Commentary Magazine


Topic: Middle East peace process

The Price Tag of Palestinian Violence

Much attention has been focused on acts of vandalism and violence in Arab villages that have been perpetrated by Jews living in the West Bank. This is entirely appropriate. Any challenges to the rule of law by the tiny group of extremists who have attacked Palestinians in what they call “price tag” attacks to retaliate for Arab actions or Israeli government crackdowns, or who seek to resist the lawful efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to keep order, must be put down with determination. But as deplorable as their acts are, the reality of the situation in the West Bank is one in which Palestinian violence against Jews is a daily fact of life. That was brought home earlier this week with a roadside shooting near Hebron in which cars carrying an Israeli police officer and his family were riddled with bullets on the way to a Passover seder. The murder of Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrachi and the wounding of his wife and 9-year-old son was just one more example of a growing number of incidents in which Palestinian attacks on Israelis have escalated.

The international press and Western governments tend to shrug their shoulders about such crimes. This stems from either a belief that the Palestinians can’t be expected to restrain themselves from violence against Israelis or from a feeling that the Jews, by their presence in the disputed territory, have it coming. This is monstrous, but just as distressing is the fact that little effort is made to hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for the violence. As the Israeli government has attempted, with little success, to bring to the attention of the world, the Palestinian Authority incites violence against Jews and Israelis in its official print and broadcast media. Moreover, the fact that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas told a group of left-wing members of the Knesset that he wouldn’t officially condemn the murder until a “full investigation of the incident was concluded” spoke volumes about the inability of Israel’s peace partner to even make symbolic, let alone tangible, efforts to promote peace.

Should this affect the ongoing negotiations being promoted by the U.S. between Israel and the PA? The negotiators are right to say that terrorists should not be allowed to sabotage peace. But so long as the PA continues to pay salaries to those who commit such crimes, it is not possible to separate such incidents from the talks. Should they be caught, Mizrachi’s murderers will, as the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote today, be confident that the PA will not rest until they are freed. How can anyone seriously think peace is possible so long as we know that is true?

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Much attention has been focused on acts of vandalism and violence in Arab villages that have been perpetrated by Jews living in the West Bank. This is entirely appropriate. Any challenges to the rule of law by the tiny group of extremists who have attacked Palestinians in what they call “price tag” attacks to retaliate for Arab actions or Israeli government crackdowns, or who seek to resist the lawful efforts of the Israel Defense Forces to keep order, must be put down with determination. But as deplorable as their acts are, the reality of the situation in the West Bank is one in which Palestinian violence against Jews is a daily fact of life. That was brought home earlier this week with a roadside shooting near Hebron in which cars carrying an Israeli police officer and his family were riddled with bullets on the way to a Passover seder. The murder of Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrachi and the wounding of his wife and 9-year-old son was just one more example of a growing number of incidents in which Palestinian attacks on Israelis have escalated.

The international press and Western governments tend to shrug their shoulders about such crimes. This stems from either a belief that the Palestinians can’t be expected to restrain themselves from violence against Israelis or from a feeling that the Jews, by their presence in the disputed territory, have it coming. This is monstrous, but just as distressing is the fact that little effort is made to hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for the violence. As the Israeli government has attempted, with little success, to bring to the attention of the world, the Palestinian Authority incites violence against Jews and Israelis in its official print and broadcast media. Moreover, the fact that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas told a group of left-wing members of the Knesset that he wouldn’t officially condemn the murder until a “full investigation of the incident was concluded” spoke volumes about the inability of Israel’s peace partner to even make symbolic, let alone tangible, efforts to promote peace.

Should this affect the ongoing negotiations being promoted by the U.S. between Israel and the PA? The negotiators are right to say that terrorists should not be allowed to sabotage peace. But so long as the PA continues to pay salaries to those who commit such crimes, it is not possible to separate such incidents from the talks. Should they be caught, Mizrachi’s murderers will, as the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote today, be confident that the PA will not rest until they are freed. How can anyone seriously think peace is possible so long as we know that is true?

The PA reaction to Mizrahi’s murder mirrors virtually every other reaction of the PA to the thousands of violent incidents carried out against Jews since the Oslo Accords. PA officials make amorphous comments condemning violence when speaking to the Western press but never follow up with similar, official statements when talking to their people in PA media in Arabic. Meanwhile the government of the independent Palestinian state-in-all-but-name that already exists in Gaza cheered the murder when Hamas endorsed the attack.

The focus on the stalled peace negotiations and the Palestinian demand for defined borders for the state they hope to create on the West Bank tends to encourage a mindset that sees the conflict as one that is primarily about territory. But the PA’s encouragement of terrorism—both explicit and tacit—illustrates once again that Israeli demands for gestures that show Abbas’s commitment to end the conflict are fundamental to the creation of any lasting or even temporary peace. So long as the PA and their Hamas rivals legitimize attacks or rationalize them as an understandable reaction to the indignity of being forced to live alongside Jewish communities, there is little reason to believe that redrawing Israel’s borders will put an end to the violence.

While the Palestinians deserve the lion’s share of the criticism for this, some of the blame belongs to both the U.S. and Israel. Just as it did in the 1990s with regard to the reprehensible activities of Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat, U.S. attempts to whitewash Abbas make it unlikely that the PA will reconsider its actions. Similarly, as Horovitz notes, Israel’s willingness to engage in prisoner exchanges, which allow terrorists to think any prison sentences they get for their crimes are merely temporary inconveniences, also encourages violence.

While those who claim to constitute the “peace camp” both in Israel and the United States tend to regard any attention given to Palestinian crimes as a distraction from the more important work to negotiate an agreement, so long as the PA isn’t forced to pay a price for its misconduct, Secretary of State John Kerry’s already dim chances for success are reduced to zero. 

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Why Netanyahu Won’t “Go Big”

It turns out the Middle East peace process isn’t quite dead yet. According to the State Department, the “gaps are narrowing” in the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that are still taking place despite the fact that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas formally scuttled the negotiations last week by restarting his futile efforts to gain recognition for Palestinian statehood via the United Nations. Combined with a statement made by Abbas to an Arabic newspaper that he would be willing to keep talking after the expiration of the April deadline provided they were conducted according to his dictates, Secretary of State John Kerry’s brave talk about his initiative still having a chance of success looks a little less silly today.

Nevertheless, given that the Palestinians haven’t really budged an inch on any substantive issue since the talks re-started last year and that Kerry blamed Israel for what happened last week in a statement as bizarre (“poof”) as it was mendacious, it’s hard to see why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be inclined to play along with this farce any longer. Having already demonstrated that they are only interested in forcing Israel to pay for their presence at the table with concessions like the release of terrorist murderers or building freezes in the West Bank or even Jerusalem, it’s clear that Israel has little to gain from more such negotiations. But if the Palestinians do keep talking after April, there’s no doubt that the Israelis will be there too, even if it means bribing Abbas by freeing more murderers. The reason for this will not be because Netanyahu is weak or that the process has an actual chance of success. It will be due to the fact that the prime minister understands that Israel must never walk away from negotiations no matter how futile they are. Moreover, the futility of these efforts is precisely why he knows that his government must not, despite Kerry’s smears, be the one that breaks up the party.

Some Israeli right-wingers fear that Netanyahu will soon break under American pressure and embrace territorial withdrawals while perhaps not even getting a symbolic promise that this means the end of the conflict from Abbas. They’re not the only ones. Faithful Obama administration cheerleader Jeffrey Goldberg writes today in his latest column that the only reason Kerry is persisting in his efforts is because he thinks Netanyahu will do just that and, like Ariel Sharon before him, blow up his Likud Party and transform Israeli politics to get peace. But the problem with this scenario is the one point that even Goldberg concedes is the weak point in Kerry’s efforts: Abbas. The Palestinian has no intention of signing a peace deal under any circumstances.

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It turns out the Middle East peace process isn’t quite dead yet. According to the State Department, the “gaps are narrowing” in the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that are still taking place despite the fact that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas formally scuttled the negotiations last week by restarting his futile efforts to gain recognition for Palestinian statehood via the United Nations. Combined with a statement made by Abbas to an Arabic newspaper that he would be willing to keep talking after the expiration of the April deadline provided they were conducted according to his dictates, Secretary of State John Kerry’s brave talk about his initiative still having a chance of success looks a little less silly today.

Nevertheless, given that the Palestinians haven’t really budged an inch on any substantive issue since the talks re-started last year and that Kerry blamed Israel for what happened last week in a statement as bizarre (“poof”) as it was mendacious, it’s hard to see why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be inclined to play along with this farce any longer. Having already demonstrated that they are only interested in forcing Israel to pay for their presence at the table with concessions like the release of terrorist murderers or building freezes in the West Bank or even Jerusalem, it’s clear that Israel has little to gain from more such negotiations. But if the Palestinians do keep talking after April, there’s no doubt that the Israelis will be there too, even if it means bribing Abbas by freeing more murderers. The reason for this will not be because Netanyahu is weak or that the process has an actual chance of success. It will be due to the fact that the prime minister understands that Israel must never walk away from negotiations no matter how futile they are. Moreover, the futility of these efforts is precisely why he knows that his government must not, despite Kerry’s smears, be the one that breaks up the party.

Some Israeli right-wingers fear that Netanyahu will soon break under American pressure and embrace territorial withdrawals while perhaps not even getting a symbolic promise that this means the end of the conflict from Abbas. They’re not the only ones. Faithful Obama administration cheerleader Jeffrey Goldberg writes today in his latest column that the only reason Kerry is persisting in his efforts is because he thinks Netanyahu will do just that and, like Ariel Sharon before him, blow up his Likud Party and transform Israeli politics to get peace. But the problem with this scenario is the one point that even Goldberg concedes is the weak point in Kerry’s efforts: Abbas. The Palestinian has no intention of signing a peace deal under any circumstances.

If Netanyahu is, despite everything, going to keep showing up every time the Americans beckon, it isn’t because he is now suddenly willing to “go big” and make peace happen. Though his offer was not quite as generous (or should we say foolhardy) as the ones authored by his predecessors Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, he has still put a two-state solution offering Abbas almost all of the West Bank for an independent state. But the notion that peace depends on the person whom Goldberg derides as “this man of inaction” to “risk his political career for a final deal” is laughable. Indeed, by writing these words, Goldberg has more or less forfeited his status as an expert on the Middle East in favor of the title of faithful court stenographer to Kerry.

Before these talks started, wiser heads than Kerry warned the secretary that with the Palestinians divided between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza, Abbas was in no position to make peace. Everything that has happened since then has only confirmed that obvious fact as Abbas has stonewalled during the talks and seized on the first available pretext to flee them.

No prisoner release or settlement freeze will entice Abbas to say the two little words—“Jewish state”—that would indicate he was willing to end rather than pause the conflict with Israel. Nor is there anything that Netanyahu can conceivably do or say that would cause this aging, petty tyrant to risk his life merely to create a Palestinian state. Even nailing himself to the cross of settlement destruction—to use the inapt metaphor that Goldberg says is preferred by Vice President Biden—won’t get Abbas to make peace, and Netanyahu knows it. Though President Obama and Kerry laud Abbas as a man of peace, his unwillingness to speak of an end of the conflict indicates that he is no more willing to compromise and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn than Arafat was.

That leaves Netanyahu with the unpleasant task of managing a conflict that can’t be solved by peace or war. That means showing up for peace talks but having no illusions about it being a fool’s errand. In doing so he may appear to Kerry and his friend Goldberg as a mere “mayor of Israel.” Netanyahu may be a prickly customer who inspires animus in most of his American interlocutors, but he is not stupid. Destroying the Likud to impress Kerry may sound like vision to Goldberg but Netanyahu remembers what happened when Ariel Sharon tried the same thing less than a decade ago before his Gaza withdrawal fiasco. The prime minister has no intention of sacrificing himself just to give Abbas one more chance to prove he can’t or won’t make peace. Anyone, in Israel or the United States, who thinks he will is underestimating both his intelligence and his political acumen.

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Israel Has Few Options With Palestinians

The Palestinian Authority has thumbed its nose at both Israel and the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. By making it clear that it won’t back a U.S. framework for continued negotiations or to agree to any of the mainly symbolic measures that would indicate they are willing to end the conflict with Israel, it’s clear PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seized on the first flimsy pretext for walking out on the talks that came along. The fact that he has been rewarded for this intransigence with a mendacious statement from Kerry to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that turned the truth on its head and placed the blame for the collapse of his initiative on Israel will only make it even less likely that Abbas will be more amenable in the future. That leaves both the U.S. and the parties with the dilemma of what to do next.

Abbas is happily returning to the Palestinians’ pointless campaign for more recognition from the United Nations and its constituent organizations. That won’t do a thing for the Palestinian people either in terms of their desire for independence or their crying need for a better government both in the Fatah-run West Bank and in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Kerry is pondering how to find an excuse for a continuation of his fool’s errand in the Middle East.  Common sense as well as the interests of the Obama administration would indicate that putting the entire enterprise on hold is both the better part of valor and an opportunity to devote his department to more important foreign policy problems.

But it is Israel that is in the most delicate position of the three parts to this love/hate triangle. They would like to put pressure on the Palestinians to get back to the table and to do something to make it clear to Kerry that he won’t get away with scapegoating the Jewish state. But options for doing either of those things are neither palatable nor in the country’s best interests.

