Commentary Magazine


Topic: Oslo

The Israeli Elections and Political Reality

David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, writes that there will likely be “a different Israel” after the January 22 election–one that has voted to reject a Palestinian state. He attributes the “dramatic imminent shift” not to the Israeli electorate moving right (total seats held by the right and left may not change materially), but to a right that has become “far-right.” The prime minister will stay the same, but he will head “a very different party.”

 This analysis ignores an important fact: the Israeli left has also moved right–and its own shift has been even more dramatic. In “We Gave Peace a Chance,” Daniel Gordis notes that what destroyed the Israeli left was four years of the “Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada),” which disabused Israelis of the idea that the Palestinian leadership wanted a deal, and the fact that Arabs have become ever more candid about their ultimate goal, with Mahmoud Abbas telling Egyptian TV “he would never, in a thousand years, recognize a Jewish state.” Gordis writes that “Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying”:

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David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, writes that there will likely be “a different Israel” after the January 22 election–one that has voted to reject a Palestinian state. He attributes the “dramatic imminent shift” not to the Israeli electorate moving right (total seats held by the right and left may not change materially), but to a right that has become “far-right.” The prime minister will stay the same, but he will head “a very different party.”

 This analysis ignores an important fact: the Israeli left has also moved right–and its own shift has been even more dramatic. In “We Gave Peace a Chance,” Daniel Gordis notes that what destroyed the Israeli left was four years of the “Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada),” which disabused Israelis of the idea that the Palestinian leadership wanted a deal, and the fact that Arabs have become ever more candid about their ultimate goal, with Mahmoud Abbas telling Egyptian TV “he would never, in a thousand years, recognize a Jewish state.” Gordis writes that “Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying”:

Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi party explicitly states that “land for peace” is dead and advocates annexing the portion of the West Bank known as Area C. Yair Shamir of Yisrael Beytenu says that regardless of Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech, the Likud never endorsed a Palestinian state. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party’s website makes no mention of going back to the negotiating table.

Neither does the Labor Party platform.

Even Meretz recently acknowledged that Oslo is dead.

The “dramatic imminent shift” is not a shift, but a realization; not imminent, but rather what happened over many years; and not dramatic, but rather the slow accumulation of many events: (1) the barbaric terror war against Israeli civilians, commenced after the first Israeli offer of a state; (2) the Palestinian rejection of the Clinton Parameters, after Israel formally accepted them; (3) the Palestinian failure to carry out even Phase I of the three-phase Roadmap; (4) the transformation of Gaza into Hamastan after Israel withdrew every settler and soldier; (5) the election of Hamas in 2006 and the Hamas coup in 2007; (6) two rocket wars from Judenrein Gaza, and the continuing prospect of more; (7) the year-long negotiation in the Annapolis Process that produced still another offer of a state, from which Abbas walked away; (8) Abbas’s announcement in 2009 that he would do nothing without a construction freeze, followed by his doing nothing after he got one; (9) the continual “reconciliation” attempts by Abbas with the terrorist group he promised to dismantle; (10) his failure to give a Bir Zeit speech to match Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan one; (11) the inability of the Palestinians to hold an election, much less build the institutions of a peaceful democratic state; (12) the violation of their express Oslo commitments with repeated end-runs at the UN; (13) a Palestinian society, media and educational system steeped in anti-Semitism; (14) et cetera.

It is to the credit of Israeli democracy that it reacted to all of this not with a “dramatic imminent shift” but with repeated efforts, over more than a decade, to give the Palestinians a state if they would recognize a Jewish one with defensible borders. Four prime ministers from three different parties (representing the left, center, and right) tried, and each met the same response. After January 22, Israel will be not a different state but a more realistic one–having delivered a message that will reflect, in Gordis’s words, “what the Israeli electorate, across the spectrum, is saying.”

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After UN Vote, Israel Plans J’lem Housing

Peace Now is calling this a “deal breaker for the two-state solution,” which is a great joke after yesterday’s UN debacle. This is Israel’s reply to the Palestinian Authority’s resolution, and why not? You’d think shredding the 17-year-old Oslo framework might merit some sort of response.

The New York Times reports:

As the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status Thursday night, Israel took steps toward building housing in a controversial area of East Jerusalem known as E1, where Jewish settlements have long been seen as the death knell for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.

