Commentary Magazine


Topic: Netanyahu

Not Meeting Bibi: What Obama Is Secretly Thinking

With apologies to the late William Safire, who came up with this imaginative format:

“So Netanyahu wants to meet me when he comes to the States for the U.N. General Assembly. Of course he does. Last time he was here and we met, that arrogant SOB showed me up during our joint press availability and delivered me and America a lecture on Palestinian intransigence. Then he goes and gets dozens of standing ovations speaking before a Joint Session of Congress. He makes me look bad, I find myself with fundraising problems, and the chance that in an incredibly close election even the loss of 10,000 Jewish votes in Florida could make all the difference. And who is to blame for my difficulties? Netanyahu. He has stoked this. He has nurtured this. He has made this flower.

“Now here we are, and he wants to corner me again. He wants to talk about Iran. He knows we’re just a few weeks from the election, when it would be best for me to look really tough. But that’s not my strategy here. I want to do what I can to squeeze Iran, but I want to make sure the Iranians have wiggle room to get themselves out of the nuclear trap they’ve walked into without looking as though they’ve surrendered. What does he want? He wants me to establish ‘red lines’ for Iranian conduct that will set up a tripwire. If they cross those lines, war begins.

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With apologies to the late William Safire, who came up with this imaginative format:

“So Netanyahu wants to meet me when he comes to the States for the U.N. General Assembly. Of course he does. Last time he was here and we met, that arrogant SOB showed me up during our joint press availability and delivered me and America a lecture on Palestinian intransigence. Then he goes and gets dozens of standing ovations speaking before a Joint Session of Congress. He makes me look bad, I find myself with fundraising problems, and the chance that in an incredibly close election even the loss of 10,000 Jewish votes in Florida could make all the difference. And who is to blame for my difficulties? Netanyahu. He has stoked this. He has nurtured this. He has made this flower.

“Now here we are, and he wants to corner me again. He wants to talk about Iran. He knows we’re just a few weeks from the election, when it would be best for me to look really tough. But that’s not my strategy here. I want to do what I can to squeeze Iran, but I want to make sure the Iranians have wiggle room to get themselves out of the nuclear trap they’ve walked into without looking as though they’ve surrendered. What does he want? He wants me to establish ‘red lines’ for Iranian conduct that will set up a tripwire. If they cross those lines, war begins.

“Meaning a U.S. war. Bibi figures it would be best if the U.S. did Israel’s work for it, because we have all the weaponry and the long-range capability. He wants to scare me and everybody else by saying, ‘We don’t know if we Israelis can do this, can take the Iranian nuclear program out. But we’ll have to try if you don’t. We may fail. We may do badly and there may be horrible repercussions and loss of life and chaos in the Middle East and oil at $200. But I’m just crazy enough to do it.’

“I don’t think he’s crazy. I think he’s hateful. I think he wants to destroy my presidency and he doesn’t care how he does it. I think this close to the election he wants to force me into a corner I don’t want to be forced into, and get a soapbox to stand on to preach his word while I stand there mutely and say nothing.

“No way. I’m not meeting with him. Let them scream. Let Romney try to play this for votes and money. What’s done is done. I’ve raised the money I can raise and the Jewish vote will go the way the Jewish vote will go. People who really agree with him are not going to vote for me already. I figure no matter what, I can get 60 percent of the Jewish vote and that will have to do.

“Remember what I said to Medvedev? That after the election I’ll have more flexibility? Oh, am I going to flex some of that Bibi’s way. You can count on that.”

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Obama Doesn’t Care He’s Been Proven Wrong About Iran

The release yesterday of a new report on Iran’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency effectively vindicates everything Israel’s leaders have been saying in recent months. The report says Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges it could use to make the core of nuclear warheads at its underground bunker at Fordow. It has also effectively shut down the IAEA investigation of their work at Parchin, where the Islamist regime has been conducting work on nuclear weapons development.

Fordow is the “breakout” facility where it can convert any civilian nuclear activity into military applications safe from air attack. As even the New York Times admits today, far from the Obama administration’s strategy of using diplomacy and sanctions slowing down Iran’s progress, “if anything, the program is speeding up.” It goes on to point out:

But the agency’s report has also put Israel in a corner, documenting that Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack.

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The release yesterday of a new report on Iran’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency effectively vindicates everything Israel’s leaders have been saying in recent months. The report says Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges it could use to make the core of nuclear warheads at its underground bunker at Fordow. It has also effectively shut down the IAEA investigation of their work at Parchin, where the Islamist regime has been conducting work on nuclear weapons development.

Fordow is the “breakout” facility where it can convert any civilian nuclear activity into military applications safe from air attack. As even the New York Times admits today, far from the Obama administration’s strategy of using diplomacy and sanctions slowing down Iran’s progress, “if anything, the program is speeding up.” It goes on to point out:

But the agency’s report has also put Israel in a corner, documenting that Iran is close to crossing what Israel has long said is its red line: the capability to produce nuclear weapons in a location invulnerable to Israeli attack.

The Times is right about that. Being proven right about the failure of Obama’s policy is cold comfort for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu since the administration refuses to recognize the failure, either publicly or privately. The Times of Israel reports that a meeting last week between Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro resulted in hostile exchanges with the diplomat “breaking protocol” and angrily scolding the prime minister for pushing too hard for U.S. action.

Israel’s problem is that the Obama administration doesn’t care that it has been proven wrong and feels no inclination to engage in a conversation with the leaders of the Jewish state about taking action to either reverse course or head off a catastrophe. Instead, it just sticks to its line about giving more time for diplomacy even though no one in Washington, let alone anywhere else, believes that it is possible to talk the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions. The president wants no back talk from the Israelis about this. But even more than that, he desires no trouble in the Middle East in the next two months as he fights for re-election.

That leaves the Israelis with a difficult choice. It can, as most foreign policy mavens keep telling them to, simply shut up and hope that either a re-elected Obama will keep all the promises he’s made on the subject or that a President Romney will make good on the tough statements he’s made about the peril from an Iranian nuke. But given the speed of the Iranians’ progress and the possibility that by next year it could already be too late for an attack on their nuclear facilities to do much good, waiting may not be an option consistent with Netanyahu’s responsibility to spike any existential threat to his nation’s future.

The administration’s silence about the latest troubling IAEA report, as well as the insolent attitude of its envoy to Israel, seems to indicate the president thinks the Israelis are bluffing about acting on their own. He has good reason to think so.

Despite the assertions that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are alone in their convictions about the Iranian threat, there’s a consensus in the Israeli defense and intelligence establishment that Iran must be stopped. But many there fear the consequences of a unilateral Israeli military campaign. They are right that only the United States has sufficient resources to do the job right. Moreover, the consequences of launching a strike and the inevitable retaliation from Iran’s terrorist auxiliaries are extremely grave. If the United States does not back up Israel in the aftermath of such a strike, it could materially damage the country’s security as well as leading to its complete diplomatic isolation.

On the other hand, if Israel meekly accepts Obama’s dictat to stand down, it may lead to a nuclear Iran, which is something that may be far worse than the blowback from an attack. It would place the security and the future of the Jewish state solely in the hands of a president who has shown little interest in the country’s welfare.

President Obama clearly seems to think there is no pressure Israel could put on him short of an actual attack on Iran that can move him to do something about the situation. And he believes, not without reason, that even if his Republican opponent steps up his criticism of the administration on Iran — a topic that rated a strong mention in Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech last night — he is not politically vulnerable on the issue.

In other words, Netanyahu has no good options available to him. No matter which way he goes on Iran in the coming weeks, thanks to President Obama’s complacent stand, danger lurks.

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Abbas, Not Lieberman, is Obstacle to Peace

Avigdor Lieberman is back in trouble today. His boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had to distance himself from a letter the foreign minister sent to the diplomatic Quartet urging the ouster of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu agreed with Lieberman “Abu Mazen” — Abbas’s nom de guerre — “creates difficulties in negotiations” but said he was dedicated to trying to work for peace with the Palestinians and had no interest in interfering in their internal politics. That was the appropriate response, but Abbas latest foray into “peacemaking” illustrates why many Israelis think Lieberman is right.

The PA president, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, spoke today on the anniversary of an attack on the mosques of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by a deranged Australian Christian in 1969. The man started a fire that was quickly put out. He was tried and found to be clinically insane and eventually deported. But the Palestinians, who have deliberately desecrated Jewish holy sites such as the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus, are still milking the unfortunate incident for all its worth. Abbas falsely alleged that Israel is plotting to destroy the mosques and then demanded that all Jews be thrown out of the parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967. That means over a quarter of a million Jewish Jerusalemites are, according to him, scheduled for eviction from their homes. This shows that Abbas’s vision of peace bears a strange resemblance to Hamas’s vision of unending war on Israel.

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Avigdor Lieberman is back in trouble today. His boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had to distance himself from a letter the foreign minister sent to the diplomatic Quartet urging the ouster of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu agreed with Lieberman “Abu Mazen” — Abbas’s nom de guerre — “creates difficulties in negotiations” but said he was dedicated to trying to work for peace with the Palestinians and had no interest in interfering in their internal politics. That was the appropriate response, but Abbas latest foray into “peacemaking” illustrates why many Israelis think Lieberman is right.

The PA president, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, spoke today on the anniversary of an attack on the mosques of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by a deranged Australian Christian in 1969. The man started a fire that was quickly put out. He was tried and found to be clinically insane and eventually deported. But the Palestinians, who have deliberately desecrated Jewish holy sites such as the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus, are still milking the unfortunate incident for all its worth. Abbas falsely alleged that Israel is plotting to destroy the mosques and then demanded that all Jews be thrown out of the parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967. That means over a quarter of a million Jewish Jerusalemites are, according to him, scheduled for eviction from their homes. This shows that Abbas’s vision of peace bears a strange resemblance to Hamas’s vision of unending war on Israel.

Abbas knows very well that Israel offered the Palestinians a state including a share of Jerusalem three times. The first two offers in 2000 and 2001 were made to Abbas’ predecessor Yasir Arafat but the latter was given to Abbas in 2008. While his apologists continue to insist he never formally turned it down, that was only because he never replied and shut down the talks with Israel as soon it was clear that he would be put on the spot and asked to choose between peace and continuing conflict.

