Commentary Magazine


Topic: Olmert

RE: Why Did Peace Talks Fail?

Jonathan, I agree that the failure of the year-long final status negotiations in 2008 demonstrates that even “moderate” Palestinian leaders are unable to make peace — even when given an offer that, as you write, was “unprecedented” and reflected a “terrible deal” from the standpoint of Israeli security and Jewish rights.

The New York Times article states Olmert recounts that his last meeting with Abbas occurred on September 16, 2008, at which time he presented his map to Abbas, told him to “take the pen and sign now,” argued he would “never get an offer that is fairer or more just,” and said Abbas was making a “historic mistake” if he didn’t sign on the spot. Abbas asked to meet the following day, then called and asked for a week postponement, and then never responded to Olmert’s offer and never met with Olmert again.

The Times notes that, by the time of the September 16 meeting, “Olmert was mired in corruption investigations” and “resigned days later.” It seems obvious that the Olmert offer was made by an Israeli prime minister on the verge of indictment, desperate to get a peace proposal signed within days, hoping it might change his political and legal fortunes. Condoleezza Rice urged the Palestinians to accept the Olmert offer, but they told her they doubted Olmert had the political influence to implement it, even though he would remain in office for months until new elections were held.

The following year, the Palestinians were offered new negotiations, with no preconditions, by Benjamin Netanyahu — the one Israeli prime minister with the stature necessary to assure political approval of any peace deal. They knew they would not get an offer from him as good as Olmert’s, since Netanyahu would insist on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization arrangements that did not depend on third parties. But it would be an offer under the only conditions that could assure acceptance across the Israeli political spectrum.

And the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, establishing preconditions and seeking pre-negotiation assurances of an even better offer than the dangerous one Olmert had made — and that they had failed to accept. But it is not likely they will receive even the Olmert offer again; given the circumstances under which it was made, they will not likely get the opportunity to miss that opportunity again.

Jonathan, I agree that the failure of the year-long final status negotiations in 2008 demonstrates that even “moderate” Palestinian leaders are unable to make peace — even when given an offer that, as you write, was “unprecedented” and reflected a “terrible deal” from the standpoint of Israeli security and Jewish rights.

The New York Times article states Olmert recounts that his last meeting with Abbas occurred on September 16, 2008, at which time he presented his map to Abbas, told him to “take the pen and sign now,” argued he would “never get an offer that is fairer or more just,” and said Abbas was making a “historic mistake” if he didn’t sign on the spot. Abbas asked to meet the following day, then called and asked for a week postponement, and then never responded to Olmert’s offer and never met with Olmert again.

The Times notes that, by the time of the September 16 meeting, “Olmert was mired in corruption investigations” and “resigned days later.” It seems obvious that the Olmert offer was made by an Israeli prime minister on the verge of indictment, desperate to get a peace proposal signed within days, hoping it might change his political and legal fortunes. Condoleezza Rice urged the Palestinians to accept the Olmert offer, but they told her they doubted Olmert had the political influence to implement it, even though he would remain in office for months until new elections were held.

The following year, the Palestinians were offered new negotiations, with no preconditions, by Benjamin Netanyahu — the one Israeli prime minister with the stature necessary to assure political approval of any peace deal. They knew they would not get an offer from him as good as Olmert’s, since Netanyahu would insist on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization arrangements that did not depend on third parties. But it would be an offer under the only conditions that could assure acceptance across the Israeli political spectrum.

And the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, establishing preconditions and seeking pre-negotiation assurances of an even better offer than the dangerous one Olmert had made — and that they had failed to accept. But it is not likely they will receive even the Olmert offer again; given the circumstances under which it was made, they will not likely get the opportunity to miss that opportunity again.

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The Difference Between Public and Private Words

Robin Shepherd, Director — International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London, notes that after the Palestinian leadership “accepts what any reasonable person has been able to accept for decades,” the Guardian “slams them as surrender monkeys” — since the paper is “more hardline against Israel than the Palestinian leadership itself”:

But it gets worse. The only conceivable way out of this for the anti-Israel community is to turn this all upside down and argue — as analysts, reporters (anyone they can get their hands on) have been doing on the BBC all day — that what this really shows is the extent of Israeli “intransigence”: the Palestinians offer all these concessions, and still the Israelis say no! …

Tragicomically, it just won’t wash. Privately and morally, senior Palestinians can see that there is nothing illegitimate or even especially problematic about most of the “settlements” (as reasonable observers of the MidEast have been saying for years). This we know from the leaks themselves. But publicly and politically they cannot sell such concessions to their own people. … because they educate their own people in an implacable rejectionism which extends to the “moderate” Palestinian authority glorifying suicide bombers and other terrorists by naming streets and squares after them.

The irony of the “concessions” reflected in the Palestine Papers is that they fell far below the minimum necessary to obtain a Palestinian state, but far beyond what Al Jazeera and Al Guardian would accept once they found out about them.

The Palestinian Authority “conceded” some Jewish areas of Jerusalem could stay Jewish … but not Har Homa, a community with nearly 10,000 people (more than the total number withdrawn from Gaza in 2005). They “conceded” some Jewish communities near the Green Line … but not Ma’ale Adumim, a city with 34,600 people located on strategic high ground right next to Jerusalem and directly connected to it, established 35 years ago. They “conceded” Israel could call itself whatever it wanted, but would not themselves recognize a Jewish state, much less one with defensible borders.

So, once again, as with Camp David in July 2000 and the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, the Palestinians declined an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem – and rejected George W. Bush’s proposal to “turn the private offer [made by Olmert] into a public agreement.” Having failed to educate his public for peace, Abbas knew what the reaction would be if he ever did anything in public other than glorify suicide bombers and name streets and squares after them.

Robin Shepherd, Director — International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society in London, notes that after the Palestinian leadership “accepts what any reasonable person has been able to accept for decades,” the Guardian “slams them as surrender monkeys” — since the paper is “more hardline against Israel than the Palestinian leadership itself”:

But it gets worse. The only conceivable way out of this for the anti-Israel community is to turn this all upside down and argue — as analysts, reporters (anyone they can get their hands on) have been doing on the BBC all day — that what this really shows is the extent of Israeli “intransigence”: the Palestinians offer all these concessions, and still the Israelis say no! …

Tragicomically, it just won’t wash. Privately and morally, senior Palestinians can see that there is nothing illegitimate or even especially problematic about most of the “settlements” (as reasonable observers of the MidEast have been saying for years). This we know from the leaks themselves. But publicly and politically they cannot sell such concessions to their own people. … because they educate their own people in an implacable rejectionism which extends to the “moderate” Palestinian authority glorifying suicide bombers and other terrorists by naming streets and squares after them.

The irony of the “concessions” reflected in the Palestine Papers is that they fell far below the minimum necessary to obtain a Palestinian state, but far beyond what Al Jazeera and Al Guardian would accept once they found out about them.

The Palestinian Authority “conceded” some Jewish areas of Jerusalem could stay Jewish … but not Har Homa, a community with nearly 10,000 people (more than the total number withdrawn from Gaza in 2005). They “conceded” some Jewish communities near the Green Line … but not Ma’ale Adumim, a city with 34,600 people located on strategic high ground right next to Jerusalem and directly connected to it, established 35 years ago. They “conceded” Israel could call itself whatever it wanted, but would not themselves recognize a Jewish state, much less one with defensible borders.

So, once again, as with Camp David in July 2000 and the Clinton Parameters in December 2000, the Palestinians declined an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem – and rejected George W. Bush’s proposal to “turn the private offer [made by Olmert] into a public agreement.” Having failed to educate his public for peace, Abbas knew what the reaction would be if he ever did anything in public other than glorify suicide bombers and name streets and squares after them.

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How the Guardian Helped Kill the Peace Process

As Alana noted yesterday, the extent of Palestinian concessions during peace talks, once made public, has seriously damaged PA leaders — and the State Department has weighed, noting that things are now going to be even harder than they were already.

The immediate fallout from the leaks should raise a number of important questions for the Guardian, but judging by the way it is spinning the story, it is hard to believe introspection is coming.

First, the Guardian appears shocked and angered by the extent of Palestinian concessions on settlements and yet blames Israel for the subsequent impasse on account of … settlements!

As Noah pointed out, if the main cause for lack of progress in the past 24 months was Palestinian insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze, one that included Jerusalem, as a precondition for talks — and this, thanks to U.S. backing — the papers reveal that it was merely a cynical pretext for the Palestinians’ not resuming talks once Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu took power. Otherwise, why make a sacred cow of something they had already conceded before? The answer may be that the Palestinians neither accepted nor rejected the Olmert offer but, rather, regarded it as still on the table, allowing them time to see if Olmert was going to survive politically. With Olmert (and Livni) out and Obama in, then, the Palestinians may have concluded that a better deal could be had with a more sympathetic U.S. administration in place. This is consistent with Palestinian behavior historically and a tried-and-tested recipe for disaster for their aspirations.

In his Guardian op-ed on the leaks, Jonathan Freedland wrote that:

Surely international opinion will see concrete proof of how far the Palestinians have been willing to go, ready to move up to and beyond their “red lines,” conceding ground that would once have been unthinkable — none more so than on Jerusalem. In the blame game that has long attended Middle East diplomacy, this could see a shift in the Palestinians’ favour. The effect of these papers on Israel will be the reverse.

What Freedland is telling us is not what might happen but rather what he ardently wishes would happen. He may be right, of course — but it is not like Israel was basking in the light of international favor before the leaks!

So in effect, the Guardian is saying, Thank heaven Israel will be forced to give back what the Palestinians conceded — that will surely lead to a more equitable result! (Though the Guardian also concedes that the chances for a deal are now dead in the water, thanks to their leak!)

