Commentary Magazine


Topic: mediator

Is All Criticism of Israel Out of Bounds?

That’s what Chas Freeman claimed during a panel discussion with Steve Clemons this week. In an attempt to defend himself against charges that he’s an “Israel-basher,” Freeman argued that anyone who disagrees with the Israeli government is labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

“I think we have a very sad situation in this country … in which any criticism of, whatever it is, that the current government of Israel is doing, is immediately cited as evidence of anti-Israel bias, or anti-Semitism,” said Freeman.

This is a false argument. There is nothing biased or anti-Semitic about criticizing or disagreeing with Israeli policy. But the criticism can become biased or anti-Semitic when it’s disproportionate, dishonest, or consistently one-sided.

Freeman gives a perfect example of this when he launches into his theory about how the Israel lobby has a stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy:

The United States essentially has disqualified itself as a mediator. I say that with great sadness, because I believe on many occasions we had opportunities to go for peace, I think there has been an implicit promise of peace on many occasions and we did not do that. We cannot play the role of mediator because of the political hammerlock that the right wing in Israel through its supporters here exercises in our politics. We are simply biased.

If someone’s analysis of the Middle East conflict is derived from the deeply paranoid theory that the U.S. government policy is controlled by a group of American citizens acting as Israeli foreign agents, then the term “Israel-basher” sounds like a pretty fair characterization.

That’s what Chas Freeman claimed during a panel discussion with Steve Clemons this week. In an attempt to defend himself against charges that he’s an “Israel-basher,” Freeman argued that anyone who disagrees with the Israeli government is labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

“I think we have a very sad situation in this country … in which any criticism of, whatever it is, that the current government of Israel is doing, is immediately cited as evidence of anti-Israel bias, or anti-Semitism,” said Freeman.

This is a false argument. There is nothing biased or anti-Semitic about criticizing or disagreeing with Israeli policy. But the criticism can become biased or anti-Semitic when it’s disproportionate, dishonest, or consistently one-sided.

Freeman gives a perfect example of this when he launches into his theory about how the Israel lobby has a stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy:

The United States essentially has disqualified itself as a mediator. I say that with great sadness, because I believe on many occasions we had opportunities to go for peace, I think there has been an implicit promise of peace on many occasions and we did not do that. We cannot play the role of mediator because of the political hammerlock that the right wing in Israel through its supporters here exercises in our politics. We are simply biased.

If someone’s analysis of the Middle East conflict is derived from the deeply paranoid theory that the U.S. government policy is controlled by a group of American citizens acting as Israeli foreign agents, then the term “Israel-basher” sounds like a pretty fair characterization.

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RE: It’s Not About Settlements

As Jennifer noted yesterday in her comments on Giora Eiland’s Ynet op-ed, Palestinian unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is the make-or-break issue of the peace process. She’s also correct that the Obama administration shows no signs of recognizing this fact. But two recent developments make this blindness particularly puzzling.

First, the critical importance of recognition is not an obscure point that an honest broker could easily overlook; it has by now become glaringly obvious to an overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans.

In an Israel Project poll released this week, 63 percent of respondents said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is mostly about religion and ideology,” so “the key to peace is each side acknowledging the other’s right to exist.” That is double the 32 percent who thought it’s “mostly about land,” so “the key to peace is figuring out how to divide the land they share, establish borders, and address Jerusalem.”

Nor did respondents have trouble identifying which party was actually unwilling to recognize the other: 61 percent said Israel was “more committed” to reaching a deal; only 11 percent chose the Palestinians.

But the administration’s inability to grasp what is obvious to most Americans is even more bewildering given that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has spared no effort recently to drive the point home.

Even at the talks’ gala Washington launch on September 2, when both sides were presumably at their most conciliatory, Abbas used the opening ceremony to announce that he would never recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

A few days later, he told the Al-Quds newspaper that he won’t even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. And if he’s pressured to make any concessions on this point, or on the refugees’ “right of return” — a euphemism for eradicating the Jewish state through demography — he will “pack his bags and leave.”

Other leading Palestinian officials, such as senior negotiator Nabil Shaath, have echoed this refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Yet Barack Obama and his team still insist, in the teeth of all this evidence, that the most critical issue is getting Israel to continue its moratorium on settlement construction. “I told [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that ‘you’ve got to show president Abbas that you’re serious,’” he told reporters last week.

And this week, U.S. mediator George Mitchell once again touted his favorite idea (Hebrew only): that the talks for now should focus solely on borders, because once the border is finalized, settlement construction — which is clearly Washington’s primary concern — would cease to be an issue. But Netanyahu again rejected it, pointing out that in practice, this means Israel ceding land without the Palestinians’ having to address any of Israel’s main concerns, like recognition.

In last week’s interview, Obama also said that “the only way to succeed [in the talks] is to see the world through the other person’s eyes.” Perhaps he should take his own advice and look at the world through Israeli, or even ordinary American, eyes. For unless he grasps that the real issue is not settlements, but recognition, negotiations don’t have a prayer.

As Jennifer noted yesterday in her comments on Giora Eiland’s Ynet op-ed, Palestinian unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is the make-or-break issue of the peace process. She’s also correct that the Obama administration shows no signs of recognizing this fact. But two recent developments make this blindness particularly puzzling.

First, the critical importance of recognition is not an obscure point that an honest broker could easily overlook; it has by now become glaringly obvious to an overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans.

In an Israel Project poll released this week, 63 percent of respondents said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “is mostly about religion and ideology,” so “the key to peace is each side acknowledging the other’s right to exist.” That is double the 32 percent who thought it’s “mostly about land,” so “the key to peace is figuring out how to divide the land they share, establish borders, and address Jerusalem.”

Nor did respondents have trouble identifying which party was actually unwilling to recognize the other: 61 percent said Israel was “more committed” to reaching a deal; only 11 percent chose the Palestinians.

But the administration’s inability to grasp what is obvious to most Americans is even more bewildering given that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has spared no effort recently to drive the point home.

Even at the talks’ gala Washington launch on September 2, when both sides were presumably at their most conciliatory, Abbas used the opening ceremony to announce that he would never recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

A few days later, he told the Al-Quds newspaper that he won’t even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. And if he’s pressured to make any concessions on this point, or on the refugees’ “right of return” — a euphemism for eradicating the Jewish state through demography — he will “pack his bags and leave.”

Other leading Palestinian officials, such as senior negotiator Nabil Shaath, have echoed this refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Yet Barack Obama and his team still insist, in the teeth of all this evidence, that the most critical issue is getting Israel to continue its moratorium on settlement construction. “I told [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that ‘you’ve got to show president Abbas that you’re serious,’” he told reporters last week.

And this week, U.S. mediator George Mitchell once again touted his favorite idea (Hebrew only): that the talks for now should focus solely on borders, because once the border is finalized, settlement construction — which is clearly Washington’s primary concern — would cease to be an issue. But Netanyahu again rejected it, pointing out that in practice, this means Israel ceding land without the Palestinians’ having to address any of Israel’s main concerns, like recognition.

In last week’s interview, Obama also said that “the only way to succeed [in the talks] is to see the world through the other person’s eyes.” Perhaps he should take his own advice and look at the world through Israeli, or even ordinary American, eyes. For unless he grasps that the real issue is not settlements, but recognition, negotiations don’t have a prayer.

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What Washington’s Lame Response to Terror Says About the Peace Talks

If more reasons were needed for concluding that the current Israeli-Palestinian talks won’t produce a deal, here’s another: the designated mediator — i.e., the Obama administration — has just proved itself incapable of providing what even Israeli leftists deem an essential condition for peace.

Tuesday night, Palestinian terrorists murdered four Israeli civilians — two men and two women — by shooting them at close range. Yet as even Haaretz, normally the administration’s reliable flack, noted, “State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley didn’t seem to be in a rush to condemn the attack.” In fact, he didn’t condemn it at all: he merely declared it “a tragedy.”

“Any time one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy,” Crowley said. “We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred. … We are cognizant that there could be external events that can have an impact on the environment.”

The White House finally issued an unequivocal condemnation only hours later, once “the circumstances” had become clear: namely, that it could condemn the attack safely, because the Palestinian Authority wasn’t involved. Until then, Crowley had hedged his bets, hinting at extenuating circumstances that “we just don’t know,” “external events” that could affect “the environment” — any straw he could grasp to excuse the PA if that proved necessary.