Abbas also knows that in those formulas or even in the more generous terms outlined by Israeli left-wingers in Geneva or the ideas mooted by the Obama administration, the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem built since 1967, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, would be left intact, as would Arab neighborhoods. Those areas, like most of the West Bank settlements, are never going to be demolished, and as even President Obama has said, would be left inside Israel and swapped with the Palestinians for other areas.

But Abbas doesn’t want a territorial swap any more than he wanted to sign on to a peace agreement that would give his people another independent state (since they already have one in all but name in Gaza where Hamas rules a sovereign terrorist enclave). Rather than make peace or even negotiate for it (which he has refused to do for four years), he is satisfied with vilifying Israel, appealing for more foreign aid for his bankrupt and corrupt government and carrying on with the status quo.

Lieberman thinks the Palestinians ought to hold new elections. It’s a nice idea but Abbas wants no part of it since elections might bring Hamas to power in the West Bank as well as Gaza. He also has no interest in any process that might bring some level of accountability to his ramshackle excuse for a government.

Lieberman was being provocative when he sent his letter to the Quartet but what he was also doing was drawing attention to the fact that peace will be impossible so long as the Palestinians are saddled with this kind of a leader. But given the nature of the political culture of the Palestinians, which still regards rejection of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it’s not likely that any alternative to Abbas in the foreseeable future would be any better. For all of the condemnation being showered on Lieberman, Abbas and the mindset he represents remains the real obstacle to peace.

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Is Bibi Bluffing on Iran Strike?

In Israel this week, people are lining up for gas masks, a new Homeland Defense has been set to work to deal with the task of readying the country for the possibility of attacks from Iran, Lebanon and Gaza, and pundits are working overtime trying to figure out whether the nation’s political leadership is serious about launching a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities sometime this fall. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, is doing his best to convince Americans that the saber-rattling coming out Jerusalem is not a bluff aimed at forcing the West to toughen sanctions on Iran or start making their own credible threats about using force. In interviews with journalists and an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, Oren has made a powerful case about the existential threat that a nuclear Iran presents to Israel, but Washington may be listening more closely to those figures inside the Jewish state who are claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are begging to be talked out of an attack.

As the New York Times reported yesterday, Uzi Dayan, a former general who was asked to serve as Homeland Defense Minister, says his conversations with both Netanyahu and Barak led him to believe that the window of diplomacy with Iran that the Obama administration keeps talking about is still open. There are good reasons to believe the Israeli government would like nothing better than to have the war talk do what an earlier wave of speculation about a strike accomplished when Washington belatedly adopted a tougher sanctions policy. Jerusalem understands that even a successful strike on Iran will exact a terrible price in casualties and damage from counter-attacks from the Islamist regime and its terrorist allies. But those who assert that Netanyahu is just bluffing forget that Israeli anxiety is rooted as much in its lack of confidence in Washington as it is in knowledge of Iran’s genocidal ambitions.

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In Israel this week, people are lining up for gas masks, a new Homeland Defense has been set to work to deal with the task of readying the country for the possibility of attacks from Iran, Lebanon and Gaza, and pundits are working overtime trying to figure out whether the nation’s political leadership is serious about launching a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities sometime this fall. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, is doing his best to convince Americans that the saber-rattling coming out Jerusalem is not a bluff aimed at forcing the West to toughen sanctions on Iran or start making their own credible threats about using force. In interviews with journalists and an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week, Oren has made a powerful case about the existential threat that a nuclear Iran presents to Israel, but Washington may be listening more closely to those figures inside the Jewish state who are claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are begging to be talked out of an attack.

As the New York Times reported yesterday, Uzi Dayan, a former general who was asked to serve as Homeland Defense Minister, says his conversations with both Netanyahu and Barak led him to believe that the window of diplomacy with Iran that the Obama administration keeps talking about is still open. There are good reasons to believe the Israeli government would like nothing better than to have the war talk do what an earlier wave of speculation about a strike accomplished when Washington belatedly adopted a tougher sanctions policy. Jerusalem understands that even a successful strike on Iran will exact a terrible price in casualties and damage from counter-attacks from the Islamist regime and its terrorist allies. But those who assert that Netanyahu is just bluffing forget that Israeli anxiety is rooted as much in its lack of confidence in Washington as it is in knowledge of Iran’s genocidal ambitions.

With even the Americans now finally willing to agree in the form of a new National Intelligence Estimate that Iran is building a bomb, the feeling in Jerusalem is that they cannot sit back, wait and hope for the best as their allies seem to be telling them. The latest round of threats from Tehran as they prepare to celebrate al Quds (Jerusalem) Day started with a comment from an Iranian general “that there is no other way but to stand firm and resist until Israel is destroyed.” That was followed by a prediction in a speech by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader, that Israel would disappear.

But Israel’s problem isn’t so much their certainty that if Iran is allowed to keep on refining uranium that they will have a bomb before long. It is their utter lack of faith in the Obama administration’s willingness to do something about the problem.

Netanyahu’s domestic critics are not off base when they chide his government for painting the Iranian threat as being primarily a problem for Israel rather than the region or the West. It is also obviously true that if Israel acted on its own, the impact of such a strike would not be nearly as devastating or conclusive as one led by the United States armed forces. But who can blame Netanyahu and Barak for having come to the conclusion that President Obama will continue pretending that his policy of ineffective diplomacy and loosely enforced sanctions can deal with the situation until it really is too late.

It could be that fear of an Israeli strike in the middle of a presidential election will prompt Obama to improve upon his current feckless stand. But in the absence of any sign of such a switch and with the prospect that a re-elected Obama will find the “flexibility” to abandon his promise to stop Iran, Netanyahu may have no choice but to contemplate a unilateral strike. Rather than worrying about Israel bluffing, the administration needs to recognize that if they wish to avert a war this fall, the president must start acting like he means what he says about stopping Iran.

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Can Obama Admit Iran Diplomacy Failed?

Earlier this week White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s mantra about Iran, saying there was still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to be found to resolve the impasse over its nuclear threat. While no one, not even the president’s loyalists actually believe there is even the slightest hope for diplomacy or sanctions to work, the White House is publicly clinging to this position since the alternative is unthinkable. By that I don’t refer to how unthinkable it would be for the future of the world for the ayatollahs to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. From the point of view of the administration, what is truly unthinkable is the prospect of being forced to admit that it has been wrong all along about Iran and must change course in order to avoid a catastrophe.

The spectacle of the administration standing by its determination to keep talking with Iran long after Tehran effectively scuttled the P5+1 nuclear talks has to be discouraging to Israel’s government and can, in no small measure, be the reason why the Jewish state seems to be bubbling over with speculation about an attack on Iran sometime before the U.S. presidential election. With even U.S. intelligence now finally admitting that Iran is working on a bomb and with the Islamist regime making it clear it has no interest in agreeing to a compromise agreement on the issue, those trusted with defending Israel’s existence may be rapidly coming to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to strike soon before it is too late. Though foreign policy realists and other Israel critics are denouncing the Israeli threats, the only way to convince Jerusalem to stand down and follow America’s lead is for President Obama to start speaking honestly about the failure of his belated attempt to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambition. In the absence of such honesty, there is little reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go on waiting until the danger cannot be averted.

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Earlier this week White House spokesman Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s mantra about Iran, saying there was still “time and space” for a diplomatic solution to be found to resolve the impasse over its nuclear threat. While no one, not even the president’s loyalists actually believe there is even the slightest hope for diplomacy or sanctions to work, the White House is publicly clinging to this position since the alternative is unthinkable. By that I don’t refer to how unthinkable it would be for the future of the world for the ayatollahs to get their hands on a nuclear weapon. From the point of view of the administration, what is truly unthinkable is the prospect of being forced to admit that it has been wrong all along about Iran and must change course in order to avoid a catastrophe.

The spectacle of the administration standing by its determination to keep talking with Iran long after Tehran effectively scuttled the P5+1 nuclear talks has to be discouraging to Israel’s government and can, in no small measure, be the reason why the Jewish state seems to be bubbling over with speculation about an attack on Iran sometime before the U.S. presidential election. With even U.S. intelligence now finally admitting that Iran is working on a bomb and with the Islamist regime making it clear it has no interest in agreeing to a compromise agreement on the issue, those trusted with defending Israel’s existence may be rapidly coming to the conclusion that they have no alternative but to strike soon before it is too late. Though foreign policy realists and other Israel critics are denouncing the Israeli threats, the only way to convince Jerusalem to stand down and follow America’s lead is for President Obama to start speaking honestly about the failure of his belated attempt to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambition. In the absence of such honesty, there is little reason for Prime Minister Netanyahu to go on waiting until the danger cannot be averted.

Israelis are understandably divided on the wisdom of acting on their own since they, and not the United States, would pay the highest price in terms of casualties and terror attacks that would likely follow a strike on Iran. Everyone, including Netanyahu’s critics and opponents of a unilateral strike, seem to agree that a U.S.-led action would be ideal. But the lack of confidence in the willingness of President Obama to act may leave Netanyahu and his cabinet no choice. Even after the issuing of a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that is more realistic about the Iranian threat, the Americans are still acting as if they have all the time in the world to decide to do something about this peril. By contrast, the Israelis know that by next year, the Iranians may have refined more uranium and stored it in underground bunkers that may be impervious to Israel’s attack capabilities.

While reports about Israel telling the U.S. it needs to know by September 25 whether the U.S. will take action are unconfirmed, Netanyahu’s decision must be influenced by his confidence level in Obama’s willingness to take action. Should he wait until after November, it may turn out to be too late to make a difference. Even more worrisome is the notion that a re-elected Obama cannot be relied upon to make good on his promise to stop Iran.

Those who are calling on Israel to lower the temperature on the war talk are addressing their entreaties to the wrong capital. The only way to calm down Israel is for Barack Obama to start speaking the truth about Iran. Since there seems little chance of that happening, expect to hear even more talk of war emanating from Israel in the coming weeks and months.

