace (or would at least prefer it to their leaders’ bombs-and-poverty governance). But they do not appear to be in the majority and, even more significantly, they do not reside in a democracy. Abbas governs by suffocating authoritarianism. There is simply no institutional structure to empower moderates.

This is one reason Fayyad’s departure was so deeply mourned in the West. Even when stymied by his rivals, Fayyad accomplished something modest by simply existing within the Palestinian bureaucracy. Though he couldn’t put his ideas into practice, he could infuse the internal debate with them and perhaps even hire likeminded staffers who, in the future, would be nearer the levers of power and greater in number. It might have been a long shot, but it was something.

As the American aid to the PA and Israeli military cooperation with it demonstrates, the alternatives to Abbas currently are unthinkable as peace partners and almost uniformly more enamored of violence. Abbas is no hero, but if Kerry thinks a change in Palestinian leadership would benefit his quest for peace, he’s even more confused than he appears.

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Abbas and the Trouble with Holocaust Commemoration

Today Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas did as many peace process proponents, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have been imploring him to do. He condemned the Holocaust in terms that are entirely appropriate, saying the Shoah was “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era” and expressing sympathy for the victims. If, as we are informed by the New York Times, this statement is published in the Palestinian media in Arabic in the same phrasing as in the English version for Israelis and the international media, that is progress of a sort, especially coming as it does from the lips of a man who wrote a doctoral thesis centered on the theme that the Holocaust was a “Zionist fantasy, the fantastic lie that six million Jews were killed.”

The timing of the statement was meant to coincide with the beginning tonight of Yom HaShoah—the day set by the State of Israel and the international Jewish community for Holocaust remembrance. Yet coming as it did only days after Abbas signed a unity agreement with the Hamas terrorist movement that is committed in its charter to not only the destruction of Israel but to the slaughter of its Jewish population, it is hard to view this statement as purely an expression of the evolution of Abbas’s views about the Holocaust. The man who only one day earlier restated his pledge to “never” recognize Israel as a Jewish state—a pledge that would signal that the Palestinians were truly prepared to end their century long war on Zionism—it is easy to understand the less than enthusiastic reaction to Abbas’s words from Israel’s government. But far from being greeted with the cynicism that Abbas might have expected, it was instead Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who appears to have come out the loser in the exchange with pundits. Abbas’s apologists are lauding the Palestinian for his “outreach” campaign—the Holocaust statement was procured by celebrity interfaith proponent Rabbi Marc Schneir—and blasting Netanyahu for a petty rejection of the Palestinian gesture. Abbas’s words, welcome as they might be, were a clever tactical move and in the viewpoint of much of the international press seemed to outweigh any negative feedback about the Hamas deal.

But this contretemps illustrates something more significant than the success of the Palestinians in distracting the world from what was, in effect, their fourth rejection of an Israeli peace offer, including independence and statehood, in the last 15 years. If the world thinks Abbas’s nice words about the Holocaust are more important than his pact with Hamas or even his personal embrace of the terrorist murderers who shed Jewish blood, then perhaps it is time to start worrying about a trend that appears to elevate Holocaust commemoration over and above any concern for Jews currently alive.

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Today Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas did as many peace process proponents, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have been imploring him to do. He condemned the Holocaust in terms that are entirely appropriate, saying the Shoah was “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era” and expressing sympathy for the victims. If, as we are informed by the New York Times, this statement is published in the Palestinian media in Arabic in the same phrasing as in the English version for Israelis and the international media, that is progress of a sort, especially coming as it does from the lips of a man who wrote a doctoral thesis centered on the theme that the Holocaust was a “Zionist fantasy, the fantastic lie that six million Jews were killed.”