What does this have to do with peace talks? To understand that, it’s worth reading Gershon Baskin’s column in the Jerusalem Post this week. Baskin aptly titled it “The indefatigable peacemaker’s advice,” because he is indeed an indefatigable peace activist. He is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, has been personally involved in many previous rounds of negotiations (both official and unofficial), and continues to believe that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable” right now — a position shared by few other Israelis.

Yet even this indefatigable optimist noted that peace will not be possible if certain conditions aren’t met. For instance, he dismissed the “borders first” idea once touted by U.S. mediator George Mitchell, correctly noting that “the agreement will be a package deal in which there are trade-offs,” and therefore, the various final-status issues “cannot be negotiated separately.” Additionally, he warned, Israel must be convinced that any deal will end with the Palestinians’ recognizing it as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” (to bridge the gap between the PA’s unwillingness to concede this upfront and Israel’s need to know it will happen eventually, he proposed having the Palestinians give such a pledge to Washington as a “deposit”).

But here’s the clincher: “All of Israel’s security concerns must be addressed by the Palestinians (and the American team) with the utmost sincerity. There will be no agreement unless Israel feels its security needs will be met.”

That, however, is precisely what team Obama has just shown itself incapable of doing. Because if you want to convince Israelis that their security concerns will be addressed, offering lame excuses for anti-Israel terror rather than forthrightly condemning it isn’t a good way to start.

If more reasons were needed for concluding that the current Israeli-Palestinian talks won’t produce a deal, here’s another: the designated mediator — i.e., the Obama administration — has just proved itself incapable of providing what even Israeli leftists deem an essential condition for peace.

Tuesday night, Palestinian terrorists murdered four Israeli civilians — two men and two women — by shooting them at close range. Yet as even Haaretz, normally the administration’s reliable flack, noted, “State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley didn’t seem to be in a rush to condemn the attack.” In fact, he didn’t condemn it at all: he merely declared it “a tragedy.”

“Any time one human being takes out a weapon and fires and kills other human beings, it’s a tragedy,” Crowley said. “We just don’t know the circumstances under which this occurred. … We are cognizant that there could be external events that can have an impact on the environment.”

The White House finally issued an unequivocal condemnation only hours later, once “the circumstances” had become clear: namely, that it could condemn the attack safely, because the Palestinian Authority wasn’t involved. Until then, Crowley had hedged his bets, hinting at extenuating circumstances that “we just don’t know,” “external events” that could affect “the environment” — any straw he could grasp to excuse the PA if that proved necessary.

What does this have to do with peace talks? To understand that, it’s worth reading Gershon Baskin’s column in the Jerusalem Post this week. Baskin aptly titled it “The indefatigable peacemaker’s advice,” because he is indeed an indefatigable peace activist. He is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, has been personally involved in many previous rounds of negotiations (both official and unofficial), and continues to believe that “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolvable” right now — a position shared by few other Israelis.

Yet even this indefatigable optimist noted that peace will not be possible if certain conditions aren’t met. For instance, he dismissed the “borders first” idea once touted by U.S. mediator George Mitchell, correctly noting that “the agreement will be a package deal in which there are trade-offs,” and therefore, the various final-status issues “cannot be negotiated separately.” Additionally, he warned, Israel must be convinced that any deal will end with the Palestinians’ recognizing it as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” (to bridge the gap between the PA’s unwillingness to concede this upfront and Israel’s need to know it will happen eventually, he proposed having the Palestinians give such a pledge to Washington as a “deposit”).

But here’s the clincher: “All of Israel’s security concerns must be addressed by the Palestinians (and the American team) with the utmost sincerity. There will be no agreement unless Israel feels its security needs will be met.”

That, however, is precisely what team Obama has just shown itself incapable of doing. Because if you want to convince Israelis that their security concerns will be addressed, offering lame excuses for anti-Israel terror rather than forthrightly condemning it isn’t a good way to start.

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Sniffing Out What “Pro-Israel” Means (Updated)

In the last week or so, the Emergency Committee for Israel has come out with ads on the anti-Israel records of Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy, Glenn Nye, and Jim Himes, specifically calling attention to their signatures on the Gaza 54 letter.

Dave Weigel, now writing for Slate (whose editors, unlike the Washington Post’s management, knew his political leanings before hiring him) observes:

“While it’s true that signing the J Street letter was a cause for concern,” said one official with a pro-Israel group, “and remains so, it’s also a fact that Congressman Himes has a consistently pro-Israel voting record and strong friends in the mainstream pro-Israel community.”

There was no such pushback when the Committee went after Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.), now running for the Senate. But the aftermath of that attack — Sestak trying to get the ad pulled, and failing — ensures much more of this.

As an aside, this speaks volumes about Joe Sestak. To my knowledge, not a single pro-Israel group — no, J Street certainly doesn’t count on this one — rushed to his defense, either on or off the record. But CAIR did. (And with a record like this, don’t expect them to rush to Mary Jo Kilroy’s defense either.)

But I think there is good reason why Himes’s record should be scrutinized and why he is being funded by the Israel-bashers at J Street. He signed the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter. What was that about? This report explains:

The letter urged Obama to become intimately involved in forcing talks between Israel and the PA, and said the creation of a Palestinian state must precede transparency of the PA government, control over security, or a stable economy.

An official with a real pro-Israel organization (that defends Israel’s right of self-defense and everything) explains:

Coming in the run up to the first ever meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, just weeks before the speech in Cairo, the clear intent of that letter was to call on the President to impose a solution, something Israel and every previous American administration has rejected as a failed strategy.  More over, the letter totally ignores the history of the conflict, implying that the failure of the Arabs and the Palestinians to make peace is Israel’s fault as much as the Arabs, and that is simply as ignorant as it is offensive.

As the viciously anti-Israel M.J. Rosenberg noted at the time, the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter was the left’s alternative to an AIPAC letter (which the overwhemlming number of House members signed onto):

The AIPAC letter sounds like it is calling for a Palestinian state to be worked out by the two sides. But its authors know full-well that no Israeli government (even a peace government) is going to risk enraging the right by agreeing to a Palestinian state unless it is the United States that is insisting upon it. The AIPAC letter does not envision a Palestinian State. Quite the contrary, its intent is to delay that state until there is no possibility of it ever being established.

It argues that America’s job is to serve as “trusted mediator and devoted friend of Israel.” It concedes that “no doubt our two governments [sic] will agree on many issues and disagree on others. The proven best way forward is to work closely and privately together both on areas of agreement and especially on areas of disagreement.”

That is what Himes wouldn’t sign.

So I’d be very curious to know just what “pro-Israel” group thinks Himes has been consistently pro-Israel. This, it should be noted, is precisely why ECI is needed. It is about time we start to parse what “pro-Israel” really means. It’s not signing the Gaza-54 letter or the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter.

CORRECTION: Himes inexplicably signed both the AIPAC and the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letters. The latter explicitly declared that the U.S. should intervene because the parties could not reach agreement (i.e., back an imposed peace plan) and cheered the Arab Initiative, which would impose on Israel pre-1967 borders and re-divide Jerusalem. Perhaps Himes’s defense will be that he didn’t read what he signed, but those positions are not embraced by the vast majority of American Jews  — or even by the Obama administration (at least not yet).

In the last week or so, the Emergency Committee for Israel has come out with ads on the anti-Israel records of Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy, Glenn Nye, and Jim Himes, specifically calling attention to their signatures on the Gaza 54 letter.

Dave Weigel, now writing for Slate (whose editors, unlike the Washington Post’s management, knew his political leanings before hiring him) observes:

“While it’s true that signing the J Street letter was a cause for concern,” said one official with a pro-Israel group, “and remains so, it’s also a fact that Congressman Himes has a consistently pro-Israel voting record and strong friends in the mainstream pro-Israel community.”

There was no such pushback when the Committee went after Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.), now running for the Senate. But the aftermath of that attack — Sestak trying to get the ad pulled, and failing — ensures much more of this.

As an aside, this speaks volumes about Joe Sestak. To my knowledge, not a single pro-Israel group — no, J Street certainly doesn’t count on this one — rushed to his defense, either on or off the record. But CAIR did. (And with a record like this, don’t expect them to rush to Mary Jo Kilroy’s defense either.)

But I think there is good reason why Himes’s record should be scrutinized and why he is being funded by the Israel-bashers at J Street. He signed the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter. What was that about? This report explains:

The letter urged Obama to become intimately involved in forcing talks between Israel and the PA, and said the creation of a Palestinian state must precede transparency of the PA government, control over security, or a stable economy.

