Commentary Magazine


Topic: Netanyahu government

Why Pollard’s Release Is Unlikely Right Now

Over at the indispensable FrumForum, John Vecchione disagrees with my conclusion yesterday that President Obama is unlikely to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard at this point. Obviously, anything can happen in politics, but there are three major reasons why I believe Pollard’s release is improbable:

1. The public nature of the campaign to free him. Typically, prisoner releases between allies are dealt with relatively quietly and diplomatically, letting the country releasing the prisoner save face. Would Obama really want to give the impression that he caved to foreign pressure? If it was going to happen, you can bet that Netanyahu would be making his plea to Obama behind a closed door at the White House, not televised from the floor of the Knesset.

2. There is no political incentive for Obama. Vecchione makes an interesting case that the president “could do this during the election year not only to garnish some support in specific areas but also in exchange for some visible concession from the Netanyahu government.” But I have a few questions about this prediction. First, what percentage of the U.S. population actually makes up the pro-Pollard constituency? I’m no polling expert, but I assume this isn’t an overwhelmingly large figure.

Second, how many of these people care so deeply about the issue that they would base their presidential vote on whether a candidate supports Pollard’s release? It just doesn’t seem likely that this group of voters would register very high on the president’s radar at the moment. Most of the American Jewish community would already vote for Obama regardless, and the rest of it isn’t daft enough to believe that a token gesture like this could make up for the president’s disastrous Israel policy.

I also find the idea of Obama’s granting clemency for Pollard in exchange for Israeli concessions problematic. If the guy deserves to be released from prison, then let him out. We don’t hold hostages in America, and publicly shaking down an ally like Israel over a prisoner would be catastrophic for Obama’s image.

3. Finally, releasing Pollard could have some negative political implications for Obama. I think it’s fair to say that a significant portion of the far-left in this country is anti-Israel (if not the majority). And in recent years, a particularly nasty section of the left has become a breeding ground for paranoid conspiracy theories about the U.S.’s relationship with the Jewish state. Not only would releasing Pollard draw the ire of this group; it would also damage Obama’s image with the left as an allegedly “balanced arbiter” of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Plus, it would interfere with the president’s broader goal of Muslim outreach. There is no doubt that the Islamic world would see Pollard’s release as a sign of Israel’s supposed power over the U.S. — especially in light of the public nature of the clemency campaign. Obama has tried hard to portray himself as tough on Israel, and it seems unlikely that he’d risk marring this image by releasing Pollard.

So for those three reasons I remain skeptical that this current pro-Pollard crusade will end in success. But then again, stranger things have certainly happened.

Over at the indispensable FrumForum, John Vecchione disagrees with my conclusion yesterday that President Obama is unlikely to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard at this point. Obviously, anything can happen in politics, but there are three major reasons why I believe Pollard’s release is improbable:

1. The public nature of the campaign to free him. Typically, prisoner releases between allies are dealt with relatively quietly and diplomatically, letting the country releasing the prisoner save face. Would Obama really want to give the impression that he caved to foreign pressure? If it was going to happen, you can bet that Netanyahu would be making his plea to Obama behind a closed door at the White House, not televised from the floor of the Knesset.

2. There is no political incentive for Obama. Vecchione makes an interesting case that the president “could do this during the election year not only to garnish some support in specific areas but also in exchange for some visible concession from the Netanyahu government.” But I have a few questions about this prediction. First, what percentage of the U.S. population actually makes up the pro-Pollard constituency? I’m no polling expert, but I assume this isn’t an overwhelmingly large figure.

Second, how many of these people care so deeply about the issue that they would base their presidential vote on whether a candidate supports Pollard’s release? It just doesn’t seem likely that this group of voters would register very high on the president’s radar at the moment. Most of the American Jewish community would already vote for Obama regardless, and the rest of it isn’t daft enough to believe that a token gesture like this could make up for the president’s disastrous Israel policy.

I also find the idea of Obama’s granting clemency for Pollard in exchange for Israeli concessions problematic. If the guy deserves to be released from prison, then let him out. We don’t hold hostages in America, and publicly shaking down an ally like Israel over a prisoner would be catastrophic for Obama’s image.

3. Finally, releasing Pollard could have some negative political implications for Obama. I think it’s fair to say that a significant portion of the far-left in this country is anti-Israel (if not the majority). And in recent years, a particularly nasty section of the left has become a breeding ground for paranoid conspiracy theories about the U.S.’s relationship with the Jewish state. Not only would releasing Pollard draw the ire of this group; it would also damage Obama’s image with the left as an allegedly “balanced arbiter” of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Plus, it would interfere with the president’s broader goal of Muslim outreach. There is no doubt that the Islamic world would see Pollard’s release as a sign of Israel’s supposed power over the U.S. — especially in light of the public nature of the clemency campaign. Obama has tried hard to portray himself as tough on Israel, and it seems unlikely that he’d risk marring this image by releasing Pollard.

So for those three reasons I remain skeptical that this current pro-Pollard crusade will end in success. But then again, stranger things have certainly happened.

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The “Palestinian” Campaign

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response. Read More

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response.

The 2011 plan is the one to keep an eye on. It has momentum and increasing buy-in, as demonstrated by the flurry of statehood recognitions from Latin America this month. U.S. mainstream media have not generally been presenting a coherent picture to American readers, but from a broader perspective, there is a confluence of events separate from the official peace process. It already appears, from the regional jockeying for Lebanon and the trend of Saudi activity, that nations in the Middle East are trying to position themselves for a decisive shift in the Israel-Palestine dynamic. Now, in a significant “informational” move, Russia’s ITAR-TASS is playing up the discussions of 2011 statehood from the meeting this past weekend of a Russian-government delegation with Salam Fayyad in Israel.

It may be too early to call the official peace process irrelevant or pronounce it dead. But the interest in it from the Palestinian Arabs and other parties in the Middle East is increasingly perfunctory (or cynical). It is becoming clear that there is more than recalcitrance on the Palestinian side; there is an alternative plan, which is being actively promoted. A central virtue of this plan for Fayyadists is that it can work by either of two methods: presenting Israel with a UN-backed fait accompli or alarming Israel into cutting a deal from fear that an imposed resolution would be worse.

John Bolton is right. Everything about this depends on what the U.S. does. America can either avert the 2011 plan’s momentum now or face a crisis decision crafted for us by others sometime next year. Being maneuvered into a UN veto that could set off bombings and riots across the Eastern Hemisphere — and very possibly North America as well — should not be our first choice.

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When Washington Has Amnesia, Israelis and Palestinians Pay the Price

My last two posts (here and here) discussed why no peace deal is likely to emerge from Barack Obama’s drive to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But if this drive merely proves futile, the entire region will breathe a sigh of relief. The fear among those outside the White House/State Department cocoon is that it will produce a bloodbath.

Two notable signs of this fear are the latest poll by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre and Maplecroft’s new Terrorism Risk Index.

As I noted yesterday, a plurality of Palestinians, 22.4 percent, rated the economy as their top concern in the poll. But among Gazans — whose economy, we are relentlessly told, is being strangled by Israel — the economy actually ranked only fourth. Their top priority, by a 29.8 percent plurality, was Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.

In the much larger West Bank, however, 27.6 percent put the economy first. And that, at first glance, seems bizarre, because the West Bank economy is booming: it grew by 8.5 percent last year and 9 percent in the first half of 2010. International aid is also soaring: just last week, the U.S. announced another $150 million. Yet fully 49.2 percent of West Bankers expected the economy to deteriorate in the coming year, while only 38.5 percent foresaw improvement.

The poll didn’t give reasons for this gloomy forecast, but there’s one obvious explanation: Obama’s peace push. First, if he does force Israel to freeze settlement construction again, thousands of Palestinian construction workers will lose their jobs. This concern was evident in JMCC’s June poll, in which 60 percent of Palestinians opposed their own government’s proposed ban on working in settlements.

More important, however, Palestinians remember exactly what happened the last time an American president forced an unwilling Palestinian leader into final-status talks that were certain to fail: the talks collapsed, and two months later, the second intifada erupted. And another intifada would destroy the West Bank economy: investments would dry up, while all the trade-hampering checkpoints the Netanyahu government has removed would reappear.

At first glance, Maplecroft’s new TRI seems equally bizarre. Israel’s ranking moved from 17 in February to 14 this month, making it one of 16 countries the consultancy deems at “extreme risk” of terrorism. But the rankings are based on data from June 2009-June 2010, plus a “historical component” covering 2007-2009. And throughout these years, terrorism in Israel was virtually nonexistent.

Indeed, the U.S. has suffered as many attacks as Israel this year, and those attacks involved a much greater chance of mass casualties — another factor Maplecroft considers. Yet America ranked only 33.

So why did Israel, during a period of almost total calm, suddenly soar in Maplecroft’s rankings? The individual country reports are subscription-only, but it’s not hard to guess. The index is meant to be “forward-looking.” And Maplecroft’s experts, too, undoubtedly remember what happened last time an American president dragged an unwilling Palestinian leader into fruitless final-status talks.

Indeed, it seems the only people who don’t remember are that president’s wife, now secretary of state, and her boss in the White House. Unfortunately, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are liable to pay the price of their amnesia.

My last two posts (here and here) discussed why no peace deal is likely to emerge from Barack Obama’s drive to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But if this drive merely proves futile, the entire region will breathe a sigh of relief. The fear among those outside the White House/State Department cocoon is that it will produce a bloodbath.

Two notable signs of this fear are the latest poll by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre and Maplecroft’s new Terrorism Risk Index.

As I noted yesterday, a plurality of Palestinians, 22.4 percent, rated the economy as their top concern in the poll. But among Gazans — whose economy, we are relentlessly told, is being strangled by Israel — the economy actually ranked only fourth. Their top priority, by a 29.8 percent plurality, was Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.

In the much larger West Bank, however, 27.6 percent put the economy first. And that, at first glance, seems bizarre, because the West Bank economy is booming: it grew by 8.5 percent last year and 9 percent in the first half of 2010. International aid is also soaring: just last week, the U.S. announced another $150 million. Yet fully 49.2 percent of West Bankers expected the economy to deteriorate in the coming year, while only 38.5 percent foresaw improvement.

The poll didn’t give reasons for this gloomy forecast, but there’s one obvious explanation: Obama’s peace push. First, if he does force Israel to freeze settlement construction again, thousands of Palestinian construction workers will lose their jobs. This concern was evident in JMCC’s June poll, in which 60 percent of Palestinians opposed their own government’s proposed ban on working in settlements.

More important, however, Palestinians remember exactly what happened the last time an American president forced an unwilling Palestinian leader into final-status talks that were certain to fail: the talks collapsed, and two months later, the second intifada erupted. And another intifada would destroy the West Bank economy: investments would dry up, while all the trade-hampering checkpoints the Netanyahu government has removed would reappear.

At first glance, Maplecroft’s new TRI seems equally bizarre. Israel’s ranking moved from 17 in February to 14 this month, making it one of 16 countries the consultancy deems at “extreme risk” of terrorism. But the rankings are based on data from June 2009-June 2010, plus a “historical component” covering 2007-2009. And throughout these years, terrorism in Israel was virtually nonexistent.

Indeed, the U.S. has suffered as many attacks as Israel this year, and those attacks involved a much greater chance of mass casualties — another factor Maplecroft considers. Yet America ranked only 33.

So why did Israel, during a period of almost total calm, suddenly soar in Maplecroft’s rankings? The individual country reports are subscription-only, but it’s not hard to guess. The index is meant to be “forward-looking.” And Maplecroft’s experts, too, undoubtedly remember what happened last time an American president dragged an unwilling Palestinian leader into fruitless final-status talks.

Indeed, it seems the only people who don’t remember are that president’s wife, now secretary of state, and her boss in the White House. Unfortunately, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are liable to pay the price of their amnesia.

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Will Obama Go Back to Fighting Over Jerusalem?

The announcement today that 238 housing units will be built in Jerusalem will have no impact on whether there will ever be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The houses will go up in Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev, Jewish neighborhoods that were created in the 1970s after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War struck down the barriers that rendered those parts of the city that had been occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 Jew-free. Approximately a quarter of a million Jews already live in East Jerusalem, and the notion that they will all be chucked out of their homes in order to allow the city to become the presumably Jew-free capital of a Palestinian Arab state is a fantasy. If the PA doesn’t want to negotiate with Israel, and it is more than obvious that by calling for building freezes they are looking for an excuse to bug out of the talks to which they have been dragged by President Obama, then whether or not Jews build homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital won’t make a difference.

But this issue is precisely the one that caused a blowup between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government last spring, when Washington seized on another such innocuous announcement and declared it a mortal insult to the United States because Vice President Biden happened to be passing through the town at the time. The United States has never recognized Israel’s rights in all of Jerusalem, but the decision to specifically oppose building in existing neighborhoods and to, in effect, treat them as being as illegitimate as the most remote West Bank settlements was unprecedented. But contrary to Obama’s expectations, and those left-wing supporters who had been egging him on to fight with Israel (J Street), Netanyahu didn’t fold and was warmly supported by not only the majority of Israelis but by most American Jews, too. The result was that the administration soon backed off and began a charm offensive designed to ingratiate the president with American Jews who were offended by his decision to pick a fight over Jerusalem.

However, with the midterm elections only a few weeks away, the immediate political incentive to downplay the president’s distaste for Israel’s government and his willingness to butt heads with it over Jewish rights in Jerusalem will be removed. Though much of Washington’s foreign policy establishment has not missed the fact that it was the Palestinians and not the Israelis who blew up Obama’s peace initiative, it remains to be seen whether the administration’s Jewish charm offensive will remain in place after November 2.

Though the expected rout of his party in the elections will give President Obama far bigger problems to deal with than Jewish homes in Jerusalem, a decision to push harder against Israel to force “progress” toward a peace the Palestinians don’t want will be an indication that Obama hasn’t the flexibility or the understanding of the region that will enable him to learn from his errors. While the Middle East peace process is not the only or even the most important foreign policy challenge that Obama will have to confront this winter (not with Iran flexing its muscles in the region), one of the more interesting indicators of how a post–November 2010 Obama will govern will be whether he can resist the temptation to return to his fight with Netanyahu.