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Despising Israeli Democracy

You might think that even the New York Times would get tired of publishing rants from failed Israeli politicians denouncing not only their nation’s current government but also the entire society that had rejected them. But apparently the newspaper’s appetite for such tirades is undiminished as the publication of Avraham Burg’s in the Times’ Sunday edition today proved. There isn’t much that is particularly original about Burg’s piece that takes the point of view that Israel is on the brink of no longer being a democracy and is intolerant of minority views. That this is not remotely closely to being the truth is no barrier to its publication since it is exactly what American leftists want to be told. His views are an absurd conflation of egotism and blindness but his foolishness is not limited to his analysis of his own country, he also understands nothing about U.S.-Israel alliance and the strength of the across-the-board support the Jewish state has here.

In the conclusion of his article in which he envisions a post-Zionist government of Israel that will reject Jewish nationalism in favor of something more inclusive, he claims:

When a true Israeli democracy is established, our prime minister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle.

That is, I suppose, a shot at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accused earlier in the piece of being a “warmonger.” But as anyone who bothered to watch Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress last year, he was widely cheered by both Republicans and Democrats with both parties competing with each other to show their enthusiasm for their Israeli ally. This is the sort of obvious mistake that any editor, even one with no love for Israel, should have caught. That it wasn’t tells us that the gatekeepers at the Times are as out of touch with reality as Burg.

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You might think that even the New York Times would get tired of publishing rants from failed Israeli politicians denouncing not only their nation’s current government but also the entire society that had rejected them. But apparently the newspaper’s appetite for such tirades is undiminished as the publication of Avraham Burg’s in the Times’ Sunday edition today proved. There isn’t much that is particularly original about Burg’s piece that takes the point of view that Israel is on the brink of no longer being a democracy and is intolerant of minority views. That this is not remotely closely to being the truth is no barrier to its publication since it is exactly what American leftists want to be told. His views are an absurd conflation of egotism and blindness but his foolishness is not limited to his analysis of his own country, he also understands nothing about U.S.-Israel alliance and the strength of the across-the-board support the Jewish state has here.

In the conclusion of his article in which he envisions a post-Zionist government of Israel that will reject Jewish nationalism in favor of something more inclusive, he claims:

When a true Israeli democracy is established, our prime minister will go to Capitol Hill and win applause from both sides of the aisle.

That is, I suppose, a shot at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he accused earlier in the piece of being a “warmonger.” But as anyone who bothered to watch Netanyahu’s address to a joint meeting of Congress last year, he was widely cheered by both Republicans and Democrats with both parties competing with each other to show their enthusiasm for their Israeli ally. This is the sort of obvious mistake that any editor, even one with no love for Israel, should have caught. That it wasn’t tells us that the gatekeepers at the Times are as out of touch with reality as Burg.

Burg, who is the scion of a famous family and was once thought to be a man with an unlimited political future, seems to despise his country these days. Though he attempts to wax lyrical about trends in its society, the main reason he thinks Israel is no longer a democracy is that Israel’s electorate has consistently rejected his views about the peace process as well his own hopes for high office. This has caused him to question not only their judgment but the entire ideological edifice on which the country rests. His egotism is pathetic but it is fed by a stubborn refusal to see what the vast majority of his compatriots understand. They agree with him that a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians would be ideal but have come to terms with the fact that their antagonists have no interest in such a deal.

Burg despises what he calls the “religious, capitalist” state that Israel has become. Most Israelis would be happy if the ultra-Orthodox would have less power but what he is really longing for is the Israel of the past in which secular Jews of European origin dominated a country in which socialist economic policies served to keep the power of existing elites in place. He rejects Netanyahu’s free market reforms that have made Israel a burgeoning economic powerhouse because more economic freedom has created a messy but more genuine democracy in which “princes” like Burg are no longer in position to tell everybody else what to do.

Burg also does an injustice to the overwhelming majority of Americans who, contrary to his belief that the alliance is now rooted in “war, threats and fear,” still care about the common democratic values that he seems to think have been abandoned by everyone but himself. Most Americans, even those who don’t particularly like Netanyahu, respect the will of Israel’s voters more than Burg. They also recognize that the threats to Israel’s existence, principally the nuclear danger from Iran is a life or death matter that requires more serious thought than Burg seems capable of these days.

Burg is right about one thing. Israel could use a written constitution and smarter people than him have been thinking and writing about it for a generation. But the course of Burg’s career shows that the only constitution he is really interested in is one that could guarantee that his views could be imposed on his country. Not even the imprimatur of the New York Times Sunday Review can disguise the fact that Burg’s post-Zionist views are outside the Israeli mainstream. In publishing his article, the Times has shown that, contrary to the title of the piece, its real complaint is not about the absence of Israeli democracy, but its vibrancy.

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Panetta’s Pathetic Plea for Inaction on Iran

The chattering classes are chortling today about the latest supposed mistake by Mitt Romney in which he is being condemned for telling the truth about the corrupt and violent political and economic culture of the Palestinians. Meanwhile in Tunisia, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta committed the real gaffe of the week when he told a credulous traveling press corps that the administration’s effort to get Iran to abandon its drive for nuclear weapons was working even if it didn’t look like it. As the New York Times reports:

“These sanctions are having a serious impact in terms of the economy of Iran.” He added that “while the results of that may not seem obvious at the moment,” the Iranians had expressed a willingness to negotiate, and that they “continue to seem interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution.”

Translation: We know Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is right when he says the sanctions aren’t doing a thing to make the Iranians change their minds and the Iranians know that we know. But as long as Tehran is willing to pretend to negotiate, we will pretend along with them because our main goal is to prevent Israel from trying to actually do something about this deadly threat. And if this makes it clear that all we are trying to do is to kick the can down the road until after the presidential election when we might have more “flexibility” to do a deal with the Iranians, then don’t believe your lying ears and eyes.

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The chattering classes are chortling today about the latest supposed mistake by Mitt Romney in which he is being condemned for telling the truth about the corrupt and violent political and economic culture of the Palestinians. Meanwhile in Tunisia, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta committed the real gaffe of the week when he told a credulous traveling press corps that the administration’s effort to get Iran to abandon its drive for nuclear weapons was working even if it didn’t look like it. As the New York Times reports:

“These sanctions are having a serious impact in terms of the economy of Iran.” He added that “while the results of that may not seem obvious at the moment,” the Iranians had expressed a willingness to negotiate, and that they “continue to seem interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution.”

Translation: We know Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is right when he says the sanctions aren’t doing a thing to make the Iranians change their minds and the Iranians know that we know. But as long as Tehran is willing to pretend to negotiate, we will pretend along with them because our main goal is to prevent Israel from trying to actually do something about this deadly threat. And if this makes it clear that all we are trying to do is to kick the can down the road until after the presidential election when we might have more “flexibility” to do a deal with the Iranians, then don’t believe your lying ears and eyes.

Congress is still arguing about trying to close up the gaping loopholes in the sanctions that have been exacerbated by the administration’s promiscuous granting of waivers that have served to sustain the Iranian economy. Under these circumstances and with Iran showing no signs of buckling, the notion that economic pressure will be enough to resolve the problem is without foundation. Of course, it is “not obvious at the moment” that sanctions are working because it is more than obvious they are not.

As for the Iranians’ willingness to negotiate, it is difficult to understand how even a veteran politician like Panetta can say this with a straight face. Of course, they are willing to keep talking with the West. Iran has been negotiating for years because they know that as long as they do so they can continue making progress toward their nuclear goal.

As the collapse of the P5+1 talks this summer proved, and as every previous attempt at diplomacy and engagement conducted by both the Bush and Obama administrations proved, the only ones to profit from the talking are the Iranians. They have used the time won by such prevarications well as their nuclear centrifuges keep spinning and their stockpile of refined uranium grows. The time frame of their program is unclear, but whether it is one or two years away from actually having a bomb or sooner, the moment is quickly approaching when their efforts will be so far advanced it will be too late for force to be employed to stop them.

At Panetta’s next stop in Israel, he will tell the Israelis to trust that President Obama will do the right thing on Iran even though “it may not seem obvious at the moment” that he has any attention of acting. But instead of laughing at Romney for asking a reasonable question about the London Olympics and for refusing to lie about the morally bankrupt culture of the Palestinians, those who follow foreign policy should be alarmed at Panetta’s pathetic attempt to keep engaging with Iran when doing so only serves the interests of the Islamist regime and its nuclear ambitions.

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Bibi Caught Between Obama and Romney

It is a cardinal rule of foreign policy that it is almost always a mistake to interfere in another country’s elections. When it comes to the United States’ interest in Israel, that is a maxim that has often been observed in the breach. U.S. government attempts to influence Israeli elections are ill-advised and don’t always work, as Bill Clinton learned in 1996 when he did everything but go door to door canvassing voters in Tel Aviv in a vain attempt to stop Benjamin Netanyahu from becoming prime minister of Israel. But any Israeli efforts to signal their preferences in American presidential elections may have unfortunate consequences. That’s why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been at pains throughout the past year to make it clear he wants no part in the 2012 contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney. But however hard Netanyahu has tried to stay out of the fractious debate about which of the two is a better friend to the Jewish state, Romney’s visit to Israel yesterday left little doubt that while officially neutral, there isn’t much daylight between the GOP candidate and Jerusalem.

The upshot of Netanyahu’s meeting with Romney made it clear that his government is much closer to the Republican’s position on how to deal with Iran than Obama’s. Netanyahu’s saying, “Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more,” about the need to stop Iran came on the same day that he reiterated his belief that the Obama administration’s reliance on sanctions and diplomacy was not working. Combined with Romney’s acknowledgement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the day’s events might leave some with the impression that Israel has a rooting interest in the U.S. election. That isn’t what Netanyahu wants, as he knows there is a good chance he will be stuck dealing with Obama next year. But there is no way of escaping this dilemma. Because the administration’s positions on Iran, like the stances it took on settlements, the 1967 lines and the status of Jerusalem prior to the president’s election year Jewish charm offensive, are antithetical to Israel’s point of view, it is only natural for observers to conclude that Netanyahu would rather not find out what a second Obama administration will be like.