An official with a real pro-Israel organization (that defends Israel’s right of self-defense and everything) explains:

Coming in the run up to the first ever meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, just weeks before the speech in Cairo, the clear intent of that letter was to call on the President to impose a solution, something Israel and every previous American administration has rejected as a failed strategy.  More over, the letter totally ignores the history of the conflict, implying that the failure of the Arabs and the Palestinians to make peace is Israel’s fault as much as the Arabs, and that is simply as ignorant as it is offensive.

As the viciously anti-Israel M.J. Rosenberg noted at the time, the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter was the left’s alternative to an AIPAC letter (which the overwhemlming number of House members signed onto):

The AIPAC letter sounds like it is calling for a Palestinian state to be worked out by the two sides. But its authors know full-well that no Israeli government (even a peace government) is going to risk enraging the right by agreeing to a Palestinian state unless it is the United States that is insisting upon it. The AIPAC letter does not envision a Palestinian State. Quite the contrary, its intent is to delay that state until there is no possibility of it ever being established.

It argues that America’s job is to serve as “trusted mediator and devoted friend of Israel.” It concedes that “no doubt our two governments [sic] will agree on many issues and disagree on others. The proven best way forward is to work closely and privately together both on areas of agreement and especially on areas of disagreement.”

That is what Himes wouldn’t sign.

So I’d be very curious to know just what “pro-Israel” group thinks Himes has been consistently pro-Israel. This, it should be noted, is precisely why ECI is needed. It is about time we start to parse what “pro-Israel” really means. It’s not signing the Gaza-54 letter or the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letter.

CORRECTION: Himes inexplicably signed both the AIPAC and the Cohen-Boustany-Carnahan letters. The latter explicitly declared that the U.S. should intervene because the parties could not reach agreement (i.e., back an imposed peace plan) and cheered the Arab Initiative, which would impose on Israel pre-1967 borders and re-divide Jerusalem. Perhaps Himes’s defense will be that he didn’t read what he signed, but those positions are not embraced by the vast majority of American Jews  — or even by the Obama administration (at least not yet).

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Quick Reaction to the Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

With all the normal caveats — we don’t know what was said in private, etc. — there are a few takeaways from the just-concluded news conference.

1. It was noteworthy that Obama explicitly affirmed in his opening remarks that Israel and the United States share “national security interests [and] our strategic interests.” One of the worst aspects of the recent drama was the inference by administration officials that Israeli and U.S. strategic interests were diverging or even in conflict. It wasn’t very long ago that President Obama was saying that the Israeli-Arab conflict is costing American “blood and treasure.” For now, at least, the administration is avoiding such rhetoric and instead emphasizing the traditional features of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

2. At least publicly, Obama appears to be trying to put the nuclear non-proliferation treaty controversy to bed. As reported a long time ago by Eli Lake, and then finally over the weekend (finally) by the New York Times, the administration has been following what could be called a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Israeli nukes. After apparently promising the Israelis he would not do so, Obama recently endorsed the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, raising the prospect — it’s a little mind-blowing to think about it — that Israel’s nukes, rather than the Iranian nuclear program, would become a focal point of international attention. Today, Obama said the following in an obvious attempt to repair the damage and reassure the Israelis:

I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues [of Israel and the NPT]. … We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region…the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

The test will be what the administration does about all of this when its nuclear conference takes place.

3. Regarding the peace process: for starters, Obama endorsed Netanyahu as a partner for peace (yes, the president has set a very low standard): “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace, I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. … I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.” More important, he endorsed the commencement of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks before the settlement freeze expires in September. This is not a small issue. The Israelis want to move beyond proximity talks for several reasons, primarily because proximity talks prevent the Palestinians’ bluff from being called. So long as the administration plays the role of mediator, the peace process remains focused on settlements and Israel rather than Palestinian intransigence, incitement, etc.

There is no expectation that the Palestinians are prepared to make the big moves that would allow something like a two-state solution to happen; in fact, the Palestinians aren’t even prepared to make the small ones. Over the weekend, it was leaked to an Israeli paper that Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that Israel should maintain control over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The next day, Saeb Erekat announced that nothing of the sort had been offered. To anyone who follows the “peace process,” this is a familiar Palestinian dance.

And it is a dance that the proximity talks keep hidden. Move to direct talks, and the Palestinian position — rejectionism, inflexibility, political fractiousness, and paralysis — will come into stark relief. The fact that Obama endorsed moving to direct talks this summer should make Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad very nervous.

4. There was no mention of the Turkish demand that Obama ask Israel to apologize over the flotilla ambush. Presumably, Obama was wise enough to realize that this is something he should just stay out of.

5. All of this is smart politics for Obama. His hostility toward Israel over the past year and a half earned him nothing and alienated many of his Jewish and pro-Israel supporters. Obviously Obama would like this entire issue to move to the back burner in the run-up to the midterms.

With all the normal caveats — we don’t know what was said in private, etc. — there are a few takeaways from the just-concluded news conference.

1. It was noteworthy that Obama explicitly affirmed in his opening remarks that Israel and the United States share “national security interests [and] our strategic interests.” One of the worst aspects of the recent drama was the inference by administration officials that Israeli and U.S. strategic interests were diverging or even in conflict. It wasn’t very long ago that President Obama was saying that the Israeli-Arab conflict is costing American “blood and treasure.” For now, at least, the administration is avoiding such rhetoric and instead emphasizing the traditional features of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

2. At least publicly, Obama appears to be trying to put the nuclear non-proliferation treaty controversy to bed. As reported a long time ago by Eli Lake, and then finally over the weekend (finally) by the New York Times, the administration has been following what could be called a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Israeli nukes. After apparently promising the Israelis he would not do so, Obama recently endorsed the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, raising the prospect — it’s a little mind-blowing to think about it — that Israel’s nukes, rather than the Iranian nuclear program, would become a focal point of international attention. Today, Obama said the following in an obvious attempt to repair the damage and reassure the Israelis:

I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues [of Israel and the NPT]. … We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region…the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

The test will be what the administration does about all of this when its nuclear conference takes place.

3. Regarding the peace process: for starters, Obama endorsed Netanyahu as a partner for peace (yes, the president has set a very low standard): “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace, I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. … I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.” More important, he endorsed the commencement of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks before the settlement freeze expires in September. This is not a small issue. The Israelis want to move beyond proximity talks for several reasons, primarily because proximity talks prevent the Palestinians’ bluff from being called. So long as the administration plays the role of mediator, the peace process remains focused on settlements and Israel rather than Palestinian intransigence, incitement, etc.

There is no expectation that the Palestinians are prepared to make the big moves that would allow something like a two-state solution to happen; in fact, the Palestinians aren’t even prepared to make the small ones. Over the weekend, it was leaked to an Israeli paper that Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that Israel should maintain control over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The next day, Saeb Erekat announced that nothing of the sort had been offered. To anyone who follows the “peace process,” this is a familiar Palestinian dance.

And it is a dance that the proximity talks keep hidden. Move to direct talks, and the Palestinian position — rejectionism, inflexibility, political fractiousness, and paralysis — will come into stark relief. The fact that Obama endorsed moving to direct talks this summer should make Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad very nervous.

4. There was no mention of the Turkish demand that Obama ask Israel to apologize over the flotilla ambush. Presumably, Obama was wise enough to realize that this is something he should just stay out of.

5. All of this is smart politics for Obama. His hostility toward Israel over the past year and a half earned him nothing and alienated many of his Jewish and pro-Israel supporters. Obviously Obama would like this entire issue to move to the back burner in the run-up to the midterms.

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The Shocking Rashad Hussain Interview

A friend of COMMENTARY calls my attention to this interview with the controversial Rashad Hussain, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. You will recall that his nomination raised concerns when his comments alleging a “political” motivation for prosecuting Sami Al-Arian and his attendance at CAIR events came to light. (He then attempted to cover up the comments.) As our friend notes, “This must be read to be believed … it cannot be parodied.”

We start from the context — a foreign, Arabic publication. It is to this audience that he skewers — without justification or basis in fact — the Bush administration:

Q) Do you think it will be easy to overcome the hostility in the Islamic world towards certain US policies, especially in light of the actions taken under the previous US administration?

A) We are concerned about this but we are determined to move forward, without looking to the past and the negative effects of this, in order to erase the hostile feelings caused by the administration of former President George W. Bush. There is now a suitable opportunity to overcome the past, and open a new page in relations between the US and the people in the Islamic region.

