Commentary Magazine


Topic: Middle East peace process

Obama and the Middle East Mess

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened today as Hamas launched more missiles into Israel, including one long-range rocket aimed at Tel Aviv. Israel responded by calling up more reserves and striking back at the terrorist launching points. But while the world reproaches both sides today President Obama reminded us why he deserves a good deal of the blame for the mess.

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict worsened today as Hamas launched more missiles into Israel, including one long-range rocket aimed at Tel Aviv. Israel responded by calling up more reserves and striking back at the terrorist launching points. But while the world reproaches both sides today President Obama reminded us why he deserves a good deal of the blame for the mess.

Obama has largely held himself aloof from the conflict in recent weeks other than warning Israel to show “restraint” in response to both terror attacks and a missile barrage on its territory. But he did choose to contribute an op-ed to the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz today as part of its “Israel Conference on Peace” in which he extolled the two-state solution and declared “peace is the only true path to security for Israel and the Palestinians.”

Despite the boost from the president and the appearance of Israeli President Shimon Peres, the Haaretz conference will be probably best remembered for proving just how intolerant the left can be. To his credit, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett accepted an invitation to speak to the forum but the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home Party was repeatedly interrupted by insults from the crowd of peaceniks calling him a “murderer” and “fascist.” As the Jerusalem Post reports (Haaretz has yet to file a story on the incident on its website), when he concluded his effort “dozens of people” stormed toward him. While the minister’s bodyguards fended off most of the attackers, one managed to get close enough to punch him in the back before he was whisked away. This is yet another reminder that for the left, especially the Israeli left, tolerance for opposing views is not consistent with their idea of democracy.

But despite these histrionics, Obama’s op-ed provided Israelis with a timely statement of how destructive U.S. policy has been. In the piece, Obama did extol the U.S.-Israel relationship in the same laudatory terms he used during his 2013 trip to the Jewish state. But he also went out of his way to praise Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a peace partner while pointedly offering no kind words for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even more tellingly, especially in the midst of a crisis provoked by a Hamas terror attack and prolonged by the Islamist group’s missile fire from Gaza, he also ignored the role that the Fatah-Hamas unity pact had played in torpedoing peace talks this spring and inspiring the current round of violence.

This is consistent with U.S. policy on Hamas in the months since Abbas embraced his erstwhile Islamist rivals. Though the PA government is now hopelessly compromised by the deal with Hamas, the U.S. has decided to pretend as if Abbas’s decision to make peace with the terror group rather than with Israel has no meaning or consequences. The administration blatantly violated U.S. law by continuing to funnel aid to the Palestinians in spite of provisions that prohibit such transfers in the event of Hamas participation in the PA. It has also made it clear that it believes Israel should treat Abbas’s new coalition as a viable partner in spite of Hamas’s refusal to adhere to the terms of mutual recognition and commitment to peace that Obama repeats in his op-ed.

What has this to do with the current violence? Everything.

Hamas’s decision to escalate the fight with Israel, both by sanctioning the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens and the subsequent missile attacks, is directly related to its belief that the unity pact marked a turning point in its long struggle with Abbas’s Fatah. Though Hamas was forced to make a deal with Fatah in large measure because of its cash shortages and isolation after its break with Iran and the fall of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, it has revived its political fortunes by reverting to violence. If Hamas is allowed to stay in the PA without penalty and Israel is constrained by American demands for “restraint” from the sort of military offensive that will truly make the group pay a heavy price for its behavior, then its prospects for eventual victory over Abbas are improved.

The slide into what may be another intifada or at least another round of fighting in Gaza is blamed on Netanyahu’s supposedly belligerent attitude. But this is exactly what many observers feared would be the inevitable aftermath to another failed U.S. peace initiative. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace talks were acclaimed as a noble effort even if the odds were always against success. But by raising the stakes in the region at a point when everyone knew the Palestinian leadership was unready for peace, he set the stage for a chance for Hamas to interject itself into the process in this manner.

Even worse, by deciding to treat the Fatah-Hamas pact as no big deal, the U.S. sent exactly the wrong signal to both Abbas and Hamas. While Abbas was allowed to think there would be no price to pay for abandoning the peace process and embracing unreconstructed terrorists, Hamas soon realized that it could literally get away with murder without the U.S. blinking an eye or rethinking its determination to restrain Israeli efforts to deal with the terror group. The result is the current escalation that has damaged Abbas while allowing the Islamists to reclaim their status as the address for “resistance” against Israel.

Barack Obama may not have wanted the current fighting to happen and, indeed, he would very much like it to stop. But the administration’s maneuvering led inevitably to another blowup that had the ironic effect of weakening Abbas, the one figure in this mess the president actually likes.

America’s mixed messages are not the sole reason why the situation has deteriorated but they have played an outsize role in making things worse. If the president really wants to advance the cause of peace, he should forget about more bland pronouncements such as his op-ed, and start reminding both Abbas and Hamas that they will suffer if they don’t embrace the cost of peace. Anything short of that is a continuation of a policy that is exacerbating the conflict rather than solving it.

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Want Two States? Not the Palestinians

For more than 20 years since the Oslo process began, those urging Israel to make more and more concessions to the Palestinians have based their views on the belief that both peoples supported a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. But a new poll of Palestinian public opinion shows that an overwhelming majority opposes any goal other than eliminating the State of Israel.

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For more than 20 years since the Oslo process began, those urging Israel to make more and more concessions to the Palestinians have based their views on the belief that both peoples supported a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. But a new poll of Palestinian public opinion shows that an overwhelming majority opposes any goal other than eliminating the State of Israel.

The poll, conducted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, showed some interesting and, in part, contradictory results. Only 27.3 percent of Palestinians support a two-state solution. By contrast, more than two-thirds see the restoration of all of historic Palestine to Arab control as the only legitimate national goal for their people. Interestingly, of those who back the elimination of Israel, only one out of seven and 10.1 percent overall think it ought to be replaced by a single democratic state in which Jews and Arabs would have equal rights. What the other 60.3 percent who say that “reclaiming” all land from the river to the sea for the Arabs would do with the six million Jews who live there is left unclear.

Just as interesting is the answer to the question as to what Palestinians should do if a two-state solution were somehow to be achieved by their leadership. Only 31.6 percent say that should mean the end of the conflict while 64 percent believe that even after that the struggle against Israel “should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated.” Asked the same question in a slightly different way, 65.2 percent of the Palestinians think that if their leadership were to negotiate a two-state deal, “that would be part of a ‘program of stages’ to liberate all of historic Palestine later.”

However, just because the Palestinians don’t want to make peace with Israel or live beside it in a separate, independent state doesn’t mean that most of them want to fight it, at least not right now. More than 60 percent think that Hamas should maintain a cease-fire with Israel in the West Bank and Gaza. Although Gaza is home to the Islamist terror movement, not surprisingly more Gazans (70 percent) support the cease-fire than West Bankers (55 percent).

As to whether Hamas should abide by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s statement that it should recognize Israel and abide by past peace agreements (something that his own Fatah hasn’t done), opinion is divided. Overall, a bare majority—50.7 percent—agrees with that position. But there is a clear split between the West Bank and Gaza. Gazans, who clearly want an end to the violence, support the demand by a margin of 57.3 to 37.6 percent. But on the West Bank, where Abbas’s supposedly more moderate Fatah Party dominates, Palestinians are split down the middle with 46.8 percent opposing forcing Hamas to stand down while 45.7 percent support the idea.

Other questions show that while Palestinians are leery of another terrorist war of attrition against Israel, they want “popular resistance” against the Jewish state to continue. While that phrase might be interpreted as support for non-violent means of protest, in the Palestinian lexicon it appears to represent something different. In this context, popular resistance means mass protests conducted by violent means with rock throwing and firebombs rather than peaceful sit-ins or demonstrations.

One question that will get attention is the one the poll asked Palestinians about whom they believe should be leading them. While only 29.8 percent supported the current leader Mahmoud Abbas (who is currently in the tenth year of the four-year term that he was elected to in 2005), Hamas leaders did far worse with none breaking into double digits. But while the pollsters billed this section as having proved that Hamas “is not gaining ground” that may be slightly misleading. Hamas has no single dynamic leader, so comparing the ones they do have doesn’t tell us that much about whether the majority of Palestinians who, if the poll is to be believed, clearly share the Islamist group’s goals, actually want it to exercise power.

The irony here is that despite clinging to these intransigent beliefs, Palestinians not only wish to avoid open conflict with Israel; they want to work there. Over 80 percent want Israel to offer more job opportunities to Palestinians from the territories with a majority saying they would personally consider taking a job inside the same Jewish state most of them want to eliminate.

It isn’t hard to draw the obvious conclusion from this study. While a two-state solution would enable the Palestinians to achieve independence at the cost of being forced to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state next door, Israelis seem to desire such an outcome more than the Arabs. Even if the Palestinian leadership were to find the courage to sign a peace deal, their people would not be satisfied with accepting such a compromise. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the Palestinians have either turned down or walked away from opportunities to achieve statehood and peace four times in the last 15 years.

While Israel’s critics blame this failure on settlements or Israel’s leadership, the poll makes it clear that these are diversions from the real obstacle to peace: the Palestinian belief that any outcome other than the destruction of the Jewish state would amount to a historic betrayal. From its beginnings in the first half of the 20th century, Palestinian national identity has always been inextricably linked to the war against Zionism. This poll shows that despite the fact that they have little appetite for open war with the Jews, this is as true today as it was in 1947 when the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab and Muslim worlds rejected out of hand the United Nations partition resolution that would have created a Palestinian Arab state.

This poll tells us that Palestinians are torn between pragmatic desires for an end to violence and job opportunities inside Israel (an option that was eliminated by the second intifada’s wave of suicide bombings and other terror attacks) and a belief that nothing short of Israel’s elimination is the only proper national goal for their people. Until they resolve these conflicting trends in favor of a stance that would embrace real peace rather than a temporary cease-fire, all future attempts to negotiate a solution to the conflict will be futile. This is not what those who have made a career out of blaming Israel for every problem in the Middle East, if not the world, want to hear. But if they want to know what’s really going on, they should listen to the Palestinians. If they do, they will understand that there is nothing Israel can do to end this conflict so long as Palestinians are committed to their destruction.

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Palestinians Play the Victim Again

More than one week into the search for the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, the Palestinians have gone beyond mocking the boys and their families on social media with their three-fingered salute taunt. They are now attempting to use the Israel Defense Forces’ search operation as an excuse to turn the tables on the Jewish state.

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More than one week into the search for the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, the Palestinians have gone beyond mocking the boys and their families on social media with their three-fingered salute taunt. They are now attempting to use the Israel Defense Forces’ search operation as an excuse to turn the tables on the Jewish state.

Since neither Hamas nor their Fatah partners in the Palestinian government have produced the boys or the captors (despite PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s promises that his security services are aiding in the hunt), these political parties are beginning what is, in effect, a third intifada, as they send their own children and young people into the streets to resist army searchers, producing confrontations that inevitably lead to violence and casualties. Having then provided the international media with a new set of grievances, the Palestinians now are claiming that those who both applauded the kidnapping and who are actively obstructing the lawful operations aimed at rescuing the boys are the real victims. The only question is how long it will take before the United Nations and the rest of the international community starts mulling resolutions condemning the Israelis for leaving no stone unturned in their quest to find the boys as well as for having the chutzpah to resist terrorism.

To listen to officials like Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, the kidnapping is either an Israeli hoax or the act of Jewish criminals rather than terrorists. This variant on 9/11 truther myths is a mixture of the traditional imagery of anti-Semitism as well as modern disinformation. But like PLO official Hanan Ashrawi and his boss Abbas, al-Maliki’s real complaint is that the focus on Jews suffering at the hands of Palestinian terrorists helps “turn Israelis from aggressors to victims.” He’s right about that.

Though Israelis are routinely portrayed in the international media as the bullies of the Middle East, the kidnapping and the latest rocket attacks into southern Israel from Hamas-run Gaza (the independent Palestinian state in all-but-name that reminds Israelis what they would get if they withdrew from the West Bank) highlight the fact that it is Israel that remains under siege from its hostile Arab neighbors, not Gaza or the West Bank.

