Commentary Magazine


Topic: Middle East Conflict

Hamas-Iran Rapprochement Bodes Ill for Israel and U.S. Interests

With many European nations clamoring for recognition of Palestine as an independent state, the Palestinian state that already exists was busy reconciling with its most important patron. Hamas, which operates as an independent state in all but name operating in Gaza, quarreled with Iran about the Syrian civil war. But after several months of efforts to patch up that spat, it appears that relations between the two are now back on track. That should worry those who hoped that Hamas would be chastened by the disastrous war with Israel it launched last summer. It should also bother those who think the Obama administration’s effort to create a new détente with Tehran won’t have an impact on the rest of the Middle East and in particular, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A resurgent Hamas-Iran alliance makes the region more dangerous for both the Jewish state and the United States.

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With many European nations clamoring for recognition of Palestine as an independent state, the Palestinian state that already exists was busy reconciling with its most important patron. Hamas, which operates as an independent state in all but name operating in Gaza, quarreled with Iran about the Syrian civil war. But after several months of efforts to patch up that spat, it appears that relations between the two are now back on track. That should worry those who hoped that Hamas would be chastened by the disastrous war with Israel it launched last summer. It should also bother those who think the Obama administration’s effort to create a new détente with Tehran won’t have an impact on the rest of the Middle East and in particular, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A resurgent Hamas-Iran alliance makes the region more dangerous for both the Jewish state and the United States.

Iran was Hamas’s patron throughout the second intifada as it shipped arms and money to the terror group that enabled it to open a southern front to compliment the one on Israel’s northern border where Tehran’s Hezbollah auxiliaries operate. Iran played a crucial role in ensuring that not only could Hamas keep firing rockets on Israeli cities, towns, and villages but that the Islamists could wield an effective veto on any moves toward peace undertaken by the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority.

That changed in 2011 when Iran and Hamas quarreled over Syria. Iran was fully committed to the survival of its ally, the brutal Bashar Assad regime. But Hamas, following the lead of some of its Gulf State friends as well as Turkey, backed Assad’s opponents. The decision stemmed in part from the one big difference that had always made Iran and Hamas an odd couple. As a Sunni group, Hamas felt closer to Sunni Arab states that feared the spread of Iran’s Shi’a sphere of influence. The result was that the political office of the group left Damascus and Iran turned off both the funding and the arms it had been sending Hamas.

But as the West failed to act to oust Assad, it was soon clear that Hamas had bet on the wrong side. Fortunately for them, Iran seems to be willing to forgive and forget and Tehran, which had supported Hamas’s smaller Islamic Jihad rival, may now be ready to invest heavily in Gaza once again. For all of their religious and political differences, their mutual commitment to Israel’s destruction has once again brought Hamas and Iran together.

The timing couldn’t be better for Hamas, which has been financially squeezed by the fall of its Muslim Brotherhood ally in Egypt and the consequent decision of Cairo to shut down the smuggling tunnels into Gaza that provided the terrorists with their principal source of income. It needs more money than the foolish Western nations that are contributing to the rebuilding of Gaza after last summer are willing to give. That’s because its goal isn’t to construct homes but rather to rebuild the strip’s military infrastructure (including terror tunnels along the border with Israel) and replenishing its arsenal of rockets and other munitions. While it was going to be able to divert some of the humanitarian aid donated by the West for this purpose, generous Iranian contributions will both speed up the process and ensure that Hamas will soon be in as strong a military position as it was before its foolish decision to start shooting at Israeli cities.

But the implications of the move are broader than just the already tense front along the Israel-Gaza border.

By rekindling its alliance with Hamas, Iran is demonstrating its ability to wield influence across the Middle East in a manner that is profoundly destabilizing for moderate neighboring Arab states such as Jordan and Egypt. With Hamas back in Tehran’s fold, it not only gives Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the ability to put military pressure on Israel from two directions. It also reinforces the impression that its grip on the region is growing with Assad still firmly in place in Syria and Hezbollah pulling the strings in Lebanon.

Moreover, Iran’s growing power can’t be separated from the direction of the nuclear talks it is holding with the United States and other Western allies. With the Obama administration desperate to get Iran to sign a nuclear deal no matter how weak it may be, pressure on Tehran to modify its behavior is diminishing. It’s not just that it’s obvious that an agreement will signify Western acquiescence to Iran becoming a nuclear threshold power. Any deal, accompanied as it will be by the end of sanctions, will make it easier for the Islamist regime to aid Hamas and strengthen that terror group immeasurably because other Arab states will have good reason to fear Iran’s displeasure.

The result of this series of events will not make Israel less secure. But U.S. influence will be similarly diminished and American allies will have good reason to worry about Obama’s determination to retreat from the region and embrace good relations with an Iran they rightly fear.

Europeans are moving toward legitimizing Hamas, as the recent decision from the European Union court indicated. But in doing so, they are making it less likely that the Palestinian state or states they wish to establish will have any interest in peace. And with America appeasing Iran, there seems to be no reason for Sunnis who want to back the strong horse to avoid embracing Iran.

Seen in that light, President Obama’s decision to appease Iran is even more dangerous than it seems. With a potentially nuclear Iran backing Hamas to the hilt, the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians is more remote than ever.

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Natural Gas Strengthens Israel, But It Won’t End Conflict

Give the New York Times credit. Though much of the rest of the journalistic world has long ago given in-depth coverage to the story of how Israel’s development of natural gas fields is in the process of making it an energy superpower, the so-called newspaper of record eventually got around to it. In a story published today, the Times discusses how the development of the offshore Tamar field and the even larger Leviathan site is making the Jewish state energy independent and putting it in a position to become a major source of gas for neighboring Arab nations and eventually Europe. This is an enormous achievement. But despite the implications of this event, the Times is unfortunately exaggerating one aspect of it. While the gas may make Israel even stronger and solidify its ties with moderate Arab nations, it won’t end the conflict with the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab and Muslim world.

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Give the New York Times credit. Though much of the rest of the journalistic world has long ago given in-depth coverage to the story of how Israel’s development of natural gas fields is in the process of making it an energy superpower, the so-called newspaper of record eventually got around to it. In a story published today, the Times discusses how the development of the offshore Tamar field and the even larger Leviathan site is making the Jewish state energy independent and putting it in a position to become a major source of gas for neighboring Arab nations and eventually Europe. This is an enormous achievement. But despite the implications of this event, the Times is unfortunately exaggerating one aspect of it. While the gas may make Israel even stronger and solidify its ties with moderate Arab nations, it won’t end the conflict with the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab and Muslim world.

The development of the offshore fields turns the old joke about Moses leading the Jewish people to the only country in the region without oil on its head. As Arthur Hermann wrote in the March issue of COMMENTARY, these new sources of energy have the ability to make an already growing and strong Israeli economy even greater. Though there are serious questions about Israel’s ability to, even with the help of foreign investors and contributors like the Texas-based Nobel Energy Company that runs Tamar, properly exploit this bonanza, there are also reasons to be concerned about whether the rising tide of hate for Israel in Europe and elsewhere will interfere with the ability of global investors to help fund the effort.

But even the most gloomy pessimist about Israel’s prospects must concede that the energy boom has the ability to both further energize the Jewish state’s economy and to provide a basis for solid economic partnerships with Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.

But some of the optimists quoted in both the COMMENTARY feature and in the Times need to scale back their expectations with respect to the connection between natural gas and peace. Anyone who thinks the prospect of profitable economic partnerships with Israel will convince Palestinians to give up their fight to destroy it have not been paying attention to the history of the conflict.

From the earliest days of the movement that saw the Jews return to their historic homeland, Zionists have dreamed about economic cooperation providing the magic formula that would persuade the Arabs to accept the new reality. In particular, the pre-state Labor Zionist movement was heavily invested in the notion that the Palestinian working class and agricultural laborers would find a common bond with their fellow workers among the Jews and reject the calls for violence from their leaders who came from the local landowners. But this hope went unfulfilled. Far from seeing the obvious benefits to their livelihood that ought to follow from the work the Zionists did in developing the country, Arabs viewed each new economic achievement or infrastructure developed as a threat. The Arabs may have wanted more prosperity but they valued their conception of national honor—which viewed any thought of Jewish sovereignty over even an inch of the country as an intolerable insult and injury—far more than their pocketbooks or the wellbeing of their families.

That trend continued through the period of the pre-state era past the creation of the Jewish state and to the present day. Indeed, were the welfare of individuals or even of plight of the 1948 refugees and their descendants a national priority, the Palestinians would have long ago given up their futile calls for a right of return that would destroy Israel and instead concentrated their efforts on resettlement and acceptance of peace offers that would give them a state on almost all of the land outside of the 1967 lines they claim.

If economic development meant anything to Palestinian public opinion Israel’s retreat from Gaza would have turned out very differently. Though foreign investors purchased the greenhouses to be left behind by departing Israeli farmers, the structures were all torched within hours of the retreat in an orgy of destruction. Nor would former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have found himself a man without a party or even a constituency when he pushed for good government measures and an end to the official Fatah corruption that blights the West Bank.

The natural gas fields do have an indirect impact on the chances of peace. By making Israel stronger, they give the Jewish state the ability to hold on rather than making rash concessions that will only allow the Palestinians to continue the conflict in the future on even more advantageous terms. The “iron wall” that Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote about in the 1920s when he dissented from Labor’s optimism about peace with the Arabs continues to be the only factor that can persuade Arabs to end the conflict as it did with Egypt and Jordan’s governments though most inhabitants of either country are implacably hostile to Israel.

Friends of Israel should be heartened and its foes discouraged by the development of the gas fields. But so long as Palestinian nationalism remains inextricably tied to the cause of eliminating the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, they won’t end the conflict. Nor will they make it easier for Europeans who believe the lies about Israel being a colonial, apartheid state to merely do businesses with it rather than aiding those working for its destruction.

Israel must stand up for its right to its land, not merely its right to security or the possibility that it can help supply Europe with an alternative to Arab or Russian energy sources. If it doesn’t all the natural gas in the world won’t stop the international community from seeking to destroy it.

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It Isn’t Just Jerusalem That’s Not Negotiable

Seeking to make sense of yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, the New York Times stumbled across an unfortunate truth about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Quoting writer Yossi Klein Halevi’s characterization of the violence in the headline of its article on the aftermath of the atrocity, it noted that in this “war of neighbors,” differences are not negotiable. But while Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren intended this surprisingly sober analysis to apply only to the issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or perhaps the city itself, were she to think more seriously about the subject, she would be forced to conclude that the same phrase applies to the entire conflict between Jews and Arabs over this small country.

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Seeking to make sense of yesterday’s horrific terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, the New York Times stumbled across an unfortunate truth about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Quoting writer Yossi Klein Halevi’s characterization of the violence in the headline of its article on the aftermath of the atrocity, it noted that in this “war of neighbors,” differences are not negotiable. But while Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren intended this surprisingly sober analysis to apply only to the issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or perhaps the city itself, were she to think more seriously about the subject, she would be forced to conclude that the same phrase applies to the entire conflict between Jews and Arabs over this small country.

The infusion of religion into what all too many observers believe is a dispute over land and borders scares many of those who comment on the Middle East. Having spent the last few decades attempting to argue that peace could be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians if only the Jewish state were to give away more or all of the land it took possession of during the 1967 Six-Day War, those committed to this myth seek to divest the discussion about the path to peace of the absolutes of faith that make compromise impossible. Seen from that perspective, the dispute about the Temple Mount is one in which both sides can, as Rudoren does in her piece, be portrayed as being driven by religious zealots intent on blowing up an already combustible situation.

