Commentary Magazine


Topic: Martin Indyk

Peace Process Gets a Boost: Indyk Quits

Years ago while planning out a story on Israel’s Labor Party, I called a former Clinton administration official who had been part of the White House’s Mideast diplomatic team. He declined to comment, saying he simply doesn’t talk about Israeli domestic politics. I was surprised but understood. Yet I couldn’t figure out quite why I was surprised until I saw a different U.S. official, Martin Indyk, talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Years ago while planning out a story on Israel’s Labor Party, I called a former Clinton administration official who had been part of the White House’s Mideast diplomatic team. He declined to comment, saying he simply doesn’t talk about Israeli domestic politics. I was surprised but understood. Yet I couldn’t figure out quite why I was surprised until I saw a different U.S. official, Martin Indyk, talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Indyk, who the AP reports is now resigning from President Obama’s Mideast team, had the opposite policy of the official I had called seeking comment. Indyk never hesitated to prattle on about Israeli domestic politics to any reporter who would listen. I was reminded of this when Indyk was universally identified as the source for bitter complaints about Israel to the Israeli press after Indyk failed miserably as the Obama administration’s peace envoy. As Elder of Ziyon noted, Indyk’s meddling in domestic Israeli politics while working for Bill Clinton was so egregious and out of control that Knesset member Uzi Landau lodged an official complaint with Clinton over it in 2000, writing:

In addition to his remarks concerning Jerusalem, Ambassador Indyk offered his views regarding secular-religious tensions in Israel and the role of the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism. He also intimated his tacit support for Prime Minister Barak’s so-called secular revolution. As a commentator in the liberal daily Ha’aretz noted, “readers are urged to imagine what the Americans would say if the Israeli ambassador to Washington were to come to a local religious institution and say such things.”

As a veteran Knesset member who has consistently supported closer ties between our two nations, I wish to strongly protest Ambassador Indyk’s blatant interference in Israel’s internal affairs and democratic process. I am sure you would agree that it is simply unacceptable for a foreign diplomat to involve himself so provocatively in the most sensitive affairs of the country to which he is posted. If a foreign ambassador stationed in the United States were to involve himself in a domestic American policy debate regarding race relations or abortion, the subsequent outcry would not be long in coming.

Ambassador Indyk’s remarks about Jerusalem are an affront to Israel, particularly since he made them in the heart of the city that he aspires to divide. By needlessly raising Arab expectations on the Jerusalem issue, rather than moderating them, Ambassador Indyk has caused inestimable damage to the peace process. It is likewise inexplicable that Ambassador Indyk would choose to interject his private religious preferences into the debate over secular-religious tensions in Israel.

Indyk’s dislike of much of the Israeli public led to his infamous refusal to acquaint himself with the reality of Israeli life and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Thus as our Rick Richman wrote in May, even while Indyk was in Israel he had his facts backwards. At a Washington Institute for Near East Policy event, Indyk took questions from the institute’s director, Robert Satloff. One question was about settlements: Indyk had blamed Benjamin Netanyahu for “rampant settlement activity,” but of course this was not true. Netanyahu has quietly reined in the settlements. Richman quotes Indyk’s response:

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.

Not only did Indyk not know the basic truth about Israeli policy, but he admitted he couldn’t even understand it. When the facts conflicted with his prejudiced preconceptions, he couldn’t process the information.

Which explains why he used his time as peace envoy to mount a disinformation campaign against the democratically elected Israeli government. The Washington Free Beacon had reported back in May that Indyk was at the center of an Obama administration media campaign against Israel during the negotiations. Such behavior is almost guaranteed to make Israelis suspicious of Indyk and encourage Palestinians to believe they don’t have to make concessions because the Obama administration will simply keep pressuring Israel no matter what.

In other words, Indyk’s behavior was the surest path to failure. Which is precisely what happened. Just as it is precisely what happened the last time he was tasked with representing the White House in the Middle East. Indyk stepping down may be a result of the breakdown of the peace process, but it is its own silver lining: with Indyk back home, the prospects for peace automatically get just a bit brighter.

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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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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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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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Indyk’s Amoral Kiss-and-Tell Story

Since talks collapsed between Israel and the Palestinians, chief U.S. negotiator Martin Indyk has already gone to the press with at least one kiss-and-tell story, about how Israel sabotaged peace through settlement building. But it seems that Indyk intends to extract still more capital from his role in the doomed negotiations. The business of manipulation and self-promotion that now surrounds the negotiation process has virtually become an end in itself, far outstripping the importance of the always-fruitless negotiations themselves. The talks seem to take place so as to allow individuals on each side to come forward with a drip feed of snippets and revelations, promoting the good will of one side, pouring condemnation on the other.

On Thursday evening, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s founders conference, Indyk offered up a serving of platitudes and obvious statements, dressed up with a particularly provocative barb about how Israel’s settlement building is supposedly risking the future of the Jewish state. Among a whole list of predictable observations, Indyk’s remark that if only the U.S. feels a sense of urgency then “the negotiations will not succeed,” seemed particularly unworthy of having been uttered. Indeed, Indyk bemoaned how leaders on both sides “don’t feel the pressing need to make gut-wrenching compromises.” Well, it’s not as if Indyk and Kerry weren’t warned of this fact before they set out on their ill-advised venture. Neither side trusts the other to think that concessions are really warranted, and yet what does Indyk imagine Israel releasing terrorists was if not “gut-wrenching”? If Indyk can be so flippant about the pain caused by these murderers going free then he has either suspended all moral judgment or is completely indifferent to Israeli suffering; perhaps both.

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Since talks collapsed between Israel and the Palestinians, chief U.S. negotiator Martin Indyk has already gone to the press with at least one kiss-and-tell story, about how Israel sabotaged peace through settlement building. But it seems that Indyk intends to extract still more capital from his role in the doomed negotiations. The business of manipulation and self-promotion that now surrounds the negotiation process has virtually become an end in itself, far outstripping the importance of the always-fruitless negotiations themselves. The talks seem to take place so as to allow individuals on each side to come forward with a drip feed of snippets and revelations, promoting the good will of one side, pouring condemnation on the other.

On Thursday evening, speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s founders conference, Indyk offered up a serving of platitudes and obvious statements, dressed up with a particularly provocative barb about how Israel’s settlement building is supposedly risking the future of the Jewish state. Among a whole list of predictable observations, Indyk’s remark that if only the U.S. feels a sense of urgency then “the negotiations will not succeed,” seemed particularly unworthy of having been uttered. Indeed, Indyk bemoaned how leaders on both sides “don’t feel the pressing need to make gut-wrenching compromises.” Well, it’s not as if Indyk and Kerry weren’t warned of this fact before they set out on their ill-advised venture. Neither side trusts the other to think that concessions are really warranted, and yet what does Indyk imagine Israel releasing terrorists was if not “gut-wrenching”? If Indyk can be so flippant about the pain caused by these murderers going free then he has either suspended all moral judgment or is completely indifferent to Israeli suffering; perhaps both.

Some recent comments that have been widely attributed to Indyk framed the Israelis for having allegedly wrecked the peace talks through settlement building. In his speech on Thursday evening it was Israeli settlements that Indyk was especially eager to condemn. Settlements, claimed Indyk, will “drive Israel into an irreversible binational reality.”

In one sense this claim is demonstrably nonsense. The limited settlement building that has taken place has been restricted to the major settlement blocs that the consensus holds would be annexed to Israel under any final-status agreement. Yet it is also true that many proponents of the settlement project see the role of the settlements as being to block the ceding of strategically important territory to a Palestinian state that might use that territory to attack Israel from—as has been the practice in territories already surrendered by Israel. Yet there is no necessary reason why Israeli annexation of the West Bank would end Israel as a Jewish state. True, if carried out right now it would likely create an almost ungovernable situation and present a severe challenge to Israeli democracy. But the claims about demography used by Indyk/Kerry/Obama to terrorize the Israelis are increasingly being called into question. Israeli birthrates have just overtaken those of Palestinians in the West Bank and with Jewish immigration into Israel up, and Palestinian emigration remaining high, the demographic catastrophe is by no means as imminent as Indyk sounds like he hopes it is.

Still the peace process has become totemic for many, and like Kerry, Indyk is among the most pious devotees to this obsession. And so, in the course of his speech, Indyk insisted that talks could be resumed, that there is still hope for an agreement between the two sides. As ever, it is always five minutes to midnight. For the last two decades the Indyks have been telling us, one more settlement expansion, one more suburban neighborhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and peace will be lost forever and Israel inevitably consigned to the history books. Who knows what any of this is based on? Such claims seem as fabricated as Indyk’s suggestion that since negotiations collapsed both sides have shown restraint. But since when did restraint include the Palestinians moving to bring Hamas into the government and pushing ahead with their applications to join international bodies in direct breach of the Oslo accords?

The gap between reality and the picture Indyk and Kerry paint has become so wide that one wonders how it doesn’t simply swallow them both.   

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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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Another Try for Kerry’s Middle East Fiasco?