Second, the fallout caused by the Guardian leak is that, in the short term, Palestinian negotiators will have to heed the calls of the street and be much less amenable to compromise than was demonstrated in the leaked papers. Why is it that private virtue and public vice deserve praise? Read More

As Alana noted yesterday, the extent of Palestinian concessions during peace talks, once made public, has seriously damaged PA leaders — and the State Department has weighed, noting that things are now going to be even harder than they were already.

The immediate fallout from the leaks should raise a number of important questions for the Guardian, but judging by the way it is spinning the story, it is hard to believe introspection is coming.

First, the Guardian appears shocked and angered by the extent of Palestinian concessions on settlements and yet blames Israel for the subsequent impasse on account of … settlements!

As Noah pointed out, if the main cause for lack of progress in the past 24 months was Palestinian insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze, one that included Jerusalem, as a precondition for talks — and this, thanks to U.S. backing — the papers reveal that it was merely a cynical pretext for the Palestinians’ not resuming talks once Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu took power. Otherwise, why make a sacred cow of something they had already conceded before? The answer may be that the Palestinians neither accepted nor rejected the Olmert offer but, rather, regarded it as still on the table, allowing them time to see if Olmert was going to survive politically. With Olmert (and Livni) out and Obama in, then, the Palestinians may have concluded that a better deal could be had with a more sympathetic U.S. administration in place. This is consistent with Palestinian behavior historically and a tried-and-tested recipe for disaster for their aspirations.

In his Guardian op-ed on the leaks, Jonathan Freedland wrote that:

Surely international opinion will see concrete proof of how far the Palestinians have been willing to go, ready to move up to and beyond their “red lines,” conceding ground that would once have been unthinkable — none more so than on Jerusalem. In the blame game that has long attended Middle East diplomacy, this could see a shift in the Palestinians’ favour. The effect of these papers on Israel will be the reverse.

What Freedland is telling us is not what might happen but rather what he ardently wishes would happen. He may be right, of course — but it is not like Israel was basking in the light of international favor before the leaks!

So in effect, the Guardian is saying, Thank heaven Israel will be forced to give back what the Palestinians conceded — that will surely lead to a more equitable result! (Though the Guardian also concedes that the chances for a deal are now dead in the water, thanks to their leak!)

Second, the fallout caused by the Guardian leak is that, in the short term, Palestinian negotiators will have to heed the calls of the street and be much less amenable to compromise than was demonstrated in the leaked papers. Why is it that private virtue and public vice deserve praise?

Again: in the established tradition of Arab leadership, privately held views can never be aired in public, because the public cannot take the truth. This is what the leaks show: Palestinian leaders — much like their Arab counterparts and their Palestinian predecessors — are prisoners of their own past lies and public rhetoric. What they might have agreed to in private has exploded in their faces once made public.

How then can one expect these talks to have ever come to fruition? Surely had the Palestinians and the Israelis signed such a deal, the reaction would have been the same — a rejection of the deal and the questioning the PA leadership’s legitimacy, as the Guardian has indeed done on Sunday.

The Guardian has then chosen to leak the papers with a goal – to discredit Israel and the Palestinian leadership at the same time, to peddle its own rejectionist agenda. And what exactly is this agenda? Today’s commentary on the leaks, titled, tellingly, “Papers reveal how Palestinian leaders gave up fight over refugees” by Seumus Milne and Ian Black, is worth quoting:

The documents have already become the focus of controversy among Israelis and Palestinians, revealing the scale of official Palestinian concessions rejected by Israel, but also throwing light on the huge imbalance of power in a peace process widely seen to have run into the sand.

Milne is an anti-imperialist firebrand, who has applauded “the resistance” against the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, trivialized the scale of Stalinist atrocities, repeatedly shilled for Hamas, and staunchly defended unrealistic Palestinian claims on refugees. In short, he’d be probably kicked out of the Nation for being too left-wing; but at the Guardian, he is the mainstream.

To him, the leaks are a wonderful opportunity to berate what appear to be much-needed Palestinian concessions for a viable agreement as a surrender to Israel and a betrayal of Palestinian rights.

The Guardian hates the revelations in these papers not because they supposedly show that Palestinian leaders were ready to make the necessary concessions for peace and that Israel was intransigent, but because it hates the fact that Palestinians must make any concessions if peace is ever to be achieved. That is why the real story behind the leaks is not the papers themselves but the Guardian’s agenda for leaking them.

The sanctimony of its articles since last weekend shows a contempt for the kinds of concessions that everyone knows are the necessary preconditions for a deal. Milne is flummoxed by the fact that the Palestinians would renounce the refugees’ claim to a right of return; his colleagues are fuming because Israeli settlements would be allowed to survive under Israeli sovereignty; the lead editorial on Sunday decried Hamas’s exclusion from negotiations; and they lament “the huge imbalance of power” between Israel and the Palestinians — something they wish would change in favor of the Palestinians so that it would be Israel, not the PA, that would have to concede.

The peace process may have been moribund, but surely, after this weekend’s leak, it is dead. The Guardian has just given it the coup de grace and is now busy taking credit for it.

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Basic Truths of the Peace Process

Jeffrey Goldberg writes that one reason he does not post more on the peace process is that “there isn’t actually much of a peace process on which to post.” He suggests the problem is that Netanyahu won’t tell his coalition the “basic truth” that a peace deal requires a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and won’t yet make a specific proposal for the borders of a Palestinian state.

In a prior post entitled “Why I’m Not Blogging About the Peace Process,” Goldberg had a more even-handed theory: Netanyahu cannot offer the Clinton Parameters, and Abbas cannot accept anything less. But that theory does not survive the account of the Annapolis process in George W. Bush’s memoirs, and Goldberg’s current theory is several basic truths short of a plan.

At the end of the year-long Annapolis negotiation, Abbas received an offer that was the equivalent of the Clinton Parameters: a state on all of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps) with a capital in Jerusalem. In his book, Bush writes that he “devised a process to turn the private offer into a public agreement”: Olmert would travel to Washington and deposit the proposal with him; Abbas would “announce that the plan was in line with Palestinian interests”; and Bush would call the leaders together to finalize the deal.

But Abbas declined the offer because he “didn’t want to make an agreement with a prime minister on his way out of office.” Condoleezza Rice has said she told Abbas he should accept the deal because it would be binding on a future Israeli prime minister even if Olmert could not complete it himself, but Abbas still declined. The Palestinians have thus rejected the Clinton Parameters twice – in 2001 and 2008 – and there is no evidence to support the theory that the current problem is a failure to offer them a third time – just as there is no evidence that a new construction moratorium, following a 10-month one that produced nothing, would produce anything.

The fundamental problem of the “peace process” is the inability of the Palestinian peace partner, currently in the 71st month of his 48-month term, controlling only half his putative state, to tell his public certain basic truths: there will be no Palestinian state unless there is a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish one; Israel will not be returning to the “Auschwitz lines” of 1967 but rather to defensible borders with an effective means to secure them; and there is not going to be a “right of return” to Israel in either principle or practice. We are still waiting for Abbas’s Bir Zeit speech.

Jeffrey Goldberg writes that one reason he does not post more on the peace process is that “there isn’t actually much of a peace process on which to post.” He suggests the problem is that Netanyahu won’t tell his coalition the “basic truth” that a peace deal requires a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and won’t yet make a specific proposal for the borders of a Palestinian state.

In a prior post entitled “Why I’m Not Blogging About the Peace Process,” Goldberg had a more even-handed theory: Netanyahu cannot offer the Clinton Parameters, and Abbas cannot accept anything less. But that theory does not survive the account of the Annapolis process in George W. Bush’s memoirs, and Goldberg’s current theory is several basic truths short of a plan.

At the end of the year-long Annapolis negotiation, Abbas received an offer that was the equivalent of the Clinton Parameters: a state on all of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps) with a capital in Jerusalem. In his book, Bush writes that he “devised a process to turn the private offer into a public agreement”: Olmert would travel to Washington and deposit the proposal with him; Abbas would “announce that the plan was in line with Palestinian interests”; and Bush would call the leaders together to finalize the deal.

But Abbas declined the offer because he “didn’t want to make an agreement with a prime minister on his way out of office.” Condoleezza Rice has said she told Abbas he should accept the deal because it would be binding on a future Israeli prime minister even if Olmert could not complete it himself, but Abbas still declined. The Palestinians have thus rejected the Clinton Parameters twice – in 2001 and 2008 – and there is no evidence to support the theory that the current problem is a failure to offer them a third time – just as there is no evidence that a new construction moratorium, following a 10-month one that produced nothing, would produce anything.

The fundamental problem of the “peace process” is the inability of the Palestinian peace partner, currently in the 71st month of his 48-month term, controlling only half his putative state, to tell his public certain basic truths: there will be no Palestinian state unless there is a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish one; Israel will not be returning to the “Auschwitz lines” of 1967 but rather to defensible borders with an effective means to secure them; and there is not going to be a “right of return” to Israel in either principle or practice. We are still waiting for Abbas’s Bir Zeit speech.

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Hillary Announces Proximity Talks

In remarks on Friday with the Kuwati Deputy Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton repeated her wishy-washy talking point on Iran:

I also updated the deputy prime minister on our ongoing efforts, along with our international partners, to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. We discussed the importance of diplomatic efforts to encourage Iran to abide by its international nuclear obligations. On Monday, I will attend the conference in New York reviewing the Nonproliferation Treaty and we will be underscoring once again the importance of all nations upholding their responsibilities.

