Commentary Magazine


Topic: Oslo Accords

How Sweden Ended Up Proving Israel Right

The diplomatic fallout from Sweden’s vote to recognize the state of Palestine continues. Israel recalled its ambassador to Sweden along with an explanation from the Foreign Ministry. It followed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s criticism of the Swedish recognition, in which he included a not-so-diplomatic dig at IKEA. Yet both responses from Israel to the Palestine recognition were not only defensible, but appropriate, especially if you follow Sweden’s own official statements about the matter.

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The diplomatic fallout from Sweden’s vote to recognize the state of Palestine continues. Israel recalled its ambassador to Sweden along with an explanation from the Foreign Ministry. It followed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s criticism of the Swedish recognition, in which he included a not-so-diplomatic dig at IKEA. Yet both responses from Israel to the Palestine recognition were not only defensible, but appropriate, especially if you follow Sweden’s own official statements about the matter.

One of the aspects of Lieberman’s rise through Israeli politics is that he drives non-Israelis, especially leftist American Jews, insane. What they don’t understand about Israeli politics could fill a bookshelf, but what they don’t understand about Lieberman is basically this: he’s among the most politically savvy figures in Israel, perhaps even topping the list. And he’s also, therefore, something of a realist. He supports the two-state solution and land swaps, and he’s used his knowledge of Eurasia (he’s Moldovan) to expand Israel’s alliances–a strategy that looks increasingly wise as the Obama administration throws temper tantrums at the Israeli leadership (and public) and downgrades the U.S.-Israel military alliance.

Here was Lieberman’s initial response to the Swedish recognition:

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the recognition “unfortunate” and said in a statement that it would only serve to strengthen the Palestinians’ “unrealistic demands.”

“The Swedish government needs to understand that the Middle East is more complicated than self-assembly furniture from Ikea and to act on the issue responsibly and with sensitivity,” he said, getting in a dig at the Sweden-based retail giant.

So there are two elements to this response: first, that it will essentially reward Palestinian intransigence, and second, that it oversimplifies what real peace requires. Lieberman, then, is quite obviously correct on both counts. The Swedes did not take kindly to the IKEA dig, and responded thus:

To which the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström replied, “I will be happy to send him a flat pack of IKEA furniture and he will also see that what you need to put it together is, first of all, a partner. And you also need to cooperate and you need a good manual and I think we have most of those elements,” the Times of Israel reported.

This was intended as a rebuttal; instead, however, it proved Lieberman’s point better than even Lieberman could. Wallström says to put together the furniture you need a partner. Lieberman would agree, and the lack of a true Palestinian partner (Mahmoud Abbas sparked what may turn into the third intifada in Jerusalem this week) is a good reason why Swedish recognition now was a terrible idea and also explains why the lack of a two-state solution thus far is not Israel’s fault.

Wallström then says you need cooperation. This is correct, and demonstrates the foolishness of recognizing Palestine, since unilateral moves have long been considered obstacles to negotiations. In this case, Sweden has supported unilateral moves in direct contravention of the concept of cooperation.

Wallström concludes by saying “you need a good manual.” Perhaps. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has now produced two such manuals, though it’s arguable how “good” they are: the Oslo Accords and the Roadmap. Both of these manuals impose certain requirements on each side, but the central theme is that a peace agreement will come about through negotiations and that intransigence and violence should not be rewarded by each side being encouraged to go its own way and do what it pleases. Sweden’s recognition of Palestine violates this as well.

Wallström might have been better off researching what we in the West refer to as a “sense of humor,” and not responded so seriously to an obvious joke. Not only does Wallström look humorless, but her response perfectly illustrated why Sweden was wrong–according to Sweden! (Or at least according to its Foreign Ministry.)

Western liberals are probably getting accustomed to being outsmarted by Avigdor Lieberman, though I don’t imagine it reduces the sting all that much. As for recalling the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, that too is at least understandable. Israel is facing a bit of a European fad of late to recognize Palestine, though it’s usually symbolic. Israel can be expected to try to prevent the spread of this gesture by showing that it at least is not without repercussions.

Additionally, Israel is currently facing down the possibility of another intifada. Even if it doesn’t arrive–Jerusalem’s stability seems to thankfully be holding for the moment, which is a very good sign–there has been a spate of violence in Jerusalem against Jewish civilians and continued threats from Iranian Palestinian proxies. To reward Palestinian behavior such as this, and at this precise time, is to signal to the Palestinians that violence against Jews is the way to impress the international community and get what they want. Such behavior will be the death of peace, no matter how many states European politicians feel like recognizing.

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Bill Clinton: Bibi Derangement Syndrome’s Patient Zero

Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

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Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

The latest episode of Clinton’s condition took place at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, when Clinton was goaded into defending his Middle East policy by a pro-Palestinian activist. Caleb Howe has the transcript of the video captured by C-Span cameras:

Activist: If we don’t force [Netanyahu] to make peace, we will not have peace.

Clinton: Wait, wait, wait. First of all, I agree with that. But in 2000, Ehud Barak, I got him to agree to something that I’m not sure I would have gotten Rabin to agree to, and Rabin was murdered for giving land to the Palestinians.

Activist: I agree. But Netanyahu is not the guy.

Clinton: So, they got … I agree with that, but we had, I had him a state, they would have gotten 96% of the West Bank, land swap in Gaza, appropriate water rights … and East Jerusalem! Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.

And by the way, don’t forget, both Arafat and Abbas later said they would take it. They said, they said, ‘we changed our minds, we want it now’ and by then they had a government wouldn’t give it to them.

Let’s unpack this. First of all, Clinton agrees that Netanyahu must be forced by the U.S. to make peace. Presumably Clinton doesn’t agree with Samantha Power that the U.S. should invade Israel to force this peace, but he never says exactly which gun he’d prefer be held to Bibi’s head. (Perhaps holding up weapons resupply during wartime, as President Obama has done?)

He also agrees with the protester that Netanyahu is “not the guy” with whom such a peace agreement can be signed. This will likely not make Israelis too happy, because they know from experience that when Clinton doesn’t want an Israeli prime minister in office, he jumps right into the elections to try to arrange his preferred outcome.

In 1996, this meddling took the form of Clinton pretty much openly campaigning for Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres. In 1999, this meant Clinton’s advisors helping to run Ehud Barak’s campaign. The first time he was nearly successful–if memory serves, many Israelis went to sleep with Peres leading the election returns and woke to prime minister-elect Netanyahu. The second time he was successful.

