Commentary Magazine


Topic: Olmert

Dealing with Hamas?

Noah Pollak is right to draw attention in an earlier post to events in Gaza of the last few days. Israel has taken out, stunningly, some of the top people in Islamic Jihad in Gaza, including Majed al-Harazin, their military commander, who has been responsible for hundreds of Kassam missiles launched at Israeli communities in recent months. The dramatic video of the takeout, shot from an IDF drone, can be seen here.

Yet the picture Noah describes of Israel stepping up pressure on “Hamas and Islamic Jihad” could be a little off. Israel is targeting only leaders of the Jihad, and Hamas’s response has been unusually subdued. After the attacks Monday night, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, told an Israeli TV reporter that he would be willing to talk with Israel through a third party. The organization has condemned the attacks, but stopped short of declaring that they will retaliate, as they usually do. And today Israel’s deputy Prime Minister and former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz says that Israel should take Haniyeh up on his offer.

It’s pretty unclear what’s really going on. It could just be that Noah is right, and that Hamas’s leaders are moderating their tone because they fear they might be next on the hit list, as one analyst has suggested. But there’s another possibility as well: that these hits reflect some kind of deal worked out between Israel and Hamas. For instance: Israel takes out Hamas’s main Islamist rival in Gaza, helping consolidate Haniyeh’s hold on the strip, but also deals a blow to Kassam launchers, scores points with the Israeli public, and gives Olmert a much-needed miltiary success as he faces mutiny in his own party in advance of next month’s release of the Winograd Commission report, which may blame him for massive failure in last year’s Lebanon war. Either way, senior terrorists are taking a big hit, and power is shifting in the Strip.

Noah Pollak is right to draw attention in an earlier post to events in Gaza of the last few days. Israel has taken out, stunningly, some of the top people in Islamic Jihad in Gaza, including Majed al-Harazin, their military commander, who has been responsible for hundreds of Kassam missiles launched at Israeli communities in recent months. The dramatic video of the takeout, shot from an IDF drone, can be seen here.

Yet the picture Noah describes of Israel stepping up pressure on “Hamas and Islamic Jihad” could be a little off. Israel is targeting only leaders of the Jihad, and Hamas’s response has been unusually subdued. After the attacks Monday night, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, told an Israeli TV reporter that he would be willing to talk with Israel through a third party. The organization has condemned the attacks, but stopped short of declaring that they will retaliate, as they usually do. And today Israel’s deputy Prime Minister and former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz says that Israel should take Haniyeh up on his offer.

It’s pretty unclear what’s really going on. It could just be that Noah is right, and that Hamas’s leaders are moderating their tone because they fear they might be next on the hit list, as one analyst has suggested. But there’s another possibility as well: that these hits reflect some kind of deal worked out between Israel and Hamas. For instance: Israel takes out Hamas’s main Islamist rival in Gaza, helping consolidate Haniyeh’s hold on the strip, but also deals a blow to Kassam launchers, scores points with the Israeli public, and gives Olmert a much-needed miltiary success as he faces mutiny in his own party in advance of next month’s release of the Winograd Commission report, which may blame him for massive failure in last year’s Lebanon war. Either way, senior terrorists are taking a big hit, and power is shifting in the Strip.

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Peres’s Poodle

I am always impressed by the particular fondness for critiquing the New York Times shared by writers on contentions. Without judging one way or another, from my perch here in Jerusalem all I can say is: If you think that’s bad, you should read Haaretz. Today there’s an editorial offering a fawning political eulogy for Yossi Beilin, the last remaining luminary of the Israeli far Left, whom Yitzhak Rabin famously called “Peres’s Poodle.” Beilin has just declared he is out of the race for leadership of Meretz, Israel’s peace party. According to a recent poll for the daily Yediot Aharonot, the peace camp in Israel has been so devastated by the sobering conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizballah of the last few years, that if an election were held today, Meretz would receive five seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset—half its strength from the heady early ’90’s. (More broadly, parties on the Left are expecting a drubbing, with the Likud the current heavy favorite. Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, too, is in freefall, with the poll giving them just twelve seats, as opposed to their current 29.)

But Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, reveals the extent of its disconnect with the Israeli public when it calls Beilin a “brave” leader who “managed to carry away the center of the political map and get it to adopt his political path.” Meretz now has, the editorial concludes, “an important role to play in setting the public agenda and in fighting for values which tend to be easily neglected because of a too-heavy security agenda.” Read the whole thing here.

I am always impressed by the particular fondness for critiquing the New York Times shared by writers on contentions. Without judging one way or another, from my perch here in Jerusalem all I can say is: If you think that’s bad, you should read Haaretz. Today there’s an editorial offering a fawning political eulogy for Yossi Beilin, the last remaining luminary of the Israeli far Left, whom Yitzhak Rabin famously called “Peres’s Poodle.” Beilin has just declared he is out of the race for leadership of Meretz, Israel’s peace party. According to a recent poll for the daily Yediot Aharonot, the peace camp in Israel has been so devastated by the sobering conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizballah of the last few years, that if an election were held today, Meretz would receive five seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset—half its strength from the heady early ’90’s. (More broadly, parties on the Left are expecting a drubbing, with the Likud the current heavy favorite. Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, too, is in freefall, with the poll giving them just twelve seats, as opposed to their current 29.)

But Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, reveals the extent of its disconnect with the Israeli public when it calls Beilin a “brave” leader who “managed to carry away the center of the political map and get it to adopt his political path.” Meretz now has, the editorial concludes, “an important role to play in setting the public agenda and in fighting for values which tend to be easily neglected because of a too-heavy security agenda.” Read the whole thing here.

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Bush’s Big Adventure

In the immediate aftermath of last week’s Annapolis Conference, President Bush told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that there was no reason for him to go to the region to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. “Going to the region in itself is not going to unstick negotiations,” Bush said, seeming annoyed by the suggestion that he should get out more. “This idea about somehow you’re supposed to travel and therefore good things are going to happen is just not realistic.”

But earlier this week, the President apparently had a change of heart, with White House National Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe confirming that Bush will visit Israel in early January. This marks a significant shift in strategy: Bush had given the strong impression that he intended to monitor bilateral negotiations from afar, only getting involved if necessary to resolve impasses. Perhaps realizing that impasses—and thus his direct involvement—were inevitable, Bush wisely chose to visit the region now. Yet the most important outcome of his visit will not be resolving intricate details regarding refugees or Jerusalem. Rather, Bush’s visit can serve a critical public diplomacy purpose, so long as it is used to reach out to Israelis and Palestinians, encouraging both to support their leaders’ bid for peace.

In Israel, Bush will find a public that is deeply skeptical of Annapolis, having little faith in Olmert and, arguably, less faith in a Palestinian body politic still heavily controlled by Hamas. Yet, for Bush, the Israeli public is winnable: Bush has continually iterated his understanding for Israelis’ security concerns, and he is often regarded as the most pro-Israel president of all time. Bush’s visit to Israel will demonstrate his seriousness regarding Annapolis, possibly convincing Israelis that peace can—and therefore must—be sealed during his presidency.

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In the immediate aftermath of last week’s Annapolis Conference, President Bush told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that there was no reason for him to go to the region to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. “Going to the region in itself is not going to unstick negotiations,” Bush said, seeming annoyed by the suggestion that he should get out more. “This idea about somehow you’re supposed to travel and therefore good things are going to happen is just not realistic.”

But earlier this week, the President apparently had a change of heart, with White House National Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe confirming that Bush will visit Israel in early January. This marks a significant shift in strategy: Bush had given the strong impression that he intended to monitor bilateral negotiations from afar, only getting involved if necessary to resolve impasses. Perhaps realizing that impasses—and thus his direct involvement—were inevitable, Bush wisely chose to visit the region now. Yet the most important outcome of his visit will not be resolving intricate details regarding refugees or Jerusalem. Rather, Bush’s visit can serve a critical public diplomacy purpose, so long as it is used to reach out to Israelis and Palestinians, encouraging both to support their leaders’ bid for peace.