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Peace Now is calling this a “deal breaker for the two-state solution,” which is a great joke after yesterday’s UN debacle. This is Israel’s reply to the Palestinian Authority’s resolution, and why not? You’d think shredding the 17-year-old Oslo framework might merit some sort of response.

The New York Times reports:

As the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status Thursday night, Israel took steps toward building housing in a controversial area of East Jerusalem known as E1, where Jewish settlements have long been seen as the death knell for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.

Whatever your thoughts on the settlements, this is hardly an eye-for-an-eye retribution. It’s not an explicit violation of any agreements by Israel. Compare that to the PA’s UN bid, which violates article XXXI, sec. 7 of the Oslo accords, which states “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” (It’s not as if the PA was unaware of that — a member of the Fatah Central Committee said earlier this month that the day after the vote, Oslo would be null and void).

Israel made concessions under Oslo that can’t be unmade. The PA, which has been the beneficiary of these concessions, no longer wants to stand by its own obligations. And what’s Israel’s response? Not to tear up Oslo, not to try to collapse the PA, or block funds. But to resume building in East Jerusalem, something that wasn’t considered an insurmountable obstacle to talks until recently. You can argue the construction is unhelpful, but how much does that matter when the PA is openly flouting its signed agreements on one side and Hamas is shooting missiles across the border on the other?

And, in a way, maybe this actually is necessary for a future two-state agreement. How can the Israeli public be expected to agree to painful concessions if its leaders won’t even hold the Palestinians to account when past agreements are broken? The settlement construction is a way for Israel to show there are penalties for violating agreements while still staying within the boundaries of Oslo.

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Is This the End of Land for Peace?

The Camp David Accords aren’t even 35 years old, but the latest violence between Hamas and Israel shows the fallacy underlying the principle of land for peace. Bluntly speaking, “land for peace” is dead; any diplomatic effort to revive it is likely doomed to fail. That does not mean that there cannot one day be peace, but Hamas’s actions—long planned for with equipment acquired even under the embargo—show how territory ceded brings not peace, but greater violence and vulnerability.

Just a back of a napkin sketch:

The Camp David Accords aren’t even 35 years old, but the latest violence between Hamas and Israel shows the fallacy underlying the principle of land for peace. Bluntly speaking, “land for peace” is dead; any diplomatic effort to revive it is likely doomed to fail. That does not mean that there cannot one day be peace, but Hamas’s actions—long planned for with equipment acquired even under the embargo—show how territory ceded brings not peace, but greater violence and vulnerability.

Just a back of a napkin sketch:

  • 1956: The Eisenhower administration forces an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai; war erupts 11 years later, and six years after that at the cost of thousands of lives.
  • 1982: Israel completes its withdrawal from the Sinai after Camp David; three decades later, Egypt actively helps to arm terrorists dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
  • 1994: As the result of the Oslo Accords signed the previous year, Israel acquiesces to the creation of a Palestinian Authority. Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasir Arafat takes his diplomatic gains, but never abandons terrorism as his chief means of extracting concessions. Hundreds more die in terrorist attacks as Israelis for all practical purposes become less secure.
  • 2000: Israel leaves southern Lebanon, a withdrawal the UN certifies as complete. In response, Hezbollah fills the vacuum, and claims not only the Shebaa Farms/Har Dov, but also seven villages in Israel’s Galilee. Six year later, Hezbollah launches thousands of missiles deep into Israel.
  • 2005: Ariel Sharon, perhaps hoping to end his life as a dove rather than a warrior, unilaterally leaves the Gaza Strip. Almost immediately, terrorists begin their rocket barrage of Israel, striking not only at Sderot, but also at the Ashkelon Power Plant and, now, Tel Aviv.

Even the most dovish Israelis recognize the problem, and understand just what is at stake should Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank. Land for peace was good in theory, but not when Israel’s opponents seek land as the end goal, rather than peace.

Now more than ever Dore Gold’s “Defensible Borders” is a must read.

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RE: Egypt Needs Liberalism

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself. Read More

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself.

These are the wages of making peace with governments while allowing normalization between societies to atrophy. Israel let its partners in peace purchase domestic tranquility by demonizing the Jewish state in terms that often crossed the line into outright bigotry, and so now that its partners in peace are collapsing — Cairo, Palileaks, etc. — we’re in a situation where serious people are talking about a return to cyclical nation-state war-fighting.