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The Palestinian Authority has thumbed its nose at both Israel and the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. By making it clear that it won’t back a U.S. framework for continued negotiations or to agree to any of the mainly symbolic measures that would indicate they are willing to end the conflict with Israel, it’s clear PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seized on the first flimsy pretext for walking out on the talks that came along. The fact that he has been rewarded for this intransigence with a mendacious statement from Kerry to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that turned the truth on its head and placed the blame for the collapse of his initiative on Israel will only make it even less likely that Abbas will be more amenable in the future. That leaves both the U.S. and the parties with the dilemma of what to do next.

Abbas is happily returning to the Palestinians’ pointless campaign for more recognition from the United Nations and its constituent organizations. That won’t do a thing for the Palestinian people either in terms of their desire for independence or their crying need for a better government both in the Fatah-run West Bank and in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Kerry is pondering how to find an excuse for a continuation of his fool’s errand in the Middle East.  Common sense as well as the interests of the Obama administration would indicate that putting the entire enterprise on hold is both the better part of valor and an opportunity to devote his department to more important foreign policy problems.

But it is Israel that is in the most delicate position of the three parts to this love/hate triangle. They would like to put pressure on the Palestinians to get back to the table and to do something to make it clear to Kerry that he won’t get away with scapegoating the Jewish state. But options for doing either of those things are neither palatable nor in the country’s best interests.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government are rightly outraged by Kerry’s offhand swipe at them yesterday when he claimed that the announcement of a housing project in a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem was the reason the talks collapsed. Not only did that have nothing to do with the Palestinian decision to bug out of the process, it was also false to claim that Israel had ever promised not to build in its capital, let alone in established areas that no one questions would stay in the Jewish state even in the event of a peace treaty. But there is little the Israelis can do to make their displeasure with the Americans felt that would not harm an alliance that is essential to its security. While Netanyahu has proved in the past that attacks on his policy of defending the unity of the capital only serve to strengthen him, venting anger at Kerry won’t accomplish anything. As with past insults delivered by President Obama, Netanyahu knows all too well that keeping his powder dry is the best, indeed, only option.

But Israel does have substantial leverage over the Palestinians. The PA depends on Israel for all sorts of revenue as well as on cooperation to keep their ramshackle government and the shoddy services it provides its people from collapse. Even more important, cooperation between the Israeli military and intelligence apparatus does more than deter terrorism against the Jewish state. It also ensures the personal survival of Abbas and his Fatah faction against potential trouble from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. If Israel really pulled the plug on the PA — rather than just taking symbolic steps such as Netanyahu’s order to end meetings between Israeli officials and their Palestinian counterparts, the Fatah apparatus would collapse.

While that sounds good to Israelis who dream of formal annexation of the West Bank in a one state solution that would exclude any Palestinian self-government, that is the last thing Netanyahu wants. The PA foments terrorism and incites hatred of Jews and Israel in its official media. People who have made it clear they won’t make peace with Israel under virtually any circumstances — as Abbas proved in 2008 when he fled talks with Ehud Olmert rather than accept independence — run it. But at this point it is also a necessary evil that Netanyahu understands that he must tolerate.

Without the PA, the task of maintaining Israel’s security would be even tougher. Nor is anyone in Jerusalem seriously interested in returning to the pre-Oslo status quo where the Israelis directly administered the West Bank. Netanyahu can make his displeasure with the PA felt for its UN gambit. But there are limits to how far he can go in punishing them that have nothing to do with American pressure.

Netanyahu would be foolish to go on releasing terrorist murderers to bribe Abbas to come back to the negotiations. Nor should he be asked to make any other unilateral concessions merely for the sake of talks that Abbas does not wish to advance no matter what he was offered. But this is perhaps the moment for him to return to a theme he has sounded in the past about helping make the West Bank more livable via economic development. Now that he has rid himself of the reform-minded Salam Fayyad as his prime minister, Abbas no longer has to pretend he cares much about good government. But it is on this point that he is most vulnerable. Managing the conflict rather than solving it remains the only short-term solution to either side. If Kerry wanted to do something constructive rather than promote a process that is fueled more by his ego than any reasonable prospects of success, that’s what he’d be emphasizing. But in the absence of such a change of heart, Israel has little choice but to sit tight and await the next move by both Kerry and Abbas.

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The Fierce Urgency of the Next Five Years

In his prepared testimony yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “this is a world where American engagement is absolutely critical,” because “no other nation can give people the confidence to come together and confront the most difficult challenges the way the United States can and must.” He related that he hears this particularly about the Middle East peace process — “where I have yet to meet anyone who has argued to me that it’s going to be any easier next week, next year, five years from now.”  

I wish I could meet Secretary Kerry, so he would have to amend that last statement. 

Or perhaps he should just schedule a meeting with Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who last Sunday on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS said he is not only “skeptical” that the situation is “ripe for peace,” but believes it has occupied too much of Secretary Kerry’s time:

I think what we have to admit is that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, while it’s of importance to Israelis and Palestinians, it’s become a local dispute. It won’t affect the dynamics of the Middle East. It’s not going to affect the trajectory of the civil war in Syria or what’s going on in Egypt between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood or what’s happening elsewhere. This has become a local dispute, that, quite honestly, is not worthy of the time and attention the secretary of state and the United States are giving.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is irrelevant to the situation in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, North Korea, the South China Sea — all of which present challenges more serious and direct to American foreign policy than a peace process in which the Palestinians cannot even bring themselves to endorse “two states for two peoples.”

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In his prepared testimony yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “this is a world where American engagement is absolutely critical,” because “no other nation can give people the confidence to come together and confront the most difficult challenges the way the United States can and must.” He related that he hears this particularly about the Middle East peace process — “where I have yet to meet anyone who has argued to me that it’s going to be any easier next week, next year, five years from now.”  

I wish I could meet Secretary Kerry, so he would have to amend that last statement. 

Or perhaps he should just schedule a meeting with Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who last Sunday on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS said he is not only “skeptical” that the situation is “ripe for peace,” but believes it has occupied too much of Secretary Kerry’s time:

I think what we have to admit is that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, while it’s of importance to Israelis and Palestinians, it’s become a local dispute. It won’t affect the dynamics of the Middle East. It’s not going to affect the trajectory of the civil war in Syria or what’s going on in Egypt between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood or what’s happening elsewhere. This has become a local dispute, that, quite honestly, is not worthy of the time and attention the secretary of state and the United States are giving.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is irrelevant to the situation in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, North Korea, the South China Sea — all of which present challenges more serious and direct to American foreign policy than a peace process in which the Palestinians cannot even bring themselves to endorse “two states for two peoples.”

 

Not next week — and probably not next year either — but maybe five years from now, the Palestinians will have an elected president, not someone more than five years past the end of his term. Perhaps they will have a president who can travel in both halves of their putative state. Perhaps they will have a president who condemns the morality of suicide bombers and groups that fire rockets at civilians, instead of simply asserting the methods are not prudent. Perhaps they will have a president who dismantles those terrorist groups, as he once promised, instead of dedicating public space to terrorist “heroes.” Perhaps the Palestinian president will endorse a Jewish state, instead of constantly re-iterating he never will, even in a “peace agreement.” Perhaps he will give a Bir Zeit speech to match the Israeli prime minister’s Bar-Ilan one. Perhaps he will give Israelis confidence that, when the Palestinians sign an agreement not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations with Israel, the Palestinians will actually adhere to their agreement, instead of repeatedly violate it and then ask for pre-negotiation concessions for their agreement to observe it for a few more months.

And I suspect there are more people out there, besides Richard Haass and me, who believe there are urgent foreign policy problems the U.S. is currently ignoring in its messianic quest for a Middle East peace agreement — problems that require leadership from the front, rather than self-congratulation for an asserted ability to “give people the confidence to come together.”

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Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Today in testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry performed a post-mortem on the recent collapse of the Middle East peace talks. According to Kerry, the Palestinian refusal to keep negotiating past April and their decision to flout their treaty commitments by returning to efforts to gain recognition for their non-existent state from the United Nations was all the fault of one decision made by Israel. As the New York Times reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Israel’s announcement of 700 new apartments for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem precipitated the bitter impasse in peace negotiations last week between Israel and the Palestinians.

While Mr. Kerry said both sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, he noted that the publication of tenders for housing units came four days after a deadline passed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and complicated Israel’s own deliberations over whether to extend the talks.

“Poof, that was the moment,” Mr. Kerry said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Poof? To say that this evaluation of the situation is disingenuous would be the understatement of the century. Kerry knows very well that the negotiations were doomed once the Palestinians refused to sign on to the framework for future talks he suggested even though it centered them on the 1967 lines that they demand as the basis for borders. Why? Because Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t say the two little words —“Jewish state”—that would make it clear he intended to end the conflict. Since the talks began last year after Abbas insisted on the release of terrorist murderers in order to get them back to the table, the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on a single issue.

Thus, to blame the collapse on the decision to build apartments in Gilo—a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that would not change hands even in the event a peace treaty were ever signed and where Israel has never promised to stop building—is, to put it mildly, a mendacious effort to shift blame away from the side that seized the first pretext to flee talks onto the one that has made concessions in order to get the Palestinians to sit at the table. But why would Kerry utter such a blatant falsehood about the process he has championed?

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Today in testimony before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry performed a post-mortem on the recent collapse of the Middle East peace talks. According to Kerry, the Palestinian refusal to keep negotiating past April and their decision to flout their treaty commitments by returning to efforts to gain recognition for their non-existent state from the United Nations was all the fault of one decision made by Israel. As the New York Times reports:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Israel’s announcement of 700 new apartments for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem precipitated the bitter impasse in peace negotiations last week between Israel and the Palestinians.

While Mr. Kerry said both sides bore responsibility for “unhelpful” actions, he noted that the publication of tenders for housing units came four days after a deadline passed for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and complicated Israel’s own deliberations over whether to extend the talks.

“Poof, that was the moment,” Mr. Kerry said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Poof? To say that this evaluation of the situation is disingenuous would be the understatement of the century. Kerry knows very well that the negotiations were doomed once the Palestinians refused to sign on to the framework for future talks he suggested even though it centered them on the 1967 lines that they demand as the basis for borders. Why? Because Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wouldn’t say the two little words —“Jewish state”—that would make it clear he intended to end the conflict. Since the talks began last year after Abbas insisted on the release of terrorist murderers in order to get them back to the table, the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on a single issue.

Thus, to blame the collapse on the decision to build apartments in Gilo—a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that would not change hands even in the event a peace treaty were ever signed and where Israel has never promised to stop building—is, to put it mildly, a mendacious effort to shift blame away from the side that seized the first pretext to flee talks onto the one that has made concessions in order to get the Palestinians to sit at the table. But why would Kerry utter such a blatant falsehood about the process he has championed?

The answer is simple. Kerry doesn’t want to blame the Palestinians for walking out because to do so would be a tacit admission that his critics were right when they suggested last year that he was embarking on a fool’s errand. The division between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza has created a dynamic which makes it almost impossible for Abbas to negotiate a deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn even if he wanted to.

Since Kerry hopes to entice the Palestinians back to the talks at some point, blaming Israel also gives him leverage to demand more concessions from the Jewish state to bribe Abbas to negotiate. Being honest about the Palestinian stance would not only undermine the basis for the talks but also make it harder to justify the administration’s continued insistence on pressuring the Israelis rather than seek to force Abbas to alter his intransigent positions.

Seen in that light, Kerry probably thinks no harm can come from blaming the Israelis who have always been the convenient whipping boys of the peace process no matter what the circumstances. But he’s wrong about that too. Just as the Clinton administration did inestimable damage to the credibility of the peace process and set the stage for another round of violence by whitewashing Yasir Arafat’s support for terrorism and incitement to hatred in the 1990s, so, too, do Kerry’s efforts to portray Abbas as the victim rather than the author of this fiasco undermine his efforts for peace.

So long as the Palestinians pay no price for their refusal to give up unrealistic demands for a Jewish retreat from Jerusalem as well as the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants and a refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and end the conflict, peace is impossible no matter what the Netanyahu government does. Appeasing them with lies about Israel, like the efforts of some to absolve Arafat and Abbas for saying no to peace in 2000, 2001, and 2008, only makes it easier for the PA to go on saying no. Whether they are doing so in the hope of extorting more concessions from Israel or because, as is more likely, they have no intention of making peace on any terms, the result is the same.

Telling the truth about the Palestinians might make Kerry look foolish for devoting so much time and effort to a process that never had a chance. But it might lay the groundwork for future success in the event that the sea change in Palestinian opinion that might make peace possible were to occur. Falsely blaming Israel won’t bring that moment any closer. 

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What Peace Looks Like … And Requires

One of the oft-repeated clichés of the Middle East is that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is just a matter of determination on the part of both sides, and intermediaries like the United States, to keep pushing compromise until a treaty is signed. As proof of the ability of common sense and persistence to solve even the most intractable conflicts, we are always told to look to Ireland where, after a centuries-long dispute, the long “troubles” over British attempts to hold onto that country were ended by first a partition of the island and then decades later by a Good Friday agreement brokered by the United States. Today, the success of that peace process was on display when the Irish republic’s president came to London on a state visit where Queen Elizabeth treated him as an equal.

Taken in a historical context, this is an inspiring moment that would have seemed impossible a century ago. Indeed, it was not thought likely even a generation ago as Northern Ireland was racked by riots and sectarian conflict over its future. The violence in Ulster seems to be a thing of the past and even if it is not impossible for that powder keg to be reignited at some point, the transformation of the relationship between the two countries and peoples is not to be underestimated. As the New York Times notes today, the main points of contention between Dublin and London these days are worries in Ireland that Britain may leave the European Union, something that would complicate the extensive ties between the two nations.

