Commentary Magazine


Topic: Middle East peace talks

Netanyahu Still Betting on Palestinian “No”

Last night, Israel’s Channel Two reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to give his approval for continuing negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines of a framework presented by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. That framework reportedly will call for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 borders with land swaps that will enable 75-80 percent of Jews currently living in the West Bank to remain within the state of Israel. It will specifically call for the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state while denying the “right of return” for the descendants of the Palestinian refuges of 1948 and providing international security guarantees for Israel. The future of Jerusalem is left undecided.

Israel does get some of what it has long sought in this framework. But the idea of placing most of the West Bank in the hands of a Palestinian Authority that remains bent on fomenting hatred of Israel and Jews, as well as so weak and corrupt that it is likely to be unable to create a stable, let alone peaceful neighbor for Israel seems a dangerous gamble for Netanyahu to take, both from the perspectives of his nation’s security and the ability of his center-right coalition to survive.

Why would Netanyahu agree to this framework?

There are two reasons. One is that its non-binding nature commits him only to more talks and not to its implementation, a point that should help him to persuade worried coalition partners like the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett to stay in the Cabinet. But the other reason explains more about Netanyahu’s strategy in dealing with Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians: he believes that sooner or later the Palestinians will say no. In what has become the diplomatic version of playing chicken, the prime minister appears to be convinced that the PA will blink and abandon the talks long before Israel is forced to live with the real-life drawbacks of Kerry’s vision. And based on what the Palestinians are saying and what they have done in the past, there’s every reason to believe he’s right.

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Last night, Israel’s Channel Two reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to give his approval for continuing negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines of a framework presented by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. That framework reportedly will call for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 borders with land swaps that will enable 75-80 percent of Jews currently living in the West Bank to remain within the state of Israel. It will specifically call for the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state while denying the “right of return” for the descendants of the Palestinian refuges of 1948 and providing international security guarantees for Israel. The future of Jerusalem is left undecided.

Israel does get some of what it has long sought in this framework. But the idea of placing most of the West Bank in the hands of a Palestinian Authority that remains bent on fomenting hatred of Israel and Jews, as well as so weak and corrupt that it is likely to be unable to create a stable, let alone peaceful neighbor for Israel seems a dangerous gamble for Netanyahu to take, both from the perspectives of his nation’s security and the ability of his center-right coalition to survive.

Why would Netanyahu agree to this framework?

There are two reasons. One is that its non-binding nature commits him only to more talks and not to its implementation, a point that should help him to persuade worried coalition partners like the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett to stay in the Cabinet. But the other reason explains more about Netanyahu’s strategy in dealing with Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of an agreement with the Palestinians: he believes that sooner or later the Palestinians will say no. In what has become the diplomatic version of playing chicken, the prime minister appears to be convinced that the PA will blink and abandon the talks long before Israel is forced to live with the real-life drawbacks of Kerry’s vision. And based on what the Palestinians are saying and what they have done in the past, there’s every reason to believe he’s right.

Like Netanyahu, the Palestinians also appear to be willing to agree to Kerry’s framework. That’s because the chief concern for both sides appears to avoid blame for the failure of Kerry’s diplomatic gambit. Since Kerry knows that there is no possibility of Israel and the Palestinians actually agreeing on a final-status treaty within the original nine-month time frame for the talks, the purpose of the framework is to extend the negotiations for at least another year. That gives both parties the ability to dodge the bullet of blame while enabling Kerry to keep shuttling to the Middle East and to pretend that he is about to cut the Gordian Knot of peace.

But even as the PA has agreed to continue talking, they again signaled that one of the key elements of the framework—recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn—is something they’ll never accept in a treaty. PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Munich Security Conference that Israel’s longstanding demand to be recognized as a Jewish state that had been incorporated by Kerry into the framework would require the Palestinian representative to “change my narrative” in which Jewish history is erased. Since Palestinian national identity is inextricably linked to the denial of the rights of Jews to any part of the country, they regard any peace as merely a truce rather than a conclusion to the conflict.

Why then would the Palestinians also accept the framework? Part of the reason stems from the dynamic that was on display in Munich at which Kerry openly speculated that if he failed, Israel would be subjected to economic boycotts. While the State Department later tried to rationalize if not walk back these comments by saying the secretary was merely commenting on a trend with which he didn’t agree rather than threatening the Jewish state, the Palestinians and their enablers in the European Union well understand that all the pressure in the talks is being directed at the Israelis, and not at them.

The history of the last 20 years of negotiations since the Oslo Accords were signed justifies that conclusion. No matter how much land the Jewish state has conceded since 1993, the onus has always been placed on Israel to sacrifice even more no matter what the Palestinians do or say to demonstrate their unwillingness to make peace or live by the terms of the agreements they’ve signed. But no matter how far Kerry tilts the diplomatic playing field against Israel, Netanyahu appears to be counting on the Palestinians inability to agree to Israel’s demand for recognition at the conclusion of Kerry’s talks.