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It is a cardinal rule of foreign policy that it is almost always a mistake to interfere in another country’s elections. When it comes to the United States’ interest in Israel, that is a maxim that has often been observed in the breach. U.S. government attempts to influence Israeli elections are ill-advised and don’t always work, as Bill Clinton learned in 1996 when he did everything but go door to door canvassing voters in Tel Aviv in a vain attempt to stop Benjamin Netanyahu from becoming prime minister of Israel. But any Israeli efforts to signal their preferences in American presidential elections may have unfortunate consequences. That’s why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been at pains throughout the past year to make it clear he wants no part in the 2012 contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney. But however hard Netanyahu has tried to stay out of the fractious debate about which of the two is a better friend to the Jewish state, Romney’s visit to Israel yesterday left little doubt that while officially neutral, there isn’t much daylight between the GOP candidate and Jerusalem.

The upshot of Netanyahu’s meeting with Romney made it clear that his government is much closer to the Republican’s position on how to deal with Iran than Obama’s. Netanyahu’s saying, “Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more,” about the need to stop Iran came on the same day that he reiterated his belief that the Obama administration’s reliance on sanctions and diplomacy was not working. Combined with Romney’s acknowledgement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the day’s events might leave some with the impression that Israel has a rooting interest in the U.S. election. That isn’t what Netanyahu wants, as he knows there is a good chance he will be stuck dealing with Obama next year. But there is no way of escaping this dilemma. Because the administration’s positions on Iran, like the stances it took on settlements, the 1967 lines and the status of Jerusalem prior to the president’s election year Jewish charm offensive, are antithetical to Israel’s point of view, it is only natural for observers to conclude that Netanyahu would rather not find out what a second Obama administration will be like.

Netanyahu will be careful in the coming days to avoid any further “agreement” with Romney. And he will warmly greet Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who will be the second major Obama Cabinet member to arrive in Israel in the past couple of weeks. But Panetta, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is there to persuade the Israelis to continue trusting the administration on Iran. Given Netanyahu’s correct assessment of Obama’s foolish reliance on diplomacy and sanctions (which the president has undermined with the granting of exemptions to China and India to continue buying Iranian oil), that is impossible.

Indeed, the problem for Netanyahu is that while he may privately believe that a President Romney may have a far better grasp of the realities of the Iranian nuclear threat, as David Horowitz wrote yesterday in the Times of Israel, by January it may be too late for him to make a difference. If by next year, Iran’s nuclear progress is such that its program will have already reached a point of immunity where no amount of Israeli or American air strikes will be able to stop them, then it won’t matter who wins the U.S. presidential election.

What was on display yesterday is not so much a warm friendship between Netanyahu and Romney as the complete disconnect between Israel and Obama. So long as the United States is pursuing a diplomatic process with Iran, it is difficult to imagine an Israeli strike on Iran. The administration has little sense of urgency about the issue and it is worry about that, rather than any great affection for Romney that is motivating Netanyahu these days.

Netanyahu must, as much as he can, stay out of American politics. Anything that could be interpreted as an endorsement of Romney would be rightly viewed as damaging to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But the one thing Romney’s visit does do is give Netanyahu a bit of leverage as he seeks to convince the Americans to face up to the failure of their Iran strategy.

Yet as difficult as Netanyahu’s position may be, Obama must be equally careful. As much as he has made his dislike for the Israeli leader even less of a secret than Netanyahu’s views of the president, the difference is that while Obama is in the fight of his life to hold onto his office this year, Netanyahu is in a commanding position in Israeli politics and will likely hold onto power there throughout the next U.S. presidential term. Netanyahu has good reason to fear what a second Obama administration will have in store for his country. But the president is aware that Netanyahu is just as capable of making his life miserable via an Iran attack. At least until November, the Israeli may be holding more cards in his hand than the American president.

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Tisha B’Av and the Right of Self-Defense

Today is Tisha B’Av, the date in the Hebrew calendar on which a number of catastrophes have befallen the Jews. This is the date on which both of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Since then, other anti-Semitic powers have taken delight in launching fresh atrocities on the day, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492 to massacres during the Holocaust. It is a solemn day of fasting and one on which Jewish tradition commands us to think about the mindless and sinful hatred within the community that has often brought down calamity on the Jewish people. Such reflection is important at a time when issues and rancor divide Jews and cause them to forget that the values that should unite them are far more important than the issues on which they differ. But it would be more than foolish not to give a thought today to the still potent external threats. Though Israel is beset by many problems, there is no greater menace to the continuance of Jewish life than that posed by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

Thus, it was heartening today to hear thatwhile visiting the Jewish state, Mitt Romney plans to endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran. Romney, who will speak tonight after the conclusion of the holiday, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, who rightly sounded a note of alarm about the failure of the sanctions belatedly enacted by the Obama administration on Iran. Though Washington has been boasting about their tough sanctions policy, today was an apt day for Netanyahu to point out their bravado was disconnected from reality.

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Today is Tisha B’Av, the date in the Hebrew calendar on which a number of catastrophes have befallen the Jews. This is the date on which both of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Since then, other anti-Semitic powers have taken delight in launching fresh atrocities on the day, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492 to massacres during the Holocaust. It is a solemn day of fasting and one on which Jewish tradition commands us to think about the mindless and sinful hatred within the community that has often brought down calamity on the Jewish people. Such reflection is important at a time when issues and rancor divide Jews and cause them to forget that the values that should unite them are far more important than the issues on which they differ. But it would be more than foolish not to give a thought today to the still potent external threats. Though Israel is beset by many problems, there is no greater menace to the continuance of Jewish life than that posed by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

Thus, it was heartening today to hear thatwhile visiting the Jewish state, Mitt Romney plans to endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran. Romney, who will speak tonight after the conclusion of the holiday, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, who rightly sounded a note of alarm about the failure of the sanctions belatedly enacted by the Obama administration on Iran. Though Washington has been boasting about their tough sanctions policy, today was an apt day for Netanyahu to point out their bravado was disconnected from reality.

The Obama administration has sounded tough on Iran but has made it clear it does not wish Israel to strike on its own. Indeed, the president has seemed to be more concerned about preventing an Israeli strike than on stopping Iran. The only accomplishment of the dead-end negotiating process on which he has placed the country’s hopes for a resolution of the problem has been to make it difficult if not impossible for Israel to act.

The reason why Obama’s sanctions and diplomacy have failed is that the Iranians don’t take him seriously. The exemptions granted to the sanctions have maintained Iran’s oil trade and will keep the regime afloat. More to the point, the ayatollahs believe the president is not only unwilling to hold them accountable, but he will shield them from Israel. The only chance to persuade the Iranians to back down on their nuclear ambitions is to convince them they will pay a terrible price if they do not. Thus, Romney’s willingness to say that Israel has a right to try to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities and that the United States will stand by them if they do sends a significant message to Tehran.

It would be far better for Israel not to be forced to act on its own against Iran. But in the absence of a credible American policy on the nuclear issue, it is Netanyahu’s responsibility to think seriously about doing so if there is no other way out of the dilemma. He understands that the point of the State of Israel is that the Jews will no longer sit and wait while their enemies plot their destruction. If necessary, his government must act to avert or at least postpone the Iranian threat. And America’s leaders should be not only acting on their own to stop Iran but backing up Israel’s right of self-defense.

While this statement will be dismissed as Romney playing politics with foreign policy, it will do more than merely make Iran’s rulers anxious. It also has the potential to aid Obama’s diplomatic efforts. The ayatollahs must now realize that if Romney is elected all bets are off when it comes to their heretofore successful strategy of dealing with the West. For years, they have been able to talk and lie their way through the crisis because they understood the Obama administration was only interested in kicking the can down the road to avoid having to take action. But unless the Iranians are sure Obama will be re-elected, they have to consider the possibility that they must try and cut a deal now with Obama (and therefore boost his chances of winning) or be left to face a far less accommodating new president next year.

Given the ideological premise of their nuclear ambition, it is to be doubted that anything, even the threat of having to face Romney and Netanyahu in January, can convince Iran to back down. But as Jews remember their past today, let us hope that the rulers of Tehran, who have boasted of their desire to eliminate the State of Israel and seek the means to do so, will listen to what Romney said and draw the appropriate conclusion. On this day, it is important that those who are intent on creating new tragedies understand that this time, the Jews will strike first.

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Veteran Diplomat: Obama No Israel Lover

While Obama campaign surrogates are spending the summer beating the bushes trying to convince Jewish voters not to believe anything they saw the president do to Israel during his first three years in office, a veteran Washington peace processor and critic of Benjamin Netanyahu has the chutzpah to tell the truth about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship, in an article in Foreign Policy today. Aaron David Miller spent 24 years working for several administrations, pushing hard to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he understands the difference between presidents who care about Israel and ones who don’t. In an article in which he forecasts “Turbulence Ahead” for the U.S.-Israel relationship if President Obama is re-elected, Miller says one of the key problems is the attitude of the man in the White House:

I’ve watched a few presidents come and go on this issue, and Obama really is different. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel. As a result, he has a harder time making allowances for Israeli behavior he doesn’t like. Obama relates to the Jewish state not on a values continuum but through a national security and interest filter.

It’s true that the president doesn’t emote on many policy issues, with the possible exception of health care. But on Israel, he just doesn’t buy the “tiny state living on the knife’s edge with the dark past” argument — or at least it doesn’t come through in emotionally resonant terms. …

In this respect, when it comes to Israel, Obama is more like Jimmy Carter minus the biblical interest or attachment, or like Bush 41 minus a strategy. My sense is that, if he could get away with it, the president would like to see a U.S.-Israeli relationship that is not just less exclusive, but somewhat less special as well.

Miller doesn’t pull punches about Netanyahu’s shortcomings nor does he blow the current difficulties out of proportion. He rightly acknowledges this isn’t the first time there has been tension between the two nations. But Miller’s discussion of Obama’s view of the Jewish state goes right to the heart of the problem. Obama’s apologists can deny these facts all they want, but the ordinary pro-Israel voter isn’t fooled, which accounts not only for the polls that show the president bleeding support but also for the Jewish charm offensive the administration has been conducting in recent months.