But while it is true that a minority of Jews would like to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount to make it place where both faiths can be freely observed (Jews currently may not pray on the Mount, a stand endorsed by Prime Minister Netanyahu), the hate and incitement that leads inevitably to the kind of bloody slaughter witnessed in a Har Nof synagogue where four Jews were murdered yesterday is not a function of a few isolated zealots or a twisted interpretation of Islam. Rather it is a product of mainstream Palestinian political culture in which religious symbols such as the imagined peril to the mosques on the Mount have been employed by generations of Palestinian leaders to whip up hatred for Jews. The purpose is not to defend the mosques or Arab claims to Jerusalem but to deny the right of Jews to life, sovereignty, or self-defense in any part of the country.

In order to understand the current spate of murders of Jews by Palestinians and why so many took to the streets of Gaza and West Bank cities to celebrate the bloody attack on Jews at prayer yesterday, we have to leave aside the clichés about cycles of violence and even-handed blame assessment and come face to face with the reality of Palestinian nationalism. From its inception early in the 20th century, Palestinian national identity has been inextricably linked to a war against Zionism and the growing Jewish presence in the country. Zionist leaders initially hoped the conflict could be solved through economic cooperation and then embraced territorial compromise as the panacea. But no solution has worked because the real focus of the dispute isn’t about land or a division of economic benefits but something far more fundamental that isn’t, as the Times said, “negotiable.”

Palestinians celebrated this latest horror, as they have been lauding every other recent terror attack and all those that preceded it throughout the last few decades. They did so not because Israel has failed to restrain Jewish extremists (it has done so) but because the basic elements of the conflict are not about details such as where Jews may or may not live in Jerusalem or where they may pray. Removing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in those parts of the city that Jordan illegally occupied between 1949 and 1967—“East Jerusalem”—won’t end the conflict any more than previous Israeli retreats or the several Israeli offers of statehood and independence for the Palestinians (that would have given them not only almost all the West Bank but a large share of Jerusalem) satisfied Palestinian opinion or its leadership.

Once you understand that, it’s easy to see that the obstacle to peace isn’t specific Israeli policies but the Jewish refusal to be evicted from their ancient homeland or to defend their hold on it. Indeed, rather than trying to interpret Palestinian extremism through the contemporary prism of the spread of ISIS-like fundamentalism, the current violence is better understood as just the latest iteration of the same virus of intolerance that has fueled the war on Israel for many decades.

Rudoren and some of her sources are wrong. The scheduling of prayer services ore entry to the Temple Mount is a negotiable issue if both sides were willing to view it as not being a zero-sum game. So, too, is the question about where the border of a Palestinian state that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state next door would be if parts of Jerusalem were included inside its borders. Nor is the red herring of municipal services to east Jerusalem Arabs, which Rudoren also speciously raised as a potential cause for terrorism, beyond discussion. That is especially true since most residents of Arab neighborhoods are, despite their complaints about Israelis, wary of being lumped in with the other victims of Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank kleptocracy.

But what isn’t negotiable is the demand heard on the Palestinian streets and in the official media of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas’s independent state in all but name in Gaza for Israel’s destruction. The praise being heard for this latest instance of “resistance to the occupation” isn’t about Jerusalem’s municipal boundary but the “occupation” of any part of the country—including all the territory that was under Israeli control prior to June 1967. That is what isn’t negotiable and won’t be until a sea change in Palestinian political culture occurs that will make the shocking pro-terror demonstrations impossible. Until the Palestinians give up their dreams of Israel’s destruction, more than Jerusalem will remain non-negotiable. And that is a reality that an American administration and its media cheering section at the Times that has falsely blamed Israel for the failure to achieve peace must also learn to take into account if they are to understand what is really happening in the region.

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Keeping an Open Mind About Murder

The decision of the Metropolitan Opera to continue with its plan to produce The Death Of Klinghoffer but to cancel the simulcast of the piece to theaters around the world has pleased no one. Critics of the piece, which rationalizes the cold-blooded murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jew in a wheelchair by Palestinian terrorists, are still rightly outraged that one of the world’s premiere arts organizations will still be performing the opera. Defenders of the piece and critics of the state of Israel are dismayed that General Manager Peter Gelb succumbed to pleas from the Klinghoffer family and the Anti-Defamation League, to move out off of the Met’s prestigious broadcast schedule. Predictably, one voice that falls into the latter category spoke up today to express dismay at the unsatisfactory compromise: The New York Times editorial page.

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The decision of the Metropolitan Opera to continue with its plan to produce The Death Of Klinghoffer but to cancel the simulcast of the piece to theaters around the world has pleased no one. Critics of the piece, which rationalizes the cold-blooded murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jew in a wheelchair by Palestinian terrorists, are still rightly outraged that one of the world’s premiere arts organizations will still be performing the opera. Defenders of the piece and critics of the state of Israel are dismayed that General Manager Peter Gelb succumbed to pleas from the Klinghoffer family and the Anti-Defamation League, to move out off of the Met’s prestigious broadcast schedule. Predictably, one voice that falls into the latter category spoke up today to express dismay at the unsatisfactory compromise: The New York Times editorial page.

It termed Gelb’s move “lamentable” and not only dismissed the ADL’s fears about the opera helping promote anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe, but defended the piece as a fair-minded and even-handed approach to a divisive issue. While anything that smacks of censorship is bound to raise hackles among the elites in America’s arts capital, the paper’s decision to not only trash the opera’s critics as uninformed but to speak up for John Adams’ opera speaks volumes about its animus for Israel and soft approach to terrorism directed at Jews. As I noted previously, The Times is right to assert that one of the purposes of art is to challenge its audience. Many great works of art, including many operas, have their origins in issues that were, in their day, deeply controversial but were eventually transcended by the value of the piece. But what we are discussing here is not so much a question of art versus politics but the decision on the part of the artist to view atrocities as simply a matter of opinion.

The Times is right that, to some extent, The Death of Klinghoffer is even-handed about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The Jews, and specifically the Klinghoffers are allowed to denounce their captors as cowardly terrorists and murders. But the balance of the piece is tilted in favor of the alleged grievances of the Palestinians, which are not only exaggerated and taken out of context, but put forward in the most prejudicial manner possible and backed by some of the most inspired and powerful music in the opera. You don’t need to read the program or do much research to see where composer John Adams’ sympathies lie.

Moreover, the entire premise of the piece, that even the most atrocious and callous act of murder may be rooted in the complaints of the perpetrators — the alleged theft of the Palestinians’ homes by the Jews — is to frame the issues in a manner in which Israel’s existence is treated as the real crime. But while it is possible to debate the rights and wrongs of the complex Middle East conflict, surely the morality of terrorism and the murder of a helpless old man are not debatable. Such a crime does not cry out for an even-handed analysis of the two sides but Adams’ choice of Klinghoffer’s murder as the focus of his art, places his opera in a context that is not merely controversial but fundamentally ammoral.

New Yorkers who view this fuss from the perspective of the Times may think the Jews and friends of Israel complaining about the opera are merely narrow-minded censors. But they need to ask themselves whether they would stomach the Met’s production of an opera about 9/11 in which the positions of the hijackers and their thousands of victims were treated as two moral equivalent sides of the same question? Would even ultra-liberal New York tolerate an even-handed artistic approach to al-Qaeda’s mass murder? Would the same arts world that lionizes John Adams’ and proclaims it a “masterpiece” be equally willing to stand up for an opera or play that justified the actions of the Ku Klux Klan or other racists who committed acts of violence against African-Americans?

The answer to these questions is more than obvious. But if they wouldn’t tolerate a pro-al-Qaeda or Klan opera, why is it that they think the Met is right to produce one whose purpose is to put a Jewish victim on the same moral plane as his terrorist murderer whose goal is not some abstract plea for justice for the downtrodden but the destruction of the only Jewish state on the planet? The willingness to countenance such even-handedness only when it comes to attacks on Jews is indistinguishable from the rising tide of anti-Semitism that the ADL and the U.S. State Department have both said is gripping Europe.

What the Times doesn’t understand is that the problem with the Klinghoffer opera is not that it is controversial but that it is even-handed about a subject about which no decent person ought to be neutral. Indeed, Adams won a Pulitzer Prize for his choral piece commemorating 9/11, On the Transmigration of Souls that managed to discuss that atrocity without giving equal time to al-Qaeda. To, as the Times put it, “give voice to all sides in this terrible murder but offer no resolutions” as this opera does, is to implicitly endorse the cause of the murderers and to degrade their victims. Just as no New Yorker thinks it necessary to keep an open mind about 9/11 or the Klan, the rights and wrongs of Klinghoffer’s murder is not a matter of opinion. But it is hardly surprising that a newspaper whose record of slanted coverage and biased opinion against Israel would think that this is the sort of issue about which informed people may disagree. The Met had no business producing this amoral piece. It is to be hoped that, by one means or another, it never disgraces the stage of America’s leading opera company.

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Terror and the Truth About the Middle East

For decades, even many friends of Israel have tamely accepted the idea that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is, in and of itself, a crime against the Palestinians. Thus, it is hardly remarkable that the mainstream media’s discussion of the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank is being conducted from a frame of reference that views Palestinian terrorism as an understandable, if regrettable result of Israeli provocations. As Seth noted earlier, that was the clear upshot of a New York Times article about Israeli efforts to find the kidnapping victims. It is also a constant refrain on social media where the teens have been blasted not only for their poor judgment in hitchhiking in an area where attacks on Jews have been frequent but in the very idea that in some way Palestinian violence is justified.

That was the conceit of a particularly outrageous article published yesterday in Haaretz by columnist Gideon Levy in which this leftist extremist said the crime was the natural result of Israeli policy on settlements as well the country’s reluctance to release imprisoned terrorists. It has become commonplace to find anti-Zionist rants in Haaretz’s pages but the notion of treating the captivity of Palestinians who have Israeli blood on their hands as morally equivalent to the kidnapping of children breaks new ground even for that intellectually bankrupt exercise in journalism. While it would be easy to dismiss Levy as an outlier, his callous dismissal of Palestinian terror as merely Israel’s due is very much representative of much of the commentary that is published internationally about the peace process. But in a strange way, Levy got it right when he wrote the following:

If the Gaza Strip doesn’t fire Qassam rockets at Israel, the Gaza Strip doesn’t exist. And if, in the West Bank, yeshiva students aren’t abducted, then the West Bank disappears from Israel’s consciousness.

Levy believes such that such efforts are justified because he claims Israelis have blocked all other paths for the Palestinians except violence. This is, to put it bluntly, a lie. It is the Palestinian Arabs who have consistently and repeatedly rejected offers of peace and statehood from the United Nations partition resolution of 1947 through the Palestinian Authority’s four “no’s” over the last 15 years. But where Levy is right is when he writes of the Palestinians seeing their existence as inextricably tied to the war against Israel. Palestinian national identity has become inextricably tied to terror, whether in the form of missile barrages, kidnappings, or suicide bombings aimed at maiming and killing as many Jews as possible.

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For decades, even many friends of Israel have tamely accepted the idea that Israel’s presence in the West Bank is, in and of itself, a crime against the Palestinians. Thus, it is hardly remarkable that the mainstream media’s discussion of the kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank is being conducted from a frame of reference that views Palestinian terrorism as an understandable, if regrettable result of Israeli provocations. As Seth noted earlier, that was the clear upshot of a New York Times article about Israeli efforts to find the kidnapping victims. It is also a constant refrain on social media where the teens have been blasted not only for their poor judgment in hitchhiking in an area where attacks on Jews have been frequent but in the very idea that in some way Palestinian violence is justified.