Considering that Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat turned down two such offers of statehood in 2000 and 2001 and the PA leader fled talks with the Israelis in 2008 so as to avoid being forced to do the same thing, Netanyahu has reason to think this negotiation will end in the same way. With Hamas still in control of Gaza and Abbas only holding onto power in the West Bank with the help of the Israelis, there’s no sign of a sea change in Palestinian public opinion that would enable him to survive signing a peace deal with Israel that would renounce the “right of return” and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu understands that additional negotiations based on Kerry’s framework will mean another year of intense U.S. pressure that will add to the increased European efforts to isolate Israel. Agreeing to the framework is a dangerous game that leaves him little room to maneuver to defend his country’s rights or its security, since he knows the arrangements for guaranteeing Israel’s safety in the document won’t be worth the paper they’re printed on once a deal is in place. But he appears confident that the political culture of the Palestinians will once again determine the outcome of these talks in the same manner that it has sealed the doom of every other negotiation dating back to the 1930s. Judging by the tone and the content of the non-stop incitement to hatred being conducted by the PA, it’s difficult to argue with his conclusion.

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More Obama Problems: Kerry’s Peace Push

When Secretary of State John Kerry pushed Israel and the Palestinian Authority to agree to nine months of peace talks earlier this year, his decision was greeted with widespread pessimism. Even those observers who can usually be counted upon to support the peace process were skeptical about his chances of success. After three months of low-profile talks, there is no sign that Kerry’s initiative is anything other than the fool’s errand that most serious observers believed it was in the first place. But the stalemate over basic issues that has led to the deadlock may be what Kerry was counting on after all. That’s the opinion of some in the Israeli opposition who are saying that the U.S. will intervene in the negotiations in January and present both sides with its own peace plan that it will try to impose on the parties.

According to Zehava Gal-on, the head of the left-wing Meretz Party, Palestinian and American sources are telling her that Kerry is preparing for a diplomatic master stroke in 2014 that will force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA head Mahmoud Abbas to agree to a deal along lines more or less dictated by Washington. As the Times of Israel reports:

The Obama administration plans to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough at the beginning of 2014,” said Gal-on. “The Americans want to move from coordinating between the two sides to a phase of active intervention.”

According to Gal-on, whose left-wing Meretz party is in the opposition, the plan is based on the pre-1967 lines with agreed land swaps and will cover all of the core issues. …

The scheme is spread out over a gradual timetable, calls for the investment of billions of dollars in the Palestinian economy, and will include suggestion for a broader regional peace treaty based on the Arab Peace Initiative. The initiative, first proposed by the Arab League in 2002, calls for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians together with normalization of ties between Israel and the Arab world. Central to the initiative was the complete withdrawal of Israel to its pre-1967 lines and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

If true, it appears that those who accused Kerry of hubris in trying to succeed where every one of his predecessors had failed under circumstances far less propitious for peace than previous efforts were right. Even assuming that Israel will accept a deal along the problematic lines of the Arab League initiative, the American assumption that Abbas is strong enough to force the Palestinians to accept Israel’s legitimacy and end the conflict in spite of opposition from Hamas seems ludicrous. More than that, by putting pressure on Abbas to make a deal that he cannot agree to, no matter how much it gives him, Kerry may be setting in motion a train of events that could lead to more violence in 2014, not peace.

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When Secretary of State John Kerry pushed Israel and the Palestinian Authority to agree to nine months of peace talks earlier this year, his decision was greeted with widespread pessimism. Even those observers who can usually be counted upon to support the peace process were skeptical about his chances of success. After three months of low-profile talks, there is no sign that Kerry’s initiative is anything other than the fool’s errand that most serious observers believed it was in the first place. But the stalemate over basic issues that has led to the deadlock may be what Kerry was counting on after all. That’s the opinion of some in the Israeli opposition who are saying that the U.S. will intervene in the negotiations in January and present both sides with its own peace plan that it will try to impose on the parties.

According to Zehava Gal-on, the head of the left-wing Meretz Party, Palestinian and American sources are telling her that Kerry is preparing for a diplomatic master stroke in 2014 that will force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA head Mahmoud Abbas to agree to a deal along lines more or less dictated by Washington. As the Times of Israel reports:

The Obama administration plans to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough at the beginning of 2014,” said Gal-on. “The Americans want to move from coordinating between the two sides to a phase of active intervention.”

According to Gal-on, whose left-wing Meretz party is in the opposition, the plan is based on the pre-1967 lines with agreed land swaps and will cover all of the core issues. …

The scheme is spread out over a gradual timetable, calls for the investment of billions of dollars in the Palestinian economy, and will include suggestion for a broader regional peace treaty based on the Arab Peace Initiative. The initiative, first proposed by the Arab League in 2002, calls for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians together with normalization of ties between Israel and the Arab world. Central to the initiative was the complete withdrawal of Israel to its pre-1967 lines and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

If true, it appears that those who accused Kerry of hubris in trying to succeed where every one of his predecessors had failed under circumstances far less propitious for peace than previous efforts were right. Even assuming that Israel will accept a deal along the problematic lines of the Arab League initiative, the American assumption that Abbas is strong enough to force the Palestinians to accept Israel’s legitimacy and end the conflict in spite of opposition from Hamas seems ludicrous. More than that, by putting pressure on Abbas to make a deal that he cannot agree to, no matter how much it gives him, Kerry may be setting in motion a train of events that could lead to more violence in 2014, not peace.

