Commentary Magazine


Topic: Netanyahu government

Weathering the Storm

As we dig deeper into the flap over Jerusalem housing activity, it is worth revisiting a central question: who blindsided whom here?

Hillel Halkin argues that four months ago, the U.S. and Israel had a deal: “Israel reluctantly agreed to suspend all new construction in the West Bank for nearly a year, and the U.S. reluctantly accepted Israel’s refusal to do the same in Jerusalem. … On that basis, the Netanyahu government declared a West Bank freeze and began to enforce it, despite the anger this caused on the pro-settlement Israeli Right from which many of Mr. Netanyahu’s voters come. Now, America has reneged on its word. Using the Ramat Shlomo incident as a pretext, it is demanding once again, as if an agreement had never been reached, that Israel cease all construction in ‘Arab’ Jerusalem.”

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush, concurs:

The United States and Israel have long had different views of the settlements, but the issue has been managed without a crisis for decades. In the Bush administration, a deal was struck whereby the United States would not protest construction inside existing settlements so long as they did not expand outward. The current crisis, ostensibly about construction in Jerusalem, was manufactured by the Obama administration–and as it is about Jerusalem, isn’t even about activity in the settlements.

Every Israeli government since 1967, of left or right, has asserted that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and has allowed Israeli Jews to build there. … To escalate that announcement into a crisis in bilateral relations and “condemn” it–using a verb we apply to acts of murder and terror, not acts of housing construction–was a decision by the U.S. government, not a natural or inevitable occurrence.

And Dan Senor adds this:

[T]he Obama administration’s decision to “condemn” this mistake was a much larger blunder. The problem is not this particular flap, which will pass, but the underlying misunderstanding that our government’s outburst reflects. Vice President Biden himself said in Israel that the peace process is best served when there is no “daylight” between the United States and Israel. He was right, but he broke his own rule. The word “condemn”–which has only been used by the United States against Iran, North Korea, and egregious human rights violations–created precisely such daylight. The result was predictable: The Arab League immediately announced that it was reconsidering its support for Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.

So to return to the query: was it the administration that was blindsided — insulted, even! — by a midlevel bureaucratic snafu, or was the Israeli government blindsided by the screeching from the administration, which had no basis to believe there had been any commitment to halt housing development in Jerusalem?  It seems the latter is more likely.

And then there remains the issue of “perspective” — which the nervy Obami implored us all to find as their handiwork was met with a firestorm of protest. We should consider perspective in two ways: how big a deal the housing announcement is and what the incident tells us about the Obami’s own perspective on the Middle East. As for the former, the Obami’s indignation was grossly disproportionate to the matter at hand and was trumpeted most likely for the express purpose of ingratiating Obama with the Palestinians and “preserving” the “peace process.” (Didn’t work out that way, as Senor pointed out.) But the Obami’s perspective — and lack of foresight — is the more troubling of the two sorts of perspective. It should tell Israel and its supporters precisely the challenge they face: how can the U.S.-Israeli relationship weather the Obama administration? We can only hope that the justified outrage that members of Congress and the American Jewish community demonstrated — waking from its slumber — will serve to temper the Obami’s conduct, and in turn help preserve the U.S.-Israeli relationship until cooler heads and warmer hearts occupy the White House.

As we dig deeper into the flap over Jerusalem housing activity, it is worth revisiting a central question: who blindsided whom here?

Hillel Halkin argues that four months ago, the U.S. and Israel had a deal: “Israel reluctantly agreed to suspend all new construction in the West Bank for nearly a year, and the U.S. reluctantly accepted Israel’s refusal to do the same in Jerusalem. … On that basis, the Netanyahu government declared a West Bank freeze and began to enforce it, despite the anger this caused on the pro-settlement Israeli Right from which many of Mr. Netanyahu’s voters come. Now, America has reneged on its word. Using the Ramat Shlomo incident as a pretext, it is demanding once again, as if an agreement had never been reached, that Israel cease all construction in ‘Arab’ Jerusalem.”

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush, concurs:

The United States and Israel have long had different views of the settlements, but the issue has been managed without a crisis for decades. In the Bush administration, a deal was struck whereby the United States would not protest construction inside existing settlements so long as they did not expand outward. The current crisis, ostensibly about construction in Jerusalem, was manufactured by the Obama administration–and as it is about Jerusalem, isn’t even about activity in the settlements.

Every Israeli government since 1967, of left or right, has asserted that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and has allowed Israeli Jews to build there. … To escalate that announcement into a crisis in bilateral relations and “condemn” it–using a verb we apply to acts of murder and terror, not acts of housing construction–was a decision by the U.S. government, not a natural or inevitable occurrence.

And Dan Senor adds this:

[T]he Obama administration’s decision to “condemn” this mistake was a much larger blunder. The problem is not this particular flap, which will pass, but the underlying misunderstanding that our government’s outburst reflects. Vice President Biden himself said in Israel that the peace process is best served when there is no “daylight” between the United States and Israel. He was right, but he broke his own rule. The word “condemn”–which has only been used by the United States against Iran, North Korea, and egregious human rights violations–created precisely such daylight. The result was predictable: The Arab League immediately announced that it was reconsidering its support for Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.

So to return to the query: was it the administration that was blindsided — insulted, even! — by a midlevel bureaucratic snafu, or was the Israeli government blindsided by the screeching from the administration, which had no basis to believe there had been any commitment to halt housing development in Jerusalem?  It seems the latter is more likely.

And then there remains the issue of “perspective” — which the nervy Obami implored us all to find as their handiwork was met with a firestorm of protest. We should consider perspective in two ways: how big a deal the housing announcement is and what the incident tells us about the Obami’s own perspective on the Middle East. As for the former, the Obami’s indignation was grossly disproportionate to the matter at hand and was trumpeted most likely for the express purpose of ingratiating Obama with the Palestinians and “preserving” the “peace process.” (Didn’t work out that way, as Senor pointed out.) But the Obami’s perspective — and lack of foresight — is the more troubling of the two sorts of perspective. It should tell Israel and its supporters precisely the challenge they face: how can the U.S.-Israeli relationship weather the Obama administration? We can only hope that the justified outrage that members of Congress and the American Jewish community demonstrated — waking from its slumber — will serve to temper the Obami’s conduct, and in turn help preserve the U.S.-Israeli relationship until cooler heads and warmer hearts occupy the White House.

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Fomenting a Crisis Was Obama’s Choice, Not Israel’s

You can’t get any more establishment than Leslie Gelb. The former New York Times columnist worked in the Johnson and Carter administrations and is now the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Yet having a lifetime of heavy-duty policy experience is not the same thing as actually understanding what’s going on. The reaction of this quintessential foreign-policy “wise man” to the current dustup between Israel and the United States betrays his confusion.

