Commentary Magazine


Topic: Middle East peace process

The Palestinians’ UN Charade Collapses

In the end, there wasn’t much suspense about the Obama administration’s decision whether to support a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing a Palestinian state. After weeks of pointless negotiations over proposed texts, including a compromise endorsed by the French and other European nations, the wording of the proposal that the Palestinians persuaded Arab nations to put forward was so outrageous that even President Obama couldn’t even think about letting it pass because it would undermine his own policies. And the rest of the international community is just as unenthusiastic about it. In a very real sense this episode is the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nutshell: the world wants to do something for the Palestinians but their leaders are more interested in pointless shows than in actually negotiating peace or doing something to improve the lives of their people.

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In the end, there wasn’t much suspense about the Obama administration’s decision whether to support a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing a Palestinian state. After weeks of pointless negotiations over proposed texts, including a compromise endorsed by the French and other European nations, the wording of the proposal that the Palestinians persuaded Arab nations to put forward was so outrageous that even President Obama couldn’t even think about letting it pass because it would undermine his own policies. And the rest of the international community is just as unenthusiastic about it. In a very real sense this episode is the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nutshell: the world wants to do something for the Palestinians but their leaders are more interested in pointless shows than in actually negotiating peace or doing something to improve the lives of their people.

The resolution that was presented to the Security Council was so extreme that Jordan, the sole Arab nation that is currently a member, didn’t want anything to do with it. But, after intense lobbying by the Palestinian Authority representative, the rest of the Arab nations prevailed upon Jordan and they put it forward where it will almost certainly languish indefinitely without a vote since its fate is preordained.

The terms it put forward were of Israeli surrender and nothing more. The Jewish state would be given one year to withdraw from all of the territory it won in a defensive war of survival in 1967 where a Palestinian state would be created. That state would not be demilitarized nor would there be any guarantees of security for Israel which would not be granted mutual recognition as the nation state of the Jewish people, a clear sign that the Palestinians are not ready to give up their century-long war against Zionism even inside the pre-1967 lines.

This is a diktat, not a peace proposal, since there would be nothing for Israel to negotiate about during the 12-month period of preparation. Of course, even if the Palestinians had accepted the slightly more reasonable terms proposed by the French, that would have also been true. But that measure would have at least given the appearance of a mutual cessation of hostilities and an acceptance of the principle of coexistence. But even those concessions, let alone a renunciation of the “right of return,” was not possible for a PA that is rightly fearful of being supplanted by Hamas. So long as Palestinian nationalism remains wedded to rejection of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn, no one should expect the PA to end the conflict or actually make peace.

Though many of us have been understandably focused on the question of how far President Obama might go to vent his spleen at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government, that petty drama is, as it has always been, a sideshow distraction from the real problem at the core of the Middle East peace process: Palestinian rejectionism.

Though the administration has tirelessly praised PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a champion of peace in order to encourage him to live up to that reputation, he had other priorities. Rather than negotiate in good faith with the Israelis, Abbas blew up the talks last year by signing a unity pact with Hamas that he never had any intention of keeping. The purpose of that stunt, like the current UN drama, isn’t to make a Palestinian state more likely or even to increase Abbas’s leverage in the talks. Rather, it is merely a delaying tactic, and a gimmick intended to waste time, avoid negotiations, and to deflect any pressure on the PA to either sign an agreement with Israel or to turn it down.

That’s not just because the Palestinians wrongly believe that time is on their side in the conflict, a dubious assumption that some on the Israeli left also believe. The reason for these tactics is that Abbas is as incapable of making peace as he is of making war.

This is not just another case of the Palestinians “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” in Abba Eban’s immortal and quite accurate summary of their actions over the years. It’s that they are so wedded to unrealistic expectations about Israel’s decline that it would be inconceivable for them to take advantage of any opening to peace. That is why they turned down Israeli offers of statehood, including control of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem, three times and refused to deal seriously with a fourth such negotiation with Netanyahu last year.

And it’s why the endless quarrels between Obama and Netanyahu over the peace process are so pointless. No matter how much Obama tilts the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction or how often he and his supporters prattle on about time running out for Israel, Abbas has no intention of signing a peace agreement. The negotiations as well as their maneuverings at the UN and elsewhere are nothing but a charade for the PA and nothing Netanyahu could do, including offering dangerous concessions, would change that. The sooner Western leaders stop playing along with their game, the better it will be for the Palestinian people who continue to be exploited by their leaders.

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Writing a Better UN Resolution Won’t Work

European and American diplomats have spent the last week locked in negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian Authority over a draft resolution that may be presented tomorrow to the United Nations Security Council. The measure will be an attempt to get UN recognition for a Palestinian state in the lands taken by Israel in the Six-Day War and to force the Jewish state to accept this diktat. But the effort expended trying to modify the resolution so as to make it a genuine step toward peace is a waste of time. If the Palestinians wanted to negotiate peace with Israel, the conflict would have ended a long time ago. The purpose of this exercise is not to jumpstart negotiations; the purpose is to help the Palestinians avoid them while placing intolerable pressure on Israel to make dangerous concessions.

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European and American diplomats have spent the last week locked in negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian Authority over a draft resolution that may be presented tomorrow to the United Nations Security Council. The measure will be an attempt to get UN recognition for a Palestinian state in the lands taken by Israel in the Six-Day War and to force the Jewish state to accept this diktat. But the effort expended trying to modify the resolution so as to make it a genuine step toward peace is a waste of time. If the Palestinians wanted to negotiate peace with Israel, the conflict would have ended a long time ago. The purpose of this exercise is not to jumpstart negotiations; the purpose is to help the Palestinians avoid them while placing intolerable pressure on Israel to make dangerous concessions.

In theory, the work of the Americans and the Europeans, especially the French, after whom the current draft is being called, is laudable. Knowing that the Palestinians intend to push hard for a resolution at the Security Council, the diplomats have reacted instinctively and sought to create a draft that will do as little harm as possible. In practice that means they have tried to include language that would call for the parties to recognize each other and even hinted at a text that would recognize in some way that Israel is a Jewish state. They’ve also sought to make it require the two sides to negotiate peace before Israel would be forced to withdraw to the 1967 lines and allow a sovereign Palestinian state to be created in the West Bank and part of Jerusalem.

On the surface, that sounds fair to most people. After all, Israel’s position all along has been that it is willing, even eager to negotiate peace with the Palestinians and even the supposedly “hard line” Netanyahu government has said that it was willing to accept a two-state solution. But contrary to the conventional wisdom of the mainstream media, it has never been Israel or Netanyahu that was the obstacle to negotiations or peace. The Palestinians turned down Israeli offers of peace and statehood including Gaza almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008 and blew up the talks with Netanyahu last year because PA leader Mahmoud Abbas feared being put in a position where he would have to either accept an accord or formally turn it down.

What Abbas wants is to avoid being put in such a difficult position again. That is why he has undertaken an end-run around the peace negotiations sponsored by the U.S. The purpose of the stunt is not to jumpstart more talks but to avoid them altogether.

The point is, even if the draft produced by the French and the Obama administration were to include language about mutual recognition of “Palestine” and a specifically Jewish state of Israel and stating that a withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem would have to be preceded by talks between the parties, that wouldn’t motivate the Palestinians to negotiate peace. Indeed, once they have the force of a UN resolution mandating Israel’s complete withdrawal from the territories they would be officially absolved of any need to talk. They would then merely sit back and wait until the two-year deadline expired and then demand, with the support of the rest of a world that is irredeemably hostile to Israel, a complete Israeli withdrawal from all of the land including Jerusalem without paying for any of it in terms of mutual recognition, security guarantees, or any real assurance that they are prepared to end the conflict.

The reason why this is not an abstract point is that Palestinian nationalism remains inextricably tied to a war against Zionism that has lasted more than a century. Abbas, the supposed moderate, remains adamantly opposed to recognition of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn and continues to speak of a “right of return”—a measure that is synonymous with Israel’s destruction. Meanwhile his erstwhile partners/rivals, the Hamas terrorist group that operates an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, remain wedded not merely to the principle of Israel’s destruction but to waging active war upon it.

A Security Council resolution that will have the effect of binding international law will not merely further stiffen the resistance of either Hamas or Abbas’s Fatah to making the sort of concessions that are required for peace; it will embolden them never to do so. Indeed, that is why the wording of the final text doesn’t matter. So long as it contains language that demands that Israel withdraw from all of the land, there will be nothing to negotiate about. The Palestinians will simply demand everything and unless it is prepared to repeat the experiment of the Gaza withdrawal in the West Bank, Israel must say no and face mounting international isolation.

This may please some Americans, including the Obama foreign-policy team, which has always sought to pressure the Israelis into wholesale withdrawals regardless of the consequences for its security or its rights to what is disputed territory. But such a resolution is a guarantee that not only is peace impossible but that the process the U.S. has worked so hard to revive will be dead as well.

That is why the Obama administration should cease wasting time negotiating with the French over the language of the resolution and instead concentrate on ensuring that it does not get the nine voters in the Council that would force a vote. If it does come to a vote, the U.S. must, regardless of President Obama’s antipathy for Netanyahu, veto it. The alternative is the end of any hope for peace as well as of any U.S. influence over events.

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No UN Palestinian Veto? Obama’s Tempted.

This week push may come to shove on the long-simmering feud between President Obama and the Israeli government. With the Palestinians pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution that would unilaterally recognize their independence in the territory won by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, the administration must decide whether it is truly in its interests to facilitate an end run around the peace process it has sponsored by refusing to veto the measure just to demonstrate its pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu and or undermine his chances for reelection in the March elections. But while the stakes here are high for both Israel, whose isolation could be greatly increased by passage of such a resolution, and Netanyahu, the danger to Obama’s foreign policy and U.S. interests from such a vote is high as well. Just as important, the notion that passage of this resolution has anything to do with promoting peace is farcical.

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This week push may come to shove on the long-simmering feud between President Obama and the Israeli government. With the Palestinians pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution that would unilaterally recognize their independence in the territory won by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, the administration must decide whether it is truly in its interests to facilitate an end run around the peace process it has sponsored by refusing to veto the measure just to demonstrate its pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu and or undermine his chances for reelection in the March elections. But while the stakes here are high for both Israel, whose isolation could be greatly increased by passage of such a resolution, and Netanyahu, the danger to Obama’s foreign policy and U.S. interests from such a vote is high as well. Just as important, the notion that passage of this resolution has anything to do with promoting peace is farcical.

The Palestinian Authority’s motives for seeking to gain a Security Council vote on recognition of their independence are clear. They claim that the peace negotiations promoted by the U.S. over the years has not brought them closer to their declared goal of gaining a state and that only by having the international community force its hand will Israel ever be willing to retreat to the 1967 lines and let Palestinians enjoy sovereignty and self-determination. That is the argument behind the decisions of several European parliaments to adopt resolutions endorsing Palestinian statehood.

But it must be understood that this campaign is about avoiding a negotiated end to the conflict, not finding a shortcut to one. The Palestinians have, after all, been offered statehood in Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem three times by the Israelis in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Even Netanyahu’s government arrived at the negotiations sponsored by Secretary of State Kerry in the last year prepared to offer another two-state solution with a prominent advocate of this plan, Tzipi Livni, as their negotiator. But PA leader Mahmoud Abbas blew up those talks just as he fled the table in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him virtually everything he had asked for. The obstacle wasn’t Israeli settlements or intransigence, but the fact that Abbas knows it would be political suicide for him to sign any deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one, no matter where its borders were drawn.

What the Palestinians want, in other words, is a way to avoid negotiations that would obligate them in one form or another to end the conflict with Israel as the price of their independence. The problem with negotiations isn’t that the Israelis, even Netanyahu, have been intransigent, but that no matter how much Obama and Kerry tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, a solution must in the end require them to make peace. The UN resolution they want would merely obligate the Israelis to retreat from more territory without any assurances that what happened when they gave up every inch of Gaza in 2005—the creation of a terrorist Hamas state—would not happen again in the more strategic and larger West Bank.

Obama would savor the embarrassment this would cause Netanyahu, whose chances for reelection might be damaged by an open breach with the United States and the country’s increased isolation as the world demanded it give up land without offering it peace. But this would also mean the effective end of a major portion of the president’s foreign-policy focus: the achievement of a Middle East peace agreement. It would also mark the end of U.S. influence over either side to the confrontation as both Israelis and Palestinians would no longer need or have any desire to gravitate to the U.S.