Since the collapse of the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State John Kerry has been all dressed up with nowhere to go. But if the administration has anything to do with it, that may be about to change. The State Department is now denying earlier reports that it is dismantling its negotiating team. By all accounts plans are afoot to send them all back again. And if that wasn’t enough, apparently Kerry is still mulling submitting his parameters to the two sides. What on earth for? The last time he came close to doing so PA head Mahmoud Abbas preempted him by issuing his own impossibly outlandish list of red lines.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denies that there are any plans to dismantle “the team” and simply stated, “We’re going to see where this goes from here and, you know, figure out what makes sense in terms of staffing.” Perhaps what would “make sense in terms of staffing” would be for Kerry to let his chief negotiator Martin Indyk go, which after all seems to be what Indyk wants. Rumor has it that after some off-the-record comments were attributed to Indyk, he is looking to resign and is eager to return to the peace and quiet of the Brookings Institution in Washington, away from all those tiresome Israelis. For the comments widely attributed to Indyk certainly make no secret of the speaker’s feelings toward that quarter.

The comments in question were such that they would irreversibly burn any bridges of trust between the Israelis and whoever said them. Would Indyk have intentionally made sure that it became known that the comments had come from him? If so, it would make for a pretty one-directional escape from the sinking ship of Kerry’s hubristic peace mission. Much like President Obama’s now infamous Bloomberg interview, the voice speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview portrays Abbas as a Gandhi-like figure and the Netanyahu government as a cynical pack of colonialists, indifferent to peace, hell-bent on robbing the Palestinians of their land, and outrageously trying to nudge the outcome of the talks in a direction that might protect at least some of Israel’s security concerns.

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Since the collapse of the U.S.-sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Secretary of State John Kerry has been all dressed up with nowhere to go. But if the administration has anything to do with it, that may be about to change. The State Department is now denying earlier reports that it is dismantling its negotiating team. By all accounts plans are afoot to send them all back again. And if that wasn’t enough, apparently Kerry is still mulling submitting his parameters to the two sides. What on earth for? The last time he came close to doing so PA head Mahmoud Abbas preempted him by issuing his own impossibly outlandish list of red lines.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf denies that there are any plans to dismantle “the team” and simply stated, “We’re going to see where this goes from here and, you know, figure out what makes sense in terms of staffing.” Perhaps what would “make sense in terms of staffing” would be for Kerry to let his chief negotiator Martin Indyk go, which after all seems to be what Indyk wants. Rumor has it that after some off-the-record comments were attributed to Indyk, he is looking to resign and is eager to return to the peace and quiet of the Brookings Institution in Washington, away from all those tiresome Israelis. For the comments widely attributed to Indyk certainly make no secret of the speaker’s feelings toward that quarter.

The comments in question were such that they would irreversibly burn any bridges of trust between the Israelis and whoever said them. Would Indyk have intentionally made sure that it became known that the comments had come from him? If so, it would make for a pretty one-directional escape from the sinking ship of Kerry’s hubristic peace mission. Much like President Obama’s now infamous Bloomberg interview, the voice speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview portrays Abbas as a Gandhi-like figure and the Netanyahu government as a cynical pack of colonialists, indifferent to peace, hell-bent on robbing the Palestinians of their land, and outrageously trying to nudge the outcome of the talks in a direction that might protect at least some of Israel’s security concerns.

Whoever made these comments either hasn’t been paying attention or is simply fabricating facts, particularly with their claim that talks collapsed on account of the settlements. Freezing settlement activity was never a predicate for the talks, and even after a dispute over prisoner releases and Palestinian moves at the United Nations the negotiations limped on, only finally and definitively collapsing when the Palestinians stunned Kerry and his team by announcing a Fatah-Hamas unity deal. That was the point at which talks were closed; settlements had nothing to do with it.

It is strange, however, that the U.S. official speaking in the Yedioth Aharonoth interview was so praiseful of Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni. If it were true, as the official claims, that Israel had an unreasonable negotiating position then why all the praise for Livni? Or are these comments really just about attacking Netanyahu and the Israeli right? Livni has her own political rivalries to think of and if Netanyahu had really dealt her a bad hand to play wouldn’t she have protested, if not to smear the prime minister then at least to save herself from being setup as the government’s fall guy? Yet Livni’s only real protests were against Abbas and his unreasonable positions.

If there was any doubt about the bad faith coming from the individual who made these comments, that is surely settled by their remarks about how, whether the Israelis like it or not, the Palestinians “will get their state in the end — whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.” This blatant indifference to the repercussions for Israel, and blasé attitude to Palestinian terrorism, would certainly ensure that whoever is speaking here can never come back from this as an impartial negotiator. Not surprising, then, that many have tied these comments to reports of Indyk’s return to Washington. 

If Indyk is to retire from Kerry’s ill-advised foray into the delights of the Israel-Palestinian impasse, then it remains to be seen as to who will replace him. But no matter who Kerry puts on his team, it won’t change the fact that Abbas has just put Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh on his.  

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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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The Administration’s Tangled Web on Jerusalem

The State Department has condemned plans by the Jerusalem municipality to issue building permits for 558 new homes in Jewish neighborhoods of the city. This reaction only highlights the administration’s confused and messy policy on Jerusalem, which has become a tangled web of inconsistencies, inaccuracies, double standards, and even outright hostility to Jewish rights in Jerusalem, or indeed such basic things as Israel’s right to enforce the law in its own capital.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said of the building plans, “Our position on Jerusalem is clear. We oppose any unilateral actions by either party that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem.” This of course is untrue, both in regards to the claim that the administration opposes equally moves by “either party” and in relation to the suggestion that these building plans somehow pertain to an attempt to “prejudge final status issues.”

First, it’s far from true that the State Department opposes unilateral moves by both sides. When it comes to claims in Jerusalem, they only condemn one side, the Jewish side. The municipality issues housing permits in east Jerusalem all the time, for both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Yet, it is only the permits for the Jewish neighborhoods that provoke any kind of reaction from the Obama administration. Furthermore, illegal Arab building is rife throughout many parts of Jerusalem. As in any municipality, the law must be upheld and construction without planning permission cannot go on unabated. Yet, in the past when the law has been enforced and illegal structures have been demolished, the State Department has protested Israel’s right to uphold the law. In this way the same State Department that claims to oppose unilateral actions by both sides has actively supported unilateral building by the Arab side, while opposing building homes for Jews–in Jerusalem.

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The State Department has condemned plans by the Jerusalem municipality to issue building permits for 558 new homes in Jewish neighborhoods of the city. This reaction only highlights the administration’s confused and messy policy on Jerusalem, which has become a tangled web of inconsistencies, inaccuracies, double standards, and even outright hostility to Jewish rights in Jerusalem, or indeed such basic things as Israel’s right to enforce the law in its own capital.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said of the building plans, “Our position on Jerusalem is clear. We oppose any unilateral actions by either party that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem.” This of course is untrue, both in regards to the claim that the administration opposes equally moves by “either party” and in relation to the suggestion that these building plans somehow pertain to an attempt to “prejudge final status issues.”

First, it’s far from true that the State Department opposes unilateral moves by both sides. When it comes to claims in Jerusalem, they only condemn one side, the Jewish side. The municipality issues housing permits in east Jerusalem all the time, for both Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Yet, it is only the permits for the Jewish neighborhoods that provoke any kind of reaction from the Obama administration. Furthermore, illegal Arab building is rife throughout many parts of Jerusalem. As in any municipality, the law must be upheld and construction without planning permission cannot go on unabated. Yet, in the past when the law has been enforced and illegal structures have been demolished, the State Department has protested Israel’s right to uphold the law. In this way the same State Department that claims to oppose unilateral actions by both sides has actively supported unilateral building by the Arab side, while opposing building homes for Jews–in Jerusalem.

Second, the very notion that this is somehow about “prejudging final status issues” is absurd. All of the building permits are for housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods. This isn’t about placing new neighborhoods in otherwise Arab areas of Jerusalem. More importantly, the WikiLeaks documents revealed that in 2008 the Palestinians already accepted that the “final status” of these neighborhoods would be Israeli. Its not as if the people at the State Department aren’t aware of this, so why they would insist on picking a fight over this while supposedly trying to play the role of evenhanded mediator is no minor question.

Besides, even when the Israelis agreed to a ten-month building freeze for the last round of fruitless negotiations in 2009, that freeze was never supposed to extend to Jerusalem. This time around, rather than freeze building in West bank Jewish communities, Israel has been forced to release a cohort of terrorists just to get the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Now the U.S. government seems to be demanding a building freeze as well.

There is one other noteworthy point here about the final status of Jerusalem. Last week both John Kerry and Martin Indyk were treating everyone to a tantalizing sneak-peek of Kerry’s glittering proposals for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These, we were being told, were about to be put to the two parties for them to either accept or reject as part of Kerry’s negotiation deadline due in April. Then it became apparent that that the Palestinians really weren’t joking when they said they were never going to accept the Jewish state. (Who could have guessed?) Now Psaki is denying that these same proposals even exist. Speaking yesterday Psaki asserted “nobody knows what is in the framework (agreement), there is not a final framework.”

Anyway, in the framework that now never existed, we were told that the aspect relating to Jerusalem would be vague, but that the Palestinians were going to have part of Jerusalem for a capital, although by all accounts not enough of it for Abbas’s liking. So it seems that Kerry has been sent back to the drawing board to come up with something better on that. Meanwhile the State Department would appear to be trying to create a smokescreen and a distraction by condemning Israeli building in Israeli neighborhoods that even the Palestinians say will remain part of Israel.   