In his Daily Beast column, Gelb bemoans the loss of American prestige because of the perceived insult to Vice President Biden via an ill-timed announcement of a Jerusalem housing project. In doing so, he foolishly buys into the notion that the publicity given the incident will undermine the ability of the United States to exercise influence over other potential crises.

But the world is not going berserk over this confrontation because of its intrinsic importance. The administration had already accepted, albeit reluctantly, the fact that no building freeze would be accepted by Israel inside its own capital. Indeed, no previous American administration has ever made an issue about building in the existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This dispute was not the result of worry about the loss of U.S. influence but a conscious decision by the Obama administration to pick a fight with the Israeli government.

Moreover, Gelb’s assertion that these Jerusalem apartments are a deliberate attempt by Israeli right-wingers to sabotage peace talks with the Palestinians is a joke. Those talks, in which the Palestinians wouldn’t even deign to sit next to their Israeli counterparts, never had a chance of success. Having rejected Israel’s offer of an independent state in the West Bank, as well as a share of Jerusalem in 2008 (as they had previously rejected one in 2000), the Palestinian Authority is no more likely to sign on to any deal today, no matter where Israel’s borders are placed or how many concessions are forced upon the Israelis by Obama.

Even more delusional is Gelb’s idea that Israel’s actions, and its rightful refusal to rescind the housing project and thus accept the principle that Jews may not build in Jerusalem, will harm America’s efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The truth is quite the opposite. The Obama administration’s decision to blow a minor event into a major international incident is evidence of their desire to shift the world’s focus away from Iran and onto the Netanyahu government. As his year of failed engagement showed, Obama never had any real interest in taking action on Iran, and there is little chance that Washington’s lukewarm push for sanctions on Tehran will ever succeed. Hyping Israel’s insult into a watershed moment not only shifted the conversation from Iran’s Islamist regime onto Netanyahu, it gives Obama a ready excuse for his failure to make good on a promise to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear status.

Contrary to Gelb, the dangerous decisions that may well determine the course of American foreign policy in the coming decade are not being made by obstreperous Israelis, who are, he claims, blind to their country’s best interest. Instead, the great foreign-policy blunder of 2010 — the decision to employ American pressure against Israel instead of Iran  — is the result of a deliberate choice by the Obama administration. It’s too bad that a “wise man” like Gelb is encouraging the fools in Washington rather than alerting them to their folly.

You can’t get any more establishment than Leslie Gelb. The former New York Times columnist worked in the Johnson and Carter administrations and is now the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Yet having a lifetime of heavy-duty policy experience is not the same thing as actually understanding what’s going on. The reaction of this quintessential foreign-policy “wise man” to the current dustup between Israel and the United States betrays his confusion.

In his Daily Beast column, Gelb bemoans the loss of American prestige because of the perceived insult to Vice President Biden via an ill-timed announcement of a Jerusalem housing project. In doing so, he foolishly buys into the notion that the publicity given the incident will undermine the ability of the United States to exercise influence over other potential crises.

But the world is not going berserk over this confrontation because of its intrinsic importance. The administration had already accepted, albeit reluctantly, the fact that no building freeze would be accepted by Israel inside its own capital. Indeed, no previous American administration has ever made an issue about building in the existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This dispute was not the result of worry about the loss of U.S. influence but a conscious decision by the Obama administration to pick a fight with the Israeli government.

Moreover, Gelb’s assertion that these Jerusalem apartments are a deliberate attempt by Israeli right-wingers to sabotage peace talks with the Palestinians is a joke. Those talks, in which the Palestinians wouldn’t even deign to sit next to their Israeli counterparts, never had a chance of success. Having rejected Israel’s offer of an independent state in the West Bank, as well as a share of Jerusalem in 2008 (as they had previously rejected one in 2000), the Palestinian Authority is no more likely to sign on to any deal today, no matter where Israel’s borders are placed or how many concessions are forced upon the Israelis by Obama.

Even more delusional is Gelb’s idea that Israel’s actions, and its rightful refusal to rescind the housing project and thus accept the principle that Jews may not build in Jerusalem, will harm America’s efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The truth is quite the opposite. The Obama administration’s decision to blow a minor event into a major international incident is evidence of their desire to shift the world’s focus away from Iran and onto the Netanyahu government. As his year of failed engagement showed, Obama never had any real interest in taking action on Iran, and there is little chance that Washington’s lukewarm push for sanctions on Tehran will ever succeed. Hyping Israel’s insult into a watershed moment not only shifted the conversation from Iran’s Islamist regime onto Netanyahu, it gives Obama a ready excuse for his failure to make good on a promise to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear status.

Contrary to Gelb, the dangerous decisions that may well determine the course of American foreign policy in the coming decade are not being made by obstreperous Israelis, who are, he claims, blind to their country’s best interest. Instead, the great foreign-policy blunder of 2010 — the decision to employ American pressure against Israel instead of Iran  — is the result of a deliberate choice by the Obama administration. It’s too bad that a “wise man” like Gelb is encouraging the fools in Washington rather than alerting them to their folly.

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How Many Lives Is Biden’s Pride Worth?

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

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Opposition to Obama’s Tactics Builds

Christians United for Israel is not usually in the business of issuing press releases. But these are no ordinary times. In a written statement, the group declares that it is “deeply concerned about the Obama Administration’s escalating rhetoric,” and continues:

CUFI concurs with statements made by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and other Israeli leaders that this announcement was ill-timed.  And CUFI notes repeated press reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu neither knew about this announcement in advance nor hesitated to apologize for it after the fact.

We are therefore surprised that the Administration has chosen to continue to escalate a conflict with one of our closest allies that could have been quickly resolved.

Timing aside, the fact remains that the Israeli policy behind this announcement — to continue building in existing Jewish neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem — is not new.  When it comes to Israel’s bargaining position, nothing has changed.  It is therefore difficult to understand why this long-standing disagreement over policy — which has never been a barrier to negotiations with the Palestinians– is now the source of such tension with the US.

We remind the Administration that Israel has been a committed partner for peace and has taken repeated risks for peace in recent years.  We further note that the Netanyahu government has made important gestures to the Palestinians, including an unprecedented 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement construction and repeated calls for the resumption of direct negotiations.  The Palestinians, on the other hand, continue to refuse direct negotiations.

So the  ADL and CUFI, Steve Israel and Eric Cantor, and a host of other organizations and politicians along the political spectrum are telling the Obami: bullying Israel will garner no support and quite a lot of domestic opposition. The administration may not be pro-Israel in any meaningful way, but clearly Americans are.