This is not, to say the least, what we expect our envoys to communicate to foreign audiences. And then there is the substance of his remarks. Hostile feelings caused by the Bush administration’s policies, he says? Which were those — the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which Obama has continued? The focus on human rights, which Obama has ignored? And notice the assignment of blame to the country he pretends to represent, not to the bad actors — Syria and Iran, for example — that continue to promote terror and brutalize their people. It appears that Hussain is telling the Muslims that the real source of trouble in the Middle East was George W. Bush.

But it is obsession with the peace process as the key to ending such “hostility” and the conviction that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of our woes that are the most jarring — and perhaps revelatory of the administration he represents. He offers this:

Q) How do you intend to impose your strategy to develop relations with the Islamic world?

A) By implementing the recommendations made in the speech by US President Obama in Cairo, which represents a clear strategy to promote relations with the Islamic world, as this speech covered all political, social, and economic aspects. We have already begun work to implement what was said in the speech, whether through political action to solve the Palestinian-Israel conflict through the efforts exerted by the Obama administration’s Peace Envoy George Mitchell, and we will also promote health services such as combating polio in the Islamic world, and promoting educational programs and cultural exchange between the two sides.

And this:

Q) Many Muslims are critical of bias US policies towards Israel. How can we reconcile what Obama said in his Cairo speech and the US political approach in the Middle East?

A) The United States does not operate solely according to its own interests, and it seeks to safeguard the interests of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, which has made it a top priority for us to engage in genuine peace negotiations between both sides. As you know, the US is committed to its role as an effective mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. We have not waited until the last minute to become involved in this; rather we did everything we could to urge the concerned parties to enter negotiations. President Obama [also] appointed George Mitchell Middle East Peace Envoy, and he appointed me as an envoy to promote US relations with the Islamic world, and we are all working to implement Obama’s strategy in the Islamic world to achieve stability in this part of the world.

Q) Do you think the Israeli settlement building in Jerusalem complicates your mission to improve US relations with the Islamic world?

A) Of course, there are fears that any action or provocation will negatively affect feelings, and as a Muslim I know full well that the Al Aqsa Mosque was the first Qibla [direction in which Muslims pray] and is the third holiest site for Muslims and it is revered by Muslims. President Obama is committed to calming the situation in the city of Jerusalem, and finding solutions that are both acceptable to the Palestinians and the Israelis. There is also a clear position by the president to reject any settlement building in east Jerusalem, and there is a statement to this effect from the US administration, which has many ways to settle the conflict in the region that has lasted for 60 years. However, it is not easy for this to be settled overnight so we must bridge the differences between the conflicting parties. Over the last few days we have heard good news to the effect that indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis have begun, so I think we are making progress in this regard, and we must not take a step backwards.

Now, he does mention polio programs and educational outreach, but plainly this man is convinced that the key to ending “hostility” against the U.S. is resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What is missing? Ah, mention of the Iranian nuclear threat. Oh yes, the brutalization of women and the repression of Middle East despots. And how exactly has the arrival of Obama ended that hostility? Last time we checked, Syria was supplying Hezbollah with Scuds and Iran was moving toward acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Still seems pretty hostile. Maybe it wasn’t all Bush’s fault.

And as the crowning touch, we have this exchange:

Q) You studied law at Yale University, during which you criticized the prosecution of Sami Al-Arian, describing it as “politically motivated.” Do you think the American legal system unfairly links Islam and terrorism?

A) To be clear, I have no connection to such terror trials, and these cases are subject to the deliberations of the US courts. The US legal system is one of the best in the world and enjoys great confidence.

Where is the emphatic repudiation of his view that Al-Arian was the victim of a political show trial? Where is the simple declarative, “No, he was convicted, and we will continue to investigate and prosecute terrorists and those who facilitate terrorism”? Nowhere. This is shameful.

There is a reason that Obama appointed Hussain: he is the perfect embodiment of the mean-spirited (toward Bush, Israel, and those who doubt Obama’s sincerity), warped view of the Middle East that allows despots to go unchallenged, brutality to remain unremarked upon, and the region to inch ever closer to a deadly nuclear-arms race.

A friend of COMMENTARY calls my attention to this interview with the controversial Rashad Hussain, the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. You will recall that his nomination raised concerns when his comments alleging a “political” motivation for prosecuting Sami Al-Arian and his attendance at CAIR events came to light. (He then attempted to cover up the comments.) As our friend notes, “This must be read to be believed … it cannot be parodied.”

We start from the context — a foreign, Arabic publication. It is to this audience that he skewers — without justification or basis in fact — the Bush administration:

Q) Do you think it will be easy to overcome the hostility in the Islamic world towards certain US policies, especially in light of the actions taken under the previous US administration?

A) We are concerned about this but we are determined to move forward, without looking to the past and the negative effects of this, in order to erase the hostile feelings caused by the administration of former President George W. Bush. There is now a suitable opportunity to overcome the past, and open a new page in relations between the US and the people in the Islamic region.

This is not, to say the least, what we expect our envoys to communicate to foreign audiences. And then there is the substance of his remarks. Hostile feelings caused by the Bush administration’s policies, he says? Which were those — the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which Obama has continued? The focus on human rights, which Obama has ignored? And notice the assignment of blame to the country he pretends to represent, not to the bad actors — Syria and Iran, for example — that continue to promote terror and brutalize their people. It appears that Hussain is telling the Muslims that the real source of trouble in the Middle East was George W. Bush.

But it is obsession with the peace process as the key to ending such “hostility” and the conviction that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of our woes that are the most jarring — and perhaps revelatory of the administration he represents. He offers this:

Q) How do you intend to impose your strategy to develop relations with the Islamic world?

A) By implementing the recommendations made in the speech by US President Obama in Cairo, which represents a clear strategy to promote relations with the Islamic world, as this speech covered all political, social, and economic aspects. We have already begun work to implement what was said in the speech, whether through political action to solve the Palestinian-Israel conflict through the efforts exerted by the Obama administration’s Peace Envoy George Mitchell, and we will also promote health services such as combating polio in the Islamic world, and promoting educational programs and cultural exchange between the two sides.

And this:

Q) Many Muslims are critical of bias US policies towards Israel. How can we reconcile what Obama said in his Cairo speech and the US political approach in the Middle East?

A) The United States does not operate solely according to its own interests, and it seeks to safeguard the interests of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, which has made it a top priority for us to engage in genuine peace negotiations between both sides. As you know, the US is committed to its role as an effective mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. We have not waited until the last minute to become involved in this; rather we did everything we could to urge the concerned parties to enter negotiations. President Obama [also] appointed George Mitchell Middle East Peace Envoy, and he appointed me as an envoy to promote US relations with the Islamic world, and we are all working to implement Obama’s strategy in the Islamic world to achieve stability in this part of the world.

Q) Do you think the Israeli settlement building in Jerusalem complicates your mission to improve US relations with the Islamic world?

A) Of course, there are fears that any action or provocation will negatively affect feelings, and as a Muslim I know full well that the Al Aqsa Mosque was the first Qibla [direction in which Muslims pray] and is the third holiest site for Muslims and it is revered by Muslims. President Obama is committed to calming the situation in the city of Jerusalem, and finding solutions that are both acceptable to the Palestinians and the Israelis. There is also a clear position by the president to reject any settlement building in east Jerusalem, and there is a statement to this effect from the US administration, which has many ways to settle the conflict in the region that has lasted for 60 years. However, it is not easy for this to be settled overnight so we must bridge the differences between the conflicting parties. Over the last few days we have heard good news to the effect that indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis have begun, so I think we are making progress in this regard, and we must not take a step backwards.

Now, he does mention polio programs and educational outreach, but plainly this man is convinced that the key to ending “hostility” against the U.S. is resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What is missing? Ah, mention of the Iranian nuclear threat. Oh yes, the brutalization of women and the repression of Middle East despots. And how exactly has the arrival of Obama ended that hostility? Last time we checked, Syria was supplying Hezbollah with Scuds and Iran was moving toward acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Still seems pretty hostile. Maybe it wasn’t all Bush’s fault.

And as the crowning touch, we have this exchange:

Q) You studied law at Yale University, during which you criticized the prosecution of Sami Al-Arian, describing it as “politically motivated.” Do you think the American legal system unfairly links Islam and terrorism?