The announcement today that 238 housing units will be built in Jerusalem will have no impact on whether there will ever be peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The houses will go up in Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev, Jewish neighborhoods that were created in the 1970s after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War struck down the barriers that rendered those parts of the city that had been occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 Jew-free. Approximately a quarter of a million Jews already live in East Jerusalem, and the notion that they will all be chucked out of their homes in order to allow the city to become the presumably Jew-free capital of a Palestinian Arab state is a fantasy. If the PA doesn’t want to negotiate with Israel, and it is more than obvious that by calling for building freezes they are looking for an excuse to bug out of the talks to which they have been dragged by President Obama, then whether or not Jews build homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital won’t make a difference.

But this issue is precisely the one that caused a blowup between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government last spring, when Washington seized on another such innocuous announcement and declared it a mortal insult to the United States because Vice President Biden happened to be passing through the town at the time. The United States has never recognized Israel’s rights in all of Jerusalem, but the decision to specifically oppose building in existing neighborhoods and to, in effect, treat them as being as illegitimate as the most remote West Bank settlements was unprecedented. But contrary to Obama’s expectations, and those left-wing supporters who had been egging him on to fight with Israel (J Street), Netanyahu didn’t fold and was warmly supported by not only the majority of Israelis but by most American Jews, too. The result was that the administration soon backed off and began a charm offensive designed to ingratiate the president with American Jews who were offended by his decision to pick a fight over Jerusalem.

However, with the midterm elections only a few weeks away, the immediate political incentive to downplay the president’s distaste for Israel’s government and his willingness to butt heads with it over Jewish rights in Jerusalem will be removed. Though much of Washington’s foreign policy establishment has not missed the fact that it was the Palestinians and not the Israelis who blew up Obama’s peace initiative, it remains to be seen whether the administration’s Jewish charm offensive will remain in place after November 2.

Though the expected rout of his party in the elections will give President Obama far bigger problems to deal with than Jewish homes in Jerusalem, a decision to push harder against Israel to force “progress” toward a peace the Palestinians don’t want will be an indication that Obama hasn’t the flexibility or the understanding of the region that will enable him to learn from his errors. While the Middle East peace process is not the only or even the most important foreign policy challenge that Obama will have to confront this winter (not with Iran flexing its muscles in the region), one of the more interesting indicators of how a post–November 2010 Obama will govern will be whether he can resist the temptation to return to his fight with Netanyahu.

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S-300: Political Football

Americans looking for coherence in Russia’s on-again, off-again policy on the S-300 sale to Iran should focus on the overall thrust of Russian policy in the Putin era. Putin’s emphasis — with interstitial refinements from Dmitry Medvedev — is on supplanting American leadership with a set of multilateral bodies and rivalries in which Russia can wield increasing influence.

As with many of Putin’s foreign-policy moves, the S-300 sale is a tool for putting Russia at the center of a major decision point about international security. The prospect of the sale has given Europe, Asia, and the U.S. a reason to seek Russian cooperation. It has also given Russia an influence over Iran that no other nation has had in the past half-decade. This is related, in turn, to the trigger the sale has put in Russia’s hands: from any objective military analysis, the delivery of the S-300 to Iran would set the clock ticking on Israel’s window of feasibility for attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

Russia wouldn’t let this valuable bargaining chip go for light and transient reasons. Everything in his history must tell us that Putin is letting go of this uniquely privileged position because he has what he wants: he doesn’t feel he needs the power of that particular position for the time being. If he wants it back, he can probably get it (unless China steps into the breach and sells its version of the S-300 to Iran instead). Meanwhile, cancelling the sale is a signal that Putin is satisfied with the benefits his policies have realized, to date, from Russian influence with Iran.

What benefits has he realized? In brief, he has succeeded in getting America’s closest allies to seek accommodation with Russia as a means of improving their position vis-à-vis Iran. I’ve written here and here, for example, about the Netanyahu government’s pragmatic outreach to Moscow, which recently produced a defense-cooperation agreement that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

Equally significant is the September announcement by NATO’s political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that NATO’s future lies in structured cooperation with Russia on security issues, including missile defense. In the wake of that proclamation, France and Germany will hold a summit with Russia in October in preparation for the next G-20 conference. Their main topic will reportedly be “joint security issues.”

It cannot be reiterated too often that incorporating Russia in Europe’s missile defenses will give Russia an effective veto over anything it doesn’t like about those defenses. It will also give Moscow a means of dividing Europe from North America over the nature and purpose of our common defense arrangements. Assuming these incipient efforts move forward as proposed — all while Russia keeps missiles trained on Eastern Europe — it’s not too much to say that we will be witnessing the death throes of the NATO alliance.

These are heady achievements for Putin’s policies, but they’re not the only ones. Russia has succeeded in ingratiating itself with India to a much greater extent in the last 18 months, increasing arms cooperation dramatically and establishing itself as a partner in containing the Taliban. In all of these cases, a narrowly-focused and expedient passivity on the part of the U.S has smoothed Russia’s path. President Obama himself created the conditions for Russia to act as a spoiler in NATO missile defenses, by abandoning the installations planned for Eastern Europe and rushing into the ill-considered New START treaty. And his dilatory approach to Iran has been a key factor in driving the nations of the Eastern hemisphere to look to Russia for help, rather than counting on the U.S. to avert the security catastrophe of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It would actually be a better sign, at this point, if Putin still thought the S-300 sale was an indispensable bargaining chip. It would mean he still considered it necessary to leverage such a chip against U.S. power. But he no longer does — and that doesn’t mean he has changed. It means we have.

Americans looking for coherence in Russia’s on-again, off-again policy on the S-300 sale to Iran should focus on the overall thrust of Russian policy in the Putin era. Putin’s emphasis — with interstitial refinements from Dmitry Medvedev — is on supplanting American leadership with a set of multilateral bodies and rivalries in which Russia can wield increasing influence.

As with many of Putin’s foreign-policy moves, the S-300 sale is a tool for putting Russia at the center of a major decision point about international security. The prospect of the sale has given Europe, Asia, and the U.S. a reason to seek Russian cooperation. It has also given Russia an influence over Iran that no other nation has had in the past half-decade. This is related, in turn, to the trigger the sale has put in Russia’s hands: from any objective military analysis, the delivery of the S-300 to Iran would set the clock ticking on Israel’s window of feasibility for attacking the Iranian nuclear sites.

Russia wouldn’t let this valuable bargaining chip go for light and transient reasons. Everything in his history must tell us that Putin is letting go of this uniquely privileged position because he has what he wants: he doesn’t feel he needs the power of that particular position for the time being. If he wants it back, he can probably get it (unless China steps into the breach and sells its version of the S-300 to Iran instead). Meanwhile, cancelling the sale is a signal that Putin is satisfied with the benefits his policies have realized, to date, from Russian influence with Iran.

What benefits has he realized? In brief, he has succeeded in getting America’s closest allies to seek accommodation with Russia as a means of improving their position vis-à-vis Iran. I’ve written here and here, for example, about the Netanyahu government’s pragmatic outreach to Moscow, which recently produced a defense-cooperation agreement that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

Equally significant is the September announcement by NATO’s political chief, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, that NATO’s future lies in structured cooperation with Russia on security issues, including missile defense. In the wake of that proclamation, France and Germany will hold a summit with Russia in October in preparation for the next G-20 conference. Their main topic will reportedly be “joint security issues.”

It cannot be reiterated too often that incorporating Russia in Europe’s missile defenses will give Russia an effective veto over anything it doesn’t like about those defenses. It will also give Moscow a means of dividing Europe from North America over the nature and purpose of our common defense arrangements. Assuming these incipient efforts move forward as proposed — all while Russia keeps missiles trained on Eastern Europe — it’s not too much to say that we will be witnessing the death throes of the NATO alliance.

These are heady achievements for Putin’s policies, but they’re not the only ones. Russia has succeeded in ingratiating itself with India to a much greater extent in the last 18 months, increasing arms cooperation dramatically and establishing itself as a partner in containing the Taliban. In all of these cases, a narrowly-focused and expedient passivity on the part of the U.S has smoothed Russia’s path. President Obama himself created the conditions for Russia to act as a spoiler in NATO missile defenses, by abandoning the installations planned for Eastern Europe and rushing into the ill-considered New START treaty. And his dilatory approach to Iran has been a key factor in driving the nations of the Eastern hemisphere to look to Russia for help, rather than counting on the U.S. to avert the security catastrophe of a nuclear-armed Iran.

It would actually be a better sign, at this point, if Putin still thought the S-300 sale was an indispensable bargaining chip. It would mean he still considered it necessary to leverage such a chip against U.S. power. But he no longer does — and that doesn’t mean he has changed. It means we have.

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Bibi Puts the Spotlight on Abbas

Michael Oren isn’t the only Israeli official giving stirring speeches. Bibi, in a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, made clear that Israel has plenty of reasons to walk from the peace talks but has shown restraint:

Believe me, every day the Palestinians do things I don’t like: whether it’s incitement in the schools or media, or an international campaign that they back to delegitimize Israel.

Just yesterday, a Palestinian Authority court ruled that the sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death.  You know, all these things do not square well with me, and my colleagues often question why is it that we’re staying in the talks.  Some have even questioned why I’m having peace talks with President Abbas when half of the Palestinian people are controlled by Hamas, which is a terror organization that openly calls for our destruction.  I’m mentioning all of these things – and there are many others that I could raise here – because these could afford me many reasons to walk away from the table.  But I haven’t walked away from the table.  I want to give these talks a chance to succeed.  And I very much hope that President Abbas will have the same attitude.  I expect him to sit down with me even when we disagree, and to work with me through those disagreements in a sincere effort to forge an historic compromise, which I believe is possible.

We got rid of the preconditions before the talks.  We can’t reintroduce them five minutes after the talks begin.

Israel gets little if any credit for this, and the chattering class doesn’t demand that Abbas extend (or even come up with, for there has never been one) a moratorium on killing Jews or teaching anti-Semitism to Palestinian children.

But Bibi has a larger point to make, which, despite his complimentary words for the president and secretary of state (on whom the words are lost), gets to the heart of the matter and the pointlessness of peace talks:

It’s time for the Palestinians to do something they have refused to do for 62 years. It’s time for them to say yes to a Jewish state. Now what does it mean to recognize the Jewish state, or the nation-state of the Jewish people? It means that the Palestinians recognize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in our historic homeland.  I recognized the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and sovereignty. They must finally recognize the Jewish people’s right to self determination and sovereignty. … It’s important because the Palestinian leadership must begin to make clear to its own people that they are making a permanent peace with the Jewish people, a people that has a right to be here, a right to live in its own state and in its own homeland.

Which is why Abbas will never do it. So what is the point, then? The Obami shouldn’t lose face, our sympathetic ally has determined. Unlike the Obama administration, the Netanyahu government sees no benefit in embarrassing its ally, nor in emphasizing the gaps in perception between the U.S. and Israel. There is another reason for Bibi to put the spotlight on Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state. In case the Obami were contemplating an imposed peace deal, Bibi has raised a red flag: what’s the point if Abbas won’t give up finally and completely the fight for a one-state solution?

Michael Oren isn’t the only Israeli official giving stirring speeches. Bibi, in a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, made clear that Israel has plenty of reasons to walk from the peace talks but has shown restraint:

Believe me, every day the Palestinians do things I don’t like: whether it’s incitement in the schools or media, or an international campaign that they back to delegitimize Israel.

Just yesterday, a Palestinian Authority court ruled that the sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death.  You know, all these things do not square well with me, and my colleagues often question why is it that we’re staying in the talks.  Some have even questioned why I’m having peace talks with President Abbas when half of the Palestinian people are controlled by Hamas, which is a terror organization that openly calls for our destruction.  I’m mentioning all of these things – and there are many others that I could raise here – because these could afford me many reasons to walk away from the table.  But I haven’t walked away from the table.  I want to give these talks a chance to succeed.  And I very much hope that President Abbas will have the same attitude.  I expect him to sit down with me even when we disagree, and to work with me through those disagreements in a sincere effort to forge an historic compromise, which I believe is possible.

We got rid of the preconditions before the talks.  We can’t reintroduce them five minutes after the talks begin.

Israel gets little if any credit for this, and the chattering class doesn’t demand that Abbas extend (or even come up with, for there has never been one) a moratorium on killing Jews or teaching anti-Semitism to Palestinian children.

But Bibi has a larger point to make, which, despite his complimentary words for the president and secretary of state (on whom the words are lost), gets to the heart of the matter and the pointlessness of peace talks:

It’s time for the Palestinians to do something they have refused to do for 62 years. It’s time for them to say yes to a Jewish state. Now what does it mean to recognize the Jewish state, or the nation-state of the Jewish people? It means that the Palestinians recognize the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in our historic homeland.  I recognized the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and sovereignty. They must finally recognize the Jewish people’s right to self determination and sovereignty. … It’s important because the Palestinian leadership must begin to make clear to its own people that they are making a permanent peace with the Jewish people, a people that has a right to be here, a right to live in its own state and in its own homeland.

Which is why Abbas will never do it. So what is the point, then? The Obami shouldn’t lose face, our sympathetic ally has determined. Unlike the Obama administration, the Netanyahu government sees no benefit in embarrassing its ally, nor in emphasizing the gaps in perception between the U.S. and Israel. There is another reason for Bibi to put the spotlight on Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state as the Jewish state. In case the Obami were contemplating an imposed peace deal, Bibi has raised a red flag: what’s the point if Abbas won’t give up finally and completely the fight for a one-state solution?

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Why Bother?

As I observed on Friday, onlookers and officials could barely muster the forced smiles and rote expressions of optimism that normally accompany the “beginning” of (OK, the never-ending, fruitless) direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The New York Times confesses:

There is little confidence — close to none — on either side that the Obama administration’s goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met. … Yossi Beilin, for example, who left politics in 2008 after years as a leftist member of Parliament and government minister, said Friday that the Obama administration was wrong to set a one-year goal without consequences.