If a defensible land-for-peace framework returns — and that’s a real question — normalization will have to become more than a pro forma addendum to treaties. Above and beyond normalization being good in itself, an end to incitement will force regimes to undertake badly needed liberal reforms. If they don’t have the Jewish state to demonize for their problems, they might need to address those problems, and something approaching liberal democracy might begin to take shape.

But instead, our best foreign-policy minds are engaged in white-washing the Muslim Brotherhood into an organization with which we can do business. That’s not true and it’s never been true, but let’s pretend it is.

In that case, it would still be a disastrous decision, since it repeats the same stability-oriented mistakes of the old see-no-evil approach. Under autocracies, anti-Israel incitement suffocated liberal institutions indirectly, by channeling dissent into hatred of Israelis and Jews. A Muslim Brotherhood government would suffocate liberal institutions more directly, insofar as the party would make good on its promises to exclude gender and religious minorities from the highest echelons of Egyptian life.

If the instability in Egypt shows us that there’s a difference between democratic niceties and actual liberal democracy — and it does — then the question becomes one of how to create the conditions for liberal democracy. Viewed through that lens, there’s no real difference between engaging Mubarak and engaging the Muslim Brotherhood. Both are out to undermine the institutions and practices that are preconditions for genuine peace in the Middle East.

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Why Did Peace Talks Fail? Abbas Wouldn’t Take the Pen and Sign

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status. Read More

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status.

These concessions represented grave setbacks to Israeli security and Jewish rights. Israel’s past experience with international security forces along its borders are mixed, though the horrible record of United Nations forces in Lebanon — which allowed terrorists free access to the frontier — is a reminder of the cost of relying on foreign troops to guarantee Israeli security. Similarly, it should be noted that the only period during which Jews — and members of other faiths — have had full access to sacred spots has been since 1967. Prior to that, Jewish access to the holy places was virtually nonexistent. Olmert’s reliance on the goodwill of an international community that has never been particularly concerned with Jewish rights was extraordinary. And as for the refugees, his willingness to allow some back into Israel and to compensate the others completely ignores the fact that the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were forced out of their homes after 1948 seem to have been completely forgotten in his pact with Abbas.

Olmert would have had a difficult time selling such a terrible deal to Israelis, but the odds are they would have accepted it if it meant that the Palestinians were truly willing to end the conflict. But it never came to that. Why? It was simply because Abbas couldn’t bring himself to take yes for an answer. For all the chatter about how many concessions the Palestinians were willing to make, when it came to actually making peace and taking the best deal possible, Abbas was no different from his old boss Yasir Arafat, who turned down Bill Clinton and the Israelis at Camp David in 2000.

As Olmert tells it, on Sept. 16, 2008, in a meeting at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli handed Abbas a map showing his Palestinian state including parts of Jerusalem.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] said that he could not decide and that he needed time,” Mr. Olmert writes. “I told him that he was making an historic mistake.

“ ‘Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,’ he said to me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is fairer or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving this.’”

Abbas and Olmert never met again. Faced with an opportunity to end the conflict and create the Palestinian state that has supposedly been his movement’s goal, Abbas couldn’t take the pen and sign because he knew that the culture of Palestinian politics was such that he could not persuade his people to compromise. The essence of Palestinian nationalism has always been and remains the negation of both Zionism and the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Concede that and there is no Palestinian nationalism. So once again, the Palestinians walked away from peace.

Yesterday Abbas’s top negotiator, Saeb Erekat, claimed in an article in the Guardian that the Al Jazeera documents show that the Palestinians had no partner for peace. We will continue to hear more big lies from the Palestinians and their Western cheerleaders in the future. But the truth is, as Abbas’s refusal to take the pen proves, even the most moderate Palestinian leaders still can’t make peace.

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An Edifice Over an Abyss

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

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The “Palestinian” Campaign

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response. Read More

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response.

The 2011 plan is the one to keep an eye on. It has momentum and increasing buy-in, as demonstrated by the flurry of statehood recognitions from Latin America this month. U.S. mainstream media have not generally been presenting a coherent picture to American readers, but from a broader perspective, there is a confluence of events separate from the official peace process. It already appears, from the regional jockeying for Lebanon and the trend of Saudi activity, that nations in the Middle East are trying to position themselves for a decisive shift in the Israel-Palestine dynamic. Now, in a significant “informational” move, Russia’s ITAR-TASS is playing up the discussions of 2011 statehood from the meeting this past weekend of a Russian-government delegation with Salam Fayyad in Israel.