The surge in Palestinian violence and the growing support for their statehood among European governments may cause Obama to feel more pressure to go along with Western European allies. Just as important, he may be dismayed by the thought that another veto that backs up a negotiated path to Palestinian statehood will be interpreted by Israelis as proving that Netanyahu has, contrary to his critics, not destroyed the alliance. The irony that a decision by the prime minister’s bitter American enemy would help undermine arguments for Netanyahu’s replacement has to worry Obama. But he should also be worried by the blowback from a failure to order a veto.

The president’s hard-core left-wing supporters might defend such a decision but it would be widely condemned by most Democrats, who will rightly see it as a cynical betrayal of principle motivated more by personal grudges than the national interest. It might also backfire in Israel since voters there would be entitled to say the non-veto was proof of Obama’s irremediable hostility to the Jewish state and might motivate many to back Netanyahu so as to demonstrate their unwillingness to be intimidated into accepting measures that would undermine their security and rights.

The optimal scenario for Obama is to avoid any vote on Palestinian independence in the Security Council that would destroy the peace process. But if he is in this difficult position, it’s largely the fault of his own efforts. After spending the last few years bending over backwards trying to demonstrate daylight between the positions of Israel and the United States, the Palestinians have come to believe that sooner or later the president will hand them the diplomatic victory they long for without being forced to pay any price for it. Doing so will be as much a blow to U.S. interests as it will be to Israel, but it’s hard to blame either the Palestinians or the Europeans for thinking that this time, Obama will really betray the Israelis simply in order to harm Netanyahu. If he does, it will mark a new low for an administration that has already turned undermining allies into an art form.

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Another Palestinian Sacrificed to Conflict

The death of Ziad Abu Ein is more than another statistic in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A member of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Cabinet, Abu Ein died after leading a demonstration that sought to break into land claimed by an Israeli settlement. The 55-year-old died in the aftermath of a clash he initiated with soldiers guarding the site. That was bad enough but, as is par for the course in this situation, the team of doctors who performed an autopsy on him split along national lines. A Palestinian doctor says he died from the blows he got from the soldiers. The Israeli doctors say he had heart disease and died from the stress caused by the incident. Predictably, the U.S. is calling for an inquiry into the incident but rather than get caught up in the question of which doctor is telling the truth, the real answer as to what killed Abu Ein is the commitment of his Fatah Party to perpetuating the conflict rather than accepting a compromise that would end it.

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The death of Ziad Abu Ein is more than another statistic in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A member of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Cabinet, Abu Ein died after leading a demonstration that sought to break into land claimed by an Israeli settlement. The 55-year-old died in the aftermath of a clash he initiated with soldiers guarding the site. That was bad enough but, as is par for the course in this situation, the team of doctors who performed an autopsy on him split along national lines. A Palestinian doctor says he died from the blows he got from the soldiers. The Israeli doctors say he had heart disease and died from the stress caused by the incident. Predictably, the U.S. is calling for an inquiry into the incident but rather than get caught up in the question of which doctor is telling the truth, the real answer as to what killed Abu Ein is the commitment of his Fatah Party to perpetuating the conflict rather than accepting a compromise that would end it.

The big picture about the peace process tends to get lost whenever the rights and wrongs of specific incidents become the issue. In this case, the truth is not complicated but is still open to interpretation.

The Palestinian position is that Abu Ein died as result of brutality inflicted on him during the demonstration. Abu Ein and the demonstrators he led into a line of armed soldiers clearly invited a forceful response. Whether he took a blow to the chest or was hit by a tear gas canister, there is no question that those involved in the scrum were likely roughed up. Israeli soldiers may have used too much force or it may be that Abu Ein simply expired because his heart disease made him vulnerable to collapse when he tried to break through a line of armed soldiers.

It should also be remembered that when we speak of him being a Cabinet minister, this was not some bureaucrat in charge of the Palestinian treasury or some other responsible officeholder. He was in fact the Cabinet member in charge of staging provocations against both settlements and checkpoints in the West Bank. A convicted terrorist who took part in a bomb plot that resulted in the murder of two Israeli teenagers, he was eventually released in a prisoner exchange before becoming a PA official. His goal was to create violent confrontations and to generate Palestinian casualties that could be paraded before the world as evidence of Israeli cruelty. The only difference between this and other such violent demonstrations is that Abu Ein was the statistic rather than some anonymous Palestinian.

But no matter what happened when he led the charge into a line of soldiers or what we might think of his job or his background, the real reason for Abu Ein’s death can be attributed to the core ideology of the Palestinian national movement that he served in various violent capacities during his life.

Four times in the last 15 years, the Palestinian Authority Abu Ein served was given a chance to negotiate a peace deal that might have given them independence and statehood. Twice under Yasir Arafat’s leadership they turned offers of sovereignty over almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem, as well as Gaza down flat. Once Abbas fled the negotiations after receiving an even more generous offer. In the past year, Abbas stonewalled the negotiations and then blew them up so as to prevent getting even close to an agreement.

It is in that context that the discussions about settlements and the behavior of Israeli soldiers must be understood. The PA has demonstrated time and again that it doesn’t want peace or a two-state solution. What it wants is to keep the conflict just hot enough to prevent Abbas from being cornered into agreeing to peace but not so hot as to stop the Israelis from protecting him against his Hamas rivals or to force the U.S. and the Europeans from cutting off the flow of cash that allows the PA kleptocracy to exist.

Like the Palestinian children who are encouraged to pick fights with soldiers by flinging gasoline bombs and rocks in the hope the army will fire back, Abu Ein was sacrificed on the altar of the unending Palestinian war against the existence of Israel. Instead of blaming the Israelis, Palestinians need to look inward and ponder the political culture they have created that makes it impossible for their leaders to consider peace on any terms but the destruction of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. Until that changes, there will never be an end to such confrontations and the inevitable casualties that follow from them.

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Abbas Doubles Down on Right of Return

To listen to anyone in the Obama administration, Mahmoud Abbas isn’t just Israel’s best hope for a peace partner. From President Obama on down, the Palestinian Authority leader has been spoken of in almost heroic terms as a genuine moderate and a man who has shown himself willing to make real sacrifices for peace. This portrayal has always been sheer fiction but it has been bolstered by Abbas’s clever decision to speak in one manner to the Western and Israeli press while singing a very different tune to Arabic and Palestinian media. This was proved again last week when he told an Egyptian TV program (the transcript from which was published by Memri.org, that essential window into the Arab media) that not only would he never recognize Israel as a Jewish state but also insisted that “we cannot close the door to those who wish to return,” a clear allusion to a demand for the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

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To listen to anyone in the Obama administration, Mahmoud Abbas isn’t just Israel’s best hope for a peace partner. From President Obama on down, the Palestinian Authority leader has been spoken of in almost heroic terms as a genuine moderate and a man who has shown himself willing to make real sacrifices for peace. This portrayal has always been sheer fiction but it has been bolstered by Abbas’s clever decision to speak in one manner to the Western and Israeli press while singing a very different tune to Arabic and Palestinian media. This was proved again last week when he told an Egyptian TV program (the transcript from which was published by Memri.org, that essential window into the Arab media) that not only would he never recognize Israel as a Jewish state but also insisted that “we cannot close the door to those who wish to return,” a clear allusion to a demand for the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

In speaking in this manner, Abbas’s double game is effectively debunked by his own words. The so-called “right of return” is a touchstone of Palestinian rejectionism, based as it is on the notion that millions of descendants of the several hundred thousand refugees from the 1948 War of Independence should be allowed to return to pre-1967 Israel and effectively transform it into an Arab-majority nation. Such a demand is not only incompatible with the notion of peace; it is an explicit rejection of efforts to end the conflict. In effect, Abbas’s idea of a two-state solution is to have one Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of a divided Jerusalem in which no Jews will live and another inside Israel’s 1967 lines in which an Arab majority will dominate a Jewish minority.

Even more interesting is the fact that in this interview, Abbas claimed that there were “six million” such persons waiting to enter Israel. According to the Times of Israel, this was not an attempt by Abbas to echo the symbolism of the Holocaust by positing a population of so-called victims of Israel that is the same as the number of Jews killed by the Nazis. Instead, they think it is an attempt to claim that the refugees are as numerous as the current Jewish population of Israel, which amounts to approximately six million persons. They may be right about that but given Abbas’s background as a Holocaust denier (his doctoral thesis questioning the number of Jews killed in the Shoah is still being promoted by official Palestinian media), it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But no matter why Abbas spoke of “six million” refugees, the number is bogus since it exceeds even the widely inflated claims of UNRWA, which has done its best to perpetuate and promote the narrative of refugee victimhood.

Why would Abbas embrace rejectionism in this manner even though President Obama still thinks he is a champion of peace?

Abbas is locked in a competition with his Hamas rivals/erstwhile coalition partners in which the only way to gain credibility on the Palestinian street is to attack Israel and pander to nationalist sentiment about its destruction. As the interview also makes clear, he’s also attempting to exploit the controversy over Israel’s proposed law officially declaring the country a Jewish state. But, as Abbas and even some of the law’s Israeli and Western critics know, a law that restates the obvious about Israel wouldn’t change a thing about the country’s identity or in any way diminish the rights of non-Jews there. Yet the propaganda value of branding Israel as an “apartheid state” is too great a temptation for Abbas to pass up.

The talk about refugees also directly contradicts Abbas’s statements made in a 2012 Israeli TV interview in which he disavowed the right of return and alluded to his own lack of interest in going back to his family’s home in Safed. It should also serve as a reminder that an equal number of Jews were forced to flee from their homes in the Arab and Muslim world after 1948. Any talk of compensation for Arab refugees should be balanced by an equal concern for the descendants of the Jews who were dispossessed by the Arab war against Israel.

These statements ought to quiet those who continue to claim Abbas is a peace partner or, despite his repeated refusal to accept Israel peace offers, someone who is even remotely capable of signing an agreement that would end the conflict. Like his decision to blow up Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative earlier this year, Abbas’s only strategic imperative is to avoid making peace. His end-run around the negotiations and his futile decision to use United Nations agencies as a forum for Israel-bashing also demonstrate that his goal is to never again be boxed in where he will have to either explicitly turn down an Israeli offer or agree to a historic compromise.

While the Obama administration openly roots for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s defeat in the upcoming elections and issues vague threats about sanctions on Israel if he is reelected, the real obstacle to peace remains Abbas and his people’s political culture that makes ending the conflict impossible. Until the U.S. recognizes this and starts treating Abbas as the problem rather than a possible solution, U.S. Middle East policy will continue to be a clueless failure.

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Obama’s Threats Won’t Hurt Netanyahu

Few savvy observers took Secretary of State John Kerry at his word earlier this week when he piously proclaimed that the United States had no thought of attempting to intervene in Israel’s elections. The animus bordering on hatred felt by President Obama’s inner circle toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not exactly a secret. But it didn’t take long for a leak to an Israeli newspaper that is among the PM’s most rabid foes to dispel any doubts about the administration’s hopes that it could somehow derail his bid for a fourth term. The report from Barak Ravid, Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent that the White House held a meeting whose purpose was to plan possible future sanctions against Israel to punish it for continuing to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and West Bank settlement blocs, is a shot fired over Netanyahu’s bow. But the real question here is not so much Obama’s desire to see the prime minister defeated, as it is why anyone in the administration thinks this gambit will succeed now after the same tactics have failed repeatedly before.

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Few savvy observers took Secretary of State John Kerry at his word earlier this week when he piously proclaimed that the United States had no thought of attempting to intervene in Israel’s elections. The animus bordering on hatred felt by President Obama’s inner circle toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not exactly a secret. But it didn’t take long for a leak to an Israeli newspaper that is among the PM’s most rabid foes to dispel any doubts about the administration’s hopes that it could somehow derail his bid for a fourth term. The report from Barak Ravid, Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent that the White House held a meeting whose purpose was to plan possible future sanctions against Israel to punish it for continuing to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and West Bank settlement blocs, is a shot fired over Netanyahu’s bow. But the real question here is not so much Obama’s desire to see the prime minister defeated, as it is why anyone in the administration thinks this gambit will succeed now after the same tactics have failed repeatedly before.