“I think this is a huge mistake by the U.S. administration,” he said by telephone. “There is not a chance in the world that in a year — or two or three — peace can be achieved. The gap between the sides is too big. Netanyahu did not come to power to divide Jerusalem or find a solution to the Palestinian refugees.

And now even the mainstream media don’t bother to conceal the PA’s game:

[Mahmoud Abbas] was hoping that the Obama administration would impose a solution, which he imagined would push Israel to yield more land and authority to him than the Netanyahu government favored.

That is why the Palestinians wanted only indirect talks brokered by the Americans. But Mr. Abbas failed to obtain what he sought, and the administration pushed him toward direct talks. He has agreed only from a position of weakness, he and others say.

Abbas did not disappoint, threatening “that the new round of Middle East peace talks announced Friday by the Obama administration could be over as soon as they begin if Israel continues new construction on the West Bank.” Bibi has already said he will not extend the moratorium. Abbas, you see, is already planning his escape route from the talks.

Umm, did the Obama team not realize all this? And really, what is the point? As one canny observer put it:

Nothing good has ever come of decades of American meddling in the Israeli-Arab “peace process”—at best, it’s been a monumental waste of everyone’s time; at worst, it produced the Second Intifada—and nothing good can come of this latest and most farcical effort.

On the merits, the time and effort invested in the counterproductive “peace process” cannot be justified. But Obama persists, one can surmise, for reasons that have nothing to do with a “two-state solution.” (For that, as George Will correctly observes, is “delusional” at this point.)

Imagining his mere appearance on the stage and a huge amount of suck-uppery to Muslims would deliver the peace that has eluded his predecessors, Obama invested a huge amount of his personal credibility in brokering a deal. He elevated this issue to the top of his foreign-policy agenda. He strained our relationship with Israel to the breaking point. To give up now, as his domestic standing is crumbling, would be a blow — both personal and political — too great to endure. He is merely postponing a humiliation, and at the price of further fraying ties with Israel and provoking yet another intifada when talks inevitably end and Israel is fingered as the culprit.

And, if Obama did not have the endless “peace process” to hide behind and to discuss with the increasingly irritated American Jewish community, what would there be to talk about? Oh, yes, the existential threat to Israel, the rise of a hegemonic-minded Iran, the drift of Turkey into the Islamist orbit, the rearming of Hezbollah, the abominable state of human rights in Muslim countries, and the failure of his administration to do much of anything about any of these issues. Just as Arab despots in the region point to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to distract “Arab street” from their own shortcomings, Obama has used the “peace process” like a gaudy bauble to dangle before American Jews, elite opinion makers, and the media. And to a large degree, he’s suceeeded in lulling them into a semi-catatonic state (and snagging himself a Nobel Peace Prize, which by the way, looks even more ludicrous now than at the time it was bestowed). Once the “peace process” charade ends, the focus would once again be on him and his failure to abate  — in fact his apparent effort to accelerate –the decline of American power in the region. And the president can’t have that, can he?

As I observed on Friday, onlookers and officials could barely muster the forced smiles and rote expressions of optimism that normally accompany the “beginning” of (OK, the never-ending, fruitless) direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The New York Times confesses:

There is little confidence — close to none — on either side that the Obama administration’s goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met. … Yossi Beilin, for example, who left politics in 2008 after years as a leftist member of Parliament and government minister, said Friday that the Obama administration was wrong to set a one-year goal without consequences.

“I think this is a huge mistake by the U.S. administration,” he said by telephone. “There is not a chance in the world that in a year — or two or three — peace can be achieved. The gap between the sides is too big. Netanyahu did not come to power to divide Jerusalem or find a solution to the Palestinian refugees.

And now even the mainstream media don’t bother to conceal the PA’s game:

[Mahmoud Abbas] was hoping that the Obama administration would impose a solution, which he imagined would push Israel to yield more land and authority to him than the Netanyahu government favored.

That is why the Palestinians wanted only indirect talks brokered by the Americans. But Mr. Abbas failed to obtain what he sought, and the administration pushed him toward direct talks. He has agreed only from a position of weakness, he and others say.

Abbas did not disappoint, threatening “that the new round of Middle East peace talks announced Friday by the Obama administration could be over as soon as they begin if Israel continues new construction on the West Bank.” Bibi has already said he will not extend the moratorium. Abbas, you see, is already planning his escape route from the talks.

Umm, did the Obama team not realize all this? And really, what is the point? As one canny observer put it:

Nothing good has ever come of decades of American meddling in the Israeli-Arab “peace process”—at best, it’s been a monumental waste of everyone’s time; at worst, it produced the Second Intifada—and nothing good can come of this latest and most farcical effort.

On the merits, the time and effort invested in the counterproductive “peace process” cannot be justified. But Obama persists, one can surmise, for reasons that have nothing to do with a “two-state solution.” (For that, as George Will correctly observes, is “delusional” at this point.)

Imagining his mere appearance on the stage and a huge amount of suck-uppery to Muslims would deliver the peace that has eluded his predecessors, Obama invested a huge amount of his personal credibility in brokering a deal. He elevated this issue to the top of his foreign-policy agenda. He strained our relationship with Israel to the breaking point. To give up now, as his domestic standing is crumbling, would be a blow — both personal and political — too great to endure. He is merely postponing a humiliation, and at the price of further fraying ties with Israel and provoking yet another intifada when talks inevitably end and Israel is fingered as the culprit.

And, if Obama did not have the endless “peace process” to hide behind and to discuss with the increasingly irritated American Jewish community, what would there be to talk about? Oh, yes, the existential threat to Israel, the rise of a hegemonic-minded Iran, the drift of Turkey into the Islamist orbit, the rearming of Hezbollah, the abominable state of human rights in Muslim countries, and the failure of his administration to do much of anything about any of these issues. Just as Arab despots in the region point to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to distract “Arab street” from their own shortcomings, Obama has used the “peace process” like a gaudy bauble to dangle before American Jews, elite opinion makers, and the media. And to a large degree, he’s suceeeded in lulling them into a semi-catatonic state (and snagging himself a Nobel Peace Prize, which by the way, looks even more ludicrous now than at the time it was bestowed). Once the “peace process” charade ends, the focus would once again be on him and his failure to abate  — in fact his apparent effort to accelerate –the decline of American power in the region. And the president can’t have that, can he?

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Newsflash: Israelis Don’t Trust Obama

The Israeli Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University have a new survey out. The results are not surprising:

Nearly three-quarters of the Israeli Jewish public supports holding talks with the Palestinians, but only 32.4 percent believe they will lead to peace. High support for talks along with pessimism about their outcome has characterized public opinion since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. Most Israelis – 62% – support direct dialogue, with only 14% supporting proximity talks mediated by US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.

Could it be that the Israeli Jewish public doesn’t trust the Obami? Sure looks that way: “Most Israelis think that Obama favors the Palestinians, and 42.5% view Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policies towards the Palestinians as balanced.” How’s the Obama plan for staring down Bibi on a settlement freeze working out? Not so great:

Over half of the Israeli public favors renewed construction in the West Bank after the settlement freeze ends in September, claiming that “continuing the freeze means capitulation to the Americans and the Palestinians.” Conversely, 41.5% say the freeze should continue, in order to “help advance the negotiations with the Palestinians and improve Israel’s image in the international community.”

The J Street crowd and the so-called liberal Zionists (mostly liberal, not so Zionist) like to characterize their positions as merely in conflict with the “right-wing” Netanyahu government. But their outlook is in conflict with the Israeli people. And the American left’s support for Obama’s Israel policy (well, what used to be his policy before he tried making up with Bibi) has been overwhelmingly rejected by Israelis. The left likes to warn (threaten?) Israel that it can’t be a democracy unless it disgorges itself of the Palestinian population. But the central feature of a democracy is that voters elect their government and ultimately determine the course of their public policy. That is simply not acceptable to Jewish leftists, who, it seems, want neither a secure Israel nor a democratic one.

The Israeli Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University have a new survey out. The results are not surprising:

Nearly three-quarters of the Israeli Jewish public supports holding talks with the Palestinians, but only 32.4 percent believe they will lead to peace. High support for talks along with pessimism about their outcome has characterized public opinion since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. Most Israelis – 62% – support direct dialogue, with only 14% supporting proximity talks mediated by US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.

Could it be that the Israeli Jewish public doesn’t trust the Obami? Sure looks that way: “Most Israelis think that Obama favors the Palestinians, and 42.5% view Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policies towards the Palestinians as balanced.” How’s the Obama plan for staring down Bibi on a settlement freeze working out? Not so great:

Over half of the Israeli public favors renewed construction in the West Bank after the settlement freeze ends in September, claiming that “continuing the freeze means capitulation to the Americans and the Palestinians.” Conversely, 41.5% say the freeze should continue, in order to “help advance the negotiations with the Palestinians and improve Israel’s image in the international community.”

The J Street crowd and the so-called liberal Zionists (mostly liberal, not so Zionist) like to characterize their positions as merely in conflict with the “right-wing” Netanyahu government. But their outlook is in conflict with the Israeli people. And the American left’s support for Obama’s Israel policy (well, what used to be his policy before he tried making up with Bibi) has been overwhelmingly rejected by Israelis. The left likes to warn (threaten?) Israel that it can’t be a democracy unless it disgorges itself of the Palestinian population. But the central feature of a democracy is that voters elect their government and ultimately determine the course of their public policy. That is simply not acceptable to Jewish leftists, who, it seems, want neither a secure Israel nor a democratic one.

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No Shortage of ‘Barbarians’ to Oppose Peace

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

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Tony Judt’s Specious Clichés About Israel

Once again today the New York Times devoted the largest share of its op-ed page to an attack on Israel, as author and academic Tony Judt attempted to set the paper’s readers straight on what he considers the tired clichés of the Middle East. But as was the case with previous occupiers of this space, such as Michael Chabon, Judt flies under false colors. He affects a pose of Olympian detachment while treating both anti-Israel and pro-Israel arguments with equal disdain. This “plague on both your houses” approach seems reasonable on its face but it is utterly disingenuous.

That’s because of Judt’s own views on Israel and Zionism, about which he is less than candid in this article. Judt has written at length in the New York Review of Books, his usual literary home, about his opposition to Zionism. He is entitled to this belief, however hateful it might be, but such a stance ought to disqualify him from writing pieces in a mainstream newspaper that purport to take an objective stance on the subject.

As for his six clichés, they are all specious points of discussion and contain numerous false arguments. Here are a few:

* The anti-Israel arguments that he dismisses as merely absurd and worthy of being ignored are, while specious, widely disseminated around the world by a rising tide of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic incitement. But Judt, as do other critics of Israel, asserts that friends of Israel treat all criticisms of the state as being intended to delegitimize it. True. But it is a fact that all too many of these critics actually do intend to do just that. To point this out is not “self-defeating” on Israel’s part. To ignore the widespread attacks on Zionism that are now commonplace in Europe and on American college campuses would be to abandon the field to Israel’s foes.

* He acknowledges that Israel is a working democracy but then claims “the expression of strong dissent from official policy is increasingly discouraged,” as if those who oppose the Netanyahu government must only do so in private. This is absurd as not only is there an open season on Netanyahu in the Israeli media but also Arabs openly disparage Zionism on the floor of the Knesset. Even worse, Judt goes on to claim that Hamas’s regime in Gaza is a democracy too. It is true that Hamas won an election in 2006 — but it seized total power there in a bloody coup. Not only is there no hope of another election in which Gazans might hold Hamas accountable for its misrule — a typical example of Third World Democracy, which means “one man, one vote, one time” — but the result of that coup has been the imposition of Islamist practices on secular Palestinians and a tyrannical suppression of all opposing views. If that is Judt’s idea of democracy, it is no wonder he doesn’t value the concept very highly.

* He disparages the idea that not Israel and the Palestinians are to blame. He simply dismisses “the failure of negotiations in 2000” as having reinforced the Israeli belief that “there is no one to talk to.” But Camp David in 2000 didn’t prove that Israelis couldn’t talk to Palestinians. They can, even to Hamas. But it did prove — as did Mahmoud Abbas’s similar refusal in 2008 of an offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem — that the Palestinians aren’t interested in or capable of making peace under any circumstances. The Palestinians may be weak but they could be living in their own state with a signed peace treaty guaranteeing their independence if their political culture didn’t prohibit them from acknowledging the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders.

* His inclusion of a cliché about an “Israel lobby,” which is “disproportionately influential,” is a tip-off of his bias. The “Israel lobby” has influence in this country not because the people at AIPAC are geniuses but because the vast majority of Americans support Israel.

* Last, and perhaps most important, he claims that the debate about the link between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism is a cliché. But his attempt to dismiss anti-Semitic attacks on Israel depends on the reader being ignorant of the nature of most such attacks in international forums these days. The fact that for anti-Zionists the only alleged injustices in the world worth protesting are those committed by the one Jewish state in the world — the only country the legitimacy of whose existence is a matter of debate — betrays the prejudice behind such sentiments. Judt’s claim that one can “acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist” is a contradiction in terms but I suppose that’s how he rationalizes his own beliefs. The idea that you can be a foe of a besieged country’s founding ideology and basis of legitimacy yet avoid being branded as someone who would like to see it destroyed is mere sophistry. But when you are an American Jewish academic who despises Israel but doesn’t wish to be associated with the vulgar Jew-haters who act on their beliefs, I suppose that’s the only stance you can take when you write in the New York Times.

Once again today the New York Times devoted the largest share of its op-ed page to an attack on Israel, as author and academic Tony Judt attempted to set the paper’s readers straight on what he considers the tired clichés of the Middle East. But as was the case with previous occupiers of this space, such as Michael Chabon, Judt flies under false colors. He affects a pose of Olympian detachment while treating both anti-Israel and pro-Israel arguments with equal disdain. This “plague on both your houses” approach seems reasonable on its face but it is utterly disingenuous.

That’s because of Judt’s own views on Israel and Zionism, about which he is less than candid in this article. Judt has written at length in the New York Review of Books, his usual literary home, about his opposition to Zionism. He is entitled to this belief, however hateful it might be, but such a stance ought to disqualify him from writing pieces in a mainstream newspaper that purport to take an objective stance on the subject.