If there is any conscious attempt to manipulate public opinion, it is the efforts of Palestinians to turn a lawful search operation for the boys into a series of unfortunate violent incidents. What is happening is similar to past intifadas during which cynical Palestinian leaders sacrificed their children on the altar of hate for Israel in order to produce victims for the international media to aid the campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to self-defense.

If the Palestinians don’t want Israeli troops searching their towns and villages and fields for terrorist victims, they have an easy solution to their problem. They can demand that Hamas surrender the terrorists and produce the boys. Even more to the point, if they don’t want the present diplomatic stalemate to continue, which has left Abbas’s PA in control of most Palestinian areas but with Israel retaining the right to guard its security in the West Bank, they can return to the negotiating table and finally accept a peace offer that would, in return for their recognition that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people and a permanent end to the conflict, gain sovereignty over most of the territory they claim as their own.

But since the Palestinians remain uninterested in pursuing either of those rational options or in being led by people more interested in developing their economy and respecting human rights than in pursuing a century-old futile quest to destroy Israel, they are stuck in their preferred tactics of the past. That is why they are dusting off the old intifada playbook and trying to play the victim instead of ending this crisis or negotiating peace. While much of the international community will probably fall for this ploy, they should not expect the Israeli public to be so simple. After more than 20 years of failed efforts to get the Palestinians to take yes for an answer, the Jewish state is determined to defend itself. Those who attack their children and mock them are not the victims in this story.

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Is Israel Overreacting to the Kidnapping?

Eight days into the search, Israeli troops have still apparently found no trace of the three teenagers kidnapped last week by Hamas terrorists. Though the army continues to claim that it is tightening the noose around the kidnappers, as the country welcomed the Sabbath, there was no sign that the government’s faith that the victims could be still be rescued would be vindicated in the coming days. Read More

Eight days into the search, Israeli troops have still apparently found no trace of the three teenagers kidnapped last week by Hamas terrorists. Though the army continues to claim that it is tightening the noose around the kidnappers, as the country welcomed the Sabbath, there was no sign that the government’s faith that the victims could be still be rescued would be vindicated in the coming days. Instead, prayers for the safe recovery of the boys are being drowned out in the court of international public opinion by complaints from Palestinians that Israel’s efforts to ferret out the terrorists are an overreaction or that it is inflicting “collective punishment” on innocents even if those complaining about disproportionate use of force are also the same people who have been promoting a social media campaign supporting the kidnapping and mocking its victims. The purpose of Israel’s West Bank offensive is to find the boys and to take down Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure that made the kidnapping possible. But the problem the country faces is that if another few days go by without results, international pressure to stand down and to even release some of the Hamas personnel that have been arrested in recent days will begin to grow.

Those who are lighting an extra three candles tonight for the three boys are holding onto hope that they will soon be found alive, the sobering fact is that the Israel Defense Forces have never yet rescued a Hamas kidnapping victim alive. The prayers of decent people around the world are focused on the desire to see the three boys being the first such victims returned home without Israel being forced to pay a ransom in the form of released killers. But the problem facing Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening is what he will do if by this time next week, the IDF is no closer to bringing this episode to a successful conclusion as it is today. The depressing truth is that in the absence of Israel finding either the victims or their captors, the desire of the Obama administration and its European allies to return the discussion about their recognition of the Fatah-Hamas Palestinian coalition and decision to keep funding that terrorist-backed government back to where it was before the kidnapping will become all too clear.

But before that happens, it should be understand that nothing that Israel has done should be considered an overreaction or a disproportionate use of force. Regardless of its ultimate disposition, as the current sovereign power in the West Bank, Israel has the obligation to both defend its citizens and maintain order. That includes the responsibility to root out terrorists and to rescue anyone who has been captured by them. If that means turning much of the West Bank upside down that will certainly inconvenience a great many Palestinians. But what is disproportionate is for the same people who are cheering the kidnapping with three-fingered salutes and promoting the crime as an act of heroism on social media to carp about Israeli troops searching for the boys. If Palestinians have taken to the streets to protest IDF movements, it is because they wish to hinder the search. So long as they regard any cooperation with the search for the boys as an act of treason and obstruction of their rescue as patriotism, it is difficult to see much hope for peace.

In the meantime, Netanyahu must decide whether the army’s efforts will at some point in the near future reach a point of diminishing returns if none of the three are found. While he will have the support of his nation behind continued efforts whether successful or not, the same cannot be said of his American allies, let alone the Europeans. All this means that sooner rather than later Netanyahu will have to choose whether to continue the counter-attack on Hamas terrorists. While the Americans would like nothing better to pretend none of this happened and that it has nothing to do with the peace process, this incident illustrates the futility of negotiations that treat terrorists and their collaborators as if they were peace partners. The U.S. would like to treat the kidnapping as a lamentable distraction from the business of Middle East peace. But the more Israelis are confronted with the callous three-fingered salutes of the Palestinians, the less likely they will be to ever listen to the siren song of the peace processers again.

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Europe; In League with the Arab League

After five days of silence, the European Union has finally released a stock-statement condemning the kidnapping of three Israeli students. But even this only comes after Prime Minister Netanyahu poured scorn on European countries for their harsh criticism of Israel as compared to their total failure to condemn such terrorist acts. The full extent of the EU’s Israel problem was demonstrated last week at a conference in Athens where European foreign ministers and their Arab League counterparts signed a ten page declaration that outrageously praised the Palestinians for their supposed commitment to peace and democracy while castigating Israel for its “unilateral’” actions. EU diplomats have feebly attempted to explain this indefensible document, claiming that they were able to “draw the Arabs toward [their] position, as opposed to the other way around.”

If there is any truth in that statement then it hardly says very much in the EU’s defense. The idea that this disgraceful document in some way represents the European position doesn’t exactly set the EU in any better light. Obviously the lasting European taste for concession and appeasement wouldn’t have made it difficult for the Arab League members to win over their counterparts. But given the current mood toward Israel among EU diplomats one doubts whether they needed much persuading. Indeed, looking over the moral inversions in this document each could have just as plausibly been authored by the Arab states as the European ones. And when there’s no perceivable distinction between the foreign policy of Europe and that of the Arab world then—discounting the possibility that everyone in the Middle East has become a Swedish style pacifist—you know there’s cause for concern.

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After five days of silence, the European Union has finally released a stock-statement condemning the kidnapping of three Israeli students. But even this only comes after Prime Minister Netanyahu poured scorn on European countries for their harsh criticism of Israel as compared to their total failure to condemn such terrorist acts. The full extent of the EU’s Israel problem was demonstrated last week at a conference in Athens where European foreign ministers and their Arab League counterparts signed a ten page declaration that outrageously praised the Palestinians for their supposed commitment to peace and democracy while castigating Israel for its “unilateral’” actions. EU diplomats have feebly attempted to explain this indefensible document, claiming that they were able to “draw the Arabs toward [their] position, as opposed to the other way around.”

If there is any truth in that statement then it hardly says very much in the EU’s defense. The idea that this disgraceful document in some way represents the European position doesn’t exactly set the EU in any better light. Obviously the lasting European taste for concession and appeasement wouldn’t have made it difficult for the Arab League members to win over their counterparts. But given the current mood toward Israel among EU diplomats one doubts whether they needed much persuading. Indeed, looking over the moral inversions in this document each could have just as plausibly been authored by the Arab states as the European ones. And when there’s no perceivable distinction between the foreign policy of Europe and that of the Arab world then—discounting the possibility that everyone in the Middle East has become a Swedish style pacifist—you know there’s cause for concern.

In places the assertions of the ten-page declaration are laughable. There is praise for the Palestinian commitment to democracy; this despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority has been postponing an election that became overdue in 2009, while in Gaza Hamas, who seized power in a military coup, murdered the political opposition, and censored the press, has never countenanced an election since. Similarly, the declaration welcomes the new Fatah-Hamas unity government, calling on Israel to work with it and claiming that this represents a promising step toward a two-state solution. How anyone that claims to favor two states can welcome a Hamas backed government—Hamas being the terrorist movement committed to extinguishing the Jewish state—is simply unfathomable. And no less contradictory is the declaration’s condemnation of Israel’s “unilateral” acts in Jerusalem alongside its support for Palestinian unilateral acts to pursue membership of committees at the United Nations. For one thing it is absurd that when Arabs build homes in Jerusalem it’s just Arabs building homes in Jerusalem, but when Jews have the audacity to build homes in their own religious, historical and political capital, well then it’s a strategic unilateral act warranting a mini-diplomatic crisis. But more importantly the Palestinian moves at the United Nations are in direct breach of the Oslo peace accords, and many of the signatories of this declaration were supposed to serve as guarantors to Oslo.

Most appalling of all is the declaration’s utter failure to condemn Hamas rocket fire against Israeli civilians. Yes, there’s one of those completely redundant lines about opposing “all acts of violence” by both sides. But nowhere is there any specific mention of the civilian-bound rockets dispatched from Hamas controlled Gaza on a daily basis. Yet the declaration complains at length about the “grave humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip largely caused by the closure imposed by the Occupying Power.” The ministers also stressed their position that “Israeli settlements, the separation barrier built anywhere in the occupied Palestinian territory, home demolitions and evictions are illegal under international law and constitute obstacles for peace and they endanger the viability of the two-state solution.”

The Arab world’s attitude toward the Jewish state has long been considered alongside the fact that the ancient Jewish communities in these countries were decimated and forced to flee in the same decade that the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe were made to vanish. But given the worsening condition of Jewish life in Western Europe, for how long can the EU’s attitude toward the Jewish state and the fate of its own Jews not be considered in light of one another? Over the weekend Paris witnessed a spate of anti-Semitic incidents, and in all of these places Jews are considering their future; whether to stay or go. By the best assessment Europe is failing in its primary obligation to protect a part of its citizenry. But in light of these failings to protect the basic human rights of their own Jews, it is extraordinary that Europeans think they’re in a position to join with the Arab League, with its abominable human rights record, in lecturing the Jewish state.

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Rivlin and Israeli Reality

Today’s election by the Knesset of Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin as the next president of Israel wasn’t exactly what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hoping for as he contemplated this date earlier this year. Netanyahu maneuvered furiously to avoid a scenario in which Rivlin or anyone else that wasn’t one of his close allies became Israel’s head of state. Given that Netanyahu loyalists are rare even in his own Likud Party, that hope was always a long shot. In the end, the PM had to settle for the elevation of a man who is clearly to his right on the peace process and the settlements issue. Yet his disappointment must pale when compared to that of the Obama administration and members of the international community who had enjoyed seeing outgoing President Shimon Peres act as a symbolic yet potent voice opposing Netanyahu on the peace process. Peres walked a fine line between engaging in the sort of partisanship that would be inappropriate for the holder of an office that is supposed to be above politics and constant advocacy that often undercut Netanyahu.

Rivlin is widely respected as a man of integrity who can probably be counted on to observe the non-partisan traditions of the office that give it moral authority and the ability to act as a unifying force in a fractious society. But that a person who has always been identified as an opponent of the kind of concessions to the Palestinians that Peres advocated could succeed Peres in the office is also one more sign of an Israeli consensus that flummoxes its foreign critics.

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Today’s election by the Knesset of Reuven “Ruby” Rivlin as the next president of Israel wasn’t exactly what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hoping for as he contemplated this date earlier this year. Netanyahu maneuvered furiously to avoid a scenario in which Rivlin or anyone else that wasn’t one of his close allies became Israel’s head of state. Given that Netanyahu loyalists are rare even in his own Likud Party, that hope was always a long shot. In the end, the PM had to settle for the elevation of a man who is clearly to his right on the peace process and the settlements issue. Yet his disappointment must pale when compared to that of the Obama administration and members of the international community who had enjoyed seeing outgoing President Shimon Peres act as a symbolic yet potent voice opposing Netanyahu on the peace process. Peres walked a fine line between engaging in the sort of partisanship that would be inappropriate for the holder of an office that is supposed to be above politics and constant advocacy that often undercut Netanyahu.