That was the conceit of a particularly outrageous article published yesterday in Haaretz by columnist Gideon Levy in which this leftist extremist said the crime was the natural result of Israeli policy on settlements as well the country’s reluctance to release imprisoned terrorists. It has become commonplace to find anti-Zionist rants in Haaretz’s pages but the notion of treating the captivity of Palestinians who have Israeli blood on their hands as morally equivalent to the kidnapping of children breaks new ground even for that intellectually bankrupt exercise in journalism. While it would be easy to dismiss Levy as an outlier, his callous dismissal of Palestinian terror as merely Israel’s due is very much representative of much of the commentary that is published internationally about the peace process. But in a strange way, Levy got it right when he wrote the following:

If the Gaza Strip doesn’t fire Qassam rockets at Israel, the Gaza Strip doesn’t exist. And if, in the West Bank, yeshiva students aren’t abducted, then the West Bank disappears from Israel’s consciousness.

Levy believes such that such efforts are justified because he claims Israelis have blocked all other paths for the Palestinians except violence. This is, to put it bluntly, a lie. It is the Palestinian Arabs who have consistently and repeatedly rejected offers of peace and statehood from the United Nations partition resolution of 1947 through the Palestinian Authority’s four “no’s” over the last 15 years. But where Levy is right is when he writes of the Palestinians seeing their existence as inextricably tied to the war against Israel. Palestinian national identity has become inextricably tied to terror, whether in the form of missile barrages, kidnappings, or suicide bombings aimed at maiming and killing as many Jews as possible.

Levy writes that the idea “that settlers could live in security in the territories” is getting a “wake-up call” about what lies ahead. This stems from his belief that the presence of Jews anywhere in the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem is illegitimate. In making such an argument, Levy is echoing an intolerable, indeed indefensible notion that is routinely put forward by Israel’s enemies that seems rooted more in anti-Semitism than a belief in Palestinian rights. But even if we were to accept the idea that peace could be actually be achieved by Israel withdrawing from every centimeter of those parts of its ancient homeland that came into its possession during the Six-Day War, the notion that terrorism constitutes a proper response to a diplomatic standoff says a lot more about the political culture of the Palestinians than it does about Israeli settlement policies.

Put simply, the notion that anti-Israel terrorism is justified is one that accepts the premise that the Palestinians have the right to evict Jews from any territory that they claim. In Levy’s formulation, Palestinian efforts to murder Jews are indistinguishable from those of the Israel Defense Forces to prevent or punish murder of Jews. In such an upside-down moral universe, Jews are guilty by definition merely by existing even when they are teenage religious students and Palestinians are sympathetic even when engaged in acts of egregious terror.

Yet as absurd as this may sound, Levy’s arguments are the foundation of much of the criticism of Israel and its policies even by those who are too fastidious to justify terrorism. But in writing in this manner, Levy and the countless anti-Israel writers elsewhere who share his point of view are merely proving that the conflict isn’t about territory, settlements, or an occupation but an existential struggle in which Jewish sovereignty or self-defense conducted anywhere in the country, regardless of where its borders are drawn, is viewed as illegitimate.

The majority of Israelis have rightly come to believe that until this culture of hate that dictates Palestinian rejectionism changes, there is no point in further endangering their country by making concessions to the Palestinians. As much as they deplore the rare instances of Israeli vandalism or violence against Arabs, they understand that what happened to the three teenagers is widely supported by Palestinian opinion. No matter what your opinion about what the ideal solution to the Middle East conflict might look like, the justifications of Palestinian terror makes plain that what is at stake here isn’t settlements or settlers but a war against Jews.

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Even Popes Can’t Transcend Conflicts

Pope Francis may have intended his visit to the Middle East to promote the causes of ecumenism and peace. But he has learned that it is not possible to step into the political maelstrom of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians without getting sucked into it. The picture of him praying at the security barrier in Bethlehem at a point where it was defaced by Palestinian graffiti that spoke of it as an “apartheid wall” will—as the Guardian gleefully characterized it—probably be the best remembered moment of the trip and the photo of him praying in front of it may become an iconic image of grievances against Israel. This unscheduled stop is believed to have been the work of his Palestinian hosts rather than a deliberate Vatican insult directed at Israel. But though he attempted to make up for it the next day with a stop at a memorial to the Israeli victims of Arab terror—a reminder that the barrier was built to prevent more such deaths at the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers—the damage was already done especially since the pontiff’s silent prayers at the first unscheduled stop were not balanced by any statement that made it clear that he understood why the fence had to be built.

Though he is trying to be even-handed and must be credited with the best of intentions, given the highly symbolic nature of every one of his gestures, it is difficult to regard the controversies into which he has allowed himself to be drawn without thinking that he might have done everyone a favor and just stayed home.

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Pope Francis may have intended his visit to the Middle East to promote the causes of ecumenism and peace. But he has learned that it is not possible to step into the political maelstrom of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians without getting sucked into it. The picture of him praying at the security barrier in Bethlehem at a point where it was defaced by Palestinian graffiti that spoke of it as an “apartheid wall” will—as the Guardian gleefully characterized it—probably be the best remembered moment of the trip and the photo of him praying in front of it may become an iconic image of grievances against Israel. This unscheduled stop is believed to have been the work of his Palestinian hosts rather than a deliberate Vatican insult directed at Israel. But though he attempted to make up for it the next day with a stop at a memorial to the Israeli victims of Arab terror—a reminder that the barrier was built to prevent more such deaths at the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers—the damage was already done especially since the pontiff’s silent prayers at the first unscheduled stop were not balanced by any statement that made it clear that he understood why the fence had to be built.

Though he is trying to be even-handed and must be credited with the best of intentions, given the highly symbolic nature of every one of his gestures, it is difficult to regard the controversies into which he has allowed himself to be drawn without thinking that he might have done everyone a favor and just stayed home.

Even before he arrived in the region, some on both sides of the divide criticized the pope for his itinerary. Jews voiced concern about the Vatican’s efforts to emphasize their formal recognition of a “State of Palestine” without first requiring it to make peace with Israel. Palestinians were angry about the pope’s stop on Mount Herzl, Israel’s Arlington, where Francis laid a wreath on the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, a sign that they still refuse to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state he envisaged.

But by stepping into the controversy over the security barrier, the pope left the realms of both religion and state protocol to lend his enormous international credibility and popularity to the Palestinian narrative about the fence. That he was led to a particular spot on it that was filled with English as well as Arabic graffiti was the perfect photo op for those who attempt to argue that its placement is a symbol of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. Israel’s foes have attempted to claim that the fence is a new version of a Nazi ghetto wall in which Palestinian victims are hemmed in and deprived of their rights. The truth is that it was built reluctantly by an Israeli government that did not wish to divide the land in this manner but had to do something to make it harder for Palestinian suicide bombers and other terrorists to cross into Israel to slaughter innocents. Rather than a tangible manifestation of Israeli colonialism, it is a monument to the bloodthirsty decision of Palestinian leaders to wage a terrorist war against the Jewish state when they could have instead had independence and peace.

While some are wrongly assuming that every action of the pope is evidence that old enmities between Jews and Catholics are being resurrected, the pope’s good intentions are not really in doubt. Francis appears to be a strong supporter of the work of his predecessors John XXIII and John Paul II in putting an end to Catholic support for anti-Semitism and inaugurating a new era of respect between the two faiths and in recognizing the legitimacy of Israel.

But even if we concede his desire to do good, the Vatican needed to understand that injecting the pope into the details of the Middle East conflict is far more likely to heighten tensions than to relax them. Nor is the meeting in Rome to which the pope has invited Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres a particularly helpful gesture. By inviting Peres, who holds a largely symbolic office rather than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is Abbas’s actual counterpart in terms of power, the pontiff can be accused of seeking to bypass the Israeli government and undermining Israel’s actual leader, who is not liked in Europe because of his tough-minded willingness to stand up for his country.

The point here is that neither the pope nor any other foreign leader can solve the puzzle of Middle East peace. If the conflict is to be resolved it must be by done by the Israelis and the Palestinians. Unfortunately, the Palestinians are still stuck in their “Nakba” narrative in which they have come to link their identity as a people with their struggle to deny Jewish rights over any part of the land and in which they have come to glorify violence against Israel and its people. The Vatican is also in no position to play Middle East politics when it seems quick to engage in disputes with Israel while at the same time demonstrating its reluctance to criticize the Arab and Muslim world for its mistreatment of Christian minorities.

The pope should be welcomed wherever he goes and even those who are rightly upset about some aspects of his trip should avoid any hint of enmity toward this good man. But this whirlwind visit shows that even the most well-intentioned visitors can blunder if they believe they can transcend the conflict even while plunging into it.

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“The New War on Israel”–Our E-Book

Just out from COMMENTARY is our first topical e-book, The New War on Israel—and How to Fight Back. Over the past year especially, efforts to delegitimate the Jewish state have taken on a new urgency and force, much of it from liberals and leftists who are using their own Jewishness as a weapon. We have assembled several of our best articles and blog posts in a coherent whole to expose the hollowness and injustice of the arguments and the highly problematic nature of the way in which they are conducted. The ebook features pieces by me, Joshua Muravchik, Jonathan Tobin, Rick Richman, Ben Cohen, Adam Kredo, and others. It is essential reading. You can purchase it here.

Just out from COMMENTARY is our first topical e-book, The New War on Israel—and How to Fight Back. Over the past year especially, efforts to delegitimate the Jewish state have taken on a new urgency and force, much of it from liberals and leftists who are using their own Jewishness as a weapon. We have assembled several of our best articles and blog posts in a coherent whole to expose the hollowness and injustice of the arguments and the highly problematic nature of the way in which they are conducted. The ebook features pieces by me, Joshua Muravchik, Jonathan Tobin, Rick Richman, Ben Cohen, Adam Kredo, and others. It is essential reading. You can purchase it here.

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Refugees Who Insist on the Impossible

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has a budget problem, and as a result its workers are on strike. As the New York Times reports, that’s bad news for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank who depend on the UN agency for food, services, and employment. But the controversy over the impact of the strike and the refugees’ demands for the Palestinian Authority to step in and pick up where the UN left off doesn’t address the heart of their problem. Instead of arguing over who should take care of them, the Palestinians should be seeking the same resolution that has successfully solved every other refugee problem since the Second World War: resettlement. Instead, they have been allowed to languish in camps to keep the war against Israel alive, doing far more injury to themselves than they have ever done to the Israelis.

The curious thing about the dispute between the refugees and the PA is that while the former demand that the corrupt Palestinian government take care of them while UNRWA is on strike, they are resolutely against being governed by it. Doing so would mean giving up their special status as refugees and taking up the more prosaic identity of Palestinian Arabs living on the territory of the putative independent Palestinian state that, while already recognized by some governments, doesn’t yet exist. Leaving the camps would mean a better life, either in the West Bank or elsewhere. But it would also entail giving up their precious fiction that the descendants of the Arabs who fled the land of what is now Israel will someday return to it and thus erase the Jewish state. Rather than do that, they prefer to stay where they are, living in poverty and condemning each subsequent generation to a futile and destructive quest that makes any peace agreement impossible. Instead of demanding more funding for UNRWA in order to continue to maintain the shaky welfare state operating in the West Bank, Gaza, and other refugee camps around the region, those who actually care about the welfare of the Palestinians should advocate instead for its dissolution.