Those inclined to dismiss Gal-on’s prediction were probably dismayed by the reaction to her statement from Israel’s government. According to Haaretz, rather than deny the possibility of Kerry diving into the talks, Netanyahu told a meeting of Likud Knesset members today that Israel would consider any American proposal but would not give in to “external dictates.”

That the two sides are light years apart on basic issues is not exactly a secret. The Israelis want Abbas to agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state as well as to renounce the right of return. Without that, they can have no confidence that another territorial retreat would permanently end the conflict. But not only is Abbas still talking about the refugees, he’s threatening to pull out of the talks to protest Israel building in areas that would almost certainly be included in the Jewish state in any territorial swap.

But, as many of those who warned Kerry he was making a mistake in the first place have pointed out, the balance of forces in Palestinian politics are such that Abbas is unlikely to consider signing any peace deal. Doing so would revive Hamas’s popularity and undermine his hold on the West Bank. In the past such logjams have inevitably led to new rounds of Palestinian violence as the political players in the West Bank and Gaza sought to reassert their political legitimacy by demonstrating hostility to Israel. So long as the rival parties govern the two regions, it’s hard to see a way out of the current impasse.

That is why a Kerry initiative would be so ill considered. Rather than offering the two sides in the talks a way out, what Kerry would be doing would be to back Abbas into a corner from which he might have no choice but to blow up the peace process and allow the terrorist factions within Fatah to compete with Hamas in the way they did during the second intifada.

As wiser and better diplomats who went before Kerry learned through hard experience, no outside party can force Israel and the Palestinians to make peace if both are not ready to end it. The Israelis have time and again proved they are ready to make painful sacrifices but cannot be expected to run the risk of the West Bank turning into another Gaza. That’s why any peace must mean the end of the conflict rather than merely its continuation on less advantageous terms for the Jewish state, as was the case with the Oslo Accords or its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

But the main obstacle remains a Palestinian political culture that is still unable to come to terms with the verdict of history about Israel’s creation. Rather than raising the ante with talks that were doomed to fail and will probably be followed by more violence, Kerry would have done better to have concentrated his efforts on bigger foreign-policy problems for the U.S.—such as Syria, Egypt, and the nuclear threat from Iran—than on trying to solve a problem that is incapable of solution.

President Obama has allowed Kerry a free hand in the Middle East since he took over at Foggy Bottom and has acted at times as if he considered the secretary’s efforts a sideshow that didn’t merit his attention. But if keeping Kerry occupied in a harmless effort to make peace was Obama’s intention, that strategy may be about to blow up in his face. The president needs to consider if he wants to have to deal with the fallout—both political and diplomatic—of the disaster that Kerry appears to be cooking up. With a second term that is already turning into an unending series of scandals and political catastrophes, Obama should think twice about allowing the secretary to tie him up in a no-win situation that could make an already dismal Middle East situation look a lot worse.

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Will Bibi Trade Iran for Palestine?

On Sunday, 17 members of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition sent him a letter making it clear they want no part of an Oslo rerun which would involve further surrender of territory and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The group, which included five deputy ministers, referenced last week’s 20th anniversary of the 1993 Oslo Accords which set off two decades of peace processing but they were most eager to quote, at length, a 2002 speech by Netanyahu in which he pledged never to accept a Palestinian state, since, as he said at the time, it would present a deadly threat to the Jewish state. But the context was the current negotiations currently being conducted between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that were convened earlier this month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But since no one, except perhaps for Kerry, thinks there’s a ghost of a chance that those talks will result in an agreement, it’s worth asking what exactly the 17 members of the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi parties are worrying about?

Interestingly, one of the leaders of this faction, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, acknowledged that consensus when he told the Times of Israel that the signers of the letter thought there was no chance the talks with the Palestinians would succeed, but said “we want to make sure we won’t be surprised.” What kind of a surprise is he anticipating? Israeli journalist Ben Caspit writing in AL Monitor thinks he has the answer to that question. According to Caspit, there may be a secret deal already in place that will guarantee Netanyahu’s agreement to a Palestinian state. The broad outline of that deal is this: Palestine for Iran. That means Israel trades a diplomatic triumph in the peace talks in exchange for an ironclad guarantee that the U.S. will prevent Iran from going nuclear. If, as Caspit claims, this proposal is already common knowledge in the upper echelons of the coalition, Kerry’s revival of the peace process with the Palestinians is merely a shadow game masking the real negotiations between the U.S. and Israel and that’s what really scares the Israeli right. Yet while Caspit’s claims seem to have substance, the assumption that Netanyahu or Obama are either interested in or capable of coming to such an agreement is still doubtful.