Christians United for Israel is not usually in the business of issuing press releases. But these are no ordinary times. In a written statement, the group declares that it is “deeply concerned about the Obama Administration’s escalating rhetoric,” and continues:

CUFI concurs with statements made by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and other Israeli leaders that this announcement was ill-timed.  And CUFI notes repeated press reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu neither knew about this announcement in advance nor hesitated to apologize for it after the fact.

We are therefore surprised that the Administration has chosen to continue to escalate a conflict with one of our closest allies that could have been quickly resolved.

Timing aside, the fact remains that the Israeli policy behind this announcement — to continue building in existing Jewish neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem — is not new.  When it comes to Israel’s bargaining position, nothing has changed.  It is therefore difficult to understand why this long-standing disagreement over policy — which has never been a barrier to negotiations with the Palestinians– is now the source of such tension with the US.

We remind the Administration that Israel has been a committed partner for peace and has taken repeated risks for peace in recent years.  We further note that the Netanyahu government has made important gestures to the Palestinians, including an unprecedented 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement construction and repeated calls for the resumption of direct negotiations.  The Palestinians, on the other hand, continue to refuse direct negotiations.

So the  ADL and CUFI, Steve Israel and Eric Cantor, and a host of other organizations and politicians along the political spectrum are telling the Obami: bullying Israel will garner no support and quite a lot of domestic opposition. The administration may not be pro-Israel in any meaningful way, but clearly Americans are.

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Palestinians Take the Measure Of Obama

Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

The Hurva Synagogue, which is in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, has been rebuilt and has been rededicated, and in response, Hamas has called for a “day of rage.” Why? I don’t know why. The Hurva Synagogue does not sit atop the Temple Mount; it’s not near the Temple Mount. Rumors that the rebuilding has affected the Temple Mount are being spread by people who want to create violence and death in the holy city.

But alas, Goldberg knows full well why Hamas is calling for violence and death: “The Hurva holds special meaning for Jews because it was destroyed in 1948 by the Arab Legion, which went on to expel the Jews from the Old City. The fact that Hamas — and even some in Fatah — are protesting this rededication means that we might still be at square one, which is to say, where Arafat was in 2000, when he denied the historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem.”  He warns that “this is about denying the right of Judaism to exist in its holiest city.”

Hmm, now where could the Palestinians have gotten the notion that they could engage in such behavior with impunity? Why do we suppose they haven’t a fear in the world that they might lose the adoring glances of the Obami and the security of “proximity talks,” whereby they avoid, as the Netanyahu government has offered, direct negotiations? Well it might have something to do with the perception that “Israel’s last line of defense against false claims and promises — the United States — has made itself indistinguishable from the United Nations and Amnesty International and all the other NGOs and religious denominations that have declared a virtual war against the Jewish state.”

Oh, but as Goldberg would explain, Hurva is completely different from an apartment complex! Oh really? Well, the housing complex at the center of the storm is not one that even Yasir Arafat would have made a claim for (before he revealed negotiations to be a sham and returned to the business of killing Jews). Who can say that the Palestinians have misread the situation? On the contrary, they can spot daylight when they see it. The State Department’s spokesman offered some tepid criticism of the Palestinians’ call to violence:

I would say that we also have some concerns today about the tensions regarding the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. And we are urging all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to remain calm. We’re deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions that we see. And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement.

But there was no “condemnation.” That kind of language and bully-boy tactics are reserved, of course, for Israel. The Palestinians may not be interested in peace, but they aren’t fools. They’ve figured out what’s fair game in the Obama era.

Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

The Hurva Synagogue, which is in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, has been rebuilt and has been rededicated, and in response, Hamas has called for a “day of rage.” Why? I don’t know why. The Hurva Synagogue does not sit atop the Temple Mount; it’s not near the Temple Mount. Rumors that the rebuilding has affected the Temple Mount are being spread by people who want to create violence and death in the holy city.

But alas, Goldberg knows full well why Hamas is calling for violence and death: “The Hurva holds special meaning for Jews because it was destroyed in 1948 by the Arab Legion, which went on to expel the Jews from the Old City. The fact that Hamas — and even some in Fatah — are protesting this rededication means that we might still be at square one, which is to say, where Arafat was in 2000, when he denied the historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem.”  He warns that “this is about denying the right of Judaism to exist in its holiest city.”

Hmm, now where could the Palestinians have gotten the notion that they could engage in such behavior with impunity? Why do we suppose they haven’t a fear in the world that they might lose the adoring glances of the Obami and the security of “proximity talks,” whereby they avoid, as the Netanyahu government has offered, direct negotiations? Well it might have something to do with the perception that “Israel’s last line of defense against false claims and promises — the United States — has made itself indistinguishable from the United Nations and Amnesty International and all the other NGOs and religious denominations that have declared a virtual war against the Jewish state.”

Oh, but as Goldberg would explain, Hurva is completely different from an apartment complex! Oh really? Well, the housing complex at the center of the storm is not one that even Yasir Arafat would have made a claim for (before he revealed negotiations to be a sham and returned to the business of killing Jews). Who can say that the Palestinians have misread the situation? On the contrary, they can spot daylight when they see it. The State Department’s spokesman offered some tepid criticism of the Palestinians’ call to violence:

I would say that we also have some concerns today about the tensions regarding the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. And we are urging all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to remain calm. We’re deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions that we see. And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement.

But there was no “condemnation.” That kind of language and bully-boy tactics are reserved, of course, for Israel. The Palestinians may not be interested in peace, but they aren’t fools. They’ve figured out what’s fair game in the Obama era.

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Year Two of Obama Means More of the Same Hostility on Israel

According to the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, convened his nation’s consuls in the country for an emergency briefing and told them that last week’s dispute, which began with the announcement of new apartments being built in East Jerusalem, has become the “worst crisis” between Israel and the U.S. since 1975.

Given the escalation of American attacks on Israel’s government from a variety of sources in the last few days, it’s hard to argue with Oren’s analysis. Israel was in the wrong to have let such an announcement be made while Biden was in the country, but the escalation of the incident from a minor kerfuffle to a genuine crisis seems to be a conscious decision on the part of the administration. After all, had Obama wanted to be truly even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians, he could have treated the Palestinian decision to honor a mass murderer during Biden’s visit as being every bit as insulting as the building of apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood.