But all along it was personal animus that guided Clinton–a deeply dangerous and thoroughly irresponsible way to conduct foreign policy, which helps explain why Clinton’s foreign policy was such a mess. Say what you will about George W. Bush’s case for regime change in Iraq, but it rested on more than “There’s something about this guy I just don’t like.” The same cannot be said for Clinton.

Indeed, it wasn’t as though Netanyahu was intransigent on matters of peace with the Palestinians. Once in office, Netanyahu too struck deals with Arafat. He agreed to the Wye River accords despite his belief that Clinton went back on a promise to free Pollard, and he agreed to redeploy troops from Hebron while continuing to implement Oslo.

Next, we have Clinton’s assertion that giving Palestinians sovereignty in East Jerusalem is “Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.” This is obviously untrue. During the Bush presidency, Ehud Olmert made such an offer to Mahmoud Abbas, who walked away. Not only that, but even Netanyahu has hinted at a willingness to divide Jerusalem.

That also undercuts the latter part of that claim by Clinton, that Abbas regretted saying no but by the time he wanted such a deal it was off the table. It was not off the table; it was offered, again, to Abbas directly.

So is anything Clinton said true? Actually, there is a kernel of truth–no doubt purely accidental–in what he said about Barak and Rabin. But it further undermines his point. Rabin was far from the two-state-cheerleader the left makes him out to be. He was far more reluctant to consider dividing Jerusalem and establishing a fully independent Palestinian state than his later successors–including Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi now is to the left of where Rabin was then on pretty much all the main issues.

So is Barak, of course, which was Clinton’s point. But the real story here is the fact that you can’t simply jump from Rabin to Barak: Netanyahu was in between, and he played a significant role by forcing the right to accept and implement Oslo in order to govern and by showing the Israeli right could be talked into withdrawing from territory, even places as holy and significant as Hebron. The rightist premiers that followed Barak continued withdrawing from territory and offering peace plans to the Palestinian leadership.

When it comes to Israel, liberal politicians tend to fall into one of two categories: either they’re ignorant of Israeli history and politics, or they assume their audience to be. For Clinton it’s almost surely the latter, which makes it all the more ignoble.

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Did the Oslo Accords Kill the Peace Process?

One of the striking aspects of the last two decades of Shimon Peres’s long career in Israeli public life is how much of a prisoner he was to his own near-success. Peres was a driving force behind the Oslo peace process and the crucial negotiations that led to the Declaration of Principles before the agreement melted under the hot lights of reality. Yet in many ways the deal trapped him, having to carry its banner and defend the possibility of its fulfillment for the rest of his time in office.

Peres was on the Israeli left, sure, but his career had been marked–as so many of his contemporaries in both generations–by partisan fluidity. The AFP analysis Jonathan mentioned yesterday illustrates this: it says Peres was once considered a hawk because, in part, he ordered the shelling of Lebanese territory in 1996. Yet that was after Oslo. By such an accounting, Peres was a pragmatist. But with Oslo only mostly dead, he was never really able, aside from a token move to leave Labor for Kadima under Ariel Sharon, to get out of its shadow.

This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Oslo has trapped, to a large extent, Peres’s country on the whole, including Israeli politicians who don’t support or defend it. Consider the Herzliya conference in Israel this week. While former ambassador Michael Oren’s “Plan B” idea for a new direction in the peace process–something akin to a coordinated unilateralism–has been discussed for months, BuzzFeed reports that Herzliya has seen something of a parade of alternative peace plans.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, former settlers’ advocate Dani Dayan, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have all offered their ideas. Here’s the crux of Dayan’s:

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One of the striking aspects of the last two decades of Shimon Peres’s long career in Israeli public life is how much of a prisoner he was to his own near-success. Peres was a driving force behind the Oslo peace process and the crucial negotiations that led to the Declaration of Principles before the agreement melted under the hot lights of reality. Yet in many ways the deal trapped him, having to carry its banner and defend the possibility of its fulfillment for the rest of his time in office.

Peres was on the Israeli left, sure, but his career had been marked–as so many of his contemporaries in both generations–by partisan fluidity. The AFP analysis Jonathan mentioned yesterday illustrates this: it says Peres was once considered a hawk because, in part, he ordered the shelling of Lebanese territory in 1996. Yet that was after Oslo. By such an accounting, Peres was a pragmatist. But with Oslo only mostly dead, he was never really able, aside from a token move to leave Labor for Kadima under Ariel Sharon, to get out of its shadow.

This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Oslo has trapped, to a large extent, Peres’s country on the whole, including Israeli politicians who don’t support or defend it. Consider the Herzliya conference in Israel this week. While former ambassador Michael Oren’s “Plan B” idea for a new direction in the peace process–something akin to a coordinated unilateralism–has been discussed for months, BuzzFeed reports that Herzliya has seen something of a parade of alternative peace plans.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, former settlers’ advocate Dani Dayan, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have all offered their ideas. Here’s the crux of Dayan’s:

He wants to ignore the peace process entirely and to loosen restrictions on Palestinians and improve their daily lives without waiting for a negotiated solution. Dayan, an advocate of one shared state for Palestinians and Israelis, is pressing the Israeli government to remove the separation barrier — a looming symbol of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank — that separates Israeli and Palestinian communities. Israelis and Palestinians should be allowed to live wherever they want, he argues, and travel into one another’s territories. …

Many of Israel’s right-wing leadership, including Danny Danon, the deputy defense minister, have also thrown their weight behind the plan.

“In general I think that we should try to find ways to make the lives of the Palestinians easier,” Danon said. “That’s something I support.”

The plan has also been well-received by former Israeli defense officials. Moshe Arens, a former defense minister, has publicly backed the plan.

And here, according to the Wall Street Journal, are Lapid’s and Bennett’s:

Ministers have revived two previously rejected proposals that suggest opposite directions for Israel. One, touted by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose hard-line party represents Jewish settlers in the West Bank, calls for annexing parts of the territory claimed by Palestinians for a future state.

A contrasting proposal made by centrist Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday at a national-security conference envisions a military withdrawal from the West Bank and evacuations of Jewish settlements to spur an eventual peace deal.