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Obama and Kerry’s Lobby in Israel

In the course of the past month, a persistent campaign appears to have been taking place, away from public attention, to change the thinking of Israel’s defense establishment. The State Department’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Martin Indyk, and his officials have been meeting with a number of Israeli security personnel and IDF generals to discuss their thinking on future Israeli territorial compromise. Indyk, who was also part of Middle East peace negotiations under President Clinton, has reportedly been seeking to convince Israel’s defense officials of the wisdom of plans that would seek to bring about a full Israeli withdrawal from such key strategic areas as the Jordan Valley. To be sure, these lobbying efforts are not being focused on Israeli parliamentarians, but they aim to impact the position of a constituency no less politically decisive.    

There is a great irony in all this. As Seth Mandel highlighted yesterday, amidst the ongoing battle of wills over Iran sanctions, the Obama administration currently appears to be operating under the impression that the Israeli government is telling the American Jewish community what to think and that, in turn, American Jews are determining what congressmen believe and how Congress ultimately votes. As has already been pointed out, it is bizarre and disturbing that the administration would buy into this version of events over the far more simple explanation that members of Congress, perfectly able to think for themselves, might have just concluded that the Obama administration’s policy of holding off on Iran sanctions is fundamentally flawed. Either way, what officials appear to so object to is the notion that a foreign government would seek to influence U.S. policy via another constituency. The point being that if the government of one state wishes to have a say on the policies of another, then the proper and above-board way to approach this is through open and direct diplomatic channels.

Fine. But how then to explain the Obama administration’s own efforts to determine events in Israel, by bypassing the Israeli government and seeking to influence a third party? As the Daily Beast has reported, the reservist generals involved in those meetings that have taken place so far have not given any reason to believe that Indyk and his team are being particularly forceful or aggressive in how they have approached this strategy. Yet, by pursuing a sustained campaign of pushing State Department views on territorial compromise in the Jordan Valley to Israel’s security establishment, Indyk and his officials are not only seeking to determine the views of those who advise the Israeli government on these matters, but they are also lobbying a group in Israel who have a tremendous amount of leverage over Israeli public opinion.

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In the course of the past month, a persistent campaign appears to have been taking place, away from public attention, to change the thinking of Israel’s defense establishment. The State Department’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Martin Indyk, and his officials have been meeting with a number of Israeli security personnel and IDF generals to discuss their thinking on future Israeli territorial compromise. Indyk, who was also part of Middle East peace negotiations under President Clinton, has reportedly been seeking to convince Israel’s defense officials of the wisdom of plans that would seek to bring about a full Israeli withdrawal from such key strategic areas as the Jordan Valley. To be sure, these lobbying efforts are not being focused on Israeli parliamentarians, but they aim to impact the position of a constituency no less politically decisive.    

There is a great irony in all this. As Seth Mandel highlighted yesterday, amidst the ongoing battle of wills over Iran sanctions, the Obama administration currently appears to be operating under the impression that the Israeli government is telling the American Jewish community what to think and that, in turn, American Jews are determining what congressmen believe and how Congress ultimately votes. As has already been pointed out, it is bizarre and disturbing that the administration would buy into this version of events over the far more simple explanation that members of Congress, perfectly able to think for themselves, might have just concluded that the Obama administration’s policy of holding off on Iran sanctions is fundamentally flawed. Either way, what officials appear to so object to is the notion that a foreign government would seek to influence U.S. policy via another constituency. The point being that if the government of one state wishes to have a say on the policies of another, then the proper and above-board way to approach this is through open and direct diplomatic channels.

Fine. But how then to explain the Obama administration’s own efforts to determine events in Israel, by bypassing the Israeli government and seeking to influence a third party? As the Daily Beast has reported, the reservist generals involved in those meetings that have taken place so far have not given any reason to believe that Indyk and his team are being particularly forceful or aggressive in how they have approached this strategy. Yet, by pursuing a sustained campaign of pushing State Department views on territorial compromise in the Jordan Valley to Israel’s security establishment, Indyk and his officials are not only seeking to determine the views of those who advise the Israeli government on these matters, but they are also lobbying a group in Israel who have a tremendous amount of leverage over Israeli public opinion.

Leading Israeli defense officials regularly and publicly make their views on the key security matters of the day widely known within the Israeli public discourse. In a country where the military plays such a visible role in the day-to-day survival of the state and the safety of its citizens, the views of these men matter and carry extraordinary clout. U.S. officials undoubtedly realize that if they can play a decisive role in shaping what these individuals believe, then they stand a considerable chance of influencing where much of wider Israeli society stands on these issues, thus undercutting the negotiating position of Israel’s elected government.

And this is not the first time that the Obama administration has tried such lobbying of Israel’s military. Last month there were reports circulating of Indyk and his staff seeking to dissuade IDF generals from publicly speaking out about the concerns they have regarding Israel’s security and Secretary of State Kerry’s peace plan.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have made very clear that Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley is simply not a feasible option. Such a move would leave Israel dangerously exposed on its eastern border, with nothing to prevent the flow of arms from as far as Iran all the way to the hands of militants sitting on the West Bank’s hilltops over looking Ben Gurion Airport and the major population centers of Israel’s coastal plain.

Yet, from what has been leaked from negotiations so far, it is becoming apparent that Kerry and those of his diplomats involved in negotiations may well be sympathetic to Palestinian demands for a total Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley. Sensing that the Netanyahu government has no intention of compromising on this aspect of Israel’s security, it would now appear that the State Department strategy is to win friends and influence people in a place that will give them the most leverage over the Israeli government and its negotiating position.       

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Martin Indyk vs. Moshe Ya’alon

Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon violated the first rule of diplomacy–always compliment the emperor on his wardrobe, and limit your comments to concerns about his well-intentioned but possibly counterproductive wardrobe policy. But as Seth Mandel noted, Ya’alon is not alone in his concerns, and the private expression of them has had no effect on the Obama administration–other than to lead it to attack Ya’alon. Israeli columnist Ron Ben-Yishai writes that Ya’alon’s comments were a long time coming:  

Ya’alon is mainly against the security aspect [of the framework agreement], and [Kerry and his team] are presenting him as the chief party pooper in briefings they are giving politicians and former senior Israeli military officials. Kerry’s personal emissary, former Ambassador Martin Indyk, has not been shy about his opinion on Ya’alon either, and this has all reached the 14th floor at the Defense Ministry building. Ya’alon didn’t like the defamation and the brawl broke out after bubbling for quite a long time in utmost discretion.

In 2009, Martin Indyk wrote that Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians “allow Israel the means to defend itself” sounded “like a new precondition”–a “well-practiced Netanyahu negotiating tactic.” In 2010, Indyk took to the New York Times op-ed page to castigate Israel for approving Jewish housing in a longstanding Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state. He considered it a “strategic setback” that required reversal as “the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the common cause of curbing Iran’s nuclear enthusiasm.” In the same op-ed, he concluded that “nothing could better help Obama to isolate Iran than for Netanyahu to offer to cede the Golan” to Syria. Later, Indyk urged Israel to jump out a window for peace.

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Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon violated the first rule of diplomacy–always compliment the emperor on his wardrobe, and limit your comments to concerns about his well-intentioned but possibly counterproductive wardrobe policy. But as Seth Mandel noted, Ya’alon is not alone in his concerns, and the private expression of them has had no effect on the Obama administration–other than to lead it to attack Ya’alon. Israeli columnist Ron Ben-Yishai writes that Ya’alon’s comments were a long time coming:  

Ya’alon is mainly against the security aspect [of the framework agreement], and [Kerry and his team] are presenting him as the chief party pooper in briefings they are giving politicians and former senior Israeli military officials. Kerry’s personal emissary, former Ambassador Martin Indyk, has not been shy about his opinion on Ya’alon either, and this has all reached the 14th floor at the Defense Ministry building. Ya’alon didn’t like the defamation and the brawl broke out after bubbling for quite a long time in utmost discretion.

In 2009, Martin Indyk wrote that Israel’s insistence that the Palestinians “allow Israel the means to defend itself” sounded “like a new precondition”–a “well-practiced Netanyahu negotiating tactic.” In 2010, Indyk took to the New York Times op-ed page to castigate Israel for approving Jewish housing in a longstanding Jewish area of the capital of the Jewish state. He considered it a “strategic setback” that required reversal as “the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the common cause of curbing Iran’s nuclear enthusiasm.” In the same op-ed, he concluded that “nothing could better help Obama to isolate Iran than for Netanyahu to offer to cede the Golan” to Syria. Later, Indyk urged Israel to jump out a window for peace.

Indyk’s self-defenestration suggestion was contained in another 2010 New York Times op-ed, entitled “For Once, Hope in the Middle East,” where Indyk also wrote that:

Security arrangements were all but settled in 2000 at Camp David before the talks collapsed. The increased threat of rocket attacks since then, among other developments, require the two sides to agree on stricter border controls and a robust third-party force in the Jordan Valley.