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The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has a budget problem, and as a result its workers are on strike. As the New York Times reports, that’s bad news for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank who depend on the UN agency for food, services, and employment. But the controversy over the impact of the strike and the refugees’ demands for the Palestinian Authority to step in and pick up where the UN left off doesn’t address the heart of their problem. Instead of arguing over who should take care of them, the Palestinians should be seeking the same resolution that has successfully solved every other refugee problem since the Second World War: resettlement. Instead, they have been allowed to languish in camps to keep the war against Israel alive, doing far more injury to themselves than they have ever done to the Israelis.

The curious thing about the dispute between the refugees and the PA is that while the former demand that the corrupt Palestinian government take care of them while UNRWA is on strike, they are resolutely against being governed by it. Doing so would mean giving up their special status as refugees and taking up the more prosaic identity of Palestinian Arabs living on the territory of the putative independent Palestinian state that, while already recognized by some governments, doesn’t yet exist. Leaving the camps would mean a better life, either in the West Bank or elsewhere. But it would also entail giving up their precious fiction that the descendants of the Arabs who fled the land of what is now Israel will someday return to it and thus erase the Jewish state. Rather than do that, they prefer to stay where they are, living in poverty and condemning each subsequent generation to a futile and destructive quest that makes any peace agreement impossible. Instead of demanding more funding for UNRWA in order to continue to maintain the shaky welfare state operating in the West Bank, Gaza, and other refugee camps around the region, those who actually care about the welfare of the Palestinians should advocate instead for its dissolution.

The Times report paints a fairly accurate picture of the systemic chaos of Palestinian society. According to Palestinian population figures, fully 740,000 of the 2.4 million Palestinians living in the West Bank call themselves refugees. These figures are notoriously unreliable since both the refugees and other Palestinian groups have a financial and political incentive to inflate the estimates of their population. But even if we were to accept these numbers as accurate, the current Palestinian refugee population is primarily a function of a political decision undertaken by Arab governments and the leadership of the Palestinians to keep them trapped in camps so they can continue to be used as pawns in the never-ending propaganda war against Israel. Since 1945, wars have created tens of millions of refugees around the world. All, with the sole exception of the Palestinians, are served by a single UN refugee agency, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). And almost all, including the hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Arab and Muslim countries who were forced to flee their homes after 1948, have been resettled in new ones. But only the Palestinians, for whom UNRWA was specifically created, were not given the aid they needed to develop skills and get on with their lives.

The fault for this decades-long scandal lies principally with the Arab states. Not one has sought to absorb the refugees created by the war of aggression launched by the Arab world against the new Jewish state in 1948. Worse than that, the refugees were not allowed to leave the camps and denied the opportunity to acquire citizenship in any of the Arab countries in which they resided. That was also the case with Egypt and Jordan, the nations that governed, respectively, Gaza and the West Bank from 1949 to 1967 when the Arab and Muslim world refused to advocate the creation of a Palestinian state in those territories. Instead, their goal was to eradicate the Jewish state that existed inside the truncated borders created by the 1949 armistice agreements that ended Israel’s War of Independence.

But the refugees and the Palestinian political movements themselves also bear a great deal of the blame for the fact that the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of the 1948 refugees are stuck in exactly the same predicament as their forebears. A case in point is provided by the Times in its interview with Mai Abd al-Razzaq, a 49-year-old Palestinian seeking services from UNRWA.

Asked about a solution for the refugee problem, Mrs. Abd al-Razzaq laughed and said: “It is impossible to return.” But she added: “We insist on return. We don’t want to give up our rights. We will leave it for the generations to come. We don’t want our grandchildren to say we sold out the land.”

Others made the same counter-productive point, eschewing any solution but a “return,” which is tantamount to a demand for the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and a preservation of a conflict for which they send out new generations of children to goad or to engage in violent exchanges with Israelis. Seen in that light, the answer to their problems is not more money for UNRWA and its employees nor for a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in helping them. The only answer is the abolition of UNRWA  and its replacement by an agency dedicated to giving Palestinians the same resettlement help other refugees have received. Until that happens, the refugees—still the driving force of Palestinian politics—will ensure peace with Israel can never be achieved.

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Was a Palestinian Athlete Slandered?

Those who picked up the sports section of the New York Times on Saturday may have been shocked to learn of what the paper seemed to describe as a prejudiced attack on one of the newest members of the National Football League’s New York Jets. According to a feature written by Ben Shpigel, who covers the Jets for the paper, Oday Aboushi, an offensive tackle, and a native of Brooklyn who played at the University of Virginia who was taken in the fifth round of the NFL draft this spring, was the victim of what the headline described as “aspersions.” The Times claimed an article published in Frontpagemagazine.com had unfairly tarred him as someone with “terrorist ties” because of his attendance at a “cultural networking event.” A piece on the Daily Beast’s Open Zion site went further and described the article as a “hatchet job” published by “Islamophobes.”

The Anti-Defamation League didn’t go that far, but it did back up Aboushi and said nothing in his background justified the implications of the article, which it described as being full of “hyperbole and exaggeration.” A Yahoo.com article that had noted the charges against Aboushi was taken down and its author apologized, as did an MLB.com employee who had tweeted about it. A few days after Frontpage first published the piece, it appeared that Aboushi had actually benefited from the attack as not just the leading monitor of anti-Semitism but his employers were speaking out about his dilemma, a not insignificant boost for a player who, like any other lower draft choice seen as a project, has very little job security.

But now that the dust has begun to clear with Aboushi emerging as a poster child for tolerance, a fair reading of the original broadside aimed at him as well as those seeking to defend the athlete shows that the truth isn’t that simple. There is no evidence that Aboushi is a terrorist and he has now endorsed peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But those rushing to silence his critics need to acknowledge that some of the opinions he has endorsed go a little farther than merely, as the ADL claims, expressing pride in his Palestinian identity.

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Those who picked up the sports section of the New York Times on Saturday may have been shocked to learn of what the paper seemed to describe as a prejudiced attack on one of the newest members of the National Football League’s New York Jets. According to a feature written by Ben Shpigel, who covers the Jets for the paper, Oday Aboushi, an offensive tackle, and a native of Brooklyn who played at the University of Virginia who was taken in the fifth round of the NFL draft this spring, was the victim of what the headline described as “aspersions.” The Times claimed an article published in Frontpagemagazine.com had unfairly tarred him as someone with “terrorist ties” because of his attendance at a “cultural networking event.” A piece on the Daily Beast’s Open Zion site went further and described the article as a “hatchet job” published by “Islamophobes.”

The Anti-Defamation League didn’t go that far, but it did back up Aboushi and said nothing in his background justified the implications of the article, which it described as being full of “hyperbole and exaggeration.” A Yahoo.com article that had noted the charges against Aboushi was taken down and its author apologized, as did an MLB.com employee who had tweeted about it. A few days after Frontpage first published the piece, it appeared that Aboushi had actually benefited from the attack as not just the leading monitor of anti-Semitism but his employers were speaking out about his dilemma, a not insignificant boost for a player who, like any other lower draft choice seen as a project, has very little job security.

But now that the dust has begun to clear with Aboushi emerging as a poster child for tolerance, a fair reading of the original broadside aimed at him as well as those seeking to defend the athlete shows that the truth isn’t that simple. There is no evidence that Aboushi is a terrorist and he has now endorsed peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But those rushing to silence his critics need to acknowledge that some of the opinions he has endorsed go a little farther than merely, as the ADL claims, expressing pride in his Palestinian identity.

Let’s specify that there is no reason for anyone, let alone a pro-Israel site, to trash anyone merely on the basis of his origin or his political opinion. The Frontpage article is something of a grab bag of charges and not all of it justifies its lede sentence that claimed “his radical behavior since being drafted … could get him sent home early.” The inclusion in the piece of mentions of what one of his relatives had posted on her Facebook page, as well as the characterization of a meeting of the El Bireh Society in a manner as to give the impression that it was an al-Qaeda convention, was over the top.

But it was not an “aspersion” or racist for Frontpage or any website to take note of Aboushi’s political opinions. Frontpage founder David Horowitz is not an Islamophobe nor is it Islamophobic to point out, as Frontpage often does, the hate and anti-Semitism that is spewed from official Palestinian media and those leftists who sympathize with Israel’s enemies.

Like anyone else in the NFL or any other pro league, Aboushi needs to understand that everything he does or says will be publicized and subject to intense scrutiny. If Aboushi is going to tweet in support of a fundraiser for a group that has been called a front for Hamas, that’s fair game for critics. So is his mention of the “Nakba”—the Palestinian way of referring to the birth of the State of Israel as a “disaster” as well as his posting of a photo criticizing the settling of Jews in Jerusalem.

As for his speaking at the El Bireh Society Convention, Aboushi’s defenders may be right that it might have more in common with the sort of landsmanshaft groups that Jewish immigrants to this country started to remember their associations with their old homes in Europe than with a terrorist organization. If, as the ADL insists, the group has long been dormant since its unsavory origins, that makes his appearance there appear in a different light. There is no proof Aboushi said anything bad and there is nothing wrong with Aboushi, whose family comes from that Palestinian Arab village, showing pride in his background. But it should also be noted that, as Frontpage pointed out, many of those in attendance may have been radicals and inflammatory material about the meeting may have been posted on Facebook.

Subsequent to the Frontpage piece being published, Aboushi said the following: “As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I hope that both sides make peace and live in prosperity.” That’s good to hear, and if he wishes to avoid being placed in the middle of Middle East politics, he should leave it at that. Little good comes from injecting politics into sports, whether by the athletes or their fans that either cheer or deride the players’ opinions. Nothing Aboushi did makes him a terrorist, but there’s little doubt he sympathizes with Israel’s enemies.

That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be able to play in the NFL or that a campaign to oust him would be justified. But neither is it prejudice for friends of Israel to note his opinions. Both Aboushi and his defenders need to calm down. If he’s going to stick in the NFL—the league whose players like to say the letters stand for “not for long”—he’s going to have to learn not only to stay out of controversies but that everything he says or tweets is fodder for the press. Aboushi may not be a terrorist but, contrary to the Times and others bashing Frontpage, neither is he much of a victim.

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Why Didn’t the 1967 Borders Bring Peace?

The constant refrain of Israel’s critics in the last few decades has been the need for the Jewish state to withdraw from every inch of territory it won in the Six-Day War and to return to what they erroneously refer to as the “1967 borders.” But as Israelis celebrate the 46th anniversary of the re-unification of their capital city today that was made possible by that war, it’s appropriate to ask why peace did not reign in the Middle East on June 4, 1967 prior to the beginning of the “occupation.”

There may be reasonable arguments to be made about the need for Israel and the Palestinians to live under separate sovereignty rather than the unsatisfactory status quo. But the problem with most of the discussions about the topic is the assumption that merely recreating the situation that existed before that war will bring about peace. Hard as it may be to ask news consumers to think that far back into history, it is necessary to remind those who harp on “1967” as the only possible solution that when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, there was no peace. Not only that, prior to that war, when the area now dubbed the “occupied territories” were in the possession of Jordan and Egypt, the focus of the Arab and Muslim world was not on the creation of a Palestinian state but on ending Jewish sovereignty over the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

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The constant refrain of Israel’s critics in the last few decades has been the need for the Jewish state to withdraw from every inch of territory it won in the Six-Day War and to return to what they erroneously refer to as the “1967 borders.” But as Israelis celebrate the 46th anniversary of the re-unification of their capital city today that was made possible by that war, it’s appropriate to ask why peace did not reign in the Middle East on June 4, 1967 prior to the beginning of the “occupation.”