A) To be clear, I have no connection to such terror trials, and these cases are subject to the deliberations of the US courts. The US legal system is one of the best in the world and enjoys great confidence.

Where is the emphatic repudiation of his view that Al-Arian was the victim of a political show trial? Where is the simple declarative, “No, he was convicted, and we will continue to investigate and prosecute terrorists and those who facilitate terrorism”? Nowhere. This is shameful.

There is a reason that Obama appointed Hussain: he is the perfect embodiment of the mean-spirited (toward Bush, Israel, and those who doubt Obama’s sincerity), warped view of the Middle East that allows despots to go unchallenged, brutality to remain unremarked upon, and the region to inch ever closer to a deadly nuclear-arms race.

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Around and Around Foggy Bottom

At the State Department briefing, one sometimes gets the sense it’s Abbott and Costello time (“Who’s on First?”). Reporters on Tuesday tried in vain to get answers to two questions: have the Obami thrown in the towel on the Jerusalem housing issue and have proximity talks actually begun. You can read the transcript in full and not find an answer. A sample of the questioning gives you the sense the Obami would just rather not talk about much of anything right now.

On the housing issue:

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday in her speech to AIPAC, Secretary Clinton said that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — but we’ll just confine ourselves to Jerusalem here — was — did not help; it damaged the credibility of both the peace process and also the credibility of the United States as a mediator. Several hours after she spoke and after she met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he addressed the same crowd and said that Jerusalem is not a settlement, it’s our capital. He said that Jews have been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years and would continue to do so.

What gives here? Where is — is there any attempt to reconcile these positions or have you just — have you guys just decided that they win and you’ll agree to disagree on this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are continuing our discussions with Israeli officials and with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’ll meet President Obama later this afternoon. We understand that Jerusalem is deeply important to Israelis and Palestinians, and to Jews, Muslims, and Christians everywhere. We believe it’s possible to reach an outcome that both realizes the aspirations of all parties in Jerusalem and safeguards its status for the future.

Without getting into the specifics of our ongoing conversations with the prime minister or with Israeli officials, we’ve raised our concerns with them. Jerusalem is one of those issues. The prime minister has responded to our concerns. During the course of our dialogue over the past two weeks, he has added some thoughts of his own in terms of how we can create an atmosphere of trust and move the proximity talks forward, address the substance, including Jerusalem. It’s a final status issue. The only way to ultimately resolve competing claims on the future of Jerusalem is to get to direct negotiations.

We’re not putting any preconditions on this. Our task at the present time is to get the parties — get the proximity talks moving forward, get the parties into direct negotiations, putting the substance on the table, and finding a just resolution that ultimately reaches a peace agreement. That is our ongoing effort, and that conversation and that effort will continue this afternoon at the White House.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he was extremely emphatic, so I’m a little suspicious about whether this response that he gave to the Secretary contained anything in it that you would like — that you actually want to see done. I mean, how can you convince us that, in fact, progress is being made when he basically said last night that he’s taking your suggestion on East Jerusalem and said thanks but no thanks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Israeli Government has a policy, but we also have a point of view that Jerusalem is a final status issue. And we look forward to addressing these issues first within the proximity talks, moving to direct negotiations. Ultimately, the future of Jerusalem can only be resolved through the direct negotiations that we hope will get started as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: And you don’t see him — you don’t see what he said last night, and not just in the comments that I quoted, but in others, as that Israel does not agree that Jerusalem is a final status issue?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think at one point the prime minister also added that he did not see a distinction necessarily between in Jerusalem and building in Tel Aviv. We — and we disagree with that. And that Jerusalem is a –

QUESTION: So is that the bottom line here?

MR. CROWLEY: — is a final status issue. It’s a city of significant importance to multiple communities. The issues surrounding the future of Jerusalem as part of this process can only be resolved through direct negotiations, and the sooner we get there, the better.

QUESTION: So the bottom line is you have agreed to disagree on this specific issue?

MR. CROWLEY: We are continuing our discussions.

And that’s not even the end of the ping-pong match. Hmm. Sounds like the Obami would rather move on — after they blew up Israel-U.S. relations, sunk Obama’ approval in Israel, and gave Palestinians the idea that there is plenty of daylight between the U.S. and Israel.

OK, so have proximity talks begun? Here we go:

QUESTION: P.J., we’ve gone back and forth even as long as 10 days ago on whether the proximity talks had started formally or not started. And now we’ve had the interruption, the Quartet meeting, and yet Mitchell’s — Senator Mitchell’s gone back and had meetings with both sides. Is it your contention that the proximity talks are ongoing or they’re yet to be resumed? What’s the way to phrase it?

MR. CROWLEY: We are looking to make progress through proximity talks, and that is the focus of our effort.

QUESTION: Well, are they ongoing or are they yet to start?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, let’s go back to — the proximity talks are a means to an end. And the first step is proximity talks. The second step is direct negotiations. Hopefully, the end result is a peace agreement that ends the conflict. What we want to see through the proximity talks are to see the parties begin to tackle the substance, to tackle the core issues at the heart of the process. That has not started yet. So we hope to resume that, but before we can, obviously we need to make sure that there’s an atmosphere of trust, so that when those proximity talks begin to address the substance, they will be productive. …

QUESTION: Because, to be honest with you, P.J., and during the last administration we were constantly told that Annapolis was yielding results, that everything was — and they were, oh, just trust us. Yes, it’s happening. Well, it went nowhere. Why should we believe either government this time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. Look, I mean, there is a simple pass/fail test here.

QUESTION: And where do you think you’ve gotten on that right now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right, can I – give me a chance, Matt. All right, the proximity talks are not an end to themselves. The proximity talks —

QUESTION: But you haven’t gotten proximity talks yet.

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: Right?

MR. CROWLEY: Do you want to switch places?

QUESTION: No. (Laughter.) I just want to — if you can’t — there’s a simple answer, which is why keep this stuff secret? Why keep it secret?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it can be a straightforward answer if I can get it out.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll shut up.

Well, if you can’t even tell whether proximity talks have begun, then there’s no way to tell whether they’re working. It’s increasingly hard for reasonable people to say with a straight face that any of this is producing anything of value. Well, other than the daily dose of farce from Foggy Bottom.

At the State Department briefing, one sometimes gets the sense it’s Abbott and Costello time (“Who’s on First?”). Reporters on Tuesday tried in vain to get answers to two questions: have the Obami thrown in the towel on the Jerusalem housing issue and have proximity talks actually begun. You can read the transcript in full and not find an answer. A sample of the questioning gives you the sense the Obami would just rather not talk about much of anything right now.

On the housing issue:

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday in her speech to AIPAC, Secretary Clinton said that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — but we’ll just confine ourselves to Jerusalem here — was — did not help; it damaged the credibility of both the peace process and also the credibility of the United States as a mediator. Several hours after she spoke and after she met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he addressed the same crowd and said that Jerusalem is not a settlement, it’s our capital. He said that Jews have been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years and would continue to do so.

What gives here? Where is — is there any attempt to reconcile these positions or have you just — have you guys just decided that they win and you’ll agree to disagree on this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are continuing our discussions with Israeli officials and with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’ll meet President Obama later this afternoon. We understand that Jerusalem is deeply important to Israelis and Palestinians, and to Jews, Muslims, and Christians everywhere. We believe it’s possible to reach an outcome that both realizes the aspirations of all parties in Jerusalem and safeguards its status for the future.

Without getting into the specifics of our ongoing conversations with the prime minister or with Israeli officials, we’ve raised our concerns with them. Jerusalem is one of those issues. The prime minister has responded to our concerns. During the course of our dialogue over the past two weeks, he has added some thoughts of his own in terms of how we can create an atmosphere of trust and move the proximity talks forward, address the substance, including Jerusalem. It’s a final status issue. The only way to ultimately resolve competing claims on the future of Jerusalem is to get to direct negotiations.