But those who cite this as a reason for optimism about the Middle East are doing a grave disservice to the parties there, especially the Palestinians. If Ireland has achieved peace it is because the leaders of the Irish nation made hard choices that the Palestinians have, to this day, never been able or willing to do. Why that is so is a short history lesson that those who persist in placing blame for the lack of peace on Israel need to learn. 

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One of the oft-repeated clichés of the Middle East is that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is just a matter of determination on the part of both sides, and intermediaries like the United States, to keep pushing compromise until a treaty is signed. As proof of the ability of common sense and persistence to solve even the most intractable conflicts, we are always told to look to Ireland where, after a centuries-long dispute, the long “troubles” over British attempts to hold onto that country were ended by first a partition of the island and then decades later by a Good Friday agreement brokered by the United States. Today, the success of that peace process was on display when the Irish republic’s president came to London on a state visit where Queen Elizabeth treated him as an equal.

Taken in a historical context, this is an inspiring moment that would have seemed impossible a century ago. Indeed, it was not thought likely even a generation ago as Northern Ireland was racked by riots and sectarian conflict over its future. The violence in Ulster seems to be a thing of the past and even if it is not impossible for that powder keg to be reignited at some point, the transformation of the relationship between the two countries and peoples is not to be underestimated. As the New York Times notes today, the main points of contention between Dublin and London these days are worries in Ireland that Britain may leave the European Union, something that would complicate the extensive ties between the two nations.

But those who cite this as a reason for optimism about the Middle East are doing a grave disservice to the parties there, especially the Palestinians. If Ireland has achieved peace it is because the leaders of the Irish nation made hard choices that the Palestinians have, to this day, never been able or willing to do. Why that is so is a short history lesson that those who persist in placing blame for the lack of peace on Israel need to learn. 

Apologists for the Palestinians claim that they have chosen peace with Israel via the Oslo Accords as well as the subsequent negotiations in which they have engaged. But in point of fact, first Yasir Arafat and now Mahmoud Abbas have steadfastly refused to accept the half a loaf of independence and freedom that a peace agreement would entail. They’ve refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or agree to its legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. Most of all, they have refused to face down their domestic opponents, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They have instead competed with them for the title of the most anti-Israel.

Had the leaders of Ireland’s early 20th century revolt against British rule done the same, today’s state visit would be unthinkable. What happened in 1922 was that the a majority of the Irish Republican party led by underground hero Michael Collins embraced a compromise peace agreement with Britain that fell far short of their dreams of a united Irish republic. They swallowed hard and accepted a partition that left six of the country’s 26 counties under British rule including a couple in which the country’s Protestant minority was not in the majority. More than that, the democratically elected Irish government (something that can no longer said to be true of Abbas who is currently serving in the ninth year of a four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority) put the question of war and peace in the hands of their people. A majority backed the peace treaty and when the IRA, under Eamon de Valera, did not accept the outcome of the ballot box, a bloody civil war resumed in which the pro-peace faction backed by the British prevailed.

Neither Arafat nor Abbas has ever shown any sign of being to act as Collins did in realizing that a truncated Palestinian state was better than none at all. Neither were they prepared to risk their lives as he did (he was assassinated during the Irish Civil War); nor have they, perhaps for good reason, trusted the Palestinian people to back the cause of peace against those preaching war to the death against the Jews.

The reason for this is, of course, rooted in the very different natures of these two conflicts. It was difficult for many Britons to accept the loss of their first colony. But the reason why they were eventually able to reconcile themselves to the compromise of 1922 was that the purpose of the various Irish rebellions they had put down over the centuries was not the annihilation of the British state. The Irish wanted self-determination but they had no ambition to plant their flag over London or any part of England, Scotland, or Wales. But, though many observers continue to act as if the only point of the conflict in the Middle East is the dispute over the West Bank, Palestinians see all of Israel, and not just settlements over the old “green line,” as their patrimony. Irish nationalism was about the revival of Celtic culture and self-determination on their island. Palestinian nationalism was created as a reaction to Zionism and unfortunately has never outgrown the obsession with seeking to eradicate any Jewish state.

Peace between Palestinians and Israelis is not impossible, at least in theory. It would require Israelis to accept a Palestinian state, a position the overwhelming majority of them, including their supposedly right-wing government, have already accepted. But it also requires the Palestinians to do as the Irish did and give up their maximalist dreams and be willing to put down domestic opposition to peace, even if it means a civil war of their own. Until that happens, dreams of a Middle East version of Anglo-Irish reconciliation are not within the realm of the possible.

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Friends, Enemies, and Columnists

Among the lowest forms of political punditry is the meme by which a writer demonizes a political opponent by identifying them as allies of a known evil. So when New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls casino mogul Sheldon Adelson “Iran’s Best Friend,” it tells us a lot, but none of it has much to do with the controversial billionaire donor to conservative and Jewish causes.

Such a column is one more indication that Friedman has definitively run out of steam in his decades-long run as one of the Times’s op-ed writers. Since assuming his current perch he has shoveled out an unending stream of mainstream liberal conventional wisdom on a variety of topics not limited to his supposed expertise in foreign affairs, but with a particular interest in depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a latter-day Attila the Hun. Regardless of what you think about Netanyahu, Friedman’s efforts to treat those who support the Jewish state as morally equivalent to those who wish to destroy it is a tired cliché. So, too, is the idea that anyone who supports Netanyahu is doing, albeit unwittingly, the bidding of Iran’s Islamist leadership. Like his deservedly mocked columns in which he used anonymous, and no doubt mythical, cabdrivers, to serve as mouthpieces for his own views, this sort of apposition is predictable and not so much ineptly argued, as not argued at all. Friedman simply assumes that the Times’s readership will make the connection between a leading GOP donor and evil without the heavy lifting of actually proving why Adelson’s insistence that would-be Republican candidates refrain from calling the West Bank “occupied” rather than disputed qualifies.

But the definitive proof that this was just the latest example of Friedman mailing it in rather than wading into a topic and making a coherent argument came from his own newspaper today in the form of a column from Shmuel Rosner, who now writes opinions for its online edition from Israel. In it, Rosner relates the dispute about Adelson’s attempt to acquire the Makor Rishon newspaper to add to a collection that already includes Israel Hayom, the Jewish state’s most-read daily. As Rosner writes, some people are up in arms about the acquisition, but they are exactly the types that Friedman most despises: supporters of the settler movement. Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and others to the right of the prime minister fear that Makor Rishon will become, like Israel Hayom, a strong supporter of Netanyahu rather than a critic. While Bennett’s risible and futile attempt to handicap Adelson’s papers with legislation intended to lower their circulation need not trouble American readers much, what they can glean from this account is that the settlers fear Adelson will use his bully pulpits to back a peace agreement in the event Netanyahu ever signs one. Rosner’s concern is that Adelson may be about to “silence the Israeli right.” Thus, even though I believe Rosner is wrong about there being a danger that anyone in Israel will be silenced, Friedman’s absurd hyperbole about Adelson is not only lazy but also inaccurate.

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Among the lowest forms of political punditry is the meme by which a writer demonizes a political opponent by identifying them as allies of a known evil. So when New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman calls casino mogul Sheldon Adelson “Iran’s Best Friend,” it tells us a lot, but none of it has much to do with the controversial billionaire donor to conservative and Jewish causes.

Such a column is one more indication that Friedman has definitively run out of steam in his decades-long run as one of the Times’s op-ed writers. Since assuming his current perch he has shoveled out an unending stream of mainstream liberal conventional wisdom on a variety of topics not limited to his supposed expertise in foreign affairs, but with a particular interest in depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a latter-day Attila the Hun. Regardless of what you think about Netanyahu, Friedman’s efforts to treat those who support the Jewish state as morally equivalent to those who wish to destroy it is a tired cliché. So, too, is the idea that anyone who supports Netanyahu is doing, albeit unwittingly, the bidding of Iran’s Islamist leadership. Like his deservedly mocked columns in which he used anonymous, and no doubt mythical, cabdrivers, to serve as mouthpieces for his own views, this sort of apposition is predictable and not so much ineptly argued, as not argued at all. Friedman simply assumes that the Times’s readership will make the connection between a leading GOP donor and evil without the heavy lifting of actually proving why Adelson’s insistence that would-be Republican candidates refrain from calling the West Bank “occupied” rather than disputed qualifies.

But the definitive proof that this was just the latest example of Friedman mailing it in rather than wading into a topic and making a coherent argument came from his own newspaper today in the form of a column from Shmuel Rosner, who now writes opinions for its online edition from Israel. In it, Rosner relates the dispute about Adelson’s attempt to acquire the Makor Rishon newspaper to add to a collection that already includes Israel Hayom, the Jewish state’s most-read daily. As Rosner writes, some people are up in arms about the acquisition, but they are exactly the types that Friedman most despises: supporters of the settler movement. Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and others to the right of the prime minister fear that Makor Rishon will become, like Israel Hayom, a strong supporter of Netanyahu rather than a critic. While Bennett’s risible and futile attempt to handicap Adelson’s papers with legislation intended to lower their circulation need not trouble American readers much, what they can glean from this account is that the settlers fear Adelson will use his bully pulpits to back a peace agreement in the event Netanyahu ever signs one. Rosner’s concern is that Adelson may be about to “silence the Israeli right.” Thus, even though I believe Rosner is wrong about there being a danger that anyone in Israel will be silenced, Friedman’s absurd hyperbole about Adelson is not only lazy but also inaccurate.

Like the Israeli left that our Tom Wilson rightly depicted as being stuck in an Oslo time warp, Friedman’s problem is that his predictions of Israeli doom have proved as foolish as his best-selling effort to convince us that technology would trump religion, prejudice, and nationalism in the Arab world. He gives away the game when he concedes, “I don’t know if Israel has a Palestinian partner for a secure withdrawal from the West Bank, or ever will.” He then follows this snippet of realism by claiming that Israel must find a way to get out of the West Bank, peace partner or not. But the reason why the overwhelming majority of Israelis have rejected another willy-nilly withdrawal regardless of consequences is that they have no interest in repeating what happened in Gaza in 2005 when Ariel Sharon did just that.

Friedman has a history of trying to delegitimize supporters of Israel. As I wrote here in 2011, his efforts to depict the ovations that Netanyahu received that year from Congress as being “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby” reinforced a central myth of anti-Semitism about Jews and money. To use the same logic employed by Friedman today against Adelson, one could say that by doing so, the columnist was showing himself to be an ally of Hitler’s spiritual descendants. But Friedman’s umbrage at his critics then has not tempered his subsequent writings using the same sort of invective.

The problem here is not just that writer’s hypocrisy and his lack of intellectual integrity. The much-heralded exchange between Adelson and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie about what to call the West Bank was merely an attempt to level the rhetorical playing field on which the Israelis and the Palestinians are located. In doing so, the man whom Friedman denounces as “crude” was actually showing a greater grasp of nuance than the columnist who poses as a Middle East expert.

Israel’s friends in this country have every right to speak up and ask potential candidates to speak clearly about the Middle East, especially when so many, like Christie, clearly have no real grasp of foreign policy or the details of the conflict with the Palestinians. In a political landscape filled with foreign-policy blind men, a one-eyed pundit like Friedman likes to play the king. Having reflexively denounced Netanyahu and all those who support him as enemies of peace for so long, the decision of the Palestinians to walk out of the negotiations—a stance that is, for all intents and purposes, a fourth “no” to peace in the last 15 years—Friedman refuses to draw conclusions from events that have contradicted his past positions. Nor does he recognize any distinctions between those who back Israel’s democratically-elected government and a settler movement that is horrified by Netanyahu’s embrace of the two-state solution. In writing in this manner, Friedman tells us nothing about who is a friend or an enemy of Israel, but a lot about his own lack of intellectual rigor.

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Reality Check? Kerry’s Is Long Overdue

Secretary of State John Kerry’s reaction to the collapse of his Middle East peace initiative was entirely predictable. Eschewing any responsibility for having personally stage-managed this fiasco, he told the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority in a statement that they needed to understand that he had better things to do if they weren’t willing to play ball. As the New York Times reported:

“There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward,” said Mr. Kerry, who added it was “reality check time.”

He’s right about that, but if there is anyone involved with this mess that needs a reality check, it’s Kerry.

The secretary ignored the advice of wiser foreign-policy analysts who cautioned that there was no reason to believe there was a chance of forging a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He then plunged head first into the process convinced that he could succeed where all others had failed, all the while warning the Israelis that they would face violence and boycotts if they didn’t do as he asked. But while both Kerry and President Obama continued to praise PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a peacemaker, it was he who always had his eye on the exit sign from the talks.

Abbas seized on the first pretext he could find to flee the negotiations and now Kerry is left looking foolish. But the problem here is not whether Kerry might be better employed dealing with more urgent U.S. foreign-policy issues like the Russian attack on the Ukraine, the Iran nuclear talks, or even the human-rights catastrophe in Syria than in wasting more time trying to coax the Palestinians back to the table. It’s whether Kerry’s grasp of reality is so tenuous that rather than backing away from a no-win situation, he decides to double down and try to shove a U.S. peace plan down Israel’s throat.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s reaction to the collapse of his Middle East peace initiative was entirely predictable. Eschewing any responsibility for having personally stage-managed this fiasco, he told the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority in a statement that they needed to understand that he had better things to do if they weren’t willing to play ball. As the New York Times reported:

“There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward,” said Mr. Kerry, who added it was “reality check time.”