There may be reasonable arguments to be made about the need for Israel and the Palestinians to live under separate sovereignty rather than the unsatisfactory status quo. But the problem with most of the discussions about the topic is the assumption that merely recreating the situation that existed before that war will bring about peace. Hard as it may be to ask news consumers to think that far back into history, it is necessary to remind those who harp on “1967” as the only possible solution that when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, there was no peace. Not only that, prior to that war, when the area now dubbed the “occupied territories” were in the possession of Jordan and Egypt, the focus of the Arab and Muslim world was not on the creation of a Palestinian state but on ending Jewish sovereignty over the territory of pre-1967 Israel.

The 1967 borders actually were not internationally recognized but merely the armistice lines that marked where the armies were standing when a cease-fire ended Israel’s War of Independence. In particular, those lines left the city of Jerusalem, which had a Jewish majority since the mid-19th century, divided. The Old City of Jerusalem, which fell during the fighting during a siege of the city conducted by Jordan’s Arab Legion, was off limits to Jews from 1948 to 1967. The Western Wall never heard Jewish prayer and was used as a garbage dump. The Jordanians paved a road through the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and used some of the tombstones as construction material. A wall ran through the city much like the barrier that divided Berlin.

But those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by the Jordanians (only the United Kingdom and Pakistan recognized their annexation of part of the city as well as the West Bank, which got that illogical name because it differentiated it from the East Bank–which is now Jordan) did not constitute a Palestinian capital. Nor was Egyptian-occupied Gaza considered part of a Palestinian state.

What those who demand a return to the 1967 lines also forget is that Israel’s liberation of the city marked the beginning of the first period in Jerusalem’s modern history that complete religious freedom and open access to all holy sites was protected.

But the situation prior to that war did bear some resemblance to what is happening today. The territories under Jordanian and Egyptian control were used as bases for Palestinians who attempted to infiltrate into pre-1967 Israel and carry out terror attacks. And it was along those borders that Arab armies massed in May 1967 while their leaders repeated threats that they would drive the Jews into the sea.

Israel survived that perilous month of waiting as the world wondered whether a second Holocaust would ensue from those Arab threats by striking first and defeating its enemies. At that moment, the Jewish state ceased to be seen as a latter-day David standing up to the Goliath of an Arab world that outnumbered its forces and became the bogeyman of the international press.

As much as that dismal pre-1967 era seems like ancient history, what those who harp on 1967 ignore is that there has been no sea change in Arab opinion about Israel since then. Even in those countries like Egypt and Jordan that have signed peace treaties with Israel, the prevailing sentiment among the populace remains one of support for their neighbor’s destruction.

Until that happens and Palestinians come to terms with the permanence of the Jewish return to the land, arguing that just forcing Israel to give up the territory it won in a war of self-defense will solve the conflict is not only illogical; it’s a demand for national suicide.

For all of contemporary Jerusalem’s problems, its re-division would immeasurably worsen the quality of life there, as well as compromise open access to holy places (the only exception to that is the Temple Mount where Jews and Christians are still forbidden from praying in order to appease the Muslim religious authorities).

As Ruthie Blum wrote in Israel Hayom, Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem didn’t start a conflict that had already existed for decades, “it was precisely the pan-Arab attempt to eliminate the ‘Zionist entity’ that sparked the three-front war in the first place. And it was Israel that liberated Jerusalem from Jordanian occupation.”

As she notes, the day Jerusalem was reunited, then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan issued the following statement:

This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors we extend, also at this hour — and with added emphasis at this hour — our hand in peace. And to our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights. We did not come to Jerusalem for the sake of other peoples’ holy places, and not to interfere with the adherents of other faiths, but in order to safeguard its entirety, and to live there together with others, in unity.

Israel has kept its promise, but the Palestinians and most of their supporters have never come to terms with the reality or the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Peace may be possible when the Palestinians change. But let us hope Jerusalem will never again be torn apart as it was in 1948 when Arab armies invaded and that the security of Israel will never be compromised or rights to the ancient homeland of the Jewish people abrogated merely in order to recreate the dangerous situation of June 4, 1967.

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Like Bibi, Obama May Just Want to Manage Middle East Conflict

There are conflicting reports about a meeting held yesterday between President Obama and some 25 figures from the American Jewish community, including many of his supporters, in advance of his trip to Israel later this month. The Times of Israel says that one of the participants claimed the president said he would present a comprehensive peace plan for the Middle East sometime in the next year. But JTA’s report based on a larger sample of participants dishing about the event contradicts that statement. That was backed up by a denial issued by a senior administration official who told the Times of Israel that there was no “framework” for peace mentioned at the meeting.

The consensus about the meeting is that, as one person who quoted the president to JTA said, there would be no “grandiose” plans for peace presented to the Israelis when he arrives for his long-awaited visit. Though the president will be holding out hope that the current “bleak” prospects for peace will improve, the notion that Obama would risk any of his scarce political capital by trying to impose terms of a peace plan on Israel that the Palestinians are not interested in is absurd. Though Obama will put himself on record as opposing Israeli settlements as well as Palestinian attempts to avoid negotiations via the United Nations, he appears to be only interested in keeping the situation calm. After four years of antagonism with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the president seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion as his Israeli counterpart. At least for now, he’s done trying to solve the conflict and only wants to manage it as well as possible.

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There are conflicting reports about a meeting held yesterday between President Obama and some 25 figures from the American Jewish community, including many of his supporters, in advance of his trip to Israel later this month. The Times of Israel says that one of the participants claimed the president said he would present a comprehensive peace plan for the Middle East sometime in the next year. But JTA’s report based on a larger sample of participants dishing about the event contradicts that statement. That was backed up by a denial issued by a senior administration official who told the Times of Israel that there was no “framework” for peace mentioned at the meeting.

The consensus about the meeting is that, as one person who quoted the president to JTA said, there would be no “grandiose” plans for peace presented to the Israelis when he arrives for his long-awaited visit. Though the president will be holding out hope that the current “bleak” prospects for peace will improve, the notion that Obama would risk any of his scarce political capital by trying to impose terms of a peace plan on Israel that the Palestinians are not interested in is absurd. Though Obama will put himself on record as opposing Israeli settlements as well as Palestinian attempts to avoid negotiations via the United Nations, he appears to be only interested in keeping the situation calm. After four years of antagonism with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the president seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion as his Israeli counterpart. At least for now, he’s done trying to solve the conflict and only wants to manage it as well as possible.

That probably comes as a surprise as well as a shock to many of Obama’s most ardent Jewish supporters who would like him to ratchet up the pressure on Netanyahu, as well as to his greatest critics who harbor the suspicion that his goal is bring the Jewish state to its knees. It may be that were circumstances different, the president might well come closer to making those hopes and fears come true. But right now, Obama has higher priorities than pursuing his feud with Netanyahu.

That won’t preclude the president from trying to arrange a grand gesture, such as a summit at which Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will join Obama and Netanyahu for a photo op. But even those observers, like myself, who don’t trust Obama, need to give him credit for having paid some attention to what the Palestinians have failed to do over the last four years. The Palestinians have made it clear that they have no intention of signing a peace agreement that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. That means a solution to the conflict is impossible in the foreseeable future and that the only logical approach to it is one that seeks to manage it while preventing conflagrations.

As the reports from the meeting and other signs coming from Washington show, the president seems to understand that the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear threat has eclipsed the Palestinian issue as a priority. While Obama is trying to dampen any expectations that his visit to Jerusalem might restart the peace process, the one thing he may hope to accomplish there is to ensure that the Israelis refrain from any unilateral strike on Iran.

In order to do that, he has to show that the United States is committed to Israel’s security and can be trusted to do the right thing on any security-related issue. That’s a tall order given the president’s low popularity in Israel, but the trip could go a long way toward repairing the faith the average Israeli has in Washington’s good will. It may do just that provided, that is, the president doesn’t do or say anything that can be interpreted as revealing his disdain for the Jewish state.

As much as both the left and the right are seeking to figure out the specific motives for the trip, making a symbolic statement of Obama’s support for Israel that will give America the leeway to act on Iran at its own pace may be the only plausible answer.

There are good reasons to worry that the president’s reluctance to, as JTA says, do any “chest beating” about Iran may be a symptom of his lack of urgency about the issue or his reluctance to actually take action before it is too late. There’s little reason to believe diplomacy or sanctions can work after years of failure. But if Obama can finally convince Israelis that he should be trusted, its likely they will give him all the time he asks for. As much as there is still a wide gap between the positions Obama and Netanyahu may have on Iran, it may be that, at least for the moment, they are on the same page when it comes to the Palestinians.

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A Study in False Moral Equivalence

The New York Times reports today that a new study is attempting to downplay the role that incitement to hatred in Palestinian schools is playing in fueling the conflict. The study is the product of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a left-leaning ecumenical group that is partially financed by a grant from the U.S. State Department. The group claims as its goal to promote peace and understanding and their study’s conclusion purports to be as even-handed as their approach to peace.

But the report’s claim that there is a rough moral equivalence between the attitudes of the Israeli and Palestinian education systems toward the promotion of hate is so far removed from reality as to render it useless as a measure of the problem. That study, which was rejected by a number of the academics who were part of the group commissioned to analyze the issue, must therefore be considered a contribution to the propaganda war against Israel rather than an effort to pave the way for accord between the two peoples.

As the Times noted:

Arnon Groiss, another Israeli member of the advisory panel, an Arabist, and the researcher and author of many previous reports critical of the Palestinian Authority textbooks, also refused to endorse the report, saying last week that he had not seen a final version. But he insisted that the authority’s textbooks “prepare the pupils for a future armed struggle for the elimination of the state of Israel.”

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The New York Times reports today that a new study is attempting to downplay the role that incitement to hatred in Palestinian schools is playing in fueling the conflict. The study is the product of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a left-leaning ecumenical group that is partially financed by a grant from the U.S. State Department. The group claims as its goal to promote peace and understanding and their study’s conclusion purports to be as even-handed as their approach to peace.

But the report’s claim that there is a rough moral equivalence between the attitudes of the Israeli and Palestinian education systems toward the promotion of hate is so far removed from reality as to render it useless as a measure of the problem. That study, which was rejected by a number of the academics who were part of the group commissioned to analyze the issue, must therefore be considered a contribution to the propaganda war against Israel rather than an effort to pave the way for accord between the two peoples.

As the Times noted:

Arnon Groiss, another Israeli member of the advisory panel, an Arabist, and the researcher and author of many previous reports critical of the Palestinian Authority textbooks, also refused to endorse the report, saying last week that he had not seen a final version. But he insisted that the authority’s textbooks “prepare the pupils for a future armed struggle for the elimination of the state of Israel.”

To seize on two points brought up in the Times article highlights the dishonesty of such a conclusion. The report claims that both school systems publish textbooks with maps that do not always show the other side’s claims. In practice this means that some Israeli books have maps that do not show the “green line” that marks the border between the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel while all Palestinian books depict both Israel and the territories as the state of Palestine.

That sounds like the same thing but it really isn’t. Israeli books depict the reality that the Jewish state does have control over the entire area. Asking them to show maps that show a state of Palestine that doesn’t already exist is absurd. On the other hand, what the Palestinians are showing not only contradicts reality but also shows their dream of destroying Israel.