In other words, he belatedly conceded that the “all but settled” security arrangements of 2000 would not have been effective against the “increased threat of rocket attacks” and the “other developments” that occurred thereafter, and he agreed that something more was necessary. So he revised his position to endorse a “robust” international force in the Jordan Valley.

The word “robust” is the adjective diplomats use to make unimpressive nouns sound convincing. It is the word Condoleezza Rice repeatedly used to describe the international force in Lebanon, which had no effect on Hezbollah’s rearming other than to serve as a human shield for it. In 1967, the “robust” international force in the Sinai was withdrawn days before the Six-Day War, which helped lead to it. The reasons why Israel cannot rely on international forces for its security are shown succinctly (and persuasively) in this short video.

Ron Ben-Yishai’s article also noted that “Ya’alon, and many in Israel” are skeptical about what is behind Kerry’s current intensive campaign, because:

Ya’alon and quite a few Israeli government ministers believe that the conditions for such an agreement have actually not matured at the moment. The turmoil in the Arab world, the growing tsunami of al-Qaeda activists on our border and the refugees filling Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, are all causing Abbas to be concerned and avoid reaching an agreement with Israel, which might even cost him his life.

Indyk’s effort is part of a co-ordinated campaign to sideline Israel’s defense minister, by a peace processor whose past policy prescriptions for Israel’s security have been consistently wrong, but who–one must hasten to add–is a very snappy dresser.

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Doomsday Diplomacy and the Middle East

What happens if the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry end without a deal? This is a question hovering not so discreetly in the background of the renewed negotiations, because there are only so many times hope can triumph over experience. To peace processors, there is never a downside to negotiations. To pessimists, the current assemblage of personalities has created a perfect storm of skepticism.

Kerry, leading the process, has neither the charisma nor the depth of knowledge to inspire confidence. His envoy, Martin Indyk, was part of the Clinton team in the lead-up to Camp David, which ended in disaster and a Palestinian terror campaign against Jewish civilians. Indyk wrote a memoir of his experience that was highly readable and full of entertaining stories but riddled throughout with contradictions, hypocrisy, and partisan point-scoring to a degree uncommon for modern diplomats.

Indyk also does not hide his disdain (and Clinton’s) for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the book. When Bill Clinton got directly involved in the Israeli elections to help Netanyahu’s opponent Shimon Peres, Netanyahu complained to Indyk, who recalls Clinton’s belief that because Netanyahu had Republican allies in Congress, Netanyahu was “getting his just deserts.” (The comparison is so ridiculous on its face that the reader simply assumes neither Clinton nor Indyk actually believes it, but that they thought nothing of casually insulting the Israeli prime minister while overtly trying to oust him from office.)

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What happens if the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry end without a deal? This is a question hovering not so discreetly in the background of the renewed negotiations, because there are only so many times hope can triumph over experience. To peace processors, there is never a downside to negotiations. To pessimists, the current assemblage of personalities has created a perfect storm of skepticism.

Kerry, leading the process, has neither the charisma nor the depth of knowledge to inspire confidence. His envoy, Martin Indyk, was part of the Clinton team in the lead-up to Camp David, which ended in disaster and a Palestinian terror campaign against Jewish civilians. Indyk wrote a memoir of his experience that was highly readable and full of entertaining stories but riddled throughout with contradictions, hypocrisy, and partisan point-scoring to a degree uncommon for modern diplomats.

Indyk also does not hide his disdain (and Clinton’s) for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the book. When Bill Clinton got directly involved in the Israeli elections to help Netanyahu’s opponent Shimon Peres, Netanyahu complained to Indyk, who recalls Clinton’s belief that because Netanyahu had Republican allies in Congress, Netanyahu was “getting his just deserts.” (The comparison is so ridiculous on its face that the reader simply assumes neither Clinton nor Indyk actually believes it, but that they thought nothing of casually insulting the Israeli prime minister while overtly trying to oust him from office.)

The Palestinians are led by Mahmoud Abbas, who resolutely refused to consider negotiating until Israel released terrorists and child murderers that Abbas could fete as heroes while the rest of the world tried to pretend this wasn’t as grotesque and barbaric as it quite obviously was. Israel is led again by Netanyahu, who thanks to the prisoner release will have even less political space at home to make the one-sided concessions usually required in the post-Oslo era, and probably doesn’t forget that in the past, Indyk’s presence in Israel often signaled that the White House’s attempts to remove Netanyahu from office were underway.

But Indyk’s role as a harbinger of doom is actually quite appropriate to the current negotiations, because that is exactly how Kerry’s team seems to approach this task. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius described it this way earlier this week:

What Kerry has done, in effect, is get the two sides to grab hold of a stick of dynamite. If they can’t defuse it within nine months through an agreement, it’s going to blow up: The moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank would collapse; militant Palestinians would take statehood to the United Nations, probably this time with broad European support; an angry Arab League would withdraw its peace initiative. It would be a big mess for everyone.

That prompted Peter Feaver, a former Bush administration official and current writer at Foreign Policy’s website, to respond yesterday by correctly pointing out that Kerry’s peace process logic is uncomfortably close to the argument for the budget sequester:

The pill proved bitter, but apparently not as bitter as a genuine compromise on fiscal matters. The Budget Control Act dynamite blew up and, even worse, is scheduled to blow up again. And this time, few seem to expect the blowup to be averted.

I suppose one could argue at a stretch that Israelis and Palestinians are more inclined to compromise under explosive threats than Democrats and Republicans since failure would result not just in loss of programs but perhaps immediate loss of life. Yet both Democrats and Republicans have claimed that real lives are at risk in the sequester. And as bad as partisanship is these days, there is a far-richer record of two-sided compromise in the U.S. Congress than in Israel-Palestine.

That is correct. But Feaver probably doesn’t go far enough. History tells us not only to keep expectations modest in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations but that the prospect of the peace talks’ violent collapse is certainly no deterrent to the Palestinian leadership’s inclination to walk away. Indyk knows this from his own personal experience. The argument that Indyk’s supporters seem to be making, that his record’s conspicuous lack of success has given him the necessary experience to get it right this time, is less than convincing. Where’s the indication he has learned his lesson?

For all these reasons, there has been an assumption that there must be a Plan B. But the virtue of a Plan B only holds if the two sides don’t know about it, otherwise they will have no reason not to wait and see what else is on offer. And the existence of a Plan B completely undermines Kerry’s sequester approach. It also explains why some Israelis are understandably wary of the whole process: if talks fail, Israelis aren’t going to be the ones to launch a terror campaign; they’ll be the targets. And finally, the very fact there might be a credible Plan B raises the question: if there are modest but helpful steps that can be taken without descending into eschatological chaos, wouldn’t it be more responsible to try those first?

Perhaps Martin Indyk will succeed where Martin Indyk has failed, and maybe John Kerry has a Plan B because he doesn’t trust John Kerry. But that’s not a sales pitch that will convince the doubters.

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Repeating Clinton’s Middle East Mistakes

If there weren’t already enough reasons to be wary of John Kerry’s efforts to convene new Middle East peace process talks this week in Washington, the New York Times just gave us another. Now that his task of pushing parties who already know there’s no chance of an actual agreement being reached into a new round of negotiation has been accomplished, Kerry is prepared to delegate the supervision of this disaster-in-the-making to a subordinate, and his choice is one of the key players in the Clinton administration’s Middle East peace process team. If the job qualifications for the position required experience in presiding over failed peace talks and stoking unreasonable expectations about the Palestinians’ desire for peace while pressuring Israel to make concessions, Martin Indyk is the perfect candidate.

Indyk served as assistant secretary of state and had two separate terms as U.S. ambassador to Israel. As former Israeli diplomat Dore Gold told the New York Times, Indyk certainly has an institutional memory of past efforts and knows the players involved well, though, tellingly, the Times noted that Indyk has “maintained a good rapport with Mr. Abbas, and has also conferred with Mr. Netanyahu.” But Kerry’s selection of one of the grizzled veterans of the crew that piloted the peace process ship and has shown few signs of understanding or even acknowledging all of the mistakes that were made during that time is a sign that Washington is set to be put on course for a repeat of what has already occurred. If Kerry is intent on getting the old band back together that orchestrated the post-Oslo euphoria of the 1990s that culminated in the crackup of the 2000 Camp David summit, he may be setting in motion a chain of events in which that tragedy will be repeated.

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If there weren’t already enough reasons to be wary of John Kerry’s efforts to convene new Middle East peace process talks this week in Washington, the New York Times just gave us another. Now that his task of pushing parties who already know there’s no chance of an actual agreement being reached into a new round of negotiation has been accomplished, Kerry is prepared to delegate the supervision of this disaster-in-the-making to a subordinate, and his choice is one of the key players in the Clinton administration’s Middle East peace process team. If the job qualifications for the position required experience in presiding over failed peace talks and stoking unreasonable expectations about the Palestinians’ desire for peace while pressuring Israel to make concessions, Martin Indyk is the perfect candidate.