Whatever their merits, these plans have two main obstacles. The first is the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas. The Journal’s headline says it all: “Israel Ministers Press for New West Bank Strategy.” Indeed, West Bank strategy. There is no deal to be had with Hamas in Gaza, which essentially has constructed its own state–Somalia instead of Singapore, as Dayan correctly terms it–and which will seek to export its ideology to the West Bank. It’s possible that if the two are truly separate, a deal can be had with the West Bank. The sense of urgency is there anyway, since Israel left Gaza completely but has a far more integrated relationship with the West Bank.

But the other obstacle is the peace process everyone’s running away from. As Rick Richman likes to point out, the peace processers are beholden to this idea that “everybody knows” what a final-status deal would look like. This belief is strangely impervious to evidence.

Or perhaps not so strangely. The longer this dedication to Oslo goes on, the easier it is to at least understand why its adherents can’t bring themselves to quit cold turkey.

There’s always the chance that a confluence of ideas like what took place at Herzliya will change the calculus–that if left, right, and center all push for a grand rethinking of the peace process it might happen. But that’s not been the case in recent years. And the dedication to the status quo, which ignores changes on the ground and keeps policymakers of the future glued to discredited ideas of the past, negates critical thinking and discourages creative solutions. If that doesn’t change, Oslo will continue to be associated with preventing peace, not presaging it.

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Lying About Abbas Won’t Bring Peace

With Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas meeting today with President Obama, the focus on the Middle East peace process has shifted, at least for the moment, away from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his alleged shortcomings. But while Netanyahu’s most recent meeting with the president was preceded by an Obama interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg in which the Israeli was lambasted and Abbas praised, there was no such ambush for the Palestinian. Most everybody in Washington and a great many Israelis are at pains to paint Abbas in the best possible light. When Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon accurately described the Palestinian as someone who would never be a partner for a final peace agreement, Cabinet colleague Tzipi Livni and Israeli President Shimon Peres both spoke up in his defense.

Livni, who has at times criticized Abbas herself, did not specifically refute any of Yaalon’s points but preferred instead to say that his shortcomings and record were irrelevant to the task at hand and must be put aside. Peres spoke in the same vein saying that Abbas was a “good partner” and that the point of the talks was to move ahead toward peace regardless of the obstacle. That seems much in line with the American approach that is to never directly criticize Palestinian incitement and the refusal of Abbas and his fellow Fatah members to give up their hopes of flooding Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

In short, peace process advocates believe the only way to plow ahead to an agreement is to keep the pressure up on Netanyahu to give the maximum while treating Abbas with kid gloves, all the while fearing to offend him or to give his enemies within Fatah, not to mention Hamas and Islamic Jihad rivals, any ammunition with which to attack him as soft on the Israelis. Anything else, they tell us, risks blowing up the process leaving no hope for peace.

But the problem here isn’t so much the double standard for Netanyahu or even the blatant dishonesty involved in American and Israeli officials attesting to the sincerity and good intentions of the Palestinian leader. It’s that this theory of peace negotiating has already been tried and failed with disastrous results.

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With Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas meeting today with President Obama, the focus on the Middle East peace process has shifted, at least for the moment, away from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his alleged shortcomings. But while Netanyahu’s most recent meeting with the president was preceded by an Obama interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg in which the Israeli was lambasted and Abbas praised, there was no such ambush for the Palestinian. Most everybody in Washington and a great many Israelis are at pains to paint Abbas in the best possible light. When Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon accurately described the Palestinian as someone who would never be a partner for a final peace agreement, Cabinet colleague Tzipi Livni and Israeli President Shimon Peres both spoke up in his defense.

Livni, who has at times criticized Abbas herself, did not specifically refute any of Yaalon’s points but preferred instead to say that his shortcomings and record were irrelevant to the task at hand and must be put aside. Peres spoke in the same vein saying that Abbas was a “good partner” and that the point of the talks was to move ahead toward peace regardless of the obstacle. That seems much in line with the American approach that is to never directly criticize Palestinian incitement and the refusal of Abbas and his fellow Fatah members to give up their hopes of flooding Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

In short, peace process advocates believe the only way to plow ahead to an agreement is to keep the pressure up on Netanyahu to give the maximum while treating Abbas with kid gloves, all the while fearing to offend him or to give his enemies within Fatah, not to mention Hamas and Islamic Jihad rivals, any ammunition with which to attack him as soft on the Israelis. Anything else, they tell us, risks blowing up the process leaving no hope for peace.

But the problem here isn’t so much the double standard for Netanyahu or even the blatant dishonesty involved in American and Israeli officials attesting to the sincerity and good intentions of the Palestinian leader. It’s that this theory of peace negotiating has already been tried and failed with disastrous results.

I know it’s hard for many in the mainstream media to think back as far as last week or last month (ancient history in the news business), let alone 10, 15, or 20 years back. But the theory of negotiating with the Palestinians that is being employed by both the Obama administration and Israelis like Livni and Peres, was already tried in the 1990s.

Throughout that decade, critics of the Oslo process tried to point out that Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat was using his new power at the Palestinian Authority to undermine any chances for peace. But Palestinian incitement, Arafat’s duplicitous statements about peace in which he appeared to back compromise when speaking to Israelis and Westerners while promising in Arabic to Palestinian audiences to continue the struggle for Israel’s destruction, and the connections between Fatah and terror were all ignored by the U.S. and many in Israel. Even when they were forced to concede that these things were true, merely to speak of them was regarded as proof of insufficient dedication to peace.

It was only in retrospect that some of the veterans of that unfortunate era realized they had made a terrible mistake. Rather than interpreting American and Israeli forbearance as a reason to do what was necessary to make peace, Arafat (with his top aide Abbas always nearby) saw it as a reason to dig his heels in even deeper and to continue playing a double game. When the peace process collapsed after Arafat refused Ehud Barak’s two offers of statehood including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and responded with a terror war of attrition, the illusion that peace could be bought by turning a blind eye to Palestinian misbehavior and intransigence was shown to be a myth. Some of those peace process advocates and negotiators, like Dennis Ross, subsequently admitted that they should have been tougher on Arafat. But those involved need to admit that the problem wasn’t so much the lack of pressure on Arafat but the reality of a Palestinian political culture that simply allowed no room for peace.

What is going now is nothing less than a repetition of the same dynamic. Abbas is a bit more presentable than Arafat and his pro-peace statements are more convincing than those of his old boss. But they are balanced by the double-dealing that Arafat turned into an art form. And he is drawing the same erroneous conclusions about how far he can go as Arafat did.