Rivlin is widely respected as a man of integrity who can probably be counted on to observe the non-partisan traditions of the office that give it moral authority and the ability to act as a unifying force in a fractious society. But that a person who has always been identified as an opponent of the kind of concessions to the Palestinians that Peres advocated could succeed Peres in the office is also one more sign of an Israeli consensus that flummoxes its foreign critics.

It’s likely that Rivlin will not spend much time trying to upstage Netanyahu on war and peace issues and will, instead, devote himself to more domestic concerns along with the traditional symbolic duties of the presidency. But it must be understood that up until the last minute many observers believed that Rivlin would not win because they thought various forces in the Knesset would unite to back an alternative because they could not stomach having a right-winger as president. While the reasons that didn’t happen are complex and largely related to the intricate entangling rivalries between the various parties and leaders in the Knesset, it must also be acknowledged that Rivlin’s win is one more demonstration that the center of Israeli politics is well to the right of where Americans would like it to be. While liberals and others who deride Netanyahu think the views of the popular Peres represent what most Israelis think, the experience of the last 20 years of the peace process have created a new political alignment that means Rivlin’s opinions don’t place him outside of the mainstream.

This is disconcerting for those who would like to believe that Peres, the architect of Oslo process, speaks for Israel in a way that Netanyahu cannot. But even if most Israelis think a two-state solution would be ideal, they know that in the absence of a true peace partner it isn’t going to happen anytime soon. The second intifada and the repeated rejections of peace offers by the PA has marginalized the Israeli left even if that reality check hasn’t affected American Jewish opinion.

There is no shortage of prominent Israelis who can be counted on to echo the concerns of its foreign detractors and to blast Netanyahu whenever it will do the most harm to the PM. Indeed, the 90-year-old Peres is expected to try to play kingmaker and attempt to unite the various left-wing factions in an effort to topple the government and/or defeat it at the next election. But for the next few years, Israel’s president won’t be a part of the anti-Netanyahu chorus on that issue even if Rivlin may take shots at the PM over social issues or to speak up for the interests of the settlers. That won’t please Washington and many liberal American Jews. But it reflects the current state of Israeli opinion and the facts on the ground.

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Fayyad Explains Why J Street Is Irrelevant

The left-wing lobby J Street didn’t turn out to be the Washington colossus its backers hoped it would be when Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009. Despite having a president who was clearly sympathetic to their point of view, the group has never been able to successfully challenge AIPAC in the contest to see which of them would speak for the pro-Israel community. Nor has it amassed much influence on Capitol Hill and it has often been marginalized by the White House, especially during the 2012 presidential election. But J Street did score a major public-relations victory this spring when the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voted to exclude it from their ranks. While the vote exposed the resentment much of the organized Jewish world bears for a group that has, from its inception, sought to undercut other groups, it also allowed J Street to play the victim and made it easier for it to say that the mainstream Jewish groups are unrepresentative.

But when J Street convened its annual conference in San Francisco this past weekend, there seemed to be little evidence that it had either amassed the influence it once thought it might have or that its views favoring U.S. pressure on Israel to make concessions for peace were gaining traction. Instead, the group was forced to answer questions as to why anyone should take seriously a group whose views were so obviously out-of-touch with the reality of a Middle East peace process that had broken down again. While J Street may claim that if its positions were adopted, Israel might have been able to finally make peace, that position is given the lie by the Fatah-Hamas unity pact that effectively precludes the Palestinian Authority from ever making peace with Israel. But the real proof of just how clueless J Street is about Israel’s supposed peace partners came from the speakers list at their conference. One of the keynote speakers on the first evening of their conclave was former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who expressed pessimism about peace but urged J Street to persist in its efforts to pressure Israel.

While Fayyad is a Palestinian who is generally admired by mainstream Israelis as well as Americans who are knowledgeable about the Middle East, his presence at the J Street event is telling. While J Street is right to think that Fayyad would be a real partner for peace if he were still in office, his availability to fly to San Francisco tells us something about how representative his opinions actually are. His brand of pragmatism and opposition to both the violence of Hamas and the kleptocracy of Fatah marks him as a man without political constituency among a Palestinian population that prefers both of those two terror groups/political parties to “Fayyadism.” If J Street is to hang its hat on the notion that this person’s ideas are a guarantee that peace is possible, no wonder few in Israel or anywhere else take them seriously.

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The left-wing lobby J Street didn’t turn out to be the Washington colossus its backers hoped it would be when Barack Obama entered the White House in 2009. Despite having a president who was clearly sympathetic to their point of view, the group has never been able to successfully challenge AIPAC in the contest to see which of them would speak for the pro-Israel community. Nor has it amassed much influence on Capitol Hill and it has often been marginalized by the White House, especially during the 2012 presidential election. But J Street did score a major public-relations victory this spring when the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations voted to exclude it from their ranks. While the vote exposed the resentment much of the organized Jewish world bears for a group that has, from its inception, sought to undercut other groups, it also allowed J Street to play the victim and made it easier for it to say that the mainstream Jewish groups are unrepresentative.

But when J Street convened its annual conference in San Francisco this past weekend, there seemed to be little evidence that it had either amassed the influence it once thought it might have or that its views favoring U.S. pressure on Israel to make concessions for peace were gaining traction. Instead, the group was forced to answer questions as to why anyone should take seriously a group whose views were so obviously out-of-touch with the reality of a Middle East peace process that had broken down again. While J Street may claim that if its positions were adopted, Israel might have been able to finally make peace, that position is given the lie by the Fatah-Hamas unity pact that effectively precludes the Palestinian Authority from ever making peace with Israel. But the real proof of just how clueless J Street is about Israel’s supposed peace partners came from the speakers list at their conference. One of the keynote speakers on the first evening of their conclave was former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who expressed pessimism about peace but urged J Street to persist in its efforts to pressure Israel.

While Fayyad is a Palestinian who is generally admired by mainstream Israelis as well as Americans who are knowledgeable about the Middle East, his presence at the J Street event is telling. While J Street is right to think that Fayyad would be a real partner for peace if he were still in office, his availability to fly to San Francisco tells us something about how representative his opinions actually are. His brand of pragmatism and opposition to both the violence of Hamas and the kleptocracy of Fatah marks him as a man without political constituency among a Palestinian population that prefers both of those two terror groups/political parties to “Fayyadism.” If J Street is to hang its hat on the notion that this person’s ideas are a guarantee that peace is possible, no wonder few in Israel or anywhere else take them seriously.

J Street’s positions on the issues that were reiterated at their conference by its leader Jeremy Ben-Ami are a confusing blend of naïveté, leftism, and Zionism. Being “pro-Israel” and “pro-peace” can be a problem in a left-wing milieu where openly anti-Zionist groups like Jewish Voices for Peace are stealing J Street’s thunder. To his credit, Ben-Ami continues to insist that support for BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) campaigns against Israel are something his group can never support. J Street walks a fine line that is not as attractive to its core constituency of radicals who are more comfortable with BDS than they are with Ben-Ami’s brand of left-wing Zionism.

To compensate for that, the group emphasizes the key points that helped bring it to life as a cheering squad for the Obama administration against the mainstream pro-Israel community. Thus, J Street is not only highlighting its support for continued efforts to revive the peace talks via pressure on Israel and backing the administration’s decision to embrace the Fatah-Hamas unity government. In addition to that it is also seeking to build support for any nuclear deal that Obama might cut with Iran and to oppose congressional efforts to force the administration to keep its word to avert the nuclear threat.

Ben-Ami’s pretense is that this makes J Street a moderate force rather than a Jewish rump of so-called progressive groups like the leftist Moveon.org. But that pose of moderation is just as absurd as clinging to the notion that Fayyad represents Palestinian opinion. As one of the other speakers at the J Street event noted, the Israeli public has repeatedly rejected leftists who agree with the American group and is likely to swing even further to the right in the future. The reason for this is that, unlike liberal American Jews, Israelis have been paying attention to the repeated PA rejections of peace offers and the fact that Fayyad is a man without a party or supporters among the Palestinian people. It’s not that most Israelis don’t want a two-state solution. They do want it. It’s just that they have come to accept the fact that the Palestinians don’t want one.

More than their disgraceful position on Iran or their slavish applause for Obama’s betrayal of Israel on Hamas, the presence of Fayyad at the J Street event shows that they are not only wrong on the issues, they are also irrelevant to any serious discussion about the Middle East.

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Francis’s Misleading Middle East Symbolism

On Sunday, Pope Francis made good on his pledge to convene a summit of Israeli and Palestinian leaders for a prayer service in Rome. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was there along with Israel’s President Shimon Peres. Along with Francis, both made speeches calling for peace and listened as clergy from the three major faiths spoke of symbolic acts of reconciliation that were, as a number of commentators noted, supposed to show that at the very least, religion can be a uniting factor rather than the engine that drives separation and hostility. Even though no one is pretending that a few speeches or prayers in Rome will change the facts of a stalemate between the two sides in the peace talks, the gesture will reinforce the pope’s reputation as a man intent on healing the world.

Given the pope’s evident good will, it’s hard to argue with the idea that his summit will do no harm and might cause the two sides to think about working harder for peace. But this piece of conventional wisdom is misleading. Though no one should question the pope’s intentions, the event at the Vatican is more than empty symbolism. This piece of grandstanding on the part of the church not only did nothing to advance the cause of peace that was torpedoed by the Palestinian unity pact that brought the terrorists of Hamas into the PA along with Abbas’s Fatah. By lending the moral authority of a man who is rightly respected around the world for his probity and earnest desire to help others to a stunt that treats the partner of Islamist terrorists as a peacemaker, the event undermines any effort to pressure the PA to make a clear choice between peace with Israel or one with Hamas.

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On Sunday, Pope Francis made good on his pledge to convene a summit of Israeli and Palestinian leaders for a prayer service in Rome. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was there along with Israel’s President Shimon Peres. Along with Francis, both made speeches calling for peace and listened as clergy from the three major faiths spoke of symbolic acts of reconciliation that were, as a number of commentators noted, supposed to show that at the very least, religion can be a uniting factor rather than the engine that drives separation and hostility. Even though no one is pretending that a few speeches or prayers in Rome will change the facts of a stalemate between the two sides in the peace talks, the gesture will reinforce the pope’s reputation as a man intent on healing the world.

Given the pope’s evident good will, it’s hard to argue with the idea that his summit will do no harm and might cause the two sides to think about working harder for peace. But this piece of conventional wisdom is misleading. Though no one should question the pope’s intentions, the event at the Vatican is more than empty symbolism. This piece of grandstanding on the part of the church not only did nothing to advance the cause of peace that was torpedoed by the Palestinian unity pact that brought the terrorists of Hamas into the PA along with Abbas’s Fatah. By lending the moral authority of a man who is rightly respected around the world for his probity and earnest desire to help others to a stunt that treats the partner of Islamist terrorists as a peacemaker, the event undermines any effort to pressure the PA to make a clear choice between peace with Israel or one with Hamas.

In fairness to the pope, his foolish even-handed approach differs little from that of the Obama administration which has decided to continue to send aid to the PA despite the involvement of the Hamas terrorists in its administration following the signing of the unity pact. Together with the European Union, the United States has effectively given its stamp of approval to a PA government that is making peace impossible. Palestinian unity has not brought Hamas into a government bent on creating an agreement based on coexistence and an end to violence. Rather, it signifies the joint position of the two main Palestinian factions that proclaim their refusal to ever recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

Seen in that context, the ceremonial symbolism in Rome is not just a distraction from the reality of a PA that refused Israeli offers of independence and peace three times between 2000 and 2008 and also refused to negotiate seriously in the last year of American-sponsored talks that amounts to a fourth such refusal. So long as the world refuses to place the same kind of brutal pressure on the Palestinians to give up their war on Zionism and accept a two-state solution that it puts on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, peace will remain impossible for the foreseeable future.