The timing of the statement was meant to coincide with the beginning tonight of Yom HaShoah—the day set by the State of Israel and the international Jewish community for Holocaust remembrance. Yet coming as it did only days after Abbas signed a unity agreement with the Hamas terrorist movement that is committed in its charter to not only the destruction of Israel but to the slaughter of its Jewish population, it is hard to view this statement as purely an expression of the evolution of Abbas’s views about the Holocaust. The man who only one day earlier restated his pledge to “never” recognize Israel as a Jewish state—a pledge that would signal that the Palestinians were truly prepared to end their century long war on Zionism—it is easy to understand the less than enthusiastic reaction to Abbas’s words from Israel’s government. But far from being greeted with the cynicism that Abbas might have expected, it was instead Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who appears to have come out the loser in the exchange with pundits. Abbas’s apologists are lauding the Palestinian for his “outreach” campaign—the Holocaust statement was procured by celebrity interfaith proponent Rabbi Marc Schneir—and blasting Netanyahu for a petty rejection of the Palestinian gesture. Abbas’s words, welcome as they might be, were a clever tactical move and in the viewpoint of much of the international press seemed to outweigh any negative feedback about the Hamas deal.

But this contretemps illustrates something more significant than the success of the Palestinians in distracting the world from what was, in effect, their fourth rejection of an Israeli peace offer, including independence and statehood, in the last 15 years. If the world thinks Abbas’s nice words about the Holocaust are more important than his pact with Hamas or even his personal embrace of the terrorist murderers who shed Jewish blood, then perhaps it is time to start worrying about a trend that appears to elevate Holocaust commemoration over and above any concern for Jews currently alive.

Remembering the Holocaust is a sacred obligation and it is especially important to keep alive the memory of the six million who perished at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators at a time when the ranks of the survivors grow fewer with each passing year. But the point of these memorials is not merely to shed tears over the Jews who died seven decades ago. The Holocaust was the culmination of two millennia of anti-Semitism. The Nazi crime was unique in terms of its scale and the embrace by one of the world’s most civilized and powerful nations of a racist eliminationist creed. But it was neither the first nor the last attack on the existence of the Jewish people. Anti-Semitism has outlived the Nazis just as it did other host organisms to which this vile virus attached itself. Today, the major source of anti-Semitic invective and hate speech is the Arab and Muslim world. This contemporary incarnation uses resentment against the existence of one lone Jewish state on this planet to mobilize not only Arab anger against Israel but to reawaken traditional Jew-hatred in Europe.

The trend toward universalizing the Holocaust so as to have its commemoration become a surrogate for every expression of intolerance or ill-feeling on any subject has done nothing to wipe out hate while diluting the specific historic lesson of this event. Yet to also condemn that attack on Jewish existence and the silence and inaction of the rest of the world outside of the context of contemporary anti-Semitism is similarly unhelpful. At a time when there’s a vicious anti-Semitic regime in Iran whose leaders have promoted Holocaust denial while at the same time plotting to achieve the means to achieve a second such slaughter, the tears shed for the six million are meaningless if they are not also accompanied by a determination to thwart rather than to appease Tehran.

The sad truth is that the popularity of Holocaust commemoration—even on the part of many who are hostile to contemporary Jewish life—as well as the proliferation of Holocaust museums and memorials seems to reflect a preference for dead Jews over live ones. The irony is that the movement to promote Holocaust remembrance was largely born out of an effort to teach both Jews and non-Jews the perils of silence about anti-Semitism. The boom in Holocaust memorials started in the 1960s as the movements to promote freedom for Soviet Jewry and to protect the embattled State of Israel gained greater traction in the West. It was widely understood that the clichéd refrain of Holocaust memorial—“never again”—was not merely an expression of ex post facto outrage about the conduct of the Nazis but a pledge to fight for the freedom and the lives of the descendants of the survivors.

Yet as the dustup about Abbas’s words illustrates, Holocaust commemoration has now taken on a life of its own that is utterly disconnected from any actual concern about defending Jewish lives, let alone history. It is a good thing that Palestinian Arabs understand and respect Jewish history rather than deny it, as their media routinely does with respect to Jerusalem and other issues. A degree of honesty from Abbas about the way the Palestinian Arab leadership embraced Hitler might also be in order. But courtesies about the events of the 1940s do not outweigh efforts to deny legitimacy to Jewish rights let alone justify the embrace of those who shed Jewish blood in our own time. If Holocaust commemoration has evolved to a point where these factors are unimportant, then perhaps it is time for those of us who have worked so hard to make it part of the fabric of Western culture to rethink the impact of what we have accomplished. 