We’re not putting any preconditions on this. Our task at the present time is to get the parties — get the proximity talks moving forward, get the parties into direct negotiations, putting the substance on the table, and finding a just resolution that ultimately reaches a peace agreement. That is our ongoing effort, and that conversation and that effort will continue this afternoon at the White House.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he was extremely emphatic, so I’m a little suspicious about whether this response that he gave to the Secretary contained anything in it that you would like — that you actually want to see done. I mean, how can you convince us that, in fact, progress is being made when he basically said last night that he’s taking your suggestion on East Jerusalem and said thanks but no thanks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Israeli Government has a policy, but we also have a point of view that Jerusalem is a final status issue. And we look forward to addressing these issues first within the proximity talks, moving to direct negotiations. Ultimately, the future of Jerusalem can only be resolved through the direct negotiations that we hope will get started as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: And you don’t see him — you don’t see what he said last night, and not just in the comments that I quoted, but in others, as that Israel does not agree that Jerusalem is a final status issue?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think at one point the prime minister also added that he did not see a distinction necessarily between in Jerusalem and building in Tel Aviv. We — and we disagree with that. And that Jerusalem is a –

QUESTION: So is that the bottom line here?

MR. CROWLEY: — is a final status issue. It’s a city of significant importance to multiple communities. The issues surrounding the future of Jerusalem as part of this process can only be resolved through direct negotiations, and the sooner we get there, the better.

QUESTION: So the bottom line is you have agreed to disagree on this specific issue?

MR. CROWLEY: We are continuing our discussions.

And that’s not even the end of the ping-pong match. Hmm. Sounds like the Obami would rather move on — after they blew up Israel-U.S. relations, sunk Obama’ approval in Israel, and gave Palestinians the idea that there is plenty of daylight between the U.S. and Israel.

OK, so have proximity talks begun? Here we go:

QUESTION: P.J., we’ve gone back and forth even as long as 10 days ago on whether the proximity talks had started formally or not started. And now we’ve had the interruption, the Quartet meeting, and yet Mitchell’s — Senator Mitchell’s gone back and had meetings with both sides. Is it your contention that the proximity talks are ongoing or they’re yet to be resumed? What’s the way to phrase it?

MR. CROWLEY: We are looking to make progress through proximity talks, and that is the focus of our effort.

QUESTION: Well, are they ongoing or are they yet to start?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, let’s go back to — the proximity talks are a means to an end. And the first step is proximity talks. The second step is direct negotiations. Hopefully, the end result is a peace agreement that ends the conflict. What we want to see through the proximity talks are to see the parties begin to tackle the substance, to tackle the core issues at the heart of the process. That has not started yet. So we hope to resume that, but before we can, obviously we need to make sure that there’s an atmosphere of trust, so that when those proximity talks begin to address the substance, they will be productive. …

QUESTION: Because, to be honest with you, P.J., and during the last administration we were constantly told that Annapolis was yielding results, that everything was — and they were, oh, just trust us. Yes, it’s happening. Well, it went nowhere. Why should we believe either government this time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. Look, I mean, there is a simple pass/fail test here.

QUESTION: And where do you think you’ve gotten on that right now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right, can I – give me a chance, Matt. All right, the proximity talks are not an end to themselves. The proximity talks —

QUESTION: But you haven’t gotten proximity talks yet.

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: Right?

MR. CROWLEY: Do you want to switch places?

QUESTION: No. (Laughter.) I just want to — if you can’t — there’s a simple answer, which is why keep this stuff secret? Why keep it secret?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it can be a straightforward answer if I can get it out.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll shut up.

Well, if you can’t even tell whether proximity talks have begun, then there’s no way to tell whether they’re working. It’s increasingly hard for reasonable people to say with a straight face that any of this is producing anything of value. Well, other than the daily dose of farce from Foggy Bottom.

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Obama’s Strategy Is to Weaken or Remove Bibi

The Obama administration seeks to recover from the stagnation it imposed on the peace process a year ago by doubling down on its strategy of making impossible demands on the Israelis, hoping that this time they will cave.

The administration thought it had discovered a way forward in the form of proximity talks, in which the U.S. would serve as mediator in indirect negotiations between the two sides, being that the Palestinians are refusing direct talks (this ongoing Palestinian refusal, of course, earns zero criticism from the White House).

But now the administration is attaching new demands to the commencement of the talks:

to reverse last week’s approval of 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and publicly declare that all of the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, be included in upcoming talks.

It should be obvious, at this point, that Obama is trying to manufacture an immense political dilemma for Netanyahu by forcing him to choose between two crises — one with the United States should he accept the demands, the other with his coalition partners and the Israeli public should he reject them. For Netanyahu, this is a no-win situation. The only choice is between less damaging options.

Netanyahu should reject the new demands, because they are not made in good faith, they are a reversal of previous Obama commitments, and, most important, the proximity talks themselves are a trap.

Obama has demonstrated very clearly that he is not an “honest broker” — he is instead behaving as a lawyer for the Palestinians. The danger of proximity talks in which all the “core issues” of the conflict would be on the table is that the U.S. would act not as mediator but in tandem with the Palestinians to pressure Israel into making dangerous and unprecedented concessions. As Haaretz reported two weeks ago,

According to a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, the Obama administration has promised Abbas that if either side fails to live up to expectations, the United States will not conceal its disappointment, nor will it hesitate to take steps to remove the obstacle. In addition, the PA was promised that the United States would not be satisfied with playing the role of messenger. According to what the official read to me, the Obama administration will present its own proposals in an effort to bridge the gaps.

Obama has shown very clearly that, as on health care, he is personally passionate, emotionally invested, and possessed of the belief that he has the power to push through sweeping changes. The proximity talks would give Obama just the opening he needs to subject Netanyahu to an escalating series of demands and punishments — confronting him with the same dilemma he faces right now, only even more severe. Danger lies ahead.

The Obama administration seeks to recover from the stagnation it imposed on the peace process a year ago by doubling down on its strategy of making impossible demands on the Israelis, hoping that this time they will cave.

The administration thought it had discovered a way forward in the form of proximity talks, in which the U.S. would serve as mediator in indirect negotiations between the two sides, being that the Palestinians are refusing direct talks (this ongoing Palestinian refusal, of course, earns zero criticism from the White House).

But now the administration is attaching new demands to the commencement of the talks:

to reverse last week’s approval of 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and publicly declare that all of the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, be included in upcoming talks.

It should be obvious, at this point, that Obama is trying to manufacture an immense political dilemma for Netanyahu by forcing him to choose between two crises — one with the United States should he accept the demands, the other with his coalition partners and the Israeli public should he reject them. For Netanyahu, this is a no-win situation. The only choice is between less damaging options.

Netanyahu should reject the new demands, because they are not made in good faith, they are a reversal of previous Obama commitments, and, most important, the proximity talks themselves are a trap.

Obama has demonstrated very clearly that he is not an “honest broker” — he is instead behaving as a lawyer for the Palestinians. The danger of proximity talks in which all the “core issues” of the conflict would be on the table is that the U.S. would act not as mediator but in tandem with the Palestinians to pressure Israel into making dangerous and unprecedented concessions. As Haaretz reported two weeks ago,

According to a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, the Obama administration has promised Abbas that if either side fails to live up to expectations, the United States will not conceal its disappointment, nor will it hesitate to take steps to remove the obstacle. In addition, the PA was promised that the United States would not be satisfied with playing the role of messenger. According to what the official read to me, the Obama administration will present its own proposals in an effort to bridge the gaps.

Obama has shown very clearly that, as on health care, he is personally passionate, emotionally invested, and possessed of the belief that he has the power to push through sweeping changes. The proximity talks would give Obama just the opening he needs to subject Netanyahu to an escalating series of demands and punishments — confronting him with the same dilemma he faces right now, only even more severe. Danger lies ahead.

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Are They Being Smart Yet?

Joe Biden arrived in Israel. A ticker-tape parade he did not receive. As this report notes:

Vice President Biden arrived in Israel on Monday to boost U.S. efforts to mediate talks between Israelis and Palestinians amid criticism that the Obama administration has set back the peace process.

Biden’s four-day visit — in addition to reassuring Israeli leaders about the U.S. commitment to curb Iran’s nuclear program — is designed to prod Israel and the Palestinians to get talks moving again. With a speech in Tel Aviv on Thursday, he will also try to court the Israeli public, some of whom felt snubbed in the past year by President Obama, who has visited Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia but has yet to come to Israel.

All George Mitchell could muster were so-called “proximity” talks, indirect discussions between parties that have little to discuss and, in the case of the Palestinians, little authority or willingness to make a “deal.” So the grousing has begun:

After so many years of direct talks that wrestled with the core issues of the future of Jerusalem, borders, security and Palestinian refugees, Mitchell’s announcement felt to some observers more like a setback than a success.

“It’s hardly a cause for celebration that after 17 years of direct official talks we are regressing to proximity talks,” said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of a Middle East blog and a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Saeb Erekat, the longtime Palestinian negotiator, told Israel’s Army Radio that the indirect talks were a last attempt “to save the peace process.”