It must also be pointed out that in the inclusion of Peres in the conclave rather than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the papal event engaged in the sort of cheap shot that is unworthy of a leader of the pope’s stature. While Abbas and Peres are technically both the heads of state of their respective government, the former is the leader of the PA while Peres’s role is purely ceremonial. Peres’s willingness to pretend that there is nothing wrong with a PA that partners with Hamas is in consistent with his past record of taking risks for peace. His Oslo led to the empowerment of a terrorist like Yasir Arafat but his international standing as a wise man has survived decisions that cost lives and did nothing to advance the goal he championed. But whatever we might think of Peres’s qualifications as a diplomat, going around Netanyahu’s back undermines Israeli democracy and allows those who seek to whitewash Abbas and the Fatah-Hamas government to say that they are merely agreeing with him. Peres’s presence at the summit was a rebuke to Israel’s government, which has rightly complained about the way the international community has given Abbas a free pass to make common cause with terrorists while still posing as a peacemaker. It bears repeating that it is only Netanyahu and his ministers who have the right to negotiate on behalf of the Israeli electorate that put them in office.

Nothing that happened in Rome today will help bring peace because the premise of the event is a foolish belief that what is needed is more dialogue. The two sides already know where they stand. Peace requires a Palestinian leader to have the guts to reject Hamas and those Fatah elements that are still supportive of terror and unwilling to bring the conflict to an end. Any prayer service or act of advocacy on behalf of Middle East peace that ignores this key question is part of the problem, not the solution. While we respect Pope Francis, like his misguided recent trip to the Middle East that bogged him down in dangerous acts of moral equivalency between terrorists and the victims of terror at Israel’s security barrier, this event was a mistake.

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The Dangerous Divided Jerusalem Fantasy

On this date in the Hebrew calendar 47 years ago, Israeli forces ended the division of Jerusalem. The city had been split during the Arab siege of the capital in 1948 and it remained cut in half by an ugly wall as well as by dangerous no-man’s-land zones. The victory in the Six-Day War ended an illegal occupation of the eastern portion of the city as well as the walled Old City by Jordan that had lasted for 19 years but was not recognized by the world. In breaking down the barriers, the Israelis not only reunited the city but opened access to its religious shrines—including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount—which had been off limits for Jews during the Jordanian occupation. But as Israelis celebrated what is known as “Jerusalem Day” today, support for the push to reinstate the division of the city in the international community has grown. Every Middle East peace plan proposed in the last 15 years, including the three Israeli offers of statehood that the Palestinians turned down, included a new partition of Jerusalem even though both sides remain murky about how that could be accomplished without reinstating the warlike atmosphere that prevailed before June 1967.

But for those who believe that such a partition is essential to peace, the process by which a city that has grown exponentially in the last five decades, with Jews and Arabs no longer neatly divided by a wall, could be split is merely a matter of details. To fill in the blanks for its readers, Haaretz published a Jerusalem Day feature that provided the answer to the question. Highlighting a complicated scheme put forward by a Jerusalem architectural firm, the paper asserted that most Jerusalemites wouldn’t even notice the difference if their city was re-partitioned. On the surface the plan, which has been funded by a variety of left-wing sources, seems practical if complicated and expensive. But it is not only completely unrealistic; it is based on a fantasy that the real problem in Jerusalem is primarily one of engineering, aesthetics, and logistics. Like every other element of other utopian peace plans that are sold to both the Israeli and Western publics as the solution that “everybody knows” must eventually happen, this vision of Jerusalem ignores the fundamental problem of peace: the fact that the Palestinians don’t want it.

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On this date in the Hebrew calendar 47 years ago, Israeli forces ended the division of Jerusalem. The city had been split during the Arab siege of the capital in 1948 and it remained cut in half by an ugly wall as well as by dangerous no-man’s-land zones. The victory in the Six-Day War ended an illegal occupation of the eastern portion of the city as well as the walled Old City by Jordan that had lasted for 19 years but was not recognized by the world. In breaking down the barriers, the Israelis not only reunited the city but opened access to its religious shrines—including the Western Wall and the Temple Mount—which had been off limits for Jews during the Jordanian occupation. But as Israelis celebrated what is known as “Jerusalem Day” today, support for the push to reinstate the division of the city in the international community has grown. Every Middle East peace plan proposed in the last 15 years, including the three Israeli offers of statehood that the Palestinians turned down, included a new partition of Jerusalem even though both sides remain murky about how that could be accomplished without reinstating the warlike atmosphere that prevailed before June 1967.

But for those who believe that such a partition is essential to peace, the process by which a city that has grown exponentially in the last five decades, with Jews and Arabs no longer neatly divided by a wall, could be split is merely a matter of details. To fill in the blanks for its readers, Haaretz published a Jerusalem Day feature that provided the answer to the question. Highlighting a complicated scheme put forward by a Jerusalem architectural firm, the paper asserted that most Jerusalemites wouldn’t even notice the difference if their city was re-partitioned. On the surface the plan, which has been funded by a variety of left-wing sources, seems practical if complicated and expensive. But it is not only completely unrealistic; it is based on a fantasy that the real problem in Jerusalem is primarily one of engineering, aesthetics, and logistics. Like every other element of other utopian peace plans that are sold to both the Israeli and Western publics as the solution that “everybody knows” must eventually happen, this vision of Jerusalem ignores the fundamental problem of peace: the fact that the Palestinians don’t want it.

The conceit of the divided Jerusalem scheme is that the old “green line” that once cut through the city as well as the West Bank is alive and well. Since the second intifada, Jews largely avoid Arab sectors of the city and Arabs do the same in Jewish sections. The only problem then is how to “soften” the appearance of a division so as to codify the reality of a divided city without actually reinstating the ugly and perilous military fortifications that served as the front lines for the Arab-Israeli wars from 1949 to 1967.

There is some truth to the notion that Jerusalem is currently divided in this manner. But it is a fallacy to assert that it is anything as absolute as the authors of the plan and their media cheerleaders claim. Contrary to the notion popularized by the terminology used by the media, there is no real east or west Jerusalem. The city is built on hills with much of the “eastern” section actually in the north and south where Jewish neighborhoods on the other side of the green line have existed for over 40 years. The idea that this can all be easily sorted out by handing out the Jewish sections to Israel and the Arab ones to “Palestine” won’t work.

It is a falsehood to assert that 40 percent of Jerusalemites can’t vote in municipal elections. Residents of Arab neighborhoods could vote but don’t. If they did participate they would hold real power, but for nationalist reasons they choose to boycott the democratic process and the result is that they have been shortchanged. While current Mayor Nir Barkat opposes division of the city, he has rightly argued that Israel has to do better in serving Arab neighborhoods because with sovereignty comes responsibility. But what the plan’s authors also leave out of the equation is that a division would deprive many of these same Arabs of their employment and health coverage since a great number work on the Israeli side or get their medical treatment there. Will they give that up for Palestine? Just as when the security barrier was erected, many Arabs will clamor to stay on the Israeli side of any divide for obvious reasons.

Left unsaid in the piece is the fact that there are actually a number of interlocked Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. Nor does it explain how the Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus (which was isolated as a Jewish enclave during the Jordanian occupation) could be reached from what they propose to be Israeli Jerusalem or how Jerusalemites could access the scenic Sherover/Haas promenade in the city. And those are just a few of the anomalies that go unsolved or unanswered in a scheme that treats transportation patterns and border security as if they were mere blots on the map rather than avoidable facts.

There’s also no mention here about how security in this intricately divided city could be administered. Would Israelis really be prepared to cede the security of their capital to foreign forces? Could peace monitors be relied upon to respect Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish neighborhoods if they become, after peace, the object of a new intifada whose purpose would be to chip away at the rump of the Jewish state?

Nor is there any reason to believe the newly partitioned city would be one in which religious freedom at the holy places would be respected, especially since the Arab side of the new wall will almost certainly be declared a Jew-free zone by the Palestinian Authority and its Hamas allies/antagonists.

Just as important, rather than allowing a city that has grown by leaps and bounds to continue to thrive, a new partition would create more than political barriers. It would strangle the city’s economy, a common fate for all divided cities. That is something that would damage both Jews and Arabs.

But even if we were to concede that all these problems could be somehow miraculously worked out to the satisfaction of all sides, one big obstacle remains to the implementation of this plan: Palestinian cooperation. This is, after all, pretty much the same plan that Ehud Olmert offered to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in 2008. Abbas fled the negotiating table rather than be forced to respond to a plan that would have involved recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Compromise is always possible when both sides desire an outcome in which each will get some but not all of what they want. But so long as Palestinian national identity is still inextricably linked with the war on Zionism, no plan, no matter how reasonable sounding, can work.

It is telling that although groups dedicated to co-existence liberally funded the partition plan, there is not one Palestinian Arab architect associated with it. That is not an accident. Had the Palestinians wanted to accept a divided Jerusalem as part of their new state they could have had one in 2000, 2001, 2008, or even this year had they chosen to negotiate seriously with a Netanyahu government that was already prepared to cede most of the West Bank. But they didn’t take it and there’s no indication that they will change their mind anytime soon.

The obstacle to dividing Jerusalem isn’t one of aesthetics or engineering or even the problem of drawing a border in a place that causes the least harm to both sides. It is about a conflict that won’t be resolved until the Palestinians give up their fantasy of eradicating the Jewish state. When that happens, then perhaps utopian designs such as this one will be feasible and Israelis will be willing to give up their rightful to claim to all of their historic capital and share sovereignty. But until then, the only point of such plans is to undermine Jewish claims to the city in a manner that undermines hope for peace.

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Netanyahu’s Uncomfortable Fig Leaf

Israel’s far-left Meretz Party doesn’t often offer much in the way of insight about either the Middle East peace process or the country’s government, but today one of the group’s leaders, MK Nitzan Horowitz spoke at least a partial truth when he referred to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as nothing more than a “fig leaf” for Prime Minister Netanyahu. In an interview with the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz, the head of what is left of the once dominant “peace camp” decried Livni’s continued presence in the Cabinet. Horowitz’s evaluation of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a man of peace and willingness to place a good deal of the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Netanyahu is divorced from the facts and explains why his party and its allies retain only a small sliver of support from the Israeli public. But his comments were generally on target with respect to the anomalous position of Livni inside the government of the man who has been her nemesis.

An earlier Times of Israel report documented the blowback inside the country’s government about Livni’s decision to meet with Abbas in London last week even though Netanyahu had suspended negotiations with the PA after its alliance with Hamas. Reportedly, Netanyahu was livid at her insubordination and wanted to fire her. But after calming down, the prime minister realized that if he made Livni and her small parliamentary faction walk the plank, she would generate a coalition crisis that would leave him with only a small majority in the Knesset. That would put him at the mercy of his right-wing partner/antagonist Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party, who used Livni’s excursion to both call for her resignation and to posture at the prime minister’s expense to the voters.

In the end, Livni accomplished nothing with her mission to Abbas. He is no more willing to budge an inch toward peace now than he was throughout the long months of negotiations during which his representatives stonewalled the eager Livni, who headed Israel’s delegation. But the dustup involving the prime minister and the woman who has always thought that she, and not Netanyahu, should be leading the country is interesting because it illustrates just how wrongheaded the critics who bash Israel’s government as inflexibly right-wing really are.

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Israel’s far-left Meretz Party doesn’t often offer much in the way of insight about either the Middle East peace process or the country’s government, but today one of the group’s leaders, MK Nitzan Horowitz spoke at least a partial truth when he referred to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as nothing more than a “fig leaf” for Prime Minister Netanyahu. In an interview with the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz, the head of what is left of the once dominant “peace camp” decried Livni’s continued presence in the Cabinet. Horowitz’s evaluation of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as a man of peace and willingness to place a good deal of the blame for the collapse of the peace process on Netanyahu is divorced from the facts and explains why his party and its allies retain only a small sliver of support from the Israeli public. But his comments were generally on target with respect to the anomalous position of Livni inside the government of the man who has been her nemesis.

An earlier Times of Israel report documented the blowback inside the country’s government about Livni’s decision to meet with Abbas in London last week even though Netanyahu had suspended negotiations with the PA after its alliance with Hamas. Reportedly, Netanyahu was livid at her insubordination and wanted to fire her. But after calming down, the prime minister realized that if he made Livni and her small parliamentary faction walk the plank, she would generate a coalition crisis that would leave him with only a small majority in the Knesset. That would put him at the mercy of his right-wing partner/antagonist Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party, who used Livni’s excursion to both call for her resignation and to posture at the prime minister’s expense to the voters.