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Obama Deserves Blame for Talks Collapse

When speaking at a press conference in South Korea today about the collapse of the Middle East peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State Kerry, President Obama adopted a tone of sorrowful resignation about the intransigence of both sides:

“As far as the Middle East is concerned, this is a problem that’s been going on for 60, 70, 80 years.  We didn’t anticipate that we were going to solve it during the course of a six or nine-month negotiation.  … What we haven’t seen is, frankly, the kind of political will to actually make tough decisions.  And that’s been true on both sides. And the fact that most recently President Abbas took the unhelpful step of rejoining talks with Hamas is just one of a series of choices that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have made that are not conducive to trying to resolve this crisis. … Folks can posture; folks can cling to maximalist positions; but realistically, there’s one door, and that is the two parties getting together and making some very difficult political compromises in order to secure the future of both Israelis and Palestinians for future generations.”

In doing so, the president not only deflected blame from Kerry and the administration but also refused to frankly acknowledge that it has been the Palestinian Authority who torpedoed the talks both by violating their agreements and going to the United Nations for recognition but also by concluding an alliance with the Hamas terrorists which the U.S. has always acknowledged to be incompatible with the peace process.

But the blame doesn’t only belong to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas. Were he truly being honest about the events of the past several months, the president would have to acknowledge that the series of events that led up the current debacle has been set in motion in no small measure by himself. When the history of the fool’s errand that Kerry has wasted so much of the last year on is written, Obama must bear much of the responsibility for the mixed signals sent to the region that encouraged Abbas to think he would be let off the hook for delivering what amounts to a fourth Palestinian “no” to Israeli offers of statehood and peace.

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When speaking at a press conference in South Korea today about the collapse of the Middle East peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State Kerry, President Obama adopted a tone of sorrowful resignation about the intransigence of both sides:

“As far as the Middle East is concerned, this is a problem that’s been going on for 60, 70, 80 years.  We didn’t anticipate that we were going to solve it during the course of a six or nine-month negotiation.  … What we haven’t seen is, frankly, the kind of political will to actually make tough decisions.  And that’s been true on both sides. And the fact that most recently President Abbas took the unhelpful step of rejoining talks with Hamas is just one of a series of choices that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have made that are not conducive to trying to resolve this crisis. … Folks can posture; folks can cling to maximalist positions; but realistically, there’s one door, and that is the two parties getting together and making some very difficult political compromises in order to secure the future of both Israelis and Palestinians for future generations.”

In doing so, the president not only deflected blame from Kerry and the administration but also refused to frankly acknowledge that it has been the Palestinian Authority who torpedoed the talks both by violating their agreements and going to the United Nations for recognition but also by concluding an alliance with the Hamas terrorists which the U.S. has always acknowledged to be incompatible with the peace process.

But the blame doesn’t only belong to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas. Were he truly being honest about the events of the past several months, the president would have to acknowledge that the series of events that led up the current debacle has been set in motion in no small measure by himself. When the history of the fool’s errand that Kerry has wasted so much of the last year on is written, Obama must bear much of the responsibility for the mixed signals sent to the region that encouraged Abbas to think he would be let off the hook for delivering what amounts to a fourth Palestinian “no” to Israeli offers of statehood and peace.

Throughout the period of negotiations Obama has concentrated all of his criticisms and all public criticism on Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu. In interviews and public statements, he has continually warned Israel that it must make concessions and take risks for peace. He bolstered the conventional wisdom accepted by most of the international media and the U.S. foreign-policy establishment that Israel had not done the necessary soul searching or come to the conclusion that it must embrace peace rather than maximal territorial demands. In doing so, he acted as if the history of the last 20 years, during which Israel has made far-reaching territorial concessions, empowered the Palestinian Authority, and withdrawn completely from Gaza, never happened. American promises given to past Israeli prime ministers about support for Israel’s claims to settlement blocs and Jerusalem were treated as irrelevant. The three Palestinian refusals of Israeli peace offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008, including an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem, were thrown down the memory hole. Despite his embrace of a two-state solution and another offer of statehood made during the recent talks, Netanyahu was depicted as intransigent.