The Haaretz report makes it clear that the administration is looking ahead to another two years of escalating confrontation with Israel. The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of interest in negotiating, let alone signing a peace agreement that would end the conflict. Nor do the construction of homes for Jews in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem or even in the settlement blocs that everyone (including President Obama) knows would remain inside Israel if peace were ever achieved constitute any sort of obstacle to a two-state solution. But the administration still clings to the illusion that the problem is Netanyahu and settlements rather than a Palestinian political culture that makes peace impossible and PA head Mahmoud Abbas’s incitement to violence. That means it is entirely possible that, as Ravid breathlessly predicts, the administration will no longer make do with bitter denunciations of Israeli actions in the future but will, instead adopt measures intended to punish the Jewish state. That might take the form of refraining from vetoing anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations Security Council or other actions intended to downgrade or undermine the alliance between the two countries.

But the notion that picking yet another fight with Netanyahu will hurt his chances of reelection tells us more about the administration’s continued inability to understand Israel than anything else. After all, President Obama has repeatedly tried to do this throughout his first six years in office. But every time the U.S. attempted to use Jewish building in Jerusalem to attack Netanyahu, the only result was that the prime minister’s political standing at home increased. Though the PM is under attack right now from both foes on the left and a crowded field of rivals on the right, there seems little reason to believe that his policies on Jerusalem or even on negotiations with the Palestinians has rendered him vulnerable. All the polls agree that Israeli voters appear poised to elect a Knesset that is even further skewed to the right than the existing government that was lambasted by American critics for being not interested in concessions to the Palestinians.

As even Ravid notes in the conclusion to his piece, Netanyahu always gains when he can portray himself as standing up to foreign pressure on security issues. The reason for that is that, unlike the Obama administration and Israel’s liberal critics abroad, the Israeli voting public has been paying attention to what the Palestinians have said and done during the last 20 years of peace processing. Israel has tried to trade land for peace and gotten more terror and no peace. At the present moment it is inconceivable that any Israeli government of any stripe would withdraw from the West Bank in order to make way for what could be an even larger and more dangerous version of the Hamas terror state that currently exists in Gaza.

It is true that the decimated Israeli left and their liberal American supporters such as the J Street lobby believe that the Jewish state must be saved from itself by heavy-handed U.S. intervention. Indeed, it is only by international pressure designed to thwart the verdict of Israeli democracy that their misguided agenda might be implemented. But it boggles the mind as to how anyone, either in Israel or the U.S., would think that the Israeli voting public would regard efforts to thwart their judgment in this manner as a good reason to vote against Netanyahu. Indeed, the commitment of the U.S. to a policy of heavy-handed pressure is the best argument for Netanyahu continuing in office since he is the country’s only major political figure with the experience and the tenacity to stand up to such treatment from the country’s sole superpower ally.

The three months between now and the election constitute a political eternity and Netanyahu cannot take his victory for granted even if the polls indicate he is the only possible choice for prime minister. But if Obama and his friends at Haaretz imagine such leaks will lead to Netanyahu’s downfall, it’s clear they have learned nothing from the past six years of such efforts.

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Why the U.S. Can’t Influence Israel’s Vote

The reaction from Washington to Israel’s decision to move to new elections in March was fairly circumspect. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the U.S. had no intention of trying to influence an “internal matter” and reaffirmed support for its ally, though he also said he hoped the next government would be one that could negotiate a peace accord with the Palestinians. But the subtext was obvious. As former peace processor Aaron David Miller wrote today in Foreign Policy, “thoughts of a new prime minister are now dancing in the heads” of President Obama and Kerry. The early vote gives the administration’s ceaseless quest to oust Benjamin Netanyahu from office one last chance. Yet with Netanyahu on track to emerge even stronger from the election that he is today, it might be time for Obama and Kerry to re-examine their argument with Jerusalem. The fact that they seem incapable of doing so speaks volumes about how out of touch Washington is from the realities of the Middle East.

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The reaction from Washington to Israel’s decision to move to new elections in March was fairly circumspect. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the U.S. had no intention of trying to influence an “internal matter” and reaffirmed support for its ally, though he also said he hoped the next government would be one that could negotiate a peace accord with the Palestinians. But the subtext was obvious. As former peace processor Aaron David Miller wrote today in Foreign Policy, “thoughts of a new prime minister are now dancing in the heads” of President Obama and Kerry. The early vote gives the administration’s ceaseless quest to oust Benjamin Netanyahu from office one last chance. Yet with Netanyahu on track to emerge even stronger from the election that he is today, it might be time for Obama and Kerry to re-examine their argument with Jerusalem. The fact that they seem incapable of doing so speaks volumes about how out of touch Washington is from the realities of the Middle East.

From the moment that Netanyahu took office only weeks after Obama’s inauguration, the administration has been seeking the Israeli’s downfall. In his first months, Obama seemed to harbor hopes that Tzipi Livni might supplant him. But that idea flopped as Netanyahu outmaneuvered the former Kadima Party leader and gained strength every time Obama picked fights with the Israeli government on issues like Jerusalem where the prime minister represented the Israeli consensus. After a pause for a Jewish charm offensive designed to enhance Obama’s reelection prospects, the feud was back in force in the last year as he and Kerry chose to wrongly blame Netanyahu for the failure off their futile attempt to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.

As Miller writes, American governments have intervened in Israeli politics before in 1992 and 1996 when they openly supported Labor Party efforts to defeat the Likud. But Miller cautions against trying again in no small measure because the only possible alternative to Netanyahu might be the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett, who is very much to the right of the prime minister. While I think Netanyahu doesn’t have to worry about Bennett supplanting him for the moment, his point is well taken. As I wrote on both Monday and Tuesday of this week about the move to new elections, the balance of Israeli politics has dramatically shifted to the right and the next Knesset is likely to be one in which left-wing parties favored by the administration will be weaker.

This is a source of great frustration for the president who lamented in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly about Israelis no longer being willing to do the hard work to make peace. But in saying that, he didn’t examine fully why it was that Israelis felt that way. Israelis want peace more than ever especially in the aftermath of another conflict with Hamas that saw much of the country’s population spending the summer dashing to and from bomb shelters as thousands of rockets rained down on their heads.

But what they have noticed and what the administration and liberal American critics of Netanyahu are determined to ignore is the fact that the Palestinians have consistently rejected peace offers from Israel. Even their so-called moderate leader is unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and incites hatred and violence against Israel. With no peace partner in sight, Israelis rightly understand that the best they can hope for is an attempt to manage the conflict, not to solve it.

Unlike his predecessors and Kerry, Netanyahu isn’t driven to create a legacy by negotiating a peace accord. He knows that making more concessions to the Palestinians will lead, as did all the attempts by his predecessors to make peace, to more violence and suffering, not peace. Unlike the administration, Netanyahu grasps the fact that peace won’t be possible until the Palestinians undergo a sea change in their political culture that will enable them to give up their dreams of Israel’s destruction. That is why his party and its right-wing allies/rivals are likely to emerge victorious in March. Indeed, the latest polls show that the right led by Netanyahu will gain enough votes for a Knesset majority even without seeking a coalition with centrist or religious parties.

Yet for the U.S. the disillusionment of the Israeli electorate with the discredited peace process remains inexplicable or a function of what liberals claim is a drift toward extremism in the Jewish state. But instead of attempting to force Israel to make more dangerous concessions to a peace partner that doesn’t want peace, Washington should be signaling the Palestinians that if they truly do want independence, they are going to have lose their delusions about Israel’s impermanence. They must stop lauding PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as hero for peace even though he has become a primary obstacle to its achievement.

If the U.S. does stay out of the Israeli campaign it will not be because Obama and Kerry respect Israeli democracy—they do not—or oppose interventions of this sort. It will because the administration understands that Israelis hold their premise about the conflict to be utter bunk. But instead of resenting this, as both Obama and Kerry obviously do, they should be wondering what it is that the people of Israel know about the situation that they can’t grasp.

But if there is anything we’ve learned in the past six years about this president and his administration, it is that it is not overly fond of admitting mistakes or rethinking cherished, if failed, ideologies about the world. While Israelis rightly care about their essential alliance with the United States and don’t personally love Netanyahu, they know better than to trust Obama’s judgment rather than their own lying eyes.

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No “Legacy” Is Asset for Netanyahu

By firing two of his coalition partners from his Cabinet today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set in motion a chain of events that will likely result in new elections next March. Since polls show that both Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni would be badly weakened by a new vote and Netanyahu strengthened, the move seems likely to result in a more stable coalition. But though even his critics must give him credit for outsmarting Lapid and Livni, the end of this government is likely to engender a new round of Netanyahu-bashing in both the Israeli and the foreign press. The prime minister is good at politics, they will argue, but the decision to press forward with what most Israelis rightly consider unnecessary elections shows that he has accomplished nothing but political survival and lacks a legacy, such as a peace treaty with the Palestinians, to justify his long stay at the top. But while the critics will be right when they say Israel didn’t need another election, they’re wrong about Netanyahu’s legacy. As he heads toward his fourth term as prime minister, Netanyahu is showing that what his country needs is a competent leader not someone in search of a dubious place in history.

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By firing two of his coalition partners from his Cabinet today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set in motion a chain of events that will likely result in new elections next March. Since polls show that both Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni would be badly weakened by a new vote and Netanyahu strengthened, the move seems likely to result in a more stable coalition. But though even his critics must give him credit for outsmarting Lapid and Livni, the end of this government is likely to engender a new round of Netanyahu-bashing in both the Israeli and the foreign press. The prime minister is good at politics, they will argue, but the decision to press forward with what most Israelis rightly consider unnecessary elections shows that he has accomplished nothing but political survival and lacks a legacy, such as a peace treaty with the Palestinians, to justify his long stay at the top. But while the critics will be right when they say Israel didn’t need another election, they’re wrong about Netanyahu’s legacy. As he heads toward his fourth term as prime minister, Netanyahu is showing that what his country needs is a competent leader not someone in search of a dubious place in history.

As the Times of Israel reported, in speaking to his nation today, Netanyahu justified his decision to oust Lapid and Livni from office by saying:

“I believe that you, the citizens of Israel, deserve a new, better, more stable government, a broad-based government that can govern,” he said.

And in order to give Israelis that “unified and strong” government, Netanyahu said, “one needs a strong ruling party.”

That means more votes for Likud in order to assure the prime minister of a stronger base within the next coalition. With the parties of the left still marginalized by the aftermath of the Oslo disasters, Netanyahu is effectively competing only against his rivals/allies on, as he put it, on the “right” and the “center right.” Those parties will, if the polls are correct, have between them nearly a majority of the Knesset even before they seek coalition partners from either the religious parties or what remains of the centrists that were just ousted by Netanyahu.

As even those least enamored of Netanyahu must concede he has no credible rivals for the post of prime minister, either among his partners or the opposition. But what Netanyahu’s domestic and foreign critics don’t understand about his dominance of Israeli politics is that it is precisely his eschewing of a vainglorious try for a historic legacy that has earned him the confidence of his people.

This is in marked contrast to every other prime minister since Yitzhak Shamir left office in 1992. Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert all took stabs at unraveling the Gordian knot of Middle East peace with peace initiatives. But every one of these efforts, whether it was the Oslo Accords of Rabin and Peres, Barak’s Camp David offer of 2000, Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal, or the third offer of statehood to the Palestinians put forward at Annapolis, Maryland by Olmert, all failed spectacularly. Even worse, each of these efforts weakened Israel’s position for future negotiations while leading to more bloodshed and violence, rather than less.

President Obama and his foreign-policy team consider Netanyahu a cowardly failure (or a “chickensh*t” as he was famously labeled by anonymous senior administration officials) because he won’t match the follies of his predecessors and risk the country’s security with a new territorial withdrawal that could result in the creation of another terror state on Israel’s doorstep. But the people of Israel understand that Netanyahu’s willingness to say no to Obama is all that stands between them and another fiasco like Sharon’s Gaza gambit.

Netanyahu may never do anything that will earn him the applause of his liberal American critics that would be labeled a “legacy” even if it did nothing to achieve a lasting peace. That long-sought goal must await not another bold Israeli but a sea change in Palestinian political culture that will allow their leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But what Israeli voters value is his ability to stand up to his country’s friends as well as its foes and to avoid more such bold disasters. If he has a legacy it will have to rest on the fact that he presided over a period of unprecedented economic strength and an avoidance of the kind of mistakes that men who hunger for the applause of an amorphous posterity can’t seem to resist. What Netanyahu’s predecessors proved is that the last thing a nation under siege needs is a leader more concerned with legacy than the safety of its citizens. As Israelis prepare to elect him prime minister for a fourth time, his lack of such foolish ambitions is an obvious qualification, not a drawback.