In Israel, Bush will find a public that is deeply skeptical of Annapolis, having little faith in Olmert and, arguably, less faith in a Palestinian body politic still heavily controlled by Hamas. Yet, for Bush, the Israeli public is winnable: Bush has continually iterated his understanding for Israelis’ security concerns, and he is often regarded as the most pro-Israel president of all time. Bush’s visit to Israel will demonstrate his seriousness regarding Annapolis, possibly convincing Israelis that peace can—and therefore must—be sealed during his presidency.

Among Palestinians, Bush faces a much tougher public diplomacy outlook. The Palestinian public views the Bush administration as the enabler of everything that encumbers their livelihoods: the security barrier, checkpoints, roadblocks, and curfews. Palestinians further view Bush’s democracy agenda as hypocritical, given the U.S.-led isolation of Hamas that followed its 2006 electoral victory. Finally, the Palestinian public views the peace process cynically, and will ask how the recent announcement that Israel will build more housing units in Har Homa—headline news throughout the Arab world yesterday—jives with land-for-peace.

Bush’s visit to the region is unlikely to change any of these realities immediately—indeed, that is not the point of public diplomacy. However, if Bush visits Ramallah, engages with members of Palestinian civil society, demonstrates sympathy for Palestinian pain, and insists that its remedy lies in serious engagement with Israel, he will be taking the first step towards showing Palestinians that the peace process will seek their advancement. He could further use these conversations to express his dismay for Hamas’s ascendancy, and argue that it was Hamas’s suicide bombings—and no American-Israeli conspiracy—that prompted the West Bank barrier’s construction.

For this reason, Bush’s trip to the region must emphasize media interviews and meetings with Israeli and Palestinian citizens. Indeed, if the administration merely intends a series of closed-door meetings with Olmert and Abbas in warmer climates, an important opportunity to advance the credibility of U.S. policy will be lost.

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Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Natan Sharansky was in town yesterday and dropped by the offices of COMMENTARY– where I challenged him to a game of chess, thereby fulfilling a decades’ long dream. The trouble was, we did not have a chess set handy, which led him to remark that this meant that COMMENTARY was not a Jewish magazine. One of my colleagues ran out to the wonderful stationery store, Sam Flax, which agreed on the spot to sponsor the match and provided us with an odd but perfectly usable set.

During long years as a Soviet refusenik, and then a decade in the Gulag on the trumped-up crime of treason, Sharansky had a lot of time to ponder the fine points of the royal game. As the New York Times reported, “he had little time for chess during his dissident years in the Soviet Union, but he recovered his skills in prison, where he said he spent the long days in solitary confinement playing three simultaneous games in his mind.” Sharansky told the newspaper, “I played thousands of games, and I won them all.”

In Russia, he had earned the title of candidate master, which is equivalent to the rank of American master. The latter is the title I earned in 1989, the last year in which I played a game of competitive chess. Sharansky has played twice against the former world champion Garry Kasparov, emerging with one draw and one victory, an excellent score for an amateur even considering that both games took place at exhibitions in which Kasparov was playing multiple players simultaneously.

Lately, however, Sharansky has devoted most of his time to preventing the state of Israel from (to use chess lingo) sacrificing its pieces without adequate compensation. And so his chess, though strong, may not be as strong as it once was. When we sat down to play, I had little idea what I would be up against.

In our first game, playing black, Sharansky responded to 1.e4 with the ultra-aggressive Schliemann Defense in the Ruy Lopez. Unfortunately, I fell into a trap and the game was over in a mere seven moves, a humiliation for Connecting the Dots akin to the Arab defeat in the Six-Day war, and one that cried out for another round.

In our second game, I had the black pieces. I steered into one of my favorite lines of the rock-solid Caro-Kann. Before too long, I was able to exchange off some of Sharansky’s most actively placed pieces and then I managed to win one of his central pawns, obtaining a very strong position. On his 24th move, Sharansky made a blunder and gave up a second pawn. The game was now all but won.

But my opponent proved to be nothing if not resourceful, and unfortunately, through inaccurate play, I helped him along. As I pushed my pawns forward he managed to maneuver his rooks onto the seventh rank, whereupon I agreed (prematurely, it turns out) to a draw. At a score of 1/2 to 1 1/2, I ended up with the same result against Sharansky that Garry Kasparov had obtained against him, a score that left me immensely satisfied that I had been able to lay a finger on this remarkable Russian, Israeli, Jewish hero.