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On Sunday, 17 members of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition sent him a letter making it clear they want no part of an Oslo rerun which would involve further surrender of territory and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The group, which included five deputy ministers, referenced last week’s 20th anniversary of the 1993 Oslo Accords which set off two decades of peace processing but they were most eager to quote, at length, a 2002 speech by Netanyahu in which he pledged never to accept a Palestinian state, since, as he said at the time, it would present a deadly threat to the Jewish state. But the context was the current negotiations currently being conducted between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that were convened earlier this month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But since no one, except perhaps for Kerry, thinks there’s a ghost of a chance that those talks will result in an agreement, it’s worth asking what exactly the 17 members of the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi parties are worrying about?

Interestingly, one of the leaders of this faction, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, acknowledged that consensus when he told the Times of Israel that the signers of the letter thought there was no chance the talks with the Palestinians would succeed, but said “we want to make sure we won’t be surprised.” What kind of a surprise is he anticipating? Israeli journalist Ben Caspit writing in AL Monitor thinks he has the answer to that question. According to Caspit, there may be a secret deal already in place that will guarantee Netanyahu’s agreement to a Palestinian state. The broad outline of that deal is this: Palestine for Iran. That means Israel trades a diplomatic triumph in the peace talks in exchange for an ironclad guarantee that the U.S. will prevent Iran from going nuclear. If, as Caspit claims, this proposal is already common knowledge in the upper echelons of the coalition, Kerry’s revival of the peace process with the Palestinians is merely a shadow game masking the real negotiations between the U.S. and Israel and that’s what really scares the Israeli right. Yet while Caspit’s claims seem to have substance, the assumption that Netanyahu or Obama are either interested in or capable of coming to such an agreement is still doubtful.

The first problem with any potential U.S.-Israel deal is the Iran component. Given the justified Israeli skepticism about the West’s infatuation with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it is highly debatable whether Netanyahu would or could trust any promise from Obama on the subject. Obama’s disastrous handling of the Syrian chemical weapons issue only accentuates those doubts. It is reasonable to argue that Israel has no alternative but to trust U.S. promises on Iran since the window for the Jewish state to attack on its own may be closing. A diplomatic resolution of the nuclear dilemma or a U.S. attack would be far preferable than an Israeli strike that would have to be smaller in scale and therefore less effective. But right now the notion that Obama’s word is his bond is the sort of assumption that no rational person, let alone a cynic like Netanyahu can make, especially when the stakes are this high. Since Obama’s end of this deal will likely mean a diplomatic agreement with Iran and Netanyahu is not likely to believe Tehran has any interest in observing such a deal or that the U.S. would be willing to threaten an attack to enforce, it is hard to see how he could be cajoled into accepting it.

But even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that Obama can make such a promise and that Netanyahu and a majority of his government would buy it, any deal on “Palestine” will necessarily involve the Palestinians. The reason why the current talks have no chance is the same as the one that doomed previous negotiations, including the three Israeli offers of statehood that the Palestinians rejected. No Palestinian leader and certainly not a weakling like Mahmoud Abbas, has the will or the ability to sign any accord that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Those who agree with Caspit’s claims more or less concede this but the theory behind the “Israel for Palestine” thesis posits that what will happen is that after Kerry’s talks fail, Obama will present Netanyahu with his own plan that the Israeli would have to accept. So would the Palestinians. Caspit says that would mean an Israeli withdrawal to the separation fence but not from Jerusalem or the major West Bank settlement banks that are enclosed by the barrier. No outlying settlements would be evacuated (theoretically preventing the breakup of the Likud over the deal) but much of the West Bank — how much Caspit is not sure — would be left for the Palestinians to have as their state that would be recognized by the U.N., the U.S. and Israel. The U.S. would promise the Palestinians that the borders would not be final but merely an interim stage before more negotiations that would reap them more territory including a share of Jerusalem.

Would the Palestinians accept such an interim deal? It would certainly be in their interests to do so since sovereignty would strengthen their position in future talks.

Yet even if we buy into the idea that Netanyahu longs to be treated with the international respect that goes to peacemakers and will break faith with his coalition in order to get it, there is no way he would agree to such a deal without the Palestinians being forced to agree to end the conflict for all time by recognizing Israel as the Jewish state and giving up on the right of return for the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees. And that is something that Abbas is not likely to do no matter what the temptations since doing so would strengthen his Hamas rivals and endanger his life.

There are other reasons to think this may not happen.

One is that all of the loose talk about a secret deal already in place may be disinformation being spread by the United States or by some Israelis in order to build momentum for a peace deal. Anyone who believes everything they hear coming out of the mouth of Israeli politicians or U.S. diplomats is also likely to buy a bridge in Brooklyn.

Another is that Caspit’s concept takes it as a given that President Obama is willing to do anything to achieve peace in the Middle East in the same manner that Bill Clinton employed when he was orchestrating the process during the late 1990s as Oslo unraveled. Assuming that Obama has the will to do something on Iran is hard enough to believe. Making a similar assumption about his willingness to expend much of his increasingly scarce political capital to take a chance on Middle East peace is even harder. Though presidents sinking into irrelevance during troubled second terms often turn to foreign policy for triumphs they can no longer achieve at home, the notion that Obama is willing to take the chance it will all blow up in his face as it did to Clinton after the collapse of the 2000 Camp David talks and Yasir Arafat’s launch of the second intifada requires a prodigious leap of faith.