The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl points this out in an excellent column today in which he dares to tell the truth about Abbas:

The Palestinian president — who was elected to a four-year term in 2005 and has remained in office for five years after its expiration — turned down President George W. Bush’s request that he sign on to a similar framework in 2008. In 2010, after Obama strong-armed Netanyahu into declaring a moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, Abbas refused to negotiate for nine of the designated 10 months, then broke off the talks after two meetings.

Diehl also understands how the refusal to judge Abbas by the same standards as Netanyahu is making peace impossible:

Why does Abbas dare to publicly campaign against the U.S. and Israeli position even before arriving in Washington? Simple: “Abbas believes he can say no to Obama because the U.S. administration will not take any retaliatory measures against the Palestinian Authority,” writes the veteran Israeli-Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. Instead, Abbas expects to sit back if the talks fail, submit petitions to the United Nations and watch the anti-Israel boycotts mushroom, while paying no price of his own.

The point here is that we have already seen this movie and know the ending. If the president is sincere about wanting to broker peace, he needs to lay it on the line and make sure Abbas knows that the U.S. will blame him–and not an Israel that has already signaled that it will, albeit with misgivings, agree to Kerry’s framework–for the collapse of the talks. But if the president continues to double down on a policy of letting the Palestinians off the hook, it is laying the groundwork for a repeat of the same disaster that ended the Oslo process. The resulting bloodshed should be blamed primarily on Abbas. But Obama, and those Israelis who continue to lie about Abbas for what they believe is the sake of peace, will also bear some responsibility.

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Israel Is Not a Single-Issue Country

One of the most pernicious and lasting effects of the Oslo Accords, whose 20th anniversary will be marked this Friday, was to warp the prism through which most non-Israelis view Israel: From a country with the same broad spectrum of concerns as all other countries, it became, in the world’s eyes, a single-issue country, where nothing but the “peace process” could possibly matter. This attitude is epitomized by a 1998 conversation between President Bill Clinton and his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, whose transcript was published in Haaretz two weeks ago. Though the main topic was an impending military operation in Iraq, Clinton also briefed Mubarak on the peace process:

I think the Israeli public is coming along [in regard to the Oslo process]. The problem is, when they have elections there, Israeli society is becoming more complicated, and a lot of people get elected to the Knesset for reasons that don’t have much to do with the peace process. Then we have trouble getting a solid majority to do the right thing.”

One can practically hear the outrage in his voice: How dare those Israelis elect legislators who care about the same issues American voters do–jobs, cost of living, education, crime, etc.–rather than exclusively about the peace process? The fact that Israelis actually have to live in their country–and therefore must care about those issues, which are vital to any country’s well-being–appears to have escaped him entirely.

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One of the most pernicious and lasting effects of the Oslo Accords, whose 20th anniversary will be marked this Friday, was to warp the prism through which most non-Israelis view Israel: From a country with the same broad spectrum of concerns as all other countries, it became, in the world’s eyes, a single-issue country, where nothing but the “peace process” could possibly matter. This attitude is epitomized by a 1998 conversation between President Bill Clinton and his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, whose transcript was published in Haaretz two weeks ago. Though the main topic was an impending military operation in Iraq, Clinton also briefed Mubarak on the peace process:

I think the Israeli public is coming along [in regard to the Oslo process]. The problem is, when they have elections there, Israeli society is becoming more complicated, and a lot of people get elected to the Knesset for reasons that don’t have much to do with the peace process. Then we have trouble getting a solid majority to do the right thing.”

One can practically hear the outrage in his voice: How dare those Israelis elect legislators who care about the same issues American voters do–jobs, cost of living, education, crime, etc.–rather than exclusively about the peace process? The fact that Israelis actually have to live in their country–and therefore must care about those issues, which are vital to any country’s well-being–appears to have escaped him entirely.

Having presided over Oslo’s signing, Clinton was perhaps uniquely invested in the Oslo process. Yet his attitude is far from unique. After Israel’s new government took office in March, for instance, a Hungarian journalist called me with a burning question: How could Yair Lapid’s center-left Yesh Atid party possibly sit in the same government as Naftali Bennett’s right-of-center Bayit Yehudi? I explained that despite their differences on the peace process, Lapid and Bennett have similar views on many domestic issues, and since the peace process had at that point been frozen for four years and showed no signs of thawing, the election was mainly about Israel’s many serious domestic problems. To which he replied, “But how can they sit together when they disagree about the peace process?” After several iterations of this, we both gave up in despair.

A comedy writer could probably make a good sketch of the scene, but there’s nothing funny about it. The failure to grasp that Israelis have concerns other than the peace process is a major reason why so many diplomats and pundits consistently misread Israel. Even worse, this attitude has undermined pro-Israel sentiment worldwide by reducing Israel from a complicated, multifaceted country to a one-dimensional caricature. For who can have sympathy or affection for a caricature?

The truth is that Israel can live without peace if necessary; it’s done so successfully for 65 years now. But it can’t live without a functioning economy, decent schools, adequate health care and all the other things that distinguish successful states from failed ones. And Israelis, because they live here, never have the luxury of forgetting that for long.

Non-Israelis, in contrast, won’t suffer if Israel has failing schools or high unemployment, so it’s easy to overlook these issues. But nobody who cares about Israel should do so. For by treating Israel as a single-issue country, they are helping to reduce it to a caricature that’s all too easy to hate.

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Oslo 20 Years Later: Lessons Learned?

In my previous post, I noted the upcoming 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords this week. Though the agreement has been a disaster for Israel, I speculated that though these results were eminently predictable—and were by critics of the Labor government that negotiated and signed the accords on the White House Lawn on September 13, 1993—it might have been inevitable that sooner or later Israel would test the intentions of the Palestinians. The question now is whether the Israelis and their American allies are prepared to draw the appropriate conclusions from the experiment.

What happened in the 1990s as the post-Oslo euphoria first receded and was then replaced by the horror of the terror war called the Second Intifada was the gradual realization that Western illusions about Palestinian nationalism were misplaced. Though Arafat signaled at the time that he viewed Oslo as merely a diplomatic ruse intended to help continue the conflict on more advantageous terms rather than a permanent peace, this was something that was largely ignored by those pushing the peace process. Though there is no going back to the pre-Oslo world, as Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to revive peace talks continues those who are calling for pressure on Israel to make concessions to Arafat’s successor need to wake up and stop making the same mistakes.