He’s right about that, but if there is anyone involved with this mess that needs a reality check, it’s Kerry.

The secretary ignored the advice of wiser foreign-policy analysts who cautioned that there was no reason to believe there was a chance of forging a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He then plunged head first into the process convinced that he could succeed where all others had failed, all the while warning the Israelis that they would face violence and boycotts if they didn’t do as he asked. But while both Kerry and President Obama continued to praise PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a peacemaker, it was he who always had his eye on the exit sign from the talks.

Abbas seized on the first pretext he could find to flee the negotiations and now Kerry is left looking foolish. But the problem here is not whether Kerry might be better employed dealing with more urgent U.S. foreign-policy issues like the Russian attack on the Ukraine, the Iran nuclear talks, or even the human-rights catastrophe in Syria than in wasting more time trying to coax the Palestinians back to the table. It’s whether Kerry’s grasp of reality is so tenuous that rather than backing away from a no-win situation, he decides to double down and try to shove a U.S. peace plan down Israel’s throat.

Kerry knows that throughout this process, it has been Israel who has been forced to pay for the talks with concessions. That was true before the talks began when it was pressured into promising to release more than 100 terrorist murderers to bribe Abbas to come back to the table. It was also true during the negotiations when Israel showed itself again to be willing to withdraw from almost all of the West Bank to create an independent Palestinian state while the Palestinians stonewalled.

It’s hard to believe Kerry is truly offended that the Israelis have been unwilling to release the last batch of murderers without some assurance from the Palestinians that they will keep talking after April or that he views this sensible decision as being somehow comparable to Abbas’s walkout and decision to go back to his quixotic effort to gain more recognition for his non-state from the United Nations. Abbas’s refusal to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state—a measure that indicates he is willing to end the conflict rather than merely pause it—as Kerry asked should have alerted the secretary to the fact that the Palestinians simply aren’t interested in an agreement.

This is the moment for a reality check in which Kerry finally grasps that the division between Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza is too great to allow the former to sign a peace treaty that will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. But instead of pulling back from the process and realizing that all he has done is to take a stable, if unsatisfactory situation and increased the chances that it could blow up, there is now a very real possibility that he will make things even worse by trying to impose an American plan on the parties.

Such a plan would almost certainly involve territorial concessions for the Jewish state that go beyond previous offers including a more drastic (and unworkable) partition of Jerusalem. It may also leave out some of the elements that Kerry included in the peace framework that the Israelis accepted and the Palestinians rejected. These include security guarantees and the symbolic though important provisions that would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. But Kerry needs to realize that no matter what a U.S. plan says, Abbas hasn’t the will or the ability to sign a peace agreement.

The secretary has two choices. He can pull back from the talks and instead seek to manage the conflict and give the Palestinians incentives to work on developing better governance, infrastructure, and a free-market economy—things that former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tried and failed to create thanks to lack of support from Abbas and Fatah. Or he can dive even deeper into the abyss and make another explosion of violence even more likely by setting up an even bigger diplomatic failure with a U.S. plan that is certain to crash and burn.

If he doesn’t understand that the first of those two is the only rational alternative for the U.S. at this point, then perhaps it is President Obama who needs to impose a “reality check” on the State Department.

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The Peace Process Blame Game

It was to be expected that the Obama administration would seek to cast blame yesterday for the apparent collapse of the Middle East peace process championed by Secretary of State John Kerry on both Israel and the Palestinians. White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said the president was disappointed with the “unhelpful, unilateral actions both parties have taken in recent days.” He added that “tit for tat” actions were counterproductive but that despite ominous signs, the U.S. administration still believed diplomacy had a chance.

Like the talk about a “cycle of violence” every time a terrorist attack on an Israeli target provokes a response, the decision by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to torpedo Kerry’s proposal to keep the talks going beyond April is being interpreted as being as much Israel’s fault as that of the Palestinians. Kerry, who is not giving up so easily, issued his own statement challenging both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to lead their peoples to peace. Though he has taken on the task of trying to cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace as a personal crusade, in his comments after Abbas’s actions, Kerry returned to the familiar theme that the U.S. couldn’t want peace more than two parties to the conflict.

But while even-handedly casting blame for the apparent failure of Kerry’s initiative enables the U.S. to continue to try to cajole the Palestinians to keep talking, this effort speaks volumes about the inherent problems in the process. It may be true that, as Kerry claimed, “The fight right now, the disagreement between them, is not over the fundamental substance of a final status agreement. It is over the process that would get you there and what you need to do in order to be able to continue to negotiate.” But the unwillingness of the Palestinians to get from point A to point B in order to achieve statehood tells us much more about the daunting nature of the task Kerry has assumed than the “tit for tat” narrative being circulated by the Americans.

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It was to be expected that the Obama administration would seek to cast blame yesterday for the apparent collapse of the Middle East peace process championed by Secretary of State John Kerry on both Israel and the Palestinians. White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said the president was disappointed with the “unhelpful, unilateral actions both parties have taken in recent days.” He added that “tit for tat” actions were counterproductive but that despite ominous signs, the U.S. administration still believed diplomacy had a chance.

Like the talk about a “cycle of violence” every time a terrorist attack on an Israeli target provokes a response, the decision by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to torpedo Kerry’s proposal to keep the talks going beyond April is being interpreted as being as much Israel’s fault as that of the Palestinians. Kerry, who is not giving up so easily, issued his own statement challenging both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to lead their peoples to peace. Though he has taken on the task of trying to cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace as a personal crusade, in his comments after Abbas’s actions, Kerry returned to the familiar theme that the U.S. couldn’t want peace more than two parties to the conflict.

But while even-handedly casting blame for the apparent failure of Kerry’s initiative enables the U.S. to continue to try to cajole the Palestinians to keep talking, this effort speaks volumes about the inherent problems in the process. It may be true that, as Kerry claimed, “The fight right now, the disagreement between them, is not over the fundamental substance of a final status agreement. It is over the process that would get you there and what you need to do in order to be able to continue to negotiate.” But the unwillingness of the Palestinians to get from point A to point B in order to achieve statehood tells us much more about the daunting nature of the task Kerry has assumed than the “tit for tat” narrative being circulated by the Americans.

As David Horovitz writes in the Times of Israel today, the crisis revolves around the doubts about Abbas’s willingness to make peace under any circumstances:

The Palestinians have a weak president who, while no duplicitous, terror-fostering Arafat, never confronted the narrative bequeathed by his unlamented predecessor, to the effect that the Jews have no sovereign legitimacy in this part of the world.

Every account of the talks that have been going on the past several months agrees that while the Israelis have put proposals on the table about statehood that, while not exactly what the Palestinians wanted, were at least measures that would give them statehood and independence. But the Palestinians haven’t budged an inch on their demands or on their refusal to make symbolic gestures that would make it clear they intended to end the conflict.

While the Israelis have indicated a willingness to keep talking, Abbas has seized upon the first available pretext to abandon the negotiations to resume his efforts to gain further recognition from the United Nations, even though that will do nothing for his people and does little harm to the Israelis.

But Netanyahu is being blamed for balking at releasing another batch of terrorist murderers (including many Israeli citizens) without some assurance that the Palestinians would keep negotiating. An announcement of a housing project in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo (a 40-plus-year-old “settlement”) was also seen as provocative even though both sides know that such an area would remain part of Israel in any peace agreement. Above all, Netanyahu is being castigated for having asked Abbas to acknowledge their acceptance of Israel being the nation state of the Jewish people just as the putative Palestinian state is that of the Palestinian Arabs.

But none of that gainsays the fact that Netanyahu’s government has indicated it will accept a Palestinian state and will compromise on territory in order to make it happen. In return, the Palestinians are still willing to do nothing to indicate that this would cause them to give up their century-long war on Zionism. If Netanyahu erred, it was in his initial decision to release more than 100 terrorist murderers (who were subsequently honored by Abbas) in the first place without gaining something from the Palestinians. Having been bribed by Kerry to come back to the table, Abbas thinks the whole point of the process is to give the Palestinians what they want without making them do anything in exchange for these concessions.

As Horovitz writes:

At the heart of the impasse, however, lies a fundamental asymmetry: Israeli Jews have come to believe that their own best interests, and specifically the imperative to retain a Jewish and democratic Israel, require an accommodation with the Palestinians. There is no comparable imperative on the Palestinian side — not, that is, so long as much of the international community persists in indicating to the Palestinians that they will be able to achieve full independence and sovereignty without the inconvenience of coming to terms with Israel.

It may be convenient to blame both sides. But there is little doubt that the process is failing for the same reason that it failed in 2000, 2001, and 2008 (when Abbas fled the table rather than be forced to answer Ehud Olmert’s offer of statehood). Neither the Palestinian leadership nor their people seem as interested in ending the conflict as the Israelis.

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The Disturbing Pollard Debate

The decision of Secretary of State John Kerry to inject the question of Jonathan Pollard into his quest to keep Middle East peace negotiations alive was a complete and total fiasco. As I noted earlier today, not only was it a futile “Hail Mary” pass that was contemptuously torpedoed by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, even if both the PA and Israel had agreed to the terms of the proposed deal—which would have required Israel to free another batch of terrorist murderers and several hundred other security prisoners—it would have only meant continued negotiations with little hope that they will lead to an actual agreement.

The collapse of this effort is a great disappointment to those who have worked for Pollard’s release and a relief to those who want him to rot in jail. But the most disturbing element of this incident is not so much the latest proof of Kerry’s foolishness as it is the way that the discussion over Pollard has brought back to the surface the myths and misinformation about the case that come to the fore every time his name is in the news. Though advocates for his release are right to view Pollard’s sentence as excessive, much of what we have been hearing about him this week demonstrates anew the extent of the damage that he and his handlers did to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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The decision of Secretary of State John Kerry to inject the question of Jonathan Pollard into his quest to keep Middle East peace negotiations alive was a complete and total fiasco. As I noted earlier today, not only was it a futile “Hail Mary” pass that was contemptuously torpedoed by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, even if both the PA and Israel had agreed to the terms of the proposed deal—which would have required Israel to free another batch of terrorist murderers and several hundred other security prisoners—it would have only meant continued negotiations with little hope that they will lead to an actual agreement.

The collapse of this effort is a great disappointment to those who have worked for Pollard’s release and a relief to those who want him to rot in jail. But the most disturbing element of this incident is not so much the latest proof of Kerry’s foolishness as it is the way that the discussion over Pollard has brought back to the surface the myths and misinformation about the case that come to the fore every time his name is in the news. Though advocates for his release are right to view Pollard’s sentence as excessive, much of what we have been hearing about him this week demonstrates anew the extent of the damage that he and his handlers did to the U.S.-Israel relationship.

At its heart, the debate about Pollard is about two competing themes. As I wrote in a comprehensive summary of the case three years ago, both Pollard’s defenders and his critics exaggerate their arguments. Though the information Pollard passed to the Israelis was, no doubt, useful to them, the assumption that it was a game-changer in terms of its security is unfounded. So, too, is the notion that the Israelis had a “right” to the information.

By the same token, the comparisons made between Pollard and various Soviet agents are absurd. Pollard was not spying for a hostile power and there is no evidence, nor even a reasonable argument to be made on behalf of the notion that he was in any way responsible for the deaths of U.S. agents in the field. Nor was what he did was in any way comparable to the revelations of Edward Snowden who deliberately sought to undermine U.S. intelligence operations and then fled to the safety of a hostile nation where he continues to thumb his nose at the United States. What he did was bad enough and deserving of severe punishment, but the manner with which the intelligence establishment has demonized him and made his release even after decades in prison and long after any information he might have possessed was relevant is as excessive as it is illogical.

The fact remains no one who ever spied for an ally—something that the U.S. has no scruples about doing itself with regard to Israel or other friendly nations like Germany—has ever received such a harsh sentence. Most such incidents are quickly covered up and forgotten. While Pollard’s espionage was particularly egregious, the life sentence he received violated the plea bargain negotiated with him by the government. The main reason he is still in jail is not so much the desire of the government to keep him locked up but the result of legal errors by his original attorneys that prevented appeals that would have almost certainly been successful in reducing his sentence. After 28 years, many of them in solitary, it cannot be asserted that he has not been punished or that defense of the rule of law depends on his continued incarceration. Since he will be eligible for parole in the fall of 2015, the talk about keeping him in prison forever is just hot air.

Nevertheless, this is an apt moment for both Israelis and Americans who are campaigning for his release to recognize that efforts to portray him as a hero are as damaging as they are misguided. It is legitimate for the Israeli government to seek the release of someone who is being punished for acts committed in the name of their country. But those who succumb to the temptation to treat his actions as anything other than a profoundly misguided operation are dead wrong.

Anyone listening to the debate about Pollard being conducted in the last week must understand that his name is synonymous with charges of dual loyalty against American Jews who serve in both the U.S. government and its armed forces. As I detailed in my 2011 article, the damage that the cynical decision to employ a foolish and unstable person as a spy has done to American Jews and to the vital alliance between the U.S. and Israel is incalculable.

While after serving so much time in prison he is deserving of clemency, I stand by my previous conclusion about what should be the final word about this subject:

Long after his release or death, Pollard’s behavior will still be used to bolster the slurs of those who wish to promote the pernicious myth that there is a contradiction between American patriotism and deep concern for the safety of the State of Israel. It is this damning epitaph, and not the claims of martyrdom that have been put forward to stir sympathy for his plight, that will be Jonathan Pollard’s true legacy.