Indyk served as assistant secretary of state and had two separate terms as U.S. ambassador to Israel. As former Israeli diplomat Dore Gold told the New York Times, Indyk certainly has an institutional memory of past efforts and knows the players involved well, though, tellingly, the Times noted that Indyk has “maintained a good rapport with Mr. Abbas, and has also conferred with Mr. Netanyahu.” But Kerry’s selection of one of the grizzled veterans of the crew that piloted the peace process ship and has shown few signs of understanding or even acknowledging all of the mistakes that were made during that time is a sign that Washington is set to be put on course for a repeat of what has already occurred. If Kerry is intent on getting the old band back together that orchestrated the post-Oslo euphoria of the 1990s that culminated in the crackup of the 2000 Camp David summit, he may be setting in motion a chain of events in which that tragedy will be repeated.

It’s useful to think back to the era when Indyk and the rest of his old pals were pursuing peace in the 1990s. The Clinton White House and State Department may not have conceived the Oslo Accords, but they were determined to see them implemented in such a way as to create the “New Middle East” that Shimon Peres wrote about at the time. Many Americans and Israelis shared the optimism that Yasir Arafat’s handshake with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House Lawn had engendered. But that optimism was slowly worn down in the following years as the newly created Palestinian Authority repeatedly demonstrated that it was primarily interested in amassing power and money for the Fatah elites that run it. Indyk and his colleagues steadfastly ignored Arafat’s double game whereby he talked peace to the West and war to his own people. The U.S. position was to treat the PA’s fomenting of hatred for Jews and Israelis and connections with terrorism as irrelevant to the goal of brokering peace agreements. They believed if Israel made enough concessions, and if enough foreign aid were funneled into PA coffers, the result would inevitably bring peace to the region and glory to all those involved.

They were wrong. Rather than renouncing terror, Arafat continued to employ it and a steady toll of attacks undermined Israeli confidence in the process. Though Israel’s critics would argue that its reluctance to make more concessions was to blame for Palestinian behavior, it soon became apparent to all but true believers in the peace process that he had no intention of ever making peace. But Indyk and company never caught up to reality. Their catastrophic miscalculation was made obvious in the summer of 2000 when Arafat refused the first of three Israeli offers of statehood including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. His response was to launch a terrorist war of attrition known to history as the second intifada, which cost more than a thousand Israeli lives and far more Palestinians.

In retrospect some of those involved with the process, like Dennis Ross, eventually admitted that they had made mistakes. But while Ross was right to note that Washington was wrong to ignore Palestinian incitement, terror, and thievery of aid funds, that miscalculation was no aberration. It was based in a fundamental misreading of the goals and the beliefs of Arafat and the entire Palestinian leadership (a group that includes his successor Mahmoud Abbas). The notion that a kleptocracy that based its legitimacy on a notion of Palestinian nationalism that rejected true peace with Israel could ever be persuaded or bribed to do so was a myth. Most Israelis absorbed this lesson as they coped with the after-shocks of the Oslo-era fiasco. But it was one that Kerry and some of the professional peace processors like Indyk seem never to have learned.

The notion that Israelis and Palestinians could simply split the difference between their positions was quintessentially American and hopelessly naïve. But it came with a high price in blood. Almost 13 years ago the Clinton team, assisted by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, blithely pushed ahead with peace talks that set the stage for an unprecedented outbreak of terrorist violence. Though Kerry has labored mightily to get the parties back to negotiations, he has given little indication that he has any idea of how to make them succeed and even less to the consequences of failure. Experience is a virtue, but there is another word to describe those who keep repeating the same behavior while expecting different results, and it isn’t flattering. Enlisting someone who has already made these same mistakes in a previous administration with no sign of having learned from them to help the secretary stage manage a new round of talks is an ominous sign that history could be repeating itself.

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The Problem Will Not Be Solved with Adjectives

Laura Rozen reports that the Obama administration is seeking new ideas from outside experts to advance its peace process — one that, in the words of an administration consultant, is “utterly stuck.”

There are apparently two task forces: one headed by Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley, national security advisers in the Clinton and Bush administrations who know something about failed peace processes; and another one headed by perennial peace processor Martin Indyk, whose last plan involved jumping out a window.

Rozen quotes another veteran peace processor who suggests three options (when someone offers three options, the first two are invariably non-starters and the third is the one he wants):

“There are three options that this administration can adopt,” former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer told POLITICO Thursday. “It can elicit an Israeli initiative. It can elicit a Palestinian initiative. Or it can develop its own initiative.”

“It’s had no success with the first two, and it hasn’t tried the third,” Kurtzer said. “So if it wants to try to develop an initiative, it’s got to come up with a substantive program that says to the parties, ‘When you get to negotiations, here are your terms of reference.’”

It is unclear what happens after the Palestinians reject the term of reference requiring them to give up a “right of return” to Israel, or after the Israelis reject the term of reference requiring them to move back to indefensible borders.

Kurtzer has long been an advocate of the U.S.’s setting forth its own “vision,” with “strong terms of reference,” backed by diplomacy that is “creative, active, sustained, bold and determined.” But in his testimony proposing that last year, Kurtzer acknowledged he did not “understand why, in 2010, the Saudis do not allow normal Israeli civilian air traffic over its territory” — the one step President Obama had requested from them to advance the peace process. He also acknowledged that the Palestinians are divided both geographically and politically, with a terrorist group governing Gaza and a public discourse and public-education system still infused with anti-Semitism.

The peace process has not lacked for plans or processes: the Oslo Process, the Camp David Summit, the Clinton Parameters, the Taba negotiations, the Roadmap, the Gaza disengagement, the Annapolis Process, and two years of non-talks and Palestinian preconditions.

If the United States cannot — even with a presidential visit, a bow, and a personal request — secure from the Saudis the minimal step of permitting Jews to traverse the country once a week, for an hour, at 35,000 feet, and if the Palestinians remain a society half in the grip of terrorists and half in a faux democracy suffused with anti-Semitism, unwilling to recognize a Jewish state, the problem is not one that will be solved by an American plan, even if accompanied by “creative, active, sustained, bold, and determined” diplomacy.

Laura Rozen reports that the Obama administration is seeking new ideas from outside experts to advance its peace process — one that, in the words of an administration consultant, is “utterly stuck.”

There are apparently two task forces: one headed by Sandy Berger and Stephen Hadley, national security advisers in the Clinton and Bush administrations who know something about failed peace processes; and another one headed by perennial peace processor Martin Indyk, whose last plan involved jumping out a window.

Rozen quotes another veteran peace processor who suggests three options (when someone offers three options, the first two are invariably non-starters and the third is the one he wants):

“There are three options that this administration can adopt,” former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer told POLITICO Thursday. “It can elicit an Israeli initiative. It can elicit a Palestinian initiative. Or it can develop its own initiative.”

“It’s had no success with the first two, and it hasn’t tried the third,” Kurtzer said. “So if it wants to try to develop an initiative, it’s got to come up with a substantive program that says to the parties, ‘When you get to negotiations, here are your terms of reference.’”

It is unclear what happens after the Palestinians reject the term of reference requiring them to give up a “right of return” to Israel, or after the Israelis reject the term of reference requiring them to move back to indefensible borders.

Kurtzer has long been an advocate of the U.S.’s setting forth its own “vision,” with “strong terms of reference,” backed by diplomacy that is “creative, active, sustained, bold and determined.” But in his testimony proposing that last year, Kurtzer acknowledged he did not “understand why, in 2010, the Saudis do not allow normal Israeli civilian air traffic over its territory” — the one step President Obama had requested from them to advance the peace process. He also acknowledged that the Palestinians are divided both geographically and politically, with a terrorist group governing Gaza and a public discourse and public-education system still infused with anti-Semitism.

The peace process has not lacked for plans or processes: the Oslo Process, the Camp David Summit, the Clinton Parameters, the Taba negotiations, the Roadmap, the Gaza disengagement, the Annapolis Process, and two years of non-talks and Palestinian preconditions.

If the United States cannot — even with a presidential visit, a bow, and a personal request — secure from the Saudis the minimal step of permitting Jews to traverse the country once a week, for an hour, at 35,000 feet, and if the Palestinians remain a society half in the grip of terrorists and half in a faux democracy suffused with anti-Semitism, unwilling to recognize a Jewish state, the problem is not one that will be solved by an American plan, even if accompanied by “creative, active, sustained, bold, and determined” diplomacy.

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Peace Through Self-Defenestration

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

Security arrangements were all but settled in 2000 at Camp David before the talks collapsed. The increased threat of rocket attacks since then, among other developments, require the two sides to agree on stricter border controls and a robust third-party force in the Jordan Valley. But one year is ample time to resolve this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security arrangements were all but settled in 2000 at Camp David before the talks collapsed. The increased threat of rocket attacks since then, among other developments, require the two sides to agree on stricter border controls and a robust third-party force in the Jordan Valley. But one year is ample time to resolve this.

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

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

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

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

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

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Middle East Realists vs. Middle East Fabulists

There is a clear division not only between politicians but also Middle East hands on the UN sanctions. The Washington Post sets the table. On one side is the reality-based community (not to be confused with “realists,” who aren’t at all):

“It is ironic that Bush had a far better record at the U.N. than Obama, as there was a unanimous UNSC vote under Bush, and Obama has lost it,” said Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under Bush. He said the reason is not that the Iranians’ behavior has improved, because “the clock keeps ticking, and Iran gets closer and closer to a bomb.” The reason, Abrams said, “is simply that American weakness has created a vacuum, and other states are trying to step into it.”