At the same time, Obama spoke of Abbas as a strong champion of peace even when the PA leader was embracing the released terrorist murderers that the U.S. had pressured Israel into releasing as a bribe for the Palestinians to return to the talks. The Palestinians never budged during the talks. Nor were they willing, even in principle, to drop their demands for a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees or to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Yet, even as he was continually bashing Netanyahu, Abbas got off scot-free. And when Abbas fled the negotiations that he had never wanted to be part of by going to the U.N., Kerry inexplicably blamed it all on an Israeli building project in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that no one—not even the Palestinians—expects Israel to give up even in the event of peace.

Tilting the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction may have been intended to weaken Netanyahu and empower Abbas to make peace. But it had the opposite effect. Perhaps Obama and Kerry thought Abbas—now serving in the 10th year of a five-year presidential term and under pressure from Hamas—was too fragile to withstand pressure to make peace. But by giving him a pass, they sent a clear signal that not even a unity deal with Hamas would result in severe consequences for the PA.

It’s entirely possible, if not probable, that not even tough pressure on Abbas to do what had to be done to make peace would have worked. Palestinian political culture is still predicated on a vision of national identity that is inextricably linked to the cause of Israel’s elimination. But the U.S. didn’t even try to push Abbas while hammering Netanyahu. When given the chance to make it clear to Abbas that his choice was between peace and complete isolation, the president punted. The result is—assuming the unity pact doesn’t collapse—a new PA that is bound to Hamas’s rejectionism that will also strengthen the most radical elements in Fatah. Rather than taking bows for a gallant effort, the administration ought to be admitting that it has taken a bad situation and made it worse.

It is no surprise that the peace process failed since the conditions that would have made it possible were not present. But any slim hopes for a deal were destroyed by Obama’s obsession with battering Israel and his delusions about the Palestinians.

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Time to Rethink Basic Logic of Peace Process

The collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be met with the usual recriminations, as supporters of both sides will blame the other for their failure. Perhaps with the process collapsed—for the time being irretrievably so—it’s time for American policymakers and especially the State Department to question some fundamental assumptions they have with regard to making peace in the Middle East. Here are some lessons that they might learn, or at least subjects which policymakers might debate before wasting any more jet fuel for Kerry’s travels or diplomatic energy when there are so many more pressing issues in the world:

  • Peace comes not from a process, but from a fundamental decision by both parties that peace is what they want. A lot of journalists, diplomats, and analysts rightly remember the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as a great peacemaker. What they forget is that Sadat only chose peace after he tried to eradicate Israel through war. Only after he concluded that he simply could not achieve his aims through violence did he make his bold gesture to Jerusalem. The problem with Palestinian leaders today is that they have not abandoned terrorism and violence as a policy tool: They will extract what incentives they can at the table—for example, the release of child killers and other terrorists—but then walk away and seek to win through violence what they could not through diplomacy. An endless process will not change Palestinian minds. Perhaps the Palestinian leadership will only come to such a conclusion when they suffer a decisive defeat, much as Sadat once did. A responsible international community would let them suffer such a defeat. The only precondition that matters is for the Palestinian leadership in its current form or whatever grassroots leadership takes its place to come to the conclusion that the only way to achieve their goals is through diplomacy. Read More

The collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be met with the usual recriminations, as supporters of both sides will blame the other for their failure. Perhaps with the process collapsed—for the time being irretrievably so—it’s time for American policymakers and especially the State Department to question some fundamental assumptions they have with regard to making peace in the Middle East. Here are some lessons that they might learn, or at least subjects which policymakers might debate before wasting any more jet fuel for Kerry’s travels or diplomatic energy when there are so many more pressing issues in the world:

  • Peace comes not from a process, but from a fundamental decision by both parties that peace is what they want. A lot of journalists, diplomats, and analysts rightly remember the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat as a great peacemaker. What they forget is that Sadat only chose peace after he tried to eradicate Israel through war. Only after he concluded that he simply could not achieve his aims through violence did he make his bold gesture to Jerusalem. The problem with Palestinian leaders today is that they have not abandoned terrorism and violence as a policy tool: They will extract what incentives they can at the table—for example, the release of child killers and other terrorists—but then walk away and seek to win through violence what they could not through diplomacy. An endless process will not change Palestinian minds. Perhaps the Palestinian leadership will only come to such a conclusion when they suffer a decisive defeat, much as Sadat once did. A responsible international community would let them suffer such a defeat. The only precondition that matters is for the Palestinian leadership in its current form or whatever grassroots leadership takes its place to come to the conclusion that the only way to achieve their goals is through diplomacy.
  • Aid can be a detriment to peace, rather than an enabler. The Palestinians have been, per capita, the largest recipient of foreign aid on Earth and yet the Palestinian state is a disaster. That is not because of the border fence, the blockade of Gaza, or Israel. Rather, it is because of poor Palestinian governance. Accountability matters. The problem with aid is that it erodes accountability. If Palestinian officials need not worry about schooling, clothing, or feeding their own people because they are assured of international subsidy, then why not spend money on political or military adventurism? Aid also undercuts democracy, for it supplants the job of an elected government. At the very least, it is time to rethink the notion that aid helps when there is no evidence that it has and much evidence that it has not. Indeed, perhaps it’s time to cut off aid and assistance—there are many other peoples who are in far greater need of international assistance, for example, in Guinea, Mali, South Sudan, or even Ukraine. American assistance is not an entitlement.
  • Incitement matters. It has been almost twenty years since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. Rather than prepare the Palestinian people for peace, the Palestinian media fed a new generation a steady doctrine of hatred and rejectionism. While the vast majority of Israelis favor a two-state solution, the same cannot be said about Palestinians who continue to be told that Israel is an illegitimate entity. The State Department will always ignore reality in order to continue processes. Had Congress taken a no-nonsense approach toward incitement, and demanded an immediate cessation of aid when it occurred, then perhaps the region could have avoided 20 years of poison.
  • Terrorism can’t be swept under the rug. In the course of researching my new book, Dancing With the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes, it became apparent that senior State Department officials in the 1990s had lied to Congress about Palestinian terrorism, fearing that if they acknowledged the involvement of senior Palestinian officials in terrorism, they might need to end the process. Simply put, senior Middle East peace processors—several of whom have served or now still serve in the Obama administration—had intelligence at their fingertips but purposely ignored it. There is no process that can succeed in the long term if the basis of that process is a lie.
  • Agreements don’t have an expiration date nor do changes of administration cancel them. Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accord in 1993. Since then, the Palestinians have, with Arafat’s death, had a change in leadership although Mahmoud Abbas is now more than five years past the end of his legal term. Israel has had seven prime ministers (counting Bibi Netanyahu twice). While pundits can quip about the he-said, she-said of Israeli and Palestinian compliance, the fact of the matter is that the Palestinian Authority exists because the Palestinian leadership agreed to recognize Israel and foreswear terrorism. That Hamas now forms part of the Palestinian government means that the Palestinian government no longer adheres to the agreement that forms the very basis of its existence. Israel would be perfectly within its right, should it so desire, to push the Palestinian Authority back out of Gaza and the West Bank and roll the clock back to before 1993. That might not be desirable, but if the Palestinians are going to absolve themselves of their contractual responsibilities, there is no reason why Israel should continue remitting payments or doing anything to facilitate the Palestinian Authority’s job or existence. If Abbas wants his partner to be Hamas, then he should pay the price for that decision.

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The Rise and Fall of Tzipi Livni

Early this morning the Times of Israel noted in passing, in a story without so much as a byline and whose main source was a public Facebook posting, one of the underappreciated but potentially most interesting aspects of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal. “Chief Israeli negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni struck a solemn tone on Facebook Wednesday night,” the paper reported, “calling the reconciliation agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah ‘a bad step.’”

It’s not that the Israeli public seems at all interested in Livni’s comments on Mahmoud Abbas’s latest efforts to scuttle the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It’s that the public probably doesn’t care, raising questions about the plummeting political career of a once-promising Israeli politician whose party won the most seats in Knesset elections only five years ago. That election nearly made Livni prime minister, an accomplishment that would have given the party she led at the time three consecutive premierships and established her as the rightful heir of Kadima’s creator and first prime minister, Ariel Sharon. (Sharon’s immediate successor, Ehud Olmert, resigned in disgrace.)