As for his six clichés, they are all specious points of discussion and contain numerous false arguments. Here are a few:

* The anti-Israel arguments that he dismisses as merely absurd and worthy of being ignored are, while specious, widely disseminated around the world by a rising tide of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic incitement. But Judt, as do other critics of Israel, asserts that friends of Israel treat all criticisms of the state as being intended to delegitimize it. True. But it is a fact that all too many of these critics actually do intend to do just that. To point this out is not “self-defeating” on Israel’s part. To ignore the widespread attacks on Zionism that are now commonplace in Europe and on American college campuses would be to abandon the field to Israel’s foes.

* He acknowledges that Israel is a working democracy but then claims “the expression of strong dissent from official policy is increasingly discouraged,” as if those who oppose the Netanyahu government must only do so in private. This is absurd as not only is there an open season on Netanyahu in the Israeli media but also Arabs openly disparage Zionism on the floor of the Knesset. Even worse, Judt goes on to claim that Hamas’s regime in Gaza is a democracy too. It is true that Hamas won an election in 2006 — but it seized total power there in a bloody coup. Not only is there no hope of another election in which Gazans might hold Hamas accountable for its misrule — a typical example of Third World Democracy, which means “one man, one vote, one time” — but the result of that coup has been the imposition of Islamist practices on secular Palestinians and a tyrannical suppression of all opposing views. If that is Judt’s idea of democracy, it is no wonder he doesn’t value the concept very highly.

* He disparages the idea that not Israel and the Palestinians are to blame. He simply dismisses “the failure of negotiations in 2000” as having reinforced the Israeli belief that “there is no one to talk to.” But Camp David in 2000 didn’t prove that Israelis couldn’t talk to Palestinians. They can, even to Hamas. But it did prove — as did Mahmoud Abbas’s similar refusal in 2008 of an offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem — that the Palestinians aren’t interested in or capable of making peace under any circumstances. The Palestinians may be weak but they could be living in their own state with a signed peace treaty guaranteeing their independence if their political culture didn’t prohibit them from acknowledging the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders.

* His inclusion of a cliché about an “Israel lobby,” which is “disproportionately influential,” is a tip-off of his bias. The “Israel lobby” has influence in this country not because the people at AIPAC are geniuses but because the vast majority of Americans support Israel.

* Last, and perhaps most important, he claims that the debate about the link between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism is a cliché. But his attempt to dismiss anti-Semitic attacks on Israel depends on the reader being ignorant of the nature of most such attacks in international forums these days. The fact that for anti-Zionists the only alleged injustices in the world worth protesting are those committed by the one Jewish state in the world — the only country the legitimacy of whose existence is a matter of debate — betrays the prejudice behind such sentiments. Judt’s claim that one can “acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and still be an anti-Zionist” is a contradiction in terms but I suppose that’s how he rationalizes his own beliefs. The idea that you can be a foe of a besieged country’s founding ideology and basis of legitimacy yet avoid being branded as someone who would like to see it destroyed is mere sophistry. But when you are an American Jewish academic who despises Israel but doesn’t wish to be associated with the vulgar Jew-haters who act on their beliefs, I suppose that’s the only stance you can take when you write in the New York Times.

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Who’s out of Touch with Reality? Israelis or “Liberal Zionists”?

A consistent theme — not only of the post-Gaza-flotilla criticism of Israel but also of the entire thrust of the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” the Middle East — has been the notion that Israel is out of touch with the rest of the world. In this formulation, a reactionary, right-wing Israeli government is driving crazy the rest of the world and a basically sympathetic American ally by pursuing self-destructive policies. This thesis was sounded anew by Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast yesterday by means of a piece in which he attacked Elliott Abrams for accurately describing the pack of jackals who are attacking Israel’s right of self-defense as a “lynch mob.” Beinart considered that politically incorrect because it links an administration led by an African-American and a multi-cultural institution like the United Nations with a phrase that conjures up “black men hanging from trees.” For Beinart, talking about the siege of Israel in terms of life and death is apparently beyond his comprehension. In his worldview, the Hamas terrorists who control Gaza — and who would like to kill all the Jews of Israel — or the more moderate Palestinians who refuse to make peace because they are afraid of Hamas, don’t really count in a discussion of Israeli actions. Nor does he understand that the vicious global attacks on Israel can only be properly understood in the context of the rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism around the world.

Beinart goes on to knock the Netanyahu government and its American supporters as out of touch with America because Obama, as well as Hispanics and African-Americans, are less inclined to support the Jewish state than the rest of the country, which remains solidly pro-Israel. Sounding like James Carville in January 2009, Beinart assumes that Obama and the Democrats will rule in Washington forever, dismissing the overwhelming current pro-Israel majority in Congress as well as the near certainty that it will be even more pro-Israel next January because Obama’s party is likely to face heavy losses to the Republicans in November. Nor does he take into account that, as Jennifer noted earlier, a new Rasmussen poll shows most Americans side with Israel rather than the Palestinians on the Gaza flotilla, as they have on virtually every issue over the years. But because J Street and “liberal Zionist” critiques of Israel have little to do with the nonexistent chances of peace with the Palestinians and everything to do with attempting to replace a bipartisan pro-Israel American consensus with an Obama-like moral equivalence about the Middle East, it’s hard to take Beinart’s analysis seriously, despite the attention he has been getting lately.

But even as Beinart and J Street continue to trumpet their anger at Israel’s government, you have to ask what they make of the fact that the majority of his people support Netanyahu’s policies or that his coalition remains so stable. As it happens, writer Ethan Perlson weighed in with an explanation in the same Daily Beast that is now Beinart’s regular perch. Perlson reports that Israeli liberals and left-wingers — the people Beinart supposes he is speaking up for — are fed up with criticisms of their country and are rallying against the hypocritical Israel-bashers and in support of their government’s determination to continue trying to isolate Hamas. Even the opposition Kadima Party, led by supposed Obama favorite Tzipi Livni, which miserably failed to get a no-confidence motion passed by the Knesset this week, supported the government’s policy on the blockade.

The point is, even most of the Israeli left and those in the center, who are actually prepared to make painful territorial concessions if peace were a real possibility, understand that the failure to attain peace is the fault of the Palestinians, not of Netanyahu. They know that Israel withdrew from Gaza hoping that the Palestinians would use their freedom to work for peace and instead saw the area fall under the sway of the most violent and extreme Islamist factions, who used it as a launching pad for terror. They know that lifting the blockade of Hamas would give it — and its patron, Iran — a victory that would make the region even more dangerous.

Though they claim that Israelis are out of touch with America, given the continuing support for Israel by most Americans, it may be Beinart and his friends in the mainstream media who are out of sync with public opinion. And instead of chiding Israelis to adopt policies that they know make no sense, perhaps “liberal Zionists,” like Beinart and other Americans who purport to be friends of the Jewish state while incessantly bashing it, should start listening to the Israeli people.

A consistent theme — not only of the post-Gaza-flotilla criticism of Israel but also of the entire thrust of the Obama administration’s attempt to “reset” the Middle East — has been the notion that Israel is out of touch with the rest of the world. In this formulation, a reactionary, right-wing Israeli government is driving crazy the rest of the world and a basically sympathetic American ally by pursuing self-destructive policies. This thesis was sounded anew by Peter Beinart at the Daily Beast yesterday by means of a piece in which he attacked Elliott Abrams for accurately describing the pack of jackals who are attacking Israel’s right of self-defense as a “lynch mob.” Beinart considered that politically incorrect because it links an administration led by an African-American and a multi-cultural institution like the United Nations with a phrase that conjures up “black men hanging from trees.” For Beinart, talking about the siege of Israel in terms of life and death is apparently beyond his comprehension. In his worldview, the Hamas terrorists who control Gaza — and who would like to kill all the Jews of Israel — or the more moderate Palestinians who refuse to make peace because they are afraid of Hamas, don’t really count in a discussion of Israeli actions. Nor does he understand that the vicious global attacks on Israel can only be properly understood in the context of the rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism around the world.

Beinart goes on to knock the Netanyahu government and its American supporters as out of touch with America because Obama, as well as Hispanics and African-Americans, are less inclined to support the Jewish state than the rest of the country, which remains solidly pro-Israel. Sounding like James Carville in January 2009, Beinart assumes that Obama and the Democrats will rule in Washington forever, dismissing the overwhelming current pro-Israel majority in Congress as well as the near certainty that it will be even more pro-Israel next January because Obama’s party is likely to face heavy losses to the Republicans in November. Nor does he take into account that, as Jennifer noted earlier, a new Rasmussen poll shows most Americans side with Israel rather than the Palestinians on the Gaza flotilla, as they have on virtually every issue over the years. But because J Street and “liberal Zionist” critiques of Israel have little to do with the nonexistent chances of peace with the Palestinians and everything to do with attempting to replace a bipartisan pro-Israel American consensus with an Obama-like moral equivalence about the Middle East, it’s hard to take Beinart’s analysis seriously, despite the attention he has been getting lately.

But even as Beinart and J Street continue to trumpet their anger at Israel’s government, you have to ask what they make of the fact that the majority of his people support Netanyahu’s policies or that his coalition remains so stable. As it happens, writer Ethan Perlson weighed in with an explanation in the same Daily Beast that is now Beinart’s regular perch. Perlson reports that Israeli liberals and left-wingers — the people Beinart supposes he is speaking up for — are fed up with criticisms of their country and are rallying against the hypocritical Israel-bashers and in support of their government’s determination to continue trying to isolate Hamas. Even the opposition Kadima Party, led by supposed Obama favorite Tzipi Livni, which miserably failed to get a no-confidence motion passed by the Knesset this week, supported the government’s policy on the blockade.

The point is, even most of the Israeli left and those in the center, who are actually prepared to make painful territorial concessions if peace were a real possibility, understand that the failure to attain peace is the fault of the Palestinians, not of Netanyahu. They know that Israel withdrew from Gaza hoping that the Palestinians would use their freedom to work for peace and instead saw the area fall under the sway of the most violent and extreme Islamist factions, who used it as a launching pad for terror. They know that lifting the blockade of Hamas would give it — and its patron, Iran — a victory that would make the region even more dangerous.

Though they claim that Israelis are out of touch with America, given the continuing support for Israel by most Americans, it may be Beinart and his friends in the mainstream media who are out of sync with public opinion. And instead of chiding Israelis to adopt policies that they know make no sense, perhaps “liberal Zionists,” like Beinart and other Americans who purport to be friends of the Jewish state while incessantly bashing it, should start listening to the Israeli people.

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Embrace of Hamas’s Goal of Breaking the Blockade Dooms Peace Efforts

The hypocritical condemnations raining down on Israel from foreign critics in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident from those who oppose the very existence of a Jewish state within any borders have a certain logic, even if it is a perverse logic. For Greta Berlin, the founder of the so-called Free Gaza Movement, the effort to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled region isn’t really humanitarian; it’s political. As she told the New York Times in its story today about the effort to bring aid to the Islamist regime in the strip, she shares Hamas’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state, which in her mind seems to justify any effort to bring succor to its foes.

Her reasoning is repulsive to anyone who believes her goal of reversing the verdict of Israel’s War of Independence is inadmissible. But her opposition to the blockade of Gaza makes more sense than the caterwauling coming from American and Israeli leftists who are berating the Netanyahu government for its willingness to enforce the sanctions that were imposed on the region after Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup in 2007.

Yet for the J Street crowd and writer Peter Beinart, who has assumed the pose of a “more in sorrow than in anger” liberal Zionist critic of Israel, as well as Israeli leftists such as novelist David Grossman and academic Fania Oz-Salzberger, who have joined in the piling on against Israel in the last three days, their belief that the blockade of Hamas in Gaza must be lifted isn’t merely wrong-headed; it is utterly antithetical to their proclaimed goal of a two-state solution in which Israelis and Arabs will share the land in peace.

For Beinart, who sounded his now familiar if tired rant about American Jews being responsible for Israeli beastliness in a piece in the Daily Beast, the “corrupt” embargo is yet another obstacle to peace that if removed might help bring an era of sunshine and light to the region. His blithe dismissal of the verdict of Israeli democracy in which leftists were soundly defeated because of the Palestinians’ consistent refusal to make peace is matched only by his arrogant ignorance of the nature of Palestinian nationalism and politics, which deems recognition of a Jewish state within any borders as beyond the pale.

His denunciation of Netanyahu was matched by Grossman in the Los Angeles Times, who wrote that Israel’s blockade was a sign of the country’s decline. Oz-Salzberger, who proclaimed herself an “Israeli patriot” — no doubt to pre-empt the criticisms of her compatriots who may consider denouncing your own country’s efforts at self-defense in foreign venues to be in questionable taste — deemed the flotilla incident a “sin” and a source of “shame.”

But the problem with these pieces is that if Israel did as they wished, it would effectively doom any chance for peace with the Palestinians. Lifting the blockade and allowing the free flow of goods into the area — which will open the floodgates for not only food and medicine, which are already in plentiful supply in Gaza, but also for Iranian arms and “construction materials” that will strengthen Hamas’s fortifications — would be the final step toward establishing the sovereignty of the Hamas regime in Gaza. After all, the blockade was established by Israel and Egypt with the support of the West, not as an act of “collective punishment,” as the left claims, but rather in a targeted effort to bring down an illegal and violent radical Islamist terror regime that had seized a foothold on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.

Granting Hamas such a victory is a blow to Israel, but despite all the crocodile tears being shed for the admittedly miserable lives being led by the Gazans, who suffer under the rule of this terror group, it is a worse blow to the Palestinians. The end of the blockade will strengthen Hamas’s grip on Gaza and make it all the more likely that they will eventually be able to extend it to the West Bank. If international pressure forces Israel to lift the blockade — which never stopped the flow of food or medicine to Gaza despite the false claims that there is a humanitarian crisis there — the biggest loser will be Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, not Benjamin Netanyahu. Actions that lead to Hamas’s winning the struggle for the Palestinian leadership mean that the already dismal chances for peace will be reduced to zero. Such a turn of events will make a two-state solution, even one in which Israel would be forced to surrender every inch of land it won in 1967, utterly impossible.