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While Obama campaign surrogates are spending the summer beating the bushes trying to convince Jewish voters not to believe anything they saw the president do to Israel during his first three years in office, a veteran Washington peace processor and critic of Benjamin Netanyahu has the chutzpah to tell the truth about the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship, in an article in Foreign Policy today. Aaron David Miller spent 24 years working for several administrations, pushing hard to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But he understands the difference between presidents who care about Israel and ones who don’t. In an article in which he forecasts “Turbulence Ahead” for the U.S.-Israel relationship if President Obama is re-elected, Miller says one of the key problems is the attitude of the man in the White House:

I’ve watched a few presidents come and go on this issue, and Obama really is different. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel. As a result, he has a harder time making allowances for Israeli behavior he doesn’t like. Obama relates to the Jewish state not on a values continuum but through a national security and interest filter.

It’s true that the president doesn’t emote on many policy issues, with the possible exception of health care. But on Israel, he just doesn’t buy the “tiny state living on the knife’s edge with the dark past” argument — or at least it doesn’t come through in emotionally resonant terms. …

In this respect, when it comes to Israel, Obama is more like Jimmy Carter minus the biblical interest or attachment, or like Bush 41 minus a strategy. My sense is that, if he could get away with it, the president would like to see a U.S.-Israeli relationship that is not just less exclusive, but somewhat less special as well.

Miller doesn’t pull punches about Netanyahu’s shortcomings nor does he blow the current difficulties out of proportion. He rightly acknowledges this isn’t the first time there has been tension between the two nations. But Miller’s discussion of Obama’s view of the Jewish state goes right to the heart of the problem. Obama’s apologists can deny these facts all they want, but the ordinary pro-Israel voter isn’t fooled, which accounts not only for the polls that show the president bleeding support but also for the Jewish charm offensive the administration has been conducting in recent months.

As Miller points out, the impending crisis about Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons makes the need for close cooperation between the U.S. and Israel vital. But Obama’s coldness toward the Jewish state not only creates dangerous daylight between the two nations but also undermines the notion that Israelis should defer to and rely on the United States in a crisis. If the president is unhappy about the prospect of Israel striking out on its own on Iran, he has no one to blame but himself.

While Obama’s supporters keep trying to pretend there is no problem, Miller is merely saying what everyone already knows when he observes: “Obama’s views are much closer to the Palestinians than to Israel.”

As for the future, Miller points out that past confrontations between U.S. and Israeli leaders has led to them both being defeated for re-election, as was the case with the elder George Bush and Yitzhak Shamir in 1992. But Netanyahu is not in much danger of losing the next Israeli election. That means if Obama survives Romney’s challenge, the odds are the next four years will be difficult. As Miller writes, “Buckle your seat belts. It may be a wild ride.” That’s a prediction pro-Israel voters should take seriously this fall.

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Coalition Shift Leaves Netanyahu on Top

The collapse of the short-lived supermajority who presided over Israel’s ruling coalition since May has given critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the best couple of days they’ve had in years. But anyone who expects this setback to change the political equation in which Netanyahu is not only an overwhelming favorite to win re-election but to stay in power for years to come doesn’t understand what has happened.

The end of the coalition is a disappointment for those friends of Israel who hoped the supermajority could help create some much-needed fundamental changes. But though the failure is not something that will burnish Netanyahu’s reputation, it will do far more damage to his junior partner Kadima and its leader Shaul Mofaz than it will to the prime minister or his Likud. At the end of the day, Netanyahu can be said to have his reputation dented a bit, but he remains on top of Israeli politics with no credible rival for the post of prime minister in sight.

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The collapse of the short-lived supermajority who presided over Israel’s ruling coalition since May has given critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the best couple of days they’ve had in years. But anyone who expects this setback to change the political equation in which Netanyahu is not only an overwhelming favorite to win re-election but to stay in power for years to come doesn’t understand what has happened.

The end of the coalition is a disappointment for those friends of Israel who hoped the supermajority could help create some much-needed fundamental changes. But though the failure is not something that will burnish Netanyahu’s reputation, it will do far more damage to his junior partner Kadima and its leader Shaul Mofaz than it will to the prime minister or his Likud. At the end of the day, Netanyahu can be said to have his reputation dented a bit, but he remains on top of Israeli politics with no credible rival for the post of prime minister in sight.

Netanyahu was hailed as the “king” of Israeli politics for the adroit maneuver by which he enticed the Kadima party into his tent and for giving very little in return for padding his majority to more than 90 members of the 120-seat Knesset. The coalition could have achieved great things, including a reform of Israel’s draft laws that could have required the ultra-Orthodox and even Arabs to do national service along with the rest of the country. Even more importantly, it could have worked on election reform proposals that might have ended the tyranny of small parties and taken the nation to a more rational and stable model. But perhaps it was too much to expect Israeli politicians, especially those in Kadima, a feckless assembly of the worst opportunists in Israel, to behave rationally, let alone courageously and the experiment has ended.

But it should be remembered that Netanyahu already had a stable and strong governing majority even before the Kadima deal. Some of his critics (a group that included President Obama) hoped that he would not last long in office after his February 2009 election victory. But in contrast to his first unsuccessful term as prime minister in the 1990s, Netanyahu would not make the same mistakes this time. He not only kept his coalition together but gained rather than lost popularity by standing up to U.S. pressure. The end of the peace process destroyed Israel’s left-wing parties and the Likud’s smart stewardship of Israel’s growing economy has also retained the confidence of the country despite the attention given to protesters.

Mofaz has criticized Netanyahu for proposing a gradual move towards drafting the ultra-Orthodox rather than a plan that would have done so more quickly. But, as Haaretz’s Yossi Verter reports, Mofaz’s decision to bolt the government probably had more to do with his worry that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (who was acquitted on corruption charges last week) was thinking about getting back into politics. Netanyahu is widely accused of making an astute political calculation that he was better off retaining an alliance with the ultra-Orthodox parties rather than Kadima. This may be true because, like everyone else in Israel, Netanyahu knows that after the dust has settled after the next election (which may take place early next year), Kadima will be history, but the Orthodox will still be standing.

But even those who sympathize and agree with the majority of Israelis who bitterly resent Haredi draft-dodging must concede this is not a problem that can be solved overnight. As soon became apparent once the possibility of draft reform came in sight this year, the Israel Defense Forces are unprepared for a huge influx of reluctant ultra-Orthodox recruits. It is far more important that the Haredim who are currently allowed to be unemployed and undrafted Torah scholars (or at least pretending to be scholars) are pressured or guided to enter Israel’s economy than its army. Netanyahu’s proposal that Mofaz has rejected might have fallen short of expectations but it was a reasonable start that the prime minister will have no trouble defending when he faces the voters.

The end of the coalition will likely hasten the exit of Kadima from the Knesset at the next election where it will be replaced by a revived though still weak Labor Party as the principal opposition to Netanyahu. Mofaz and Olmert will join Tzippi Livni, another former Kadima leader, may continue to try to maneuver, but they are destined to wind up on the dustheap of Israeli politics. Other, smaller parties will fill the place that Kadima thought to occupy in Israel’s center. But the one thing that will not change is Netanyahu’s ascendancy. For all of his problems and occasional missteps, his position on the peace process and security issues represents the consensus of the Israeli people. Though American liberals and the Obama administration may long for him to be replaced, Netanyahu is likely to remain prime minister throughout the term of the next American president.

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Netanyahu Urges Romney Tisha B’Av Visit

At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol confirms new details of Mitt Romney’s upcoming visit to Israel:

During discussions about the trip over the last month, advisers to Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the appropriateness of a Romney visit to Israel on this date [Tisha B'Av]. But Netanyahu, the Weekly Standard has confirmed from top aides in Jerusalem and Boston, encouraged Romney to be in Jerusalem on this solemn day, one that recalls the tragedies of Jewish history and calls to mind current threats to the Jewish people.

Indeed, the Weekly Standard can report that Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu have invited the Romneys to join them for the traditional meal breaking the fast following sundown after Tisha B’Av. This gesture suggests that what may have started out as a routine candidate touchdown in Israel has become a more serious and significant moment for both Netanyahu and Romney.

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At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol confirms new details of Mitt Romney’s upcoming visit to Israel:

During discussions about the trip over the last month, advisers to Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the appropriateness of a Romney visit to Israel on this date [Tisha B'Av]. But Netanyahu, the Weekly Standard has confirmed from top aides in Jerusalem and Boston, encouraged Romney to be in Jerusalem on this solemn day, one that recalls the tragedies of Jewish history and calls to mind current threats to the Jewish people.

Indeed, the Weekly Standard can report that Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu have invited the Romneys to join them for the traditional meal breaking the fast following sundown after Tisha B’Av. This gesture suggests that what may have started out as a routine candidate touchdown in Israel has become a more serious and significant moment for both Netanyahu and Romney.

Some media reports criticized Mitt Romney for scheduling a Jerusalem fundraising event shortly after the conclusion of Tisha B’Av, the day of Jewish mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples. But it sounds like the event will now be postponed due to Romney’s dinner with Netanyahu.

Romney could not have chosen a more important and symbolic time to visit Israel this summer. Tisha B’Av and the nine days leading up to it is a time of mourning not just for the temples, but for all the historical atrocities that have befallen the Jewish people on that date, from the Alhambra Decree issued in Spain in 1492 to the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to a Nazi extermination camp. Breaking the fast with Netanyahu and his wife will add to the weightiness of Romney’s visit. Politically, it will also sharpen the contrast between Romney and President Obama — it’s hard to imagine Netanyahu and Obama sitting down for any meal together, let alone a meal as intimate and meaningful as this one.

UPDATE: For those interested in additional historical context on Tisha B’av, Rabbi Josh Yuter tweets at me:

Interesting post on Romney’s Israel speech – One quibble, not as much happened on 9Av as many believe

Click the last link to read Rabbi Yuter disputing some common assumptions about Tisha B’av.