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Kerry’s Hubris Leads to a Great Fall

It was just a couple of months ago that Secretary of State John Kerry was being lauded as, in the words of CNN, “a surprise success.” He was hailed by the chattering classes as having exceeded Hillary Clinton’s record by showing daring instead of her instinctive caution. After all, hadn’t he managed to preside over a nuclear deal with Iran, saved President Obama’s face by negotiating a good deal with Russia about Syrian chemical weapons, and made progress on a withdrawal agreement in Afghanistan? Most of all, his audacious decision to restart Middle East peace talks when everyone was warning him it was a fool’s errand was seen as having great promise. As the Atlantic gushed, “It’s looking more and more possible that when the history of early-21st-century diplomacy gets written, it will be Kerry who is credited with making the State Department relevant again.”

But that was then. Today, Kerry is being rightly lambasted by the left, right, and center for his idiotic decision to introduce the issue of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release into the Middle East peace negotiations. The collapse of those talks and Kerry’s frantic and desperate Hail Mary pass merely to keep the sides talking after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to scuttle the effort illustrates the secretary’s flawed strategy and lack of a coherent backup plan. But the Middle East is not the only place where Kerry’s supposedly inspired leadership has failed. Kerry ignored and then mishandled unrest in Egypt and alienated allies across the Middle East. The special relationship that Kerry had cultivated with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (according to the Times the two had bonded over their love of ice hockey) has also not only proved useless in getting the Russians to do what they promised in Syria but has led to further humiliations for the U.S. as the Putin regime overran Crimea and threatened the rest of the Ukraine. Kerry’s dependence on the Russians is also likely to lead to more failure on the Iranian nuclear front since Moscow is even less inclined than it already was to pressure Tehran to sign an agreement that can be represented as a victory for U.S. diplomacy.

A generous evaluation of Kerry’s actions might merely ascribe this to a string of bad luck. But luck has nothing to do with it. The common thread between these various diplomatic dead-ends isn’t that small-minded and recalcitrant foreign leaders thwarted Kerry’s bold initiatives. It’s that in all these situations, Kerry believed the force of his personality and his tenacity was equal to the task of solving problems that had flummoxed all of his predecessors. Aaron David Miller perceptively wrote last fall at a moment when Kerry’s fortunes seemed to be on the rise, “Rarely have I encountered anyone — let alone a secretary of state — who seemed more self-confident about his own point of view and not all that interested in somebody else’s.” It was this hubris that has led to his current humiliation.

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It was just a couple of months ago that Secretary of State John Kerry was being lauded as, in the words of CNN, “a surprise success.” He was hailed by the chattering classes as having exceeded Hillary Clinton’s record by showing daring instead of her instinctive caution. After all, hadn’t he managed to preside over a nuclear deal with Iran, saved President Obama’s face by negotiating a good deal with Russia about Syrian chemical weapons, and made progress on a withdrawal agreement in Afghanistan? Most of all, his audacious decision to restart Middle East peace talks when everyone was warning him it was a fool’s errand was seen as having great promise. As the Atlantic gushed, “It’s looking more and more possible that when the history of early-21st-century diplomacy gets written, it will be Kerry who is credited with making the State Department relevant again.”

But that was then. Today, Kerry is being rightly lambasted by the left, right, and center for his idiotic decision to introduce the issue of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard’s release into the Middle East peace negotiations. The collapse of those talks and Kerry’s frantic and desperate Hail Mary pass merely to keep the sides talking after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to scuttle the effort illustrates the secretary’s flawed strategy and lack of a coherent backup plan. But the Middle East is not the only place where Kerry’s supposedly inspired leadership has failed. Kerry ignored and then mishandled unrest in Egypt and alienated allies across the Middle East. The special relationship that Kerry had cultivated with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (according to the Times the two had bonded over their love of ice hockey) has also not only proved useless in getting the Russians to do what they promised in Syria but has led to further humiliations for the U.S. as the Putin regime overran Crimea and threatened the rest of the Ukraine. Kerry’s dependence on the Russians is also likely to lead to more failure on the Iranian nuclear front since Moscow is even less inclined than it already was to pressure Tehran to sign an agreement that can be represented as a victory for U.S. diplomacy.

A generous evaluation of Kerry’s actions might merely ascribe this to a string of bad luck. But luck has nothing to do with it. The common thread between these various diplomatic dead-ends isn’t that small-minded and recalcitrant foreign leaders thwarted Kerry’s bold initiatives. It’s that in all these situations, Kerry believed the force of his personality and his tenacity was equal to the task of solving problems that had flummoxed all of his predecessors. Aaron David Miller perceptively wrote last fall at a moment when Kerry’s fortunes seemed to be on the rise, “Rarely have I encountered anyone — let alone a secretary of state — who seemed more self-confident about his own point of view and not all that interested in somebody else’s.” It was this hubris that has led to his current humiliation.

In a rare example of agreement between the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, both ridiculed Kerry’s use of Pollard as a pathetic Hail Mary pass to revive the peace negotiations that had been scuttled by Abbas. Though the two papers came at the issue from different perspectives—the Journal correctly thought it was wrong to trade a spy for the terrorist murderers Abbas wanted Israel to free while the Times thought that the gesture would advance the negotiations—they spoke for just about everybody inside and outside the U.S. foreign-policy establishment in declaring the Pollard gambit to be a sign of desperation on the part of the secretary.

The problem here isn’t just that including Pollard in the talks was wrong-headed and unlikely to yield positive results. It’s that Kerry is so invested in trying to prop up a process that never had a chance of success that he’s willing to gamble with America’s credibility. While he proved able to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, Kerry’s naïve miscalculation about Abbas being willing or able to make peace has led to the current stalemate. Even worse, Kerry’s desperation has emboldened Abbas to keep asking for more and more with no sign that he will ever risk signing a deal that will end the conflict. The talk about Pollard is significant not just because it’s a bad idea but because it reflects American weakness rather than boldness.

But while Kerry’s self-image is sufficiently grandiose to insulate him against criticisms, those who will pay the price for his failures will not be so fortunate. The Ukrainians know they cannot count on the U.S., and by raising expectations that were inevitably dashed the secretary has increased the chances of violence in the wake of his Middle East fiasco. Nor will those who may eventually be faced with the reality of an Iranian bomb remember him kindly. Not long ago liberal pundits were singing his praises. Now he should consider himself lucky if he is not soon considered a consensus choice for the title of the worst secretary of state in recent memory.

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Abbas Fled Talks the First Chance He Got

Though nothing is permanent in the Middle East peace process, for the moment it appears that the Palestinians have finally found a way to scuttle the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. Though Kerry had brokered an unlikely last-minute compromise that would have ensured the release of another batch of terrorist murderers that the Palestinian Authority had demanded, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t buying it. Today, he signed papers indicating the PA’s request to join 15 international agencies, a clear violation of their Oslo obligations and commitments made to the United States. This was a signal that Abbas wouldn’t keep negotiating in spite of Kerry’s efforts to give them what they wanted. As a result, Kerry has canceled his planned trip back to the region, leaving, at least for the moment, the impression that the talks are at an end.

If the Palestinians continue to refuse to keep talking, it will mean that the deal Kerry had cooked up to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement to release one more batch of terrorists including Israeli citizens and then another larger group of prisoners not convicted of violent crimes, will have been for nothing. That deal would have been a poor bargain for Israel in that it would have meant making real concessions — releasing Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorist murders as well as a promise of a limited freeze on building in the West Bank — in exchange for a man who might well be free on parole in 2015 anyway. The irony of having someone like Pollard who, though his crime was grave and did real damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship, acted in what he thought was Israel’s interest, being traded for people with Jewish blood on their hands, was so great that reportedly even the spy opposed it.

But the main conclusion to draw from these events isn’t about the Israeli desire to see Pollard freed after 28 years in prison but about Abbas’ desire to evade the peace process. What has happened isn’t so much a negotiation that went wrong, as it is the PA leader seizing the first opportunity that came his way to flee peace negotiations that he never wanted to join in the first place.

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Though nothing is permanent in the Middle East peace process, for the moment it appears that the Palestinians have finally found a way to scuttle the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. Though Kerry had brokered an unlikely last-minute compromise that would have ensured the release of another batch of terrorist murderers that the Palestinian Authority had demanded, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t buying it. Today, he signed papers indicating the PA’s request to join 15 international agencies, a clear violation of their Oslo obligations and commitments made to the United States. This was a signal that Abbas wouldn’t keep negotiating in spite of Kerry’s efforts to give them what they wanted. As a result, Kerry has canceled his planned trip back to the region, leaving, at least for the moment, the impression that the talks are at an end.

If the Palestinians continue to refuse to keep talking, it will mean that the deal Kerry had cooked up to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement to release one more batch of terrorists including Israeli citizens and then another larger group of prisoners not convicted of violent crimes, will have been for nothing. That deal would have been a poor bargain for Israel in that it would have meant making real concessions — releasing Israeli Arabs convicted of terrorist murders as well as a promise of a limited freeze on building in the West Bank — in exchange for a man who might well be free on parole in 2015 anyway. The irony of having someone like Pollard who, though his crime was grave and did real damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship, acted in what he thought was Israel’s interest, being traded for people with Jewish blood on their hands, was so great that reportedly even the spy opposed it.

But the main conclusion to draw from these events isn’t about the Israeli desire to see Pollard freed after 28 years in prison but about Abbas’ desire to evade the peace process. What has happened isn’t so much a negotiation that went wrong, as it is the PA leader seizing the first opportunity that came his way to flee peace negotiations that he never wanted to join in the first place.

 It should be remembered that getting Abbas to rejoin peace talks after boycotting them for most of the last five years was no easy task. Rather than talk without preconditions, the Palestinians had to be bribed with the release of four batches of terrorist killers. Though, as it is now clear, he did little in the talks other than to continually say no to any measures that would indicate the Palestinians were finally willing to end the conflict with Israel, he was continually praised and petted by both Kerry and President Obama for his commitment to peace. While the two continued to berate Israel as the obstacle to peace, it was always Abbas who was proving those who said last year that the Palestinians weren’t ready for peace right He refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn even in exchange for statehood and independence. Nor would he budge on the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants. Even when Netanyahu unhappily agreed to Kerry’s framework for future talks that was rooted in the 1967 borders, Abbas still said no.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that once the initial period of talks was about to expire, Abbas had no interest in continuing the negotiations even on terms that tilted the diplomatic playing field in his direction.

Why?

The answer is the same one that was apparent to just about everyone except Kerry last year before the process recommenced. With the Palestinians divided between Abbas’ fief in the West Bank and the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, Abbas had no room to maneuver to make peace even if he were truly willing to do so. Negotiating an agreement, even one that would give the Palestinians pretty much everything they want in terms of statehood in the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem, isn’t in his interest because signing such an agreement is far more dangerous than being blamed for scuttling the peace talks. The safer thing for Abbas is to seize any pretext to flee the talks and claim he’s seeking Palestinian independence via the UN, a futile gesture that will do nothing for his people.

While Abbas and his apologists claim he has done Kerry and Israel a big favor by sitting at the table with them the last several months and gotten nothing for it, the Palestinians have the most to gain from the process the secretary has promoted. Without it, there is no path to independence or economic stability for them. But since abandoning the talks allows Abbas to avoid having to sell a deal that ends the conflict to a Palestinian people that has been taught to view their national identity as inseparable from the struggle against Zionism, he prefers it to negotiations.

Were Abbas truly interested in peace, he could sit back and wait for Kerry to keep spinning deals that traded tangible Israeli concessions for continued talks. Instead, he has done what he did in 2008 when he fled the table to avoid having to say no to Ehud Olmert’s peace offer. While this isn’t the last chapter of Kerry’s efforts, those who are quick to blame Israel for everything should take note of Abbas’ behavior and draw the appropriate conclusions. 

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Kerry’s Neglect of India Comes With a Price

With so many pressing problems to deal with—North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China, to name just four—Secretary of State John Kerry appears set to continue dedicating precious time and resources to resolving the unresolvable: namely the Israeli-Palestinian dispute which is no closer to a “solution” today than at any time in the past 60+ years. His latest gambit is to offer the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to Israel in the expectation that Israel will reciprocate by releasing a bunch of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons and freezing development in the West Bank to curry favor with the Palestinian Authority. All of this frenetic maneuvering, mind you, is designed not to achieve a breakthrough—everyone knows that won’t happen—but simply to keep the Palestinians and Israelis talking and talking and talking.

What is Kerry neglecting with his odd focus on Israelis and Palestinians? Well start with one of the biggest potential diplomatic opportunities for the United States: to incorporate India, a fellow democracy menaced by Islamist extremists, into a closer partnership with Washington. George W. Bush made dramatic progress in wooing India but now the relationship seems to be going backward. As the New York Times notes,  ”The United States and India have found themselves on opposite sides of the world’s most important diplomatic issues, from the crisis in Ukraine, in which India came to Russia’s defense, to a long-awaited vote to investigate Sri Lanka’s government for atrocities committed at the end of its civil war (India abstained). Even critical military coordination over the reduction of troops in nearby Afghanistan has suffered.”

Instead of working together, the U.S. and India are squabbling over diplomatic privileges following the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York on charges of underpaying a housekeeper.

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With so many pressing problems to deal with—North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China, to name just four—Secretary of State John Kerry appears set to continue dedicating precious time and resources to resolving the unresolvable: namely the Israeli-Palestinian dispute which is no closer to a “solution” today than at any time in the past 60+ years. His latest gambit is to offer the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to Israel in the expectation that Israel will reciprocate by releasing a bunch of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons and freezing development in the West Bank to curry favor with the Palestinian Authority. All of this frenetic maneuvering, mind you, is designed not to achieve a breakthrough—everyone knows that won’t happen—but simply to keep the Palestinians and Israelis talking and talking and talking.