The temptation to bash Israel’s government and call for an end to the blockade may be irresistible to Jewish leftists, who can always be depended on to see the country’s efforts at self-defense in the worst possible light. Blinded by hatred for Netanyahu, they fail to see that giving Hamas such a victory means an end to the peace process they claim to support.

The hypocritical condemnations raining down on Israel from foreign critics in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident from those who oppose the very existence of a Jewish state within any borders have a certain logic, even if it is a perverse logic. For Greta Berlin, the founder of the so-called Free Gaza Movement, the effort to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled region isn’t really humanitarian; it’s political. As she told the New York Times in its story today about the effort to bring aid to the Islamist regime in the strip, she shares Hamas’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state, which in her mind seems to justify any effort to bring succor to its foes.

Her reasoning is repulsive to anyone who believes her goal of reversing the verdict of Israel’s War of Independence is inadmissible. But her opposition to the blockade of Gaza makes more sense than the caterwauling coming from American and Israeli leftists who are berating the Netanyahu government for its willingness to enforce the sanctions that were imposed on the region after Hamas seized power there in a bloody coup in 2007.

Yet for the J Street crowd and writer Peter Beinart, who has assumed the pose of a “more in sorrow than in anger” liberal Zionist critic of Israel, as well as Israeli leftists such as novelist David Grossman and academic Fania Oz-Salzberger, who have joined in the piling on against Israel in the last three days, their belief that the blockade of Hamas in Gaza must be lifted isn’t merely wrong-headed; it is utterly antithetical to their proclaimed goal of a two-state solution in which Israelis and Arabs will share the land in peace.

For Beinart, who sounded his now familiar if tired rant about American Jews being responsible for Israeli beastliness in a piece in the Daily Beast, the “corrupt” embargo is yet another obstacle to peace that if removed might help bring an era of sunshine and light to the region. His blithe dismissal of the verdict of Israeli democracy in which leftists were soundly defeated because of the Palestinians’ consistent refusal to make peace is matched only by his arrogant ignorance of the nature of Palestinian nationalism and politics, which deems recognition of a Jewish state within any borders as beyond the pale.

His denunciation of Netanyahu was matched by Grossman in the Los Angeles Times, who wrote that Israel’s blockade was a sign of the country’s decline. Oz-Salzberger, who proclaimed herself an “Israeli patriot” — no doubt to pre-empt the criticisms of her compatriots who may consider denouncing your own country’s efforts at self-defense in foreign venues to be in questionable taste — deemed the flotilla incident a “sin” and a source of “shame.”

But the problem with these pieces is that if Israel did as they wished, it would effectively doom any chance for peace with the Palestinians. Lifting the blockade and allowing the free flow of goods into the area — which will open the floodgates for not only food and medicine, which are already in plentiful supply in Gaza, but also for Iranian arms and “construction materials” that will strengthen Hamas’s fortifications — would be the final step toward establishing the sovereignty of the Hamas regime in Gaza. After all, the blockade was established by Israel and Egypt with the support of the West, not as an act of “collective punishment,” as the left claims, but rather in a targeted effort to bring down an illegal and violent radical Islamist terror regime that had seized a foothold on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.

Granting Hamas such a victory is a blow to Israel, but despite all the crocodile tears being shed for the admittedly miserable lives being led by the Gazans, who suffer under the rule of this terror group, it is a worse blow to the Palestinians. The end of the blockade will strengthen Hamas’s grip on Gaza and make it all the more likely that they will eventually be able to extend it to the West Bank. If international pressure forces Israel to lift the blockade — which never stopped the flow of food or medicine to Gaza despite the false claims that there is a humanitarian crisis there — the biggest loser will be Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, not Benjamin Netanyahu. Actions that lead to Hamas’s winning the struggle for the Palestinian leadership mean that the already dismal chances for peace will be reduced to zero. Such a turn of events will make a two-state solution, even one in which Israel would be forced to surrender every inch of land it won in 1967, utterly impossible.

The temptation to bash Israel’s government and call for an end to the blockade may be irresistible to Jewish leftists, who can always be depended on to see the country’s efforts at self-defense in the worst possible light. Blinded by hatred for Netanyahu, they fail to see that giving Hamas such a victory means an end to the peace process they claim to support.

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Throwing Jerusalem’s Barkat Under the Bus

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is no extreme right-wing extremist. A generally non-ideological and secular Jew who served in the paratroopers, he was a successful high-tech venture capitalist before entering politics. Barkat’s career has, to date, been solely centered on the city of Jerusalem. He was elected mayor of the city only days after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in November 2008. The important fact about Barkat’s win was that he beat an ultra-Orthodox candidate, a symbolic as well as a tangible victory for those who hope to keep Israel’s capital from becoming a Haredi shtetl.

In his years on the city council and now as mayor, Barkat’s focus has been on development and improved services but he also understands that the city’s future depends on it remaining united. If it is once again divided, as it was during Jordan’s illegal occupation of half of it from 1948 to 1967, the city will be an embattled and ghetto-ized backwater with no hope of attracting investment. Thus, he is adamantly opposed to those who want to make Arab neighborhoods into a capital of a putative Palestinian state, despite the fact that even the “moderate” Palestinian leadership won’t sign a deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. Dividing the city is, he says, like putting a “Trojan Horse” within Israel. He is also appalled, as are most Israelis, at the idea of treating the post-67 Jewish neighborhoods, where over 200,000 Jews live, as illegal settlements by an Obama administration that is demanding a building freeze in Jerusalem. He rightly sees Israeli acquiescence to this unreasonable demand as a blow to Israel’s sovereignty over its capital as well as a threat to the Jews of Jerusalem.

These are points that Barkat has been making to the press and the public during a visit this week to Washington. The reaction from the Obama administration has been chilly but perhaps not as chilly as that of the Israeli Embassy. The New York Times, which contrasted the chummy reception that Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak got here this week from the Obami with that given to Barkat, noted that a spokesman from the Israeli embassy was at pains to distance the embassy from Barkat.

“For us, it’s lousy timing,” said a spokesman for the embassy, Jonathan Peled. He tried to put things in perspective, comparing Mr. Barkat to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington. “He’s not going to be the one negotiating peace with the Palestinians, in the same way that Fenty is not going to be the one negotiating the Start agreement with Russia,” Mr. Peled said.”

It’s true that Barkat is not a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — or even of one of the parties that forms his coalition — and is not bound to follow its lead nor empowered to represent it. But neither is he an insignificant or powerless functionary who deserves to be ignored or mocked. Moreover, his position opposing both Jerusalem’s partition and a Jewish building freeze (while Arab building continues at a higher rate and without protest from anyone) happens to be identical to that of Netanyahu.

It’s easy to understand the embassy’s desire to downplay any differences between Israel and the administration during such a tense time. Moreover, if Netanyahu has actually caved in to Obama and promised to put in place some sort of unannounced freeze in Jerusalem, he’s got to be unhappy about Barkat either opposing such a change or making it clear that development in the city will continue regardless of what Obama wants.

But people who, like Peled, are tasked with the difficult job of selling Israel’s position on its capital to both the administration and to the American public, should be wary of making it appear as though they are throwing Barkat under the proverbial bus. Disavowing a respected mayor who is also an articulate advocate for the same position as the Netanyahu government on Jerusalem may make it a little easier to deal with the White House this week but in the long run it can have a deleterious effect on Israel’s efforts to defend its capital in Washington and at home.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is no extreme right-wing extremist. A generally non-ideological and secular Jew who served in the paratroopers, he was a successful high-tech venture capitalist before entering politics. Barkat’s career has, to date, been solely centered on the city of Jerusalem. He was elected mayor of the city only days after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in November 2008. The important fact about Barkat’s win was that he beat an ultra-Orthodox candidate, a symbolic as well as a tangible victory for those who hope to keep Israel’s capital from becoming a Haredi shtetl.

In his years on the city council and now as mayor, Barkat’s focus has been on development and improved services but he also understands that the city’s future depends on it remaining united. If it is once again divided, as it was during Jordan’s illegal occupation of half of it from 1948 to 1967, the city will be an embattled and ghetto-ized backwater with no hope of attracting investment. Thus, he is adamantly opposed to those who want to make Arab neighborhoods into a capital of a putative Palestinian state, despite the fact that even the “moderate” Palestinian leadership won’t sign a deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. Dividing the city is, he says, like putting a “Trojan Horse” within Israel. He is also appalled, as are most Israelis, at the idea of treating the post-67 Jewish neighborhoods, where over 200,000 Jews live, as illegal settlements by an Obama administration that is demanding a building freeze in Jerusalem. He rightly sees Israeli acquiescence to this unreasonable demand as a blow to Israel’s sovereignty over its capital as well as a threat to the Jews of Jerusalem.

These are points that Barkat has been making to the press and the public during a visit this week to Washington. The reaction from the Obama administration has been chilly but perhaps not as chilly as that of the Israeli Embassy. The New York Times, which contrasted the chummy reception that Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak got here this week from the Obami with that given to Barkat, noted that a spokesman from the Israeli embassy was at pains to distance the embassy from Barkat.

“For us, it’s lousy timing,” said a spokesman for the embassy, Jonathan Peled. He tried to put things in perspective, comparing Mr. Barkat to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington. “He’s not going to be the one negotiating peace with the Palestinians, in the same way that Fenty is not going to be the one negotiating the Start agreement with Russia,” Mr. Peled said.”

It’s true that Barkat is not a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — or even of one of the parties that forms his coalition — and is not bound to follow its lead nor empowered to represent it. But neither is he an insignificant or powerless functionary who deserves to be ignored or mocked. Moreover, his position opposing both Jerusalem’s partition and a Jewish building freeze (while Arab building continues at a higher rate and without protest from anyone) happens to be identical to that of Netanyahu.

It’s easy to understand the embassy’s desire to downplay any differences between Israel and the administration during such a tense time. Moreover, if Netanyahu has actually caved in to Obama and promised to put in place some sort of unannounced freeze in Jerusalem, he’s got to be unhappy about Barkat either opposing such a change or making it clear that development in the city will continue regardless of what Obama wants.

But people who, like Peled, are tasked with the difficult job of selling Israel’s position on its capital to both the administration and to the American public, should be wary of making it appear as though they are throwing Barkat under the proverbial bus. Disavowing a respected mayor who is also an articulate advocate for the same position as the Netanyahu government on Jerusalem may make it a little easier to deal with the White House this week but in the long run it can have a deleterious effect on Israel’s efforts to defend its capital in Washington and at home.

Read Less

Is Obama Winning His War on Jerusalem?

The Israeli government is walking a fine line as it tries holding out against the Obama administration’s demand for a building freeze while simultaneously fending off charges that it is not interested in making peace with the Palestinians. The predictable result is confusion. The Netanyahu government’s defiance of the American diktat is contradicted by news reports about a de facto suspension of planning for projects by Israel in those parts of the city under Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967.

It isn’t clear whether the slow-down of Jewish construction in Jerusalem is merely an attempt by the government to ensure that it will not be taken unaware by housing announcements, as it was during the recent visit of Vice President Joe Biden, or by an actual freeze. But either way, it appears that Netanyahu’s desire to avoid giving a clearly hostile Obama any ammunition with which he can paint the Israelis as provocative or intransigent about peace is having an impact on the pace of building.

The American pressure on Jerusalem is a break from the past because no previous administration has ever made an issue of the building of homes for Jews in neighborhoods that were founded in the aftermath of the unification of the city in 1967. The United States has never recognized Israel’s sovereignty over any part of the city, including the parts that were held by the Jews at the time of the 1949 armistice that ended Israel’s War of Independence. But Obama breaks from past administrations when he insists that that Jewish neighborhoods in the city founded after 1967 are merely illegal “settlements,” no different from the most West Bank outpost. This is an implicit American endorsement of the Palestinian claim that any theoretical peace deal must hand over all of the area of Jerusalem that Israel took in 1967 (which is called East Jerusalem in the press but which actually comprises the northern, eastern and southern outskirts of the city), where today over 200,000 Jews live. After all, if “East Jerusalem” is truly disputed territory in America’s eyes, then Washington ought to be calling for a building freeze by both sides to the dispute. That is not the case, as home-building by Arabs in the area in which America demands a Jewish freeze continues at a breakneck pace.

This is, as Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said yesterday, “a slap in the face” to Israel. Barkat claims talk of Israel bending to Obama’s demand for a freeze in Jerusalem is unfounded. But although Israelis have consistently supported their government’s refusal to knuckle under to American attacks on the status of their capital, the impact of the dispute has created a narrative in which so-called Israeli “foot-dragging” is the principal obstacle to peace, not Palestinian intransigence.

That’s the impression that Washington has done everything it can to reinforce, but it is worth reiterating that such an impression is utterly false. While Netanyahu has agreed to a two-state solution and even agreed to a freeze on settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinians’ supposedly moderate leader Mahmoud Abbas won’t even sit and negotiate in the same room with the Israelis. Nor is there any reason to believe the so-called proximity talks that Obama is so eager to launch (so named because of the Palestinian refusal to negotiate directly with Israel) will lead to an agreement because Abbas has already rejected Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem in 2008.

The Israeli government is walking a fine line as it attempts holding out against the Obama administration’s demand for a building freeze while simultaneously fending off charges that it is not interested in making peace with the Palestinians. The predictable result is confusion. The Netanyahu government’s defiance of the American diktat is contradicted by news reports about a de facto suspension of planning for projects by Israel in those parts of the city under Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967.

It isn’t clear whether the slow-down of Jewish construction in Jerusalem is merely an attempt by the government to ensure that it will not be taken unaware by housing announcements, as it was during the recent visit of Vice President Joe Biden, or by an actual freeze. But either way, it appears that Netanyahu’s desire to avoid giving a clearly hostile Obama any ammunition with which he can paint the Israelis as provocative or intransigent about peace is having an impact on the pace of building.