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Can Israel’s Critics Listen to Its People?

With relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coalition ally Yair Lapid at a nadir, it appears that the current Israeli government will soon be dissolved and the Jewish state will be heading back to the polls only two years after electing the current Knesset. Many Israelis are understandably annoyed at what they rightly perceive as a parliamentary crisis that is more about perceptions than substance. Nor is the prospect of Netanyahu being forced to face his people again riling most of his foreign critics. But rather than merely yawning over the prospect of another vote or buying into the distortions being published about the issue that helped sink the coalition, those inclined to take a dim view of Netanyahu should take a good look at the polls and draw some conclusions about the facts of Israeli political life even if they don’t jibe with liberal conventional wisdom about the country.

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With relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coalition ally Yair Lapid at a nadir, it appears that the current Israeli government will soon be dissolved and the Jewish state will be heading back to the polls only two years after electing the current Knesset. Many Israelis are understandably annoyed at what they rightly perceive as a parliamentary crisis that is more about perceptions than substance. Nor is the prospect of Netanyahu being forced to face his people again riling most of his foreign critics. But rather than merely yawning over the prospect of another vote or buying into the distortions being published about the issue that helped sink the coalition, those inclined to take a dim view of Netanyahu should take a good look at the polls and draw some conclusions about the facts of Israeli political life even if they don’t jibe with liberal conventional wisdom about the country.

Netanyahu’s apparent decision to force Lapid to accept a humiliating defeat in the Cabinet or accept new elections is, among other things, another illustration of the former journalist not being quite ready for prime time when he parachuted into Israeli politics. Though the charismatic leader of the Yesh Atid Party was the big winner in the last vote, his decision to join the government and become finance minister was a classic rookie error. Lapid’s reputation as a fresh new voice hasn’t survived the ordeal of government responsibilities. Netanyahu has run circles around him in parliamentary maneuvering and Lapid’s pointless opposition to a largely symbolic compromise bill proclaiming Israel to be a Jewish state has put him at a disadvantage both within the Cabinet and with the Israeli electorate. Polls show Yesh Atid likely to lose almost half its strength in a new election and no one, even his most bitter opponents, has the slightest doubt that Netanyahu will still be prime minister when the next Knesset is eventually sworn in.

But the most salient point to be gleaned from this bickering has nothing to do with the substance of that bill or even the way Lapid’s impending fall from grace demonstrates the apparently ironclad rule of Israeli politics that dictates that new centrist parties are doomed to decline after doing well the first time out. Instead, the most important lesson here is that the next election will likely illustrate the same truth about Israeli politics that the last two votes confirmed: the dominance of Israel’s right-wing parties.

If the polls are vindicated by the results, all a new election would achieve would be to reshuffle the deck in the Knesset to make the next government a bit more right wing. Yesh Atid’s mandates may go to a new center-right party led by former Likud cabinet minister Moshe Kahlon that would become a new focus of concern about the economy and social justice while not likely to disagree much with Netanyahu on the peace process or the Palestinians. Tzipi Livni, the former main challenger to Netanyahu but lately his sometime ally will also find herself diminished and will almost certainly have to join with some other party to stay relevant. Meanwhile one of Netanyahu’s main antagonists on the right, Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party will likely gain seats and, in conjunction with Avigdor Lieberman and the Likud (which will also gain by running on its won without Lieberman) form a huge right-wing block around which other parties will have to join.

What’s missing from this discussion is the complete absence of a credible alternative to Netanyahu who might represent the views of liberal critics of the prime minister who think Israel needs to be saved from itself. That’s not just because no one thinks Yaakov Herzog, the leader of the Labor Party, is ready to be prime minister, but rather to the fact that the combined strength of the Israeli left—even if anti-Zionist Arab parties are added to their number—makes them non-competitive.

Despite the never-ending critiques of J Street or the Obama administration, the overwhelming majority of Israelis continue to reject the parties that espouse such views.

Like the last election, the next one in Israel will likely be fought on domestic issues rather than the traditional arguments about war and peace despite the last summer’s war in Gaza, stalled talks with the Palestinians, or the Iranian nuclear threat. Though Americans, including many Jews, find it hard to believe, there is actually a strong consensus in Israel that peace talks with the Palestinians are pointless and that territorial withdrawals in the West Bank would be suicidal.

That’s why, no matter how all the small and medium sized parties sort themselves out in a vote, Netanyahu will be reelected with ease. Those Americans who think that Netanyahu is leading Israel in the wrong direction are entitled to their opinion. But they should ponder whether the people of Israel—the ones whose lives are at risk in this conflict—know more about what is good for their country than J Street.

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Whitewashing Abbas Leads to Violence

How far can you go to foment violence and encourage terrorism while still being considered a hero of peace by the Obama administration? Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has long pushed the envelope on this question but has arguably gone further in his condolence letter to the family of Mu’taz Hijazi, a slain terrorist, in which he described the man who attempted to murder a Jewish activist last week as a “Shahid” or martyr and said that “he rose to heaven while defending our people’s rights and holy places” and described his death while fighting Israeli soldiers as “an abominable crime” carried out by “terror gangs of the Israeli occupation army.” But rather than merely express outrage about this astonishing statement, the administration should be taking a lesson from history and realize that its coddling of Abbas and his support for violence such as that practiced by Hijazi is playing a role in worsening the conflict.

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How far can you go to foment violence and encourage terrorism while still being considered a hero of peace by the Obama administration? Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has long pushed the envelope on this question but has arguably gone further in his condolence letter to the family of Mu’taz Hijazi, a slain terrorist, in which he described the man who attempted to murder a Jewish activist last week as a “Shahid” or martyr and said that “he rose to heaven while defending our people’s rights and holy places” and described his death while fighting Israeli soldiers as “an abominable crime” carried out by “terror gangs of the Israeli occupation army.” But rather than merely express outrage about this astonishing statement, the administration should be taking a lesson from history and realize that its coddling of Abbas and his support for violence such as that practiced by Hijazi is playing a role in worsening the conflict.

Abbas’s praise of Hijazi doesn’t come out of the blue. It was the PA leader, after all, that helped incite the attack on Rabbi Yehuda Glick by claiming he and others who advocated for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount should be resisted by all means. In doing so Abbas was following the same game plan for whipping up Arab hatred by falsely claiming Jews were intent on destroying the mosques on the Mount, a tactic that has been used by predecessors such as Haj Amin el-Husseini, the ally of the Nazis that incited anti-Jewish pogroms in the 1920s and ’30s.

Whatever one may think of those who wish to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount where Jewish prayer is now prohibited or those who support Jewish building in areas of east Jerusalem, the notion that Palestinians should feel free to attack them is incompatible with any notion of peace. That Abbas should encourage such attacks with intemperate language and then follow such statements up with extravagant praise for those who took his advice marks him as someone who is not only not a true partner for peace but also very much part of the problem negotiators are seeking to solve.

But this is part of the story about the Middle East that you almost never hear about from the Obama administration or its apologists in the media, such as The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Goldberg made headlines last week when he quoted “senior administration officials” lobbing vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. But in the same piece and others, Goldberg has justified the administration’s attitude toward Netanyahu by saying he has been insufficiently supportive of Abbas, whom he described as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have despite his many flaws.” The president and Secretary of State Kerry have gone further by praising Abbas’s alleged courage and his supposed dedication to the cause of peace. Clearly these testimonials are incompatible with Abbas’s behavior. His role in the recent disturbances goes beyond mere “flaws” and illustrates just how desperate he is to compete with his Hamas rivals for the support of a Palestinian people that is not reconciled to Israel’s existence whether or not its borders include Jerusalem or Jews are prohibited from stepping foot on the Temple Mount, as the PA has urged.

This is significant not just because Abbas’s fomenting of violence and paeans to those who try to kill Jews is despicable. It is important because it is part of a pattern by which the U.S. and even some Israelis become so attached to both a Palestinian leader and the concept of negotiations with him that they decide to ignore what he is doing or his ultimate goals.

This was the same routine practiced by the Clinton administration throughout the post-Oslo years in the 1990s when Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat also sought to stoke hatred of Jews and Israelis and supported terror. When critics of the Oslo process brought up evidence of Arafat’s actions they were dismissed as enemies of peace. Any attention paid to Arafat’s “flaws” was considered to be a distraction from the need to concentrate on advancing peace negotiations. The result was that rather than being a model of Palestinian government building a future of peace, the PA Arafat built, including its schools and media, was an engine of hate and violence. Peace became even less likely. That became apparent after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed giving the Palestinians a state and independence in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, when Arafat rejected the offer and answered it with a terrorist war of attrition known as the Second Intifada.

That tragedy that took more than 1,000 Jewish lives and that of many more Palestinians soured most Israelis on the peace process, a conclusion that was only solidified after Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza led to the establishment of a Hamas terror state there. Afterward, even veteran peace processors like Dennis Ross admitted they had erred by not paying closer attention to what Arafat did and said rather than their hopes for him.

Obama, Kerry, and their supporters are repeating the same mistake now with Abbas. Rather than focusing their anger and contempt at Netanyahu for defending Jewish rights, they should be signaling Abbas that there must be consequences for his abandonment of even the pretense of a pursuit of peace. If, instead, they keep praising him despite his egregious misconduct, they will be encouraging the Palestinians with the implicit message that the U.S. has no problem with more violence. If so, blame for the blood that will be shed will belong to those who made more excuses for Abbas.

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Disconnect From Reality? Obama, Not Bibi

Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg made quite a splash with his column earlier this week in which he enticed some of his buddies in the Obama administration to dish on the world leader they most love to hate. Goldberg’s piece might not have added the term “chickenshit” to the American or international political lexicon but he gave it new meaning as some of the president’s minions trashed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a coward. We all knew the Obami despised Netanyahu and aren’t exactly in love with his country. But the brazen and childish nature of the insults exposed the nature of this unraveling alliance in a way that few other stories have. Yet instead of following up by concentrating on getting to the bottom of the administration’s anti-Netanyahu mania, Goldberg has chosen to act as its lawyer both in the original article and in a follow-up piece published today in which he seeks to justify the attack on the Israeli. In doing so, he shows that not only does he share the White House’s foolish obsession but also misses a larger point about the collapse of American foreign policy under Barack Obama.

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Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg made quite a splash with his column earlier this week in which he enticed some of his buddies in the Obama administration to dish on the world leader they most love to hate. Goldberg’s piece might not have added the term “chickenshit” to the American or international political lexicon but he gave it new meaning as some of the president’s minions trashed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a coward. We all knew the Obami despised Netanyahu and aren’t exactly in love with his country. But the brazen and childish nature of the insults exposed the nature of this unraveling alliance in a way that few other stories have. Yet instead of following up by concentrating on getting to the bottom of the administration’s anti-Netanyahu mania, Goldberg has chosen to act as its lawyer both in the original article and in a follow-up piece published today in which he seeks to justify the attack on the Israeli. In doing so, he shows that not only does he share the White House’s foolish obsession but also misses a larger point about the collapse of American foreign policy under Barack Obama.

Goldberg’s argument is that whatever one may think of the astonishing slurs slung at the prime minister, it is Israel that is to blame because Netanyahu’s politics are “disconnecting from reality.” Citing an editorial in the New York Jewish Week by Gary Rosenblatt, Goldberg claims that American Jews are abandoning their traditional support for Israel because of its government’s counterproductive policies. His point is that if the U.S.-Israel relationship is coming apart it’s not because of the clear personal animus of everyone in this administration from the very top down toward Netanyahu but because Israel’s moves in Jerusalem and the West Bank are making peace harder to envision and lowering its standing in the international community. Rather than focus on what the “senior administration officials” think about Israel, he thinks we should be concentrating our attention on just how out of touch Netanyahu is with both international opinion and that of American Jews.

There is a lot to unwrap here, but let’s start with Goldberg’s assumption that the widening divide between many American Jews and Israel is somehow the fault of the latter’s current government. This is a fallacy that, to be fair, Rosenblatt, whose editorial in the weekly’s current edition was clearly written before Goldberg’s chickensh*t hit the fan on Tuesday afternoon, isn’t trying to promote. Goldberg argues that Israel is making a mistake by asking American Jews to choose between a liberal Democratic president and policies that are viewed as “illiberal.” But the crackup of American Jewry has far more to do with demographic issues stemming from soaring intermarriage rates and assimilation that have led to a diminution of a sense of Jewish peoplehood, not a serious critique of the specific policies of an Israeli government.