Others have already started to dissect the administration’s motivation. As John wrote, pique and a lack of caring about the consequences play a big role in this crisis. The willingness to push back so disproportionately against Israel, to single it out for opprobrium in a way not customary to this administration even in its treatment of open foes (think back to Obama’s equivocal reaction to the stolen election and repression of dissent in Iran last summer) should also force friends of the Jewish state to return to a question that was much discussed last summer: Why has Obama decided to downgrade relations with Israel?

In 2009, relations between Israel and the United States were primarily characterized by a ginned-up dispute about settlement construction. Not only did Washington choose to make more of an issue about settlements than previous administrations had, it also escalated the problem by specifically rejecting past agreements with Israel regarding construction in those places which the U.S. had acknowledged that Israel would keep even in the event of a far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. Even more troubling for the Israelis was a demand that construction of Jewish homes be halted in Jerusalem.

Though eventually, the Netanyahu government would give way and accept a temporary settlement freeze in the West Bank, it stood its ground on Jerusalem and won. By the end of the year, it appeared as though Obama had understood that his decision to test the Israelis was a failure. The hope that some in the White House had harbored about using their influence to topple the Netanyahu government had been unrealistic. Challenging Netanyahu on Jerusalem had strengthened his popularity. Distancing themselves from Israel had also not gotten the Palestinians to budge on making peace. Nor had it won the United States any extra goodwill in the Muslim world. It had just raised unreasonable expectations about Obama delivering Israel to them on a silver platter while motivating no one to greater efforts to cope with a real threat to both the United States and Israel: Iran’s nuclear program.

By the time of Biden’s visit last week, it had appeared that the administration had learned its lesson and was no longer placing any faith in the idea that pressure on Israel would do anyone any good. But the way they have gone off the deep end about an issue that was supposedly resolved last year makes you wonder how much Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have learned from their first year in office. Specifically, have they decided that this is an opportunity to make another push to get rid of Netanyahu by leveraging the dismay that Israelis feel about last week’s blunder?

The administration’s dispute with Netanyahu and with the mainstream pro-Israel community, which continues to support Israel’s democratically-elected government (as demonstrated by the statements from the Anti-Defamation League and the AIPAC condemning Obama’s overreaction), was never so much about boosting the non-existent chances for peace with the Palestinians as it was about changing the relationship between the two countries from one of close friendship to a more adversarial one. Hillary Clinton’s reported demands for more pointless Israeli concessions and the prospects for another year of non-action on Iranian nukes leave us with the same question we were asking a few months ago: When will Obama’s Jewish supporters face up to the fact that the man in the White House is no friend to the Jewish state?

According to the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, convened his nation’s consuls in the country for an emergency briefing and told them that last week’s dispute, which began with the announcement of new apartments being built in East Jerusalem, has become the “worst crisis” between Israel and the U.S. since 1975.

Given the escalation of American attacks on Israel’s government from a variety of sources in the last few days, it’s hard to argue with Oren’s analysis. Israel was in the wrong to have let such an announcement be made while Biden was in the country, but the escalation of the incident from a minor kerfuffle to a genuine crisis seems to be a conscious decision on the part of the administration. After all, had Obama wanted to be truly even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians, he could have treated the Palestinian decision to honor a mass murderer during Biden’s visit as being every bit as insulting as the building of apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood.

Others have already started to dissect the administration’s motivation. As John wrote, pique and a lack of caring about the consequences play a big role in this crisis. The willingness to push back so disproportionately against Israel, to single it out for opprobrium in a way not customary to this administration even in its treatment of open foes (think back to Obama’s equivocal reaction to the stolen election and repression of dissent in Iran last summer) should also force friends of the Jewish state to return to a question that was much discussed last summer: Why has Obama decided to downgrade relations with Israel?

In 2009, relations between Israel and the United States were primarily characterized by a ginned-up dispute about settlement construction. Not only did Washington choose to make more of an issue about settlements than previous administrations had, it also escalated the problem by specifically rejecting past agreements with Israel regarding construction in those places which the U.S. had acknowledged that Israel would keep even in the event of a far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. Even more troubling for the Israelis was a demand that construction of Jewish homes be halted in Jerusalem.

Though eventually, the Netanyahu government would give way and accept a temporary settlement freeze in the West Bank, it stood its ground on Jerusalem and won. By the end of the year, it appeared as though Obama had understood that his decision to test the Israelis was a failure. The hope that some in the White House had harbored about using their influence to topple the Netanyahu government had been unrealistic. Challenging Netanyahu on Jerusalem had strengthened his popularity. Distancing themselves from Israel had also not gotten the Palestinians to budge on making peace. Nor had it won the United States any extra goodwill in the Muslim world. It had just raised unreasonable expectations about Obama delivering Israel to them on a silver platter while motivating no one to greater efforts to cope with a real threat to both the United States and Israel: Iran’s nuclear program.

By the time of Biden’s visit last week, it had appeared that the administration had learned its lesson and was no longer placing any faith in the idea that pressure on Israel would do anyone any good. But the way they have gone off the deep end about an issue that was supposedly resolved last year makes you wonder how much Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have learned from their first year in office. Specifically, have they decided that this is an opportunity to make another push to get rid of Netanyahu by leveraging the dismay that Israelis feel about last week’s blunder?

The administration’s dispute with Netanyahu and with the mainstream pro-Israel community, which continues to support Israel’s democratically-elected government (as demonstrated by the statements from the Anti-Defamation League and the AIPAC condemning Obama’s overreaction), was never so much about boosting the non-existent chances for peace with the Palestinians as it was about changing the relationship between the two countries from one of close friendship to a more adversarial one. Hillary Clinton’s reported demands for more pointless Israeli concessions and the prospects for another year of non-action on Iranian nukes leave us with the same question we were asking a few months ago: When will Obama’s Jewish supporters face up to the fact that the man in the White House is no friend to the Jewish state?

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Re: Re: A New Low

The new low in relations between the White House and Israel are especially troubling for two reasons that didn’t apply during previous administrations: one is Obama’s personal peevishness toward Israel and his related desire to distance the United States from the Jewish state and draw it closer to the Arabs; and the second is the Iranian nuclear program.

Regarding the first, it appears to be official policy in the current administration to approach the peace process as an opportunity to reorient the United States’ position between Jews and Arabs in the region. Palestinian incitement, the PA’s public celebration of terrorism, the rioting in Jerusalem, the accusations that Israel murdered Yasser Arafat, the ongoing Palestinian refusal to participate in negotiations, and so on — none of these have warranted any American comment whatsoever. In fact, I cannot recall a single time when an Obama administration official has criticized the PA for anything.