The American pressure on Jerusalem is a break from the past because no previous administration has ever made an issue of the building of homes for Jews in neighborhoods that were founded in the aftermath of the unification of the city in 1967. The United States has never recognized Israel’s sovereignty over any part of the city, including the parts that were held by the Jews at the time of the 1949 armistice that ended Israel’s War of Independence. But Obama breaks from past administrations when he insists that that Jewish neighborhoods in the city founded after 1967 are merely illegal “settlements,” no different from the most West Bank outpost. This is an implicit American endorsement of the Palestinian claim that any theoretical peace deal must hand over all of the area of Jerusalem that Israel took in 1967 (which is called East Jerusalem in the press but which actually comprises the northern, eastern and southern outskirts of the city), where today over 200,000 Jews live. After all, if “East Jerusalem” is truly disputed territory in America’s eyes, then Washington ought to be calling for a building freeze by both sides to the dispute. That is not the case, as home-building by Arabs in the area in which America demands a Jewish freeze continues at a breakneck pace.

This is, as Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said yesterday, “a slap in the face” to Israel. Barkat claims talk of Israel bending to Obama’s demand for a freeze in Jerusalem is unfounded. But although Israelis have consistently supported their government’s refusal to knuckle under to American attacks on the status of their capital, the impact of the dispute has created a narrative in which so-called Israeli “foot-dragging” is the principal obstacle to peace, not Palestinian intransigence.

That’s the impression that Washington has done everything it can to reinforce, but it is worth reiterating that such an impression is utterly false. While Netanyahu has agreed to a two-state solution and even agreed to a freeze on settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinians’ supposedly moderate leader Mahmoud Abbas won’t even sit and negotiate in the same room with the Israelis. Nor is there any reason to believe the so-called proximity talks that Obama is so eager to launch (so named because of the Palestinian refusal to negotiate directly with Israel) will lead to an agreement because Abbas has already rejected Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem in 2008.

Obama’s war on Jerusalem has not brought peace closer. His pressure on Israel has helped to harden the Palestinians rejectionist position on Jerusalem as the call for a freeze in the city means the Palestinians are likely to demand an Israeli evacuation of the neighborhoods where U.S. officials treat Jewish housing starts as an “insult.” This has made the already dim prospects for peace even more unlikely. But one thing the administration has accomplished is to change the terms of argument about Jerusalem. The nerves of some Jewish Democrats may be calmed by the charm offensive that has led administration figures to fan out to Jewish groups and reassure them of the strength of the alliance with Israel in spite of the recent controversy. But by treating Jewish Jerusalem as just another illegal settlement, the president has done more in the last six weeks to undermine Israel’s hold on Jerusalem than a generation of Arab propaganda.

The Israeli government is walking a fine line as it tries holding out against the Obama administration’s demand for a building freeze while simultaneously fending off charges that it is not interested in making peace with the Palestinians. The predictable result is confusion. The Netanyahu government’s defiance of the American diktat is contradicted by news reports about a de facto suspension of planning for projects by Israel in those parts of the city under Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967.

It isn’t clear whether the slow-down of Jewish construction in Jerusalem is merely an attempt by the government to ensure that it will not be taken unaware by housing announcements, as it was during the recent visit of Vice President Joe Biden, or by an actual freeze. But either way, it appears that Netanyahu’s desire to avoid giving a clearly hostile Obama any ammunition with which he can paint the Israelis as provocative or intransigent about peace is having an impact on the pace of building.

The American pressure on Jerusalem is a break from the past because no previous administration has ever made an issue of the building of homes for Jews in neighborhoods that were founded in the aftermath of the unification of the city in 1967. The United States has never recognized Israel’s sovereignty over any part of the city, including the parts that were held by the Jews at the time of the 1949 armistice that ended Israel’s War of Independence. But Obama breaks from past administrations when he insists that that Jewish neighborhoods in the city founded after 1967 are merely illegal “settlements,” no different from the most West Bank outpost. This is an implicit American endorsement of the Palestinian claim that any theoretical peace deal must hand over all of the area of Jerusalem that Israel took in 1967 (which is called East Jerusalem in the press but which actually comprises the northern, eastern and southern outskirts of the city), where today over 200,000 Jews live. After all, if “East Jerusalem” is truly disputed territory in America’s eyes, then Washington ought to be calling for a building freeze by both sides to the dispute. That is not the case, as home-building by Arabs in the area in which America demands a Jewish freeze continues at a breakneck pace.

This is, as Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said yesterday, “a slap in the face” to Israel. Barkat claims talk of Israel bending to Obama’s demand for a freeze in Jerusalem is unfounded. But although Israelis have consistently supported their government’s refusal to knuckle under to American attacks on the status of their capital, the impact of the dispute has created a narrative in which so-called Israeli “foot-dragging” is the principal obstacle to peace, not Palestinian intransigence.

That’s the impression that Washington has done everything it can to reinforce, but it is worth reiterating that such an impression is utterly false. While Netanyahu has agreed to a two-state solution and even agreed to a freeze on settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinians’ supposedly moderate leader Mahmoud Abbas won’t even sit and negotiate in the same room with the Israelis. Nor is there any reason to believe the so-called proximity talks that Obama is so eager to launch (so named because of the Palestinian refusal to negotiate directly with Israel) will lead to an agreement because Abbas has already rejected Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem in 2008.

The Israeli government is walking a fine line as it attempts holding out against the Obama administration’s demand for a building freeze while simultaneously fending off charges that it is not interested in making peace with the Palestinians. The predictable result is confusion. The Netanyahu government’s defiance of the American diktat is contradicted by news reports about a de facto suspension of planning for projects by Israel in those parts of the city under Jordanian occupation between 1948 and 1967.

It isn’t clear whether the slow-down of Jewish construction in Jerusalem is merely an attempt by the government to ensure that it will not be taken unaware by housing announcements, as it was during the recent visit of Vice President Joe Biden, or by an actual freeze. But either way, it appears that Netanyahu’s desire to avoid giving a clearly hostile Obama any ammunition with which he can paint the Israelis as provocative or intransigent about peace is having an impact on the pace of building.

The American pressure on Jerusalem is a break from the past because no previous administration has ever made an issue of the building of homes for Jews in neighborhoods that were founded in the aftermath of the unification of the city in 1967. The United States has never recognized Israel’s sovereignty over any part of the city, including the parts that were held by the Jews at the time of the 1949 armistice that ended Israel’s War of Independence. But Obama breaks from past administrations when he insists that that Jewish neighborhoods in the city founded after 1967 are merely illegal “settlements,” no different from the most West Bank outpost. This is an implicit American endorsement of the Palestinian claim that any theoretical peace deal must hand over all of the area of Jerusalem that Israel took in 1967 (which is called East Jerusalem in the press but which actually comprises the northern, eastern and southern outskirts of the city), where today over 200,000 Jews live. After all, if “East Jerusalem” is truly disputed territory in America’s eyes, then Washington ought to be calling for a building freeze by both sides to the dispute. That is not the case, as home-building by Arabs in the area in which America demands a Jewish freeze continues at a breakneck pace.

This is, as Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said yesterday, “a slap in the face” to Israel. Barkat claims talk of Israel bending to Obama’s demand for a freeze in Jerusalem is unfounded. But although Israelis have consistently supported their government’s refusal to knuckle under to American attacks on the status of their capital, the impact of the dispute has created a narrative in which so-called Israeli “foot-dragging” is the principal obstacle to peace, not Palestinian intransigence.

That’s the impression that Washington has done everything it can to reinforce, but it is worth reiterating that such an impression is utterly false. While Netanyahu has agreed to a two-state solution and even agreed to a freeze on settlements in the West Bank, the Palestinians’ supposedly moderate leader Mahmoud Abbas won’t even sit and negotiate in the same room with the Israelis. Nor is there any reason to believe the so-called proximity talks that Obama is so eager to launch (so named because of the Palestinian refusal to negotiate directly with Israel) will lead to an agreement because Abbas has already rejected Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem in 2008.

Obama’s war on Jerusalem has not brought peace closer. His pressure on Israel has helped to harden the Palestinians rejectionist position on Jerusalem as the call for a freeze in the city means the Palestinians are likely to demand an Israeli evacuation of the neighborhoods where U.S. officials treat Jewish housing starts as an “insult.” This has made the already dim prospects for peace even more unlikely. But one thing the administration has accomplished is to change the terms of argument about Jerusalem. The nerves of some Jewish Democrats may be calmed by the charm offensive that has led administration figures to fan out to Jewish groups and reassure them of the strength of the alliance with Israel in spite of the recent controversy. But by treating Jewish Jerusalem as just another illegal settlement, the president has done more in the last six weeks to undermine Israel’s hold on Jerusalem than a generation of Arab propaganda.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

In the second part of a fascinating interview (which should be read in full), former Israeli Defense Minister and ambassador to the U.S. Moshe Arens posits that Bibi has been too accommodating: “What he has been doing, however, is apologizing to the Obama administration, which, as part of its maneuver to pressure Israel, declared it was insulted by the announcement that 1,600 housing units were being added to a Jerusalem neighborhood. The whole thing is really ludicrous. It all had to do with some clerk on the local planning commission and a meeting that happened to fall on the day of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit. But the Netanyahu government decided to play along and say, ‘You’re insulted? OK, we apologize.’ It could have said, ‘You’re not insulted. There’s no reason to be insulted. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

Sen. Jon Kyl declares that the emperor has no clothes: “The greatest threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism comes from Iran, which has for years supported terrorists and is growing closer and closer to having a nuclear weapons capability. The summit, with 42 heads of state in Washington, should have been an opportunity to develop a consensus to deal with the greatest threat to our security: an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability. Despite the talk at the security summit, it appears we are no closer to tough sanctions or a meaningful Security Council resolution today, seven months after the President said that the regime would face sanctions.”

But don’t you feel safer — all nuclear material is going to be secured in four years. Who tells Ahmadinejad?

Meanwhile, proving Kyl right, we learn that a whole lot of nothing was accomplished: “President Barack Obama acknowledged on Tuesday that, despite his full-court press for tough sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, he could not promise that China and other major powers would go along. … ‘Sanctions are not a magic wand. … What sanctions can do … is to hopefully change the calculus of a country like Iran.’” And if not, we learn to live with a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state sponsor of terror, you see.

Two senators who were not going to be nominated declare they aren’t interested in a Supreme Court nod. (Me neither!) “Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), two senators with significant legal backgrounds who have been mentioned as possible Supreme Court nominees, took themselves out of the running Tuesday.”

Dana Milbank has a fit when he learns this isn’t the “most transparent administration in history.”

Joe Sestak is within the margin of error of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary. Maybe the whole party switcheroo wasn’t a good idea after all.

The “most ethical Congress ever” wasn’t: “Just three months after Eric Massa was elected to Congress, his young male employees on Capitol Hill began complaining to supervisors that the lawmaker was making aggressive, sexual overtures toward them, according to new interviews and internal documents. The senior staff, one of whom said he heard Massa (D-N.Y.) making lewd remarks to young staffers, tried to manage the problem internally. But reports of Massa’s inappropriate behavior continued, leaving junior workers feeling helpless, according to victims, other staffers and sources close to an ongoing House ethics investigation. … This account, drawn from more than two dozen interviews and internal documents, shows that aides were accusing the 50-year-old married lawmaker of far more egregious behavior than previously known.”

In the second part of a fascinating interview (which should be read in full), former Israeli Defense Minister and ambassador to the U.S. Moshe Arens posits that Bibi has been too accommodating: “What he has been doing, however, is apologizing to the Obama administration, which, as part of its maneuver to pressure Israel, declared it was insulted by the announcement that 1,600 housing units were being added to a Jerusalem neighborhood. The whole thing is really ludicrous. It all had to do with some clerk on the local planning commission and a meeting that happened to fall on the day of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit. But the Netanyahu government decided to play along and say, ‘You’re insulted? OK, we apologize.’ It could have said, ‘You’re not insulted. There’s no reason to be insulted. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

Sen. Jon Kyl declares that the emperor has no clothes: “The greatest threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism comes from Iran, which has for years supported terrorists and is growing closer and closer to having a nuclear weapons capability. The summit, with 42 heads of state in Washington, should have been an opportunity to develop a consensus to deal with the greatest threat to our security: an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability. Despite the talk at the security summit, it appears we are no closer to tough sanctions or a meaningful Security Council resolution today, seven months after the President said that the regime would face sanctions.”

But don’t you feel safer — all nuclear material is going to be secured in four years. Who tells Ahmadinejad?

Meanwhile, proving Kyl right, we learn that a whole lot of nothing was accomplished: “President Barack Obama acknowledged on Tuesday that, despite his full-court press for tough sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, he could not promise that China and other major powers would go along. … ‘Sanctions are not a magic wand. … What sanctions can do … is to hopefully change the calculus of a country like Iran.’” And if not, we learn to live with a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state sponsor of terror, you see.

Two senators who were not going to be nominated declare they aren’t interested in a Supreme Court nod. (Me neither!) “Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), two senators with significant legal backgrounds who have been mentioned as possible Supreme Court nominees, took themselves out of the running Tuesday.”

Dana Milbank has a fit when he learns this isn’t the “most transparent administration in history.”

Joe Sestak is within the margin of error of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary. Maybe the whole party switcheroo wasn’t a good idea after all.

The “most ethical Congress ever” wasn’t: “Just three months after Eric Massa was elected to Congress, his young male employees on Capitol Hill began complaining to supervisors that the lawmaker was making aggressive, sexual overtures toward them, according to new interviews and internal documents. The senior staff, one of whom said he heard Massa (D-N.Y.) making lewd remarks to young staffers, tried to manage the problem internally. But reports of Massa’s inappropriate behavior continued, leaving junior workers feeling helpless, according to victims, other staffers and sources close to an ongoing House ethics investigation. … This account, drawn from more than two dozen interviews and internal documents, shows that aides were accusing the 50-year-old married lawmaker of far more egregious behavior than previously known.”