Good grief — could she sound any less serious about thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions? (Notice how nonproliferation meetings are used as camouflage to hide the utter lack of progress on the proliferation issue which is most urgent.) Later in the news conference, she adds: “We are working to isolate Iran through the United Nations. We’re in the midst of negotiations over a Security Council resolution that will impose consequences on Iran for its unwillingness to follow the IAEA or the United Nations Security Council requirements about its nuclear program. We are working to support the defense and territorial integrity of our partners and allies in the Gulf, and we consult closely.” You think that induces fear in Tehran? No, me neither.

Then she moves on to the “peace process” with her usual pablum. (“As I said last night at the American Jewish Committee, the Middle East will never realize its full potential, Israel will never be truly secure, the Palestinians will never have their legitimate aspiration for a state, unless we create the circumstances in which positive negotiations can occur.”) She announces that next week, after fifteen months, the Obami have been able to get the Palestinians to not talk directly to Israel. (Yes, this is a step backward from the Bush administration, which at least managed to force the parties into fruitless face-to-face talks.) She announces: “We will be starting with proximity talks next week. Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region. And we look forward to the meeting of the Arab follow-up committee in Cairo tomorrow night to support the commitment by President Abbas to move forward with these talks.”

Then, perhaps sensing this is indeed thin gruel and less than other administrations have achieved, she adds: “Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must – they’ve been close a few times before. I remember very well the Camp David experience, and I know that President Abbas negotiated with former Prime Minister Olmert. So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions.” In other words: for all their smart diplomacy, the Obami have managed to set back the “peace process” by more than a decade.

In remarks on Friday with the Kuwati Deputy Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton repeated her wishy-washy talking point on Iran:

I also updated the deputy prime minister on our ongoing efforts, along with our international partners, to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. We discussed the importance of diplomatic efforts to encourage Iran to abide by its international nuclear obligations. On Monday, I will attend the conference in New York reviewing the Nonproliferation Treaty and we will be underscoring once again the importance of all nations upholding their responsibilities.

Good grief — could she sound any less serious about thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions? (Notice how nonproliferation meetings are used as camouflage to hide the utter lack of progress on the proliferation issue which is most urgent.) Later in the news conference, she adds: “We are working to isolate Iran through the United Nations. We’re in the midst of negotiations over a Security Council resolution that will impose consequences on Iran for its unwillingness to follow the IAEA or the United Nations Security Council requirements about its nuclear program. We are working to support the defense and territorial integrity of our partners and allies in the Gulf, and we consult closely.” You think that induces fear in Tehran? No, me neither.

Then she moves on to the “peace process” with her usual pablum. (“As I said last night at the American Jewish Committee, the Middle East will never realize its full potential, Israel will never be truly secure, the Palestinians will never have their legitimate aspiration for a state, unless we create the circumstances in which positive negotiations can occur.”) She announces that next week, after fifteen months, the Obami have been able to get the Palestinians to not talk directly to Israel. (Yes, this is a step backward from the Bush administration, which at least managed to force the parties into fruitless face-to-face talks.) She announces: “We will be starting with proximity talks next week. Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region. And we look forward to the meeting of the Arab follow-up committee in Cairo tomorrow night to support the commitment by President Abbas to move forward with these talks.”

Then, perhaps sensing this is indeed thin gruel and less than other administrations have achieved, she adds: “Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must – they’ve been close a few times before. I remember very well the Camp David experience, and I know that President Abbas negotiated with former Prime Minister Olmert. So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions.” In other words: for all their smart diplomacy, the Obami have managed to set back the “peace process” by more than a decade.

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Obama’s Appeal Is Lost on World Leaders

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

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Waiting for “Isratine”

In Monday’s Washington Post, Jackson Diehl reminds us of what the true stumbling block is on the road to peace. Referring to Condoleezza Rice’s peace efforts during George W. Bush’s second term, he has this to say:

Eventually, Olmert presented Abbas with a detailed plan for a final settlement — one that, in its concessions to Palestinian demands, went beyond anything either Israel or the United States had ever put forward. Among other things it mandated a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem and would have allowed 10,000 refugees to return to Israel. That’s when Rice learned another lesson the new administration seems not to have picked up: This Palestinian leadership has trouble saying “yes.” Confronted with a draft deal that would have been cheered by most of the world, Abbas balked. He refused to sign on; he refused to present a counteroffer. Rice and Bush implored him to join Olmert at the White House for a summit. Olmert would present his plan to Bush, and Abbas would say only that he found it worth discussing. The Palestinian president refused.

Three times in the past 10 years, the Palestinians were presented with comprehensive peace proposals that would establish a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza, would put its internationally recognized capital in Arab Jerusalem, would offer a solidly funded, reasonable and dignified solution to the refugee issue, and would put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all. First, it was Ehud Barak’s Camp David proposal. Then it was the Clinton Parameters. Then it was Olmert’s peace plan. Each time, confronted with an Israeli prime minister who was ready, pen in hand, to put his name on the dotted line and face the fury and discontent of part of his political constituency to take a risky peace gamble, Palestine’s acclaimed peace seekers — Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas — walked away.

This history alone should encourage U.S. and European leaders to recognize that the burden of proof, when it comes to peace credentials and readiness for compromise, is on the Palestinian side, not the Israeli one. But history lessons and Aristotelian logic do not always intersect.

For one thing, the Palestinians have learned that every time they say no, sooner or later pressure will be brought to bear on Israel, and a new offer — better than the previous one — will be coming their way. Meanwhile, their tireless efforts to undermine, isolate, delegitimize, and demonize Israel in the international arena strengthen their bargaining position over time and enable them to expect more for less.

This, incidentally, offers at least a partial answer to David Hazony’s post from the other day, when my colleague was understandably puzzled about a growing support for a one-state solution among Palestinians. Why would a national movement give up its dream and settle for such a solution? After all, the Palestinians never seriously entertained this notion when a handful of Jewish intellectuals were toying with the idea in the 1930s and early 1940s. Brith Shalom and Ihud, the two small organizations that counted Yehuda Magnes and Martin Buber in their ranks, after all, not only could not get traction within the Yishuv — they never even got a single Arab leader interested in discussing their vision of a bi-national state for the Palestine Mandate, where Jews would forever be relegated to the role of a minority.

Clearly, the difference is that, back then, the Zionist movement was weak, its staying power in Palestine was questionable, its backing from Britain was waning, and its reservoir of support in Europe’s Jewish Diaspora under mortal threat of annihilation. Why would the Palestinians concede little when they believed — as they certainly did then — that they could have it all?

History offers some reckoning and what looked like a flight of fancy in the mid-1930s is more attractive today. A bi-national state is actually more promising than a nation-state, at least for Palestinian intellectuals, not so much because it would force them to renounce their aspirations but because it would keep their nationalist dream alive — a dream whereby, as Professor Fouad Ajami once so artfully put it, “there still lurks in the Palestinian and Arab imagination a view, depicted by the Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui, that “on a certain day, everything would be obliterated and instantaneously reconstructed and the new inhabitants would leave, as if by magic, the land they had despoiled.” Arafat knew the power of this redemptive idea. He must have reasoned that it is safer to ride that idea, and that there will always be another day and another offer.”

Little by little, the sands are shifting in the Middle East — or rather, in the perception of the Middle East as seen from Western capitals. Why sign on the dotted line when more pressure will be brought to bear on Israel? Why agree to end the conflict when Israel’s legitimacy is eroded day by day, with its traditional allies ready to do less and less to support the Jewish state? Why not embrace the rhetoric of a bi-national state — in the silly spirit of our irresponsible age — where you can plan the destruction of your adversary and make it look like a human-rights crusade?

A bi-national state is just a stage to redress the balance of power between the two conflicting national claims. It would not be the end of the story though but the beginning of another chapter where the Zionist movement would be stripped of its national symbols, its power to control immigration, and its ability to define national security exclusively in the name of the Jewish people. Meanwhile, the keys to the Middle East’s most prosperous economy and most powerful army would have to be handed over to the Palestinians for power-sharing. It would be a stage on the way to fulfilling the dream of obliterating the consequences of the last century of Middle East history.

Fanciful? Maybe, but if you take the long view of history, and the mismatch between the reality of a small shoe-box-size Palestinian state and the dream of a whole “Isratine” is unbearable, it makes perfect sense.

In Monday’s Washington Post, Jackson Diehl reminds us of what the true stumbling block is on the road to peace. Referring to Condoleezza Rice’s peace efforts during George W. Bush’s second term, he has this to say:

Eventually, Olmert presented Abbas with a detailed plan for a final settlement — one that, in its concessions to Palestinian demands, went beyond anything either Israel or the United States had ever put forward. Among other things it mandated a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem and would have allowed 10,000 refugees to return to Israel. That’s when Rice learned another lesson the new administration seems not to have picked up: This Palestinian leadership has trouble saying “yes.” Confronted with a draft deal that would have been cheered by most of the world, Abbas balked. He refused to sign on; he refused to present a counteroffer. Rice and Bush implored him to join Olmert at the White House for a summit. Olmert would present his plan to Bush, and Abbas would say only that he found it worth discussing. The Palestinian president refused.

Three times in the past 10 years, the Palestinians were presented with comprehensive peace proposals that would establish a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza, would put its internationally recognized capital in Arab Jerusalem, would offer a solidly funded, reasonable and dignified solution to the refugee issue, and would put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all. First, it was Ehud Barak’s Camp David proposal. Then it was the Clinton Parameters. Then it was Olmert’s peace plan. Each time, confronted with an Israeli prime minister who was ready, pen in hand, to put his name on the dotted line and face the fury and discontent of part of his political constituency to take a risky peace gamble, Palestine’s acclaimed peace seekers — Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas — walked away.

This history alone should encourage U.S. and European leaders to recognize that the burden of proof, when it comes to peace credentials and readiness for compromise, is on the Palestinian side, not the Israeli one. But history lessons and Aristotelian logic do not always intersect.