Last, there is the enigma of Netanyahu. As Caspit acknowledges, “Sometimes Netanyahu does reach agreements, but it is only on very rare occasions that he implements them.” Though he has traveled a long way toward accepting the concept of a two-state solution, he is not likely to repeat the mistakes made by his predecessors Yitzhak Rabin or Ariel Sharon. If he does sign on to a deal it will not be one that will trade land for terror as they did but for a complete and final peace. As much as he considers maintaining the alliance with the United States to be one of his top priorities, he has also shown he knows Israel must set limits on how far it can be pushed by its superpower friend. Moreover, the belief that his longing to be thought of as an eminent statesman will cause him to sacrifice his country’s security or give up one vital interest for another is to underestimate his character and his innate skepticism.

Rather than being a stalking horse for a future Obama peace plan, the Kerry talks may be exactly what they appear to be: a diplomatic dead-end pushed by a hubristic secretary of state with no plan B to deal with the consequences of certain failure. Supporters of Palestinian statehood hope and Israeli right-wingers fear that Netanyahu will soon make the deal with Obama that Caspit writes about but until we see it with our own eyes the rest of us should take “Iran for Palestine” with a shovelful of salt.

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The Real West Bank Terror War

The Israelis have done it again. After Secretary of State John Kerry managed to drag both parties back to the peace table, the Israelis are doing their utmost to sabotage the talks by provoking the Palestinians with violent incursions into Palestinian towns and villages that have resulted in the indiscriminate use of gunfire by the Israel Defense Forces that led to several deaths of innocent Arabs. If the Palestinian Authority has stayed away from the negotiations in order to protest this, then it is the only way they have of protecting their people against Israeli outrages. Or so we are being told.

The prevailing narrative of the incidents alluded to in the preceding paragraph follow this line in which the presence of Israeli forces in Palestinian areas is not merely a provocation but a standing argument for the need to force the Jewish state to pull back to the 1967 lines. But the problem with this narrative is that it is based on a lie. Incidents like the one that occurred today in Qalandia that resulted in three Palestinian deaths and last week’s confrontation in Jenin do illustrate the problem with the peace process, but it is not the one that the liberal mainstream media and the international press think it is. The idea that Israel is staging these attacks to undermine the talks is false. The fact that the IDF is forced to enter built-up areas in order to track down terrorist suspects shows just how unreliable the Palestinian Authority is as a peace partner. Moreover, the willingness of mobs in these towns to rally to defend suspects and attack the IDF with gunfire and rocks is testimony to how deeply rooted support for terror operations is in a Palestinian population that we are told is ready for an end to the conflict.

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The Israelis have done it again. After Secretary of State John Kerry managed to drag both parties back to the peace table, the Israelis are doing their utmost to sabotage the talks by provoking the Palestinians with violent incursions into Palestinian towns and villages that have resulted in the indiscriminate use of gunfire by the Israel Defense Forces that led to several deaths of innocent Arabs. If the Palestinian Authority has stayed away from the negotiations in order to protest this, then it is the only way they have of protecting their people against Israeli outrages. Or so we are being told.

The prevailing narrative of the incidents alluded to in the preceding paragraph follow this line in which the presence of Israeli forces in Palestinian areas is not merely a provocation but a standing argument for the need to force the Jewish state to pull back to the 1967 lines. But the problem with this narrative is that it is based on a lie. Incidents like the one that occurred today in Qalandia that resulted in three Palestinian deaths and last week’s confrontation in Jenin do illustrate the problem with the peace process, but it is not the one that the liberal mainstream media and the international press think it is. The idea that Israel is staging these attacks to undermine the talks is false. The fact that the IDF is forced to enter built-up areas in order to track down terrorist suspects shows just how unreliable the Palestinian Authority is as a peace partner. Moreover, the willingness of mobs in these towns to rally to defend suspects and attack the IDF with gunfire and rocks is testimony to how deeply rooted support for terror operations is in a Palestinian population that we are told is ready for an end to the conflict.

It needs to be understood that the relative lack of terrorism directed at Israel from the West Bank is not solely the work of the security fence that is reviled by the left for its role in preventing suicide bombings. It is also the function of proactive IDF actions in the West Bank, including checkpoints that make it harder for killers to move about with impunity, and raids such as the ones that have recently led to shootings where the Israelis can arrest those planning or guilty of having committed terrorism.

Going after these terrorists is dangerous work, especially when ordinary Palestinians still venerate those who seek to kill Jews and are willing to risk injury to prevent their arrest. The notion that IDF troops should submit to live fire as well as lethal rock showers without seeking to defend themselves is not a standard that anyone would apply to any other army or police force in the world.

However, the argument that the IDF should forebear from seeking to capture these killers in order to protect the talks is one that is incompatible with their duty to protect the Jewish state’s citizens against terrorism. If the PA and the Palestinian people want such incidents to cease, then they have only to police their own population—as they promised to do in the 1993 Oslo Accords.