The other example is even more egregious. The Times skims over the fact that the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority honors suicide bombers and other terrorists not just in schools but also in other venues. But it then compares this to the way Israeli schools honor the memory of Josef Trumpeldor, the hero of the defense of Tel Hai. Trumpeldor famously said after being fatally wounded that “Never mind, it’s good to die for our country.” The report compares this to the ethos of suicide bombers but the difference is that Trumpeldor died fighting to defend Jews from slaughter at the hands of Arab attackers, not deliberately sacrificing his life in order to kill innocents as the terrorists do.

It needs to be understood that the research on Palestinian education and media is voluminous and has left little doubt about the fact that the PA uses the schools as well as TV and radio to promote a nationalist spirit that sees the Jews as interlopers in the land which must be cleansed of their presence. If that has changed, there needs to be evidence that is not forthcoming. By contrast, peace education has been an integral part of the curriculum in Israeli schools since the beginning of the Oslo process 20 years ago. That means any assertion that there is any comparison between what is going on in the schools seems to hinge on the idea that telling the truth about the Palestinians will undermine the tenuous hope for peace.

This kind of thinking is similar to the mistakes made by both the United States government and some Israeli leaders who spent the 1990s ignoring Palestinian violations of the peace accords because they thought holding them accountable would derail negotiations. But, as veteran peace processor Dennis Ross later admitted, this was a cardinal error that only encouraged the Palestinians to trash any hope of peace and led to the violence of the second intifada.

The point here is not just that this report is wrongheaded but that it undermines hopes for peace rather than encouraging them. True interfaith understanding rests on facing the facts about the two different cultures, not pretending they are both the same when the differences are so powerful.

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Rachel Corrie Was No Peace Activist

The verdict handed down today by a Haifa court in the lawsuit filed by the parents of Rachel Corrie will be denounced by Israel-bashers everywhere, and taken as confirmation of their dim view of the country’s justice system. For them, Corrie, a 23-year-old member of the International Solidarity Movement who was killed in 2003, is a martyr to the cause of peace and freedom for the Palestinians. They continue to believe Corrie was deliberately run over by an Israeli bulldozer knocking down the homes of innocent Arabs. But, as the court rightly pointed out, the truth is that though her death was regrettable, it was an accident caused by her own rash behavior.

The structures that she was attempting to protect by lying down in front of a bulldozer were fronts for tunnels along the border between Egypt and Gaza through which munitions and explosives intended to kill innocent Israelis were being smuggled. Even more to the point, the idea that Corrie was in Gaza to promote peace is a myth. The purpose of the International Solidarity Movement’s activities in Gaza was to shield Hamas and Fatah terrorists and to prevent the Israel Defense Forces from carrying out measures intended to stop the flow of arms and terrorist activity. If Corrie’s parents, who have pursued efforts to hold the state of Israel responsible for her death, should sue anyone it is the group that led the foolish American to Gaza and deliberately placed her in harm’s way.

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The verdict handed down today by a Haifa court in the lawsuit filed by the parents of Rachel Corrie will be denounced by Israel-bashers everywhere, and taken as confirmation of their dim view of the country’s justice system. For them, Corrie, a 23-year-old member of the International Solidarity Movement who was killed in 2003, is a martyr to the cause of peace and freedom for the Palestinians. They continue to believe Corrie was deliberately run over by an Israeli bulldozer knocking down the homes of innocent Arabs. But, as the court rightly pointed out, the truth is that though her death was regrettable, it was an accident caused by her own rash behavior.

The structures that she was attempting to protect by lying down in front of a bulldozer were fronts for tunnels along the border between Egypt and Gaza through which munitions and explosives intended to kill innocent Israelis were being smuggled. Even more to the point, the idea that Corrie was in Gaza to promote peace is a myth. The purpose of the International Solidarity Movement’s activities in Gaza was to shield Hamas and Fatah terrorists and to prevent the Israel Defense Forces from carrying out measures intended to stop the flow of arms and terrorist activity. If Corrie’s parents, who have pursued efforts to hold the state of Israel responsible for her death, should sue anyone it is the group that led the foolish American to Gaza and deliberately placed her in harm’s way.

Over the past decade, pro-Palestinian groups and activists have done their best to burnish Corrie’s legend as an American idealist whose death shone a spotlight on Israeli evil. Her diary was adapted by actor Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner into a play–“My Name is Rachel Corrie”–which earned raves in London and a slightly less enthusiastic reception in New York. The play was the centerpiece of a propaganda campaign aimed at convincing the world that Israel was committing barbarous acts in Gaza against helpless people.

But the truth about the International Solidarity Movement was something very different than what has been depicted on stage. Rather than advocating a two-state solution, the group is opposed to the existence of the State of Israel and opposes all measures of self-defense on the part of the Jewish state. What was going on in Gaza during Corrie’s time there was a terrorist war of attrition in which Palestinians sought to bring Israel to its knees with a campaign of suicide bombings and other attacks which, over the course of the second intifada, took the lives of over 1,000 Israelis. You hear nothing about this in “My Name is Rachel Corrie” or any of the accounts of her activities by her fans. Nor do you see the Rachel Corrie captured in a photo of her at the time, face contorted by rage as she joins Palestinians in burning an American flag.

But, as British journalist Tom Gross memorably wrote back in 2005 in his piece, “The Forgotten Rachels,” those promoting the cult of Rachel Corrie don’t seem to care about the Jewish girls by the same name who were slaughtered by the terrorists the ISM activist sought to shield.

As for the particulars of the incident, Corrie’s death was unfortunate. But, as the judge said in his verdict, her death was an accident that occurred during “a military activity meant to prevent terrorist activity.” As the Times of Israel noted:

The commander of the troops on the scene, an infantry major, testified last year that the activists had ignored repeated warnings to leave and were endangering his troops. “It was a war zone,” he told the court. The judge repeated that description in Tuesday’s decision, saying that from the outbreak of violence in September, 2000, and until the day of Corrie’s death Israeli forces counted some 6,000 hand grenades thrown at them in the area, as well as 1,400 shooting attacks, 150 explosive devices, 200 anti-tank rockets and more than 40 instances of mortar fire.

As the judge said in his verdict: “She chose to put herself in danger. She could have easily distanced herself from the danger like any reasonable person would.”

The Jewish Rachels who died at the hands of Ms. Corrie’s Palestinian friends had no such chance. They were blown up or shot by Palestinians with munitions like those smuggled in the same tunnels that Corrie was protecting, while driving in a car, sitting in a pizza parlor, waiting for a bus, shopping in a grocery store or just sitting in their own home. But there are no plays about them.

Rachel Corrie should not have put herself in front of a bulldozer in the middle of the confusion of a military action in a war zone in which she was taking a side. Her death was as unnecessary as the intifada itself. Had the Palestinians accepted Israel’s offers of an independent state in 2000 and 2001 (and repeated and turned down again in 2008), there would have been no need for any hostilities in Gaza. But they chose war instead of peace and were aided by fools like Corrie in this futile endeavor. Peace will never come to the Middle East so long as Palestinians devoted to destroying Israel can count on the support of Western elites and pilgrims like Corrie to support their murderous activities.

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Peace Education Must Occur on Both Sides

Israelis and Jews around the world are rightly outraged about an attack on Arab teenagers by a group of Israeli Jewish teenage thugs on Monday. The attack is being described as a lynching and the fact that one 15-year-old suspect said of a 17-year-old victim who remains unconscious and hospitalized, “For my part he can die, he’s an Arab” has shocked many Israelis and friends of the Jewish state. The incident, which took part in Jerusalem’s Zion Square and was reportedly witnessed by hundreds of onlookers who were apparently too afraid or too indifferent to intervene has garnered international press coverage and set off a round of soul searching by many who wonder how the seeds of hate could have infected Jewish youth in this manner.

Israelis do well to worry about such violence, just as they should be deeply concerned about so-called “price tag” attacks on Arabs by Jews living in the West Bank. But those who are now openly indulging in speculation about Israel’s lost soul or its descent to barbarism need to take a deep breath before jumping to such conclusions. The incident and any such occurrence in which Arabs are subjected to violence in Israel is deplorable and must be punished severely. But the outsized interest in the story has all the hallmarks of the traditional journalist’s dictum about what sells: man bites dog, not dog bites man. Arab violence against Israelis is so common that it takes a horrific mass slaughter or a dramatic attack involving borders and third parties (such as the recent terror attack that came from Egyptian-controlled Sinai) in order for anyone, even Israelis themselves, to take much notice. But the infrequent instances when Israelis succumb to the atmosphere of hatred with which they have been surrounded for a century are treated as not only a very big deal but also a cause for the entire Jewish people to take stock of their moral compass.

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Israelis and Jews around the world are rightly outraged about an attack on Arab teenagers by a group of Israeli Jewish teenage thugs on Monday. The attack is being described as a lynching and the fact that one 15-year-old suspect said of a 17-year-old victim who remains unconscious and hospitalized, “For my part he can die, he’s an Arab” has shocked many Israelis and friends of the Jewish state. The incident, which took part in Jerusalem’s Zion Square and was reportedly witnessed by hundreds of onlookers who were apparently too afraid or too indifferent to intervene has garnered international press coverage and set off a round of soul searching by many who wonder how the seeds of hate could have infected Jewish youth in this manner.

Israelis do well to worry about such violence, just as they should be deeply concerned about so-called “price tag” attacks on Arabs by Jews living in the West Bank. But those who are now openly indulging in speculation about Israel’s lost soul or its descent to barbarism need to take a deep breath before jumping to such conclusions. The incident and any such occurrence in which Arabs are subjected to violence in Israel is deplorable and must be punished severely. But the outsized interest in the story has all the hallmarks of the traditional journalist’s dictum about what sells: man bites dog, not dog bites man. Arab violence against Israelis is so common that it takes a horrific mass slaughter or a dramatic attack involving borders and third parties (such as the recent terror attack that came from Egyptian-controlled Sinai) in order for anyone, even Israelis themselves, to take much notice. But the infrequent instances when Israelis succumb to the atmosphere of hatred with which they have been surrounded for a century are treated as not only a very big deal but also a cause for the entire Jewish people to take stock of their moral compass.

If you put it in the context of the one-hundred-year-old Arab war against Zionism and the culture of anti-Semitism and fomenting of hatred against Israel that is mainstream culture among Palestinians as well as other Arab countries like Egypt or Muslim lands like Iran, it is hardly surprising that a small minority of Israelis would wind up mirroring those deplorable sentiments.

Israelis are, after all, only human. When placed in terrible confrontations or difficult circumstances, it is only natural to lash out at violent enemies or to dehumanize the foe. If you think Americans are immune to such feelings, take a look at any popular American film produced during World War Two and see the way the Japanese are portrayed.

The real story here is not that a minority of Jews have fallen prey to the same sort of hatred that predominates the mainstream discourse among Arabs but that most have not.

Let’s also remember that violence against Jews in the West Bank is routine. Stone throwing at cars (which sometimes result in fatal crashes), shooting incidents and stabbing attacks are the stuff of everyday life there. Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem or Israeli Arab towns and villages are often no-go zones for Jews in a way that most Jewish cities and towns are not for Arabs.

To state these facts is to neither excuse nor rationalize the Jerusalem attack. Israeli schools already emphasize peace education but that message is often undermined by the knowledge that no such programs are being taught in the West Bank while the Arab media both in the Palestinian areas and in supposedly civilized countries like Egypt are drenched in anti-Semitism. Jews should do all they can to educate their kids to turn away from hate. But until their Arab neighbors emulate this practice, we shouldn’t be surprised when we discover that such efforts are not always successful.