It may be too early to call the official peace process irrelevant or pronounce it dead. But the interest in it from the Palestinian Arabs and other parties in the Middle East is increasingly perfunctory (or cynical). It is becoming clear that there is more than recalcitrance on the Palestinian side; there is an alternative plan, which is being actively promoted. A central virtue of this plan for Fayyadists is that it can work by either of two methods: presenting Israel with a UN-backed fait accompli or alarming Israel into cutting a deal from fear that an imposed resolution would be worse.

John Bolton is right. Everything about this depends on what the U.S. does. America can either avert the 2011 plan’s momentum now or face a crisis decision crafted for us by others sometime next year. Being maneuvered into a UN veto that could set off bombings and riots across the Eastern Hemisphere — and very possibly North America as well — should not be our first choice.

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Israel’s Critics Are Afraid of Democracy

Yesterday’s vote by Israel’s Knesset to require a referendum to ratify any peace deal that involved the surrender of Jerusalem or the Golan Heights is being slammed in the Arab world as well as by other foes of the Jewish state. For Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, such a vote would be an “obstacle” to peace. Similarly, Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt believes it means the end of the two-state solution, since it “gives a veto to the hard-line settler faction.”

Such claims are laughable. In fact, assuming that the Palestinians were themselves interested in actually signing a peace deal (something they have repeatedly declined to do even when offered virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, as they were in 2000 and 2008), the knowledge that any accord would have to be ratified by a referendum in which Israelis could vote it up or down would make it more, not less, likely to be accepted by an Israeli government.

One of the problems that helped undermine Israeli support for the Oslo process was the fact that a narrow parliamentary majority rammed it down the country’s throat. Even worse, the follow-up agreement to the first accord, known as Oslo II, was only secured after two members of the now defunct right-wing Tsomet Party crossed the aisle to Labor in exchange for promises of high office and other perks. This shady process helped fuel public opposition to the deal, though it must be conceded that most of the credit for convincing Israelis that their government was on the wrong path must go to the Palestinians and the campaign of terrorism they waged even though peace was supposed to have broken out. Read More

Yesterday’s vote by Israel’s Knesset to require a referendum to ratify any peace deal that involved the surrender of Jerusalem or the Golan Heights is being slammed in the Arab world as well as by other foes of the Jewish state. For Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, such a vote would be an “obstacle” to peace. Similarly, Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt believes it means the end of the two-state solution, since it “gives a veto to the hard-line settler faction.”

Such claims are laughable. In fact, assuming that the Palestinians were themselves interested in actually signing a peace deal (something they have repeatedly declined to do even when offered virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, as they were in 2000 and 2008), the knowledge that any accord would have to be ratified by a referendum in which Israelis could vote it up or down would make it more, not less, likely to be accepted by an Israeli government.

One of the problems that helped undermine Israeli support for the Oslo process was the fact that a narrow parliamentary majority rammed it down the country’s throat. Even worse, the follow-up agreement to the first accord, known as Oslo II, was only secured after two members of the now defunct right-wing Tsomet Party crossed the aisle to Labor in exchange for promises of high office and other perks. This shady process helped fuel public opposition to the deal, though it must be conceded that most of the credit for convincing Israelis that their government was on the wrong path must go to the Palestinians and the campaign of terrorism they waged even though peace was supposed to have broken out.

Any Israeli government that chose to sign an agreement that called for the re-division of Jerusalem or handing the strategic Golan back to Syria would be strengthened by the knowledge that their decisions would have to be ratified by the people. They would be free to be more, not less, generous with a Palestinian partner who genuinely wanted peace, simply because such a government would be, in a sense, operating with a net. Without a referendum, acceptance of an agreement would be merely a matter of enforcing party discipline in the governing coalition. That would leave any government — especially one led from the right, as is Israel’s current coalition — vulnerable to accusations of betraying their voters. A referendum would give any peace deal the seal of democratic approval that it must have to succeed.