Yet the administration publicly upbraids Israel on an almost weekly basis. The administration has adopted a deeply confused stance in which Netanyahu’s agreement to a 10-month settlement freeze — excepting Jerusalem — was praised heartily, yet any Israeli approval for construction in Jerusalem is heatedly criticized, and not by low-level functionaries. Typically it involves Robert Gibbs protesting to the national news corps. One doesn’t have to be an ardent Zionist to understand why the administration’s multi-layered hypocrisy — no criticism ever for the Palestinians, approval and praise for a settlement freeze that is then castigated on a regular basis — is aggravating to the Israelis.

And then there is the Iran issue. I think it’s clear by now that Obama does not wish to make a confrontation with Iran part of his presidency. As I’ve written before, this means that Israeli security fears become a major problem for the administration: surely Obama realizes that one of his most important jobs is therefore preventing the Israelis from attacking.

How does one do that? Typically, the way the United States has alleviated Israeli security concerns is by affirming the closeness of the strategic relationship. But doing this on the Iran issue doesn’t work, for two reasons: 1) it would undermine Obama’s mission to the Arab world, which requires pushing the Israelis away; 2) and in the context of a nuclear Iran, it doesn’t really matter how close the U.S. and Israel are. The Israeli fear of the Iranian bomb is that one nuke would destroy the Jewish state, and that even in the absence of such a strike, Israel would be confronted with an emboldened Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, more wars, constant (and credible) threats of annihilation, and over time would experience the psychological, demographic, and economic attrition of the country.

When we follow this logic chain to its conclusion, we find that Obama’s only option for restraining an Israeli attack is the one that we’re seeing unfold before our eyes: a U.S. effort to methodically weaken the relationship; provoke crises; consume the Netanyahu government with managing this deterioration; and most important, create an ambiance of unpredictability by making the Israelis fear that an attack on Iran would not just be met with American disapproval but also a veto and perhaps active resistance.

The Obama administration’s reaction to the Biden visit has been too eagerly petulant to simply be a response to an insult — especially when it is clear that Netanyahu didn’t know the housing announcement was coming, and when the U.S. had already accepted the terms of the settlement freeze, which allows for precisely such construction in Jerusalem. That said, the announcement was a sucker-punch of epic proportions that was sure to cause an angry reaction from an administration that has made criticism of Israel one of its most consistent policies. It seems to me that this reaction is intended to help solve one of its biggest problems in the Middle East — the possibility that Israel may attack Iran.

The new low in relations between the White House and Israel are especially troubling for two reasons that didn’t apply during previous administrations: one is Obama’s personal peevishness toward Israel and his related desire to distance the United States from the Jewish state and draw it closer to the Arabs; and the second is the Iranian nuclear program.

Regarding the first, it appears to be official policy in the current administration to approach the peace process as an opportunity to reorient the United States’ position between Jews and Arabs in the region. Palestinian incitement, the PA’s public celebration of terrorism, the rioting in Jerusalem, the accusations that Israel murdered Yasser Arafat, the ongoing Palestinian refusal to participate in negotiations, and so on — none of these have warranted any American comment whatsoever. In fact, I cannot recall a single time when an Obama administration official has criticized the PA for anything.

Yet the administration publicly upbraids Israel on an almost weekly basis. The administration has adopted a deeply confused stance in which Netanyahu’s agreement to a 10-month settlement freeze — excepting Jerusalem — was praised heartily, yet any Israeli approval for construction in Jerusalem is heatedly criticized, and not by low-level functionaries. Typically it involves Robert Gibbs protesting to the national news corps. One doesn’t have to be an ardent Zionist to understand why the administration’s multi-layered hypocrisy — no criticism ever for the Palestinians, approval and praise for a settlement freeze that is then castigated on a regular basis — is aggravating to the Israelis.

And then there is the Iran issue. I think it’s clear by now that Obama does not wish to make a confrontation with Iran part of his presidency. As I’ve written before, this means that Israeli security fears become a major problem for the administration: surely Obama realizes that one of his most important jobs is therefore preventing the Israelis from attacking.

How does one do that? Typically, the way the United States has alleviated Israeli security concerns is by affirming the closeness of the strategic relationship. But doing this on the Iran issue doesn’t work, for two reasons: 1) it would undermine Obama’s mission to the Arab world, which requires pushing the Israelis away; 2) and in the context of a nuclear Iran, it doesn’t really matter how close the U.S. and Israel are. The Israeli fear of the Iranian bomb is that one nuke would destroy the Jewish state, and that even in the absence of such a strike, Israel would be confronted with an emboldened Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, more wars, constant (and credible) threats of annihilation, and over time would experience the psychological, demographic, and economic attrition of the country.

When we follow this logic chain to its conclusion, we find that Obama’s only option for restraining an Israeli attack is the one that we’re seeing unfold before our eyes: a U.S. effort to methodically weaken the relationship; provoke crises; consume the Netanyahu government with managing this deterioration; and most important, create an ambiance of unpredictability by making the Israelis fear that an attack on Iran would not just be met with American disapproval but also a veto and perhaps active resistance.

The Obama administration’s reaction to the Biden visit has been too eagerly petulant to simply be a response to an insult — especially when it is clear that Netanyahu didn’t know the housing announcement was coming, and when the U.S. had already accepted the terms of the settlement freeze, which allows for precisely such construction in Jerusalem. That said, the announcement was a sucker-punch of epic proportions that was sure to cause an angry reaction from an administration that has made criticism of Israel one of its most consistent policies. It seems to me that this reaction is intended to help solve one of its biggest problems in the Middle East — the possibility that Israel may attack Iran.

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Mideast Peace Gap: A Tale of Two Murderers

The dustup over the badly timed announcement of the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem this week has rightly provoked comment about the competence of the Netanyahu government. But for all the talk about the Palestinians’ being so offended by the idea of Jews living in East Jerusalem that they wouldn’t talk peace, it bears repeating that there is no indication that Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority it controls are willing to actually sign a peace agreement with Israel no matter what the terms of such a deal might be. Palestinian political culture remains anchored in an extremist interpretation of their national identity, which views the Jewish state as inherently illegitimate and all violence against it and its citizens as laudatory.

This was graphically illustrated yesterday in Ramallah, when Fatah’s youth division gathered to dedicate a square in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, the Fatah operative that led the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, a terrorist attack that took the lives of 37 Israelis and one American. As David noted earlier this morning, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Palestinian Authority was postponing the event that was timed to honor the 30th anniversary of this case of mass murder for “technical reasons” that may have more to do with a desire to put it off until media coverage abates (i.e., after Vice President Biden has left the country). Yet the New York Times account published today makes it clear that followers and officials of Abbas’s Fatah were by no means embarrassed by their connection with the most notorious terrorist attack in Israel’s history.