Instead of carrying forth this serial political victor, Livni was unable to form a governing coalition, went into opposition, saw her party’s support drop precipitously, and lost a leadership fight to Shaul Mofaz in 2012. She left Kadima to form her own party that won just six seats in the 2013 Knesset elections. She was put in charge of peace negotiations with the Palestinians as her consolation prize from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party she bested in 2009 but which formed the governing coalition instead of her. Her career trajectory has been heading in one direction, so: does she have a future?

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Early this morning the Times of Israel noted in passing, in a story without so much as a byline and whose main source was a public Facebook posting, one of the underappreciated but potentially most interesting aspects of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal. “Chief Israeli negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni struck a solemn tone on Facebook Wednesday night,” the paper reported, “calling the reconciliation agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah ‘a bad step.’”

It’s not that the Israeli public seems at all interested in Livni’s comments on Mahmoud Abbas’s latest efforts to scuttle the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It’s that the public probably doesn’t care, raising questions about the plummeting political career of a once-promising Israeli politician whose party won the most seats in Knesset elections only five years ago. That election nearly made Livni prime minister, an accomplishment that would have given the party she led at the time three consecutive premierships and established her as the rightful heir of Kadima’s creator and first prime minister, Ariel Sharon. (Sharon’s immediate successor, Ehud Olmert, resigned in disgrace.)

Instead of carrying forth this serial political victor, Livni was unable to form a governing coalition, went into opposition, saw her party’s support drop precipitously, and lost a leadership fight to Shaul Mofaz in 2012. She left Kadima to form her own party that won just six seats in the 2013 Knesset elections. She was put in charge of peace negotiations with the Palestinians as her consolation prize from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud party she bested in 2009 but which formed the governing coalition instead of her. Her career trajectory has been heading in one direction, so: does she have a future?

In Livni’s admittedly limited defense, her fall from grace was not as steep as it seems. The phrase “so close but yet so far” is perfectly applicable to her 2009 electoral victory. Yes, her party won the most seats. But winning the election paradoxically removed none of the obstacles to her premiership. This is one of the quirks of Israeli electoral politics.

It was widely assumed that Livni’s victory by a few seats was due in part to the fact that Israel’s center-right voters–a clear majority–believed Netanyahu was a shoo-in, and thus enough of them shifted their votes to other right-of-center parties to ensure an agreeable governing coalition. The primary beneficiary of this was Avigdor Lieberman, who now had fifteen seats in the Knesset in large part because of the public’s desire to see Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Lieberman was a kingmaker, but his choice of Likud, despite its silver medal, was eminently logical and consistent with the will of the voters. It sounds strange, but Livni may have won the election because of the public’s desire to prevent her from becoming prime minister. When she was unable to form a governing coalition, it seemed almost predetermined.

And this helps us understand Livni’s career a bit better. Why does she lose even when she wins? It’s not because she isn’t well liked; she did, after all, win all those votes and her personality practically shines in comparison to some of Israel’s more, shall we say, prickly politicians. (We like to say that American politics ain’t beanbag, but the Israeli Knesset is an even more rambunctious place than Congress these days.) What’s really been holding Livni back is the durable political consensus that has persisted in Israel.

The country is center-right, willing to make peace but skeptical of Palestinian intentions and clear-eyed about the need to prioritize national security and antiterrorism. It’s also appreciative of the economic benefits from Israel’s two major deregulatory bursts (the latter by Netanyahu personally, both overseen by Likud) and reluctant to allow its populist instincts to give the state back too much power. The politicians who leave this consensus tend to find themselves on the outside of power looking in. The cast of characters may change–witness the rising stars who came out of nowhere in the last election–but the script hasn’t.

Does this leave room for Livni? Yes, it does. But she’s pigeonholed by her attempts to differentiate herself from Netanyahu and his governing coalition. Her only real role is the one she’s got now: “chief negotiator.” That means the impending collapse of peace talks leaves her without much to do. It also doesn’t help that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations continually and predictably fail, meaning anyone in charge racks up the losses without any wins. It’s not a great record to have in politics, but Livni can take heart: given the enthusiasm of the West for this peace process, she’s guaranteed at least to have to the chance to fail again–and probably soon.

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