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In my previous post, I noted the upcoming 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords this week. Though the agreement has been a disaster for Israel, I speculated that though these results were eminently predictable—and were by critics of the Labor government that negotiated and signed the accords on the White House Lawn on September 13, 1993—it might have been inevitable that sooner or later Israel would test the intentions of the Palestinians. The question now is whether the Israelis and their American allies are prepared to draw the appropriate conclusions from the experiment.

What happened in the 1990s as the post-Oslo euphoria first receded and was then replaced by the horror of the terror war called the Second Intifada was the gradual realization that Western illusions about Palestinian nationalism were misplaced. Though Arafat signaled at the time that he viewed Oslo as merely a diplomatic ruse intended to help continue the conflict on more advantageous terms rather than a permanent peace, this was something that was largely ignored by those pushing the peace process. Though there is no going back to the pre-Oslo world, as Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to revive peace talks continues those who are calling for pressure on Israel to make concessions to Arafat’s successor need to wake up and stop making the same mistakes.

First among them is to stop pretending that the Palestinian leadership has embraced the cause of peace. The fact remains that Palestinian nationalism was born in the 20th century as a reaction to Zionism and the effort to reverse the verdict of history on 1948 remains their focus today. Until that changes, Israeli leaders and their American allies must understand that a conclusion to the conflict is not in the cards.

Throughout the 1990s as Oslo unraveled, American diplomats and even some Israeli politicians persisted in ignoring not only Palestinian violations of the accords but the campaign of incitement and hate against the Jewish state that was orchestrated by the Palestinian Authority in their media and the educational system they were given control of by the treaty signed on the White House Lawn. Turning a blind eye toward Arafat’s support for terrorism did not enhance the chances of peace. Doing so merely convinced the Palestinians they would pay no price for their intransigence and set the stage for the war of terrorist attrition that put an end to the illusion of Oslo. Repeating that error today as the incitement continues will only replicate those bloody results.

They must also stop buying into the myth that Israeli settlements remain the obstacle to peace. Both Oslo and the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza (not to mention the peace treaty with Egypt) have proved that Israeli governments are prepared to give up territory including the uprooting of longstanding Jewish communities. But doing so merely encouraged the Palestinians to believe that they could oust every settlement, if not the Jewish state itself, if they only hung tough. Rather than negotiate a compromise solution in good faith, they remain trapped in the idea that the Jewish presence on the land is the problem rather than face up to the need to abandon the century-old war on Zionism.

Prior to Oslo, both Americans and some Israeli leaders fundamentally misread Palestinian political culture. The late Yitzhak Rabin thought Arafat would be so eager for a state that he would fight Hamas without the hindrances of concern for human rights and legal niceties that hampered Israeli counter-terrorist strategies. That was a mistake since it not only wrongly attributed a desire for peace to Arafat but also underestimated the hold that a desire for Israel’s destruction had on both the people of the territories and the descendants of the 1948 refugees. Secretary Kerry seems locked in the same misapprehensions about Mahmoud Abbas and the current PA, fueled in no small measures by the same tactic of Palestinians saying one thing about peace to Western diplomats and media and something different to their own people.

So long as American diplomats remain focused on talks with Palestinian leaders who lack the will or the ability to negotiate a permanent end to the conflict rather than on the culture that makes such intransigence inevitable, we are doomed to both a cycle of Palestinian-initiated violence and diplomatic frustration.

If there is a disconnect between the myths about Palestinian intentions on the part of Americans (including many Jews) and the cynicism about the subject on the part of the overwhelming majority of Israelis it is because the latter have been paying attention to events in the last 20 years while the former have clung to their ill-informed illusions. That realistic attitude is a sign of sanity in an Israeli political system that often seems lacking in rationality. But Israelis need to understand something else that has happened since Oslo.

Israel has spent most of the last 20 years continually making concessions to the Palestinians starting with the Oslo empowerment of Arafat and climaxing in the Gaza withdrawal. But it has received scant credit from a world. The irony is that rather than these retreats (as well as a variety of other measures including the release of terrorist murderers such as the one that was extracted from the Netanyahu government in order to give Kerry the negotiations he craved) being rightly interpreted as a sign that Israel wanted peace and was willing to offer generous terms, they were viewed by most of the world as a sign of a guilty conscience. While many Israeli diplomats have believed that arguing for Jewish rights to the West Bank and even Jerusalem was counterproductive, a dispute between a party that only talked of its security rather than its rights is one that is bound to be lost.

This has fed a trend in which Israel’s delegitimization has increased since Oslo rather than diminishing. After Arafat turned down an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, some Israelis thought their negative image would change. They were wrong. Palestinian intransigence, repeated twice more as they rejected even more generous offers in the years that followed, has not harmed their image or strengthened sympathy for Israel.

If that tide is to be stemmed, let alone reversed, it will require Israelis and their friends to stop playing defense about territorial disputes. They must cease merely discussing their desire for peace (genuine though it is) and begin again asserting the justice of their cause.

Should a sea change in Palestinian culture ever occur allowing a new generation of pragmatic leaders to make peace, they will find Israelis willing to deal. But until that happens, both Americans and Israelis would do well to lower their expectations. That is especially true for leaders like Kerry who seemed to have learned nothing from recent history. The euphoria about peace that followed the signing of the Oslo Accords was a trap that led to years of unnecessary bloodshed. In the years that follow this anniversary the test of statecraft in the Middle East will be in avoiding the pattern of self-deception that not only led to Oslo but also worsened its consequences.

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Could the Oslo Fiasco Have Been Averted?

On September 13, 1993 many, if not most, people seemed to think the century-old conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East had been resolved. When Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn as President Bill Clinton looked on beaming, the event engendered a feeling of euphoria in Israel as well as in the United States among supporters of the Jewish state. But when the 20th anniversary of that event is marked later this week, the occasion will be one that will be largely devoted to recriminations rather than celebrations.

To say that those expectations of peace and the creation of–as Shimon Peres, the principle architect of Israel’s policy, articulated it–a “new Middle East” were disappointed is to understate the matter. Israelis clearly thought they were, as the left had long advocated, trading land for peace. But what followed, as the Palestine Liberation Organization was brought in from exile and given autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza, was nothing that resembled peace. Though much effort has been expended in trying to blame the Jewish state for not living up to all of its promises, the main problem with what Oslo’s architects created is the same today as it was then: one side—the Israelis—saw the accord as a formula for a solution for ending the conflict, the other—the Palestinians—viewed it as merely one phase in their long war to extinguish the Jewish state. The Palestinian culture of violence and hatred of Israel has only been strengthened by Oslo, not diminished. There is little reason to believe Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas or his Hamas rivals have any intention of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

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On September 13, 1993 many, if not most, people seemed to think the century-old conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East had been resolved. When Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn as President Bill Clinton looked on beaming, the event engendered a feeling of euphoria in Israel as well as in the United States among supporters of the Jewish state. But when the 20th anniversary of that event is marked later this week, the occasion will be one that will be largely devoted to recriminations rather than celebrations.