The story was in the best tradition of the fallacy about one man’s terrorist being another’s “freedom fighter.” The Times headline reflected this moral ambivalence: “Palestinians Honor Figure Reviled in Israel as a Terrorist.” For Palestinians quoted in the piece, including Fatah officials, Mughrabi was a heroine who was “every Palestinian girl,” rather than a heartless killer who helped mow down 38 human beings, including 13 children, before being killed herself by Israeli forces. As for this being an isolated incident, as Palestinian Media Watch has reported, the drumbeat of incitement against Israel and the glorification of violence against Jews is unceasing. Indeed, as even the Times notes, “the Palestinians also named two girls’ high schools, a computer center, a soccer championship and two summer camps for Ms. Mughrabi in the last two years.”

But those seeking moral equivalence between the two sides are largely undaunted. At the Times news blog, the Lede, Robert Mackey, who on Wednesday erroneously referred to East Jerusalem as “traditionally Arab,” wrote on Thursday that there are Jews who are extremists as well. He posted a video on the Times site purporting to be a Purim celebration by a few Jews living in a house in East Jerusalem. The “boisterous celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim by Israelis living in a home in East Jerusalem … appeared to be a calculated affront to their new Arab neighbors.”

That leads us to ask the Lede blogger whether he would sympathize with complaints by Jews should they witness “a boisterous celebration” of a Muslim holiday anywhere in Israel, where Arabs and Christians, as well as Jews, are free to practice their religions.

It is true that the video did include a bit where one man sang a song in praise of Baruch Goldstein, the mad Israeli who murdered 29 Muslims in Hebron on Purim in 1994. That is offensive. But for those who see this as the equivalent of Arab incitement, it is worth pointing out that this is just one Jewish extremist. No one could credibly assert that the Israeli government or the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people share his views. In fact, such despicable beliefs are completely marginal in Israel. But while Baruch Goldstein is a hero only to a tiny fragment of a percentage of Israelis, Dalal Mughrabi is a heroine to virtually all Palestinians. Rather than an illustration of how both sides are mired in mutual hate, the reaction of the Israeli and Palestinian publics to these two names actually shows how different the two cultures are at this point in time.

Indeed, true peace will only be possible when Palestinians think of Mughrabi the same way most Israelis view Goldstein.

The dustup over the badly timed announcement of the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem this week has rightly provoked comment about the competence of the Netanyahu government. But for all the talk about the Palestinians’ being so offended by the idea of Jews living in East Jerusalem that they wouldn’t talk peace, it bears repeating that there is no indication that Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority it controls are willing to actually sign a peace agreement with Israel no matter what the terms of such a deal might be. Palestinian political culture remains anchored in an extremist interpretation of their national identity, which views the Jewish state as inherently illegitimate and all violence against it and its citizens as laudatory.

This was graphically illustrated yesterday in Ramallah, when Fatah’s youth division gathered to dedicate a square in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, the Fatah operative that led the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, a terrorist attack that took the lives of 37 Israelis and one American. As David noted earlier this morning, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Palestinian Authority was postponing the event that was timed to honor the 30th anniversary of this case of mass murder for “technical reasons” that may have more to do with a desire to put it off until media coverage abates (i.e., after Vice President Biden has left the country). Yet the New York Times account published today makes it clear that followers and officials of Abbas’s Fatah were by no means embarrassed by their connection with the most notorious terrorist attack in Israel’s history.

The story was in the best tradition of the fallacy about one man’s terrorist being another’s “freedom fighter.” The Times headline reflected this moral ambivalence: “Palestinians Honor Figure Reviled in Israel as a Terrorist.” For Palestinians quoted in the piece, including Fatah officials, Mughrabi was a heroine who was “every Palestinian girl,” rather than a heartless killer who helped mow down 38 human beings, including 13 children, before being killed herself by Israeli forces. As for this being an isolated incident, as Palestinian Media Watch has reported, the drumbeat of incitement against Israel and the glorification of violence against Jews is unceasing. Indeed, as even the Times notes, “the Palestinians also named two girls’ high schools, a computer center, a soccer championship and two summer camps for Ms. Mughrabi in the last two years.”

But those seeking moral equivalence between the two sides are largely undaunted. At the Times news blog, the Lede, Robert Mackey, who on Wednesday erroneously referred to East Jerusalem as “traditionally Arab,” wrote on Thursday that there are Jews who are extremists as well. He posted a video on the Times site purporting to be a Purim celebration by a few Jews living in a house in East Jerusalem. The “boisterous celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim by Israelis living in a home in East Jerusalem … appeared to be a calculated affront to their new Arab neighbors.”

That leads us to ask the Lede blogger whether he would sympathize with complaints by Jews should they witness “a boisterous celebration” of a Muslim holiday anywhere in Israel, where Arabs and Christians, as well as Jews, are free to practice their religions.

It is true that the video did include a bit where one man sang a song in praise of Baruch Goldstein, the mad Israeli who murdered 29 Muslims in Hebron on Purim in 1994. That is offensive. But for those who see this as the equivalent of Arab incitement, it is worth pointing out that this is just one Jewish extremist. No one could credibly assert that the Israeli government or the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people share his views. In fact, such despicable beliefs are completely marginal in Israel. But while Baruch Goldstein is a hero only to a tiny fragment of a percentage of Israelis, Dalal Mughrabi is a heroine to virtually all Palestinians. Rather than an illustration of how both sides are mired in mutual hate, the reaction of the Israeli and Palestinian publics to these two names actually shows how different the two cultures are at this point in time.

Indeed, true peace will only be possible when Palestinians think of Mughrabi the same way most Israelis view Goldstein.

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“Traditionally” Ill-Informed Times Slants News on Jerusalem

The timing of the announcement that Israel planned to build more homes in East Jerusalem has, as others have already written here, rightly provoked criticism of the adroitness of Israel’s government. It did neither Israel nor the Netanyahu government any good to announce such plans during the visit of Vice President Biden. Biden’s efforts to prop up a pointless search for more negotiations with a Palestinian negotiating partner that is clearly not interested in negotiating is risible. So is his message to Israel about the threat from Iran. Assurances of America’s dedication to the security of the Jewish state are welcome but the real context of this mission is an effort to stifle Israel’s concerns about the Obama administration’s wasted year of engagement with Iran, which has given Tehran more time to build nukes with no realistic prospect of the sort of crippling sanctions that might make the Islamist regime halt its nuclear drive. Yet there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost from embarrassing the vice president of the United States. That the announcement was probably a ploy on the part of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to embarrass the prime minister and limit his maneuvering room is little consolation to those who already had reason to worry about the shaky nature of the Obama’s administration’s support for Israel.