Moreover, far from ensuring that a deal would be defeated, the odds are that any referendum for a peace treaty would be passed, assuming it actually required the Arabs to accept Israel as a Jewish state within secure and accepted borders and without a “right of return” for the descendants of refugees, which would mean the country’s destruction. Israelis desperately want peace and might be inclined to accept anything that seems like a genuine solution even if they were skeptical about the Palestinians. That Walt thinks a referendum would give the settlers a veto shows that he understands Israel as poorly as he does America (whose foreign policy is, he thinks, directed by a pro-Israel cabal composed of a wall-to-wall coalition of liberals, moderates, and conservatives). Since a referendum would be a simple yes or no vote by the entire electorate, why would a group that makes up only a tiny percentage of the voting public have a veto?

But what most of those who have commented about this measure don’t mention is that so long as the political culture of the Palestinians regards the acceptance of a Jewish state as anathema no matter where its borders might be drawn or who controls Jerusalem, then any discussion of a referendum to ratify a peace deal is more science fiction than political science. After 17 years of fruitless concessions made in the name of peace, most Israelis have understandably grown cynical about a process that has proved to be an exchange of land for terror, not peace. If Abbas wants to change their minds, all he has to do is be willing to make peace and demonstrate to Israel’s people that he means it. Israeli democracy would be the best guarantee of a two-state solution, if only he were prepared to act as if he actually wanted one.

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Netanyahu Chooses the Lesser of Two Evils

The debate over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to renew a settlement-building freeze in the West Bank has been rightly characterized by my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, Evelyn Gordon, and J.E. Dyer as a measure that will not advance the basic interests of the United States or Israel and that will undermine the slim chances for a genuine peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Others are also correct when they point out that this decision, like virtually every other concession made by Israel since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, strengthens the incorrect perception that the Palestinians are the only lawful owners of all of the West Bank.

But as much as Oslo has been completely discredited by the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace, Netanyahu cannot afford to act as if the desire of the United States to pursue another round of peace talks is irrelevant. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be among the last people on Planet Earth to fail to understand that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has neither the will nor the interest in signing a peace accord, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn. Their decision — to hound Netanyahu to renew the freeze for 90 days even after a 10-month freeze was ignored by the Palestinians — is an absurd policy that mires the administration in a dead-end process that can win them no laurels and few thanks from a Muslim world that Obama is still clearly interested in appeasing.

Yet would it have been prudent of Netanyahu to simply say no indefinitely? Another three months of a freeze won’t do more to undermine Israel’s rights or security than the previous 17 years of fruitless negotiations have done, whereas another spat with the White House that could have been blamed on Israel would worsen the country’s position.

It is true, as Evelyn Gordon has written, that Israel will get no credit from an international community that is hostile to the existence of the Jewish state. But it is also true that actions that highlight the true obstacle to peace — Palestinian irredentism — are essential to maintaining the bipartisan, across-the-board support for Israel here in the United States. As much as Netanyahu would have been justified in bluntly and publicly telling Obama and Clinton that their demand for another freeze was wrong, that would have meant putting his country in the position to be accused of saying “no” to peace. Such a charge would be a lie, but it would have strengthened the hand of those in the Obama administration who want to distance the United States from Israel, and it would also have been exactly what Abbas wanted because it would allow him to avoid being the one to say “no” to more talks or ultimately to an agreement. In the game of chicken being played by Israel and the Palestinians, all the settlement freeze has done is to put more pressure on Abbas to jump out of the talks, illustrating once again that peace is something that will only be achieved by a change in the political culture of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu must live with a situation where his only ally-state is led by a man who is still uncomfortable with Israel and unwilling to abandon his hubristic belief that he can succeed in making peace where all who have gone before him have failed. Obama has another two years left in his current term and 12 months or so before the requirements of his quest for re-election may serve to deter him from further putting the screws to Israel. During this period, Netanyahu may face a decision about whether Israel will strike at Iran’s nuclear project. Another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza may also be forced upon the Jewish state during this time frame.

There are no guarantees that this concession, like all those made by Israel before this, will strengthen Israel’s hand in gaining support for its right of self-defense, but doing so will surely make it easier for Israel to make its case before the American people, especially at a time when the White House must be considered essentially unfriendly to Jerusalem. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu cannot be blamed for deciding that giving in on the freeze — when it is obvious that the Palestinians will not take advantage of the opening — is the lesser of two evils.