[John] Bolton argues that the administration’s willingness to operate within the U.N. system left it at a negotiating disadvantage. “Everyone believes the Obama administration is joined at the hip to the council, which is a position of negotiating weakness,” he said. “Weakness produces today’s result.”

(In the category of “elections have consequences,” imagine if a Republican were in the White House taking advice from these two.)

And then there is the fabulist Martin Indyk:

But Martin Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said that the no votes were “a product of the shifting templates in international affairs that is in part a result of Bush’s policies that squandered American influence when it was at its height, allowing for regional powers to emerge with greater ambitions and independence.”

Indyk said that the fact that Russia and China — two of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power — have yet again joined in new sanctions “should serve to underscore the Obama administration’s considerable achievement in maintaining P5 consensus in a new era in which the United States can no longer dictate outcomes.”

I don’t know what the heck he is talking about. Obama is in office two years and has produced an incoherent and ineffective Iran policy, but the no votes from two nations (whose drift into Iran’s orbit has been accelerated by this administration) are George W. Bush’s fault. Even for Indyk this is lame. But you have to hand it to him: he simultaneously touts the loophole-ridden sanctions as a great achievement and then concedes that America is in retreat (“the United States can no longer dictate outcomes”). For those who root for Hillary Clinton’s departure, or George Mitchell’s, it is useful to remember that those who would fill the spots are going to sound like Indyk and not Abrams or Bolton.

Made obvious by Indyk’s gobbledygook, there really is no credible defense for Obama’s diplomatic malpractice. Kori Schake, writing in Foreign Policy, sums up:

he Obama administration is doing its best to put a good face on a major disappointment: After sixteen months’ effort, they have succeeded in delivering less international support than did the Bush administration for a problem everyone agrees is growing rapidly worse. … Sanctions aren’t a strategy, they’re a tool for achieving the strategic objective of preventing Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. We’re over-reliant on sanctions to deliver that weighty objective and need to be thinking much more creatively about how to impose costs on the Iranian government — internationally and domestically — for their choices.

In the absence of anyone in the administration willing to press this point with Obama, we are headed for a nightmarish choice. We will either have a war or see a nuclear-armed Iran. Either way it will be the greatest foreign-policy disaster since, well, maybe ever. The tragedy is that we had the chance to follow a different strategy and avoid the Hobson’s choice.

There is a clear division not only between politicians but also Middle East hands on the UN sanctions. The Washington Post sets the table. On one side is the reality-based community (not to be confused with “realists,” who aren’t at all):

“It is ironic that Bush had a far better record at the U.N. than Obama, as there was a unanimous UNSC vote under Bush, and Obama has lost it,” said Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under Bush. He said the reason is not that the Iranians’ behavior has improved, because “the clock keeps ticking, and Iran gets closer and closer to a bomb.” The reason, Abrams said, “is simply that American weakness has created a vacuum, and other states are trying to step into it.”

[John] Bolton argues that the administration’s willingness to operate within the U.N. system left it at a negotiating disadvantage. “Everyone believes the Obama administration is joined at the hip to the council, which is a position of negotiating weakness,” he said. “Weakness produces today’s result.”

(In the category of “elections have consequences,” imagine if a Republican were in the White House taking advice from these two.)

And then there is the fabulist Martin Indyk:

But Martin Indyk, vice president for foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said that the no votes were “a product of the shifting templates in international affairs that is in part a result of Bush’s policies that squandered American influence when it was at its height, allowing for regional powers to emerge with greater ambitions and independence.”

Indyk said that the fact that Russia and China — two of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power — have yet again joined in new sanctions “should serve to underscore the Obama administration’s considerable achievement in maintaining P5 consensus in a new era in which the United States can no longer dictate outcomes.”

I don’t know what the heck he is talking about. Obama is in office two years and has produced an incoherent and ineffective Iran policy, but the no votes from two nations (whose drift into Iran’s orbit has been accelerated by this administration) are George W. Bush’s fault. Even for Indyk this is lame. But you have to hand it to him: he simultaneously touts the loophole-ridden sanctions as a great achievement and then concedes that America is in retreat (“the United States can no longer dictate outcomes”). For those who root for Hillary Clinton’s departure, or George Mitchell’s, it is useful to remember that those who would fill the spots are going to sound like Indyk and not Abrams or Bolton.

Made obvious by Indyk’s gobbledygook, there really is no credible defense for Obama’s diplomatic malpractice. Kori Schake, writing in Foreign Policy, sums up:

he Obama administration is doing its best to put a good face on a major disappointment: After sixteen months’ effort, they have succeeded in delivering less international support than did the Bush administration for a problem everyone agrees is growing rapidly worse. … Sanctions aren’t a strategy, they’re a tool for achieving the strategic objective of preventing Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. We’re over-reliant on sanctions to deliver that weighty objective and need to be thinking much more creatively about how to impose costs on the Iranian government — internationally and domestically — for their choices.

In the absence of anyone in the administration willing to press this point with Obama, we are headed for a nightmarish choice. We will either have a war or see a nuclear-armed Iran. Either way it will be the greatest foreign-policy disaster since, well, maybe ever. The tragedy is that we had the chance to follow a different strategy and avoid the Hobson’s choice.

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Martin Indyk’s Israel Animus

Last week I took a look at Martin Indyk’s latest bit of Israel-bashing and questioned his account of Ariel Sharon’s motives in the Gaza withdrawal. Isi Leibler takes note as well of Indyk’s new role as apologist for the Obami’s assault on Israel. (“Indyk has been intensifying his attacks on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, blaming him for the crisis and slandering him as an instrument of extremist nationalist elements.”) Leibler examines the cheerleaders for Obama’s anti-Israel stance:

Jewish supporters of Obama’s harsh and one-sided offensive against the current government fall into two broad categories.

There are those like J Street who are either genuinely anti-Israel or convinced they know better than Israelis what is best for Israel and are willing to lobby their government to force the Jewish state to continue making unilateral concessions. Needless to say, according to the most recent poll, more than 90 percent of Israelis are opposed to Obama imposing a solution.

The second category are the acolytes of Obama seeking to ingratiate themselves with the administration by acting as its apologists. Indyk understands both the Arab-Israeli conflict and the nature of Israeli domestic policies, and on the basis of his ferocious criticisms of the government, one is tempted to conclude that as a member of the administration, he is not merely promoting a partisan agenda, but deliberately distorting reality.

Leibler then points to even more egregious comments by Indyk. In this Jerusalem Post report, Indyk sounds like he’s auditioning for the directorship of J Street, threatening Israel over the Obami’s obsession (settlements):

When asked by Army Radio if Israel had to choose between Washington and a settlement such as Nokdim, Indyk responded, “Yes.” He warned that Israel stood to jeopardize its historically strong relationship with the US if it continued to take steps that harmed America’s vital interests in the Middle East.

Indyk then plays the foreign-aid card: “If Israel is a superpower and does not need $3 billion in military assistance and the protection of the US, and the efforts of the US to isolate and pressure Iran, then go ahead and do what you like. If you need the US then you need to take American interests into account.” And he then goes around the bend and beyond the pale, invoking the deaths of American servicemen:

What is at issue here is that the US now believes that a continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict harms its strategic interests in the Middle East, he said, adding that this perception emerged under former US President George Bush, and is not just a consequence of the policies of Obama’s administration.

“It is important for Israelis to understand that something fundamental has changed,” said Indyk.

The situation is now such that when it comes to east Jerusalem, “A zoning committee in the ministry of the interior can now do damage to the national interests of the United States,” said Indyk.

As a result, “Israel has to adjust its policy to the interest of the United States or there will be serious consequences,” he said. …

The US is now involved in two wars in the Middle East, said Indyk. Obama signs 30 to 40 condolence letters a month, which is “many more than the Israeli prime minister signs,” he added, so it has a vested interest it reducing tensions in the region.

These comments are especially noxious. First, the notion that Obama’s Middle East policy is simply the natural continuation of the Bush years is bizarrely untrue — a fantasy not even the Obami accept. They celebrate their break with past policy and have touted their new course. If Indyk wants to get a job with the Obami, he’d do well to stay on the same spin page. No, it’s the Obami who’ve decided to advance the hooey that the peace “process” is necessary for America’s war against the Taliban, its democracy-building in Iraq, and its non-efforts to stave off Iranian aggression in the region. And here Indyk, in loathsome fashion, suggests that American troops are dying because of Bibi’s intransigence. In fact, more Americans than Israelis are dying, he boasts. This is vile stuff.

Leibler speculates why Indyk has taken such a turn: he’s afraid of incurring the “dual loyalty” charge that’s been thrown in Dennis Ross’s face. Maybe. Or Indyk is auditioning for a job in the Obama administration. Or Indyk has spent his life on fruitless peace-processing and now must place blame for decades of failure. It’s fashionable in his circles to blame the Jewish state, and he does so with abandon. Well, if he keeps it up, he can look forward to joining Richard Goldstone among the heroes of the anti-Israel left.

But the reasons for Indyk’s descent into Israel-bashing matter hardly at all. What is certain is that Indyk parrots what he thinks the Obami want to hear. And that is what is most disturbing. Indyk’s public career may be over, but Obama’s term is not.