What is Kerry neglecting with his odd focus on Israelis and Palestinians? Well start with one of the biggest potential diplomatic opportunities for the United States: to incorporate India, a fellow democracy menaced by Islamist extremists, into a closer partnership with Washington. George W. Bush made dramatic progress in wooing India but now the relationship seems to be going backward. As the New York Times notes,  ”The United States and India have found themselves on opposite sides of the world’s most important diplomatic issues, from the crisis in Ukraine, in which India came to Russia’s defense, to a long-awaited vote to investigate Sri Lanka’s government for atrocities committed at the end of its civil war (India abstained). Even critical military coordination over the reduction of troops in nearby Afghanistan has suffered.”

Instead of working together, the U.S. and India are squabbling over diplomatic privileges following the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York on charges of underpaying a housekeeper.

This is not all America’s fault, to be sure, but lack of high-level attention in Washington and numerous missteps by the State Department—including the U.S. Ambassador in New Delhi, Nancy Powell, who has mercifully just announced her departure–have certainly exacerbated the situation. The Times quotes a senior Indian diplomat complaining: “There is a feeling that no one in this administration is a champion of the India-U.S. relationship.”

Perhaps that’s because our Secretary of State–who could be nurturing this relationship, working to bring allies such as Japan and South Korea closer, or paying attention to myriad other issues–has instead chosen to waste time on the fantasy of a final peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

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Kerry’s “Last Chance” Diplomacy Implodes

Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today attempting to breath life into the peace talks that he initiated last year. With the Palestinians refusing to accept the framework for further talks the secretary tried to broker, and the Israelis seeing little purpose in releasing more Palestinian terrorist murderers to bribe Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas if the PA won’t keep negotiating, the whole scheme is on the brink of collapse. Thus, Kerry is working furiously to try and come up with a way to entice the Israelis to give Abbas what he wants in terms of either more prisoner releases or a settlement freeze.

The latest idea on the table, which has now been publicly confirmed by U.S. officials speaking off the record, is for the U.S. to hand convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to the Israelis in exchange for the last batch of terrorists already scheduled for release from Israeli jails as well as a further group to be let go after that. Presumably this latest batch of terrorist prisoners would be enough to bribe Abbas to keep talking even though he has already signaled that he isn’t that interested in the discussions, especially if they require him to agree to measures that herald an end to the conflict with Israel. As I wrote last week, the idea of trading Pollard for murderers is a bad deal for Israel. If Prime Minister Netanyahu is to keep making concessions to Abbas then he should expect something of substance in return from the Palestinians that would bring peace closer. Doing so for the sake of Pollard makes no sense for anyone.

But the real problem here isn’t the unbalanced nature of such a deal that is not likely to be carried out anyway. Rather, it is the sense of hysteria that has been invested in the latest iteration of the Middle East peace process. Having decided to try to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed, Kerry did so by claiming that it was the region’s last chance for peace even though there was no reason to believe the conflict was in danger of re-igniting or there were reasonable prospects for success. But now that he appears to be failing, his frequent predictions of doom have become self-fulfilling prophecies.

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Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel today attempting to breath life into the peace talks that he initiated last year. With the Palestinians refusing to accept the framework for further talks the secretary tried to broker, and the Israelis seeing little purpose in releasing more Palestinian terrorist murderers to bribe Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas if the PA won’t keep negotiating, the whole scheme is on the brink of collapse. Thus, Kerry is working furiously to try and come up with a way to entice the Israelis to give Abbas what he wants in terms of either more prisoner releases or a settlement freeze.

The latest idea on the table, which has now been publicly confirmed by U.S. officials speaking off the record, is for the U.S. to hand convicted spy Jonathan Pollard to the Israelis in exchange for the last batch of terrorists already scheduled for release from Israeli jails as well as a further group to be let go after that. Presumably this latest batch of terrorist prisoners would be enough to bribe Abbas to keep talking even though he has already signaled that he isn’t that interested in the discussions, especially if they require him to agree to measures that herald an end to the conflict with Israel. As I wrote last week, the idea of trading Pollard for murderers is a bad deal for Israel. If Prime Minister Netanyahu is to keep making concessions to Abbas then he should expect something of substance in return from the Palestinians that would bring peace closer. Doing so for the sake of Pollard makes no sense for anyone.

But the real problem here isn’t the unbalanced nature of such a deal that is not likely to be carried out anyway. Rather, it is the sense of hysteria that has been invested in the latest iteration of the Middle East peace process. Having decided to try to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed, Kerry did so by claiming that it was the region’s last chance for peace even though there was no reason to believe the conflict was in danger of re-igniting or there were reasonable prospects for success. But now that he appears to be failing, his frequent predictions of doom have become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The secretary invested time, energy, and the prestige of the United States on a negotiation that few thought had a chance because he was convinced there was no alternative and that a failure to advance a peace process that has been stuck in neutral ever since the Palestinians rejected the third Israeli offer of independence and statehood would lead to disaster. But as Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl aptly noted today, prior to the start of Kerry’s talks, “Israel and the Palestinian territories” were “an island of tranquility in a blood-drenched Middle East.” If the Palestinians preferred meaningless symbolic victories at the United Nations to statehood, such folly was rooted in Abbas’s belief that his people were not ready to give up their century-long war to destroy Israel.

Though Netanyahu has reluctantly agreed to a framework that is based on the 1967 lines, the Palestinians are still not ready to give up their “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants or to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, thereby signaling an end to the conflict. But by raising the stakes in the conflict and repeatedly warning the Israelis that they would suffer violence in the form of a third intifada and increased boycott efforts if they did not agree to peace, Kerry has raised the stakes for the Palestinians. In a foolish repeat of earlier mistakes made by the Obama administration, the Palestinian leadership is being put in a position of having to match Kerry’s warnings with provocative actions of their own. And since a resolution of these disputes is beyond Abbas’s power or will to achieve, the collapse of Kerry’s diplomacy may spiral out of control.

Continually crying that this is the “last chance” for peace is not only inaccurate—diplomats have been saying the same thing for decades and have always been wrong, since peace will come the day the Palestinians give up their illusions about re-writing history and not one day sooner—it is also the sort of sentiment that rationalizes the actions of extremists who don’t want peace on any terms. 

It is true that many Israelis worry about the long-term consequences of the current impasse which leaves the West Bank in limbo while Hamas-ruled Gaza functions as the independent Palestinian state in all but name. But as Diehl says, the alternative to Kerry’s apocalyptic warnings was an embrace of the reality of a conflict that couldn’t be solved but might be managed. Measures aimed at giving the Palestinians a bigger stake in an improved economy and better governance wouldn’t have cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace but would have provided Abbas and his Fatah Party a reason to keep a lid on the territories as well as more of an incentive to think about preparing the way for eventual peace. Instead, Kerry has brought Abbas to the brink where he feels he has no alternative but to give the back of his hand to a negotiation that he never wanted to be part of in the first place. If violence in the form of a third intifada (perhaps funded in part by Iran via aid to Islamic Jihad or Hamas) follows, then it should be remembered that it was Kerry who set a potentially tragic series of events in motion.

What the secretary is learning is that as bad as a situation seems, it can only be made worse by hubris and naïveté, qualities Kerry possesses in abundance. Whether or not he manages to bribe either the Israelis or the Palestinians to keep talking in the coming days, the most important point to be gleaned from this chapter is that stoking fear in order to build support for peace isn’t merely counter-productive. It’s a recipe for disaster.

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The Other Refugees and the Path to Peace

Today Canada’s foreign minister proved once again why the Great White North is one of the world’s outliers with regard to the Middle East. Foreign Minister John Baird said that the Canadian government stated that the fate of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries should be both recognized and taken into account in discussions about Middle East peace. The statement followed Canada’s parliament adopting a report on the subject and though Baird was careful to say that he didn’t want the issue to become a point of contention in the talks between Israel and the Palestinians sponsored by the United States, the mere raising of the topic is enough to cause some of Israel’s critics to claim the Canadians are trying to sabotage the negotiations. While the Israelis have repeatedly raised the issue of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled or were forced to flee their homes throughout the Arab world in the months and years following Israel’s birth in 1948, the Palestinians not only refuse to discuss the matter, they regard it as a distraction from the “nakba”—or disaster, as they refer to Israel’s creation. But in doing so they make it plain that this issue is central to understanding why peace has eluded the region.

The argument about competing sets of refugees is not an abstract historical puzzle. To even talk about Jewish refugees with their own history of suffering undermines the narrative that the only result of Israel’s War of Independence was the dispossession of a Palestinian refugee population whose descendants continue to demand a “right of return” to the homes they left 66 years ago. For the same reason that the Palestinian Authority refuses absolutely to recognize that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, so, too, do they and their supporters close their ears to any discussion about Jewish refugees. Palestinians fear that both subjects undermine their sense of themselves as victims who must be compensated by the world. But while they believe that any diminution of that victimhood, either to recognize the claims of other refugees or the state where most of dispossessed Jews found a home, would deprive them of their identity as a people, the truth is just the opposite. Discarding this mindset is the only way that they—or the Israelis—will ever find peace.

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Today Canada’s foreign minister proved once again why the Great White North is one of the world’s outliers with regard to the Middle East. Foreign Minister John Baird said that the Canadian government stated that the fate of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries should be both recognized and taken into account in discussions about Middle East peace. The statement followed Canada’s parliament adopting a report on the subject and though Baird was careful to say that he didn’t want the issue to become a point of contention in the talks between Israel and the Palestinians sponsored by the United States, the mere raising of the topic is enough to cause some of Israel’s critics to claim the Canadians are trying to sabotage the negotiations. While the Israelis have repeatedly raised the issue of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled or were forced to flee their homes throughout the Arab world in the months and years following Israel’s birth in 1948, the Palestinians not only refuse to discuss the matter, they regard it as a distraction from the “nakba”—or disaster, as they refer to Israel’s creation. But in doing so they make it plain that this issue is central to understanding why peace has eluded the region.

The argument about competing sets of refugees is not an abstract historical puzzle. To even talk about Jewish refugees with their own history of suffering undermines the narrative that the only result of Israel’s War of Independence was the dispossession of a Palestinian refugee population whose descendants continue to demand a “right of return” to the homes they left 66 years ago. For the same reason that the Palestinian Authority refuses absolutely to recognize that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, so, too, do they and their supporters close their ears to any discussion about Jewish refugees. Palestinians fear that both subjects undermine their sense of themselves as victims who must be compensated by the world. But while they believe that any diminution of that victimhood, either to recognize the claims of other refugees or the state where most of dispossessed Jews found a home, would deprive them of their identity as a people, the truth is just the opposite. Discarding this mindset is the only way that they—or the Israelis—will ever find peace.

The Canadian report will undoubtedly be ignored by the international press that tends to treat any mention of Jewish refugees as somehow an illustration of Israel’s lack of contrition about the suffering of the Palestinians. But the more that one learns about the topic, the easier it is to understand that there was no monopoly on suffering in this conflict. Just as hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or, in a few cases, were told to leave their homes in the former British Mandate for Palestine, almost an equal number of Jews throughout the Arab and Muslim world experienced the same fate.

The difference between the two populations was that the Jews were taken in and resettled by their brethren, either in the newborn state of Israel or in Western countries. Though their journeys and adjustment to their new homes was not always easy, none were allowed to languish in limbo. Today, they and their descendants in Israel or in the United States and other Western countries are members of successful communities where they enjoy equal rights.

By contrast, the Arabs who left the territory that would become the State of Israel were deliberately kept in camps to this day and denied any resettlement or citizenship in the countries where they found themselves. The reason for this was that they were useful props in the Arab world’s ongoing war to reverse the verdict of that war. Their future was held hostage to the struggle to destroy Israel, and the refugees and their numerous progeny have been kept apart and in squalor in order to further that effort. Their plight merits the sympathy of the world. So, too, does the way they have been exploited and abused by their own leaders and other Arab countries.

Unfortunately, many of those who wish the Palestinians well, including many Jews, have accommodated their nakba narrative demands and sought to pressure Israel to apologize for winning the war of survival in 1948. But the Palestinian decision to cling to this narrative of suffering rather than embracing one of nation building in the West Bank and Gaza, where Israel has repeatedly offered them an independent state, is the primary obstacle to peace. As Rick Richman noted earlier this week, the point of insisting on the so-called “right of return” is not really the refugees but to keep the war against Israel’s existence alive. Not until they realize that they were not the only ones who suffered and that the war that led to their dispossession was the result of their own unwillingness to compromise and share the land will the Palestinians be prepared to accept the current compromise that has been on the table from Israel for many years, and finally move on.

Far from harming the cause of peace, the best thing those who wish to promote a resolution of the Middle East conflict can do is to remind the Palestinians that they were not the only ones who lost their homes and that the Arab world has as much apologizing to do as the Israelis. If one group of refugees must be compensated, so must the other. Just as two states for two peoples is the only possible formula for peace, let the Palestinians recognize that they aren’t the only 1948 refugees. Until they do and acknowledge the legitimacy of a state for those Jewish refugees, peace will be impossible.