GAME 1

Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Bb5 f5

4.Bxc6 dxc6

5.Nxe5 fxe4

6.Nc3 Nf6

7.0–0??

chess-pic-1b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 7.0-0??

White walks right into a trap and the game is over. I should have resigned immediately after Sharanksy’s next move, but was too stunned by the sudden turn of events.

7… Qd4

8.Re1 Qxe5

9.Nxe4 Nxe4

10.d3 Bf5

11.dxe4 Bg6

and realizing, belatedly, that I was lost, I resigned.

0–1

 

GAME 2

Sharansky vs. Schoenfeld

Caro-Kann

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.Nc3 dxe4

4.Nxe4 Nd7

5.Nf3 Ngf6

6.Ng3 e6

7.Bd3 Bd6

8.0–0 Qc7

9.c4 0–0

10.c5 Be7

11.Re1 b6

12.b4 a5

13.cxb6 Qxb6

14.bxa5 Rxa5

15.Bd2 Ra8

16.Qc2 Ba6

17.Bxa6 Qxa6

18.Ne5 c5

19.Nxd7 Nxd7

20.d5?

Akin to pulling out of Gaza. This gives up a pawn without compensation.

20… Bf6

21.Bc3

If 21.dxe6 Bxa1 22.exd7 Qxa2 23.Qxa2 Rxa2 24.Bg5 f6 25.Bf4 Be5 26.Bxe5 fxe5 27.Rxe5 Ra1+ 28.Nf1 Rd1 and white is up the exchange for a pawn in a winning endgame.

21… Qc4

22.Rec1 Qxc3

23.Qxc3 Bxc3

24.Rxc3 exd5

Black’s imposing central pawns give him a powerful advantage.

25.Nf5 Rfe8

26.a4??

Sharansky is momentarily distracted and drops a pawn after I explain to him that at Annapolis Olmert has just yielded the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in exchange for the right to shake hands with the Saudi deputy foreign minister.

26… Rxa4

27.Rd1 d4

28.Rf3 Ne5

29.Rg3 g6

30.Nd6 Re6

31.Ne4 Rc6

32.f4 Nc4

33.Ng5 f5?

Unnecessary. Better to proceed simply with the attack via 33. Ne3.

34.Nf3 Ne3

35.Rc1 d3

36.Nd2 Ra2

37.Rxe3 Rxd2

38.Re7 Rc2?

Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, I make the worst move on the board, giving white a draw. Far better is 38…Rb6 39.Ra1 Rb8 40.h3 Re2, and black runs out of threats.

39.Ra1 Rc8

40.Raa7 Re2

41.Rg7+ Kf8

42.Raf7+ Ke8

43.Rd7??

chess-pic-2b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 43. Rd7??

A disastrous comedy of errors. Sharansky would have had a simple draw by repetition after 43.Rb7. But my own play is even worse since I now offer a draw in a won position. 43…d2! wins.

1/2-1/2

Natan Sharansky was in town yesterday and dropped by the offices of COMMENTARY– where I challenged him to a game of chess, thereby fulfilling a decades’ long dream. The trouble was, we did not have a chess set handy, which led him to remark that this meant that COMMENTARY was not a Jewish magazine. One of my colleagues ran out to the wonderful stationery store, Sam Flax, which agreed on the spot to sponsor the match and provided us with an odd but perfectly usable set.

During long years as a Soviet refusenik, and then a decade in the Gulag on the trumped-up crime of treason, Sharansky had a lot of time to ponder the fine points of the royal game. As the New York Times reported, “he had little time for chess during his dissident years in the Soviet Union, but he recovered his skills in prison, where he said he spent the long days in solitary confinement playing three simultaneous games in his mind.” Sharansky told the newspaper, “I played thousands of games, and I won them all.”

In Russia, he had earned the title of candidate master, which is equivalent to the rank of American master. The latter is the title I earned in 1989, the last year in which I played a game of competitive chess. Sharansky has played twice against the former world champion Garry Kasparov, emerging with one draw and one victory, an excellent score for an amateur even considering that both games took place at exhibitions in which Kasparov was playing multiple players simultaneously.