Last year’s Pew Survey on American Jewry amply illustrated that the disconnect between American Jews and Israel had everything to do with the changes in the way non-Orthodox viewed issues of identity. If most American Jews have been disinclined to withdraw their support from the president despite his predilection for picking pointless fights with Israel, it has to do primarily with their lack of affection for his domestic opponents and increasing lack of interest in all parochial Jewish topics of which Israel is just one that has fallen by the wayside. The survey showed that the unaffiliated and Jews who no longer choose to label themselves as Jewish by religion are increasingly unsupportive of Israel, but that has more to do with them than anything Israel might be doing. As Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman noted at the time, the Jews who care about Israel still support it; those that don’t fall into a different category. Moreover, at a time when international attacks on Israel are being driven by what even the U.S. State Department has acknowledged is a rising tide of anti-Semitism, to claim that Netanyahu or settlements are the key issues is particularly obtuse.

But whatever problems Israel may be having in retaining Jewish support here (and I’ll go out on a limb and say that I doubt even most Jewish Democrats were particularly happy with the way Obama cut off arms supplies to Israel during the war with Hamas last summer or think his aides should be calling Netanyahu chickensh*t while hiding behind Goldberg’s pledge to protect anonymity), any discussion about the U.S.-Israel divide needs to start with the fact that most Israelis remain on their prime minister’s side in this fight. They may not love Netanyahu or be right-wing zealots but the majority understands that there is no Palestinian peace partner and that pressure from the international community on their government to make more concessions seems to stem from prejudice against Israel, not a sober assessment of the situation.

As Goldberg himself again acknowledges, a push to withdraw from the West Bank would be insane under the current circumstances since doing so would open up the possibility of replicating the Hamas terror state in Gaza in the larger and more strategic territory adjoining Israel’s main population centers. Nor do they think much of strictures on Jewish life in Jerusalem or even in the West Bank settlement blocs that everyone—even President Obama—agrees would remain within Israel in the event of a peace treaty. Goldberg’s rejoinder to this salient point is to claim that, “the Palestinians haven’t agreed to this” (the italics are Goldberg’s). Of course, they haven’t because even the so-called moderates like Mahmoud Abbas, whom Goldberg extols as the best hope for peace, have never agreed to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and have either turned down every peace offer of a Palestinian state that would include almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem or fled the negotiating table anytime peace might be in the offing.

Like President Obama and the rest of his crew that provide him with juicy quotes, Goldberg reiterates the left’s mantra that “the status quo is unsustainable” without providing a coherent alternative that also includes Israel’s survival. But as much as they don’t like the current situation, the majority of Israelis believe it is preferable to more trading land for terror as was the case with the Oslo Accords and Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza. That’s why Netanyahu, with all his faults, is almost certain to win a third consecutive term in office the next time Israelis go to the polls and will likely have a better relationship with whomever it is that succeeds Obama, whether it is a Democrat or a Republican. Israel has shown it can sustain itself in the absence of a peace deal that Palestinians are not interested in.

Even more important, by joining his sources’ gang tackle of Netanyahu, Goldberg is ignoring the fact that it is the policies of Obama, and not the Israeli, that have led to chaos, instability, and violence in the Middle East. As he well knows, moderate Arab countries are far more worried about Obama’s appeasement of Iran and apparent desire to withdraw from the region than they are about Israeli settlements. That’s why they find themselves agreeing more with Netanyahu about Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the threat from ISIS than the president. They are deeply concerned about an administration that is more interested in stopping Israel from attacking Iran than in preventing Tehran from becoming a nuclear threshold state.

If the “chickensh*t” affair played so badly for the president, it’s because most Americans (the vast majority of whom are deeply supportive of Israel and critical of the Palestinians) think there is something off-putting about an administration that is angrier at its sole democratic ally in the Middle East than at an international terror sponsor like Iran. With polls showing the president’s disastrous conduct of foreign policy being one of his party’s distinct liabilities this fall, it is obvious that if anyone is disconnecting from reality, it is the lame duck Obama and his petulant aides, not Netanyahu.

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The Temple Mount Fight and Peace

Israel was back in the cross-hairs of both the international media and the Arab and Muslim worlds today after violence led to a temporary shutdown of access to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and its mosques. Condemnations of the Jewish state came in hot and heavy from various Islamic sources and even Jordan, a country that has a peace treaty with Israel and is dependent on it for security cooperation. Few bothered to mention, let alone condemn, the attempted murder of a Jewish activist that led to the closure or the drumbeat of incitement from Palestinian leaders that helped create the trouble. But while, as our Seth Mandel pointed out, the shooting generated biased media coverage that drew on the same themes as those inciting the violence, there is more to unwrap here than that. The obsessive focus on keeping Jews out of Judaism’s most sacred site and indeed, out of much of Jerusalem tells us all we need to know about why peace is nowhere in sight.

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Israel was back in the cross-hairs of both the international media and the Arab and Muslim worlds today after violence led to a temporary shutdown of access to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and its mosques. Condemnations of the Jewish state came in hot and heavy from various Islamic sources and even Jordan, a country that has a peace treaty with Israel and is dependent on it for security cooperation. Few bothered to mention, let alone condemn, the attempted murder of a Jewish activist that led to the closure or the drumbeat of incitement from Palestinian leaders that helped create the trouble. But while, as our Seth Mandel pointed out, the shooting generated biased media coverage that drew on the same themes as those inciting the violence, there is more to unwrap here than that. The obsessive focus on keeping Jews out of Judaism’s most sacred site and indeed, out of much of Jerusalem tells us all we need to know about why peace is nowhere in sight.

From the frame of reference of those critical of Israelis in the quarrel over both their capital and the Temple Mount, the notion of Jews moving to parts of the city or visiting or even praying on the plateau above the Western Wall is deeply provocative. Arab sensibilities are inflamed by the presence of Jews in either majority-Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem or those that are predominantly Arab. They are especially outraged by the spectacle of Jews walking around the Temple Mount in the vicinity of the mosques or, as is currently forbidden, praying there.

Most of the West accepts this way of looking at events as inherently reasonable and those, like the Jew who was shot yesterday, that advocate Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount or Israeli leaders who believe that Jews have every right to live in any part of their ancient capital that they want are termed extremist disturbers of the peace. Indeed, Jordanian King Abdullah, who finds himself compelled to verbally attack Israel because most of his subjects are opposed to the peace treaty and are unimpressed by the fact that it is the Jewish state that is the real guarantor of their ability to hold off ISIS and other Islamists, said that both Jewish and Islamic extremism was to blame for the problem.

But the thing to understand about this frame of reference is that it is based on a notion of communal peace that requires official segregation that would place parts of the city and a central Jewish holy place off-limits to Jews. That may sound reasonable to those who view the Jewish return to their historic homeland as something to be reversed rather than accepted. That not only begs the question as to whether Jews should accept such an abrogation of their rights. It also requires us to ask how such attitudes could possibly be compatible with any vision of peace.

Though branded as outrageous provocations by both Arabs and the U.S. State Department, the idea of allowing Jews to live throughout the city would not prevent a peace treaty if the Palestinians were ever to accept one. After all, Israel has already offered them independence and statehood in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and was rejected in 2000, 2001, and 2008. They also refused to negotiate seriously about a two-state solution last year when that was on the table with Israel’s current government. Any peace treaty would have to guarantee that the city would remain open to both sides and especially the holy places. But if, as the recent violence seems to indicate, the Palestinians’ primary aim is to ensure that Jews are kept out of as many places as possible, including religious sites, what kind of peace would that be?

The willingness of Palestinian leaders hype the myth that Jews plan to blow up the Al-Aksa Mosque and other Muslim shrines has helped them inflame religious hatred and foment violence for nearly a century. It is rooted in a conviction that Jews have no right to be anywhere in the country. When Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas tells his people to use any means possible to keep Jews out of the Temple Mount or parts of Jerusalem he isn’t just stating an opinion about a specific issue but sending a signal that the end of the Palestinian war on Zionism isn’t in sight.

Leaders on both sides should be doing all they can to keep Jerusalem calm, but peace can’t be bought by agreeing to a segregated apartheid-like ban on Jews visiting or living in some places. Rather than acquiescing to such dangerous attitudes, the U.S. should be sending a sharp message to Muslims that they must learn to live with their Jewish neighbors and share the city. But so long as Washington is shooting insults at Israel you can be sure that more violence and incitement is likely to follow.

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The Consequences of a “Chickensh*t” Policy

No doubt the gang in the Obama administration have been congratulating themselves for planting some juicy insults aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest column in The Atlantic. But now that the wiseacres in the West Wing and/or the State Department have done their dirty work the question remains what will be the consequences of the decision to widen as well as to embitter the breach between the two countries. While most of those writing on this subject, including Goldberg, have emphasized the real possibility that the U.S. will sandbag Israel at the United Nations and otherwise undermine the Jewish state’s diplomatic position in the last years of Obama’s term in office, that won’t be the only blowback from the administration’s “chickenshit” diplomacy. Rather than harm Netanyahu, this ploy, like previous attacks on the prime minister, will strengthen him while making mischief for the president’s party in both this year’s midterms and in 2016.

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No doubt the gang in the Obama administration have been congratulating themselves for planting some juicy insults aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest column in The Atlantic. But now that the wiseacres in the West Wing and/or the State Department have done their dirty work the question remains what will be the consequences of the decision to widen as well as to embitter the breach between the two countries. While most of those writing on this subject, including Goldberg, have emphasized the real possibility that the U.S. will sandbag Israel at the United Nations and otherwise undermine the Jewish state’s diplomatic position in the last years of Obama’s term in office, that won’t be the only blowback from the administration’s “chickenshit” diplomacy. Rather than harm Netanyahu, this ploy, like previous attacks on the prime minister, will strengthen him while making mischief for the president’s party in both this year’s midterms and in 2016.

There is no doubt that Obama’s lame duck years will be stressful for Israel and its friends. As Seth noted earlier today, the administration’s full court press for détente with Iran is setting the table for a strategic blunder on their nuclear quest that will severely harm the balance of power in the Middle East as well as lay the groundwork for challenges to American national security for decades to come.

Nor should anyone discount the potential for severe damage to Israel’s diplomatic standing in the world should Obama decide to collude with the Palestinian Authority and to allow them to get a United Nations Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood, borders, and Jerusalem. The Palestinians’ drive to annul Jewish rights and to bypass the peace process could, with Obama’s support, further isolate Israel and strengthen the efforts of those forces working to promote BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—campaigns that amount to an economic war on the Jewish people.

This is a dire prospect for a small, besieged country that still relieves heavily on U.S. security cooperation and defense aid. But for all the huffing and puffing on the part of Obama’s minions, the administration’s real objectives in all this plotting are not likely to be achieved. That’s because nothing published in a Goldberg column or leaked anywhere else will weaken Netanyahu’s hold on office or prompt the Palestinians to make peace or Iran to be more reasonable in the nuclear talks. The only people who will be hurt by the attacks on Israel are Obama’s fellow Democrats.

As I pointed out yesterday, Obama’s barbs aimed at Israel haven’t enticed the Palestinians to negotiate seriously in the past and won’t do so in the future. If the Palestinian Authority really wanted a state they would have accepted the one offered them in 2000, 2001, or 2008 or actually negotiated with Netanyahu in the last year after he indicated readiness to sign off on a two-state solution.

The boasts about having maneuvered Netanyahu into a position where he may not have a viable military option against Iran (actually, Israel may never have had much of an option since it can be argued that only U.S. possesses the forces required to conclusively knock out Iran’s nuclear facilities) is also nothing for the U.S. to be happy about since it will only strengthen the Iranians’ conviction that they have nothing to fear from Israel or a U.S. president that they think is too weak to stand up to them.

But Obama should have also already learned that challenging Netanyahu and insulting the Jewish state in this manner has one definite side effect: strengthening the prime minister’s political position at home. The same thing happened after Obama’s attacks on the status of Jerusalem in his first term. The administration thought it could topple Netanyahu soon after his election in February 2009 and failed, but even after his election to another term in 2013 as well as the absence of any viable alternative to him, they are still clinging to the delusion that the Israeli people will reject his policies. But that isn’t likely to happen for one reason. The overwhelming majority of Israelis may not love the prime minister but they share his belief that there is no Palestinian peace partner and that turning the West Bank into a sovereign state that could be controlled by Hamas and other terrorists just like Gaza would be madness. They also oppose efforts to divide their capital or to prohibit Jews from the right to live in some parts of the city.