For one thing, the Palestinians have learned that every time they say no, sooner or later pressure will be brought to bear on Israel, and a new offer — better than the previous one — will be coming their way. Meanwhile, their tireless efforts to undermine, isolate, delegitimize, and demonize Israel in the international arena strengthen their bargaining position over time and enable them to expect more for less.

This, incidentally, offers at least a partial answer to David Hazony’s post from the other day, when my colleague was understandably puzzled about a growing support for a one-state solution among Palestinians. Why would a national movement give up its dream and settle for such a solution? After all, the Palestinians never seriously entertained this notion when a handful of Jewish intellectuals were toying with the idea in the 1930s and early 1940s. Brith Shalom and Ihud, the two small organizations that counted Yehuda Magnes and Martin Buber in their ranks, after all, not only could not get traction within the Yishuv — they never even got a single Arab leader interested in discussing their vision of a bi-national state for the Palestine Mandate, where Jews would forever be relegated to the role of a minority.

Clearly, the difference is that, back then, the Zionist movement was weak, its staying power in Palestine was questionable, its backing from Britain was waning, and its reservoir of support in Europe’s Jewish Diaspora under mortal threat of annihilation. Why would the Palestinians concede little when they believed — as they certainly did then — that they could have it all?

History offers some reckoning and what looked like a flight of fancy in the mid-1930s is more attractive today. A bi-national state is actually more promising than a nation-state, at least for Palestinian intellectuals, not so much because it would force them to renounce their aspirations but because it would keep their nationalist dream alive — a dream whereby, as Professor Fouad Ajami once so artfully put it, “there still lurks in the Palestinian and Arab imagination a view, depicted by the Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui, that “on a certain day, everything would be obliterated and instantaneously reconstructed and the new inhabitants would leave, as if by magic, the land they had despoiled.” Arafat knew the power of this redemptive idea. He must have reasoned that it is safer to ride that idea, and that there will always be another day and another offer.”

Little by little, the sands are shifting in the Middle East — or rather, in the perception of the Middle East as seen from Western capitals. Why sign on the dotted line when more pressure will be brought to bear on Israel? Why agree to end the conflict when Israel’s legitimacy is eroded day by day, with its traditional allies ready to do less and less to support the Jewish state? Why not embrace the rhetoric of a bi-national state — in the silly spirit of our irresponsible age — where you can plan the destruction of your adversary and make it look like a human-rights crusade?

A bi-national state is just a stage to redress the balance of power between the two conflicting national claims. It would not be the end of the story though but the beginning of another chapter where the Zionist movement would be stripped of its national symbols, its power to control immigration, and its ability to define national security exclusively in the name of the Jewish people. Meanwhile, the keys to the Middle East’s most prosperous economy and most powerful army would have to be handed over to the Palestinians for power-sharing. It would be a stage on the way to fulfilling the dream of obliterating the consequences of the last century of Middle East history.

Fanciful? Maybe, but if you take the long view of history, and the mismatch between the reality of a small shoe-box-size Palestinian state and the dream of a whole “Isratine” is unbearable, it makes perfect sense.

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How Grown-Ups Handle Middle East Diplomacy

In her many jaw-dropping assertions at AIPAC yesterday, Hillary Clinton intimated that the U.S. really had no choice but to throw a public temper tantrum over the Israelis’ housing-permit announcement. She proclaimed:

It is our devotion to this outcome – two states for two peoples, secure and at peace – that led us to condemn the announcement of plans for new construction in East Jerusalem. This was not about wounded pride. Nor is it a judgment on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be settled at the negotiating table. This is about getting to the table, creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust around it – and staying there until the job is done.

New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need. It exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit. And it undermines America’s unique ability to play a role – an essential role, I might add — in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.

Well, if not “wounded pride,” it was perhaps amateurism (unless we believe it was an intentional contrivance to impress the Obami’s Palestinian friends). American credibility doesn’t depend on blowing up at an ally in public over a routine housing announcement. If there is any doubt, Jackson Diehl offers a helpful reminder that in a similar situation, the Bush administration handled the matter discretely, preserved the “peace process,” and did not give the Arabs the notion that there was space between the U.S. and Israel. He writes:

The trick is not to let the provocation become the center of attention but instead to insist on proceeding with the negotiations. That is what [Condi] Rice did when news of the Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa broke. In public, she delivered a clear but relatively mild statement saying the United States had opposed the settlement “from the very beginning.” In private, she told Olmert: Don’t let that happen again. For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the message was equally blunt: You can come to the table and negotiate a border for a Palestinian state, making settlements irrelevant. Or you can boycott and let the building continue.

Not surprisingly, Abbas — who has taken Obama’s public assault on Israel as a cue to boycott — showed up for Rice’s negotiations. The Bush administration privately offered him an assurance: Any Israeli settlement construction that took place during the talks would not be accepted by the United States when it came time to draw a final Israeli border. On settlements, Rice adopted a pragmatic guideline she called the “Google Earth test”: A settlement that visibly expanded was a problem; one that remained within its existing territorial boundary was not.

So it wasn’t Israel’s announcement on Ramat Shlomo that highlighted “daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit,” but the ballistic reaction by Hillary and others.

And that “Google Earth test” to which Diehl refers (sometimes described as “up” and “in,” but not “out”) also suggests that the Obami have been less than credible themselves in adhering to past deals. Moreover, it further undermines another Clinton assertion: that any Israel building project prejudices a final outcome negotiation. The Bush team successfully maintained the position that final-status talks are, well, final-status talks at which the U.S. need not accept any Israeli construction as a fait accompli. (We’ve already seen that the Israelis, based on those very assurances, were willing to dismantle settlements in the West Bank.)

It really does take chutzpah for Hillary to tell AIPAC that Israel is the one putting daylight between it and the U.S. and to whine that it was Israel that forced the Obami to berate its ally. This is classic blame-the-victim talk. It ignores obvious and tried-and-true alternatives to the Obama smack-Israel tactics. It’s also pretty much par for the course for the Obami.

In her many jaw-dropping assertions at AIPAC yesterday, Hillary Clinton intimated that the U.S. really had no choice but to throw a public temper tantrum over the Israelis’ housing-permit announcement. She proclaimed:

It is our devotion to this outcome – two states for two peoples, secure and at peace – that led us to condemn the announcement of plans for new construction in East Jerusalem. This was not about wounded pride. Nor is it a judgment on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be settled at the negotiating table. This is about getting to the table, creating and protecting an atmosphere of trust around it – and staying there until the job is done.

New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides want and need. It exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit. And it undermines America’s unique ability to play a role – an essential role, I might add — in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.

Well, if not “wounded pride,” it was perhaps amateurism (unless we believe it was an intentional contrivance to impress the Obami’s Palestinian friends). American credibility doesn’t depend on blowing up at an ally in public over a routine housing announcement. If there is any doubt, Jackson Diehl offers a helpful reminder that in a similar situation, the Bush administration handled the matter discretely, preserved the “peace process,” and did not give the Arabs the notion that there was space between the U.S. and Israel. He writes:

The trick is not to let the provocation become the center of attention but instead to insist on proceeding with the negotiations. That is what [Condi] Rice did when news of the Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa broke. In public, she delivered a clear but relatively mild statement saying the United States had opposed the settlement “from the very beginning.” In private, she told Olmert: Don’t let that happen again. For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the message was equally blunt: You can come to the table and negotiate a border for a Palestinian state, making settlements irrelevant. Or you can boycott and let the building continue.

Not surprisingly, Abbas — who has taken Obama’s public assault on Israel as a cue to boycott — showed up for Rice’s negotiations. The Bush administration privately offered him an assurance: Any Israeli settlement construction that took place during the talks would not be accepted by the United States when it came time to draw a final Israeli border. On settlements, Rice adopted a pragmatic guideline she called the “Google Earth test”: A settlement that visibly expanded was a problem; one that remained within its existing territorial boundary was not.

So it wasn’t Israel’s announcement on Ramat Shlomo that highlighted “daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region could hope to exploit,” but the ballistic reaction by Hillary and others.

And that “Google Earth test” to which Diehl refers (sometimes described as “up” and “in,” but not “out”) also suggests that the Obami have been less than credible themselves in adhering to past deals. Moreover, it further undermines another Clinton assertion: that any Israel building project prejudices a final outcome negotiation. The Bush team successfully maintained the position that final-status talks are, well, final-status talks at which the U.S. need not accept any Israeli construction as a fait accompli. (We’ve already seen that the Israelis, based on those very assurances, were willing to dismantle settlements in the West Bank.)

It really does take chutzpah for Hillary to tell AIPAC that Israel is the one putting daylight between it and the U.S. and to whine that it was Israel that forced the Obami to berate its ally. This is classic blame-the-victim talk. It ignores obvious and tried-and-true alternatives to the Obama smack-Israel tactics. It’s also pretty much par for the course for the Obami.

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Here We Go Again

As the Obama administration is poised to proceed with “indirect” talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the chances for success in the foreseeable future are virtually nil. The PA president (a) is in the 62nd month of his 48-month term, unable to hold (and in any event unwilling to risk) new elections; (b) heads a party still corroded by corruption; (c) governs only half the putative Palestinian state; and (d) is unable to dismantle the Iranian proxy that rules Gaza. Even if an agreement could be reached on any “core” issues, the PA would be in no position to carry it out.