To say that those expectations of peace and the creation of–as Shimon Peres, the principle architect of Israel’s policy, articulated it–a “new Middle East” were disappointed is to understate the matter. Israelis clearly thought they were, as the left had long advocated, trading land for peace. But what followed, as the Palestine Liberation Organization was brought in from exile and given autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza, was nothing that resembled peace. Though much effort has been expended in trying to blame the Jewish state for not living up to all of its promises, the main problem with what Oslo’s architects created is the same today as it was then: one side—the Israelis—saw the accord as a formula for a solution for ending the conflict, the other—the Palestinians—viewed it as merely one phase in their long war to extinguish the Jewish state. The Palestinian culture of violence and hatred of Israel has only been strengthened by Oslo, not diminished. There is little reason to believe Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas or his Hamas rivals have any intention of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

The current round of talks going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority differ from those that led to the 1993 extravaganza principally in that the dispute is now one between two internationally recognized parties rather than between a sovereign nation and a terrorist movement. Even more important, rather than Israel’s international standing having been strengthened by its decision to recognize the national rights of the Palestinians and to empower their foes on the ground, it has been weakened immeasurably by Oslo and the various peace agreements that followed.

However, while we may debate what course both the United States and Israel should follow now and in the future, I think it’s pointless to spend much time pondering whether the Jewish state’s Oslo blunder might have been averted. Though the illusions fostered by those who pursued the accords were exposed by subsequent Palestinian actions as fundamentally mistaken—a fact reflected in the virtual collapse of Israel’s political left—there is no going back. Israel is stuck with the world that Peres and his allies created.

Of course, it is very easy to put forward a historical scenario by which Oslo would not have occurred. Had Israel’s right-wing parties won just one more Knesset seat in the 1992 elections that put Labor and its leader Yitzhak Rabin in control of the country, the result would have been a stalemate. Indeed, had negotiations for the three largest parties to the right of Likud to join forces succeeded, Yitzhak Shamir might have been narrowly reelected since the combined vote of the trio would have given their erstwhile coalition a majority. But since they went to the polls solo, the result (under the rules of Israel’s convoluted proportional electoral system) led to many of those votes being wasted. What would have followed would probably have been another few years of American pressure on Israel to negotiate with the PLO and Arafat but the old terrorist would not have been allowed to place his forces on Israel’s doorstep in the West Bank and Gaza.

Nevertheless, such speculation is futile because sooner or later Israel’s left would have won an election. In retrospect, their arguments that Israel had to take a chance and make concessions to the Palestinians in the hope of achieving peace seem reasonable today. That is especially true when their positions are compared to those who still seek to pressure Israel to accommodate the PA today after 20 years of broken Palestinian promises and terrorism. Though it should be conceded that the right’s dream of the settlement enterprise guaranteeing the extension of the Jewish state’s sovereignty throughout all of the West Bank was equally mistaken, few Israelis now believe the Palestinian goal is peace.

But it is equally true that Israel is powerless to restore the pre-Oslo world in which it had complete control over all of the territories. Nor is there much enthusiasm in Israel about reversing Ariel Sharon’s equally disastrous retreat from Gaza. Just as important, neither the international community nor the United States would tolerate any such action on Israel’s part.

Israel wound up trading land for terror and delegitimization rather than peace. That was eminently predictable, and many on the right did just that. But the march of folly that led to Oslo has about it the air of inevitability. It is cold comfort to Israelis, who now face a heavily-armed terrorist-ruled enclave in Gaza and the possibility that the even more strategically important West Bank could become a safe haven for Fatah and Hamas terrorists should the U.S.-sponsored talks succeed, to say that all this had to be tried in order to prove that more concessions on the part of the Jewish state would be foolish. Everything in history is evitable as what happens is the product of the choices individuals and nations make. But it is difficult to imagine any scenario under which these past 20 years could have passed without some sort of Oslo-style experiment on Israel’s part if only to test the intentions of the Palestinians. The question now is whether both Israelis and their American friends are willing to be honest about the result of that experiment.

Though there is no going back from the world of Oslo, both Israel and the United States can learn from their mistakes. In my next post, I’ll write about how the lessons of Oslo should be applied to future diplomatic endeavors. 

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Democracy is Not an Obstacle to Peace

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a piñata for those who think he should make even more concessions than his country has already made to the Palestinians even if the other side has shown no willingness to negotiate, let alone sign an agreement. But Thursday, he was assailed on another issue relating to the peace process. During a media session with a visiting foreign minister, he made it clear that if peace ever were to be signed, he would insist on the accord being submitted to the people of Israel for a vote.

This suggestion, made in the course of a discussion with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose nation is well known for its use of referendums, prompted some on the Israeli left as well as other Netanyahu critics to cry foul. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, even a member of his own government doesn’t like the idea:

Left-leaning Israeli supporters of a peace deal have long argued that a referendum could impede the leadership’s ability to seal a treaty with Palestinians.

[Tzipi] Livni, a former foreign minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians under the government led by Ehud Olmert, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, has publicly opposed the idea of a referendum. Ms. Livni now leads her own party, which is considered dovish on peace issues. She told Israel’s Army Radio a few days ago, “At the moment, a referendum is a way to forestall decisions approved by the Parliament and the cabinet.”

But rather than impeding peace, Netanyahu’s support for a referendum on any agreement with the Palestinians is the only way it can be implemented with the full support of the vast majority of Israelis.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a piñata for those who think he should make even more concessions than his country has already made to the Palestinians even if the other side has shown no willingness to negotiate, let alone sign an agreement. But Thursday, he was assailed on another issue relating to the peace process. During a media session with a visiting foreign minister, he made it clear that if peace ever were to be signed, he would insist on the accord being submitted to the people of Israel for a vote.

This suggestion, made in the course of a discussion with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose nation is well known for its use of referendums, prompted some on the Israeli left as well as other Netanyahu critics to cry foul. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, even a member of his own government doesn’t like the idea:

Left-leaning Israeli supporters of a peace deal have long argued that a referendum could impede the leadership’s ability to seal a treaty with Palestinians.