Netanyahu won’t back down. In the wake of the summer war with Hamas that further undermined an Israeli left that was already in ruins after 20 years of failed peace processing, Netanyahu was clearly heading to early elections that would further strengthen the Likud. Obama’s attacks will only make that strategy more attractive to the prime minister. But whether he is reelected in 2015, 2016, or 2017, few believe Netanyahu won’t be returned to office by the voters for his third consecutive and fourth overall term as Israel’s leader. Though a lot of damage can be done to Israel in the next two years, that means Netanyahu is almost certain to be able to outlast Obama in office and to enjoy what will almost certainly be better relations with his successor whether it is a Democrat or a Republican. Waiting out Obama isn’t a good strategy for Israel but it may be the only one it has available to it and will likely be rewarded with a honeymoon with the next president.

But Netanyahu isn’t the only person who will profit politically from this astonishingly crude assault on the Jewish state’s democratically elected leader.

Foreign policy is rarely a decisive factor in U.S. elections but at a time when Democrats are suffering the ill effects of Obama’s inept response to the threat from ISIS, it won’t do the president’s party any good for the administration to pick a fight with it’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. Americans have a right to ask why an administration that was slow to react to ISIS and is intent on appeasing a murderous Islamist regime in Iran is so intent on fighting with Israel. That won’t help embattled Democrats seeking reelection in red states where evangelicals regard backing for Israel as a key issue.

Nor will it help Democrats as they head toward 2016. Though Hillary Clinton will likely run away from Obama on his attacks on Netanyahu as she has done on other foreign-policy issues, running for what will in effect be Obama’s third term will still burden her with the need to either actively oppose the president’s anti-Israel actions in the UN or détente with Iran or accept the negative political fallout of silence. Any Republican, with the exception of an isolationist like Rand Paul, will be able to exploit this issue to their advantage.

Those who worry about the damage to Israel from a lame-duck Obama administration that is seething with hatred for Netanyahu and thinks it has nothing to lose are not wrong. But Democrats will be hurt politically by a crisis that was created by Obama, not Netanyahu. They won’t be grateful to the president for having put them in this fix while Netanyahu will probably emerge from this trial strengthened at home and in a good position to repair relations with Obama’s successor.

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Obama, Not Bibi, Created U.S.-Israel Crisis

Since Barack Obama became president, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has been a reliable indicator of administration opinion about foreign-policy issues. Like some other journalists who can be counted on to support the president, he has been the recipient of some juicy leaks, especially when the White House wants to trash Israel’s government. But Goldberg and his “senior administration sources” reached a new low today when he published a piece in which those anonymous figures labeled Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu a “chickenshit” and a “coward.” The remarks are clearly not so much a warning to the Israelis to stop complaining about the U.S. push for appeasement of a nuclear Iran and the administration’s clueless approach to the conflict with the Palestinians. Rather the story is, as Goldberg rightly characterizes it, a genuine crisis in the relationship. That much is plain but where Goldberg and the talkative administration members are wrong is their belief that this is all Netanyahu’s fault. Their attacks on him are not only plainly false but are motivated by a desire to find an excuse that will be used to justify a drastic turn in U.S. foreign policy against Israel.

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Since Barack Obama became president, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has been a reliable indicator of administration opinion about foreign-policy issues. Like some other journalists who can be counted on to support the president, he has been the recipient of some juicy leaks, especially when the White House wants to trash Israel’s government. But Goldberg and his “senior administration sources” reached a new low today when he published a piece in which those anonymous figures labeled Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu a “chickenshit” and a “coward.” The remarks are clearly not so much a warning to the Israelis to stop complaining about the U.S. push for appeasement of a nuclear Iran and the administration’s clueless approach to the conflict with the Palestinians. Rather the story is, as Goldberg rightly characterizes it, a genuine crisis in the relationship. That much is plain but where Goldberg and the talkative administration members are wrong is their belief that this is all Netanyahu’s fault. Their attacks on him are not only plainly false but are motivated by a desire to find an excuse that will be used to justify a drastic turn in U.S. foreign policy against Israel.

The administration critique of Netanyahu as a coward stems from its disgust with his failure to make peace with the Palestinians as well as their impatience with his criticisms of their zeal for a deal with Iran even if it means allowing the Islamist regime to become a threshold nuclear power. But this is about more than policy. The prickly Netanyahu is well known to be a tough guy to like personally even if you are one of his allies. But President Obama and his foreign-policy team aren’t just annoyed by the prime minister. They’ve come to view him as public enemy No. 1, using language about him and giving assessments of his policies that are far harsher than they have ever used against even avowed enemies of the United States, let alone one of its closest allies.

So rather than merely chide him for caution they call him a coward and taunt him for being reluctant to make war on Hamas and even to launch a strike on Iran. They don’t merely castigate him as a small-time politician without vision; they accuse him of putting his political survival above the interests of his nation.

It’s quite an indictment but once you get beyond the personal dislike of the individual on the part of the president, Secretary of State Kerry, and any other “senior officials” that speak without attribution on the subject of Israel’s prime minister, all you have is a thin veil of invective covering up six years of Obama administration failures in the Middle East that have the region more dangerous for both Israel and the United States. For all of his personal failings, it is not Netanyahu—a man who actually served as a combat soldier under fire in his country’s most elite commando unit—who is a coward or a small-minded failure. It is Obama and Kerry who have fecklessly sabotaged a special relationship, an act whose consequences have already led to disaster and bloodshed and may yet bring worse in their final two years of power.

It was, after all, Obama (and in the last two years, Kerry) who has spent his time in office picking pointless fights with Israel over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. They were pointless not because there aren’t genuine disagreements between the two countries on the ideal terms for peace. But rather because the Palestinians have never, despite the administration’s best efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their favor, seized the chance for peace. No matter how much Obama praises Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and slights Netanyahu, the former has never been willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. They also chose to launch a peace process in spite of the fact that the Palestinians remain divided between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas-ruled Gaza, a situation that makes it impossible for the PA to make peace even if it wanted to do so. The result of their heedless push for negotiations that were bound to fail was another round of violence this summer and the possibility of another terrorist intifada in the West Bank.

On Iran, it has not been Netanyahu’s bluffing about a strike that is the problem but Obama’s policies. Despite good rhetoric about stopping Tehran’s push for a nuke, the president has pursued a policy of appeasement that caused it to discard its significant military and economic leverage and accept a weak interim deal that began the process of unraveling the international sanctions that represented the best chance for a solution without the use of force.

Even faithful Obama supporter Goldberg understands that it would be madness for Israel to withdraw from more territory and replicate the Gaza terror experiment in the West Bank. He also worries that the administration is making a “weak” Iran deal even though he may be the only person on the planet who actually thinks Obama would use force to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.

So why is the administration so angry with Netanyahu? It can’t be because Netanyahu is preventing peace with the Palestinians. After the failure of Kerry’s fool’s errand negotiations and the Hamas missile war on Israel, not even Obama can think peace is at hand. Nor does he really think Netanyahu can stop him from appeasing Iran if Tehran is willing to sign even a weak deal.

The real reason to target Netanyahu is that it is easier to scapegoat the Israelis than to own up to the administration’s mistakes. Rather than usher in a new era of good feelings with the Arab world in keeping with his 2009 Cairo speech, Obama has been the author of policies that have left an already messy Middle East far more dangerous. Rather than ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his decision to withdraw U.S. troops and to dither over the crisis in Syria led to more conflict and the rise of ISIS. Instead of ending the Iranian nuclear threat, Obama is on the road to enabling it. And rather than manage an Israeli-Palestinian standoff that no serious person thought was on the verge of resolution, Obama made things worse with his and Kerry’s hubristic initiatives and constant bickering with Israel.

Despite the administration’s insults, it is not Netanyahu who is weak. He has shown great courage and good judgment in defending his country’s interests even as Obama has encouraged the Palestinians to believe they can hold out for even more unrealistic terms while denying Israel the ammunition it needed to fight Hamas terrorists. While we don’t know whether, as Goldberg believes, it is too late for Israel to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, it is Obama that Iran considers weak as it plays U.S. negotiators for suckers in the firm belief that the U.S. is a paper tiger that is not to be feared any longer.

If there is a crisis, it is one that was created by Obama’s failures and inability to grasp that his ideological prejudices were out of touch with Middle East realities.

The next two years may well see, as Goldberg ominously predicts, even more actions by the administration to downgrade the alliance with Israel. But the blame for this will belong to a president who has never been comfortable with Israel and who has, at every conceivable opportunity, sought conflict with it even though doing so did not advance U.S. interests or the cause of peace. No insult directed at Netanyahu, no matter how crude or pointless, can cover up the president’s record of failure.

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Abbas’s Palestine Is the Real Apartheid State

In recent weeks, critics of Israel have been crying foul over the fact that Jews have moved into some apartments in East Jerusalem neighborhoods. The fact that the homes were legally purchased and that the new residents were merely attempting to reside in the country’s as-yet-undivided capital was seen as irrelevant since the presence of Jews in Arab-majority areas is considered to be an obstacle to a potential partition of the city should a peace agreement with the Palestinians ever be signed. But even if we were to concede that such moves do infuriate Arabs, surely no one, not even Israel’s most adamant opponents, would be comfortable with laws that banned the presence of Jews in parts of Jerusalem or anywhere else. Right? Wrong.

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In recent weeks, critics of Israel have been crying foul over the fact that Jews have moved into some apartments in East Jerusalem neighborhoods. The fact that the homes were legally purchased and that the new residents were merely attempting to reside in the country’s as-yet-undivided capital was seen as irrelevant since the presence of Jews in Arab-majority areas is considered to be an obstacle to a potential partition of the city should a peace agreement with the Palestinians ever be signed. But even if we were to concede that such moves do infuriate Arabs, surely no one, not even Israel’s most adamant opponents, would be comfortable with laws that banned the presence of Jews in parts of Jerusalem or anywhere else. Right? Wrong.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas reacted to the fact that Jews have bought homes from Palestinians in parts of Jerusalem by vowing to toughen existing PA laws that forbid such sales. Yes, that’s right. In “Palestine”—be it the existing PA or Hamas states or the future independent Palestinian state that Europe is so eager to recognize even without it having to make peace with Israel—it is against the law to sell land or a home to a Jew.

The question of whether Jews should move into majority Arab neighborhoods or towns is a question of judgment. Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected any peace deal that would give them an independent state and a share of Jerusalem since it would require them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. It is possible to argue that the two communities are better off living separately. But voluntary separation is one thing, legal restrictions on the right of Jews to live in some areas is something very different.

After all, in the State of Israel, which is routinely and falsely accused of being an “apartheid state,” Arabs may live where they please. When some areas have tried to restrict sales of property to Arabs, Israel’s courts have ruled that this is inconsistent with the principles enunciated in the country’s basic laws. While Israel is not a perfect society and the Arab minority faces challenges that are often rooted in the century-old war over the land, the principle of equality before the law for all citizens is upheld.

But in “Palestine,” not only are there no courts or government to prevent individuals or groups from discriminating, but there it is the government itself that both promulgates and ruthlessly enforces such bias.

As the Times of Israel reports:

According to the official Palestinian Wafa news agency, Abbas on Monday imposed a sentence of hard labor for life on “anyone diverting, renting or selling land to an enemy state or one of its subjects.”

Jordan’s penal code number 16 article 114, applicable in the Palestinian territories, previously subscribed “temporary hard labor” to perpetrators of the crime.

In practice, this means Jews may not buy, rent, or sell land. In other words, should the state of Palestine that sits in the United Nations ever become a real sovereign country it will be the apartheid state, not democratic Israel.

The purpose of such laws is to thwart the Zionist enterprise by which Jews have returned to their ancient homeland by legally purchasing land. But the motivating factor here is Jew hatred. Should Palestine ever become a reality, the neighborhoods where Jews have bought homes would be part of it. At that point these few Jews would be no threat to the Arab majority. But the Palestinian vision of statehood remains one in which Israel would be a country where Jews and Arabs live while Palestine will be a Judenrein—Jew-free—entity.