In the end, Livni accomplished nothing with her mission to Abbas. He is no more willing to budge an inch toward peace now than he was throughout the long months of negotiations during which his representatives stonewalled the eager Livni, who headed Israel’s delegation. But the dustup involving the prime minister and the woman who has always thought that she, and not Netanyahu, should be leading the country is interesting because it illustrates just how wrongheaded the critics who bash Israel’s government as inflexibly right-wing really are.

Americans who buy into the mainstream media’s reflexive dismissal of Netanyahu as “hard-line” (a word that many readers may think is his first name) and intransigent need to understand that the term tells us nothing about his policies. He began his current term in office in 2013, by offering Livni a major Cabinet post (the Justice Ministry) and the portfolio for peace talks with the Palestinians. Doing so was more or less the equivalent of President Obama choosing Mitt Romney to be secretary of state. Such alliances are, of course, less unusual in parliamentary systems, and especially so in Israel where no party has ever won an absolute majority in the Knesset. But it should be understood that Livni campaigned in the last election as a critic of Netanyahu’s peace policies and was then given an opportunity to prove him wrong by being handed the chance to strike a deal with Abbas. While the failure of the initiative championed by Secretary of State John Kerry is rightly considered to be his fiasco, the unwillingness of the Palestinians to come even close to satisfying Livni—the one Israeli that the Obama administration thought was most likely to make peace—tells us everything we need to know about the Palestinians’ responsibility for the collapse of the talks.

Rather than being the beard for Netanyahu whose purpose it is to fool the world into thinking that Israel wanted peace as Meretz and other leftists think, Livni’s presence at the table with the Palestinians is actually the proof that if Abbas wanted peace and an independent state, he could have it.  Livni doesn’t have Netanyahu’s confidence but he did let her conduct the negotiations without too much interference. If he was concerned that she would give away too much to the Palestinians or the American team led by Martin Indyk that is intractably hostile to the Israeli government, he had nothing to worry about. The Palestinians never gave her chance.

Some may think she is serving as a fig leaf for Netanyahu, but if they thought more seriously about her role in the peace process over the past year they would realize that her presence in the government did nothing to ease criticism from Washington or from the usual suspects who like to bash the Jewish state. Instead, she proved her theories and those of other Netanyahu critics wrong by trying and failing to get the Palestinians to take yes for an answer. If she stays in the government, and given her history of rank opportunism and love of office, there’s no reason to think she won’t, it will be to continue to serve as a warning to Netanyahu’s detractors that their accusations of Israeli intransigence are without a factual basis. That isn’t a particularly comfortable role for her or Netanyahu. But it does illustrate how foolish those who still laud Abbas as a man of peace really are.

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Want Peace? Change UN’s Refugee Policy

As the United States tries again to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, one of the key sticking points in any such negotiation is getting some much-needed scrutiny in a United Nations forum this week. As Israel Hayom reports, a UN panel will discuss an effort to revise the rules under which the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) operates. The pending debate is the result of an initiative pushed by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Judges and seeks to redefine who can be considered a Palestinian refugee and therefore a recipient of UNRWA’s largesse. While those made homeless by other conflicts are only considered refugees if they personally lost their homes, under current rules anyone descended from someone who fled the British Mandate of Palestine or the territory of the newborn State of Israel during the Jewish state’s War of Independence is eligible for refugee status. Thus, while the refugees of every other conflict or dislocation have ultimately all been resettled, only the Palestinians remain homeless, a tactic endorsed by their leaders and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world in order to keep the war against Israel alive.

While the chances that the UN will act on this issue are virtually non-existent, this discussion not only calls attention to UNRWA’s misguided policies but also highlights an issue that is one of the chief obstacles to peace. Though UNRWA is tasked with helping the Palestinians and is, for lack of a Palestinian government or groups dedicated to providing their people with a path to a better life, their primary source of sustenance, it actually plays a central role in their continued victimization.

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As the United States tries again to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, one of the key sticking points in any such negotiation is getting some much-needed scrutiny in a United Nations forum this week. As Israel Hayom reports, a UN panel will discuss an effort to revise the rules under which the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) operates. The pending debate is the result of an initiative pushed by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Judges and seeks to redefine who can be considered a Palestinian refugee and therefore a recipient of UNRWA’s largesse. While those made homeless by other conflicts are only considered refugees if they personally lost their homes, under current rules anyone descended from someone who fled the British Mandate of Palestine or the territory of the newborn State of Israel during the Jewish state’s War of Independence is eligible for refugee status. Thus, while the refugees of every other conflict or dislocation have ultimately all been resettled, only the Palestinians remain homeless, a tactic endorsed by their leaders and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world in order to keep the war against Israel alive.

While the chances that the UN will act on this issue are virtually non-existent, this discussion not only calls attention to UNRWA’s misguided policies but also highlights an issue that is one of the chief obstacles to peace. Though UNRWA is tasked with helping the Palestinians and is, for lack of a Palestinian government or groups dedicated to providing their people with a path to a better life, their primary source of sustenance, it actually plays a central role in their continued victimization.

The Palestinians have a unique status in the world of the UN. While all other refugees are handled by a single organization, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Palestinians have their own UN agency in UNRWA. But unlike the UNHCR, UNRWA’s goal is not to resettle the refugees and help them build new lives. UNRWA’s purpose has always been to keep them in place, living in squalid camps that long ago were transformed in concrete cities where they remain waiting for the day when they will “go home” to a Palestine that hasn’t existed for 66 years. Thus, rather than help the refugees to adjust to reality, UNRWA’s policies have dovetailed nicely with a Palestinian political identity that regards accommodation to Israel’s existence as tantamount to treason. The Palestinian belief in a “right of return” for not just the original Arabs who totaled a few hundred thousand but for the millions who claim to be their descendants is only made possible by UNRWA’s willingness to go on counting second, third, fourth, and now even fifth generations of Palestinians as refugees.

One aspect of this problem is the sheer inconsistency of international standards with regards to different kinds of refugees. In 1948, the Palestinians were counting on defeating and/or wiping out the Jewish community in the Mandate and therefore rejected the UN partition resolution that would have created the independent Palestinian state they now clamor for. Were they treated like other groups whose leaders gambled on aggression and lost—the millions of Germans who were brutally forced out of their homes in Eastern Europe come to mind after 1945—the Palestinians would have been helped to find new homes in the rest of the Arab world. Instead they were kept in place to continue to fuel the war against the one Jewish state in the world. Significantly, the roughly equal numbers of Jews who fled or were forced to flee their homes in the Arab and Muslim world after 1948 were given no such sympathy or UN aid. Those refugees were resettled in Israel and the West by Jewish groups and are now ignored when talk turns to restitution for the Middle East conflict.

Aside from the double standard here, the net effect of this policy is that in doing so UNRWA is serving to fuel the conflict rather than to seek its solution. UNRWA’s manifold problems—including education programs that foment hate against Israel and employees who aid terrorists—are well known. But so long as the Palestinians believe they have the support of the world in their effort to undo the verdict of the war they launched in 1948, the millions who call themselves refugees will never give up their goal of eradicating Israel’s existence. During the last 15 years the Palestinians have rejected three offers of independence and peace from Israel as well as walking away from a fourth such initiative this year. It’s clear the leaders of the Palestinian Authority do not think they have the support of their people for any treaty that will recognize the right of a Jewish state to exist no matter where its borders are drawn.

Rather than focus on forcing Israel to make more concessions that will endanger its security, those who wish to promote peace should focus their efforts on institutions like UNRWA that made a resolution of the conflict impossible. While it might be asking too much of a United Nations that is still rife with corruption and anti-Semitism to do the right thing on this issue, it is vital that the effort be made to change UNRWA before its actions help create more generations of angry refugees bent on destroying Israel. As much as the Israelis, the Palestinians would benefit from such a reform.

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Blaming Israel to Preserve a Theory

Secretary of State John Kerry was in London yesterday trying to sweet talk Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talking peace again with Israel. But the main front in the peace process appears to be in Washington where the State Department is still spinning the collapse of Kerry’s initiative and placing the primary fault for the failure of his fool’s errand on Israel. While Kerry fired the initial shots of this campaign himself when he had his “poof” moment at a Senate hearing, at which he claimed Israeli housing construction announcements had ended the negotiations, it was then continued by an in-depth interview given by American officials (widely and credibly attributed to Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk) to Yediot Aharonoth in which the Netanyahu government was thoroughly trashed and Abbas’s intransigence rationalized. But not satisfied with that, Kerry’s aides are back reinforcing their attacks on Israel this week helping to generate stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The point of the press barrage appears not, as with previous assaults on the Israelis, to pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians in future talks since, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no interest in sticking his neck out further on behalf of an effort that has no chance to succeed. Rather, the continued talk about settlements being the obstacle to peace seems to have two purposes. One is to defend Kerry’s reputation against accurate criticisms of his decision to waste so much time and effort on a negotiation that was always doomed to fail. The other is that the administration peace processors who largely repeated the same mistakes made by the Clinton administration during the Oslo period with regard to the Palestinians feel compelled to justify their behavior by blaming Israel. The problem with the focus on settlements is not just that it is both inaccurate and out of context but that railing at Israeli building is the only way to preserve belief in a theory about attaining Middle East peace that has failed again.

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Secretary of State John Kerry was in London yesterday trying to sweet talk Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talking peace again with Israel. But the main front in the peace process appears to be in Washington where the State Department is still spinning the collapse of Kerry’s initiative and placing the primary fault for the failure of his fool’s errand on Israel. While Kerry fired the initial shots of this campaign himself when he had his “poof” moment at a Senate hearing, at which he claimed Israeli housing construction announcements had ended the negotiations, it was then continued by an in-depth interview given by American officials (widely and credibly attributed to Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk) to Yediot Aharonoth in which the Netanyahu government was thoroughly trashed and Abbas’s intransigence rationalized. But not satisfied with that, Kerry’s aides are back reinforcing their attacks on Israel this week helping to generate stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The point of the press barrage appears not, as with previous assaults on the Israelis, to pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians in future talks since, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no interest in sticking his neck out further on behalf of an effort that has no chance to succeed. Rather, the continued talk about settlements being the obstacle to peace seems to have two purposes. One is to defend Kerry’s reputation against accurate criticisms of his decision to waste so much time and effort on a negotiation that was always doomed to fail. The other is that the administration peace processors who largely repeated the same mistakes made by the Clinton administration during the Oslo period with regard to the Palestinians feel compelled to justify their behavior by blaming Israel. The problem with the focus on settlements is not just that it is both inaccurate and out of context but that railing at Israeli building is the only way to preserve belief in a theory about attaining Middle East peace that has failed again.

It cannot be emphasized enough that most of the discussion about the settlements from administration sources and their cheerleaders in the press is not only wrongheaded but also deliberately misleading. A perfect example of that comes today in David Ignatius’s column in the Post in which he writes:

The issue of Israeli settlements humiliated the Palestinian negotiators and poisoned the talks, according to statements by U.S. negotiators. When Israel announced 700 new settlements in early April, before the April 29 deadline for the talks, “Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry told a Senate panel.

Phrased that way it certainly sounds egregious. But Israel didn’t announce the start of 700 new settlements. It authorized 700 new apartments in Gilo, a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that no one, not even the Palestinians expects would be given to them in even a prospective peace treaty more to their liking than the Israelis. Israel has built almost no new “settlements,” i.e. brand new towns, villages, or cities in the West Bank since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 and claiming anything different isn’t just wrong, it’s a deliberate attempt to poison the atmosphere against the Jewish state. Later in the day, the Post corrected that line to read “settlement apartments,” but the intent to deceive on the part of Ignatius was clear.

More to the point, both Ignatius and the latest op-ed mislabeled as a news story by Times White House correspondent Mark Landler note their narratives of Israeli perfidy but fail to highlight that it was Netanyahu who agreed to Kerry’s framework for further peace talks and Abbas who turned the U.S. down. It was Abbas who refused to budge an inch during the talks even though Israel’s offers of territorial withdrawal constitute a fourth peace offer including independence that the Palestinians have turned down in the last 15 years. His decision to embrace Hamas in a unity pact rather than make peace with Israel sealed the end of Kerry’s effort, not announcements of new apartments in Jerusalem.