[Tzipi] Livni, a former foreign minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians under the government led by Ehud Olmert, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, has publicly opposed the idea of a referendum. Ms. Livni now leads her own party, which is considered dovish on peace issues. She told Israel’s Army Radio a few days ago, “At the moment, a referendum is a way to forestall decisions approved by the Parliament and the cabinet.”

But rather than impeding peace, Netanyahu’s support for a referendum on any agreement with the Palestinians is the only way it can be implemented with the full support of the vast majority of Israelis.

It should be conceded that Livni is correct when she points out that the only thing necessary for any Israeli government to legally implement any measure is to get a bare one-vote majority in the Knesset. But she should learn from her nation’s experiences in the last 20 years when such razor-thin margins were used to implement the most far-reaching changes in security policy.

Israelis well remember that the late Yitzhak Rabin secured the passage of the Oslo II agreement with the Palestinians in 1995 by bribing members of the opposition to cross the aisle and back it by offering them offices and other perks. Ariel Sharon promised his Likud Party that he would submit his plan to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza to a party vote and then ignored the result when it went against him. In each of these cases, the use of tricks that were intended to thwart the will of the people undermined the legitimacy of the cause they bolstered.

It is true that if a peace agreement were to be submitted to a vote, that would raise the possibility that Israel’s voters would reject it. But if a deal was truly in Israel’s best interests, what exactly are advocates of a two-state solution worried about?

While foreign leaders have often lectured the Jewish state about the need for it to take risks for peace, Israelis know that is exactly what they have been doing for 20 years since the first Oslo Accord was signed and paying heavily for it in blood. But it is a truism that any time the Palestinians show any signs of actually wanting peace, they know there is a solid majority of Israeli voters that will back efforts to make it a reality. That was why the original Oslo deal was greeted euphorically by so many in the country. If the parties that staked their political future on peace have collapsed, it is solely because the Palestinians exposed those hopes as a cruel hoax that was a prelude to a war of terror. But were Mahmoud Abbas to go to Jerusalem, as Anwar Sadat did, and declare himself ready to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, give up on the dream of its destruction and negotiate borders, it’s likely that the old pro-Oslo majority would be resurrected.

More to the point, if Israel is expected to give up territory and uproot at least some of the communities it has planted in the West Bank on land that is integral to Jewish history, the path to such an outcome must not be the result of parliamentary tricks. The only way to get the majority of Israelis to make such a painful sacrifice is by giving every one of them a choice via the ballot. Livni, who apparently still hopes to one day sit in Netanyahu’s seat, should have more respect for the voters whom she wishes to lead.

Of course, so long as the Palestinians are divided between the Islamists of Hamas, who are open about their commitment to violence and Israel’s destruction, and the so-called moderates of Fatah, who talk of peace but do everything to foment hatred and avoid peace talks, this discussion is purely theoretical.

Those who wish to ignore the reality of Palestinian rejectionism often say that the preservation of Israeli democracy requires the nation to divest itself of the West Bank. But even if that is so, that cause cannot be secured by undemocratic means. If the sea change in Palestinian culture that would enable a peace deal ever does occur, the agreement that would stem from that development must be submitted to the Israeli people for approval in an unambiguous manner. Those who oppose this idea cannot do so without forfeiting their right to lecture the Israelis about democracy.

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The Bitter End of Bitterlemons

If the White House ceremony bringing together Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat to put their commitment to the Oslo process in writing marked a boost of forward momentum on the peace process, the Camp David Summit of 2000 did the opposite. Arafat’s rejection—predetermined, it turned out—of the peace agreement without a counteroffer, followed by his initiation of the intifada, constituted a major warning sign to peace processers that the two-state solution was slipping away, and maybe already had.

The practicality gap between support for the two-state solution in the abstract and getting the plan through Arafat, who had chosen terror over dialogue, seemed to be widening. Ehud Barak, the Labor prime minister representing Israel at Camp David, lost his bid for re-election in 2001, and the state hasn’t had a Labor prime minister since. Into this breach came Barak advisor Yossi Alpher, who founded an online magazine with former Palestinian Authority legislator Ghassan Khatib, called Bitterlemons. The webzine was in many ways ahead of its time as an online forum, and it attempted to create a digital Israeli-Palestinian dialogue track as the respective governments moved further from reconciliation. Yesterday, Laura Rozen reported the webzine is closing. From Alpher’s announcement:

We are ceasing publication for reasons involving fatigue–on a number of fronts. First, there is donor fatigue. Why, donors ask, should we continue to support a Middle East dialogue project that not only has not made peace, but cannot “prove” to our satisfaction–especially at a time of revolution and violence throughout the region–that it has indeed raised the level of civilized discussion? Why fight the Israeli right-wing campaign against European and American state funding and the Palestinian campaign against “normalization”?

These last two negative developments also reflect local fatigue. There is no peace process and no prospect of one. Informal “track II” dialogue–bitterlemons might be described as a “virtual” track II–is declining. Here and there, writers from the region who used to favor us with their ideas and articles are now begging off, undoubtedly deterred by the revolutionary rise of intolerant political forces in their countries or neighborhood.

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If the White House ceremony bringing together Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat to put their commitment to the Oslo process in writing marked a boost of forward momentum on the peace process, the Camp David Summit of 2000 did the opposite. Arafat’s rejection—predetermined, it turned out—of the peace agreement without a counteroffer, followed by his initiation of the intifada, constituted a major warning sign to peace processers that the two-state solution was slipping away, and maybe already had.

The practicality gap between support for the two-state solution in the abstract and getting the plan through Arafat, who had chosen terror over dialogue, seemed to be widening. Ehud Barak, the Labor prime minister representing Israel at Camp David, lost his bid for re-election in 2001, and the state hasn’t had a Labor prime minister since. Into this breach came Barak advisor Yossi Alpher, who founded an online magazine with former Palestinian Authority legislator Ghassan Khatib, called Bitterlemons. The webzine was in many ways ahead of its time as an online forum, and it attempted to create a digital Israeli-Palestinian dialogue track as the respective governments moved further from reconciliation. Yesterday, Laura Rozen reported the webzine is closing. From Alpher’s announcement:

We are ceasing publication for reasons involving fatigue–on a number of fronts. First, there is donor fatigue. Why, donors ask, should we continue to support a Middle East dialogue project that not only has not made peace, but cannot “prove” to our satisfaction–especially at a time of revolution and violence throughout the region–that it has indeed raised the level of civilized discussion? Why fight the Israeli right-wing campaign against European and American state funding and the Palestinian campaign against “normalization”?