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Pollard for Murderers? A Bad Deal

Over the last 20 years, the name of Jonathan Pollard has hovered around the margins of the Middle East peace process. Almost every time the United States wanted to push the Israelis to make concessions that were unpalatable, some have suggested that the Jewish state might be enticed to swallow one bitter pill or another by the release of the former U.S. Navy analyst. Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the United States since 1985 for spying for the Jewish state, is a sore point for many Israelis as well as some Americans who believe, not incorrectly, that his sentence of life in prison was disproportionate to the crime and far more draconian than anyone else ever convicted of espionage for a U.S. ally. So it is hardly surprising that now that the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are imploding once again, talk of releasing Pollard has returned as well.

As it always does, the prospect of Pollard’s release will tempt the Israelis. Though what Pollard did was a crime and did great damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to American Jewry, Israelis rightly feel that he was sacrificed and left to rot in prison by their political leadership at the time of his actions (a troika that included the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir as well as Shimon Peres, who is currently serving as Israel’s president). But as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu may wish to secure Pollard’s release (something that he tried to do in negotiations with President Clinton in 1998), he shouldn’t take the bait. The odds are, Washington is bluffing about letting Pollard go. But even if President Obama is willing to take the heat from the U.S. security establishment and spring Pollard, Netanyahu should not trade the freedom of a score of Arab terrorist murderers (some of whom are Israeli citizens rather than residents of the West Bank) for Pollard.

The current impasse revolves around the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to agree to the framework for ongoing peace talks suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry because it mentions that peace means recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants no part of such a deal and, as has clearly always been his intention, would prefer to end any talks that might put him in the position of refusing a two-state solution preferred by Israel but which he has neither the will nor the ability to get his people to accept. But with the PA walking out of talks, Netanyahu sees no reason to follow through on the last batch of Arab prisoners whose release was part of the ransom offered to Abbas last year as the price for returning to the peace table after years of boycotting them.

Abbas has already seen that his intransigence won’t cause either President Obama or much of the Western media to blame him for the collapse of the talks. He thinks he is in the catbird seat and can make further demands on the Israelis in the form of the release of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti (serving five life sentences for murders of Israeli civilians during the second intifada) and a settlement freeze in order to keep talking secure in the knowledge that the West will blame Israel no matter what he does. So in order to get Netanyahu, who has reluctantly agreed to Kerry’s framework that Abbas rejected, to keep paying, the Americans will have to come up with some form of pressure or gimmick. Though I doubt that President Obama is prepared to do battle with the U.S. intelligence community (which has an irrational obsession with keeping Pollard in prison until he dies) to make good on such an offer, the mere suggestion of the idea may be enough to keep the Israelis from walking away in frustration from the process.

But this is a bad deal for Israel on many levels.

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Over the last 20 years, the name of Jonathan Pollard has hovered around the margins of the Middle East peace process. Almost every time the United States wanted to push the Israelis to make concessions that were unpalatable, some have suggested that the Jewish state might be enticed to swallow one bitter pill or another by the release of the former U.S. Navy analyst. Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the United States since 1985 for spying for the Jewish state, is a sore point for many Israelis as well as some Americans who believe, not incorrectly, that his sentence of life in prison was disproportionate to the crime and far more draconian than anyone else ever convicted of espionage for a U.S. ally. So it is hardly surprising that now that the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are imploding once again, talk of releasing Pollard has returned as well.

As it always does, the prospect of Pollard’s release will tempt the Israelis. Though what Pollard did was a crime and did great damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to American Jewry, Israelis rightly feel that he was sacrificed and left to rot in prison by their political leadership at the time of his actions (a troika that included the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir as well as Shimon Peres, who is currently serving as Israel’s president). But as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu may wish to secure Pollard’s release (something that he tried to do in negotiations with President Clinton in 1998), he shouldn’t take the bait. The odds are, Washington is bluffing about letting Pollard go. But even if President Obama is willing to take the heat from the U.S. security establishment and spring Pollard, Netanyahu should not trade the freedom of a score of Arab terrorist murderers (some of whom are Israeli citizens rather than residents of the West Bank) for Pollard.

The current impasse revolves around the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to agree to the framework for ongoing peace talks suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry because it mentions that peace means recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants no part of such a deal and, as has clearly always been his intention, would prefer to end any talks that might put him in the position of refusing a two-state solution preferred by Israel but which he has neither the will nor the ability to get his people to accept. But with the PA walking out of talks, Netanyahu sees no reason to follow through on the last batch of Arab prisoners whose release was part of the ransom offered to Abbas last year as the price for returning to the peace table after years of boycotting them.

Abbas has already seen that his intransigence won’t cause either President Obama or much of the Western media to blame him for the collapse of the talks. He thinks he is in the catbird seat and can make further demands on the Israelis in the form of the release of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti (serving five life sentences for murders of Israeli civilians during the second intifada) and a settlement freeze in order to keep talking secure in the knowledge that the West will blame Israel no matter what he does. So in order to get Netanyahu, who has reluctantly agreed to Kerry’s framework that Abbas rejected, to keep paying, the Americans will have to come up with some form of pressure or gimmick. Though I doubt that President Obama is prepared to do battle with the U.S. intelligence community (which has an irrational obsession with keeping Pollard in prison until he dies) to make good on such an offer, the mere suggestion of the idea may be enough to keep the Israelis from walking away in frustration from the process.

But this is a bad deal for Israel on many levels.

As I wrote on the 25th anniversary of his imprisonment, Pollard’s case is a mixed bag for supporters of Israel. As much as his sentence was an injustice, he is no hero and did grave harm. Moreover, the prospect that someone who committed espionage in the belief that he was helping Israel would gain his release in exchange for the freedom of those who indiscriminately shed Jewish blood is more than an irony; it’s an outrage that even the spy should reject.

Having already released scores of Arab murderers, who have been subsequently honored and embraced by Abbas, there is little incentive for Netanyahu to keep letting them out if the Palestinians are not going to commit to peace talks whose purpose is an end to the conflict. If he is going to be blamed for the collapse of Kerry’s initiative no matter what he does, it would be a mistake to start making further concessions that will come back to haunt him later. The problem with injecting Pollard into peace talks is that it is the sort of American concession for which Israel will pay a disproportionate price with little prospect of receiving what it wants. That’s what happened the last time he offered to make territorial concessions in exchange for Pollard’s freedom. In the end, the Palestinians got the land, and Israel got neither Pollard nor peace.

If the Palestinians want something from Israel they should be prepared to pay for it by demonstrating their willingness to end the conflict and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In essence a trade for Pollard now would be a substitute for getting the Palestinians to make those assurances. However much they may want Pollard, making such a swap would be against the long-term prospects of both Israel’s security and peace.

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Blaming Israel Despite the Facts

The facts are no obstacle for those who are determined to stick to their narrative about Israel not wanting peace. With Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process on the brink of failure, the New Republic’s John Judis has trotted out the familiar themes about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu being the one to blame. Judis goes on at length about Netanyahu’s perfidy but toward the end of the piece, he is forced to let drop an important nugget of information. When asked by Kerry to keep negotiating on the basis of the framework he has crafted to try and give both sides something to work with, Abbas said no. As Judis writes:

Kerry proposed that the two sides agree to the framework with reservations—a tactic that had doomed the Quartet’s framework proposal—but Abbas was not ready to agree to the proposal even with reservations.

Let’s get this straight. Kerry has been lionized by the left for attempting to revive the talks in spite of the fact that the division among the Palestinians (Hamas in Gaza and Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank) made it unlikely that Abbas could or would say yes to peace terms that he had turned down in 2008 and that his predecessor Yasir Arafat had rejected in 2000 and 2001. But when the secretary put forward a framework that was hardly to Netanyahu’s liking because of its reliance on the 1967 borders, he said yes and Abbas said no even with the proviso that an acceptance would not commit the Palestinian Authority to its terms. And yet even though Abbas’s decision makes a fourth historic no to peace terms from the Palestinians in the last 15 years, Judis still thinks the collapse of the talks is Israel’s fault.

How is that possible? Judis doesn’t even bother defending this preposterous proposition directly since his work is so lazy that he writes as if all his readers will naturally assume that nothing that actually happened leading up to Abbas’s no must as a matter of course be Israel’s fault. But the flimsy case he does build against Israel tells us more about his own well-documented prejudices about the key issue that led to Abbas’s decision—recognition of Israel as a Jewish state—than it does about Netanyahu.

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The facts are no obstacle for those who are determined to stick to their narrative about Israel not wanting peace. With Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process on the brink of failure, the New Republic’s John Judis has trotted out the familiar themes about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu being the one to blame. Judis goes on at length about Netanyahu’s perfidy but toward the end of the piece, he is forced to let drop an important nugget of information. When asked by Kerry to keep negotiating on the basis of the framework he has crafted to try and give both sides something to work with, Abbas said no. As Judis writes:

Kerry proposed that the two sides agree to the framework with reservations—a tactic that had doomed the Quartet’s framework proposal—but Abbas was not ready to agree to the proposal even with reservations.

Let’s get this straight. Kerry has been lionized by the left for attempting to revive the talks in spite of the fact that the division among the Palestinians (Hamas in Gaza and Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank) made it unlikely that Abbas could or would say yes to peace terms that he had turned down in 2008 and that his predecessor Yasir Arafat had rejected in 2000 and 2001. But when the secretary put forward a framework that was hardly to Netanyahu’s liking because of its reliance on the 1967 borders, he said yes and Abbas said no even with the proviso that an acceptance would not commit the Palestinian Authority to its terms. And yet even though Abbas’s decision makes a fourth historic no to peace terms from the Palestinians in the last 15 years, Judis still thinks the collapse of the talks is Israel’s fault.

How is that possible? Judis doesn’t even bother defending this preposterous proposition directly since his work is so lazy that he writes as if all his readers will naturally assume that nothing that actually happened leading up to Abbas’s no must as a matter of course be Israel’s fault. But the flimsy case he does build against Israel tells us more about his own well-documented prejudices about the key issue that led to Abbas’s decision—recognition of Israel as a Jewish state—than it does about Netanyahu.

This is, after all, the same author who wrote Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, a book dedicated to the proposition that the problems of the Middle East stem from the decision to create a Jewish state in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine–putting himself on record as believing that Israel should never have been born and that American support for the concept was a mistake imposed upon the nation by Jewish lobbying and political considerations. You would think that someone who studied that period would understand the centrality of the concept of the Jewish state both to the inception and the theoretical conclusion of the conflict. But Judis sticks to the anti-Israel talking points of the day and says this demand—rightly accepted by the United States despite some of Kerry’s later comments—that the Palestinians accept that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people is designed to throw a monkey wrench into the talks.

As Rick Richman noted, Dennis Ross confirms that the Jewish state issue was part of the negotiations during the Clinton administration. How could it have been avoided since the whole point is that its acceptance signifies that the Palestinians are giving up their century-long struggle against Zionism? Judis also brings up settlement construction as a deal breaker but neglects to note that almost all the houses slated for construction are to be built in the settlement blocs and neighborhoods in Jerusalem that will be part of Israel in any agreement. Complaints about them are both disingenuous and distractions from the Palestinian refusal to accept terms that signify an end to the conflict. Abbas told President Obama on his visit to Washington earlier this month that he would not agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, give up the “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants, or accept that any agreement means the end of the conflict. What’s more, even though he won’t keep negotiating, he expects Israel to release more terrorist murderers from its jails (the ransom he exacted from Kerry and Netanyahu as the price for his return to the talks last year) and now also wants the release of Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader serving five life-in-prison sentences for murders of civilians carried out at his behest during the second intifada and a settlement freeze to keep him at the table.

And yet Judis still says, “blame should almost certainly be assigned to Netanyahu and the Israelis.” It’s illogical, but if you enter a discussion of this topic believing Israel has no right to exist in the first place, it’s easy to see why you would think there’s nothing wrong with Palestinian intransigence. The problem is not so much Judis’s specious arguments as the pretense that he actually cares about who is to blame for preventing an outcome—a two-state solution—that he disdains.

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Three More Palestinian “No’s” to Peace

After the visits to Washington by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas this month, it’s clear that Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace talks are at an impasse. If one were only listening to the statements coming from President Obama and Kerry, you’d think the obstacle to continued talks was their perennial whipping boy Netanyahu and not Abbas, whom they went out of their way to praise for his supposed commitment to peace. Yet while the Israelis have been prepared to accept Kerry’s framework for continued talks, albeit with misgivings about the direction of the process, it is the Palestinians who are digging in their heels and won’t commit to the framework or to keep talking after April. Demonstrating just how strong he thinks his hand is with the Americans, Abbas delivered three significant “no’s” to Obama last week that call into question both the Palestinians’ intentions as well as the future of the current process:

Abbas “went to the White House and said ‘no’ to Obama,” [Israel’s] Channel 2 news reported, quoting unnamed American and Israeli sources. Specifically, the report said, Abbas rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that he recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also refused to abandon the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians and their descendants — a demand that, if implemented, would drastically alter Israel’s demographic balance and which no conceivable Israeli government would accept. And finally, he refused to commit to an “end of conflict,” under which a peace deal would represent the termination of any further Palestinian demands of Israel.

It must be understood that a framework without these three elements is a formula for continued conflict, not peace. Moreover, according to a report in the Arab press, Abbas had some demands of his own before he would agree to keep talking even with a framework that did not include the three points he has rejected. He wants Israel to release the last of the more than 100 terrorist murderers it agreed to free in exchange for his agreement to return to the table last year plus one more: Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader who is currently serving five life-in-prison sentences for five murders.