The reason for this obfuscation is not a mystery. Acknowledging the truth about the collapse of the talks would force Kerry and his State Department minions to admit that their theory about how to achieve peace has been wrong all along. It was primarily the Palestinians’ refusal to make the symbolic step of recognizing that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people that would live in peace alongside a nation state of the Palestinian people that sunk the talks. But acknowledging that would mean they understood that the political culture of the Palestinians—in which national identity is inextricably tied to rejection of Israel’s existence—must change before peace is possible. Israel, which has already made large-scale territorial withdrawals in the hope of peace, has already dismantled settlements and would uproot more if real peace were to be had. Moreover, since most of the building that Kerry and company blamed for the lack of peace are located in areas that would be kept by Israel, the obsession with them is as illogical as it is mean-spirited.

Just as the Clinton administration whitewashed Yasir Arafat and the PA in the ’90s, so, too, did the Obama crew whitewash his successor Abbas’s incitement and refusal to end the conflict. The result is that the Palestinians believe there will never be any serious consequences for rejecting peace. Throughout the Kerry initiative, Obama and the secretary praised Abbas while reviling Netanyahu but rather than nudging the Palestinians to make peace, it only encouraged them to refuse it. But if the U.S. is ever to help move the Middle East closer to peace, it will require honesty from the administration about the Palestinians and for it to give up its settlement obsession. Seen from that perspective, it was Kerry and Indyk who did as much to sabotage the process as Abbas, let alone Netanyahu. But instead, Obama, Kerry, and Indyk refuse to admit their faults and continue besmirching Israel to their friends in the press. Sticking to a discredited theory is always easier than facing the truth, especially about your own mistakes.

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Nakba Day and Plausible Peace Plans

The market for new Middle East peace plans is pretty much like that available for diets. Just as there will never be a shortage of schemes offering you a way to lose weight by various means, the supply of “new” solutions to the conflict in the Middle East is a well that never runs dry. The latest entry to what is a growing genre comes from Israeli journalist and author Ari Shavit, whose book—My Promised Land—on the conflict got generally favorable reviews in the United States. Writing in the New Republic, Shavit offers what he claims is not only a new approach but a “plausible” one that seeks to learn from the mistakes made by the peace processors in the more than 20 years since the Oslo Accords.

Like that book (which was subjected to a thorough and withering takedown by the irreplaceable Ruth Wisse), whose superficial evenhandedness endeared it to both liberal Jewish friends of Israel and many who are not its friends, Shavit’s plan sounds smart and also avoids the clichés about Israelis needing to search their souls or having to be saved from themselves by wise foreigners. Indeed, there is much to recommend it. Shavit counsels that we should forget about what he calls “Old Peace” with its obsession with crafting grand agreements and promoting White House ceremonies and instead concentrate on “New Peace”—an idea that will focus on Palestinian economic development and reform as a way to transition them and their Israeli neighbors to accepting a two state solution that will be based on ending the conflict rather than merely pausing it. But the idea isn’t new. Though he gives the back of his hand to Israel’s current government as being part of the problem rather than the solution, this concept of fostering change on the ground as the foundation for genuine reconciliation is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been advocating for years even as he has accepted a two-state solution as the basis for agreements.

But as smart as this may be, the problem with Shavit’s “New Peace” is pretty much the same as the shortcomings with the old variety. And the evidence of the impractical nature of his plan is very much on display today as the Palestinians and their cheerleaders around the world celebrate “Nakba Day.” May 15 is the anniversary of Israel’s Independence in 1948, an event that Palestinians refer to as the “disaster” or nakba. The parades, speeches, and vows of eliminating the Jewish state that are echoing throughout the political culture of the Palestinians today are proof that, at least for the foreseeable future, such practical plans as that of Shavit, which require them to put aside their historic grudges and focus on building a productive future, haven’t got a chance.

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The market for new Middle East peace plans is pretty much like that available for diets. Just as there will never be a shortage of schemes offering you a way to lose weight by various means, the supply of “new” solutions to the conflict in the Middle East is a well that never runs dry. The latest entry to what is a growing genre comes from Israeli journalist and author Ari Shavit, whose book—My Promised Land—on the conflict got generally favorable reviews in the United States. Writing in the New Republic, Shavit offers what he claims is not only a new approach but a “plausible” one that seeks to learn from the mistakes made by the peace processors in the more than 20 years since the Oslo Accords.

Like that book (which was subjected to a thorough and withering takedown by the irreplaceable Ruth Wisse), whose superficial evenhandedness endeared it to both liberal Jewish friends of Israel and many who are not its friends, Shavit’s plan sounds smart and also avoids the clichés about Israelis needing to search their souls or having to be saved from themselves by wise foreigners. Indeed, there is much to recommend it. Shavit counsels that we should forget about what he calls “Old Peace” with its obsession with crafting grand agreements and promoting White House ceremonies and instead concentrate on “New Peace”—an idea that will focus on Palestinian economic development and reform as a way to transition them and their Israeli neighbors to accepting a two state solution that will be based on ending the conflict rather than merely pausing it. But the idea isn’t new. Though he gives the back of his hand to Israel’s current government as being part of the problem rather than the solution, this concept of fostering change on the ground as the foundation for genuine reconciliation is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been advocating for years even as he has accepted a two-state solution as the basis for agreements.

But as smart as this may be, the problem with Shavit’s “New Peace” is pretty much the same as the shortcomings with the old variety. And the evidence of the impractical nature of his plan is very much on display today as the Palestinians and their cheerleaders around the world celebrate “Nakba Day.” May 15 is the anniversary of Israel’s Independence in 1948, an event that Palestinians refer to as the “disaster” or nakba. The parades, speeches, and vows of eliminating the Jewish state that are echoing throughout the political culture of the Palestinians today are proof that, at least for the foreseeable future, such practical plans as that of Shavit, which require them to put aside their historic grudges and focus on building a productive future, haven’t got a chance.

Shavit’s plan requires Israel to enact a total freeze on building in those Jewish settlements in the West Bank that are beyond the security fence. That’s a measure that wouldn’t inconvenience Israel all that much since almost all of the new housing beyond the 1967 lines is in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs that are inside the fence and would be kept by Israel in any peace agreement. But Shavit also says that Israel should withdraw completely from large swaths of the West Bank and that each such area would become an economic opportunity zone for Palestinian entrepreneurs where a free-market economy would grow without the debilitating corruption of the current Palestinian Authority.

The zones would be aided by the Arab states and the European Union and overseen by the United States. This new spirit of growth would foster a different civil political culture that would replace the old Palestinian one in which national identity is inextricably tied to war to the death against Zionism. Only by recreating themselves in this manner will Palestinians ever be willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. As Shavit writes:

The new Palestinian moderates can grow and prosper within the protective greenhouse of a New Peace structure that will expand the Palestinian geographic, political, and economic space—year by year, quarter by quarter. If at any given point in time the Palestinians are better off than in the previous point in time, there is hope. A new generation of modernized and globalized West Bankers may find reconciliation with their Israeli neighbors essential—and feasible. Over time, a benign Palestine may be established and a two-state steady-state may come to be.

Anyone who cares about Israel or the Palestinians should hope it someday becomes a reality. But the problem with what Shavit calls “Fayyadism”—named for the reform-minded former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad—was amply illustrated by his failure. Despite the praise showered on him by Americans, Europeans, and Israelis and the aid they sought to give him, Fayyad and other like-minded Palestinians have no discernible constituency among their own people. The corrupt kleptocrats of Fatah and the terrorists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad may have nothing to offer Palestinians but more of the same blood, privation, and failure they’ve been giving them throughout the century-old conflict over the land with the Jews, but they remain the only viable factions.

Shavit’s reference to his opportunity zones as a “greenhouse” is telling. It should be remembered that when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, wealthy American Jews bought the greenhouses built by Jewish settlers in order to give them to local Arabs who could then build their economy. But the greenhouses were destroyed in a paroxysm of Palestinian rage against anything connected to the Jews hours after the Israelis left. Much as Shavit might hope that Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank will produce a different result, there is no reason to think that any land abandoned to the Palestinians will not be converted to terrorist hotbeds, much as the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza soon became.

Unlike most foreign critics of Israel, Shavit understands that Israelis have become disillusioned with the peace process not because they want to rule over the Palestinians but because every previous peace deal has resulted in a trade of land for terror, not peace. He’d like the next time to be different, but offers no safeguards for that other than vague talk about American supervision. But does he really think Americans wish to take up the job of counter-terrorism in the West Bank currently done by Israelis just when they’ve tired of fighting counter-insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Shavit knows that Palestinians must change if they are ever to have peace or sovereignty. But the idea that this change can be imposed upon them from the outside or be the result of foreign investment projects is to engage in the same kind of magical thinking that has sunk every “Old Peace” venture in the last generation. The sea change in Palestinian political culture that will finally give up the fight to reverse the verdict of the Nakba must come from within. Until it does, Shavit’s peace plan, like every other one proposed by Americans or Israelis from the left, right, and center, is a waste of time.

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Kerry’s Counterproductive Peace Diplomacy

Give Secretary of State John Kerry credit. His pursuit of Middle East peace may be futile, but it is determined. Weeks after Palestinian decisions to return to the United Nations for an end run around Kerry’s efforts and then a Fatah-Hamas unity pact blew them up, Kerry is back at it. He is scheduled to meet tomorrow in London with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process and the future of the relationship between the United States and the PA. Most observers are treating this meeting as evidence of Kerry’s determination never to give up the search for peace and therefore a praiseworthy act almost by definition.

But even if we are prepared to praise the secretary for never giving up hope for peace, this effort to entice Abbas back to the table to talk with Israel is misguided. While the U.S. has falsely sought to portray the collapse of the talks as being the fault of both sides in the negotiations in order not to alienate the Palestinians, the latest evidence of Kerry’s belief that sweet talking the PA is the only way to go is likely to do more harm than good. After nine months of praise of Abbas as a man of peace coming from the mouths of President Obama and Kerry while they were also trashing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the U.S. is not merely presiding over a standoff; the administration has become one of its main causes. If Kerry isn’t prepared to start pressuring Abbas to make peace and stating that there will be stark consequences for the PA if he fails to do so, the secretary would be better off avoiding the Palestinian leader.

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Give Secretary of State John Kerry credit. His pursuit of Middle East peace may be futile, but it is determined. Weeks after Palestinian decisions to return to the United Nations for an end run around Kerry’s efforts and then a Fatah-Hamas unity pact blew them up, Kerry is back at it. He is scheduled to meet tomorrow in London with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the peace process and the future of the relationship between the United States and the PA. Most observers are treating this meeting as evidence of Kerry’s determination never to give up the search for peace and therefore a praiseworthy act almost by definition.

But even if we are prepared to praise the secretary for never giving up hope for peace, this effort to entice Abbas back to the table to talk with Israel is misguided. While the U.S. has falsely sought to portray the collapse of the talks as being the fault of both sides in the negotiations in order not to alienate the Palestinians, the latest evidence of Kerry’s belief that sweet talking the PA is the only way to go is likely to do more harm than good. After nine months of praise of Abbas as a man of peace coming from the mouths of President Obama and Kerry while they were also trashing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the U.S. is not merely presiding over a standoff; the administration has become one of its main causes. If Kerry isn’t prepared to start pressuring Abbas to make peace and stating that there will be stark consequences for the PA if he fails to do so, the secretary would be better off avoiding the Palestinian leader.

Kerry embarked on his quest for Middle East peace despite advice from nearly every veteran foreign-policy hand that he was wasting his time. The Palestinians were too divided and had demonstrated no sign that they had evolved from the rejectionist stance they adopted when Israel made three separate offers of statehood in 2000, 2001, and 2008. That skepticism was justified when, once again, Abbas refused Kerry’s entreaties to make a symbolic acceptance that Israel was the Jewish state and therefore signaling that the conflict was over. But despite Netanyahu’s willingness to talk about a large-scale withdrawal from the West Bank in exchange for peace, Abbas never budged from his previous positions on territory, Jerusalem, and refugees. He then fled the talks at the first pretext, an announcement of building in a 40-year-old neighborhood of the capital that everyone knows will never change hands even in the event of a peace treaty. In doing so, he walked away from what was, for all intents and purposes, a fourth Israeli offer of peace. He solidified that lack of interest in peace by signing an agreement with the Islamists of Hamas rather than with Israel. The new coalition may provide the Palestinians with unity, but it will be unity in favor of continued conflict, not peace.