Last week I took a look at Martin Indyk’s latest bit of Israel-bashing and questioned his account of Ariel Sharon’s motives in the Gaza withdrawal. Isi Leibler takes note as well of Indyk’s new role as apologist for the Obami’s assault on Israel. (“Indyk has been intensifying his attacks on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, blaming him for the crisis and slandering him as an instrument of extremist nationalist elements.”) Leibler examines the cheerleaders for Obama’s anti-Israel stance:

Jewish supporters of Obama’s harsh and one-sided offensive against the current government fall into two broad categories.

There are those like J Street who are either genuinely anti-Israel or convinced they know better than Israelis what is best for Israel and are willing to lobby their government to force the Jewish state to continue making unilateral concessions. Needless to say, according to the most recent poll, more than 90 percent of Israelis are opposed to Obama imposing a solution.

The second category are the acolytes of Obama seeking to ingratiate themselves with the administration by acting as its apologists. Indyk understands both the Arab-Israeli conflict and the nature of Israeli domestic policies, and on the basis of his ferocious criticisms of the government, one is tempted to conclude that as a member of the administration, he is not merely promoting a partisan agenda, but deliberately distorting reality.

Leibler then points to even more egregious comments by Indyk. In this Jerusalem Post report, Indyk sounds like he’s auditioning for the directorship of J Street, threatening Israel over the Obami’s obsession (settlements):

When asked by Army Radio if Israel had to choose between Washington and a settlement such as Nokdim, Indyk responded, “Yes.” He warned that Israel stood to jeopardize its historically strong relationship with the US if it continued to take steps that harmed America’s vital interests in the Middle East.

Indyk then plays the foreign-aid card: “If Israel is a superpower and does not need $3 billion in military assistance and the protection of the US, and the efforts of the US to isolate and pressure Iran, then go ahead and do what you like. If you need the US then you need to take American interests into account.” And he then goes around the bend and beyond the pale, invoking the deaths of American servicemen:

What is at issue here is that the US now believes that a continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict harms its strategic interests in the Middle East, he said, adding that this perception emerged under former US President George Bush, and is not just a consequence of the policies of Obama’s administration.

“It is important for Israelis to understand that something fundamental has changed,” said Indyk.

The situation is now such that when it comes to east Jerusalem, “A zoning committee in the ministry of the interior can now do damage to the national interests of the United States,” said Indyk.

As a result, “Israel has to adjust its policy to the interest of the United States or there will be serious consequences,” he said. …

The US is now involved in two wars in the Middle East, said Indyk. Obama signs 30 to 40 condolence letters a month, which is “many more than the Israeli prime minister signs,” he added, so it has a vested interest it reducing tensions in the region.

These comments are especially noxious. First, the notion that Obama’s Middle East policy is simply the natural continuation of the Bush years is bizarrely untrue — a fantasy not even the Obami accept. They celebrate their break with past policy and have touted their new course. If Indyk wants to get a job with the Obami, he’d do well to stay on the same spin page. No, it’s the Obami who’ve decided to advance the hooey that the peace “process” is necessary for America’s war against the Taliban, its democracy-building in Iraq, and its non-efforts to stave off Iranian aggression in the region. And here Indyk, in loathsome fashion, suggests that American troops are dying because of Bibi’s intransigence. In fact, more Americans than Israelis are dying, he boasts. This is vile stuff.

Leibler speculates why Indyk has taken such a turn: he’s afraid of incurring the “dual loyalty” charge that’s been thrown in Dennis Ross’s face. Maybe. Or Indyk is auditioning for a job in the Obama administration. Or Indyk has spent his life on fruitless peace-processing and now must place blame for decades of failure. It’s fashionable in his circles to blame the Jewish state, and he does so with abandon. Well, if he keeps it up, he can look forward to joining Richard Goldstone among the heroes of the anti-Israel left.

But the reasons for Indyk’s descent into Israel-bashing matter hardly at all. What is certain is that Indyk parrots what he thinks the Obami want to hear. And that is what is most disturbing. Indyk’s public career may be over, but Obama’s term is not.

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RE: Martin Indyk Tries Out His Israel Bashing

Jen, let me add a footnote to your discussion of Martin Indyk’s article, in which he concluded that, “[f]rom Obama’s perspective, a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb had dealt the United States a strategic setback.” Indyk wrote that the reason Netanyahu’s public apology “doesn’t begin to address the real problem” is that deferring building announcements and other “provocative” actions became for Obama “the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the common cause of curbing Iran’s nuclear enthusiasm.”

Put aside the question of whether a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb can be a “strategic setback” – and whether it was wise for Obama to treat it as one. Put aside the question of what kind of strategy would depend on stopping further housing in a longstanding Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem — a neighborhood that will be retained by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement. Put aside the question of whether pre-negotiation concessions should be demanded of one side but not the other — and demanded from the side that already made an unprecedented pre-negotiation concession unmatched by the other side.

The real point about the “strategic setback” is that you cannot have a setback if you don’t have a strategy. Does anyone think the reason for the failure of Obama’s year-long “engagement” with Iran was Netanyahu’s failure to agree to a one-sided pre-negotiation freeze beyond a 10-month moratorium in the West Bank? Or that it was the reason Obama has been unable, after four months of effort, to get Iranian sanctions even on the Security Council agenda, much less adopted? Or that sanctions would have been crippling if Israel had just made more concessions — or that the decisions of Russia and China are in any way affected by them? Or that Arab states will support strong action against Iran if building stops in Jerusalem, but not if it doesn’t? As Youssef Ibrahmim’s perceptive article today at the New York Sun indicates, many Arab commentators have themselves indicated that the Palestinian issue is a secondary concern.

Robert Gates sent a memorandum to the president in January reportedly warning that there was no Iran strategy in place. Whether or not it was a “wake-up call” then, or simply a normal planning memo, whoever leaked it now obviously thinks that four months later there is still no strategy in place. The coming setback will have nothing to do with a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb.

Jen, let me add a footnote to your discussion of Martin Indyk’s article, in which he concluded that, “[f]rom Obama’s perspective, a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb had dealt the United States a strategic setback.” Indyk wrote that the reason Netanyahu’s public apology “doesn’t begin to address the real problem” is that deferring building announcements and other “provocative” actions became for Obama “the litmus test of Netanyahu’s commitment to the common cause of curbing Iran’s nuclear enthusiasm.”

Put aside the question of whether a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb can be a “strategic setback” – and whether it was wise for Obama to treat it as one. Put aside the question of what kind of strategy would depend on stopping further housing in a longstanding Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem — a neighborhood that will be retained by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement. Put aside the question of whether pre-negotiation concessions should be demanded of one side but not the other — and demanded from the side that already made an unprecedented pre-negotiation concession unmatched by the other side.

The real point about the “strategic setback” is that you cannot have a setback if you don’t have a strategy. Does anyone think the reason for the failure of Obama’s year-long “engagement” with Iran was Netanyahu’s failure to agree to a one-sided pre-negotiation freeze beyond a 10-month moratorium in the West Bank? Or that it was the reason Obama has been unable, after four months of effort, to get Iranian sanctions even on the Security Council agenda, much less adopted? Or that sanctions would have been crippling if Israel had just made more concessions — or that the decisions of Russia and China are in any way affected by them? Or that Arab states will support strong action against Iran if building stops in Jerusalem, but not if it doesn’t? As Youssef Ibrahmim’s perceptive article today at the New York Sun indicates, many Arab commentators have themselves indicated that the Palestinian issue is a secondary concern.

Robert Gates sent a memorandum to the president in January reportedly warning that there was no Iran strategy in place. Whether or not it was a “wake-up call” then, or simply a normal planning memo, whoever leaked it now obviously thinks that four months later there is still no strategy in place. The coming setback will have nothing to do with a zoning decision in an obscure Jerusalem suburb.

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Martin Indyk Tries Out His Israel Bashing

Following the example of Robert Gibbs on how to get kudos from the Obami, Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and presumably a whisperer in George Mitchell’s ear, takes to the mainstream media to bash Israel. It’s Bibi, wacky extremist that he is, who “has made Iran’s nuclear threat to Israel’s existence the central organizing principle of his second term.” (But isn’t a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat?) It is Bibi who stiffed Obama — by not showing up to his summit where everything BUT Iran was the focus of Obama’s attention. No mention is made of Obama’s atrocious treatment of Bibi. Obama meanwhile, Indyk would have us believe, was “persuading China to join in a new round of UN sanctions against Iran.” (Really? The Chinese keep saying they haven’t agreed to anything at all.)

Indyk also repeats the Palestinian talking point, which not surprisingly happens to be Obama’s as well, that “the inability to make progress on the Palestinian issue enables Iran’s leaders to appeal a to the Arab street, claiming they are the real supporters of the Palestinian cause through sponsorship of violence and terrorism and threats to destroy Israel. The tension also gives Iran the opportunity to use Hamas and Hezbollah proxies to provoke conflict with Israel, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seen as the hero.” Really — so if we had a peace accord, Iran would give up its nuclear ambitions? (And what of the Arab leaders who continue to plead in private for the administration to do something about Iran, now?)