The point here is that peace is possible if both sides are prepared to compromise and recognize each other’s legitimacy. But the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority of Abbas, that both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry constantly praise as a true peace partner for Israel, is not only not interested in compromising. It is also promulgating and attempting to enforce laws that are based in anti-Semitic incitement. Were Israel to ban Arabs from moving into homes they owned in West Jerusalem, it would prompt an international outcry and condemnations from the United States. But instead America condemns Jews who move into Arab neighborhoods and stays silent when Abbas seeks to treat those who sell to Jews as criminals.

Instead of the Jewish home buying in Jerusalem being an obstacle to peace as Israel’s critics claim, it is the Arab attempt to criminalize selling to a Jew that best illustrates why peace is not yet possible.

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The Issue is Kerry’s Incompetence, Not Israeli Manners

On Friday, the U.S. State Department rejected criticisms from Israeli Economic Minister Naftali Bennett that Secretary of State John Kerry had sought to blame the rise of ISIS on Israel. Spokesperson Marie Harf said Kerry’s remarks a day earlier were “taken out of context” for “political reasons” by Bennett and other Israelis who cried foul. That in turn set off criticisms of Bennett by his Cabinet colleague and rival, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said the Jewish Home Party leader should keep his mouth shut about the United States. But while most observers seemed to focus on the Israeli political dimension of the controversy or the chances that the spat would worsen the already shaky relations between Israel and the U.S., what escaped notice was the fact that in claiming that the failure to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians was helping ISIS, Kerry was actually contradicting President Obama.

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On Friday, the U.S. State Department rejected criticisms from Israeli Economic Minister Naftali Bennett that Secretary of State John Kerry had sought to blame the rise of ISIS on Israel. Spokesperson Marie Harf said Kerry’s remarks a day earlier were “taken out of context” for “political reasons” by Bennett and other Israelis who cried foul. That in turn set off criticisms of Bennett by his Cabinet colleague and rival, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said the Jewish Home Party leader should keep his mouth shut about the United States. But while most observers seemed to focus on the Israeli political dimension of the controversy or the chances that the spat would worsen the already shaky relations between Israel and the U.S., what escaped notice was the fact that in claiming that the failure to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians was helping ISIS, Kerry was actually contradicting President Obama.

On September 24, in his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, Obama said the following:

Leadership will also be necessary to address the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. As bleak as the landscape appears, America will never give up the pursuit of peace. The situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya should cure anyone of the illusion that this conflict is the main source of problems in the region; for far too long; it has been used in part as a way to distract people from problems at home. And the violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace.

Leaving aside Obama’s willingness to blame Israel for not working for peace when, in fact, all they are reacting to is the consistent refusal of their supposed Palestinian peace partners to accept repeated offers of independence and peace, this statement represented genuine progress in the president’s thinking. Obama had in the past repeatedly embraced the notion that ending the Arab-Israeli conflict would solve all the problems in the region but the rise of ISIS had sobered him up a bit. The willingness of many Arab regimes to make common cause with Israel against both ISIS and radical Islamists such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood illustrated the obvious fact that conflict within the Arab world is a function of the division among Muslims, not discontent about Israel’s existence or the failure of peace negotiations.

This was a remarkable departure for a president who had spoken of Western and Israeli guilt for Muslim grievances in his address to the Muslim world in Cairo in June 2009, seemingly having finally woken up to the fact that no amount of apologizing or engagement will make radical Islam go away. But for some reason Kerry is still sticking to the old playbook in which Israelis can be scapegoated for the existence of bloody conflicts in which Jews play no part.

Kerry was, no doubt, playing to his audience of Muslims when he told a State Department ceremony honoring the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha that resentment about the Arab-Israeli conflict was fueling recruitment for ISIS. Since Kerry has consistently and wrongly blamed Israel for the collapse of his peace initiative, it didn’t take much imagination to see that what he was doing was blaming the Jewish state for the fact that ISIS terrorists have overrun much of Syria and Iraq while beheading Westerners. But while the Arab leaders he cited may pay lip service to anti-Israel sentiment by referencing the alleged “humiliation and denial and lack of human dignity” suffered by the Palestinians, ISIS’s popularity is based on promoting hatred of all Westerners and non-Muslims, not just Israelis. Which is to say that Bennett wasn’t off target or taking things out of context when he said, “When a British Muslim decapitates a British Christian, there will always be someone to blame the Jew.”

Yet while Obama called on Muslims to unite against ISIS and to recognize their responsibility to combat radical Islamists, Kerry is still using the same tired clichés about Israel and the Palestinians that even many Arabs are shelving and then looking to pick a fight with Israelis over their umbrage about his lack of perspective.

Israel’s government is probably better off not making much of an issue about Kerry’s latest vile assertion, but there should be no illusions about the attitudes his comments illustrated. If even after the outbreak of a war in Syria in which Muslims have slaughtered Muslims without a mention of Israelis Kerry is capable of sticking to the notion that the grievances of Palestinians who have repeatedly refused to make peace is the reason for ISIS, then his intellectual bankruptcy could not be more obvious.

The point here isn’t that Kerry is foolishly picking quarrels with Israel but that he has demonstrated his unfitness for office at a time when the United States is once again engaging in a conflict with a dangerous Islamist foe. President Obama has allowed Kerry to embark on a futile effort to revive the dead-in-the-water peace process thinking that there would be few consequences for another failure. But Kerry’s incapacity to focus on the ISIS threat presents a bigger problem for the president. If he is truly serious about building a coalition against ISIS, the president needs to stop letting his administration pick pointless fights with Israel. Kerry needs to be fired.

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Which Palestine Do Euros Recognize?

Today the British Parliament voted on a non-binding resolution that recognized Palestine as a state. The 274-12 vote in favor of the symbolic gesture doesn’t affect the actual foreign policy of the United Kingdom but, like the announcement by the new Swedish prime minister earlier this month of his intention to also recognize it as a state, it does constitute more momentum for a Palestinian effort to bypass peace negotiations. This says a lot more about the willingness of Europeans to pressure and even demonize Israel than it does about their supposed support for peace. But as long as they’re talking about recognition, it’s fair to ask which Palestine they are ready to welcome into the family of nations: The weak, corrupt, and undemocratic Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or the terrorist Hamas state in Gaza? Or both?

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Today the British Parliament voted on a non-binding resolution that recognized Palestine as a state. The 274-12 vote in favor of the symbolic gesture doesn’t affect the actual foreign policy of the United Kingdom but, like the announcement by the new Swedish prime minister earlier this month of his intention to also recognize it as a state, it does constitute more momentum for a Palestinian effort to bypass peace negotiations. This says a lot more about the willingness of Europeans to pressure and even demonize Israel than it does about their supposed support for peace. But as long as they’re talking about recognition, it’s fair to ask which Palestine they are ready to welcome into the family of nations: The weak, corrupt, and undemocratic Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or the terrorist Hamas state in Gaza? Or both?

The vote in London was something of a farce as Prime Minister David Cameron has made it clear that it will not influence his nation’s actions. Pushed by rank-and-file members of the opposition Labor Party it appears to be driven by a desire to embarrass its leader Ed Milliband more than anything else. But the inability of Labor’s leaders to quash the vote and in the absence of a strong stand against it by Cameron, who, along with the rest of his government and its supporters, abstained on the measure rather than risk his government by actively opposing it, it’s fair to say that the measure reflects public sympathy for the Palestinians.

Yet like the “Free Gaza” demonstrations that rocked European cities this past summer while Hamas rockets rained down on Israeli cities, one has to wonder what exactly those advocating the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state think they are doing?

At its most basic level, recognizing Palestinian statehood seems to be an expression of sympathy for those who bore the brunt of Hamas’s decision to launch another war against Israel: the people of Gaza. Pictures of Palestinian civilians who were killed, wounded, or made homeless by Israeli counter-attacks against Hamas missile launches and terror tunnels generated a wave of revulsion against the Jewish state as well as a desire to beat one’s chest on behalf of the cause of “Free Palestine.”

But which Palestine are we talking about?

Is it the Palestine of the Palestinian Authority that currently rules most of the West Bank, albeit under the security blanket of the Israel Defense Forces? Undoubtedly, that’s the Palestine the Swedish prime minister thinks he’s backing. That’s a Palestine that is supposedly ready to make peace with Israel but which requires the economic and political support of the West in order to survive.

But, in truth, that Palestine is a corrupt kleptocracy run by Mahmoud Abbas, a man currently serving the 10th year of a four-year presidential term. The Fatah-ruled West Bank is a petty tyranny that oppresses and robs Palestinians while raking in billions in economic aid from Europe and the United States. Its leader frequently tells Western and Israeli audiences that he is ready make peace on the basis of a two-state solution, but he also is adamant about being unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn.

But since so much of the anger at Israel is about Gaza, the fact is all too many Europeans seem willing to overlook their usual abhorrence of terrorism and think of Hamas as a legitimate government of the strip, if not as partners with the PA. That Palestine is a brutally repressive Islamist regime that is allied with those seeking to overthrow moderate Arab governments. Like Fatah in the West Bank, it is not interested in bettering the lives of its people. But unlike the PA, which seems mostly interested in profiteering off of foreign aid, Hamas’s sole obsession is in replenishing its stores of rockets and ammunition and rebuilding its terror tunnels so as to be ready the next time it feels another round of fighting with Israel will be to its advantage. Hamas, which is more popular in the West Bank than Abbas and his party, is dedicated to ending the “occupation” but by that term they are referring to pre-1967 Israel, not forcing it to remove Jews from the West Bank or Jerusalem.

Nor is there much use pretending the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement is the basis of a pro-peace government. The show put on this week for international donors for the reconstruction of Gaza did nothing to bolster confidence in the ability of the so-called government of technocrats of the PA that is allegedly going to supervise the rebuilding of Gaza. In a sign of the contempt that the Palestinians have for the suckers who continue to shovel money into their coffers, the PA would only promise that half of the $5.4 billion pledged would pay for the rebuilding of Gaza. What happens to the other half? We’re told that it will support the PA’s budget until 2017. Which means that it will be divided among the PA’s factions or indirectly shared with Hamas for its own nefarious purposes. But either way, the Swiss bankers who handle the private accounts of PA leaders should get ready for some heavy-duty deposits.

Were Europe’s governments or its pro-Palestinian demonstrators truly interested in peace, they would understand that unilateral recognition of independence is a way for the PA to avoid having to talk with Israel. Whatever they may think of Israel or the Netanyahu government, it has stated its willingness to negotiate a two-state solution. But that outcome can only happen when the Palestinians stop waiting for their foreign friends to hand Israeli concessions—or Israel itself, as Hamas is frank about demanding—to them on a silver platter. If they wanted to support peace, they would tell Abbas to go back to the table with Netanyahu and to be prepared to recognize a Jewish state. They might also encourage him to get rid of Hamas, not become its partner.

Seen in that light talk about recognition of Palestine without first requiring it to make peace with Israel must seen as not merely moral preening at Israel’s expense but a political manifestation of the same anti-Semitic invective that was so common during the “Free Gaza” demonstrations.

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Israel’s Critics and the Next Election

The drumbeat of incitement against Israel in Europe reached a fever pitch this past summer as the war in Gaza raged. But though the anti-Semitic tinged demonstrations in support of a “free Gaza” — albeit one that was ruled by Islamist terrorists raining down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities — have ceased, the incitement continues as does the diplomatic initiatives seeking to pressure Jerusalem to make concessions. But rather than aiding the tiny minority of Israelis who oppose the war, criticism from abroad has seemingly only solidified a national consensus that opposes further territorial withdrawals under the current circumstances. And that is something its foreign detractors as well as American Jews who are bitterly opposed to Israel’s government should try to understand.

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The drumbeat of incitement against Israel in Europe reached a fever pitch this past summer as the war in Gaza raged. But though the anti-Semitic tinged demonstrations in support of a “free Gaza” — albeit one that was ruled by Islamist terrorists raining down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities — have ceased, the incitement continues as does the diplomatic initiatives seeking to pressure Jerusalem to make concessions. But rather than aiding the tiny minority of Israelis who oppose the war, criticism from abroad has seemingly only solidified a national consensus that opposes further territorial withdrawals under the current circumstances. And that is something its foreign detractors as well as American Jews who are bitterly opposed to Israel’s government should try to understand.