My, what a comedown from the previous administrations, which at least were adept at getting the parties in the same room. But then all this is silliness squared. There is no deal to be had and no peace to be processed. That said, it’s painfully obvious that the Obami have made a bad situation worse. In case there was any doubt as to the diplomatic belly flop performed by the Mitchell-Axelrod-Clinton-Emanuel-Obama brain trust, we learn, “Israel announced construction of 112 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit. The administration had pushed hard — but unsuccessfully — last year for a complete freeze on settlements, and Israel’s new announcement came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting with Mitchell.” Message delivered.

Even those enamored of Obama and so benighted as to believe that peace is within sight at this juncture are rather disgusted with the Obama effort:

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. mediator and ambassador to Israel and Egypt who served both Democrat and Republican presidents, took a more skeptical view. He said it’s “not understandable why we would now have them sit in separate rooms and move between them.”

“I have been disappointed this past year with the lack of boldness and the lack of creativity and the lack of strength in our diplomacy with respect to this peace process. We have not articulated a policy, and we don’t have a strategy,” Kurtzer, who advised Obama’s presidential campaign, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

And like so many other allies (an entire coalition of the slighted might be assembled), the Israelis can’t quite believe they got a Biden visit. (“‘While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel,’ said Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, ‘we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.'”)

When does the smart diplomacy start?

Here’s something smart: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s alternative vision. It goes like this:

Last August he announced what has come to be known as the “Fayyad Plan” under the heading: “Palestine — Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.” The idea is to build a de facto Palestinian state by mid-2011, with functioning government and municipal offices, police forces, a central bank, stock market, schools, hospitals, community centers, etc. Fayyad’s watchword is transparency, and his aim is institutions that are corruption-free and provide an array of modern government services.

Then, in mid-2011, with all the trappings of statehood in place, he intends to make his political move: Invite Israel to recognize the well-functioning Palestinian state and withdraw from territories it still occupies, or be forced to do so by the pressure of international opinion.

In February, at the 10th Herzliya Conference, an annual forum on Israel’s national security attended by top decision-makers and academics, Fayyad, the lone Palestinian, gave an articulate off-the-cuff address, leaving little doubt as to what he has in mind.

Now which track do we think has a better chance of success — Mitchell’s or Fayyad’s? And since the answer is so obvious, the mystery remains why Mitchell is still there and why we are still pursuing a fruitless and counterproductive policy.

Joe Biden arrived in Israel. A ticker-tape parade he did not receive. As this report notes:

Vice President Biden arrived in Israel on Monday to boost U.S. efforts to mediate talks between Israelis and Palestinians amid criticism that the Obama administration has set back the peace process.

Biden’s four-day visit — in addition to reassuring Israeli leaders about the U.S. commitment to curb Iran’s nuclear program — is designed to prod Israel and the Palestinians to get talks moving again. With a speech in Tel Aviv on Thursday, he will also try to court the Israeli public, some of whom felt snubbed in the past year by President Obama, who has visited Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia but has yet to come to Israel.

All George Mitchell could muster were so-called “proximity” talks, indirect discussions between parties that have little to discuss and, in the case of the Palestinians, little authority or willingness to make a “deal.” So the grousing has begun:

After so many years of direct talks that wrestled with the core issues of the future of Jerusalem, borders, security and Palestinian refugees, Mitchell’s announcement felt to some observers more like a setback than a success.

“It’s hardly a cause for celebration that after 17 years of direct official talks we are regressing to proximity talks,” said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of a Middle East blog and a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Saeb Erekat, the longtime Palestinian negotiator, told Israel’s Army Radio that the indirect talks were a last attempt “to save the peace process.”

My, what a comedown from the previous administrations, which at least were adept at getting the parties in the same room. But then all this is silliness squared. There is no deal to be had and no peace to be processed. That said, it’s painfully obvious that the Obami have made a bad situation worse. In case there was any doubt as to the diplomatic belly flop performed by the Mitchell-Axelrod-Clinton-Emanuel-Obama brain trust, we learn, “Israel announced construction of 112 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit. The administration had pushed hard — but unsuccessfully — last year for a complete freeze on settlements, and Israel’s new announcement came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting with Mitchell.” Message delivered.

Even those enamored of Obama and so benighted as to believe that peace is within sight at this juncture are rather disgusted with the Obama effort:

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. mediator and ambassador to Israel and Egypt who served both Democrat and Republican presidents, took a more skeptical view. He said it’s “not understandable why we would now have them sit in separate rooms and move between them.”

“I have been disappointed this past year with the lack of boldness and the lack of creativity and the lack of strength in our diplomacy with respect to this peace process. We have not articulated a policy, and we don’t have a strategy,” Kurtzer, who advised Obama’s presidential campaign, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

And like so many other allies (an entire coalition of the slighted might be assembled), the Israelis can’t quite believe they got a Biden visit. (“‘While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel,’ said Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, ‘we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.'”)

When does the smart diplomacy start?

Here’s something smart: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s alternative vision. It goes like this:

Last August he announced what has come to be known as the “Fayyad Plan” under the heading: “Palestine — Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.” The idea is to build a de facto Palestinian state by mid-2011, with functioning government and municipal offices, police forces, a central bank, stock market, schools, hospitals, community centers, etc. Fayyad’s watchword is transparency, and his aim is institutions that are corruption-free and provide an array of modern government services.

Then, in mid-2011, with all the trappings of statehood in place, he intends to make his political move: Invite Israel to recognize the well-functioning Palestinian state and withdraw from territories it still occupies, or be forced to do so by the pressure of international opinion.

In February, at the 10th Herzliya Conference, an annual forum on Israel’s national security attended by top decision-makers and academics, Fayyad, the lone Palestinian, gave an articulate off-the-cuff address, leaving little doubt as to what he has in mind.

Now which track do we think has a better chance of success — Mitchell’s or Fayyad’s? And since the answer is so obvious, the mystery remains why Mitchell is still there and why we are still pursuing a fruitless and counterproductive policy.

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Der Spiegel: “An Israeli Affront Against Germany”

The headline is breathless, and the article is stupid. The German paper claims that both the failure of the Shalit talks and the Dubai assassination were grave Israeli insults to Germany.

This marks the second time that the Germans have been snubbed. [The first time, Der Spiegel says, was when the Mossad did not tell the German mediator in the Shalit talks that the Dubai assassination was about to take place. No, that doesn’t make sense to me either — NP] In late December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected at the last moment a detailed agreement that his negotiator Hagai Hadas had hammered out with Hamas via the German intelligence agency. …

Zahar said it had been difficult to convince Khalid Mashaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas in Damascus, Syria, to approve the deal. Netanyahu’s subsequent rejection seriously damaged his reputation within Hamas, says Zahar. “I have suffered a lot internally,” he adds. “I am not ready to negotiate anymore.”

So Israel rejected a prisoner swap and hung Mahmoud Zahar out to dry? This is pure Hamas spin — and therefore very attractive to Western journalists. The reality of the negotiations is that Israel has been waiting on a Hamas answer on the prisoner swap since December, an answer that has not been forthcoming because of a rift between Hamas’s Gaza and Damascus leadership. The Gazans want to do the swap; the Syrian leadership does not:

Last December, at the conclusion of a round of mediated negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the deal to the inner cabinet on security matters, which gave a conditional approval to the German offer.

Since then, Hamas has avoided providing its own response to the offer. It may be that this was part of an effort to avoid having the blame for failure directed at the organization. However, the absence of a response also reflected genuine disagreement between al-Zahar and others in the organization.

Intelligence sources in the West and Israel have said that al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, are aware of the severity of the crisis that the organization is experiencing as a result of more than three years of siege on the Gaza Strip, and are eager to reach a compromise that would permit them to also show some gain in the form of a large prisoner release.

It is not unusual in the least for leaders of Palestinian terrorist groups to baldly lie about any number of things; holy warriors grant themselves many indulgences. What should be unusual is the willingness of Western reporters to reprint these lies as journalistic fact. One would think that a German paper should be especially careful about breathlessly repeating false allegations against the Jewish state.

The headline is breathless, and the article is stupid. The German paper claims that both the failure of the Shalit talks and the Dubai assassination were grave Israeli insults to Germany.