The debate over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to renew a settlement-building freeze in the West Bank has been rightly characterized by my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, Evelyn Gordon, and J.E. Dyer as a measure that will not advance the basic interests of the United States or Israel and that will undermine the slim chances for a genuine peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Others are also correct when they point out that this decision, like virtually every other concession made by Israel since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, strengthens the incorrect perception that the Palestinians are the only lawful owners of all of the West Bank.

But as much as Oslo has been completely discredited by the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace, Netanyahu cannot afford to act as if the desire of the United States to pursue another round of peace talks is irrelevant. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be among the last people on Planet Earth to fail to understand that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has neither the will nor the interest in signing a peace accord, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn. Their decision — to hound Netanyahu to renew the freeze for 90 days even after a 10-month freeze was ignored by the Palestinians — is an absurd policy that mires the administration in a dead-end process that can win them no laurels and few thanks from a Muslim world that Obama is still clearly interested in appeasing.

Yet would it have been prudent of Netanyahu to simply say no indefinitely? Another three months of a freeze won’t do more to undermine Israel’s rights or security than the previous 17 years of fruitless negotiations have done, whereas another spat with the White House that could have been blamed on Israel would worsen the country’s position.

It is true, as Evelyn Gordon has written, that Israel will get no credit from an international community that is hostile to the existence of the Jewish state. But it is also true that actions that highlight the true obstacle to peace — Palestinian irredentism — are essential to maintaining the bipartisan, across-the-board support for Israel here in the United States. As much as Netanyahu would have been justified in bluntly and publicly telling Obama and Clinton that their demand for another freeze was wrong, that would have meant putting his country in the position to be accused of saying “no” to peace. Such a charge would be a lie, but it would have strengthened the hand of those in the Obama administration who want to distance the United States from Israel, and it would also have been exactly what Abbas wanted because it would allow him to avoid being the one to say “no” to more talks or ultimately to an agreement. In the game of chicken being played by Israel and the Palestinians, all the settlement freeze has done is to put more pressure on Abbas to jump out of the talks, illustrating once again that peace is something that will only be achieved by a change in the political culture of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu must live with a situation where his only ally-state is led by a man who is still uncomfortable with Israel and unwilling to abandon his hubristic belief that he can succeed in making peace where all who have gone before him have failed. Obama has another two years left in his current term and 12 months or so before the requirements of his quest for re-election may serve to deter him from further putting the screws to Israel. During this period, Netanyahu may face a decision about whether Israel will strike at Iran’s nuclear project. Another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza may also be forced upon the Jewish state during this time frame.

There are no guarantees that this concession, like all those made by Israel before this, will strengthen Israel’s hand in gaining support for its right of self-defense, but doing so will surely make it easier for Israel to make its case before the American people, especially at a time when the White House must be considered essentially unfriendly to Jerusalem. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu cannot be blamed for deciding that giving in on the freeze — when it is obvious that the Palestinians will not take advantage of the opening — is the lesser of two evils.

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Delay Would Make Israeli-Palestinian Deal More Likely, Not Less

On Monday, I argued that Washington’s push for final-status talks now, when neither Israelis nor Palestinians actually think a deal is possible, could substantially worsen a situation that’s currently tolerable for both sides — a concern that Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, reiterated yesterday. But there’s another reason why talks now are a bad idea: Contrary to the accepted wisdom, the conflict is likely to be more resolvable in another few decades, not less.

First, after 16 years of existence, the Palestinian Authority has only now, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, finally started building institutions of statehood. Time would enable these institutions to grow and develop, increasing the chances that whatever Palestinian state a deal established would be viable rather than collapse into chaos.

Second, after years of alternately attacking Israel itself and tacitly abetting Hamas’s attacks, the PA has only now started seriously fighting terror — albeit mainly because Hamas threatens its own survival. This long track record of complicity in terror has been a major obstacle to an agreement, because it convinced Israelis that further territorial withdrawals would undermine their own security unless accompanied by stringent security provisions, including the continued IDF presence in parts of the West Bank, which Palestinians reject.

But if the PA now demonstrates a serious, long-term commitment to counterterrorism — and two years isn’t even close to constituting “long-term” — less stringent security provisions would be possible. The paradigm is Israel’s 1994 treaty with Jordan: The 27 years of de facto peace that preceded the agreement created a level of trust that enabled far less complex security arrangements than peace with Egypt did.