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Encouraging Palestinian Rejectionism

How’s Obama’s Jerusalem gambit working out? (By the way, note to White House: don’t assail Israel by concocting an international incident centered on Jerusalem, the most emotional symbol of the Jewish people, in the weeks before Pesach — it gets even liberal Jews very riled up.) Well, as anyone who has been following Palestinian rejectionism and victimology for the past few decades anticipated (no, this doesn’t include the Obami), the Palestinians now perceive an opportunity to extract even more concessions from Israel and to gin up the violence:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction on Wednesday called for escalating the “popular struggle” against the security barrier and the settlements in the West Bank. … Veteran members of the Fatah Central Committee, including Nabil Shaath, Mahmoud al-Aloul, Muhammad Dahlan, Hussein al-Sheikh and Jibril Rajoub, said that the decision to escalate popular protests against the security fence and settlements was part of the faction’s political platform

They said the Sixth General Assembly of Fatah, which met last year in Bethlehem for the first time in over 20 years, had endorsed “popular resistance” as a means of confronting Israel’s measures in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

By seizing upon and escalating an issue on which no Israeli government could relent, the Obami have made clear that the “game” here is not compromise or resolution but rather high-pressure tactics directed against the Israeli government. The Obami holler while the PA throws stones. The aim of  both is to squeeze the Netanyahu government to the breaking point and shift the focus away from the Palestinians’ inability to enter into any meaningful peace deal (or, for that matter, even to come face-to-face with their Israel counterparts). The Palestinians now are certain that they can have both violence and a “peace process” in which the administration can be counted on to browbeat the Israelis into providing more concessions:

Shaath, a former PA foreign minister, said that peaceful protests were now a popular demand to confront Israel’s policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

“We need to strengthen and back this option in the face of the Israeli occupation’s policies,” he said. “We can’t return to the negotiations unless Israel halts all settlement construction in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem.”

Shaath urged the US administration to pressure Israel to stop its policy of settlement construction, which, he claimed, jeopardized US interests in the region.

The results of the Obami’s handiwork once again suggest that “realism” is not the animating rationale behind their Middle East policy. In their animosity toward Israel and obsession with aligning themselves with the Palestinian bargaining position, the Obami have reinforced the Palestinians’ worst tendencies and convinced Israel (not to mention other nervous allies) that this administration is not to be trusted. In their frenzy to separate the U.S. from Israel and impress their Palestinian clients (who could hardly expect a more sympathetic ear and more overtly sympathetic approach than what this administration is delivering), the Obami have succeeded only in encouraging violence and postponing the hard work Palestinians must do if they are ever to achieve statehood. Perhaps the Obami should stop worrying about the collapse of the proximity talks and start worrying about the intifada their actions are helping to promote.

How’s Obama’s Jerusalem gambit working out? (By the way, note to White House: don’t assail Israel by concocting an international incident centered on Jerusalem, the most emotional symbol of the Jewish people, in the weeks before Pesach — it gets even liberal Jews very riled up.) Well, as anyone who has been following Palestinian rejectionism and victimology for the past few decades anticipated (no, this doesn’t include the Obami), the Palestinians now perceive an opportunity to extract even more concessions from Israel and to gin up the violence:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction on Wednesday called for escalating the “popular struggle” against the security barrier and the settlements in the West Bank. … Veteran members of the Fatah Central Committee, including Nabil Shaath, Mahmoud al-Aloul, Muhammad Dahlan, Hussein al-Sheikh and Jibril Rajoub, said that the decision to escalate popular protests against the security fence and settlements was part of the faction’s political platform

They said the Sixth General Assembly of Fatah, which met last year in Bethlehem for the first time in over 20 years, had endorsed “popular resistance” as a means of confronting Israel’s measures in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

By seizing upon and escalating an issue on which no Israeli government could relent, the Obami have made clear that the “game” here is not compromise or resolution but rather high-pressure tactics directed against the Israeli government. The Obami holler while the PA throws stones. The aim of  both is to squeeze the Netanyahu government to the breaking point and shift the focus away from the Palestinians’ inability to enter into any meaningful peace deal (or, for that matter, even to come face-to-face with their Israel counterparts). The Palestinians now are certain that they can have both violence and a “peace process” in which the administration can be counted on to browbeat the Israelis into providing more concessions:

Shaath, a former PA foreign minister, said that peaceful protests were now a popular demand to confront Israel’s policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

“We need to strengthen and back this option in the face of the Israeli occupation’s policies,” he said. “We can’t return to the negotiations unless Israel halts all settlement construction in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem.”

Shaath urged the US administration to pressure Israel to stop its policy of settlement construction, which, he claimed, jeopardized US interests in the region.

The results of the Obami’s handiwork once again suggest that “realism” is not the animating rationale behind their Middle East policy. In their animosity toward Israel and obsession with aligning themselves with the Palestinian bargaining position, the Obami have reinforced the Palestinians’ worst tendencies and convinced Israel (not to mention other nervous allies) that this administration is not to be trusted. In their frenzy to separate the U.S. from Israel and impress their Palestinian clients (who could hardly expect a more sympathetic ear and more overtly sympathetic approach than what this administration is delivering), the Obami have succeeded only in encouraging violence and postponing the hard work Palestinians must do if they are ever to achieve statehood. Perhaps the Obami should stop worrying about the collapse of the proximity talks and start worrying about the intifada their actions are helping to promote.

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Who’s Anti-Israel Now?

Robert Wright has a very inventive blog item at the New York Times website in which he very audaciously if not very convincingly tries to turn the “anti-Israel” moniker back on those of us who don’t think the Obama administration should be bullying Israel into agreeing to a freeze on all building in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a precondition for negotiating with the Palestinians. Normally you would think it’s pretty simple: if you generally support the policies of the state of Israel, you’re pro-Israel. Not so, says Wright, suggesting a higher sort of support — which would involve opposing the policies not only of the Netanyahu government but also of all its predecessors since 1967 that have treated Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and have allowed construction of housing for both Jews and Arabs within both east and west Jerusalem. He writes:

[T]he more settlements get built — especially in East Jerusalem — the harder it will be to find a two-state deal that leaves Palestinians with much of their dignity intact. And the less dignity intact, the less stable any two-state deal will be. … So, by my lights, being “pro-Israel” in the sense embraced by [Gary] Bauer, [Max] Boot and [Abraham] Foxman — backing Israel’s current policies, including its settlement policies — is actually anti-Israel.

The condescension — and ignorance — implicit in this argument is staggering. Wright suggests that Israel’s elected leaders from all the major parties — all of them united in supporting the construction of housing for Jews at least in traditionally Jewish parts of East Jerusalem — don’t know what’s good for their country. But he does. And anyone who disagrees with him is objectively “anti-Israel.”

Perhaps he could explain why the greatest progress toward a two-state solution was made in the 1990s, when construction continued in the West Bank, and why talks are at a standstill now even though Netanyahu agreed in November to halt all construction in the West Bank (though not in Jerusalem) for 10 months. Perhaps he could explain why Palestinian leaders have repeatedly refused to embrace Israeli offers to turn over almost all the West Bank and even part of Jerusalem in return for a lasting settlement. Or why Israeli concessions such as evacuating the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon have been met with more attacks rather than any lasting peace. But no. The honest answers to those questions might shake his certitude that he knows better than those whose lives are actually on the line about what’s good for them.

Robert Wright has a very inventive blog item at the New York Times website in which he very audaciously if not very convincingly tries to turn the “anti-Israel” moniker back on those of us who don’t think the Obama administration should be bullying Israel into agreeing to a freeze on all building in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a precondition for negotiating with the Palestinians. Normally you would think it’s pretty simple: if you generally support the policies of the state of Israel, you’re pro-Israel. Not so, says Wright, suggesting a higher sort of support — which would involve opposing the policies not only of the Netanyahu government but also of all its predecessors since 1967 that have treated Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and have allowed construction of housing for both Jews and Arabs within both east and west Jerusalem. He writes:

[T]he more settlements get built — especially in East Jerusalem — the harder it will be to find a two-state deal that leaves Palestinians with much of their dignity intact. And the less dignity intact, the less stable any two-state deal will be. … So, by my lights, being “pro-Israel” in the sense embraced by [Gary] Bauer, [Max] Boot and [Abraham] Foxman — backing Israel’s current policies, including its settlement policies — is actually anti-Israel.

The condescension — and ignorance — implicit in this argument is staggering. Wright suggests that Israel’s elected leaders from all the major parties — all of them united in supporting the construction of housing for Jews at least in traditionally Jewish parts of East Jerusalem — don’t know what’s good for their country. But he does. And anyone who disagrees with him is objectively “anti-Israel.”

Perhaps he could explain why the greatest progress toward a two-state solution was made in the 1990s, when construction continued in the West Bank, and why talks are at a standstill now even though Netanyahu agreed in November to halt all construction in the West Bank (though not in Jerusalem) for 10 months. Perhaps he could explain why Palestinian leaders have repeatedly refused to embrace Israeli offers to turn over almost all the West Bank and even part of Jerusalem in return for a lasting settlement. Or why Israeli concessions such as evacuating the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon have been met with more attacks rather than any lasting peace. But no. The honest answers to those questions might shake his certitude that he knows better than those whose lives are actually on the line about what’s good for them.

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Israel Is Not Stopping Obama from Stopping Iran

As the Obama administration begins to back away from its post-Biden-visit ultimatums to Israel about building in Jerusalem, “senior officials” are spinning away the disastrous fight they picked with the Netanyahu government. In Newsweek, Michael Hirsh allows one of these “senior officials” to give readers the “real reason” why Obama flipped out on Israel.

According to Hirsh and his highly placed source, the reason why Obama turned a minor flap about the timing of the announcement of new housing project in Jerusalem wasn’t entirely due to Biden’s injured pride or the motive that Hirsh neglects to mention: the administration’s desire to distance itself from Israel. Rather, says Hirsch and his source, it’s because Obama is terribly worried about Iran and wants Israel to be more supportive of his herculean efforts to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. In their tale, the housing dispute made Obama look weak and will detract from his all-out campaign to enact tough international sanctions on the Islamist regime. Hirsh’s confidante says: “Iran is [Obama’s] No. 1 priority, it’s the No. 2 priority, and it’s the No. 3 priority. Everything we do needs to be seen through the lens of how to stop Iran from getting nuclear capability. So they [Israel] need to keep their focus. Why would you want to do anything now to make the president look less strong or effective?” In this narrative, the slap at Biden proves that Obama cares more about stopping Iran than Netanyahu and the Israelis.

Is he serious? This is an administration that spent its first year in office pursuing appeasement and pointless and unsuccessful engagement with Iran. It was unwilling to issue strong statements condemning Iran’s stolen presidential elections and repression of its own people. The administration issued several deadlines for Iran to respond to its outreach efforts but failed to follow up. It has pointedly taken the threat of force off the table and failed to rally both its allies and other countries to support tough sanctions.  Even now, it is dithering in its efforts to enact sanctions far less than the crippling measures needed to truly impact the regime, which views Obama as a weakling who will never do what it takes to keep Iran out of the nuclear club.

Yet despite all this, we’re supposed to believe that Obama is so desperate to stop Iran that it is his first, second, and third foreign-policy priority? To judge by his actions and statements, Obama’s top worry about the issue is that Israel, the country threatened with destruction by Iran’s Islamist tyrants, will tire of waiting for the United States to take action and do something to avert the peril itself. Despite the occasional promise to make good on his campaign pledge that he would never let Iran get nuclear weapons, everything coming out of Washington in the last year has given Tehran the impression that Obama is prepared to live with an Iranian bomb.

Far from the Israelis diverting attention from the Iran issue, it was Obama who chose to blow the Biden contretemps into an international incident. Israel has been building throughout Jerusalem for over 40 years without generating tension with the United States. It was Obama who made the construction of apartments in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Israel’s capital a cause célèbre. Rather than a strategic blunder on Israel’s part, as Hirsh claims, it was Obama who chose to change the conversation about stopping Iran, preferring instead to discuss a dead-end peace process that interests neither the Palestinians nor their Arab allies.

If Obama lacks credibility on Iran, it’s because everything he has done since he took office shows that he has never been serious about stopping their nuclear program, not because the Israelis won’t be bullied on Jerusalem. Far from being frustrated by Israel’s alleged lack of focus on Iran, the recent dustup spoke volumes about the administration’s own desire to change the subject.

As the Obama administration begins to back away from its post-Biden-visit ultimatums to Israel about building in Jerusalem, “senior officials” are spinning away the disastrous fight they picked with the Netanyahu government. In Newsweek, Michael Hirsh allows one of these “senior officials” to give readers the “real reason” why Obama flipped out on Israel.

According to Hirsh and his highly placed source, the reason why Obama turned a minor flap about the timing of the announcement of new housing project in Jerusalem wasn’t entirely due to Biden’s injured pride or the motive that Hirsh neglects to mention: the administration’s desire to distance itself from Israel. Rather, says Hirsch and his source, it’s because Obama is terribly worried about Iran and wants Israel to be more supportive of his herculean efforts to prevent Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons. In their tale, the housing dispute made Obama look weak and will detract from his all-out campaign to enact tough international sanctions on the Islamist regime. Hirsh’s confidante says: “Iran is [Obama’s] No. 1 priority, it’s the No. 2 priority, and it’s the No. 3 priority. Everything we do needs to be seen through the lens of how to stop Iran from getting nuclear capability. So they [Israel] need to keep their focus. Why would you want to do anything now to make the president look less strong or effective?” In this narrative, the slap at Biden proves that Obama cares more about stopping Iran than Netanyahu and the Israelis.

Is he serious? This is an administration that spent its first year in office pursuing appeasement and pointless and unsuccessful engagement with Iran. It was unwilling to issue strong statements condemning Iran’s stolen presidential elections and repression of its own people. The administration issued several deadlines for Iran to respond to its outreach efforts but failed to follow up. It has pointedly taken the threat of force off the table and failed to rally both its allies and other countries to support tough sanctions.  Even now, it is dithering in its efforts to enact sanctions far less than the crippling measures needed to truly impact the regime, which views Obama as a weakling who will never do what it takes to keep Iran out of the nuclear club.