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Dismantling Settlements Won’t Stop Iran

The reaction of the New York Times to the report authored by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edward Levy about the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank was predictable. It fulminated about the way the Levy commission differed from the consensus in the international community that holds, as the Times editorial put it, that “all Israeli construction there as a violation of international law.” But the Times is not just exercised about the legal dispute that it dismisses in a couple of sentences without even looking seriously at the arguments. As far as the paper is concerned, any measure or idea that does not contribute to the push to get Israel to leave the West Bank is an obstacle to peace and a threat to the Jewish state. Even worse, it went so far as to speciously claim that the ongoing dispute about settlements is diverting attention from the attempt to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

This is a red herring that should and will be ignored by both the Israel and American governments. Iran is a threat to Israel but it is also a danger to the surrounding Arab countries as well as to the West. Israeli concessions won’t dampen Iran’s resolve to go nuclear because Tehran doesn’t care about a two-state solution for the Palestinians. Their hatred of Israel and the Jews and desire for hegemony over the Arabs can’t be bought off in this manner. But the mention of Iran should remind observers that what Israel’s foes oppose is not Israel’s presence in the West Bank but it’s existence.

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The reaction of the New York Times to the report authored by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edward Levy about the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank was predictable. It fulminated about the way the Levy commission differed from the consensus in the international community that holds, as the Times editorial put it, that “all Israeli construction there as a violation of international law.” But the Times is not just exercised about the legal dispute that it dismisses in a couple of sentences without even looking seriously at the arguments. As far as the paper is concerned, any measure or idea that does not contribute to the push to get Israel to leave the West Bank is an obstacle to peace and a threat to the Jewish state. Even worse, it went so far as to speciously claim that the ongoing dispute about settlements is diverting attention from the attempt to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

This is a red herring that should and will be ignored by both the Israel and American governments. Iran is a threat to Israel but it is also a danger to the surrounding Arab countries as well as to the West. Israeli concessions won’t dampen Iran’s resolve to go nuclear because Tehran doesn’t care about a two-state solution for the Palestinians. Their hatred of Israel and the Jews and desire for hegemony over the Arabs can’t be bought off in this manner. But the mention of Iran should remind observers that what Israel’s foes oppose is not Israel’s presence in the West Bank but it’s existence.

What Levy’s critics are doing is, as I wrote earlier this week, conflating the issue of legality with that of the wisdom of the settlement enterprise. But what the Times editorial, as well as most of the comment about this issue ignores is that the question of the continued Israeli presence in the territories is not one that is controlled by Levy or even Prime Minister Netanyahu. Rather, it is the Palestinians and their refusal to make peace even when offered most of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem for an independent state. So long as Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Hamas allies refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, the settlements will remain since withdrawal would remain of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal disaster. Should they ever truly choose peace, there is no question that many will be dismantled. That’s why the obsessive desire to brand the settlements as illegal and to depict the Jews as foreign colonizers in areas in places where Jewish civilization was born and thrived does nothing to advance the cause of peace. So long as the Palestinians think that they don’t have to negotiate over the territories, the status quo will remain in place.

There is a connection between the question of the settlements and Iran but it is not the one the Times thinks it is. In the minds of those Islamists who wish to destroy Israel— be they in Tehran, Gaza or here in the United States agitating against Israel — the West Bank settlers are no different from the cosmopolitan urban dwellers of Tel Aviv. To them, every Jew in the country, whether in the coastal cities or hilltop settlements is an illegal settler. From their point of view the whole idea of Israel, be it within the 1949 armistice lines or one that would incorporate some of the settlements in the sort of territorial swap that even President Obama has recognized as the only possible formula for a two-state solution is anathema.

Far from discouraging Israel’s foes, the push to brand the settlements as not just unwise but illegal gives encouragement to those Arabs and Muslims who still nurture the fantasy that Israel is on the brink of collapse. While the majority of Israelis do not wish to rule over Arabs in the West Bank any more than they did to control those of Gaza, from which Israel completely withdrew in 2005, until the Palestinians give up the dream of the end of the Jewish state, there will be no peace. Those who decry Levy’s report upholding Jewish rights while not saying that they must be exercised are only feeding this delusion rather than promoting peace. Nor are they doing anything to give Western leaders the guts to stand up to Iran.

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Choosing Hatred Over Clean Water

If you want to understand the real reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been unsolvable for decades, one fact suffices: Palestinian leaders and activists would rather deprive their entire population of fresh water than allow an Israeli company to land a contract.

And if that assertion seems far-fetched, just consider what befell UNICEF last week when it sought to move forward with plans to build a desalination plant in Gaza.

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If you want to understand the real reason why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been unsolvable for decades, one fact suffices: Palestinian leaders and activists would rather deprive their entire population of fresh water than allow an Israeli company to land a contract.

And if that assertion seems far-fetched, just consider what befell UNICEF last week when it sought to move forward with plans to build a desalination plant in Gaza.

According to both the UN and the Palestinians themselves, Gaza has a desperate shortage of pure drinking water. An official report issued by the Palestinian Water Authority last year stated that 90 percent of Gaza’s water supply is polluted, posing a serious threat to the health of Palestinian residents. A report issued the previous year by the UN Environment Program put the figure at 95 percent. Thus, if ever a place was in desperate need of a desalination plant, it’s Gaza. So UNICEF decided to step into the breach.

The agency’s policy, as its spokeswoman subsequently explained in an effort to justify its behavior, is always to buy from Palestinians if a qualified Palestinian vendor exists. Unfortunately, Palestinian companies don’t make desalination plants. But a world leader in the field happens to sit conveniently just over the border from Gaza, so UNICEF innocently thought the best solution, in terms of quality and cost-effectiveness, would be to invite bids from Israeli firms.

At that point, all hell broke loose. Gaza’s elected Hamas government announced that no Israeli would be allowed to set foot in Gaza. The Palestinian Contractors Union condemned UNICEF, announced a boycott of the agency and warned fellow Palestinians against cooperating with Israeli bidders. Other Palestinian groups threatened to stage protests against UNICEF and shut down its offices.

In other words, the Hamas government, the contractors union and other Palestinian civil-society groups all decided that letting their fellow Palestinians continue to drink polluted water was better than allowing an Israeli firm to win the contract. They would rather do without the plant than give any business to Israelis.

UNICEF hasn’t actually awarded the contract yet, so it may back down and buy the plant elsewhere. Having it built by a company based farther away would probably take longer and cost more, but the Palestinians don’t care: They’ve already made it clear that depriving Israeli firms of business takes precedence over clean drinking water for their people, and as for cost, the international community is picking up the tab anyway.

But regardless of what happens to this particular project, the lesson is clear: Faced with a choice between promoting their people’s welfare and harming Israel, both the elected Palestinian government and civil-society leaders unhesitatingly chose the latter. And until Palestinians reverse this order of priorities, peace will continue to be impossible.

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Iran Agreement as Obvious — and Unlikely — as Peace with the Palestinians

For some in the foreign policy establishment, the solution to all the problems of the world are as obvious as the noses on our faces. Worried about Iranian nukes? Just cut a deal with them allowing the ayatollahs to develop nuclear power for peace purposes like medical research while theoretically denying them the ability to build a weapon. And make it all happen with “confidence-building” measures that will break down the barriers of distrust. David Ignatius’ column in the Washington Post outlining the deal with Iran that he thinks will ultimately come from the negotiating process begun last weekend in Istanbul is just one of many voices proclaiming that an end to the confrontation with Tehran is already well-understood, and all we have to do is stop listening to the alarmists and let the danger pass.

If the claim the blueprint for an Iran deal is apparent seems familiar it is because it is strikingly similar to the arguments about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. There, too, we are informed the outline of an accord is already well-known, and all that remains to be done is to force the parties to sign on the dotted line. But as is the case with the Palestinians, the chattering classes’ confidence in the diplomatic process tells us more about their own lack of understanding of the other side in the negotiations than it does about the actual prospects for a deal. Just as the Palestinians have no real interest in peace with Israel, Iran’s nuclear ambitions will always trump the seemingly sensible solutions proposed to get them off the hook with the international community.

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For some in the foreign policy establishment, the solution to all the problems of the world are as obvious as the noses on our faces. Worried about Iranian nukes? Just cut a deal with them allowing the ayatollahs to develop nuclear power for peace purposes like medical research while theoretically denying them the ability to build a weapon. And make it all happen with “confidence-building” measures that will break down the barriers of distrust. David Ignatius’ column in the Washington Post outlining the deal with Iran that he thinks will ultimately come from the negotiating process begun last weekend in Istanbul is just one of many voices proclaiming that an end to the confrontation with Tehran is already well-understood, and all we have to do is stop listening to the alarmists and let the danger pass.

If the claim the blueprint for an Iran deal is apparent seems familiar it is because it is strikingly similar to the arguments about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. There, too, we are informed the outline of an accord is already well-known, and all that remains to be done is to force the parties to sign on the dotted line. But as is the case with the Palestinians, the chattering classes’ confidence in the diplomatic process tells us more about their own lack of understanding of the other side in the negotiations than it does about the actual prospects for a deal. Just as the Palestinians have no real interest in peace with Israel, Iran’s nuclear ambitions will always trump the seemingly sensible solutions proposed to get them off the hook with the international community.

Ignatius gives a fair summary of what is thought to be the easy way out of the Iran tangle:

The mechanics of an eventual settlement are clear enough after Saturday’s first session in Istanbul: Iran would agree to stop enriching uranium to the 20 percent level and to halt work at an underground facility near Qom built for higher enrichment. Iran would export its stockpile of highly enriched uranium for final processing to 20 percent, for use in medical isotopes.

But any agreement that recognizes, as the Iranians put it, their “right” to peaceful nuclear energy, leaves far too many loopholes for the regime to eventually change its mind and switch to a weapons program. Moreover, the West has been down the garden path with Iran several times in the last decade. Each time, a deal such as the one Ignatius mentions has been put forward and seemingly agreed upon only to be spiked by the Iranians. Their goal has always been to use negotiations to obfuscate the issues and delay the West while their nuclear scientists gain more time to reach their goal. While the tougher sanctions recently enacted in response to the possibility that Israel will act on its own to end this threat raise the stakes in the talks, the Iranians are approaching them in much the same way as in previous diplomatic encounters. Though the solution seems obvious to people like Ignatius and the Western diplomats who trooped to Istanbul and will go next month to Baghdad for the next round of talks, the Iranians have a completely different agenda.

The same problem pops up whenever the obvious solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is mooted. There again, smart people in the West tell us that a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and part of Jerusalem can be created with territorial swaps to allow Israel to keep most of its West Bank settlements. Like the proposed Iranian deal, that scheme also has its flaws (that a divided Jerusalem will be a recipe for future conflict is just the most obvious), but the main obstacle to its implementation is not Israeli reluctance but the fact that the Palestinians don’t want it.

Just as the Palestinians refuse to do the sensible thing and make peace, the Iranians also have every incentive to give up their enriched uranium and thus end both international sanctions and the possibility of an attack on their facilities. But like the Palestinians, the Iranians may have other priorities than peace. They may regard their goal of a nuclear weapon as being more important and will use any “window of diplomacy” proposed by the West as a ploy to get what they want.

What may be really obvious here are not the blueprints for a deal but Iran’s strategy for fooling a gullible Western foreign policy establishment.