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Settlements’ Legality Won’t Prevent Peace

The release of a report on the legality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank commissioned by Prime Minister Netanyahu is being widely dismissed by critics of his government as well as those of the Jewish state. Though its findings that Jews have the right to live in the territories and that Israel’s presence there does not fit the traditional definition of a military occupation are solidly based in international law, no one should expect the left to respect the report issued by a panel headed by former Supreme Court Vice President Edmond Levy. Nor should we be surprised if the international community ignores it. Opposition to the settlements is so deeply entrenched that there is no argument, no matter how grounded in logic or justice, that would persuade those committed to the myth settlements are the only obstacle to peace, that they are not illegal. As legal scholar David M. Phillips wrote in the September 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, international law supports this position.

But while we expect this effort to be trashed, those horrified by the fact that Israel is willing to assert that it has rights in the West Bank that are as worthy of respect as those of the Arabs are not just wrong about the legal arguments. Their assumption that a belief in the settlements’ legality makes a peace deal impossible is equally mistaken. Just because Israel has rights in the West Bank doesn’t mean it need necessarily exercise them on every inch of the territory. The assertion of Jewish rights merely means Israel has a leg to stand on when negotiating the permanent status of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Far from that rendering peace unlikely, it ought to give Palestinians an incentive to come to the table and work out a deal that will give them as much of the territory as they can get. The obstacle to peace is the Palestinian belief that the Jewish presence throughout the country — including pre-1967 Israel — is illegitimate.

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The release of a report on the legality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank commissioned by Prime Minister Netanyahu is being widely dismissed by critics of his government as well as those of the Jewish state. Though its findings that Jews have the right to live in the territories and that Israel’s presence there does not fit the traditional definition of a military occupation are solidly based in international law, no one should expect the left to respect the report issued by a panel headed by former Supreme Court Vice President Edmond Levy. Nor should we be surprised if the international community ignores it. Opposition to the settlements is so deeply entrenched that there is no argument, no matter how grounded in logic or justice, that would persuade those committed to the myth settlements are the only obstacle to peace, that they are not illegal. As legal scholar David M. Phillips wrote in the September 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, international law supports this position.

But while we expect this effort to be trashed, those horrified by the fact that Israel is willing to assert that it has rights in the West Bank that are as worthy of respect as those of the Arabs are not just wrong about the legal arguments. Their assumption that a belief in the settlements’ legality makes a peace deal impossible is equally mistaken. Just because Israel has rights in the West Bank doesn’t mean it need necessarily exercise them on every inch of the territory. The assertion of Jewish rights merely means Israel has a leg to stand on when negotiating the permanent status of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Far from that rendering peace unlikely, it ought to give Palestinians an incentive to come to the table and work out a deal that will give them as much of the territory as they can get. The obstacle to peace is the Palestinian belief that the Jewish presence throughout the country — including pre-1967 Israel — is illegitimate.

As Phillips and the new report pointed out, the international conventions prohibiting the movement of people into occupied territory has no application in the West Bank, as it forms part of the League of Nations Palestinian Mandate that was established to facilitate the creation of a national home for the Jews. Far from the West Bank being “stolen” from the Palestinians, it was simply unallocated territory from the former Ottoman Empire where Jews had legal rights as powerful as those of the Arabs. Nor do the postwar resolutions formed in response to Nazi policies in Eastern Europe that are frequently cited by settlement foes apply to Israel’s very different policies.

The widespread interpretation of this report is that it will allow Netanyahu to avoid demolishing those settlement outposts that were not previously authorized by the government. But any outpost that was built on land owned by Arabs can still be uprooted by legal action, as was the case with the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El.

The fallacy here is not just that the effort to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem is not a correct interpretation of international law. It is just as important to note that once Israel’s rights are confirmed, it doesn’t obligate Netanyahu or any of his successors to hold onto all of the land. The report’s recommendations that limits on growth in existing settlements should be lifted likewise doesn’t mean that a peace deal can’t be reached. Most of the settlements would be retained even in proposals put forward by the Jewish left, and those left out could still be evacuated, as the withdrawal from Gaza proved.

What it does do is force the Palestinians to understand that if they want peace, they must compromise.

But that is something they won’t do on the West Bank for the same reason they are unwilling to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. It is that reluctance to give up their opposition to Jewish sovereignty even inside the Green Line that prevents peace. Were the PA willing to make a peace deal that would end the conflict for all time, they could have the independent state they were offered and refused in 2000, 2001 and 2008. The settlement’s legality wouldn’t stop Israel from evacuating any place conceded in a peace deal. But so long as the Palestinians are encouraged to believe they can uproot all of the Jews, including those living in the Jewish settlement built on the outskirts of Jaffa a century ago that is now known as Tel Aviv, it won’t matter what the legal scholars say about any of this.

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A New Round of Palestinian Extortion

Yasser Arafat was famous for perfecting a style of diplomacy that could win him accolades from naive Westerners without having to make a single concession or sacrifice for the peace process. He would do this by refusing to do something basic that he should have already done until he could extort a reward for it. The West would pretend they got a concession from Arafat, and Arafat would laugh and laugh. It was a classic lose-lose dance that has marked the peace process from the beginning.

Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is a slight improvement, but in this regard he is turning back the clock. Haaretz is reporting that something which in the pre-Obama days of Middle East diplomacy was taken for granted–the willingness by Palestinians to meet for the purposes of political theater–has turned into something that requires ever more concessions. The latest is the Palestinian demand that Israel release 125 terrorists just for the pleasure of Abbas considering a meeting. Benjamin Netanyahu has supposedly accepted the offer, and issued a proposal for how to structure the deal.

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Yasser Arafat was famous for perfecting a style of diplomacy that could win him accolades from naive Westerners without having to make a single concession or sacrifice for the peace process. He would do this by refusing to do something basic that he should have already done until he could extort a reward for it. The West would pretend they got a concession from Arafat, and Arafat would laugh and laugh. It was a classic lose-lose dance that has marked the peace process from the beginning.

Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is a slight improvement, but in this regard he is turning back the clock. Haaretz is reporting that something which in the pre-Obama days of Middle East diplomacy was taken for granted–the willingness by Palestinians to meet for the purposes of political theater–has turned into something that requires ever more concessions. The latest is the Palestinian demand that Israel release 125 terrorists just for the pleasure of Abbas considering a meeting. Benjamin Netanyahu has supposedly accepted the offer, and issued a proposal for how to structure the deal.

There are caveats to this: it’s possible Israel was mulling the release of the prisoners at some point in the near future anyway; alternatively, as Abbas has no intention of negotiating it probably won’t happen. Nonetheless, the mere whiff of such a story going public will have negative consequences, as the following two key paragraphs of the story indicate:

The Palestinians are at this point said to be in no hurry to agree to Netanyahu’s proposal; they are concerned that after the initial stage of prisoner release Israel will find excuses not to carry out the other four. The Palestinians also say Israel’s proposal for the exchange of old weapons for new ones is “humiliating,” and does not meet their security needs.

And:

Talks between Erekat and Molho are ongoing ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Israel next Monday. This will be Clinton’s first visit to Israel since September 15, 2010, when she, Netanyahu and Abbas met at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. The talks have been stalled since that meeting.

On the first: the Palestinians are actually balking at their own ridiculous demands because Israel is only agreeing to release some weapons and some murderers to them–surely a recipe for peace–but are afraid they won’t get all the murderers and all the guns and ammo they’re asking for. Translation: they made a crazy offer designed to repulse the Israelis enough to keep them away from the negotiating table. The Israelis accepted the crazy offer–something the Palestinians didn’t anticipate–and now Abbas must find a way to weasel out of it. (He’s done this before; it works.) It’s possible the Israelis are simply calling Abbas’s bluff here. If so, the peace process is no less of a cynical joke than it has been for years.

On the second excerpt from the story: Hillary Clinton is coming to the region (though she is bound to get lost on the way to Jerusalem, since she still doesn’t know what country it’s in) to do some peacemaking, and would like the publicity stunt of announcing the resumption of talks. If she is serious, the first thing she should do is reprimand the Palestinians for trying to extort this face-to-face meeting with Netanyahu. If not, she should save the trip and her breath. If what she wants is peace, she cannot in good faith bless this sort of disaster.

What’s the point of all this? If you read this and thought: This is far too nonsensical for the United Nations not to be involved somehow, you would be right. Next paragraph:

The United States and Israel believe that a Netanyahu-Abbas meeting and Israeli moves could create an atmosphere in which Abbas is less likely to approach the United Nations once again in September with a request to receive the status of a non-member observer state.

Why? What makes them think this? If Clinton wants to prevent the Palestinians from taking more unilateral action at the dictators’ Pack ’n Play that is the United Nations, she should remind Abbas that unilateralism will thus have his blessing, and so he shouldn’t be surprised if the Israelis take a few unilateral actions of their own. What would those unilateral actions be? Who knows? Clinton should dare Abbas to find out.

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Mahmoud Abbas, Serial Liar

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has consistently refused to negotiate in good faith or to make peace with Israel since he succeeded the equally obdurate Yasir Arafat in 2004. He’s also been consistent in another way: he lies a lot. Abbas’s mendacity isn’t the garden-variety white lies, exaggerations and obfuscations that are the routine fare of American politicians. Instead, he is given to telling the barefaced lies we tend to associate with the heads of dictatorial regimes. Which is, of course, the sort of government the Palestinian Authority has more in common with than democratic systems such as that of Israel and the United States.

The latest example of this came in an interview Saturday night with Israel’s Channel Two in which Abbas was reduced to claiming that some well-documented statements of his never actually happened. According to Abbas, he never discussed Israel’s offer to allow some Palestinian refugees into the country with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also claimed he never told respected Washington Post editor and columnist Jackson Diehl that he had no intention of negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That both of those figures can prove he did say those things goes without saying. But the point here is not just that Abbas is a liar, though that is exactly what he is. Rather, it is that Palestinian political culture is such that Abbas knows he has no choice but to lie about these things. To do otherwise would place him in opposition to the overwhelming sentiment of those opposed to peace or to even the appearance of compromise with Israel.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has consistently refused to negotiate in good faith or to make peace with Israel since he succeeded the equally obdurate Yasir Arafat in 2004. He’s also been consistent in another way: he lies a lot. Abbas’s mendacity isn’t the garden-variety white lies, exaggerations and obfuscations that are the routine fare of American politicians. Instead, he is given to telling the barefaced lies we tend to associate with the heads of dictatorial regimes. Which is, of course, the sort of government the Palestinian Authority has more in common with than democratic systems such as that of Israel and the United States.