As Robert Malley noted in useful testimony last week in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:

Mahmoud Abbas is President, though his term has expired; he heads the PLO, though the Organization’s authority has long waned. Salam Fayyad, the effective and resourceful Prime Minister, cannot govern in Gaza and, in the West Bank, must govern over much of Fatah’s objection. Hamas has grown into a national and regional phenomenon, and it now has Gaza solidly in its hands. But the Islamist movement itself is at an impasse — besieged in Gaza, suppressed in the West Bank, at odds with most Arab states, with little prospect for Palestinian reconciliation. …

All of which leaves room for doubt whether the Palestinian national movement, as it currently stands, can confidently and effectively conduct negotiations for a final peace agreement, sell a putative agreement to its people, and, if popularly endorsed, make it stick.

Malley’s testimony also noted that Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions reflect a broad Israeli consensus — one that emerged after withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza resulted in new wars and after the Palestinian Authority in 2008 rejected (yet again) an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank after land swaps. Israel’s rejection in the new negotiations of the indefensible 1967 borders and a “right of return” will be positions that extend far beyond the Israeli right wing:

Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state as much as his demands for far more stringent security — and thus, territorial — arrangements — are not mere pretexts to avoid a deal and are far more than the expressions of a passing political mood. They reflect deep-seated popular sentiment regarding the yearning for true Arab recognition and acceptance and fear of novel, unconventional security threats. New coalition partners or new elections might change the atmosphere. They are not about to change the underlying frame of mind.

In the past 10 years, the PA received three formal offers of a state — at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer — and rejected them all. The Fayyad plan to build the institutions of a Palestinian state over the next two years is an implicit admission that the three offers of a state were made to an entity that did not have the basic institutions necessary for one — and does not have them now. The Malley testimony makes it clear that the entity also does not have the ability or authority to negotiate a peace agreement, much less implement one.

As the Obama administration is poised to proceed with “indirect” talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the chances for success in the foreseeable future are virtually nil. The PA president (a) is in the 62nd month of his 48-month term, unable to hold (and in any event unwilling to risk) new elections; (b) heads a party still corroded by corruption; (c) governs only half the putative Palestinian state; and (d) is unable to dismantle the Iranian proxy that rules Gaza. Even if an agreement could be reached on any “core” issues, the PA would be in no position to carry it out.

As Robert Malley noted in useful testimony last week in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing:

Mahmoud Abbas is President, though his term has expired; he heads the PLO, though the Organization’s authority has long waned. Salam Fayyad, the effective and resourceful Prime Minister, cannot govern in Gaza and, in the West Bank, must govern over much of Fatah’s objection. Hamas has grown into a national and regional phenomenon, and it now has Gaza solidly in its hands. But the Islamist movement itself is at an impasse — besieged in Gaza, suppressed in the West Bank, at odds with most Arab states, with little prospect for Palestinian reconciliation. …

All of which leaves room for doubt whether the Palestinian national movement, as it currently stands, can confidently and effectively conduct negotiations for a final peace agreement, sell a putative agreement to its people, and, if popularly endorsed, make it stick.

Malley’s testimony also noted that Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions reflect a broad Israeli consensus — one that emerged after withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza resulted in new wars and after the Palestinian Authority in 2008 rejected (yet again) an offer of a state on virtually all the West Bank after land swaps. Israel’s rejection in the new negotiations of the indefensible 1967 borders and a “right of return” will be positions that extend far beyond the Israeli right wing:

Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state as much as his demands for far more stringent security — and thus, territorial — arrangements — are not mere pretexts to avoid a deal and are far more than the expressions of a passing political mood. They reflect deep-seated popular sentiment regarding the yearning for true Arab recognition and acceptance and fear of novel, unconventional security threats. New coalition partners or new elections might change the atmosphere. They are not about to change the underlying frame of mind.

In the past 10 years, the PA received three formal offers of a state — at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer — and rejected them all. The Fayyad plan to build the institutions of a Palestinian state over the next two years is an implicit admission that the three offers of a state were made to an entity that did not have the basic institutions necessary for one — and does not have them now. The Malley testimony makes it clear that the entity also does not have the ability or authority to negotiate a peace agreement, much less implement one.

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The Indifferent Ally

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

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Re: What the Palestinians Really Want

In his post on Friday, Rick correctly identified the myth that has foiled every peace-making effort for decades: namely, that the Palestinians actually want a state.

To understand just how untenable this myth is, it’s worth comparing Palestinian behavior with that of the Jews in 1947. The UN Partition Plan proposed that year gave the Jewish state only 12 percent of the territory originally allotted to it under the 1922 League of Nations Mandate, and only 56 percent of what remained after Britain tore away 78 percent of the original territory to create Transjordan (today’s Jordan). Moreover, it excluded Jerusalem, the focus of Jewish national and religious longing throughout 2,000 years of exile. And its borders were completely indefensible, as the plan’s map shows.

Nevertheless, the pre-state Jewish leadership accepted it. Why? Because two years after the Holocaust — which not only proved the dangers of not having a state, but left hundreds of thousands of Jewish survivors as stateless refugees in desperate need of a home — this leadership believed any state, even one so badly flawed, was better than none. Only a state could resettle the survivors and allow them to rebuild their lives; only a state could make “never again” a reality rather than an empty slogan.

The Palestinians, according to their own universally accepted narrative, are in a similar situation today. For 42 years, according to this narrative, millions of them have lived under brutal occupation. For 61 years, millions more have lived in squalid refugee camps, with no hope and no future. Only statehood can end these evils.

Under these circumstances, one would expect Palestinian leaders to jump at any offered state, however flawed, that would end the occupation and enable them to rehabilitate their refugees. Instead, they have repeatedly rejected statehood offers.

Moreover, they did not merely reject ridiculously inadequate offers like the one the Jews nevertheless accepted in 1947. They rejected offers equivalent to 95 and even 100 percent (the Clinton and Olmert plans, respectively) of the territory they ostensibly want, including most of east Jerusalem and even the Temple Mount. In short, they rejected everything they could possibly get under any formula leading to a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one.

And that is the problem — as becomes clear upon examining why the Palestinians repeatedly rejected such offers. First, Palestinians refused to abandon their demand that the refugees be resettled not in the Palestinian state, but in the Jewish one — thereby effectively eradicating the latter. They also refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They even refused to acknowledge any historical Jewish connection to this land, and especially to the Temple Mount — though they would have controlled the Mount in practice.

In short, what the Palestinians really want is not a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one; if they did, they could have one at any time. What they want is a Palestinian state instead of the Jewish one. And until that changes, Israeli-Palestinian peace will remain a mirage.

In his post on Friday, Rick correctly identified the myth that has foiled every peace-making effort for decades: namely, that the Palestinians actually want a state.

To understand just how untenable this myth is, it’s worth comparing Palestinian behavior with that of the Jews in 1947. The UN Partition Plan proposed that year gave the Jewish state only 12 percent of the territory originally allotted to it under the 1922 League of Nations Mandate, and only 56 percent of what remained after Britain tore away 78 percent of the original territory to create Transjordan (today’s Jordan). Moreover, it excluded Jerusalem, the focus of Jewish national and religious longing throughout 2,000 years of exile. And its borders were completely indefensible, as the plan’s map shows.

Nevertheless, the pre-state Jewish leadership accepted it. Why? Because two years after the Holocaust — which not only proved the dangers of not having a state, but left hundreds of thousands of Jewish survivors as stateless refugees in desperate need of a home — this leadership believed any state, even one so badly flawed, was better than none. Only a state could resettle the survivors and allow them to rebuild their lives; only a state could make “never again” a reality rather than an empty slogan.

The Palestinians, according to their own universally accepted narrative, are in a similar situation today. For 42 years, according to this narrative, millions of them have lived under brutal occupation. For 61 years, millions more have lived in squalid refugee camps, with no hope and no future. Only statehood can end these evils.

Under these circumstances, one would expect Palestinian leaders to jump at any offered state, however flawed, that would end the occupation and enable them to rehabilitate their refugees. Instead, they have repeatedly rejected statehood offers.

Moreover, they did not merely reject ridiculously inadequate offers like the one the Jews nevertheless accepted in 1947. They rejected offers equivalent to 95 and even 100 percent (the Clinton and Olmert plans, respectively) of the territory they ostensibly want, including most of east Jerusalem and even the Temple Mount. In short, they rejected everything they could possibly get under any formula leading to a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one.

And that is the problem — as becomes clear upon examining why the Palestinians repeatedly rejected such offers. First, Palestinians refused to abandon their demand that the refugees be resettled not in the Palestinian state, but in the Jewish one — thereby effectively eradicating the latter. They also refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They even refused to acknowledge any historical Jewish connection to this land, and especially to the Temple Mount — though they would have controlled the Mount in practice.

In short, what the Palestinians really want is not a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one; if they did, they could have one at any time. What they want is a Palestinian state instead of the Jewish one. And until that changes, Israeli-Palestinian peace will remain a mirage.

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John McCain, the Zionist

This morning, John McCain appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and delivered a stemwinder about the American relationship to Israel, the threat from Iran, and the war in Iraq. We’ve made available the full text of the speech here. A few highlights:

The people of Israel reserve a special respect for courage, because so much courage has been required of them. In the record of history, sheer survival in the face of Israel’s many trials would have been impressive enough. But Israel has achieved much more than that these past sixty years. Israel has endured, and thrived, and her people have built a nation that is an inspiration to free nations everywhere.

I am committed to making certain Israel maintains its qualitative military edge. Israel’s enemies are too numerous, its margin of error too small, and our shared interests and values too great for us to follow any other policy.

Years ago, the moral clarity and conviction of civilized nations came together in a divestment campaign against South Africa, helping to rid that nation of the evil of apartheid. In our day, we must use that same power and moral conviction against the regime in Iran, and help to safeguard the people of Israel and the peace of the world.

Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are engaged in talks that all of us hope will yield progress toward peace. Yet while we encourage this process, we must also ensure that Israel’s people can live in safety until there is a Palestinian leadership willing and able to deliver peace. A peace process that places faith in terrorists can never end in peace.

[A]s the people of Israel know better than most, the safety of free people can never be taken for granted. And in a world full of dangers, Israel and the United States must always stand together.

This morning, John McCain appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and delivered a stemwinder about the American relationship to Israel, the threat from Iran, and the war in Iraq. We’ve made available the full text of the speech here. A few highlights:

The people of Israel reserve a special respect for courage, because so much courage has been required of them. In the record of history, sheer survival in the face of Israel’s many trials would have been impressive enough. But Israel has achieved much more than that these past sixty years. Israel has endured, and thrived, and her people have built a nation that is an inspiration to free nations everywhere.

I am committed to making certain Israel maintains its qualitative military edge. Israel’s enemies are too numerous, its margin of error too small, and our shared interests and values too great for us to follow any other policy.

Years ago, the moral clarity and conviction of civilized nations came together in a divestment campaign against South Africa, helping to rid that nation of the evil of apartheid. In our day, we must use that same power and moral conviction against the regime in Iran, and help to safeguard the people of Israel and the peace of the world.

Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are engaged in talks that all of us hope will yield progress toward peace. Yet while we encourage this process, we must also ensure that Israel’s people can live in safety until there is a Palestinian leadership willing and able to deliver peace. A peace process that places faith in terrorists can never end in peace.

[A]s the people of Israel know better than most, the safety of free people can never be taken for granted. And in a world full of dangers, Israel and the United States must always stand together.

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Olmert & Assad, Strange Bedfellows

To add my two cents to the four cents already thrown in by John and David, there is an appalling similarity in tactics shared by the Israeli prime minister and the Syrian dictator. When they both feel the heat — for Assad, it comes in the form of the Hariri tribunal, international outrage over his meddling in Lebanon, Arab contempt for his alliance with Iran, and for Olmert, a criminal investigation that portends his ouster — they attempt a big peacemaking head-fake. Obviously, in moral terms Olmert is a saint compared to Assad. But in order to cling to power, right now they are clinging to . . . each other. After many years of practice, Assad has the tactic down to something like a laboratory science, while Olmert does not. The prime minister will be gone far sooner than the dictator.

To add my two cents to the four cents already thrown in by John and David, there is an appalling similarity in tactics shared by the Israeli prime minister and the Syrian dictator. When they both feel the heat — for Assad, it comes in the form of the Hariri tribunal, international outrage over his meddling in Lebanon, Arab contempt for his alliance with Iran, and for Olmert, a criminal investigation that portends his ouster — they attempt a big peacemaking head-fake. Obviously, in moral terms Olmert is a saint compared to Assad. But in order to cling to power, right now they are clinging to . . . each other. After many years of practice, Assad has the tactic down to something like a laboratory science, while Olmert does not. The prime minister will be gone far sooner than the dictator.

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Blah Blah Blah with Bush

I would like readers to know that my skepticism about Bush’s present visit to Jerusalem does not stem from resentment for the traffic snarls that threaten my peace-seeking efforts to drive my kids to school on time. Nor does it come from the kitsch that flowed from the Israel Convention Center last night, as two childrens’ choirs, one on site and the other in Maryland, celebrated the Israel-U.S. alliance in the presence of world leaders by unfathomably and simultaneously singing the Beatles’ Let it Be and Naomi Shemer’s Lu Yehi, which was written after the 1973 war in conscious echoing of the Liverpudlians’ swan song.

I sometimes wish that international politics were less, er, full of it. When you hear Olmert declaring significant progress being made in talks with Palestinians and a bewildered Saeb Erekat responding that he has no idea what Olmert’s talking about, and you find yourself believing the Palestinians, then you know what I mean. Or when Bush describes Olmert as “an honest man,” something that virtually no Israeli believes any more. Or when Israeli leaders respond to yesterday’s rocket attack on an Ashkelon shopping mall (it was an Iranian-made rocket, for those of you keeping score), which injured dozens, by declaring yet again that Israel will not stand idly by while blah blah blah . . . Perhaps I should just stop reading the stuff and go back to comics.

There is, of course, a good reason why international politics is so often a swamp of dissimulation. (It’s not diplomatic to use the word “lies.”) It is because politicians are accountable to people back home, and the farther away something is, the harder it is for the real bosses — the voters — to tell truth from fiction. Who among Bush’s voters really cares, or really knows, whether Olmert is an honest guy? Back home, it makes Bush look like a generous spirit; over here, it makes him look complicit in the deterioration of politics and the loss of values in the Jewish state.

Oh, well. Israelis, for their part, have grown numb to the whole thing. They’re busy as usual, dealing with casualties and trying to put their elected officials behind bars.

I would like readers to know that my skepticism about Bush’s present visit to Jerusalem does not stem from resentment for the traffic snarls that threaten my peace-seeking efforts to drive my kids to school on time. Nor does it come from the kitsch that flowed from the Israel Convention Center last night, as two childrens’ choirs, one on site and the other in Maryland, celebrated the Israel-U.S. alliance in the presence of world leaders by unfathomably and simultaneously singing the Beatles’ Let it Be and Naomi Shemer’s Lu Yehi, which was written after the 1973 war in conscious echoing of the Liverpudlians’ swan song.

I sometimes wish that international politics were less, er, full of it. When you hear Olmert declaring significant progress being made in talks with Palestinians and a bewildered Saeb Erekat responding that he has no idea what Olmert’s talking about, and you find yourself believing the Palestinians, then you know what I mean. Or when Bush describes Olmert as “an honest man,” something that virtually no Israeli believes any more. Or when Israeli leaders respond to yesterday’s rocket attack on an Ashkelon shopping mall (it was an Iranian-made rocket, for those of you keeping score), which injured dozens, by declaring yet again that Israel will not stand idly by while blah blah blah . . . Perhaps I should just stop reading the stuff and go back to comics.

There is, of course, a good reason why international politics is so often a swamp of dissimulation. (It’s not diplomatic to use the word “lies.”) It is because politicians are accountable to people back home, and the farther away something is, the harder it is for the real bosses — the voters — to tell truth from fiction. Who among Bush’s voters really cares, or really knows, whether Olmert is an honest guy? Back home, it makes Bush look like a generous spirit; over here, it makes him look complicit in the deterioration of politics and the loss of values in the Jewish state.

Oh, well. Israelis, for their part, have grown numb to the whole thing. They’re busy as usual, dealing with casualties and trying to put their elected officials behind bars.

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Israeli Democracy Gags

For nearly a week, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office has been shrouded in scandal–a scandal so major, we’ve been told, that it will probably be the scandal that forces the scandal-ridden Israeli Prime Minister from office. What exactly happened? Nobody really knows and, thus far, only the New York Post has uncovered any substantive details. Yesterday, the Post reported that Olmert had received money from Long Island millionaire Morris Talansky during his term as mayor of Jerusalem. How much money? What was the purpose of this payoff? Again, nobody knows.

This dearth of information is the consequence of a stringent Israeli gag order. Indeed, even while references to the Post‘s fine investigative journalism have abounded, the Israeli media has been completely prevented from mentioning Talansky’s name. (One station, Keshet TV, went as far as blurring the text in a photo it provided of the Post‘s web-based scandal coverage.) Of course, when it comes to protecting national security-relevant information–as in the case of Israel’s bombing of an alleged Syrian nuclear facility last September–these blackouts are par for the course in Israel. But corruption in high government offices is not a national security issue–it is a political one, and withholding vital information from the public disturbingly undermines Israel’s democratic processes.

Yet the gag order exposes far more than the limits of civil liberties in Israel. Rather, it demonstrates the alarming extent to which Israel’s political culture, quite literally, stands on ceremony. Indeed, the police have argued that lifting the gag order on Israel’s day of mourning for its fallen soldiers–today–would “harm the public interest.” Moreover, as the gag order currently extends through May 11th, it appears as though its ultimate goal is to keep Olmert in power at least until Israel’s 60th birthday celebration passes a few days later. After all, the government has long planned this event–which will be attended by President Bush, among other foreign leaders and luminaries–as a showcase of Israel’s political, economic, artistic, and scientific achievements, and it seems determined to not let Olmert’s corruption, no matter how extensive, interfere.

One thus has to wonder: does Israel’s national security establishment believe that the Jewish state’s international standing is so tenuous that protecting an A-list birthday party warrants such profound limitations on free speech?

For nearly a week, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office has been shrouded in scandal–a scandal so major, we’ve been told, that it will probably be the scandal that forces the scandal-ridden Israeli Prime Minister from office. What exactly happened? Nobody really knows and, thus far, only the New York Post has uncovered any substantive details. Yesterday, the Post reported that Olmert had received money from Long Island millionaire Morris Talansky during his term as mayor of Jerusalem. How much money? What was the purpose of this payoff? Again, nobody knows.

This dearth of information is the consequence of a stringent Israeli gag order. Indeed, even while references to the Post‘s fine investigative journalism have abounded, the Israeli media has been completely prevented from mentioning Talansky’s name. (One station, Keshet TV, went as far as blurring the text in a photo it provided of the Post‘s web-based scandal coverage.) Of course, when it comes to protecting national security-relevant information–as in the case of Israel’s bombing of an alleged Syrian nuclear facility last September–these blackouts are par for the course in Israel. But corruption in high government offices is not a national security issue–it is a political one, and withholding vital information from the public disturbingly undermines Israel’s democratic processes.