The idea that the West Bank should be treated in the same manner as Gaza—a no-go zone where terrorists should be free to live without fear of arrest—represents a peculiar take on peace. Expecting Israel to turn a blind eye to terror while the talks are going on only sets up the process for more trouble since it is unlikely that Israel’s critics would think the Jewish state would be justified if they called a halt to negotiations to protect a successful attack.

Since the peace process is supposed to be predicated in no small part on the cessation of terrorism and a Palestinian commitment to deal with terrorism, it’s difficult to understand why the IDF should be criticized for stepping into the vacuum left by an incompetent and corrupt PA. That members of PA head Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party are often responsible for terror, and not just their Hamas rivals, further undermines the rationale for further empowering the PA.

The attitude toward terror on the part of the PA—which is routinely lauded by the United States for its cooperation with Israeli security forces—is a crucial stumbling block to the peace process. If Israel cannot trust the PA to stop terror without having to send its own forces in, it begs the question of what will happen once these towns are safely inside a Palestinian state and therefore immune to IDF action.

Rather than criticizing the Israelis, the Palestinians’ foreign cheerleaders should be increasing pressure on the PA to act on its own to squelch terror. If they don’t, it won’t be fair to blame Israel for acting to defend their populations from Palestinian attacks. That Israel finds itself obligated to go into Arab towns to keep terrorists from killing more Jews is nothing more than the latest evidence that genuine peace is a long way off.

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What the Palestinians Already Won

As I noted yesterday, the Palestinian Authority has good reason to try and keep coverage of the recently restarted peace talks with Israel under wraps. Having done so much to foment hatred of Jews and Israelis on its broadcast outlets and education system, the Palestinians aren’t ready for coexistence, let alone genuine peace. That places the PA and its leaders under pressure from a culture of intolerance, but it also gives them the incentive to spin the negotiations in such a way as to make it look as if their decision to return to the talks was a great victory. It’s in that context that we should view PA negotiator Saeb Erekat’s claim that prior to deciding to sit down with the Israelis, they obtained serious concessions from both the United States and the European Union even before Israel agreed to release more than 100 terrorist murderers from prison.

As the Times of Israel reports:

In a lengthy interview with Nazareth-based A-Shams radio, Erekat said that the US had assured Palestinians in writing that talks would recognize the pre-1967 lines as the basis of a Palestinian state; would deal with all core issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water); would take place within a six- to nine-month timetable; and would not allow for any provisional or interim solutions before a final status agreement was signed. Erekat also said that an American-Israeli agreement existed regarding settlements, but did not elaborate on its contents. …

Erekat also claimed that the European Union’s new directives outlawing all EU cooperation with settlements and other Israeli entities over the 1967 lines were part of a deal reached with Europe in exchange for returning to negotiations. He noted that the Palestinian Authority was currently holding talks with Latin American countries, China, Russia, Japan and the African Union to adopt similar sanctions toward settlements.

While none of this is terribly surprising, it does make clear not only what the Palestinians have gained by going along with Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to restart peace talks for the first time since 2008, but also how the U.S. and the EU have given them little incentive to make concessions of their own in the months of talks that lie ahead. With such assurances securely in their pocket, the Palestinians believe they have no reason to budge from their current positions not only making the failure of the talks certain but also emboldening them to think they have everything to gain and nothing to lose from such an outcome. While Kerry has been taking bows for having reconvened the talks, if this is what he considers a diplomatic triumph, I’d hate to see what he’d consider a defeat.

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As I noted yesterday, the Palestinian Authority has good reason to try and keep coverage of the recently restarted peace talks with Israel under wraps. Having done so much to foment hatred of Jews and Israelis on its broadcast outlets and education system, the Palestinians aren’t ready for coexistence, let alone genuine peace. That places the PA and its leaders under pressure from a culture of intolerance, but it also gives them the incentive to spin the negotiations in such a way as to make it look as if their decision to return to the talks was a great victory. It’s in that context that we should view PA negotiator Saeb Erekat’s claim that prior to deciding to sit down with the Israelis, they obtained serious concessions from both the United States and the European Union even before Israel agreed to release more than 100 terrorist murderers from prison.

As the Times of Israel reports:

In a lengthy interview with Nazareth-based A-Shams radio, Erekat said that the US had assured Palestinians in writing that talks would recognize the pre-1967 lines as the basis of a Palestinian state; would deal with all core issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water); would take place within a six- to nine-month timetable; and would not allow for any provisional or interim solutions before a final status agreement was signed. Erekat also said that an American-Israeli agreement existed regarding settlements, but did not elaborate on its contents. …

Erekat also claimed that the European Union’s new directives outlawing all EU cooperation with settlements and other Israeli entities over the 1967 lines were part of a deal reached with Europe in exchange for returning to negotiations. He noted that the Palestinian Authority was currently holding talks with Latin American countries, China, Russia, Japan and the African Union to adopt similar sanctions toward settlements.

While none of this is terribly surprising, it does make clear not only what the Palestinians have gained by going along with Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to restart peace talks for the first time since 2008, but also how the U.S. and the EU have given them little incentive to make concessions of their own in the months of talks that lie ahead. With such assurances securely in their pocket, the Palestinians believe they have no reason to budge from their current positions not only making the failure of the talks certain but also emboldening them to think they have everything to gain and nothing to lose from such an outcome. While Kerry has been taking bows for having reconvened the talks, if this is what he considers a diplomatic triumph, I’d hate to see what he’d consider a defeat.