And Indyk goes further, repeating the Obami’s spin about the housing blowup:

For Obama, however, Netanyahu’s apology doesn’t begin to address the real problem. His envoy, George Mitchell, had been struggling for nine months to launch Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The day before Biden’s visit, Mitchell had announced agreement with Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to commence “proximity talks.” The East Jerusalem building announcement came the next day, rendering those negotiations over before they had even started.

Weren’t proximity talks on the rocks before that? And wasn’t it the Obami who elevated this to a crisis point, rather than quietly handling the matter as the Bush administration had done on a similar Jerusalem builing matter? And on Indyk goes, ignoring the history of Palestinian rejectionism, the conciliatory moves Bibi has already made, the prior Bush agreement with Ariel Sharon on Jerusalem housing, and the continued incitement to violence by the PA. Is this his job application to replace George Mitchell?

Following the example of Robert Gibbs on how to get kudos from the Obami, Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and presumably a whisperer in George Mitchell’s ear, takes to the mainstream media to bash Israel. It’s Bibi, wacky extremist that he is, who “has made Iran’s nuclear threat to Israel’s existence the central organizing principle of his second term.” (But isn’t a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat?) It is Bibi who stiffed Obama — by not showing up to his summit where everything BUT Iran was the focus of Obama’s attention. No mention is made of Obama’s atrocious treatment of Bibi. Obama meanwhile, Indyk would have us believe, was “persuading China to join in a new round of UN sanctions against Iran.” (Really? The Chinese keep saying they haven’t agreed to anything at all.)

Indyk also repeats the Palestinian talking point, which not surprisingly happens to be Obama’s as well, that “the inability to make progress on the Palestinian issue enables Iran’s leaders to appeal a to the Arab street, claiming they are the real supporters of the Palestinian cause through sponsorship of violence and terrorism and threats to destroy Israel. The tension also gives Iran the opportunity to use Hamas and Hezbollah proxies to provoke conflict with Israel, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seen as the hero.” Really — so if we had a peace accord, Iran would give up its nuclear ambitions? (And what of the Arab leaders who continue to plead in private for the administration to do something about Iran, now?)

And Indyk goes further, repeating the Obami’s spin about the housing blowup:

For Obama, however, Netanyahu’s apology doesn’t begin to address the real problem. His envoy, George Mitchell, had been struggling for nine months to launch Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The day before Biden’s visit, Mitchell had announced agreement with Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to commence “proximity talks.” The East Jerusalem building announcement came the next day, rendering those negotiations over before they had even started.

Weren’t proximity talks on the rocks before that? And wasn’t it the Obami who elevated this to a crisis point, rather than quietly handling the matter as the Bush administration had done on a similar Jerusalem builing matter? And on Indyk goes, ignoring the history of Palestinian rejectionism, the conciliatory moves Bibi has already made, the prior Bush agreement with Ariel Sharon on Jerusalem housing, and the continued incitement to violence by the PA. Is this his job application to replace George Mitchell?

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RE: Gray Lady Foreign Policy PR Effort Falls Short

The New York Times is at is again — spinning the Obami foreign policy so as to minimize the abject failures and heightened tensions it leaves in its wake. The subject is the Middle East. The shift the Gray Lady explains is that now Obama sees resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a “vital national security interest of the United States.” There are two problems with this — first it’s not true, and second it’s not what the Obami are doing.

As to the first, the Times trots out Martin Indyk (who has George Mitchell’s ear and is a good barometer of silly things the Obami believe) who proclaims, “‘In the past, the problem of who drinks out of whose well in Nablus has not been a strategic interest of the United States’ … He said there was an interest now because of the tens of thousands of troops fighting Islamist insurgencies abroad at the same time that the United States was trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. ‘Will resolving the Palestinian issue solve everything?’ Mr. Indyk said. ‘No. But will it help us get there? Yes.’”

But what evidence is there for this? Iran and its proxies object to the existence of Israel, not its current borders. Al-Qaeda will not cease from killing Americans if there are “proximity talks” or even a final resolution of the dispute. And frankly, it’s a dumb thing to peg American national security to an issue that plainly is not resolvable any time soon and that is a distraction from the real, vital national security interest — Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But it is the sort of thing pseudo-sophisticated foreign policy types say, and now Obama is spouting it too.

Moreover, let’s get real. The break with the Bush administration is not the level of importance placed on resolving the Palestinian conflict. To the chagrin of many of us, Bush labored long and hard in the fruitless “peace process.” The shift is Obama’s effort to reorient the U.S. away from Israel and ingratiate himself with the “Muslim World.” The Times lets on, by way of pointing out that American Jewish groups are disturbed by the new approach:

The Obama administration’s new thinking, and the tougher policies toward Israel that could flow from it, has alarmed American Jewish leaders accustomed to the Bush administration’s steadfast support. They are not used to seeing issues like Jewish housing in the West Bank or East Jerusalem linked, even by implication, to the security of American soldiers. Some fret that it raises questions about the centrality of the American alliance with Israel, which the administration flatly denies. …

Among American Jewish groups, there is less skepticism than alarm about the administration’s new direction. On Tuesday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, publicized letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, signed by 76 senators and 333 House members, that implored the administration to defuse tensions. In an open letter to Mr. Obama from the World Jewish Congress, the organization’s president, Ronald S. Lauder, asked, “Why does the thrust of this administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks?”

But the Times makes no effort to examine the very strong, indeed inescapable evidence that Obama is not simply on some high-minded effort to resolve the Palestinian dispute but rather an intentional mission to put daylight between the two countries, which is what he told a group of Jewish leaders last year. The Times bothers not at all with the Cairo Speech — an invocation of Palestinian victimology and an infamous analogy equating Palestinians to enslaved African Americans. Nor is there mention of the serial snubbing of Bibi, the “condemnation” of our ally (there’s a break from the past if they were looking for an example), and the contrived fuss over Jerusalem housing. The “paper of record” merely takes at face value the Obami denial that the administration has turned on and against our ally, leaving one with the impression that nervous Jews just don’t get the genius of Obama.

But the facts are the facts: the Obami are quite evidently taking a wrecking ball to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. One would have to be blind — or write for the New York Times — to miss what is going on.

The New York Times is at is again — spinning the Obami foreign policy so as to minimize the abject failures and heightened tensions it leaves in its wake. The subject is the Middle East. The shift the Gray Lady explains is that now Obama sees resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a “vital national security interest of the United States.” There are two problems with this — first it’s not true, and second it’s not what the Obami are doing.

As to the first, the Times trots out Martin Indyk (who has George Mitchell’s ear and is a good barometer of silly things the Obami believe) who proclaims, “‘In the past, the problem of who drinks out of whose well in Nablus has not been a strategic interest of the United States’ … He said there was an interest now because of the tens of thousands of troops fighting Islamist insurgencies abroad at the same time that the United States was trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. ‘Will resolving the Palestinian issue solve everything?’ Mr. Indyk said. ‘No. But will it help us get there? Yes.’”

But what evidence is there for this? Iran and its proxies object to the existence of Israel, not its current borders. Al-Qaeda will not cease from killing Americans if there are “proximity talks” or even a final resolution of the dispute. And frankly, it’s a dumb thing to peg American national security to an issue that plainly is not resolvable any time soon and that is a distraction from the real, vital national security interest — Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But it is the sort of thing pseudo-sophisticated foreign policy types say, and now Obama is spouting it too.

Moreover, let’s get real. The break with the Bush administration is not the level of importance placed on resolving the Palestinian conflict. To the chagrin of many of us, Bush labored long and hard in the fruitless “peace process.” The shift is Obama’s effort to reorient the U.S. away from Israel and ingratiate himself with the “Muslim World.” The Times lets on, by way of pointing out that American Jewish groups are disturbed by the new approach:

The Obama administration’s new thinking, and the tougher policies toward Israel that could flow from it, has alarmed American Jewish leaders accustomed to the Bush administration’s steadfast support. They are not used to seeing issues like Jewish housing in the West Bank or East Jerusalem linked, even by implication, to the security of American soldiers. Some fret that it raises questions about the centrality of the American alliance with Israel, which the administration flatly denies. …

Among American Jewish groups, there is less skepticism than alarm about the administration’s new direction. On Tuesday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, publicized letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, signed by 76 senators and 333 House members, that implored the administration to defuse tensions. In an open letter to Mr. Obama from the World Jewish Congress, the organization’s president, Ronald S. Lauder, asked, “Why does the thrust of this administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks?”

But the Times makes no effort to examine the very strong, indeed inescapable evidence that Obama is not simply on some high-minded effort to resolve the Palestinian dispute but rather an intentional mission to put daylight between the two countries, which is what he told a group of Jewish leaders last year. The Times bothers not at all with the Cairo Speech — an invocation of Palestinian victimology and an infamous analogy equating Palestinians to enslaved African Americans. Nor is there mention of the serial snubbing of Bibi, the “condemnation” of our ally (there’s a break from the past if they were looking for an example), and the contrived fuss over Jerusalem housing. The “paper of record” merely takes at face value the Obami denial that the administration has turned on and against our ally, leaving one with the impression that nervous Jews just don’t get the genius of Obama.

But the facts are the facts: the Obami are quite evidently taking a wrecking ball to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. One would have to be blind — or write for the New York Times — to miss what is going on.

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