Yet the gag order exposes far more than the limits of civil liberties in Israel. Rather, it demonstrates the alarming extent to which Israel’s political culture, quite literally, stands on ceremony. Indeed, the police have argued that lifting the gag order on Israel’s day of mourning for its fallen soldiers–today–would “harm the public interest.” Moreover, as the gag order currently extends through May 11th, it appears as though its ultimate goal is to keep Olmert in power at least until Israel’s 60th birthday celebration passes a few days later. After all, the government has long planned this event–which will be attended by President Bush, among other foreign leaders and luminaries–as a showcase of Israel’s political, economic, artistic, and scientific achievements, and it seems determined to not let Olmert’s corruption, no matter how extensive, interfere.

One thus has to wonder: does Israel’s national security establishment believe that the Jewish state’s international standing is so tenuous that protecting an A-list birthday party warrants such profound limitations on free speech?

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Gaza Saga

Today’s infiltration of terrorists from Gaza into Israel is another reminder — as if one was needed — that Hamas and its regional patrons continue to drive events, not the other way around. The incursion at Nachal Oz appears to have been an abduction attempt, and comes amidst recent threats from Hamas that another border breach, into either Egypt or Israel, may soon be attempted.

All of this is prelude to a serious showdown between Hamas and the IDF; war, not diplomacy, continues to be the engine of history in the Middle East. Someone who understands this is Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post, who on Monday laid out some very basic realities in his column.

He says Israeli leaders have been quietly informing Washington that a showdown with Hamas is coming soon to a television screen near you, and that the peace process will not survive it:

The grim Israeli view is driven to a large degree by what officials say is the massive and continuing smuggling of weapons into Gaza, sponsored by Iran and tacitly allowed by Egypt, which despite considerable pressure from Washington shrinks from actions that might trigger its own confrontation with Hamas. . . .

Bush and Rice would like Israel to hold off against Hamas until Olmert can complete an agreement on principles for a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement with Abbas. While Olmert still wants that deal, it’s become increasingly clear to the Israelis that an Abbas-led government will never be able to implement it. Despite extensive international aid, the West Bank Palestinian administration remains little more than a shell kept in power by Israel’s troops. Hamas, the Israelis say, can stop the peace process at any time by resuming missile attacks against Ashkelon. . . .

But what concerns some Israelis is the lack of readiness by the Bush administration for the possibility that its drive for Mideast peace will be overwhelmed by a Mideast war.

I would add that not only will the peace process be overwhelmed by war in Gaza, but so will the political saliency of Mahmoud Abbas — and indeed of any western-approved Palestinian leader. Abbas today is a walking anachronism. If there is real progress in the peace process, Hamas and Iran will unleash violence and the ensuing battle will force Abbas to suspend negotiations; if Israel tries to negotiate with Hamas, his credibility will be fatally undermined; if he negotiates with Hamas, he will face abandonment from the U.S. and Israel; if a prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit is accomplished, he will be shown among the Palestinians to be even weaker opposite Hamas than he already looks.

The important questions now revolve around Israeli dealings with the Bush administration over the timing and nature of war in Gaza. Will it commence on Israel’s initiative, or on Hamas’s? And what will Condi Rice have to say about it?

Today’s infiltration of terrorists from Gaza into Israel is another reminder — as if one was needed — that Hamas and its regional patrons continue to drive events, not the other way around. The incursion at Nachal Oz appears to have been an abduction attempt, and comes amidst recent threats from Hamas that another border breach, into either Egypt or Israel, may soon be attempted.

All of this is prelude to a serious showdown between Hamas and the IDF; war, not diplomacy, continues to be the engine of history in the Middle East. Someone who understands this is Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post, who on Monday laid out some very basic realities in his column.

He says Israeli leaders have been quietly informing Washington that a showdown with Hamas is coming soon to a television screen near you, and that the peace process will not survive it:

The grim Israeli view is driven to a large degree by what officials say is the massive and continuing smuggling of weapons into Gaza, sponsored by Iran and tacitly allowed by Egypt, which despite considerable pressure from Washington shrinks from actions that might trigger its own confrontation with Hamas. . . .

Bush and Rice would like Israel to hold off against Hamas until Olmert can complete an agreement on principles for a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement with Abbas. While Olmert still wants that deal, it’s become increasingly clear to the Israelis that an Abbas-led government will never be able to implement it. Despite extensive international aid, the West Bank Palestinian administration remains little more than a shell kept in power by Israel’s troops. Hamas, the Israelis say, can stop the peace process at any time by resuming missile attacks against Ashkelon. . . .

But what concerns some Israelis is the lack of readiness by the Bush administration for the possibility that its drive for Mideast peace will be overwhelmed by a Mideast war.

I would add that not only will the peace process be overwhelmed by war in Gaza, but so will the political saliency of Mahmoud Abbas — and indeed of any western-approved Palestinian leader. Abbas today is a walking anachronism. If there is real progress in the peace process, Hamas and Iran will unleash violence and the ensuing battle will force Abbas to suspend negotiations; if Israel tries to negotiate with Hamas, his credibility will be fatally undermined; if he negotiates with Hamas, he will face abandonment from the U.S. and Israel; if a prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit is accomplished, he will be shown among the Palestinians to be even weaker opposite Hamas than he already looks.

The important questions now revolve around Israeli dealings with the Bush administration over the timing and nature of war in Gaza. Will it commence on Israel’s initiative, or on Hamas’s? And what will Condi Rice have to say about it?

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Cheney and the Road Map

I have to disagree with you, Eric. Cheney’s visit was interesting. As far as I can tell, the vice president, bless him, threw down a subtle but unmistakable rebuke to his frequent-flier colleague. At the opening Olmert-Cheney press conference, Cheney said this:

America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction. The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security. . . .

History has clearly shown that when encountered by Arab partners like Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, who accepted Israel’s permanence and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments, Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace. I have no doubt this is equally the case with Palestinians. [Emphasis mine.]

This seems to me a very sly variation of damning with faint praise — in this case, damning the Palestinians with as yet unjustified praise, to highlight the difference between their record and examples of actual Arab peacemaking.

Anyway, after a later meeting with Olmert, Cheney said about Gaza and the smuggling tunnels:

All of that obviously has resulted in the ongoing activity of launching rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israelis and obviously making it difficult for there to be the kind of progress that I think we would all like to see.

Recall one of Condi Rice’s great Annapolis feats, the destruction of the “sequentiality” of the 2003 Road Map, which insisted that an internal Palestinian war on terrorism must be the central prerequisite of the peace process. In the midst of the intifada, the idea was that it would be pointless to attempt to pursue a peace process when suicide bombings and jihad constituted the primary form of statecraft of the Palestinian Authority. Early this year, after Annapolis, Condi Rice surveyed the post-Road Map era and told reporters that

[T]he reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status.

What Annapolis did was to break that tight sequentiality and to say, you can do these in parallel — you can do road map obligations and negotiation for the final status in parallel.

A more honest statement would have been something like: “The reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is because the Palestinian Authority has not only failed to demonstrate even the slightest interest in confronting Palestinian terrorism, the PA itself has been deeply implicated in terrorism. So we’re jettisoning the requirements of the Road Map because of both the insurmountability of the Palestinian terrorism problem and our own desire to cultivate an image of Bush administration-led progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Obviously, there’s not the slightest chance that Rice (or any Secretary of State) would ever say such a thing; but it’s what she meant. And I also suspect that the real thrust of Cheney’s public statements during his visit was: Condi, get real. I furthermore suspect that Cheney resents having to participate in the peace process charade in the first place. But there was no elegant way he could have made those points.

I have to disagree with you, Eric. Cheney’s visit was interesting. As far as I can tell, the vice president, bless him, threw down a subtle but unmistakable rebuke to his frequent-flier colleague. At the opening Olmert-Cheney press conference, Cheney said this:

America’s commitment to Israel’s security is enduring and unshakeable, as is our commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself always against terrorism, rocket attacks and other threats from forces dedicated to Israel’s destruction. The United States will never pressure Israel to take steps that threaten its security. . . .

History has clearly shown that when encountered by Arab partners like Anwar Sadat and the late King Hussein of Jordan, who accepted Israel’s permanence and are willing and capable of delivering on their commitments, Israelis are prepared to make wrenching national sacrifices on behalf of peace. I have no doubt this is equally the case with Palestinians. [Emphasis mine.]

This seems to me a very sly variation of damning with faint praise — in this case, damning the Palestinians with as yet unjustified praise, to highlight the difference between their record and examples of actual Arab peacemaking.

Anyway, after a later meeting with Olmert, Cheney said about Gaza and the smuggling tunnels:

All of that obviously has resulted in the ongoing activity of launching rockets into Israel and threatening the lives of Israelis and obviously making it difficult for there to be the kind of progress that I think we would all like to see.

Recall one of Condi Rice’s great Annapolis feats, the destruction of the “sequentiality” of the 2003 Road Map, which insisted that an internal Palestinian war on terrorism must be the central prerequisite of the peace process. In the midst of the intifada, the idea was that it would be pointless to attempt to pursue a peace process when suicide bombings and jihad constituted the primary form of statecraft of the Palestinian Authority. Early this year, after Annapolis, Condi Rice surveyed the post-Road Map era and told reporters that

[T]he reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status.

What Annapolis did was to break that tight sequentiality and to say, you can do these in parallel — you can do road map obligations and negotiation for the final status in parallel.

A more honest statement would have been something like: “The reason that we haven’t really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is because the Palestinian Authority has not only failed to demonstrate even the slightest interest in confronting Palestinian terrorism, the PA itself has been deeply implicated in terrorism. So we’re jettisoning the requirements of the Road Map because of both the insurmountability of the Palestinian terrorism problem and our own desire to cultivate an image of Bush administration-led progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Obviously, there’s not the slightest chance that Rice (or any Secretary of State) would ever say such a thing; but it’s what she meant. And I also suspect that the real thrust of Cheney’s public statements during his visit was: Condi, get real. I furthermore suspect that Cheney resents having to participate in the peace process charade in the first place. But there was no elegant way he could have made those points.