Lately, however, Sharansky has devoted most of his time to preventing the state of Israel from (to use chess lingo) sacrificing its pieces without adequate compensation. And so his chess, though strong, may not be as strong as it once was. When we sat down to play, I had little idea what I would be up against.

In our first game, playing black, Sharansky responded to 1.e4 with the ultra-aggressive Schliemann Defense in the Ruy Lopez. Unfortunately, I fell into a trap and the game was over in a mere seven moves, a humiliation for Connecting the Dots akin to the Arab defeat in the Six-Day war, and one that cried out for another round.

In our second game, I had the black pieces. I steered into one of my favorite lines of the rock-solid Caro-Kann. Before too long, I was able to exchange off some of Sharansky’s most actively placed pieces and then I managed to win one of his central pawns, obtaining a very strong position. On his 24th move, Sharansky made a blunder and gave up a second pawn. The game was now all but won.

But my opponent proved to be nothing if not resourceful, and unfortunately, through inaccurate play, I helped him along. As I pushed my pawns forward he managed to maneuver his rooks onto the seventh rank, whereupon I agreed (prematurely, it turns out) to a draw. At a score of 1/2 to 1 1/2, I ended up with the same result against Sharansky that Garry Kasparov had obtained against him, a score that left me immensely satisfied that I had been able to lay a finger on this remarkable Russian, Israeli, Jewish hero.

GAME 1

Schoenfeld vs. Sharansky

Ruy Lopez

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Bb5 f5

4.Bxc6 dxc6

5.Nxe5 fxe4

6.Nc3 Nf6

7.0–0??

chess-pic-1b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 7.0-0??

White walks right into a trap and the game is over. I should have resigned immediately after Sharanksy’s next move, but was too stunned by the sudden turn of events.

7… Qd4

8.Re1 Qxe5

9.Nxe4 Nxe4

10.d3 Bf5

11.dxe4 Bg6

and realizing, belatedly, that I was lost, I resigned.

0–1

 

GAME 2

Sharansky vs. Schoenfeld

Caro-Kann

1.e4 c6

2.d4 d5

3.Nc3 dxe4

4.Nxe4 Nd7

5.Nf3 Ngf6

6.Ng3 e6

7.Bd3 Bd6

8.0–0 Qc7

9.c4 0–0

10.c5 Be7

11.Re1 b6

12.b4 a5

13.cxb6 Qxb6

14.bxa5 Rxa5

15.Bd2 Ra8

16.Qc2 Ba6

17.Bxa6 Qxa6

18.Ne5 c5

19.Nxd7 Nxd7

20.d5?

Akin to pulling out of Gaza. This gives up a pawn without compensation.

20… Bf6

21.Bc3

If 21.dxe6 Bxa1 22.exd7 Qxa2 23.Qxa2 Rxa2 24.Bg5 f6 25.Bf4 Be5 26.Bxe5 fxe5 27.Rxe5 Ra1+ 28.Nf1 Rd1 and white is up the exchange for a pawn in a winning endgame.

21… Qc4

22.Rec1 Qxc3

23.Qxc3 Bxc3

24.Rxc3 exd5

Black’s imposing central pawns give him a powerful advantage.

25.Nf5 Rfe8

26.a4??

Sharansky is momentarily distracted and drops a pawn after I explain to him that at Annapolis Olmert has just yielded the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in exchange for the right to shake hands with the Saudi deputy foreign minister.

26… Rxa4

27.Rd1 d4

28.Rf3 Ne5

29.Rg3 g6

30.Nd6 Re6

31.Ne4 Rc6

32.f4 Nc4

33.Ng5 f5?

Unnecessary. Better to proceed simply with the attack via 33. Ne3.

34.Nf3 Ne3

35.Rc1 d3

36.Nd2 Ra2

37.Rxe3 Rxd2

38.Re7 Rc2?

Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, I make the worst move on the board, giving white a draw. Far better is 38…Rb6 39.Ra1 Rb8 40.h3 Re2, and black runs out of threats.