This marks the second time that the Germans have been snubbed. [The first time, Der Spiegel says, was when the Mossad did not tell the German mediator in the Shalit talks that the Dubai assassination was about to take place. No, that doesn’t make sense to me either — NP] In late December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected at the last moment a detailed agreement that his negotiator Hagai Hadas had hammered out with Hamas via the German intelligence agency. …

Zahar said it had been difficult to convince Khalid Mashaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas in Damascus, Syria, to approve the deal. Netanyahu’s subsequent rejection seriously damaged his reputation within Hamas, says Zahar. “I have suffered a lot internally,” he adds. “I am not ready to negotiate anymore.”

So Israel rejected a prisoner swap and hung Mahmoud Zahar out to dry? This is pure Hamas spin — and therefore very attractive to Western journalists. The reality of the negotiations is that Israel has been waiting on a Hamas answer on the prisoner swap since December, an answer that has not been forthcoming because of a rift between Hamas’s Gaza and Damascus leadership. The Gazans want to do the swap; the Syrian leadership does not:

Last December, at the conclusion of a round of mediated negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the deal to the inner cabinet on security matters, which gave a conditional approval to the German offer.

Since then, Hamas has avoided providing its own response to the offer. It may be that this was part of an effort to avoid having the blame for failure directed at the organization. However, the absence of a response also reflected genuine disagreement between al-Zahar and others in the organization.

Intelligence sources in the West and Israel have said that al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, are aware of the severity of the crisis that the organization is experiencing as a result of more than three years of siege on the Gaza Strip, and are eager to reach a compromise that would permit them to also show some gain in the form of a large prisoner release.

It is not unusual in the least for leaders of Palestinian terrorist groups to baldly lie about any number of things; holy warriors grant themselves many indulgences. What should be unusual is the willingness of Western reporters to reprint these lies as journalistic fact. One would think that a German paper should be especially careful about breathlessly repeating false allegations against the Jewish state.

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RE: Abbas Still Says No

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

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Axis of Uranium Meets Middle East Peace Process


It’s a busy month for Brazil. The Latin American giant hosted Shimon Peres last week, sustained a visit from Mahmoud Abbas this week, and will receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week. Not exactly a random series of visitors — and at least some Americans are paying attention: the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com have both picked up on the vociferous objections of Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to Ahmadinejad’s visit. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency cites a Brazilian press account of Engel’s call on the ambassador in Washington [emphasis added]:

The Representative … met with the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington, Antonio Patriota, and conveyed his concern regarding Ahmadinejad’s visit on November 23.  Patriota, according to a source present at the meeting, reacted brusquely, surprising Engel. … [Engel said]: “I expressed my deep displeasure with Ahmadinejad’s visit, since I always speak openly in my meetings with ambassadors, and he (Patriota) defended his position.”

Engel is right to be concerned, but the cows got out of this barn a while back. U.S. media opinion looks almost poignantly out of touch on this: when editorialists speculate that Brazil could be jeopardizing its standing as a potential mediator with Iran, the salient question is, jeopardizing it with whom?

There has, after all, been no meaningful reaction from the U.S. to Brazil’s prior outreach to Iran, to the country’s own uranium-enrichment program, or to the late-2008 nuclear accord between Russia and Brazil. America has largely ignored Iran’s (and Russia’s) growing ties to nearby Venezuela and has evinced little if any reaction to a series of signals in 2009 that Brazil could help the mullahs evade sanctions by setting up a line of credit for Iran’s Export and Development Bank. Iranian sources now refer to this credit line as a fait accompli, an impression Ahmadinejad’s state visit will certainly not revise.

It’s no wonder, then, that Abbas today is asking Brazil to intervene with Iran and get its leaders to cease their support to Hamas. Nor is it surprising that Israel, in 2009, has already sent both its foreign minister and its president to Brazil, on the nation’s first Latin American charm offensives in more than two decades.

As Congressman Engel could tell us, Brazil’s policies are trending, disquietingly, toward specific and material support for Iran and a political solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs. But the U.S. should also wake up to the fact of this revolving-door courtship and what it says about the leadership vacuum up north.

Consider that while  Brazil mulled over a line of credit for Iran, this summer the U.S. made a government-backed loan to the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, as if Brazil were not a major economic power busy undermining our policy on Iran but still an importunate Third World backwater. Congressman Engel is right: this needs adjusting — as much in Washington as in Brasilia, if not more.


It’s a busy month for Brazil. The Latin American giant hosted Shimon Peres last week, sustained a visit from Mahmoud Abbas this week, and will receive Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next week. Not exactly a random series of visitors — and at least some Americans are paying attention: the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com have both picked up on the vociferous objections of Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) to Ahmadinejad’s visit. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency cites a Brazilian press account of Engel’s call on the ambassador in Washington [emphasis added]:

The Representative … met with the Brazilian Ambassador in Washington, Antonio Patriota, and conveyed his concern regarding Ahmadinejad’s visit on November 23.  Patriota, according to a source present at the meeting, reacted brusquely, surprising Engel. … [Engel said]: “I expressed my deep displeasure with Ahmadinejad’s visit, since I always speak openly in my meetings with ambassadors, and he (Patriota) defended his position.”

Engel is right to be concerned, but the cows got out of this barn a while back. U.S. media opinion looks almost poignantly out of touch on this: when editorialists speculate that Brazil could be jeopardizing its standing as a potential mediator with Iran, the salient question is, jeopardizing it with whom?

There has, after all, been no meaningful reaction from the U.S. to Brazil’s prior outreach to Iran, to the country’s own uranium-enrichment program, or to the late-2008 nuclear accord between Russia and Brazil. America has largely ignored Iran’s (and Russia’s) growing ties to nearby Venezuela and has evinced little if any reaction to a series of signals in 2009 that Brazil could help the mullahs evade sanctions by setting up a line of credit for Iran’s Export and Development Bank. Iranian sources now refer to this credit line as a fait accompli, an impression Ahmadinejad’s state visit will certainly not revise.

It’s no wonder, then, that Abbas today is asking Brazil to intervene with Iran and get its leaders to cease their support to Hamas. Nor is it surprising that Israel, in 2009, has already sent both its foreign minister and its president to Brazil, on the nation’s first Latin American charm offensives in more than two decades.

As Congressman Engel could tell us, Brazil’s policies are trending, disquietingly, toward specific and material support for Iran and a political solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs. But the U.S. should also wake up to the fact of this revolving-door courtship and what it says about the leadership vacuum up north.

Consider that while  Brazil mulled over a line of credit for Iran, this summer the U.S. made a government-backed loan to the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, as if Brazil were not a major economic power busy undermining our policy on Iran but still an importunate Third World backwater. Congressman Engel is right: this needs adjusting — as much in Washington as in Brasilia, if not more.

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Damascus Reverts to Form

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding. Read More

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding.

“What Obama said about peace was a good thing,” he said. “We agree with him on the principles, but as I said, what’s the action plan? The sponsor has to draw up an action plan.”

Notice what he’s done here? He’s portraying himself as though not only Netanyahu but also Barack Obama were less interested in peace than he is. It should be obvious, though, that Assad isn’t serious. He supports terrorist organizations that kill Americans, Israelis, Iraqis, and Lebanese — not exactly the sort of behavior one associates with leaders who agree with Barack Obama “on the principles.” Yet he’s blaming the United States for his own roguish behavior, because the U.S. does not have an “action plan.”

“Assad said that while relations with the United States had improved,” Reuters reports, “issues such as continued U.S. sanctions against Syria were hindering any joint work towards peace in the Middle East.” Got that? If the United States doesn’t drop sanctions against Syria, Assad will continue burning the Middle East with terrorist proxies.

“The Syrian regime is temperamentally incapable of issuing a statement that doesn’t sound like a threat,” Lee Smith noted last week in the Weekly Standard. Assad sure knows how to say it, though. It’s rather extraordinary that he can actually threaten to murder people in so many countries while sounding as if he were asking why we all can’t just get along. At least Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bigoted and hysterical fulminations are honestly hostile. We best get used to Assad’s act, though, unless and until Obama and Sarkozy realize there’s nothing to be gained from politely “engaging” this man.

Assad backs terrorists and thugs who have killed Lebanon’s former prime minister, members of Lebanon’s parliament, American soldiers, and civilians as well as soldiers in Iraq and in Israel – all acts of war. Say what you will about former French President Jacques Chirac. Unlike with the generally improved Sarkozy, Chirac’s relationship with Syria’s fascist and terrorist government was appropriately terrible.

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