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After the visits to Washington by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas this month, it’s clear that Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace talks are at an impasse. If one were only listening to the statements coming from President Obama and Kerry, you’d think the obstacle to continued talks was their perennial whipping boy Netanyahu and not Abbas, whom they went out of their way to praise for his supposed commitment to peace. Yet while the Israelis have been prepared to accept Kerry’s framework for continued talks, albeit with misgivings about the direction of the process, it is the Palestinians who are digging in their heels and won’t commit to the framework or to keep talking after April. Demonstrating just how strong he thinks his hand is with the Americans, Abbas delivered three significant “no’s” to Obama last week that call into question both the Palestinians’ intentions as well as the future of the current process:

Abbas “went to the White House and said ‘no’ to Obama,” [Israel’s] Channel 2 news reported, quoting unnamed American and Israeli sources. Specifically, the report said, Abbas rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that he recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also refused to abandon the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians and their descendants — a demand that, if implemented, would drastically alter Israel’s demographic balance and which no conceivable Israeli government would accept. And finally, he refused to commit to an “end of conflict,” under which a peace deal would represent the termination of any further Palestinian demands of Israel.

It must be understood that a framework without these three elements is a formula for continued conflict, not peace. Moreover, according to a report in the Arab press, Abbas had some demands of his own before he would agree to keep talking even with a framework that did not include the three points he has rejected. He wants Israel to release the last of the more than 100 terrorist murderers it agreed to free in exchange for his agreement to return to the table last year plus one more: Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader who is currently serving five life-in-prison sentences for five murders.

As the Times of Israel notes, the release of Barghouti, who led the terrorist Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade during the second intifada (and was therefore actually responsible for the deaths of hundreds and injury to thousands more Israelis and Palestinians than the mere five civilian deaths for which he was convicted), would be a coup for Abbas and might give him the kind of political breathing room to keep talking. If he were sprung, Barghouti would also be seen as Abbas’s successor since the spilling of so much Jewish blood has enhanced his political stock among Palestinians. If, as is likely, the Israelis refuse, that would allow Abbas to once again blame Netanyahu for obstructing the peace process.

The Barghouti demand may be just window dressing intended to strengthen the always shaky political standing of Abbas as he serves the ninth year of the four-year term as president of the PA to which he was elected in 2005. But the key to understanding his negotiating strategy is his apparent confidence that nothing he does or says will cause the United States to call him out for his intransigence and blatant insincerity.

Indeed, though Kerry attempted to create a framework that was more or less on the terms that the Palestinians have always demanded–an independent state whose borders would be based on the 1967 lines that would include a share of Jerusalem–they have refused to assent to it since it would obligate them to actually end the conflict and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Obama’s decision to publicly hammer Netanyahu while praising Abbas seems to have emboldened the Palestinian to think he has carte blanche to up the ante on the Israelis while giving nothing in return. That Kerry and Obama cheerleaders like the left-wing J Street group have endorsed Abbas’s refusal to say those two little words—Jewish state—that would indicate his willingness to envision actual peace only reinforces his reluctance to give an inch.

Israelis are now expected to release the last of the murderers Abbas demanded as a ransom for his presence at the table just as he is abandoning it with the extra insult that the names of the terrorists on the list are actually Israeli citizens rather than residents of the territories. The bottom line is that after issuing three historic “no’s” to Israeli peace offers including statehood in 2000, 2001, and 2008, Abbas has now added three more refusals that add up to yet another instance in which the Palestinians have rejected a compromise that would end the conflict. How many more “no’s” will convince the administration that Abbas hasn’t the courage to challenge the Palestinian political culture of intransigence that he helped create and therefore must be held responsible for the deadlock rather than Netanyahu? Right now, Abbas is betting the number is infinite.

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The Fake Palestinian Generational Divide

New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren hit on a clever way to reiterate a familiar theme for the newspaper’s readers in today’s story that sought to explore what she called a “generational divide” among Palestinians. The centerpiece of the article is an interview with Tareq Abbas, the youngest son of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in which the former explains why he supports a one-state solution to the conflict with Israel rather than the two-state formula that his father purports to seek. Along with other younger Palestinians quoted in the piece, Tareq Abbas says that he is tired of waiting for his father’s peace strategies to succeed and now simply wants “civil rights” that would presumably be his if the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean became a single democratic entity.

The conceit of this argument is that since Israel will never allow Palestinians independence, they should instead simply wait for demographics and international pressure to force the Jews to give up their state. This notion of a generational divide also supports the claims of those who believe Israel must act now to divest itself of the West Bank, lest it eventually be forced to choose between being a Jewish state or a democratic one.

But the problem with the premise of this story is that it is false. Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected Israeli offers of statehood three times. He’s currently in the process of refusing another one that would probably, like the three previous peace bids, give the Palestinians the independent state they say they crave in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza (which is currently ruled by Hamas as an independent Palestinian state in all but name, but never mind), and a share of Jerusalem. The generational divide here isn’t so much about how many more Arab states there should be but rather the nature of the rhetoric employed in order to make the case against the existence of one solitary Jewish state.

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New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren hit on a clever way to reiterate a familiar theme for the newspaper’s readers in today’s story that sought to explore what she called a “generational divide” among Palestinians. The centerpiece of the article is an interview with Tareq Abbas, the youngest son of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in which the former explains why he supports a one-state solution to the conflict with Israel rather than the two-state formula that his father purports to seek. Along with other younger Palestinians quoted in the piece, Tareq Abbas says that he is tired of waiting for his father’s peace strategies to succeed and now simply wants “civil rights” that would presumably be his if the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean became a single democratic entity.

The conceit of this argument is that since Israel will never allow Palestinians independence, they should instead simply wait for demographics and international pressure to force the Jews to give up their state. This notion of a generational divide also supports the claims of those who believe Israel must act now to divest itself of the West Bank, lest it eventually be forced to choose between being a Jewish state or a democratic one.

But the problem with the premise of this story is that it is false. Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected Israeli offers of statehood three times. He’s currently in the process of refusing another one that would probably, like the three previous peace bids, give the Palestinians the independent state they say they crave in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza (which is currently ruled by Hamas as an independent Palestinian state in all but name, but never mind), and a share of Jerusalem. The generational divide here isn’t so much about how many more Arab states there should be but rather the nature of the rhetoric employed in order to make the case against the existence of one solitary Jewish state.

The last 20 years since the Oslo Accords have shown that while the vast majority of Israelis are ready to trade land for peace, even those Palestinians anointed by the West as peacemakers are unwilling or unable to take yes for an answer. The difference between the generations cited in Rudoren’s article is not about goals but rather how to obtain it. The elder Abbas still feels obligated to go through the motions of negotiating with the United States and Israel for a two-state solution that he—and perhaps everyone else on the planet other than Secretary of State John Kerry—knows he will never accept. Doing so would require him to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn, and that is something that the political culture of the Palestinians will not let him do.

If the elder Abbas really were a champion of two states for two peoples, he would have said yes in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him a state and he wouldn’t be threatening to quit the current negotiations by refusing to say that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people. Doing so would, as Palestinians have frequently admitted, undermine their “narrative” and the goal of forcing the Israelis to allow a “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants, thus transforming the Jewish state into a bi-national one in which Arabs would be in the majority. Palestinian nationalism came into existence as a rejection of Zionism and what is needed is a new vision that will contemplate a future for their people alongside Israel rather than locked in perpetual conflict with it.

Younger Palestinians have no such compunctions about pretending to want to live in peace alongside Israel. What they want is to extinguish Jewish sovereignty in any part of the country. This has nothing to do with a desire for equal rights or democracy, which, despite the assertions of his son, the elder Abbas (currently serving in the ninth year of the four-year presidential term to which he was elected) denies his people, as do his Hamas rivals in Gaza.

If the Palestinians wanted an independent state alongside Israel, they could have had it more than a decade ago and can still claim it by Abbas saying two little words—“Jewish state”—that signify he means what he says about peace. The fact that he won’t means that the contrast between him and younger Palestinians who say they want one state to replace Israel is a difference without a distinction.

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Obama Setting Israel Up to Take the Blame

Yesterday’s meeting between President Obama and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas brought no surprises. In contrast to the frosty reception that greeted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks ago, Abbas basked in Obama’s praise. In his public remarks the president also chose to emphasize those elements of the U.S.-sponsored framework for Middle East peace that conform to some of the Palestinians’ demands, such as a state along the 1967 borders with mutually agreed territorial swaps. But though the president also said that the Palestinians needed to take risks for peace, there was none of the heavy-handed pressure or criticism of Abbas that Netanyahu received. Nor was there even a mention of the need for Abbas to say the two little words that would guarantee a surge of Israeli support for concessions to the Palestinians: “Jewish state.”

Abbas didn’t miss the significance of that omission, which was foreshadowed by Secretary of State Kerry’s complaint last week about the necessity of making the Palestinians make a statement signaling the end of their war to destroy Israel. As the New York Times noted in a story published today, the president seems to be at pains to “right the balance” in the negotiations. Apparently, the White House has come to the conclusion that Secretary Kerry’s efforts to revive the peace process have been too focused on measures intended to convince Israelis that the Palestinians are finally ready for peace or guarantee their security in the event a deal is struck. The president appears to think it’s time to shift back to the combative tone he struck toward Israel during most of his first term prior to his election-year Jewish charm offensive. Even though the Israelis have shown that they will accept Kerry’s framework that reportedly includes a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, Obama’s intention seems to be aimed at placing the onus for the potential failure of the talks squarely on the Israelis.

That’s good news for Abbas who has made it clear he has no intention of agreeing to the framework. But it begs the question of whether Obama is more interested in venting his spleen at Netanyahu or brokering peace.

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Yesterday’s meeting between President Obama and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas brought no surprises. In contrast to the frosty reception that greeted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks ago, Abbas basked in Obama’s praise. In his public remarks the president also chose to emphasize those elements of the U.S.-sponsored framework for Middle East peace that conform to some of the Palestinians’ demands, such as a state along the 1967 borders with mutually agreed territorial swaps. But though the president also said that the Palestinians needed to take risks for peace, there was none of the heavy-handed pressure or criticism of Abbas that Netanyahu received. Nor was there even a mention of the need for Abbas to say the two little words that would guarantee a surge of Israeli support for concessions to the Palestinians: “Jewish state.”

Abbas didn’t miss the significance of that omission, which was foreshadowed by Secretary of State Kerry’s complaint last week about the necessity of making the Palestinians make a statement signaling the end of their war to destroy Israel. As the New York Times noted in a story published today, the president seems to be at pains to “right the balance” in the negotiations. Apparently, the White House has come to the conclusion that Secretary Kerry’s efforts to revive the peace process have been too focused on measures intended to convince Israelis that the Palestinians are finally ready for peace or guarantee their security in the event a deal is struck. The president appears to think it’s time to shift back to the combative tone he struck toward Israel during most of his first term prior to his election-year Jewish charm offensive. Even though the Israelis have shown that they will accept Kerry’s framework that reportedly includes a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, Obama’s intention seems to be aimed at placing the onus for the potential failure of the talks squarely on the Israelis.

That’s good news for Abbas who has made it clear he has no intention of agreeing to the framework. But it begs the question of whether Obama is more interested in venting his spleen at Netanyahu or brokering peace.

Israelis will, no doubt, be surprised to learn that the administration thinks it has spent the last few months tilting the diplomatic playing field in their direction. After all, it was the Jewish state that paid a high price in terms of U.S. pressure that demanded the release of more than 100 terrorist murderers in order to persuade Abbas to come back to the negotiating table. And it was Israel that was the prime focus of pressure from Kerry throughout the first months of the talks as the secretary threatened it with a new intifada and growing economic boycotts if they failed to make sufficient concessions to the Palestinians in statements that appeared to justify such acts.

Kerry included in his framework the Jewish state demand as well as more concrete measures aimed at ensuring that the new Palestinian state would not pose a security threat to Israel. In doing so Kerry was rightly seeking an agreement that would actually bring a conclusion to the conflict rather than a pause before the Palestinians resumed it on more advantageous terms. But that was apparently too much for both the Palestinians and their friend in the White House. Thus, rather than using this visit by Abbas to pressure him to say those two little words and to recognize that peace must be final, the president appears to have employed it as a signal to Israel to back off lest it be blamed for the collapse of the talks.

The president is being assisted in this gambit by a liberal mainstream news media that knows how to pick up on administration cues. The headline on the Times article, “Jewish State Declaration is Unyielding Block to a Deal,” made it clear that Washington wants to leave no doubt that even though it is Abbas that is the one who is saying “no” to a peace framework, they blame the Jews for asking him to do something unreasonable.

Abbas’s refusal to take the steps necessary to make peace is nothing new when you consider that he and his predecessor Yasir Arafat have already turned down three Israeli offers of peace and statehood. This has been a consistent pattern for the PA. As the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl noted on Sunday, Abbas thinks he can get away with this because the Obama administration has no intention of pressuring him or holding him accountable for Palestinian incitement, terror connections, or diplomatic intransigence.

If the president were genuinely interested in pursuing peace he would be hammering the Palestinians for their behavior and making it clear they would pay a high price for saying no to Kerry’s framework. Instead, he has given Abbas carte blanche to maintain the same obdurate stance he has taken since he took over the PA from his longtime boss Arafat.

What will this accomplish? It won’t advance the cause of peace. But it will make it easier for Israel’s critics to blame Netanyahu for the inevitable collapse of Kerry’s effort and serve to rationalize the violence and the boycotts the secretary threatened the Jewish state with. All Obama is doing is setting up Israel to take the fall for a fourth Palestinian “no” to peace.

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