39.Ra1 Rc8

40.Raa7 Re2

41.Rg7+ Kf8

42.Raf7+ Ke8

43.Rd7??

chess-pic-2b.jpg

POSITION AFTER 43. Rd7??

A disastrous comedy of errors. Sharansky would have had a simple draw by repetition after 43.Rb7. But my own play is even worse since I now offer a draw in a won position. 43…d2! wins.

1/2-1/2

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ANNAPOLIS: Olmert concedes

Presidents Bush and Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have just finished giving their speeches here in Annapolis, and while Bush and Abbas said little of importance, Olmert broke new ground—and not, alas, in a good way. The money quote from his speech was:

The negotiations between us will not be here in Annapolis, but rather in our home and in yours. It will be bilateral, direct, ongoing, and continuous, in an effort to complete it during the course of 2008.

It will address all the issues that have thus far been evaded. We will do it directly, openly, and courageously. We will not avoid any subject, we will deal with all the core issues. I have no doubt that the reality created in our region in 1967 will change significantly. [Emphasis added] While this will be an extremely difficult process for many of us, it is nevertheless inevitable. I know it. Many of my people know it. We are ready for it.

Presidents Bush and Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have just finished giving their speeches here in Annapolis, and while Bush and Abbas said little of importance, Olmert broke new ground—and not, alas, in a good way. The money quote from his speech was:

The negotiations between us will not be here in Annapolis, but rather in our home and in yours. It will be bilateral, direct, ongoing, and continuous, in an effort to complete it during the course of 2008.

It will address all the issues that have thus far been evaded. We will do it directly, openly, and courageously. We will not avoid any subject, we will deal with all the core issues. I have no doubt that the reality created in our region in 1967 will change significantly. [Emphasis added] While this will be an extremely difficult process for many of us, it is nevertheless inevitable. I know it. Many of my people know it. We are ready for it.

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ANNAPOLIS: “A fantastic photo-op”

That’s what Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman thinks Annapolis will be. (That and “a terrific cocktail party.”) Judging by the way Olmert, after Bush’s opening remarks, hustled Bush and Abbas out from behind the podium to display their interlocked hands (you can hear Olmert saying “Mr. President, we should move from the podium so they will see us shaking hands” at 4:41 in the video), Lieberman may be right.

Lieberman also expressed relief at reports that Olmert will naysay the creation of a Palestinian state until Abbas has wrested full control of Gaza from Hamas, calling this the “biggest headline” that can emerge from the conference. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

That’s what Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman thinks Annapolis will be. (That and “a terrific cocktail party.”) Judging by the way Olmert, after Bush’s opening remarks, hustled Bush and Abbas out from behind the podium to display their interlocked hands (you can hear Olmert saying “Mr. President, we should move from the podium so they will see us shaking hands” at 4:41 in the video), Lieberman may be right.

Lieberman also expressed relief at reports that Olmert will naysay the creation of a Palestinian state until Abbas has wrested full control of Gaza from Hamas, calling this the “biggest headline” that can emerge from the conference. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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Processing Peace

There is a cynical, realpolitik justification for the Annapolis “peace conference.” Some will claim that, even if the odds of success are negligible, it is important to go through the motions to provide cover to moderate Arab states so that they can assuage the supposed anger among their populace about the lack of attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli “issue.” It is this anger, some will claim, that is a leading force behind terrorist recruitment. If the U.S. shows that it is applying serious pressure on Israel for “peace,” then, so the argument goes, Arab states will reciprocate by helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.

That position has never made much sense to me. Are Islamic radicals attacking Pakistani government troops in the Northwest Frontier Province because they’re upset about the “nakba” (catastrophe), as Arabs label the creation of Israel?

To the extent that Israel plays into Muslim anger, it isn’t because of the lack of a Palestinian-Israeli accord; it’s because of the existence of the state of Israel, period. Even more than 60 years later, a lot of Muslims still have not reconciled themselves to the “Zionist occupation” of any portion of “Palestine.” Some kind of compromise solution, even if it could be reached by the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectual leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would hardly satisfy the radicals, who in turn would be sure to stir up the masses. It would just lead them to label Abbas, as so many already do, another “Zionist-crusader” stooge.