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Olmert’s Contradictory Strategy

For the first time since Syria withdrew from Lebanon over three years ago, Arab states are in broad consensus that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese politics.

Indeed, Lebanon has been without a president since November because Hezbollah–with Syria’s political backing–is demanding cabinet veto power in exchange for approving Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.  In response, Egypt and Syria threatened to boycott the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus, while Gulf states withheld their decisions to attend the conference until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally invited Lebanon.  Still, only 12 of 22 Arab heads-of-state have announced that they will attend.  Of course, this unity against Syria’s involvement in Lebanon has profound implications for Hezbollah, which depends on Syria’s political support for domestic leverage.

If you were prime minister of Israel, you would probably see this as a good thing.  After all, in the aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced preparations for another war against Israel, further hinting that Hezbollah would target Israeli interests abroad.  Moreover, Hezbollah is a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons to Hamas in Gaza. As Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported on Wednesday, Iran is attempting to transport anti-aircraft systems to Gaza that could hit Israeli airbases in the Negev.  If Syrian support is threatened, Hezbollah will have to redouble its domestic political efforts, potentially stalling its strategy against Israel.

Yet during a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Olmert called for opening negotiations with Syria–throwing the Assad regime a potential lifesaver as Arab consensus against Damascus developed.  Indeed, negotiating with Syria would undermine western attempts to hold Assad accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–providing a significant boost to Hezbollah’s March 8th Alliance.  In short, at the very moment that Olmert should be most focused on weakening Hezbollah, he is advocating a policy that would do the opposite.

Apparently, Olmert believes that, through peace negotiations, Israel can induce Syria to abandon “its involvement in terrorism and extricate it from the axis of evil.”  However, yesterday’s events should convince him that this is a fantasy.  For starters, Palestinian Islamic Jihad–whose operatives often receive training in Syria–attacked an Israeli jeep operating along the Israeli-Gaza border, using a sophisticated device likely made in Iran.  At the same time, Assad received the Iranian first vice-president in Damascus, with the two sides agreeing to link the Syrian electricity network to Iran’s grid.

Make no mistake: these Iranian-Syrian links will not be broken any time soon.  Olmert should recognize this reality, and take advantage of the rare opportunities that Arab consensus against Damascus provides for weakening Hezbollah politically.

For the first time since Syria withdrew from Lebanon over three years ago, Arab states are in broad consensus that Damascus is still meddling in Lebanese politics.

Indeed, Lebanon has been without a president since November because Hezbollah–with Syria’s political backing–is demanding cabinet veto power in exchange for approving Gen. Michel Suleiman as president.  In response, Egypt and Syria threatened to boycott the upcoming Arab League conference in Damascus, while Gulf states withheld their decisions to attend the conference until Syrian President Bashar al-Assad formally invited Lebanon.  Still, only 12 of 22 Arab heads-of-state have announced that they will attend.  Of course, this unity against Syria’s involvement in Lebanon has profound implications for Hezbollah, which depends on Syria’s political support for domestic leverage.

If you were prime minister of Israel, you would probably see this as a good thing.  After all, in the aftermath of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced preparations for another war against Israel, further hinting that Hezbollah would target Israeli interests abroad.  Moreover, Hezbollah is a key conduit for delivering Iranian weapons to Hamas in Gaza. As Hezbollah’s al-Manar reported on Wednesday, Iran is attempting to transport anti-aircraft systems to Gaza that could hit Israeli airbases in the Negev.  If Syrian support is threatened, Hezbollah will have to redouble its domestic political efforts, potentially stalling its strategy against Israel.

Yet during a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Olmert called for opening negotiations with Syria–throwing the Assad regime a potential lifesaver as Arab consensus against Damascus developed.  Indeed, negotiating with Syria would undermine western attempts to hold Assad accountable for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri–providing a significant boost to Hezbollah’s March 8th Alliance.  In short, at the very moment that Olmert should be most focused on weakening Hezbollah, he is advocating a policy that would do the opposite.

Apparently, Olmert believes that, through peace negotiations, Israel can induce Syria to abandon “its involvement in terrorism and extricate it from the axis of evil.”  However, yesterday’s events should convince him that this is a fantasy.  For starters, Palestinian Islamic Jihad–whose operatives often receive training in Syria–attacked an Israeli jeep operating along the Israeli-Gaza border, using a sophisticated device likely made in Iran.  At the same time, Assad received the Iranian first vice-president in Damascus, with the two sides agreeing to link the Syrian electricity network to Iran’s grid.

Make no mistake: these Iranian-Syrian links will not be broken any time soon.  Olmert should recognize this reality, and take advantage of the rare opportunities that Arab consensus against Damascus provides for weakening Hezbollah politically.

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Ehud Olmert, Company Man

John Podhoretz has noted here that Ehud Olmert managed–somehow–to survive the release of the Winograd Report, which details his grievous failures in the Lebanon war. John didn’t comment further: Olmert’s record speaks (miserably) for itself. But the excellent Yossi Klein Halevi, at TNR, condemns him full-throatedly:

Olmert, neither founder nor hero, is the first professional politician to serve as prime minister. Yet, in resisting calls for his resignation, he is insisting on being absolved of the standards for personal accountability in war to which other prime ministers were held. Golda Meir and her defense minister, Moshe Dayan, were forced from office by an outraged public because of failure in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, while Menachem Begin and his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, were compelled to resign because of failure in the first Lebanon War in 1982. Olmert, though, sees himself as immune from such archaic values as personal responsibility. Even before the release of the final version of the Winograd report, Olmert had announced that he wouldn’t resign no matter what the commission concluded.

Olmert’s fatal flaw, and the source of his failure in Lebanon, is arrogance. No Israeli leader ever decided to go to war faster than Olmert did–in a matter of hours. And no Israeli leader was worse prepared: Not only did Olmert have no security expertise, but neither did his defense minister. The one member of his cabinet with top military credentials–former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz–was serving as transportation minister, and Olmert didn’t include him in his inner circle. Olmert failed to establish clear goals for Israel’s counter-attack or to inquire whether the IDF had alternative plans. Olmert’s policy was, in effect: Let’s go to war and see what happens.

You should read the whole thing.

John Podhoretz has noted here that Ehud Olmert managed–somehow–to survive the release of the Winograd Report, which details his grievous failures in the Lebanon war. John didn’t comment further: Olmert’s record speaks (miserably) for itself. But the excellent Yossi Klein Halevi, at TNR, condemns him full-throatedly:

Olmert, neither founder nor hero, is the first professional politician to serve as prime minister. Yet, in resisting calls for his resignation, he is insisting on being absolved of the standards for personal accountability in war to which other prime ministers were held. Golda Meir and her defense minister, Moshe Dayan, were forced from office by an outraged public because of failure in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, while Menachem Begin and his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, were compelled to resign because of failure in the first Lebanon War in 1982. Olmert, though, sees himself as immune from such archaic values as personal responsibility. Even before the release of the final version of the Winograd report, Olmert had announced that he wouldn’t resign no matter what the commission concluded.

Olmert’s fatal flaw, and the source of his failure in Lebanon, is arrogance. No Israeli leader ever decided to go to war faster than Olmert did–in a matter of hours. And no Israeli leader was worse prepared: Not only did Olmert have no security expertise, but neither did his defense minister. The one member of his cabinet with top military credentials–former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz–was serving as transportation minister, and Olmert didn’t include him in his inner circle. Olmert failed to establish clear goals for Israel’s counter-attack or to inquire whether the IDF had alternative plans. Olmert’s policy was, in effect: Let’s go to war and see what happens.

You should read the whole thing.

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Three States for Two Peoples?

The Jerusalem Post has reported that the Palestinian Authority is planning on creating a new Parliament, one which would govern the West Bank and presumably be dominated by PA chief Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, as opposed to the Hamas-dominated parliament now ruling over Gaza. This would be a huge step towards the formal separation of the two territories into two different regimes, which they have already become de facto.

Why does it feel like the media and Western leaders live in an alternate universe? President Bush just visited Israel, and Olmert and Abbas both declared the beginning of final-status talks and negotiation over “core” issues. But who are the Israelis negotiating with? To much fanfare, Israel has now undertaken to engage in a protracted negotiation, make “painful concessions,” such as dividing Jerusalem and relocating hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, all with the aim of signing a final, long-awaited full-fledged peace agreement–with half the Palestinians. The other half declare jihad, arm themselves, lob missiles into Israeli cities, and proudly make themselves into an extension of Iranian power and hostility in the region. What an ingenious way to make simultaneous peace and war: Split into two different states.

The Jerusalem Post has reported that the Palestinian Authority is planning on creating a new Parliament, one which would govern the West Bank and presumably be dominated by PA chief Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, as opposed to the Hamas-dominated parliament now ruling over Gaza. This would be a huge step towards the formal separation of the two territories into two different regimes, which they have already become de facto.

Why does it feel like the media and Western leaders live in an alternate universe? President Bush just visited Israel, and Olmert and Abbas both declared the beginning of final-status talks and negotiation over “core” issues. But who are the Israelis negotiating with? To much fanfare, Israel has now undertaken to engage in a protracted negotiation, make “painful concessions,” such as dividing Jerusalem and relocating hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, all with the aim of signing a final, long-awaited full-fledged peace agreement–with half the Palestinians. The other half declare jihad, arm themselves, lob missiles into Israeli cities, and proudly make themselves into an extension of Iranian power and hostility in the region. What an ingenious way to make simultaneous peace and war: Split into two different states.

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