These last two negative developments also reflect local fatigue. There is no peace process and no prospect of one. Informal “track II” dialogue–bitterlemons might be described as a “virtual” track II–is declining. Here and there, writers from the region who used to favor us with their ideas and articles are now begging off, undoubtedly deterred by the revolutionary rise of intolerant political forces in their countries or neighborhood.

Khatib was a bit more willing to point fingers. In his own post on the closing of Bitterlemons, he wrote:

Two decades after the signing of the Declaration of Principles that many hoped would usher in the creation of a Palestinian state and independence, freedom and security, Palestinians and Israelis are barely conversational. The structures created by those agreements have atrophied, corrupted by an increasing imbalance in the Palestinian relationship with Israel. Every day, there is new word of land confiscations, arrests, demolitions, and legislative maneuvers to solidify Israel’s control. Israel’s political leaders are beholden to a tide of right-wing sentiment and Palestinian leaders are made to appear ever-smaller in their shrinking spheres of control.

We are now, it appears, at the lowest point in the arc of the pendulum, one that is swinging away from the two-state solution into a known unknown: an apartheid Israel.

The editors say they have had increasing trouble finding contributors to the site, but that may be less due to an unwillingness to engage and more to the proliferation of blogs and other media in the last decade. There is no lack of diversity of opinion in the Israeli press, so Bitterlemons began to need its contributors more than its contributors needed Bitterlemons.

The other hard truth for the Bitterlemons crowd is that the region’s major actors all seem less perturbed by the status quo than they do. Mahmoud Abbas refuses to even negotiate with Israel, amid reports that he and his family continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the population they are supposed to serve. Hamas in Gaza continues its quest to disrupt a deal–and why not? As the Economist reports, Saudi financiers are showering the Gaza Strip with cash to build fully-loaded public housing estates worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The largest–but not the only–Saudi donor expects to spend close to $500 million in the Strip by 2014 on such projects. The smuggling tunnels allow Gazan grocers to keep their shelves stocked while making a profit on the markup.

And when Yesha Council chairman Dani Dayan was interviewed by the Atlantic, he said European leaders have begun telling him to save his breath when he argues against the creation of a Palestinian state: they, too, believe that idea’s time has passed. This isn’t to argue against the two-state solution, but rather simply to acknowledge that what Alpher perceives as a deepening distrust and unwillingness to engage is really just an attempt by both sides to make the best of the status quo. Israelis and Palestinians are taking bitter lemons and making lemonade.

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Palestinians Short of Ideas, Not Guns

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is complaining that Israel is making it difficult for his security forces to obtain weapons. As the New York Times reports, Abbas claimed yesterday in a meeting with members of the left-wing J Street group that the problems his police have been encountering recently is due to their difficulty importing arms. He also dismissed the letter Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent him imploring the Palestinian to return to direct peace talks without preconditions.

However, the claim that any holdup in arms shipments is making it impossible for the PA to fulfill its commitments to keep the peace is absurd. As a senior Israeli source told the Times, there is no shortage of guns or ammunition in the West Bank. The various PA security forces are all armed to the teeth. The material Abbas wants to import from Russia and Egypt is not police equipment but armaments that would transform the PA’s forces into the sort of army the Oslo peace accords specifically forbid. Moreover, because the PA is making an alliance with the radical Islamists of Hamas rather than fighting them, what possible purpose would Abbas have for heavy weapons?

Abbas has a sympathetic audience in J Street. It has supported his effort to evade blame for refusing to talk peace in order to justify its opposition to Israel’s government. Such a stance treats the Palestinians as being without any responsibility for their actions. The PA has long tried to claim it was powerless, but this latest rejection of peace talks demonstrates anew that what they are short of is ideas, not guns.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is complaining that Israel is making it difficult for his security forces to obtain weapons. As the New York Times reports, Abbas claimed yesterday in a meeting with members of the left-wing J Street group that the problems his police have been encountering recently is due to their difficulty importing arms. He also dismissed the letter Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent him imploring the Palestinian to return to direct peace talks without preconditions.

However, the claim that any holdup in arms shipments is making it impossible for the PA to fulfill its commitments to keep the peace is absurd. As a senior Israeli source told the Times, there is no shortage of guns or ammunition in the West Bank. The various PA security forces are all armed to the teeth. The material Abbas wants to import from Russia and Egypt is not police equipment but armaments that would transform the PA’s forces into the sort of army the Oslo peace accords specifically forbid. Moreover, because the PA is making an alliance with the radical Islamists of Hamas rather than fighting them, what possible purpose would Abbas have for heavy weapons?

Abbas has a sympathetic audience in J Street. It has supported his effort to evade blame for refusing to talk peace in order to justify its opposition to Israel’s government. Such a stance treats the Palestinians as being without any responsibility for their actions. The PA has long tried to claim it was powerless, but this latest rejection of peace talks demonstrates anew that what they are short of is ideas, not guns.

The PA leader is still under the mistaken impression that he needn’t talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu. He believes President Obama, left-wing Jews like J Street and an international community deeply hostile to the Jewish state will eventually bludgeon Israel into granting his demands that it surrender on every point of contention before negotiations even begin. But as his failed attempt to get the United Nations to recognize Palestinian independence — the diplomatic “tsunami” that was supposed to overwhelm Israel but instead merely demonstrated that the world had little interest in the Palestinians — without the PA first making peace with Israel should have taught him this strategy is not going to work. Nor should he hold his breath waiting for President Obama to risk the ire of Americans voters by picking another fight with Israel this year.

It is unfortunate that groups like J Street feed into his delusions about the world’s interest in forcing Israel into granting his desires. Abbas may harbor hopes a re-elected Obama will return to the pattern of his first three years in office and again seek to pressure Netanyahu to give in to Palestinian demands. But even if that comes to pass, there is only so much his foreign friends can do for him if he isn’t willing to talk to the Israelis. Abbas has demonstrated time and again that he isn’t willing or capable of signing a peace agreement that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Rather than whining to groups that aren’t willing to hold him responsible for his inability to import Russia munitions, what Abbas needs to do is to signal his willingness to make peace on realistic terms. Until that happens, neither Netanyahu — who enjoys the support of the vast majority of Israelis — or even a re-elected Obama are going to pay much attention to his complaints.

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