But of course the odds of even Abbas and Olmert—widely seen as moderates in their respective polities—reaching an accord anytime soon are slim to none. And there is a price to be paid for failure, as Bret Stephens makes clear today in his Wall Street Journal column. He notes that Abbas “fears Palestinians would ‘turn to Hamas after they see that Annapolis did not give them anything,’ according to an unnamed Palestinian official quoted in the Jerusalem Post.” Moreover, Stephens writes, “Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a political dove, predicts not only that Annapolis will fail, but that its failure will ‘weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas, and cause violence.’”

When even the longtime advocates of negotiation fret that the upcoming negotiations will be counterproductive, perhaps the Bush administration should rethink its newfound enthusiasm for peace processing.

There is a cynical, realpolitik justification for the Annapolis “peace conference.” Some will claim that, even if the odds of success are negligible, it is important to go through the motions to provide cover to moderate Arab states so that they can assuage the supposed anger among their populace about the lack of attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli “issue.” It is this anger, some will claim, that is a leading force behind terrorist recruitment. If the U.S. shows that it is applying serious pressure on Israel for “peace,” then, so the argument goes, Arab states will reciprocate by helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.

That position has never made much sense to me. Are Islamic radicals attacking Pakistani government troops in the Northwest Frontier Province because they’re upset about the “nakba” (catastrophe), as Arabs label the creation of Israel?

To the extent that Israel plays into Muslim anger, it isn’t because of the lack of a Palestinian-Israeli accord; it’s because of the existence of the state of Israel, period. Even more than 60 years later, a lot of Muslims still have not reconciled themselves to the “Zionist occupation” of any portion of “Palestine.” Some kind of compromise solution, even if it could be reached by the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectual leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would hardly satisfy the radicals, who in turn would be sure to stir up the masses. It would just lead them to label Abbas, as so many already do, another “Zionist-crusader” stooge.

But of course the odds of even Abbas and Olmert—widely seen as moderates in their respective polities—reaching an accord anytime soon are slim to none. And there is a price to be paid for failure, as Bret Stephens makes clear today in his Wall Street Journal column. He notes that Abbas “fears Palestinians would ‘turn to Hamas after they see that Annapolis did not give them anything,’ according to an unnamed Palestinian official quoted in the Jerusalem Post.” Moreover, Stephens writes, “Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a political dove, predicts not only that Annapolis will fail, but that its failure will ‘weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas, and cause violence.’”

When even the longtime advocates of negotiation fret that the upcoming negotiations will be counterproductive, perhaps the Bush administration should rethink its newfound enthusiasm for peace processing.

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An Imaginary Peace Process

Agence France-Presse reports today that the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, has informed the cabinet that Hamas’s leadership in Damascus has called for a large-scale suicide bombing in the West Bank. Why now? Because Hamas wants to derail the U.S.-Israel-Fatah peace talks in spectacular fashion.

The significance of this story goes far beyond the predictable revelation that Hamas wishes to get back into the business of suicide bombings. When it comes to the peace process, whether Hamas is planning a terrorist attack today or next week is almost totally irrelevant. What is relevant are three interrelated questions: 1) Does Hamas, or any Palestinian terrorist group, intend to perpetrate terrorism against Israel? 2) Is there a significant climate of public opinion in the West Bank that approves of such attacks? 3) Is Mahmoud Abbas powerful enough to stop terrorism, despite its popularity and the eagerness of groups like Hamas to attack? Unfortunately, the answer to the first two questions is yes, and the answer to the last is no.

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Agence France-Presse reports today that the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, has informed the cabinet that Hamas’s leadership in Damascus has called for a large-scale suicide bombing in the West Bank. Why now? Because Hamas wants to derail the U.S.-Israel-Fatah peace talks in spectacular fashion.

The significance of this story goes far beyond the predictable revelation that Hamas wishes to get back into the business of suicide bombings. When it comes to the peace process, whether Hamas is planning a terrorist attack today or next week is almost totally irrelevant. What is relevant are three interrelated questions: 1) Does Hamas, or any Palestinian terrorist group, intend to perpetrate terrorism against Israel? 2) Is there a significant climate of public opinion in the West Bank that approves of such attacks? 3) Is Mahmoud Abbas powerful enough to stop terrorism, despite its popularity and the eagerness of groups like Hamas to attack? Unfortunately, the answer to the first two questions is yes, and the answer to the last is no.