The latest example of this came in an interview Saturday night with Israel’s Channel Two in which Abbas was reduced to claiming that some well-documented statements of his never actually happened. According to Abbas, he never discussed Israel’s offer to allow some Palestinian refugees into the country with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also claimed he never told respected Washington Post editor and columnist Jackson Diehl that he had no intention of negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That both of those figures can prove he did say those things goes without saying. But the point here is not just that Abbas is a liar, though that is exactly what he is. Rather, it is that Palestinian political culture is such that Abbas knows he has no choice but to lie about these things. To do otherwise would place him in opposition to the overwhelming sentiment of those opposed to peace or to even the appearance of compromise with Israel.

Abbas is, after all, in a difficult position. In order to maintain the pose of moderation he has cultivated with the West, he has had to engage in talks with American and even Israeli leaders and say things about peace terms that he wouldn’t dare mention to an Arab audience. But conversations such as the one Rice documented in her memoir are not the sort of thing he can admit. Doing so will weaken his already shaky popularity among Palestinians at a time when his Hamas rivals are seeking to poach on his West Bank fiefdom.

As for his controversial interview with Diehl, Abbas’s candor about his unwillingness to talk to Israel in 2009 was as much the fault of President Obama as it was the Palestinian’s intransigence. In those early months of the Obama presidency, the hostility of the new administration for Israel was palpable, and Abbas figured it made no sense for him to accept Netanyahu’s offers of talks. With the president trying to extract concessions from Israel without the Palestinians having to do anything in return, Abbas’s stance made sense, especially because he may have shared the delusion held by many in the White House and State Department they could topple the newly elected Netanyahu.

In retrospect, Abbas probably regrets thinking that Obama would hand Israel to him on a silver platter as much as the administration may (or at least should) regret banking on the PA be willing to take advantage of all the help they were trying to give. Thus, Abbas must lie about his talk with Diehl as well as his conversations with Rice.

But lest you think Abbas’s fibs are merely the function of diplomacy, elsewhere in the interview, Abbas played to his Palestinian base with another lie about the events of 1948. He claimed that nearly a million Arabs left the territory of Israel during the fighting and they now numbered five million, among whom he counts himself. In fact, the number he cites would have included almost the entire Arab population of the Palestinian Mandate at the time. Because almost 200,000 remained inside the territory of the new state of Israel and hundreds of thousands more remained in their homes in Gaza and the West Bank (which were illegally occupied by Egypt and Jordan), the numbers don’t add up.

Of course, Abbas has experience lying about numbers. His doctoral thesis claimed six million Jews were not killed during the Holocaust. What are a few lies about conversations with Rice and Diehl when compared to Holocaust denial?

If this is Israel’s peace partner, there’s no mystery about why the peace process has been dead in the water for years.

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Romney Trip Puts Obama on Defensive

The New York Times reports that Mitt Romney will visit Israel to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu this summer, marking his fourth trip to the country:

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, will visit Israel this summer to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders, a senior aide to the prime minister confirmed on Monday evening.

Mr. Romney, who has pledged to “do the opposite” of the Obama administration on matters pertaining to Israel, is also expected to meet with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority; President Shimon Peres of Israel; the American ambassador, Daniel B. Shapiro; and leaders of the opposition Labor Party in Jerusalem. He plans to have at least one public event in a trip that will likely last less than two days.

“He’s a strong friend of Israel and we’ll be happy to meet with him,” said Ron Dermer, Mr. Netanyahu’s senior adviser, who worked with Republicans in the United States before immigrating here. “We value strong bipartisan support for Israel and we’re sure it will only deepen that.”

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The New York Times reports that Mitt Romney will visit Israel to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu this summer, marking his fourth trip to the country:

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, will visit Israel this summer to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders, a senior aide to the prime minister confirmed on Monday evening.

Mr. Romney, who has pledged to “do the opposite” of the Obama administration on matters pertaining to Israel, is also expected to meet with Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority; President Shimon Peres of Israel; the American ambassador, Daniel B. Shapiro; and leaders of the opposition Labor Party in Jerusalem. He plans to have at least one public event in a trip that will likely last less than two days.

“He’s a strong friend of Israel and we’ll be happy to meet with him,” said Ron Dermer, Mr. Netanyahu’s senior adviser, who worked with Republicans in the United States before immigrating here. “We value strong bipartisan support for Israel and we’re sure it will only deepen that.”

Prominent Democratic donors have criticized President Obama for avoiding Israel during his first term, despite his trips to other countries in the region. Even Vladimir Putin traveled to the Jewish state this summer, which made Obama’s failure to visit even more obvious.

Members of Romney’s own campaign have been quietly grumbling that the candidate spends very little time focused on foreign policy. The Israel trip will give Romney a chance to broach some of these issues, while also putting the Obama campaign on defense. If there’s one subject Obama wants to talk about less than the economy, it’s his rocky relationship with Netanyahu.

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Putin to Visit Israel. Not Obama.

Jewish Democrats have been imploring President Obama to visit Israel to no avail ever since he was elected. But while the president has conspicuously avoided Israel during his foreign trips even when visiting the Middle East, the authoritarian running a far less friendly country has no scruples about coming to the Jewish state. The Times of Israel reports today that Vladimir Putin, who recently returned to the presidency of the Russian Federation after slumming for a few years in the prime minister’s office, will be heading to Israel later this month.

Putin will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem and dedicate a monument in Netanya to soldiers of the Red Army who were killed during World War II. He will also visit the Palestinian territories and Jordan. The visit will be Putin’s second to Israel as the leader of Russia (he previously visited in 2005) and puts President Obama’s refusal to go to Israel in an interesting light. Even though the president has embarked on a year-long Jewish charm offensive motivated by his desire to hold onto the Jewish vote this November, his decision not to try and win Israeli hearts and minds by coming to their country is curious, especially because it would be to his political advantage to do so.

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Jewish Democrats have been imploring President Obama to visit Israel to no avail ever since he was elected. But while the president has conspicuously avoided Israel during his foreign trips even when visiting the Middle East, the authoritarian running a far less friendly country has no scruples about coming to the Jewish state. The Times of Israel reports today that Vladimir Putin, who recently returned to the presidency of the Russian Federation after slumming for a few years in the prime minister’s office, will be heading to Israel later this month.

Putin will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem and dedicate a monument in Netanya to soldiers of the Red Army who were killed during World War II. He will also visit the Palestinian territories and Jordan. The visit will be Putin’s second to Israel as the leader of Russia (he previously visited in 2005) and puts President Obama’s refusal to go to Israel in an interesting light. Even though the president has embarked on a year-long Jewish charm offensive motivated by his desire to hold onto the Jewish vote this November, his decision not to try and win Israeli hearts and minds by coming to their country is curious, especially because it would be to his political advantage to do so.

Putin may be beset by demonstrations protesting his authoritarian rule at home and his support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and his equivocal attitude toward Iran’s nuclear program won’t win him any popularity contests in Israel. But his public attitude toward the Jewish state is friendly, even going so far as to call Israel a “Russian-speaking country.” His visit is more than just a diplomatic exercise as it sends a powerful message about Israel’s legitimacy to hostile Middle East nations that still look to Russia for support.

But though President Obama was willing to go to Israel while running for president in 2008, his deep dislike for Netanyahu has led him to avoid it since then. Though he spent his first three years in office picking fights with Israel, his deliberate avoidance of Israel in June 2009 when he spoke to the Arab world from Cairo (and made an insulting comparison between the Holocaust and the plight of the Palestinians) was resented even more than some of his comments about Jerusalem and the 1967 lines. Israelis duly noted it and polls have consistently shown him to be the least-liked American president in recent memory.

Much of this hostility might be ameliorated by a state visit where he could publicly show his respect for Israeli sensibilities and support for its security. But though Jewish Democrats have called for such a trip and Republicans have feared that it would lessen their chances of an increased Jewish vote in November, it hasn’t happened.

Those Democrats who have attempted to claim that Obama is Israel’s best friend ever in the White House — a claim that has been met with hilarity by many American Jews and incredulity by Israelis — the fact that Putin is going to Israel this summer while Obama still avoids it makes this argument even less credible.

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Palestinians Go Back to UN Dead-End

One would have thought the Palestinians might have learned their lesson when they devoted all of their efforts last year to an attempt to get the United Nations to issue a unilateral recognition of their independence. Many predicted the showdown over the initiative would produce a “diplomatic tsunami” that would overwhelm Israel and do serious damage to its political standing around the world and even in the United States. But those predictions, which were rightly debunked here at Contentions before the UN General Assembly met last September, proved to be mere hot air. Rather than a tsunami, the Palestinian push to make an end run around the peace process was a total flop, as even many European and Third World countries not sympathetic to Israel bailed on them.

But rather than moving on from that failure and seeking a diplomatic path to statehood, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, told the Times of Israel today that he and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas are heading back to the UN this fall for another tilt at the statehood windmill. Observers should take this signal for what it is: an indisputable statement of their disinterest in making peace with Israel on any terms.

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One would have thought the Palestinians might have learned their lesson when they devoted all of their efforts last year to an attempt to get the United Nations to issue a unilateral recognition of their independence. Many predicted the showdown over the initiative would produce a “diplomatic tsunami” that would overwhelm Israel and do serious damage to its political standing around the world and even in the United States. But those predictions, which were rightly debunked here at Contentions before the UN General Assembly met last September, proved to be mere hot air. Rather than a tsunami, the Palestinian push to make an end run around the peace process was a total flop, as even many European and Third World countries not sympathetic to Israel bailed on them.

But rather than moving on from that failure and seeking a diplomatic path to statehood, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, told the Times of Israel today that he and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas are heading back to the UN this fall for another tilt at the statehood windmill. Observers should take this signal for what it is: an indisputable statement of their disinterest in making peace with Israel on any terms.

The Palestinian failure at the UN exposed more than their leadership’s faulty judgment. It demonstrated that even an international community that could always be counted on to bash Israel understood that a peace accord had to precede a Palestinian state. The idea of giving even symbolic sovereignty to the Fatah-Hamas mess was always a non-starter. The world body made it clear to the Palestinian Authority that if it wanted a state, negotiations with Israel was the only way to get it.