However, concern about the foolish timing of the announcement in no way diminishes Israel’s right to build homes in its own capital. Netanyahu rightly opposed extending the freeze on building in the West Bank to Jerusalem. President Obama’s criticisms of Jewish building there were met with almost universal opposition on the part of Israelis, a factor that helped solidify Netanyahu’s popularity and the stability of his coalition. But foreign journalists operating in the city can always find a small number of Israelis to protest the presence of Jews in East Jerusalem. Such articles, like this one from yesterday’s New York Times, are old standbys of Israel coverage. In it, the argument is made that if Israelis expect the world to support their opposition to the Palestinians’ assertion of a so-called “right of return” to parts of the country they fled in 1948, Jews cannot at the same time claim their own right to return to property that was lost to the Arabs even in Jerusalem. Thus, according to this reasoning, the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem or even the reassertion of control over existing buildings that were Jewish property in 1948 across the Green Line is illegitimate and hypocritical as well as an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state with parts of Jerusalem as its capital.

The problem here is that while Arabs and their Jewish supporters assume that keeping all Jews out of East Jerusalem is a prerequisite of Palestinian independence, no one questions the right of Israeli Arabs to live in any part of Jerusalem, including the sections that were under Israeli control from 1949 to 1967. Thus, the hypocrisy is not on the part of Israel but rather its critics. So long as Arabs are free to buy and/or build in West Jerusalem, banning Jews from doing the same in the eastern part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is discriminatory. And even if a peace deal were ever adopted in which parts of the city were given to a Palestinian state, why would the presence of Jews there prevent such a pact, since no responsible person would expect such an agreement to also specify the eviction of Arabs from Israel?

Moreover, the idea that it is a form of colonialism for Israelis to have the chutzpah to attempt to live in parts of Jerusalem is not only wrong-headed; it is based on a historical mistake that East Jerusalem has always been off-limits to Jews. This was reflected in a post on the Lede, the Times’s news blog, in which Robert Mackey referred to Israel building homes in “a traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem.” This is nonsense, as there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since the mid-19th century. These areas are seeped in both ancient and modern Jewish history. Indeed, even Mackey’s own post included the information that the most controversial building site, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, was “a Jewish enclave” until 1948. The only real tradition here is the Times‘s misreporting of the situation, as well as the Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the city.

The timing of the announcement that Israel planned to build more homes in East Jerusalem has, as others have already written here, rightly provoked criticism of the adroitness of Israel’s government. It did neither Israel nor the Netanyahu government any good to announce such plans during the visit of Vice President Biden. Biden’s efforts to prop up a pointless search for more negotiations with a Palestinian negotiating partner that is clearly not interested in negotiating is risible. So is his message to Israel about the threat from Iran. Assurances of America’s dedication to the security of the Jewish state are welcome but the real context of this mission is an effort to stifle Israel’s concerns about the Obama administration’s wasted year of engagement with Iran, which has given Tehran more time to build nukes with no realistic prospect of the sort of crippling sanctions that might make the Islamist regime halt its nuclear drive. Yet there was nothing to be gained and much to be lost from embarrassing the vice president of the United States. That the announcement was probably a ploy on the part of Netanyahu’s coalition partners to embarrass the prime minister and limit his maneuvering room is little consolation to those who already had reason to worry about the shaky nature of the Obama’s administration’s support for Israel.

However, concern about the foolish timing of the announcement in no way diminishes Israel’s right to build homes in its own capital. Netanyahu rightly opposed extending the freeze on building in the West Bank to Jerusalem. President Obama’s criticisms of Jewish building there were met with almost universal opposition on the part of Israelis, a factor that helped solidify Netanyahu’s popularity and the stability of his coalition. But foreign journalists operating in the city can always find a small number of Israelis to protest the presence of Jews in East Jerusalem. Such articles, like this one from yesterday’s New York Times, are old standbys of Israel coverage. In it, the argument is made that if Israelis expect the world to support their opposition to the Palestinians’ assertion of a so-called “right of return” to parts of the country they fled in 1948, Jews cannot at the same time claim their own right to return to property that was lost to the Arabs even in Jerusalem. Thus, according to this reasoning, the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem or even the reassertion of control over existing buildings that were Jewish property in 1948 across the Green Line is illegitimate and hypocritical as well as an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state with parts of Jerusalem as its capital.

The problem here is that while Arabs and their Jewish supporters assume that keeping all Jews out of East Jerusalem is a prerequisite of Palestinian independence, no one questions the right of Israeli Arabs to live in any part of Jerusalem, including the sections that were under Israeli control from 1949 to 1967. Thus, the hypocrisy is not on the part of Israel but rather its critics. So long as Arabs are free to buy and/or build in West Jerusalem, banning Jews from doing the same in the eastern part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is discriminatory. And even if a peace deal were ever adopted in which parts of the city were given to a Palestinian state, why would the presence of Jews there prevent such a pact, since no responsible person would expect such an agreement to also specify the eviction of Arabs from Israel?

Moreover, the idea that it is a form of colonialism for Israelis to have the chutzpah to attempt to live in parts of Jerusalem is not only wrong-headed; it is based on a historical mistake that East Jerusalem has always been off-limits to Jews. This was reflected in a post on the Lede, the Times’s news blog, in which Robert Mackey referred to Israel building homes in “a traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem.” This is nonsense, as there has been a Jewish majority in Jerusalem since the mid-19th century. These areas are seeped in both ancient and modern Jewish history. Indeed, even Mackey’s own post included the information that the most controversial building site, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, was “a Jewish enclave” until 1948. The only real tradition here is the Times‘s misreporting of the situation, as well as the Arab campaign to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the city.

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Five Tips for Effective Peace-Processing

The New York Times reported yesterday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking of declaring a Palestinian state unilaterally, announced:

“We feel we are in a very difficult situation,” Mr. Abbas said. “What is the solution for us? To remain suspended like this, not in peace? That is why I took this step.” Aides have said that Mr. Abbas, who said recently that he did not wish to run again for the Palestinian leadership, is dispirited by the lack of movement in the peace process.

Dispirited by the lack of movement in the peace process?

Six months ago, lack of movement was not cause for concern but part of the plan. After Abbas met with President Obama on May 28, the Washington Post reported the new strategy: wait for things that Abbas knew would never happen.

Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze. … So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years,” one official breezily predicted. …

Instead, [Abbas] says, he will remain passive. “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said. “Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.”

The current “difficult situation” is not the result of any deterioration in the good life in the West Bank. On the contrary, that situation has improved since May, as the Netanyahu government has dismantled checkpoints and administrative barriers to economic activity. The difficult situation is rather the result of an Obama diplomatic process that will be studied for years as a lesson in self-propelled hoisting.