At this point the only rational response to these Palestinian decisions ought to be to warn the Palestinians that the unity pact necessitates the end of U.S. aid to the PA. But Kerry has been soft-pedaling the fact that such aid is now illegal under U.S. law and continuing to pretend that Israel, rather than Palestinians, are the main problem. Just as important, even if Obama and Kerry think they must continue to play the even-handed moderator and criticize Israel at every conceivable opportunity, they need to understand that unless they use the considerable leverage the U.S. has over the Palestinians, there is not even a remote chance that Abbas will return to the talks, let alone do what he must to make peace.

If Kerry must meet with Abbas, it is not too late to stop coddling him. The secretary isn’t big on admitting failure, but unless he stops pretending that Abbas is a force for peace when he is anything but, Kerry will remain part of the peace process problem, not its solution. 

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Indyk’s Amoral Kiss-and-Tell Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Misleading Nakba Narrative

In recent years the international community has come to accept the Palestinians’ Nakba narrative in which Israel’s birth is treated as a “disaster” and indisputable proof of the need to pressure Israel. While it is possible to sympathize with the tale of Palestinian suffering in the wake of the creation of Israel without seeking to delegitimize Zionism, all too often those who adopt the notion that the events of 1948 were a “disaster” treat Israel’s creation as an original sin that requires the world to bow to all of the Palestinians’ demands.

But what is most troubling is that many on the Jewish left have adopted this same point of view. As Joshua Muravchick wrote in a definitive article on the subject in the June 2013 issue of COMMENTARY, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has been “Trashing Israel Daily” for years. But its editorial last week days before the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, which called for the state to not only accept the Palestinian narrative of victimization for which Israel bears sole responsibility but have it taught in its schools, was so over the top it prompted one of the country’s veteran left-wing thinkers and advocates of peace with the Palestinians to call them out.

Shlomo Avineri, a leading Israeli scholar and at one time the director general of its Foreign Ministry, was among the first in the country to advocate negotiations with the PLO in the 1970s when such dealings were illegal. As such, his credentials as an advocate of negotiations and reconciliation with the Palestinians are impeccable. But Avineri was shocked at what he read in a paper whose opinion columns often read more like Palestinian propaganda than anything else. His dissection of the editorial that was published today is must reading for anyone who cares about peace or about the truth. While acknowledging that the history of the conflict is complex, he believes those who accept the idea that Israel alone is responsible for Palestinian suffering are wrong.

He writes:

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In recent years the international community has come to accept the Palestinians’ Nakba narrative in which Israel’s birth is treated as a “disaster” and indisputable proof of the need to pressure Israel. While it is possible to sympathize with the tale of Palestinian suffering in the wake of the creation of Israel without seeking to delegitimize Zionism, all too often those who adopt the notion that the events of 1948 were a “disaster” treat Israel’s creation as an original sin that requires the world to bow to all of the Palestinians’ demands.

But what is most troubling is that many on the Jewish left have adopted this same point of view. As Joshua Muravchick wrote in a definitive article on the subject in the June 2013 issue of COMMENTARY, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has been “Trashing Israel Daily” for years. But its editorial last week days before the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, which called for the state to not only accept the Palestinian narrative of victimization for which Israel bears sole responsibility but have it taught in its schools, was so over the top it prompted one of the country’s veteran left-wing thinkers and advocates of peace with the Palestinians to call them out.

Shlomo Avineri, a leading Israeli scholar and at one time the director general of its Foreign Ministry, was among the first in the country to advocate negotiations with the PLO in the 1970s when such dealings were illegal. As such, his credentials as an advocate of negotiations and reconciliation with the Palestinians are impeccable. But Avineri was shocked at what he read in a paper whose opinion columns often read more like Palestinian propaganda than anything else. His dissection of the editorial that was published today is must reading for anyone who cares about peace or about the truth. While acknowledging that the history of the conflict is complex, he believes those who accept the idea that Israel alone is responsible for Palestinian suffering are wrong.

He writes:

Some facts of history really ought not to be left to historians. The attempt to ignore them is morally flawed — and morality is, rightfully, the driving spirit behind the editorial. It is a fact — one that should not be “a matter for historians” — that in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and not the other way around. It is a fact that on December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States and not vice versa. It is also true that what is called the Nakba is the result of a political decision by the Palestinian leadership and the Arab states to reject the United Nations partition resolution, to try to prevent its implementation by force and to attack the Jewish community in the Land of Israel before and after the state’s establishment. Of this, the editorial says nothing.

Thus, the context of the founding of the State of Israel is presented in the editorial exactly as it is presented in Palestinian and Arab political discourse — with total disregard of the political and historical reality in 1947 and 1948. Usually, Arab discourse simply never mentions the partition resolution, just as it never mentions the violent opposition to its implementation. Such denial from the Arab side might be understandable — but in Haaretz? In case anyone forgot or does not know, I suggest going to the newspaper’s archives and reading the headlines from November 30, 1947 and the daily news from the subsequent months. They are full of reports of Arab violence and the beginnings of armed Arab resistance to the establishment of the State of Israel, first by the Arab militias (the “gangs”) inside the country and later via the coordinated invasion by Arab armies when the British Mandate ended on May 15, 1948. The editorial says not a word about that, just as Arab discourse prefers simply to wipe those historical facts from memory.

Avineri also points out the hypocrisy of the effort to brand Israel has having been born as a result of original sin:

Was the Nakba an earthquake? A tornado? A tsunami? It was the tragic result of an Arab political decision to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in the portion of the Land of Israel that had been under the British Mandate, just as the expulsion of 12 million ethnic Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary after 1945 was the tragic result of German aggression in 1939 and later in 1941, when it invaded the Soviet Union. In both cases, masses of innocent civilians paid the price of their leaders’ aggression. But if anyone today tried to describe the expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Europe as a “disaster” that had nothing to do with the Third Reich’s aggression, he would rightly be called a neo-Nazi.

By ignoring the real reasons Palestinians suffered, those who buy into the Nakba narrative tilt the diplomatic playing field against Israel and legitimize the efforts of those who seek to promote boycotts of Israel or its destruction. Burying the truth about the Nakba makes it difficult if not impossible to understand contemporary Palestinian violence.

One can certainly understand, but not justify, the general Palestinian and Arab opposition to the Zionist enterprise. That is the nature of national conflicts, although this opposition had more aspects of murder and terrorism than other national movements did. Palestinian terrorism against Jewish civilians is not the result of the post-1967 years of occupation. It was part of the 1929 riots and the Arab uprising of 1936. It is true that on the one hand, we cannot conclude from the grand mufti’s presence in Berlin during World War II that Arab opposition to Zionism was identical to Nazism. But on the other hand, to ignore this fact and leave it to historians is a distortion of history. It is part of the concrete historical consciousness of both Jews and Arabs.

Avineri’s cri de coeur about the way Haaretz has joined the assault on Zionism should be heeded not just by those who seek to defend the Jewish state but also principally by those who are troubled by its presence in the West Bank and ardently desire a two state solution. Peace will remain impossible until the Palestinians reject a conception of national identity that is inextricably linked with the effort to destroy Israel. As long as Palestinians treat the Nakba as an excuse to delegitimize Israel, the sea change that will make peace viable won’t happen. Those Jews and Jewish institutions that seek to validate this false Nakba narrative are putting off the day when peace will come, not hastening it.

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Cut off Aid to the Palestinian Authority? Just Enforce the Law.

Last week, Senator Rand Paul set off a furious debate by putting forward a bill that would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the decision by its leaders to conclude a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. But rather than reap the applause of Israel’s backers, his bill was opposed by AIPAC. Paul’s latest attempt to curry favor with Jews and other members of the pro-Israel community was excoriated by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and wound up failing in the Senate.

I thought Paul was wrong to blast AIPAC as betraying its mandate. I also think his isolationism and steadfast opposition to vital military aid to Israel calls into question his bona fides as the author of legislation he called the “Stand With Israel Act of 2014.” But I also disagreed with those who thought the libertarian was wrong to call into question the continued flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA. The basic flaw in America’s efforts to bolster the peace process from Bill Clinton’s day to the Obama era has been an unwillingness to make the Palestinians accountable for their actions.

But yesterday, Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk provided a timely reminder as to why Paul’s bill was really unnecessary: an aid cutoff because of the Hamas alliance is already mandated by U.S. law.

As Rubio and Kirk wrote in a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

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Last week, Senator Rand Paul set off a furious debate by putting forward a bill that would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the decision by its leaders to conclude a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. But rather than reap the applause of Israel’s backers, his bill was opposed by AIPAC. Paul’s latest attempt to curry favor with Jews and other members of the pro-Israel community was excoriated by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and wound up failing in the Senate.

I thought Paul was wrong to blast AIPAC as betraying its mandate. I also think his isolationism and steadfast opposition to vital military aid to Israel calls into question his bona fides as the author of legislation he called the “Stand With Israel Act of 2014.” But I also disagreed with those who thought the libertarian was wrong to call into question the continued flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA. The basic flaw in America’s efforts to bolster the peace process from Bill Clinton’s day to the Obama era has been an unwillingness to make the Palestinians accountable for their actions.

But yesterday, Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk provided a timely reminder as to why Paul’s bill was really unnecessary: an aid cutoff because of the Hamas alliance is already mandated by U.S. law.

As Rubio and Kirk wrote in a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 sets detailed requirements for the continuation of U.S. assistance should Hamas be brought into the Palestinian Authority government. The law is very clear. If Hamas comes to have a role in governance, there must be public acknowledgment of the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist as well as acceptance of all previous agreements the Palestinians have made with Israel, the United States, and the international community. The law also requires that demonstrable progress be made toward dismantling of Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and purging of individuals with ties to terrorism. Moreover, Hamas would need to halt its anti-American and anti-Israel incitement. The bar is high because the stakes are high and we must make sure to stand firmly by what we have said. Failing to do so will diminish the credibility of the United States.

Rubio and Kirk are right. No new legislation is needed to make the Palestinians accountable. All that is needed is for the administration to start enforcing the law.

That it won’t do so is pretty much a given. The reason put forward by some in the pro-Israel community for keeping the flow of Uncle Sam’s cash to the PA is a reasonable one. They claim that Israel needs the PA to continue to exist. A collapse caused by the cutoff of Western funds would cause huge problems for the Israelis who always need a Palestinian interlocutor. Israel has no desire to directly interfere in the lives of West Bank Palestinians, most of whom are governed by the corrupt and incompetent PA. It also relies on security cooperation with PA forces to help keep a lid on terrorism, though it can be argued that the PA and its fearful leadership benefits even more from the relationship because the Israelis ensure that Hamas and/or Islamic Jihad can’t topple them as they did the Fatah government of Gaza in 2006.

But as Rubio and Kirk noted in their letter, the deal between Hamas and Fatah explicitly states not only that Hamas won’t disarm or cease support for terror and recognize Israel. Hamas believes the agreement forbids further security cooperation between the PA and Israel.

That pronouncement illustrates Prime Minister Netanyahu’s point about Abbas having to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas. In his desire to flee Kerry’s peace talks rather than be maneuvered into signing a peace agreement he can’t enforce, Abbas has chosen the latter. And U.S. law dictates that consequences must follow.

The key point here isn’t so much about the money, though U.S. aid plays a vital role in keeping the PA kleptocracy afloat. Rather it is that for more than 20 years U.S. governments have been whitewashing and excusing Palestinian actions and defending those decisions by saying that holding the PA accountable is bad for peace, security, and stability. Just as the failure of Kerry’s initiative was due in no small measure to the refusal of the administration to tell the truth about Abbas—who was wrongly praised as a man of peace while Netanyahu was falsely blasted as intransigent—that led the Palestinian to believe that he could stall and then walk out of talks with impunity.