The opinion polling data on the second question is dispiritingly clear. To take one example, a 2006 survey by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center—JMCC is a Palestinian, not Israeli, outfit—asked: “How do you feel towards suicide bombing operations against Israeli civilians? Do you support them, or oppose them?” 56.2 percent said they either strongly or somewhat support suicide bombings. As long as numbers like these describe the current Palestinian reality, there will be no meaningful peace process. Which also means there will be no real Palestinian state.

This remains the fundamental dynamic of the conflict, and the reason for the terminal fragility of the peace effort. The negotiations now being conducted between Olmert and Abbas are taking place in an alternate reality, in the realm of diplomatic resolutions whose purview aspires to be sweeping, but which is actually limited to the paper on which such agreements are written and the press conferences at which they are affirmed. Where the peace process does not exist is on the ground in the West Bank, Gaza, and Damascus—in the realm of facts.

When Hamas does manage to carry out a major suicide bombing, all of the hopeful diplomatic print-on-paper will be obliterated (along with Israeli lives), and Israel will be forced to respond. The IDF presence in the West Bank will be strengthened, violence will escalate, and hopes for a real peace (which requires as its first step, rather than its last, a sea change in Palestinian public opinion regarding terrorism and its use against the Jewish state) will once again be lost.

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A Country on Hold

Here’s how Nahum Barnea, perhaps Israel’s most prominent columnist, anticipated the release yesterday afternoon of the long-awaited Winograd Committee report on the 2006 war in Lebanon:

We experienced a failed war during the past summer. It was Israel’s most exposed war. We knew in real time almost everything that was said in the cabinet and in the corridors of the General Headquarters; we knew about the mishaps and the foul-ups, about the army’s helplessness at the frontlines and the collapse of the home front.

It wasn’t the hunger for answers that led to the establishment of the Winograd Commission; it was the need for punishment.

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Here’s how Nahum Barnea, perhaps Israel’s most prominent columnist, anticipated the release yesterday afternoon of the long-awaited Winograd Committee report on the 2006 war in Lebanon:

We experienced a failed war during the past summer. It was Israel’s most exposed war. We knew in real time almost everything that was said in the cabinet and in the corridors of the General Headquarters; we knew about the mishaps and the foul-ups, about the army’s helplessness at the frontlines and the collapse of the home front.

It wasn’t the hunger for answers that led to the establishment of the Winograd Commission; it was the need for punishment.

What is curious about this need, which is palpable, is how restrained its manifestations have been.

Olmert’s 3-percent popularity rating is within the pollsters’ margin of error—or as some have suggested, within the realm of the fat content of cottage cheese. Yet there have not been the mass rallies and media clamor that have brought down previous governments. A strange sense of passivity and resignation has set in. For months, Israel has felt like a country on hold.

On Thursday, a rally criticizing the Olmert government is scheduled in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 just after speaking to a large pro-government demonstration. The big question: whether this rally will be large enough—somewhere significantly over 100,000 people—to end our national sleepwalk, or will be small enough to brush off.

If the rally is a bust, it will be because, as much as the public wants to be rid of Olmert, it is not happy about the likely alternatives to him. Polls show that former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was run out of office in 1999 in a seemingly career-ending defeat, is poised for a comeback. But the rump Likud party he heads now holds only about one-tenth of the Knesset’s seats. So the public, having become disillusioned with three major paradigms in rapid succession—”Greater Israel,” Oslo, and Sharon’s unilateralism—may see no better alternative even to a government it deems to have failed.

One can only hope that Israel’s next leader, whoever it is, is able to exceed the public’s low expectations. One can also draw comfort from the fact that the same war that discredited Israel’s political and military leadership also demonstrated the resilience of the Israeli people under fire, and the courage and motivation of the country’s soldiers. For its part, the IDF already has new leadership and is busy learning the lessons of the last war. In its ranks, readiness is the new watchword of the day.

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