It should be remembered that during his visit to Israel this past March, President Obama explicitly endorsed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position in which he offered to negotiate with the Palestinians anywhere, anytime without preconditions of any sort. But in order to entice the PA and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, who rejected an offer of a Palestinian state including almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem in 2008, Obama allowed Kerry to throw his promise in the same trash can in which the administration stored President Bush’s pledges to respect Israel’s position on the major settlement blocs as part of the U.S. incentives given to Ariel Sharon when he withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

But the problem goes deeper than another broken promise. The American position backing up Palestinian demands doesn’t obligate Israel to give in to them on all of the points about settlements, Jerusalem, and borders. But putting the U.S. in the position of endorsing Palestinian demands prior to the talks gives the Palestinians another incentive to refuse to budge an inch on any important issue and to then claim that it was the Israelis who are intransigent.

Presumably Obama and Kerry think that backing up the Palestinians on borders, settlements, and Jerusalem will give them the courage to back down on the key existential issues at stake: recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and giving up the so-called right of return to Israel for the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees. But since Abbas and Erekat have shown no sign that they will ever be able to do either, all the U.S. has done is to give them a free pass for not negotiating seriously on any other issue. With the Palestinian leadership only there in order to avoid blame for the failure of Kerry’s effort, it’s a given that they will use the U.S. support for their positions not in order to make peace, as Washington hoped, but as justification for heating up the conflict once the whole thing collapses. The American cooperation with the EU’s blackmail of Israel on settlements is also disturbing.

Seen from this perspective, we see clearly just how disastrous the Kerry “triumph” could turn out to be, especially when you consider the likelihood that Abbas will use the failure of the talks which he plans to engineer to justify violence. Though Kerry is taking bows right now, it’s fairly obvious that it is Abbas who is the winner in the talks, no matter what follows, and Israel the loser.

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Meet the Terrorists: No Good Will in Sight

Israel’s decision to release terrorist prisoners to entice the Palestinian Authority to show up for the peace talks convened by Secretary of State John Kerry is being described in international circles as a “good will” gesture. But if Kerry thought the controversial by Prime Minister Netanyahu would actually engender good will toward Israel on the part of the Palestinians or help Israelis think better of the Palestinians, he is learning just how wrong he was. Indeed, it is doubtful that anything that Kerry could have asked Netanyahu to do could have done more to make peace seem less likely.

The decision had already been the subject of bitter debate on both sides last month, but today’s announcement of the first round of releases has revived the argument. The details of the crimes committed by these Palestinians are painful to read. But just as painful for Israelis is the way they are being lauded as “freedom fighters” by the same Palestinian Authority that they are told is the Jewish state’s peace partner. That the PA is also saying that none of these killers will be deported or at least sent into relative isolation in Gaza is also chilling. The Palestinian reaction to their release is conclusive evidence that the culture of violence that makes such terrorist acts acceptable has not sufficiently been altered in order to make peace possible.

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Israel’s decision to release terrorist prisoners to entice the Palestinian Authority to show up for the peace talks convened by Secretary of State John Kerry is being described in international circles as a “good will” gesture. But if Kerry thought the controversial by Prime Minister Netanyahu would actually engender good will toward Israel on the part of the Palestinians or help Israelis think better of the Palestinians, he is learning just how wrong he was. Indeed, it is doubtful that anything that Kerry could have asked Netanyahu to do could have done more to make peace seem less likely.

The decision had already been the subject of bitter debate on both sides last month, but today’s announcement of the first round of releases has revived the argument. The details of the crimes committed by these Palestinians are painful to read. But just as painful for Israelis is the way they are being lauded as “freedom fighters” by the same Palestinian Authority that they are told is the Jewish state’s peace partner. That the PA is also saying that none of these killers will be deported or at least sent into relative isolation in Gaza is also chilling. The Palestinian reaction to their release is conclusive evidence that the culture of violence that makes such terrorist acts acceptable has not sufficiently been altered in order to make peace possible.

The prime minister’s decision has been slammed in some quarters because of the belief that he had a choice between releasing prisoners and enacting a building freeze in Jerusalem and the West Bank when Kerry forced him to assist the re-starting of the talks. His choice, if indeed there really was such a choice, is defensible on the grounds that making concessions on territory would have made negotiations pointless. But whether he was right or wrong to pick this option, the details about the released prisoners will not convince many Israelis that there is much hope for the talks. Here, thanks to the Times of Israel, is a brief compendium of the lucky Palestinian prisoners:

The list included 17 names of prisoners who had murdered Israelis, including Abu-Musa Salam Ali Atia of Fatah, who murdered Holocaust survivor Isaac Rotenberg in a Petah Tikvah construction site in 1994.