Yet despite all this, we’re supposed to believe that Obama is so desperate to stop Iran that it is his first, second, and third foreign-policy priority? To judge by his actions and statements, Obama’s top worry about the issue is that Israel, the country threatened with destruction by Iran’s Islamist tyrants, will tire of waiting for the United States to take action and do something to avert the peril itself. Despite the occasional promise to make good on his campaign pledge that he would never let Iran get nuclear weapons, everything coming out of Washington in the last year has given Tehran the impression that Obama is prepared to live with an Iranian bomb.

Far from the Israelis diverting attention from the Iran issue, it was Obama who chose to blow the Biden contretemps into an international incident. Israel has been building throughout Jerusalem for over 40 years without generating tension with the United States. It was Obama who made the construction of apartments in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Israel’s capital a cause célèbre. Rather than a strategic blunder on Israel’s part, as Hirsh claims, it was Obama who chose to change the conversation about stopping Iran, preferring instead to discuss a dead-end peace process that interests neither the Palestinians nor their Arab allies.

If Obama lacks credibility on Iran, it’s because everything he has done since he took office shows that he has never been serious about stopping their nuclear program, not because the Israelis won’t be bullied on Jerusalem. Far from being frustrated by Israel’s alleged lack of focus on Iran, the recent dustup spoke volumes about the administration’s own desire to change the subject.

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Feisty Dershowitz Attacks the Wrong Target

According to Haaretz, the schmoozing is getting a little rough at the AIPAC conference. The Israeli paper says that Harvard Law’s Alan Dershowitz barged into a conversation between one of their reporters and Hadar Susskind, a representative of J Street, and then tore into the left-wing group. The Dersh, a liberal stalwart whose credentials as a partisan Democrat and a strong supporter of Israel cannot be questioned, pulled no punches but rather charged the group with false labeling in calling itself “pro-Israel” and accused it of dividing the Jewish community.

“I reject J Street because it spends more time criticizing Israel than supporting it,” he said. “They shouldn’t call themselves pro-Israel. The combative Harvard law professor said that he too opposed settlements. “But I spend 80 per cent of my time supporting Israel,” he said. … The sort of supporters J Street was attracting to its conferences showed that the group was damaging to Israel, Dershowitz said. “If you invite Zbigniew Brzezinski you are not pro-Israel,” Dershowitz told Susskind. “You should ask yourself why Norman Finkelstein loves you,” he said.

Claus von Bulow’s former appeals attorney is, of course, right on all counts here. J Street isn’t merely an exercise in pro-Israel political diversity, as it claims. It spends more time bashing Israel than backing it because it was created specifically to create a counter-force to AIPAC that would push for pressure on the Jewish state. But the Dersh’s fury at J Street is misplaced. The question pro-Israel activists must ask is why he or they should bother wasting their time swinging away at J Street when the group is now merely a stalking horse for the real problem: the Obama administration.

J Street is, after all, nothing more than a Jewish rump of MoveOn.org and the leftist activist wing of the Democratic Party. It came into existence to give Jewish cover to members of Congress who wished to oppose the pro-Israel consensus. But now its main purpose is to give aid and comfort to an Obama administration that is determined to distance itself from Israel and to pressure it into concessions on issues — such as Jerusalem — on which an Israeli and American pro-Israel consensus is firmly behind the Netanyahu government. Dershowitz has expressed misgivings in the past about Obama’s policies but has refused to break with the president. But at this point it’s fair to ask Professor Dershowitz whether it isn’t it a bit unfair to smack J Street around when they’re only loyally carrying the water for the man whom he helped elect president and continues to support?

In 2008, Dershowitz argued that not only were Obama’s pro-Israel credentials impeccable but that it would be a boon to Israel to have a liberal president who backed the Jewish state. That was because he thought that having a liberal icon like Obama who supported Israel in the White House would convince young people and others on the Left that it was okay for them to do the same. But the opposite has happened. The pointless fights that Obama has picked with Israel (while he continues to dither on the threat from Iran) have helped to further discredit Israel among liberals and Democrats while J Street disingenuously stamps his policies “pro-Israel.”

But while he is prepared to get tough with Obama’s J Street spear-carriers, the redoubtable Professor Dershowitz is still unwilling to take on their inspirational leader in the White House. Slashing away at J Street’s stands is nice but if you’re going to keep giving Obama a pass for policies that put the left-wing lobby’s misguided principles into action, you’re wasting everybody’s time. The next time Dershowitz feels the urge to belabor Susskind and the rest of the J Street crowd, he should instead focus his anger on the real offender: Barack Obama.

According to Haaretz, the schmoozing is getting a little rough at the AIPAC conference. The Israeli paper says that Harvard Law’s Alan Dershowitz barged into a conversation between one of their reporters and Hadar Susskind, a representative of J Street, and then tore into the left-wing group. The Dersh, a liberal stalwart whose credentials as a partisan Democrat and a strong supporter of Israel cannot be questioned, pulled no punches but rather charged the group with false labeling in calling itself “pro-Israel” and accused it of dividing the Jewish community.

“I reject J Street because it spends more time criticizing Israel than supporting it,” he said. “They shouldn’t call themselves pro-Israel. The combative Harvard law professor said that he too opposed settlements. “But I spend 80 per cent of my time supporting Israel,” he said. … The sort of supporters J Street was attracting to its conferences showed that the group was damaging to Israel, Dershowitz said. “If you invite Zbigniew Brzezinski you are not pro-Israel,” Dershowitz told Susskind. “You should ask yourself why Norman Finkelstein loves you,” he said.

Claus von Bulow’s former appeals attorney is, of course, right on all counts here. J Street isn’t merely an exercise in pro-Israel political diversity, as it claims. It spends more time bashing Israel than backing it because it was created specifically to create a counter-force to AIPAC that would push for pressure on the Jewish state. But the Dersh’s fury at J Street is misplaced. The question pro-Israel activists must ask is why he or they should bother wasting their time swinging away at J Street when the group is now merely a stalking horse for the real problem: the Obama administration.

J Street is, after all, nothing more than a Jewish rump of MoveOn.org and the leftist activist wing of the Democratic Party. It came into existence to give Jewish cover to members of Congress who wished to oppose the pro-Israel consensus. But now its main purpose is to give aid and comfort to an Obama administration that is determined to distance itself from Israel and to pressure it into concessions on issues — such as Jerusalem — on which an Israeli and American pro-Israel consensus is firmly behind the Netanyahu government. Dershowitz has expressed misgivings in the past about Obama’s policies but has refused to break with the president. But at this point it’s fair to ask Professor Dershowitz whether it isn’t it a bit unfair to smack J Street around when they’re only loyally carrying the water for the man whom he helped elect president and continues to support?

In 2008, Dershowitz argued that not only were Obama’s pro-Israel credentials impeccable but that it would be a boon to Israel to have a liberal president who backed the Jewish state. That was because he thought that having a liberal icon like Obama who supported Israel in the White House would convince young people and others on the Left that it was okay for them to do the same. But the opposite has happened. The pointless fights that Obama has picked with Israel (while he continues to dither on the threat from Iran) have helped to further discredit Israel among liberals and Democrats while J Street disingenuously stamps his policies “pro-Israel.”

But while he is prepared to get tough with Obama’s J Street spear-carriers, the redoubtable Professor Dershowitz is still unwilling to take on their inspirational leader in the White House. Slashing away at J Street’s stands is nice but if you’re going to keep giving Obama a pass for policies that put the left-wing lobby’s misguided principles into action, you’re wasting everybody’s time. The next time Dershowitz feels the urge to belabor Susskind and the rest of the J Street crowd, he should instead focus his anger on the real offender: Barack Obama.

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Will They Still Stick with Obama?

Last summer, Alan Dershowitz wrote a defense of Barack Obama’s policy toward Israel and, by extension, of the numerous Jewish Democrats who had supported the president’s election and stuck by him despite a rocky first few months in office. Reacting to what he acknowledged was a “harsher approach toward Israel” than had been displayed during his campaign, Dershowitz insisted that despite disputes over settlements and engagement with Iran, the new administration was still solid on what was really important: safeguarding Israel’s security.

But as I wrote at the time, rather than encouraging the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab world to finally make peace with Israel, Obama’s decision to distance  himself from Israel and downgrade America’s alliance with the Jewish state encouraged its foes to dig in their heels and to wait for more American pressure. By picking a needless fight with Israel over settlements and expanding a longstanding disagreement over Jewish settlement in the West Bank into one about the right of Jews to build in Jerusalem, Obama changed the dynamic of the relationship with Israel into one characterized by distrust rather than friendship.

Yet by the start of Obama’s second year in office, the situation appeared brighter. The contempt with which Iran had treated his outstretched hand had appeared to sober Obama up about engagement. Having failed in an effort to topple the newly elected government of Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009 and been disappointed by the Palestinians’ refusal to talk peace, the president seemed to have finally grasped the limitations on his power to remake Middle East.

But such optimism was dashed this past week as Washington seized on a poorly timed announcement of a housing project in Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden to set off a major confrontation with the Netanyahu government. By choosing to turn a minor gaffe into a major incident while ignoring far worse Palestinian provocations, and specifically attempting to muscle Israel into a pledge to stop building in East Jerusalem — something no previous administration had ever done — Obama showed that brutal pressure on Israel remained high on his agenda. Having already reneged on previous pledges of American support for Israel’s holding on to parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem, the president is doubling down on his drive to bludgeon the Jewish state into further concessions without any hope of reciprocation from the Palestinians. Washington has placed the onus for the certain failure of peace talks on Netanyahu rather than on a Palestinian leadership that has no intention of signing any agreement no matter what it says. And by responding more forcefully to a minor dispute with its ally Israel than to the endless atrocities and provocations committed by the Islamist regime in Tehran, Obama has sent a clear signal that no one need take his pledge to stop Iran’s nuclear program seriously.

That raises the question of what Obama’s Jewish supporters have to say now. While Dershowitz and other Jewish Democrats may still claim that statements by Secretary of State Clinton and other officials of America’s resolve to stand by Israel reflect the real nature of the relationship, the latest round of bitter and pointless controversy over Jerusalem orchestrated by Obama must leave even the most ardent fans of the president wondering.

Some on the Jewish Left, like the J Street lobby, are happy to see the administration bashing Netanyahu, because they hope American pressure can reverse the outcome of the last election, in which Israel’s left-wing parties crashed and burned. But while the majority of American Jews may not be particularly fond of Netanyahu or supportive of West Bank settlers, they, like the vast majority of Israelis, do not wish to see Jerusalem divided. Nor do they believe that Israel needs to be saved from itself. Like most Americans, they understand that the Palestinians, both the moderates of Fatah and the extremists of Hamas who rule Gaza, are the real obstacles to peace, not a democratically elected government of Israel.

Two years ago, Obama wooed American Jews at an AIPAC conference by pledging his devotion to the alliance with Israel. As AIPAC begins its annual conference this week, the distance that Obama’s administration has traveled from those pledges will be hard to ignore.

Last summer, Alan Dershowitz wrote a defense of Barack Obama’s policy toward Israel and, by extension, of the numerous Jewish Democrats who had supported the president’s election and stuck by him despite a rocky first few months in office. Reacting to what he acknowledged was a “harsher approach toward Israel” than had been displayed during his campaign, Dershowitz insisted that despite disputes over settlements and engagement with Iran, the new administration was still solid on what was really important: safeguarding Israel’s security.

But as I wrote at the time, rather than encouraging the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab world to finally make peace with Israel, Obama’s decision to distance  himself from Israel and downgrade America’s alliance with the Jewish state encouraged its foes to dig in their heels and to wait for more American pressure. By picking a needless fight with Israel over settlements and expanding a longstanding disagreement over Jewish settlement in the West Bank into one about the right of Jews to build in Jerusalem, Obama changed the dynamic of the relationship with Israel into one characterized by distrust rather than friendship.

Yet by the start of Obama’s second year in office, the situation appeared brighter. The contempt with which Iran had treated his outstretched hand had appeared to sober Obama up about engagement. Having failed in an effort to topple the newly elected government of Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009 and been disappointed by the Palestinians’ refusal to talk peace, the president seemed to have finally grasped the limitations on his power to remake Middle East.

But such optimism was dashed this past week as Washington seized on a poorly timed announcement of a housing project in Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden to set off a major confrontation with the Netanyahu government. By choosing to turn a minor gaffe into a major incident while ignoring far worse Palestinian provocations, and specifically attempting to muscle Israel into a pledge to stop building in East Jerusalem — something no previous administration had ever done — Obama showed that brutal pressure on Israel remained high on his agenda. Having already reneged on previous pledges of American support for Israel’s holding on to parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem, the president is doubling down on his drive to bludgeon the Jewish state into further concessions without any hope of reciprocation from the Palestinians. Washington has placed the onus for the certain failure of peace talks on Netanyahu rather than on a Palestinian leadership that has no intention of signing any agreement no matter what it says. And by responding more forcefully to a minor dispute with its ally Israel than to the endless atrocities and provocations committed by the Islamist regime in Tehran, Obama has sent a clear signal that no one need take his pledge to stop Iran’s nuclear program seriously.

That raises the question of what Obama’s Jewish supporters have to say now. While Dershowitz and other Jewish Democrats may still claim that statements by Secretary of State Clinton and other officials of America’s resolve to stand by Israel reflect the real nature of the relationship, the latest round of bitter and pointless controversy over Jerusalem orchestrated by Obama must leave even the most ardent fans of the president wondering.

Some on the Jewish Left, like the J Street lobby, are happy to see the administration bashing Netanyahu, because they hope American pressure can reverse the outcome of the last election, in which Israel’s left-wing parties crashed and burned. But while the majority of American Jews may not be particularly fond of Netanyahu or supportive of West Bank settlers, they, like the vast majority of Israelis, do not wish to see Jerusalem divided. Nor do they believe that Israel needs to be saved from itself. Like most Americans, they understand that the Palestinians, both the moderates of Fatah and the extremists of Hamas who rule Gaza, are the real obstacles to peace, not a democratically elected government of Israel.

Two years ago, Obama wooed American Jews at an AIPAC conference by pledging his devotion to the alliance with Israel. As AIPAC begins its annual conference this week, the distance that Obama’s administration has traveled from those pledges will be hard to ignore.

Read Less




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