Here is how Robert Satloff, in a perceptive presentation for the Washington Institute, describes what happened:

Where Bush was willing to reach quiet, practical, de facto, but very real understandings with Israel on settlement activity, Obama would deny that such understandings ever existed and demand something that no Israeli government could deliver (and, as a result, what no Palestinian leader since the years of the Oslo Accords had ever insisted on): an absolute, 100 percent, not-one-brick freeze on construction in any non-Arab site in either the West Bank or Jerusalem.

* * *

What Netanyahu offered the United States on settlements was certainly constructive and helpful but probably did not merit the accolade “unprecedented,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Jerusalem. Here, the failing was the administration’s unwillingness to accept the original understandings on settlement activity reached by Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush. If those understandings had not existed, then Bibi’s offer would have been, in a sense, unprecedented, but everyone — Israelis, Palestinians, other Arabs — knew that the Sharon-Bush understandings did exist. Washington was caught in a web of its own making.

Lessons for future Diplomacy 101 students: (1) do not renege on understandings with another country, even though they were reached before you took office; (2) do not deny that an understanding existed when everyone knows it existed; (3) try to build on what your predecessor achieved, instead of denying he achieved anything; and (4) do not slowly squeeze allies (save that for adversaries).

One other tip: do not start your peace process by reneging, denying, and squeezing one side while giving the other side the impression that all it needs to do is sit back and watch you do it. It will create a difficult situation.

The New York Times reported yesterday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking of declaring a Palestinian state unilaterally, announced:

“We feel we are in a very difficult situation,” Mr. Abbas said. “What is the solution for us? To remain suspended like this, not in peace? That is why I took this step.” Aides have said that Mr. Abbas, who said recently that he did not wish to run again for the Palestinian leadership, is dispirited by the lack of movement in the peace process.

Dispirited by the lack of movement in the peace process?

Six months ago, lack of movement was not cause for concern but part of the plan. After Abbas met with President Obama on May 28, the Washington Post reported the new strategy: wait for things that Abbas knew would never happen.

Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze. … So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years,” one official breezily predicted. …

Instead, [Abbas] says, he will remain passive. “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said. “Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.”

The current “difficult situation” is not the result of any deterioration in the good life in the West Bank. On the contrary, that situation has improved since May, as the Netanyahu government has dismantled checkpoints and administrative barriers to economic activity. The difficult situation is rather the result of an Obama diplomatic process that will be studied for years as a lesson in self-propelled hoisting.

Here is how Robert Satloff, in a perceptive presentation for the Washington Institute, describes what happened:

Where Bush was willing to reach quiet, practical, de facto, but very real understandings with Israel on settlement activity, Obama would deny that such understandings ever existed and demand something that no Israeli government could deliver (and, as a result, what no Palestinian leader since the years of the Oslo Accords had ever insisted on): an absolute, 100 percent, not-one-brick freeze on construction in any non-Arab site in either the West Bank or Jerusalem.

* * *

What Netanyahu offered the United States on settlements was certainly constructive and helpful but probably did not merit the accolade “unprecedented,” as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Jerusalem. Here, the failing was the administration’s unwillingness to accept the original understandings on settlement activity reached by Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush. If those understandings had not existed, then Bibi’s offer would have been, in a sense, unprecedented, but everyone — Israelis, Palestinians, other Arabs — knew that the Sharon-Bush understandings did exist. Washington was caught in a web of its own making.

Lessons for future Diplomacy 101 students: (1) do not renege on understandings with another country, even though they were reached before you took office; (2) do not deny that an understanding existed when everyone knows it existed; (3) try to build on what your predecessor achieved, instead of denying he achieved anything; and (4) do not slowly squeeze allies (save that for adversaries).

One other tip: do not start your peace process by reneging, denying, and squeezing one side while giving the other side the impression that all it needs to do is sit back and watch you do it. It will create a difficult situation.

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Apartments in Jerusalem, Now More Scandalizing than Ever

The latest expression of displeasure from the Obama administration over Israeli construction in Jerusalem should not be taken as a comment on the construction itself. It is actually a clumsy attempt at damage control. From China, Robert Gibbs said:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” Gibbs said in the statement. “At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations.” … “Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

If “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations,” what does Gibbs have to say about the actual reason there are no negotiations currently taking place? That would be the Palestinian refusal to hold talks, on the unprecedented and invented grounds that any Israeli construction on land that was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 unilaterally preempts negotiations. In other words, the White House has endorsed the Palestinian preconditions on negotiations — at the same time as it rejects any attempt to set preconditions on negotiations. Quite a feat.

But this level of nonsense is necessary, and not because of anything the Palestinians or Israelis did. It is because of the immense damage the administration has done to the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. Having staked the peace process on an undeliverable promise to the Palestinians of a settlement freeze, the administration is now forced to spin furiously for Abbas in order to shield him from even more humiliation than he’s already suffered.

Robert Gibbs pretends to be scandalized, but nobody should buy it. Are we really supposed to believe that George Mitchell thought the Netanyahu government, having rejected numerous such demands previously, would suddenly agree to allow the State Department to dictate to Israel about housing construction in its own capital?

The latest expression of displeasure from the Obama administration over Israeli construction in Jerusalem should not be taken as a comment on the construction itself. It is actually a clumsy attempt at damage control. From China, Robert Gibbs said:

“We are dismayed at the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem,” Gibbs said in the statement. “At a time when we are working to re-launch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. Neither party should engage in efforts or take actions that could unilaterally pre-empt, or appear to pre-empt, negotiations.” … “Our position is clear,” Gibbs continued. “The status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties.”

If “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations,” what does Gibbs have to say about the actual reason there are no negotiations currently taking place? That would be the Palestinian refusal to hold talks, on the unprecedented and invented grounds that any Israeli construction on land that was occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 unilaterally preempts negotiations. In other words, the White House has endorsed the Palestinian preconditions on negotiations — at the same time as it rejects any attempt to set preconditions on negotiations. Quite a feat.

But this level of nonsense is necessary, and not because of anything the Palestinians or Israelis did. It is because of the immense damage the administration has done to the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. Having staked the peace process on an undeliverable promise to the Palestinians of a settlement freeze, the administration is now forced to spin furiously for Abbas in order to shield him from even more humiliation than he’s already suffered.

Robert Gibbs pretends to be scandalized, but nobody should buy it. Are we really supposed to believe that George Mitchell thought the Netanyahu government, having rejected numerous such demands previously, would suddenly agree to allow the State Department to dictate to Israel about housing construction in its own capital?

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