Until the U.S. government starts enforcing those consequences, their behavior will never change. Paul’s bill may have been a piece of unnecessary grandstanding and friends of Israel are right to be wary of an isolationist whose rise bodes ill both for the future of American foreign policy and the U.S.-Israel alliance. But the issue he highlighted is real and demands action that unfortunately won’t be forthcoming from Obama or Kerry. 

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Another Try for Kerry’s Middle East Fiasco?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Postmortem of Inept U.S. Diplomacy

Secretary of State John Kerry’s disastrous attempt to bring peace to the Middle East is not going quietly into the night after its collapse in the last month. Kerry made clear his own prejudices, as well as his misunderstanding about the reality of the conflict, when he told the Trilateral Commission that Israel would become an “apartheid state” if it failed to make peace. Though Kerry had to offer a non-apology apology in which he regretted his choice of words, the slur illustrated his own animus for the Jewish state’s positions. It also was fuel to the fire for the campaign of hatred that is bolstered by such canards. But not satisfied with that shot fired over the bow of the Netanyahu government, the administration doubled down on the “Israel is to blame” argument with an interview given by anonymous “senior American officials” with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea available here on YNet.com in English.

There is nothing terribly surprising with the postmortem on the talks, the source for which (if you believe Haaretz) is believed to be Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk. Indyk, who is resigning his post as U.S. negotiator and going back to his Washington sinecure at the Brookings Institution, has a long history of bad blood with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu dating back to his controversial tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel in the 1990s. But rather than merely file this away as another example of the poisonous personal politics that can intrude into diplomacy, a close yet critical reading of the interview reveals more about why the Obama administration’s peace efforts failed than anything about what the Israelis have done. Like the public statements made by both President Obama and Secretary Kerry in which they praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas while trashing Netanyahu, the U.S. has repeated the Clinton administration’s mistake in whitewashing Yasir Arafat in the 1990s. In doing so, they have effectively made the already slim chances for peace even more unlikely.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s disastrous attempt to bring peace to the Middle East is not going quietly into the night after its collapse in the last month. Kerry made clear his own prejudices, as well as his misunderstanding about the reality of the conflict, when he told the Trilateral Commission that Israel would become an “apartheid state” if it failed to make peace. Though Kerry had to offer a non-apology apology in which he regretted his choice of words, the slur illustrated his own animus for the Jewish state’s positions. It also was fuel to the fire for the campaign of hatred that is bolstered by such canards. But not satisfied with that shot fired over the bow of the Netanyahu government, the administration doubled down on the “Israel is to blame” argument with an interview given by anonymous “senior American officials” with Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea available here on YNet.com in English.

There is nothing terribly surprising with the postmortem on the talks, the source for which (if you believe Haaretz) is believed to be Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk. Indyk, who is resigning his post as U.S. negotiator and going back to his Washington sinecure at the Brookings Institution, has a long history of bad blood with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu dating back to his controversial tenure as U.S. ambassador to Israel in the 1990s. But rather than merely file this away as another example of the poisonous personal politics that can intrude into diplomacy, a close yet critical reading of the interview reveals more about why the Obama administration’s peace efforts failed than anything about what the Israelis have done. Like the public statements made by both President Obama and Secretary Kerry in which they praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas while trashing Netanyahu, the U.S. has repeated the Clinton administration’s mistake in whitewashing Yasir Arafat in the 1990s. In doing so, they have effectively made the already slim chances for peace even more unlikely.

The details of Indyk’s complaints about Israel aren’t terribly persuasive. Though he attempts to portray Netanyahu as intransigent, even his interviewer is forced to point out that even the prime minister’s rival Tzipi Livni, whom Indyk praises extravagantly as a “heroine,” admitted that in fact it was Netanyahu who had moved off of his previous positions on a possible agreement while Abbas had not moved an inch.

Indyk counters that by trashing Israel’s entirely reasonable demands for security guarantees that would ensure that West Bank territory it gave up would not turn into another version of Gaza after Ariel Sharon’s disastrous 2005 retreat. He also claims that Abbas made great concessions in agreeing to a deal in which Israel would keep Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and 80 percent of West Bank settlements. But having agreed to terms that roughly match what Netanyahu is believed to have offered, Abbas walked away from the talks rather than negotiate their implementation. That isn’t peacemaking. It’s obstruction that allowed him to avoid taking responsibility for making a peace that he fears his people don’t want.

Indyk also tells us a great deal about administration cluelessness when he admits he didn’t understand why Abbas refused to even discuss recognizing Israel as a Jewish state even when the Israelis were preparing versions of a statement that would at the same time recognize “Palestine” as the nation state of Palestinian Arabs.

“We couldn’t understand why it bothered him so much,” the anonymous U.S. official said. Really? Saying those two symbolic words—“Jewish state”—would have gone a long way to convincing the Israeli public that Abbas was sincere about wanting to end the conflict for all time. His refusal signaled that the PA and its new partner Hamas want no part of any treaty that signals the end of their century-old war against Zionism. If Indyk and Kerry didn’t understand the significance of this issue, they are not only demonstrating their unwillingness to hold the Palestinians accountable, they are also showing an alarming lack of diplomatic skill.

Finally, Indyk’s focus on Israel’s diplomatic offenses during the process is also important. Indyk can’t let go of Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s criticism of Kerry as a man in search of a Nobel Peace Prize, terming it a “great insult.” But it had nothing to do with the negotiations and might well have been a sign that the leading right-winger in the Cabinet was alarmed at how much Netanyahu was conceding in the talks.

Lastly, Indyk falls back on the same settlements excuse that Israel’s critics always cite as proof that the Jewish state is obstructing peace. But the focus on how many “settlements” were being built during the talks is a red herring because almost all of the “settlements”—which are actually merely new houses being built in existing communities and not new towns—were being built in exactly the places Abbas supposedly had conceded would stay in Israel. In other words, the building had no impact on the peace terms. For Indyk to specifically blame the announcement that several hundred new apartments would be built in the Gilo section of Jerusalem as the straw that broke the camel’s back of peace is absurd. Gilo, a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in the capital, would remain inside of Israel even if peace were reached. How, then, could a few more apartments in a place that would never be surrendered by Israel serve as an acceptable rationale for a Palestinian walkout, as Indyk indicates?

The answer to that question is that the Americans are so invested in Abbas’s shaky credibility as a peacemaker that they were prepared to swallow any excuse from him. The truth is Abbas never had any genuine interest in peace and fled the talks the first chance he got. He indicated that lack of interest by going back to the United Nations in an end run around the talks and sealed it by making a deal with Hamas rather than Israel. But all Indyk can do is blame Netanyahu. The interview tells us all we need to know about how inept American diplomacy has become.

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Does Israel Have a Plan B?

Last week, I wrote about Israel’s lack of attractive options now that Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative has collapsed in the wake of the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement. Among the possible options being floated is the one that Michael Oren, Israel’s immediate past ambassador to the U.S. calls “Plan B,” which advocates for Israel to attempt to unilaterally determine its borders. In that piece, I said that Oren’s idea involved “a withdrawal to the security fence that would remove some settlements and make it clear that the settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem will forever be part of Israel.” He has written me to say that this is untrue and asserts that his idea specifically rejects a retreat to the fence and instead says:

At this stage, Plan B is about principles, not specific borders. Maximum security capabilities for Israel. Maximum number of Israelis within Israel. And maximum degree of international–especially American—backing.

I’m happy to correct the record on this point. However, while I was wrong to specifically tie his Plan B to the fence, his eschewal of specifics makes it easy to imagine that any such unilateral move is likely to come pretty close to the current position of the fence in much of the West Bank. Yet even if we leave the fence out of the discussion, I’m afraid I can’t help being skeptical about the scheme. Oren—a brilliant historian and COMMENTARY contributor who ably represented Israel in Washington for four years—believes that it is in Israel’s interest to withdraw settlements, though not the Israel Defense Forces, from parts of the West Bank. He thinks that doing so will mean that the definition of Israel’s borders will be set by Israelis rather than being held hostage to the whims of a Palestinian leadership that seems incapable of making peace. While this is not as reckless as Ariel Sharon’s bold gamble for peace in which he pulled every last soldier, settlement, and Jew out of Gaza in 2005, it would still be a mistake.

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Last week, I wrote about Israel’s lack of attractive options now that Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative has collapsed in the wake of the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement. Among the possible options being floated is the one that Michael Oren, Israel’s immediate past ambassador to the U.S. calls “Plan B,” which advocates for Israel to attempt to unilaterally determine its borders. In that piece, I said that Oren’s idea involved “a withdrawal to the security fence that would remove some settlements and make it clear that the settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem will forever be part of Israel.” He has written me to say that this is untrue and asserts that his idea specifically rejects a retreat to the fence and instead says:

At this stage, Plan B is about principles, not specific borders. Maximum security capabilities for Israel. Maximum number of Israelis within Israel. And maximum degree of international–especially American—backing.

I’m happy to correct the record on this point. However, while I was wrong to specifically tie his Plan B to the fence, his eschewal of specifics makes it easy to imagine that any such unilateral move is likely to come pretty close to the current position of the fence in much of the West Bank. Yet even if we leave the fence out of the discussion, I’m afraid I can’t help being skeptical about the scheme. Oren—a brilliant historian and COMMENTARY contributor who ably represented Israel in Washington for four years—believes that it is in Israel’s interest to withdraw settlements, though not the Israel Defense Forces, from parts of the West Bank. He thinks that doing so will mean that the definition of Israel’s borders will be set by Israelis rather than being held hostage to the whims of a Palestinian leadership that seems incapable of making peace. While this is not as reckless as Ariel Sharon’s bold gamble for peace in which he pulled every last soldier, settlement, and Jew out of Gaza in 2005, it would still be a mistake.

Oren is right that his Plan B has the virtue of being in the best traditions of Zionism. Rather than waiting for others to decide where Israel should be, the Jews would act on their own and then wait for the world to accept their actions. It would balance the justice of Israel’s rights to the land against the pragmatic need to separate from the Palestinians and to grant them the right of self-determination. And by leaving the IDF in place, it will not lead to a repeat of Sharon’s fiasco in which Gaza was transformed into a terrorist base/independent Palestinian state in all but name that rained down missiles on Israel with impunity.

But any move that will leave the Israeli army in the territories will do nothing to increase international or American support for the Jewish state. While the settlements are the focus of much of the anger about Israel’s presence in the West Bank, so long as the IDF patrols parts of the territories—even without the burden of protecting Jewish communities there—it will still be termed an occupation. And, as such, it will not diminish the fervor of those advocating the boycott of Israel. Nor will it even stop those who specifically advocate the boycott of products from settlements rather than all of Israel since few of those communities that will be abandoned are producing much that is exported.

Unfortunately, like all past Israeli territorial withdrawals it would be quickly forgotten and the focus of international pressure would be on what was retained with no concern for past sacrifices. Both the Palestinian and the international position on the borders would be one that started with the assumption that the Palestinians would get whatever was left by Israel as part of Plan B. The bargaining would then be about how much of what Israel retained in Plan B, if anything at all.

Israel would be forced to go through the agony of uprooting tens of thousands of people from their homes with no upgrade in its security, its diplomatic position, or international support. The retreat would not be interpreted as a sign of moderation or a desire for peace that involved a painful parting from lands to which Jews have rights. Rather, the Jewish state’s critics and even some who call themselves its friends will see it as further proof that Israel had “stolen Palestinian land” and had decided to render some but not all of the restitution that they should be forced to make. It would merely increase pressure to force the removal of hundreds of thousands of Jews in the settlement blocs and Jerusalem that Oren rightly wishes to preserve as part of Israel.

Oren is right that Israel can’t, as he told the Times of Israel back in February, “outsource our fundamental destiny to Palestinian decision making.” He’s also right that there is no perfect solution to Israel’s problems. As long as the Palestinians define their national identity more in terms of rejecting Zionism rather than building their own state, the conflict will not end. Waiting for the sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians that will make peace possible is difficult. But this plan, like every other solution that seeks to cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace without Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state, will worsen Israel’s position rather than strengthen it.

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