A plasterer by trade, Rotenberg was attacked by Abu Musa and an accomplice at a construction site where all three men worked in March 1994. He sustained repeated blows to the neck with axes. His wounds induced a coma, and he died two days after the attack. He was survived by his brother and sister, who were also survivors of Sobibor, and by a wife and two children. Rotenberg was 67 when he died.

Rotenberg wasn’t the oldest victim of the prisoners who made it onto the list Sunday. Fatah member Ra’ai Ibrahim Salam Ali was jailed in 1994 for the murder of 79-year-old Moris Eisenstatt. Eisenstatt was killed with ax blows to the head while he sat on a public Kfar Saba bench reading a book.

Another prisoner, Salah Ibrahim Ahmad Mugdad, also of Fatah, was imprisoned in 1993 for killing 72-year-old Sirens Hotel security guard Israel Tenenbaum by beating him in the head with a steel rod. …

Two of the prisoners, Abu Satta Ahmad Sa’id Aladdin and Abu Sita Talab Mahmad Ayman, were imprisoned in 1994 for the murder of David Dadi and Haim Weizman. After killing Dadi and Weizman as they slept in Weizman’s apartment, the attackers cut off their ears as proof of the killing.

Abdel Aal Sa’id Ouda Yusef was imprisoned in 1994 to a 22-year sentence for several grenade attacks, and for his part as an accomplice in the murder of Ian Sean Feinberg and the murder of Sami Ramadan. Feinberg, a 30-year-old father of three, was a proponent of Palestinian economic development. He was killed by gunmen who stormed a business meeting in Gaza City which he attended in April 1993.

Also on the list was Kour Matwah Hamad Faiz of Fatah, imprisoned in 1985 after he was convicted of killing Menahem Dadon and Salomon Abukasis in 1983 and planning to murder then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Another two prisoners to be released, Fatah members Sualha Fazah Ahmed Husseini and Sualha Bad Almajed Mahmed Mahmed, were imprisoned for a stabbing attack on a crowded Ramat Gan bus, on the 66 line, in 1990. The two, together with a third accomplice, stabbed wildly at passengers, killing 24-year-old Baruch Heizler and wounding three young women.

Sha’at Azat Shaban Ata was imprisoned in 1993 for helping to orchestrate the murder of 51-year-old Simcha Levi, a woman who made her living transporting Palestinian day laborers to work in Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. In March 1993, three of the women laborers were disguised male attackers, who beat and stabbed her to death.

Maslah Abdullah Salama Salma, a Hamas member likely to be sent to the Gaza Strip after his release, was imprisoned in 1993 for the brutal murder of Petah Tikvah convenience store owner Reuven David. Abdallah, together with an accomplice, entered David’s convenience store on May 20, 1991.

The remaining prisoners, in the order listed by the Prisons Service:

Na’anish Na’if Abdal Jafer Samir, imprisoned in 1989 for the murder of Binyamin Meisner.

Arsheed A’Hameed Yusef Yusef, imprisoned in 1993 for the murder of Nadal Rabu Ja’ab, Adnan Ajad Dib, Mufid Cana’an, Tawafiq Jaradat and Ibrahim Sa’id Ziwad.

Al-Haaj Othman Amar Mustafa, imprisoned in 1989 for the murder of Steven Rosenfeld.

Maklad Mahmoud Zaid Salah, imprisoned in 1993 for the murder of Yeshayahu Deutsch.

Barbach Faiz Rajab Madhat, imprisoned in 1994 for the murder of Moshe Beker.

Nashabat Jaabar Yusef Mahmed, imprisoned in 1990 for serving as an accessory to the murder of Amnon Pomerantz.

Mortja Hasin Ghanam Samir, imprisoned in 1993 for the abduction, torture and murder of Samir Alsilawi, Khaled Malka, Nasser Aqila, Ali al Zaabot.

Faraj Saleh al-Rimahi, imprisoned in 1992 for the murder of Avraham Kinstler.

Mansour Omar Abdel Hafiz Asmat, imprisoned in 1993 as an accessory to the murder of Hayim Mizrahi.

Asarka Mahmad Ahmad Khaled, imprisoned in 1991 for the murder of Annie Ley.

Jandiya Yusef Radwan Nahad, imprisoned in 1989 for the murder of Zalman Shlein.

Hamdiya Mahmoud Awed Muhammed, imprisoned in 1989 for the murder of Zalman Shlein.

Abdel Nabi A-Wahab Gamal Jamil, imprisoned in 1992 for the murder of Shmuel Gersh.

Ziwad Muhammed Taher Taher, imprisoned in 1993 for the murder of Avraham Cohen.

Sabih Abed Hamed Borhan, imprisoned in 2001 for the murder of Jamil Muhammad Naim Sabih, Aisha Abdullah Haradin.

The release of these killers is re-opening old wounds among their survivors and friends as well as leading other Israelis to believe Netanyahu has betrayed them. But whatever one may think of the prime minister’s decision, the shameless manner by which the PA seeks to honor terrorists and the importance it placed on the issue undermines any hopes for peace. Their freedom will only encourage and legitimate the next round of Palestinian attacks when their intransigence causes the peace talks to fail. If any good will, either on the part of Palestinians or Israelis, has been gained by the gesture, it is not readily apparent.

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