Most importantly, however, time is needed to enable the emergence of a new generation of leaders who are actually prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state — something both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have repeatedly refused to do.

Indeed, just yesterday, Fayyad stormed out of a meeting of the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates financial aid to the PA, rather than sign a summary statement referencing “two states for two peoples,” Jewish and Palestinian, rather than merely “two states.” Nor was this accidental: PA leaders are fine with two states, but only if both are Palestinian — with Israel’s conversion into a second Palestinian state being accomplished by flooding it with millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.

This is due partly to the long shadow cast by Yasir Arafat, who dominated Palestinian politics for 50 years until his death in 2004. As Munib al-Masri — the West Bank’s wealthiest businessman, a close associate of Arafat’s, and a former supporter of Oslo who vehemently opposes the current talks — told Haaretz (Hebrew only) this month, neither Abbas “nor anyone else can concede more than Arafat did in negotiations with Israel. The Americans and Israelis don’t understand this.” And regarding the current generation, who grew up under Arafat’s thumb, he’s undoubtedly right.

But a new generation, growing up in a post-Arafat world, might be able to free itself of this shadow. And only once this happens will peace be possible.

On Monday, I argued that Washington’s push for final-status talks now, when neither Israelis nor Palestinians actually think a deal is possible, could substantially worsen a situation that’s currently tolerable for both sides — a concern that Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, reiterated yesterday. But there’s another reason why talks now are a bad idea: Contrary to the accepted wisdom, the conflict is likely to be more resolvable in another few decades, not less.

First, after 16 years of existence, the Palestinian Authority has only now, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, finally started building institutions of statehood. Time would enable these institutions to grow and develop, increasing the chances that whatever Palestinian state a deal established would be viable rather than collapse into chaos.

Second, after years of alternately attacking Israel itself and tacitly abetting Hamas’s attacks, the PA has only now started seriously fighting terror — albeit mainly because Hamas threatens its own survival. This long track record of complicity in terror has been a major obstacle to an agreement, because it convinced Israelis that further territorial withdrawals would undermine their own security unless accompanied by stringent security provisions, including the continued IDF presence in parts of the West Bank, which Palestinians reject.

But if the PA now demonstrates a serious, long-term commitment to counterterrorism — and two years isn’t even close to constituting “long-term” — less stringent security provisions would be possible. The paradigm is Israel’s 1994 treaty with Jordan: The 27 years of de facto peace that preceded the agreement created a level of trust that enabled far less complex security arrangements than peace with Egypt did.

Most importantly, however, time is needed to enable the emergence of a new generation of leaders who are actually prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state — something both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have repeatedly refused to do.

Indeed, just yesterday, Fayyad stormed out of a meeting of the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates financial aid to the PA, rather than sign a summary statement referencing “two states for two peoples,” Jewish and Palestinian, rather than merely “two states.” Nor was this accidental: PA leaders are fine with two states, but only if both are Palestinian — with Israel’s conversion into a second Palestinian state being accomplished by flooding it with millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.

This is due partly to the long shadow cast by Yasir Arafat, who dominated Palestinian politics for 50 years until his death in 2004. As Munib al-Masri — the West Bank’s wealthiest businessman, a close associate of Arafat’s, and a former supporter of Oslo who vehemently opposes the current talks — told Haaretz (Hebrew only) this month, neither Abbas “nor anyone else can concede more than Arafat did in negotiations with Israel. The Americans and Israelis don’t understand this.” And regarding the current generation, who grew up under Arafat’s thumb, he’s undoubtedly right.

But a new generation, growing up in a post-Arafat world, might be able to free itself of this shadow. And only once this happens will peace be possible.

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Spy Talk Illustrates Unreality of Mideast Talks

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

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How Misreading Hamas’s Motive Undermines Prospects for Peace

Israel has suffered almost daily rocket and mortar fire from Hamas-run Gaza this week after 19 months of quiet. Yesterday, for the first time, Gazans launched phosphorus shells at the Negev. And Hamas has twice attacked Israelis in the West Bank this month, again following a long hiatus.

The response from American, European, and Israeli officials has been predictable: Hamas is escalating the terror to foil Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But this conventional wisdom is false. And this falsehood has been undermining prospects for peace for the last 17 years.