Judging by developments in the last week, Israel is more isolated than ever. A new Swedish government announced that it would grant formal recognition to the Palestinian Authority as a state while the European Union made clear it planned to reevaluate bilateral ties with Israel unless it stopped building beyond the 1967 lines and failed to make progress in negotiations with the Palestinians. But rather than acting as a prod to Israel’s government or its people to rethink their stands on the dead-in-the-water peace process, there is no sign that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is worried about its future or rethinking its actions. The events of the past summer have had the opposite effect on Israelis and that is reflected in the moves the prime minister is making toward moving up the dates of the next scheduled parliamentary election.

Having won a second consecutive term (and third overall) as prime minister in January 2013, no elections need be held in the country until at least 2017. But according to the Times of Israel, the prime minister’s decision to move up the date of his party’s primaries and to change procedures for selecting Knesset candidates all indicate that he intends to call for new elections sometime in the next year.

The reasons for this are obvious. In the wake of the war, what remains of Israel’s left-wing pro-peace camp is more discredited than ever. The centrist faction led by Finance Minister Yair Lapid that did so well in the last elections look to be badly beaten the next time voters have their say. Just as important is that Netanyahu is eager to shed what is left of the merger of his Likud Party with that of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael B’Aliya Party that has since been dissolved. Likud will win far more seats on its own next time out while its major right-wing partners Lieberman’s party and Economics Minister Naphtali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party will also likely be a big winner.

While a year is a lifetime in politics, there is little doubt the political landscape is shifting in favor of Netanyahu. While there is plenty of competition for the role of his eventual successor, no one, including Lapid, Lieberman, Bennett or Yitzhak Herzog, leader of the opposition Labor Party, seem to be credible alternatives to Netanyahu as prime minister. Which means that barring some unforeseen cataclysm, the prime minister and his party will be heavily favored to gain a third consecutive term that will place him in the same historic context as the nation’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

In analyzing the reason for this it should be remembered that Netanyahu has never been personally popular and his party remains beset by what sometimes seem like more popular competitors for the votes of right-wingers.

But despite this, Netanyahu represents what is now a centrist consensus about the prospects of peace with the Palestinians. While a majority of Israelis still favor a two-state solution in theory and many would be happy to be rid of much of the West Bank, the Gaza war, they also recognize that in the absence of a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians, such moves are impossible.

With the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas still unable and/or unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, few believe more talks with the PA will accomplish anything. Moreover the growing popularity of Hamas after its futile war reflects support for its desire to destroy Israel and to go on fighting until that goal is accomplished. Given that the Islamist movement leads Abbas in polls of West Bankers that ensures that the PA will not be holding another election anytime in the near future. But it also signals Israelis that any theoretical deal concluded with Abbas would be meaningless if he is succeeded, either by election or coup, by Hamas.

While Israelis are drawing appropriate conclusions from these events, many American Jews and other erstwhile supporters of Israel are not. They continue to attack Netanyahu and, like the left-wing J Street lobby, think that Israel should be saved from itself. But instead of carping about a government that looks to be in power for the foreseeable future, those who claim to be both pro-Israel and pro-peace should think about the need to respect the judgment of the people who were under fire last summer. Israelis don’t want peace any less than Americans but unlike some of their critics, they have been paying attention to what Palestinians say and do. The terror tunnels and the rockets and the support for those who shoot them, not to mention the Palestinian rejection of peace offers, have convinced them that they have no peace partner. In the absence of proof they are wrong, American critics of Israeli democracy should pipe down.

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Jew-Free Jerusalem Neighborhoods Won’t Bring Peace

At first it seemed as if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu escaped his meeting in the White House with President Obama yesterday without a renewal of their long running feud. But before the day was over, it was clear that the administration’s predilection for picking pointless fights with the Israelis hasn’t faded away even as the president appears to be more interested in fighting ISIS than in brokering Middle East peace. By focusing once again on Jewish building in Jerusalem and representing Israel’s actions as an obstacle, the U.S. was not only allowing itself to be distracted from the real problems in the Middle East. By reaffirming its opposition to Jews living in part of their capital, the Americans are also adopting a standard that will make real peace impossible.

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At first it seemed as if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu escaped his meeting in the White House with President Obama yesterday without a renewal of their long running feud. But before the day was over, it was clear that the administration’s predilection for picking pointless fights with the Israelis hasn’t faded away even as the president appears to be more interested in fighting ISIS than in brokering Middle East peace. By focusing once again on Jewish building in Jerusalem and representing Israel’s actions as an obstacle, the U.S. was not only allowing itself to be distracted from the real problems in the Middle East. By reaffirming its opposition to Jews living in part of their capital, the Americans are also adopting a standard that will make real peace impossible.

As Eugene Kontorovich wrote earlier today, the willingness of the Obama administration to use the essentially deceptive terminology of marginal Israeli left-wing groups about settlements distorts the discussion. If you count every apartment built as a “new settlement” you get the impression that Israel is building hundreds, if not thousands of new neighborhoods and towns every year. In fact all they are doing is building homes in existing Jewish communities, the vast majority of which are located in areas that would, even under the parameters that have been suggested by the Obama administration, remain inside Israel even in the event of a peace treaty with the Palestinians.

But the arguments raised yesterday by the administration about new Jewish homes in Jerusalem—which echoed widespread condemnation of these projects by most of the international community—is troubling for more than just the usual reasons. If President Obama and his State Department truly believe that the presence of Jews in some neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace that must be removed in order for an accord to be reached, then what they are doing is tacitly endorsing an Arab demand for Jew-free zones in the ancient capital as well as a Judenrein Palestine.

As Netanyahu pointed out, the notion that it is immoral for Jews to buy property or build homes in parts of the city but that there is nothing wrong with Arabs doing the same in neighborhoods that are predominantly Jewish is inherently prejudicial. The double standard here is appalling. Arabs build (often illegally) throughout the Arab majority neighborhoods of the city and no one thinks twice about it even though, if we were to use the same standard by which Israel is judged, that, too, could be construed as an obstacle to peace.

But the real problem is that treating Jewish building in the territories and especially in Jerusalem as offensive almost by definition confirms the Arab belief that there is something inherently illegitimate about the Jewish presence in the country. It is that concept and not Israeli actions that still constitutes the primary obstacle to peace.

After all, if the Palestinians’ main priority was in establishing an independent state alongside Israel they could have accepted peace offers from Israel that would have given them almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a large share of Jerusalem. But they turned those offers down in 2000, 2001, and 2008 and refused to negotiate seriously with Israel again this year even though Netanyahu had already signaled a willingness to compromise on territory. It wasn’t settlements that stopped them from grabbing independence but the fact that recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish no matter where its borders are drawn was still anathema in their political culture. Indeed, when Hamas, which commands the support of the majority of Palestinians and far more than the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas, speaks of the “occupation,” they are not referring to the West Bank but to all of pre-1967 Israel.

While the majority of Israelis have drawn the appropriate conclusions from Palestinian rejectionism and understand that peace is nowhere in sight, most still hope that someday this will change. But there is no chance that the political culture of the Palestinians will one day make it possible for compromise over the land until the West stops giving moral support to demands for Jew-free zones.

Netanyahu does well to ignore these latest complaints just as he has done in the past, to the applause of the vast majority of Israelis, when the U.S. attacked the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem. If the Palestinians someday make peace and Jerusalem is split, does President Obama really think it can be done on the basis that both Jews and Arabs would populate the Israeli parts but that the Palestinian areas will be ethnically cleansed of all Jews? If so, then their bitter criticism of Jews moving into Silwan or the mixed neighborhood of Givat Hamatos makes sense. But if the goal is to have an open city in which coexistence prevails, then these arguments are counter-productive.

There are reasons why Israelis are wary about the idea of leaving behind Jews in areas that will, at least in theory, become a Palestinian state. Most revolve around the fact that such holdouts will become immediate targets for terrorist murderers. But if the Palestinians are told by the United States that it is perfectly OK for them to demand that no Jew is allowed to live in areas that they might control, including in Jerusalem, then there is no incentive for them to make peace on any terms.

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Obama’s Conflict with Israel Is Sidelined, Not Resolved

President Obama gritted his teeth yesterday and sat down for a meeting in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even at the best of times, the president isn’t good at faking bonhomie and there was little evidence of the usual pretense of good fellowship during the media portion of the session. He doesn’t like Netanyahu, but given his current emphasis on the war against ISIS and the utter collapse of the peace process with the Palestinians, Obama had little choice but to try and downplay his difference with the prime minister. Yet as a scathing State Department statement about Jerusalem issued later in the day revealed, the administration’s conflict with Israel has been sidelined but is far from finished.

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President Obama gritted his teeth yesterday and sat down for a meeting in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even at the best of times, the president isn’t good at faking bonhomie and there was little evidence of the usual pretense of good fellowship during the media portion of the session. He doesn’t like Netanyahu, but given his current emphasis on the war against ISIS and the utter collapse of the peace process with the Palestinians, Obama had little choice but to try and downplay his difference with the prime minister. Yet as a scathing State Department statement about Jerusalem issued later in the day revealed, the administration’s conflict with Israel has been sidelined but is far from finished.

As always, Netanyahu’s statement was a bit closer to reality than that of the president. He highlighted, as he did in his United Nations speech earlier this week, the prospect that the path to peace might come through the good offices of moderate Arab nations in the region rather than relying solely on direct talks with a reluctant Palestinian Authority. Obama pointedly ignored this possibility even though Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly trying to revive his failed peace initiative using this very same strategy.

This ought to have been a moment for some reconciliation between the two feuding leaders. After nearly six years of non-stop bickering, the president had at least one moment of clarity last week when he told the UN General Assembly that the rise of ISIS and the conflicts in Iraq and Syria proved that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wasn’t the cause of all the trouble in the region. That’s a basic truth that it took him years to learn since he has acted and spoken for most of his time in the White House as if Israeli-Palestinian peace would magically transform the Middle East despite the myriad conflicts between Arabs and Muslims that would go on even if Israel disappeared.

The collapse of Kerry’s peace initiative after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas rather than a deal with Israel also should have signaled a course change for the administration. The 50-day war between Israel and Hamas illustrated both Abbas’s irrelevance and his inability to make peace even if he wanted to do it. Hamas’s increased popularity and its determination to use any territory under its control as a terror base also renders the U.S. pressure on Israel to surrender the West Bank, which might well become after such a move another stronghold of radical Islamists like Gaza, a mad scheme that is neither in the interests of the Jewish state or its superpower ally. Whatever the differences between the two governments, this was a good moment for stepping back and emphasizing their shared agenda against Islamist terror.

But this president can’t let go of his obsessions and no one in the Israeli government, least of all its leader, should be under the impression that the changed circumstances that forced Obama to alter his approach will mean smooth sailing until January 2017.

The chief source of tension is obviously Iran. Though Netanyahu tried to make the analogy between the threat from ISIS and that of the Islamist regime and Hamas, the U.S. is not buying it. Both Obama and Kerry are determined to make some sort of nuclear deal with Tehran. If the interim accord they signed last year is any indication, if they get their wish it will be a weak and unenforceable agreement that will do little to stop the Iranians from realizing their ambition. Nor is there any U.S. inducement that can or should cause the Israelis to cease to worry that such a strategy puts them and the West in mortal peril.

As for the Palestinians, though Obama will have his own reasons for thwarting any end run around the peace process by Abbas to get the UN to enact new anti-Israel measures, the administration looks as if it is determined to resume hounding Israel on settlements even though the Hamas war demonstrated anew that the Palestinian impulse to conflict has nothing to do with the location of a future border or the presence of Jews in any particular place. Moreover, even if talks with the Arab states do proceed, it should be clear even to the dullest staffer in the West Wing or Foggy Bottom that moderate Arab states want Israel’s help in fighting Islamists and have little interest in risking their own popularity trying to broker a deal that the Palestinians don’t want no matter how much the Israelis are prepared to give.

If there is anything we have learned about Barack Obama in the last six years it is that he is not a man prepared to admit mistakes (just ask Jim Clapper). For relations between Israel and the United States to really improve—as opposed to the arguments just cooling down every now and then—it will require the president to admit that his idée fixe about settlements won’t bring peace or help the U.S. rally allies in the fight against genuine threats to American security. He will also need to realize that his never-flagging desire for engagement with Iran is bringing the world closer to the nuclear brink, not averting that danger.

For now, Obama’s feud with Netanyahu is on his back burner as he tries to avoid disaster in Iraq and Syria and his party is poised to be beaten in the midterm elections. But it will be back soon. Israelis should be prepared for being back in his cross hairs sooner rather than later.

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