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Explaining the Everlasting Palestinian “No”

It is an axiom of conventional wisdom about the Middle East that the government of Israel is a hard-line opponent of peace that must be pressured and cajoled to deal with the Palestinians for the sake of the survival of its people. This chestnut is an evergreen of foreign policy discussion used against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predecessors that has always been false. But the persistence of this canard in the face of contrary evidence is testimony to the strength of anti-Israel prejudices among the chattering classes.

If this notion could survive the Palestinian leadership’s decision to turn down offers from Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008 that would have given them a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem, then it will certainly outlast today’s refusal of the Palestinian Authority of Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks without preconditions. Nevertheless, those wondering why such an ardent supporter of the Palestinians like President Obama has abandoned them in the last year can’t blame it all on election year politics. Having staked out positions and picked fights with the Israelis to tilt the diplomatic playing field to the Palestinians directly, even he understands there’s no point getting into arguments for the sake of a group that simply won’t talk, let alone make peace, under any conditions.

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It is an axiom of conventional wisdom about the Middle East that the government of Israel is a hard-line opponent of peace that must be pressured and cajoled to deal with the Palestinians for the sake of the survival of its people. This chestnut is an evergreen of foreign policy discussion used against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predecessors that has always been false. But the persistence of this canard in the face of contrary evidence is testimony to the strength of anti-Israel prejudices among the chattering classes.

If this notion could survive the Palestinian leadership’s decision to turn down offers from Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008 that would have given them a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem, then it will certainly outlast today’s refusal of the Palestinian Authority of Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks without preconditions. Nevertheless, those wondering why such an ardent supporter of the Palestinians like President Obama has abandoned them in the last year can’t blame it all on election year politics. Having staked out positions and picked fights with the Israelis to tilt the diplomatic playing field to the Palestinians directly, even he understands there’s no point getting into arguments for the sake of a group that simply won’t talk, let alone make peace, under any conditions.

The Palestinians claim their refusal of negotiations is based on the idea that it is pointless to talk if Israel isn’t going to concede every point of contention such as borders and settlements in advance. Part of this is, however, Obama’s fault. Since he demanded three years ago that Israel freeze settlement building as a precondition to negotiations — something that not even the Palestinians had thought of prior to 2009 — it is difficult for PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to insist on anything less. But since Israel already froze building in the West Bank in 2010 and Abbas still wouldn’t talk, the point is moot.

The fact is, neither Abbas or his Hamas coalition partners have any intention of ever signing a piece of paper that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state and therefore end the conflict for all time. This is something that even Obama is beginning to understand, but it is one that many liberals and others who think the struggle over this tiny plot of land is about borders find inexplicable. Yet, it is actually quite easy to understand.

Palestinian nationalism flowered in the last century not as an attempt to recreate an ancient ethnic or national identity or to recover a dying language or culture, as was the case with nationalist revivals in places like Ireland, the Czech Republic or even the Jewish movement of Zionism. Rather, it was a reaction to the Jewish return to the land. Though apologists for the Palestinians contend that it was not a purely negative movement, it is impossible to understand Palestinian nationalism as anything but an effort to prevent Zionism from succeeding. Its essence is the illegitimacy of the Jewish state, and any effort to wean it from that belief constitutes a contradiction that the Palestinian grass roots and its vast refugee diaspora simply cannot accept.

It is this everlasting Palestinian “no” that is the basic fact of the Middle East conflict that cannot be talked out of existence. Nor can it be charmed away by Israeli concessions that stop short of the destruction of the Jewish state.

Anyone who doesn’t comprehend this will never be able to explain this latest Palestinian refusal to talk, those that came before it, and the inevitable “no’s” that will follow.

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Violence and Rejectionism at the Heart of Palestinian “Land Day” Show

Today’s “Land Day” demonstrations at various places in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza border, as well as a march on the Israeli-Lebanese border, are all intended to bring attention to the Palestinian campaign against Israel and to increase international sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. But the violent nature of the protests and the demands raised by those participating give the lie to the notion that any of this has anything to do with the cause of Middle East peace.

By flinging rocks at Israeli forces in the hope that they will respond with deadly force, the Palestinians are playing their usual game in which they hope to sacrifice some of their youth in exchange for damaging the reputation of the Jewish state. More to the point, should anyone actually be listening to what they are screaming, the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders are also making it clear their goal is Israel’s destruction.

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Today’s “Land Day” demonstrations at various places in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza border, as well as a march on the Israeli-Lebanese border, are all intended to bring attention to the Palestinian campaign against Israel and to increase international sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians. But the violent nature of the protests and the demands raised by those participating give the lie to the notion that any of this has anything to do with the cause of Middle East peace.

By flinging rocks at Israeli forces in the hope that they will respond with deadly force, the Palestinians are playing their usual game in which they hope to sacrifice some of their youth in exchange for damaging the reputation of the Jewish state. More to the point, should anyone actually be listening to what they are screaming, the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders are also making it clear their goal is Israel’s destruction.

“Land Day” is an annual event that commemorates a dispute over the property of some Arab villages that turned violent in the 1970s. But it is no civil libertarian holiday. As today’s demonstrations have once again reminded us, the goal of the Palestinian street as well as those foreigners who parachute into the country to help stir the point on the issue, is to promote the “right of return” by which Arabs hope to flood the Jewish state with the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

Many of Israel’s critics — including those Jews who pose as Zionists while preaching boycotts and sanctions that give cover to a rising tide of anti-Semitic incitement around the globe — ignore what the Palestinians say they want and instead, pretend that the dispute is about borders and settlements. But as today’s events illustrate, they have but minimal interest in the Jewish communities in the West Bank, the vast majority of which are near the 1967 lines. Instead, they are focused on the nature of the Jewish state itself. The Land Day extravaganza is about an attempt to reverse the verdict of 1948, not to place an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Moreover, despite the fact that the Palestinians are constantly talking about transforming the conflict by adopting the non-violent protest methods of Gandhi, the nature of their political culture is such that they appear incapable of doing so. Violence is always a given at these events.

That is due in part to the desire of the organizers to create a new batch of martyrs to be celebrated so as to blacken Israel’s name. As accounts of today’s events make clear, the whole point is to create theatre for the cameras of the international press.

But the violence is also a function of Palestinian politics that has unfortunately always valued the spilling of blood over anything else. This is also related to the plain fact that Palestinian nationalism came into existence in the 20th century as a reaction to Zionism rather than as part of a national cultural revival as was the case with other modern national cultures. This negative impulse is why recognition of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state is something no Palestinian leader can accept. It is also why violence against Jews and Israel is still the only way for such leaders to establish their own bona fides.

The “Land Day” show will accomplish nothing for the Palestinians except to further confirm the dead-end path of violence and confrontation in which they are stuck. If their foreign friends wish to help them, they could do so by ceasing to support these pointless exercises in violence and to begin coming to terms with the permanence of the Jewish state.

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Revisiting the Failed Gaza Experiment

This past weekend, southern Israel was hit by more than 200 rockets flying over the border from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Dozens of the missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system but most got through with some casualties and damage. The lives of more than a million Israelis living in the southern part of the country were disrupted by the assault. Schools were closed as the population was urged to take shelter until the latest crisis passed.

To the extent the world is paying much attention to this (it was overshadowed by the story of the American soldier who murdered Afghan civilians) it has been in the form of the usual “cycle of violence” stories that depict the situation as one in which both Israel and the Palestinians are seen as being at fault. As is generally the case, the focus quickly shifts to efforts to reinstate a cease-fire, with Secretary of State Clinton condemning the missile fire while also calling for both sides to show “restraint.” But the real issue here is not who started it or how well the Iron Dome system is working. It is the way Israel must learn to live with an independent Palestinian state in Gaza in all but name that is run by terrorists. Those who continue to demand Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as they did from Gaza in 2005, need to understand the lessons of that failed experiment will not be forgotten.

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This past weekend, southern Israel was hit by more than 200 rockets flying over the border from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Dozens of the missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system but most got through with some casualties and damage. The lives of more than a million Israelis living in the southern part of the country were disrupted by the assault. Schools were closed as the population was urged to take shelter until the latest crisis passed.

To the extent the world is paying much attention to this (it was overshadowed by the story of the American soldier who murdered Afghan civilians) it has been in the form of the usual “cycle of violence” stories that depict the situation as one in which both Israel and the Palestinians are seen as being at fault. As is generally the case, the focus quickly shifts to efforts to reinstate a cease-fire, with Secretary of State Clinton condemning the missile fire while also calling for both sides to show “restraint.” But the real issue here is not who started it or how well the Iron Dome system is working. It is the way Israel must learn to live with an independent Palestinian state in Gaza in all but name that is run by terrorists. Those who continue to demand Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as they did from Gaza in 2005, need to understand the lessons of that failed experiment will not be forgotten.

This latest dustup along the border started when the Israeli Defense Forces acted to foil an impending terror attack being launched by one of the dissident Islamic groups that operate in Gaza with Hamas’s permission. The Popular Resistance Committees’ leader and several of his terrorist cadres were killed by Israeli action. The Palestinians responded with a massive missile barrage in response to the Israeli “aggression.” But as Israelis who live in the region know, missile fire from Gaza is hardly an unusual occurrence. Since the cease-fire agreed to by Hamas and Israel in January 2009, more than 1,200 rockets have been fired from Gaza, including 100 in just the last month prior to this weekend’s fighting.

The missiles are a fact of life in southern Israel, and though the country has learned to live with this threat, it has taken a toll on the people who live there that is often ignored abroad as well as by some who live in the central part of the country not currently under fire. If anything, the improved missile defense has lessened some of the pressure on the Israeli government to consider a repeat of the December 2008 Operation Cast Lead in which the IDF conducted a counter-offensive designed to silence the intolerable attacks on the country.

But few in Israel are oblivious to the meaning of this standoff. By its withdrawal of every settlement, soldier and Jew from Gaza in 2005, Israel set the stage for the creation of a terrorist state there that has given an indifferent world a foretaste of what Palestinian independence looks like. The assumption then, reinforced by the presence of the legendarily tough Ariel Sharon in the prime minister’s office, was that any cross-border attacks would be met with such force as to make them unlikely. However, the terrorist government of the strip has launched terrorist attacks on Israel with relative impunity and counts on the international community’s outrage to force Israel to always respond to these provocations with the “restraint” that Secretary Clinton desires. It is far from clear the stricken Sharon would have been any more capable of reversing this situation than his successors Ehud Olmert or Benjamin Netanyahu.

While few in Israel seek a permanent return to Gaza as they have no interest in ruling over Palestinians there, possible negotiations with the Palestinian Authority about withdrawal from the West Bank are necessarily informed by this example. Should the West Bank become as much of a no-go zone for the IDF as Gaza is, the likelihood of its long border with central Israel turning into another battleground is a nightmare for Israelis. With Hamas now planning on joining Fatah in the government of the West Bank, it takes little imagination to understand what a sovereign Palestinian state there would mean for Israel’s security. Rather than rockets flying over just the southern portion of the country, Hamas would acquire the ability to terrorize the whole of Israel as well as to interdict flights out of its international airport. No missile defense system could possibly protect the nation under those circumstances.

The vast majority of Israelis, including the majority of the members of its right-of-center government, have embraced a two-state solution as the answer to the conflict. Were the PA to return to the negotiating table, they would find most Israelis willing to talk about such an outcome. But the missiles flying out of Gaza provide us with a vision of what an independent Palestinian state actually looks like. So long as the Palestinian sovereignty is expressed in this manner, there is little chance Israel will be so foolish as to repeat the failed experiment in Gaza.

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