But if this message fell on deaf Palestinian ears it is not because the PA’s leadership doesn’t understand that they have no more chance of getting UN approval for their proposal than they have of persuading the Israelis of giving up and disbanding their state. If they would prefer another humiliation at the UN to talking with the Israelis it is not because the Israelis won’t negotiate — the Netanyahu government has been pleading with the PA to engage in talks without preconditions for more than three years — but because negotiations are the one thing that really scares them.

The UN ploy has exposed for anyone who cares to open their eyes the fact that the political culture of the Palestinians still makes it impossible for the PA — whether it is run by Abbas and his Fatah alone or in conjunction with the terrorists of Hamas — to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. The only kind of Palestinian state they want or can possibly accept is one that won’t require them to pledge to end the conflict and live in amity with their Jewish neighbors, even if all settlements in the West Bank were wiped off the map.

Erekat and apologists will go on blaming the Israelis and talking about settlements being an obstacle to peace even though Netanyahu has signaled that he is willing to give up territory if it means a real and permanent peace. But the rerun of their UN fiasco is proof that they would rather have their European allies shame them than go back to the table. Middle East peace is still theoretically possible, but so long as the Palestinians prefer surefire diplomatic failure to negotiations, it remains but a dream.

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Why Doesn’t the Media Get Israeli Politics?

Lee Smith has an interesting take on one aspect of the administration’s calculated cyberleaks, produced obediently by the New York Times, detailing the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in conducting cyberwarfare against the Iranian nuclear program. It’s true, Smith writes, that in one sense these articles are meant to make Obama seem tough, but they are also to pass the buck if and when things go wrong. Smith writes:

The nature of the story is given away in a quote from Vice President Joe Biden, exasperated after Stuxnet mistakenly appeared on the Web in the summer of 2010, exposing the code. Biden laid the blame at the feet of the administration’s ostensible partner. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” said Biden, according to an unnamed source. “They went too far.” In other words, the Obama White House wants it both ways—to claim credit for the successes of the cyberwarfare campaign and to shift blame on the Israelis in the event that things go wrong.

It’s telling that the administration thinks blaming Israel is a good election strategy, and Smith’s piece is worth reading in full. But a couple quotes from Israeli sources stood out to me. First Yossi Melman, the Israeli journalist, tells Smith: “Israeli officials know that it’s an election year… Israeli officials are not going to rock the boat and ruin the party.” Later in the story, an Israeli intelligence source tells Smith: “No Israeli government is going to be criticized for releasing a virus. We know we are at war, and America does not know it’s at war.”

I’m not so sure that’s the case, but it does reveal something else about the two countries: Israelis understand American politics well, and American officials and journalists don’t seem to understand Israeli politics at all.

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Lee Smith has an interesting take on one aspect of the administration’s calculated cyberleaks, produced obediently by the New York Times, detailing the cooperation between the U.S. and Israel in conducting cyberwarfare against the Iranian nuclear program. It’s true, Smith writes, that in one sense these articles are meant to make Obama seem tough, but they are also to pass the buck if and when things go wrong. Smith writes:

The nature of the story is given away in a quote from Vice President Joe Biden, exasperated after Stuxnet mistakenly appeared on the Web in the summer of 2010, exposing the code. Biden laid the blame at the feet of the administration’s ostensible partner. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” said Biden, according to an unnamed source. “They went too far.” In other words, the Obama White House wants it both ways—to claim credit for the successes of the cyberwarfare campaign and to shift blame on the Israelis in the event that things go wrong.

It’s telling that the administration thinks blaming Israel is a good election strategy, and Smith’s piece is worth reading in full. But a couple quotes from Israeli sources stood out to me. First Yossi Melman, the Israeli journalist, tells Smith: “Israeli officials know that it’s an election year… Israeli officials are not going to rock the boat and ruin the party.” Later in the story, an Israeli intelligence source tells Smith: “No Israeli government is going to be criticized for releasing a virus. We know we are at war, and America does not know it’s at war.”

I’m not so sure that’s the case, but it does reveal something else about the two countries: Israelis understand American politics well, and American officials and journalists don’t seem to understand Israeli politics at all.

The Israelis are at peace with Obama’s strategy, because they get it. It’s an election year. It’s just business. This knowledge gap partially explained Jodi Rudoren’s clumsy transition to the New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau. She made a number of missteps, and explained that she didn’t really know exactly what she was doing yet, and to give her some time to adjust. Fair enough I suppose, but it was telling.

And a perfect example comes from Vanity Fair, which dispatched David Margolick to write a long profile on Benjamin Netanyahu for the magazine’s July issue. It’s now online, and it is truly something to behold. Margolick writes that most of Netanyahu’s decisions can be attributed to the inordinate influence the following people have on his opinions: his wife, Sara; his late father, Benzion; his late brother, Yoni; Ehud Barak; and the last person Netanyahu has spoken to, regardless of who it was.

There may be more in the article, but I stopped reading two pages in when Margolick explicitly compared Bibi to a warmongering Soviet dictator with a split personality. Margolick wasn’t writing that all those people have some influence on Netanyahu; he was making the case that each one has unique control over him. In other words, the article constantly contradicts its own thesis. It is essentially a cry for help. But why? What makes Israeli politics so incomprehensible to the press?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but there are a few possibilities. One is that the left doesn’t understand coalition politics as well as the right, which has to deal with making peace among its various factions. Another is that the liberal media’s echo chamber keeps them in a pack mentality, following the biases of papers like the New York Times. There is of course the left’s anti-Russian-immigrant hysteria, which they direct at Avigdor Lieberman even though he agrees with many of their priorities. It’s also hard to miss the media’s noxious treatment of Orthodox Jews who, much to the left’s eternal chagrin, also participate in Israel’s democratic process.

Maybe it’s something as simple as the media’s deeply personal antipathy toward Netanyahu. Whatever it is, they should figure it out–and soon. These articles portraying Israel’s democratically elected, rational premier as a schizophrenic dictator are getting embarrassing.

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Israel Can’t Solve Africa’s Problems

It is no small irony that a country like the United States that was built by and prospered because of immigration would come to regard the influx of foreigners to our shores as a problem. That is also true of the State of Israel which, much to its surprise, has found itself being swamped by unwelcome African migrants who have poured over the border with Egypt and presented the Israeli government with a ticklish dilemma. Anger about the influx bubbled over yesterday in a Tel Aviv protest that turned violent and where both demonstrators and some politicians in attendance uttered statements that could only be characterized as racist. Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to condemn the tone of the protest as well as members of his own party for behavior that he rightly said “had no place” in the country.

That such sentiments were given a public airing will be fodder for Israel haters. But once we condemn the protest, it must be admitted that the idea that tiny Israel should be considered the solution for African poverty is absurd. There are currently approximately 70,000 illegal African immigrants in Israel, roughly one for every 100 Israelis—Jew and Arab alike. In such a small country, that’s a large burden for Israelis to carry. If Americans are upset about undocumented immigrants in this country, the uproar in Israel isn’t hard to understand. Moreover, unlike the bulk of illegal immigration into the United States, the Africans are not merely a function of an economic cycle in which Mexicans and other Central Americans cross the border to fill low-paying jobs such as farm work. The Africans are refugees from war and famine in East African nations like Sudan and Eritrea, who not unnaturally see democratic and prosperous Israel as a haven from suffering that they cannot find anywhere else in the region. It’s also true that unlike the nations they pass through on their way to Israel, the Jewish state has treated newcomers with compassion.

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It is no small irony that a country like the United States that was built by and prospered because of immigration would come to regard the influx of foreigners to our shores as a problem. That is also true of the State of Israel which, much to its surprise, has found itself being swamped by unwelcome African migrants who have poured over the border with Egypt and presented the Israeli government with a ticklish dilemma. Anger about the influx bubbled over yesterday in a Tel Aviv protest that turned violent and where both demonstrators and some politicians in attendance uttered statements that could only be characterized as racist. Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to condemn the tone of the protest as well as members of his own party for behavior that he rightly said “had no place” in the country.

That such sentiments were given a public airing will be fodder for Israel haters. But once we condemn the protest, it must be admitted that the idea that tiny Israel should be considered the solution for African poverty is absurd. There are currently approximately 70,000 illegal African immigrants in Israel, roughly one for every 100 Israelis—Jew and Arab alike. In such a small country, that’s a large burden for Israelis to carry. If Americans are upset about undocumented immigrants in this country, the uproar in Israel isn’t hard to understand. Moreover, unlike the bulk of illegal immigration into the United States, the Africans are not merely a function of an economic cycle in which Mexicans and other Central Americans cross the border to fill low-paying jobs such as farm work. The Africans are refugees from war and famine in East African nations like Sudan and Eritrea, who not unnaturally see democratic and prosperous Israel as a haven from suffering that they cannot find anywhere else in the region. It’s also true that unlike the nations they pass through on their way to Israel, the Jewish state has treated newcomers with compassion.

Those who are quick to accuse Israel of racism should remember that it went to great trouble and expense to facilitate the mass immigration of tens of thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia in the past generation. Though the absorption of these immigrants has been a bumpy road for many, the nation took great pride in their coming and has done its often-inadequate best to care for them.

The Jewish tradition of caring for the homeless and the stranger has created a large degree of sympathy for the African migrants in Israel. But while it was possible for the country to take in the initial small numbers who found their way there, including those seeking political asylum, now that the rate is up to 1,000 new illegals a month, the situation has gotten out of hand. Israel simply hasn’t the ability to care for or employ that many people who have no ties to the place.

Moreover, no matter how immigrant-friendly Israel may be, any nation has the right and the duty to police its borders. As is the case with America’s southern border, there are no easy or simple solutions–people who want to come will find a way to get in. But no nation can be expected to just simply accept such a situation, especially when it brings with it a rise in crime and other social pathologies. Though nothing justifies some of the unfortunate statements made yesterday in Tel Aviv, Israel has a right to ask those who arrive without permission to leave and to ensure that those illegals who keep coming are kept out.

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