Hamas does oppose a peace deal. But because almost nobody in either Israel or the Palestinian Authority thinks the current talks will produce one, the idea that Hamas leaders are driven by fear of the talks’ success is risible. Hamas knows quite well that the talks will fail even without its help.

Moreover, Hamas has often escalated attacks even when no negotiations were in sight. Between Israel’s August 2005 pullout from Gaza and the Annapolis summit in November 2007, for instance, Hamas fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel, a volume that dwarfs the current level. Yet during most of that time, not only were there no peace talks, there wasn’t even any effort to launch them.

So what really motivates Hamas? It’s no secret; Hamas officials proclaim it repeatedly: their goal is Israel’s eradication, and their method is armed struggle. Therefore, they will attack whenever and wherever it’s feasible.

Viewed through this prism, the pattern of Hamas’s terror activity is easily explained: terror escalates whenever Hamas officials think they can get away with it and de-escalates when the danger of a devastating Israeli response becomes too great.

Thus, for instance, terror soared following the 1993 Oslo Accord because Hamas realized it was safe. The Rabin-Peres government, having promised that Oslo would bring peace, couldn’t politically admit it had brought war instead, so it had to downplay the attacks rather than responding. But when Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 1996 on a platform of fighting terror, Hamas feared he might be less restrained and de-escalated. Thus the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terror plummeted 70 percent from 1993-96 to 1996-99.

Similarly, after the 2005 disengagement, Hamas knew the Kadima-led government couldn’t politically admit its flagship initiative had brought war rather than peace. Thus Hamas could safely triple the volume of rocket fire, knowing Israel’s government would downplay it rather than responding.

Today, thanks to the peace talks, escalation is once again safe — because Hamas knows that if Israel responds forcefully, the PA will quit the talks, and the world will blame Israel. Thus, Israel is compelled to avoid responding.

In short, it’s not the peace talks that cause terror to escalate but the world’s insistence that Israel refrain from responding so as not to “disrupt” them. And by taking this attitude, the world has effectively made “peace” synonymous with stepped-up terror.

So if Time magazine really wants to know “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace,” it’s quite simple: as long as “peace” means absorbing ever-increasing casualties without responding, most Israelis would rather do without it.

Israel has suffered almost daily rocket and mortar fire from Hamas-run Gaza this week after 19 months of quiet. Yesterday, for the first time, Gazans launched phosphorus shells at the Negev. And Hamas has twice attacked Israelis in the West Bank this month, again following a long hiatus.

The response from American, European, and Israeli officials has been predictable: Hamas is escalating the terror to foil Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But this conventional wisdom is false. And this falsehood has been undermining prospects for peace for the last 17 years.

Hamas does oppose a peace deal. But because almost nobody in either Israel or the Palestinian Authority thinks the current talks will produce one, the idea that Hamas leaders are driven by fear of the talks’ success is risible. Hamas knows quite well that the talks will fail even without its help.

Moreover, Hamas has often escalated attacks even when no negotiations were in sight. Between Israel’s August 2005 pullout from Gaza and the Annapolis summit in November 2007, for instance, Hamas fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel, a volume that dwarfs the current level. Yet during most of that time, not only were there no peace talks, there wasn’t even any effort to launch them.

So what really motivates Hamas? It’s no secret; Hamas officials proclaim it repeatedly: their goal is Israel’s eradication, and their method is armed struggle. Therefore, they will attack whenever and wherever it’s feasible.

Viewed through this prism, the pattern of Hamas’s terror activity is easily explained: terror escalates whenever Hamas officials think they can get away with it and de-escalates when the danger of a devastating Israeli response becomes too great.

Thus, for instance, terror soared following the 1993 Oslo Accord because Hamas realized it was safe. The Rabin-Peres government, having promised that Oslo would bring peace, couldn’t politically admit it had brought war instead, so it had to downplay the attacks rather than responding. But when Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister in 1996 on a platform of fighting terror, Hamas feared he might be less restrained and de-escalated. Thus the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terror plummeted 70 percent from 1993-96 to 1996-99.

Similarly, after the 2005 disengagement, Hamas knew the Kadima-led government couldn’t politically admit its flagship initiative had brought war rather than peace. Thus Hamas could safely triple the volume of rocket fire, knowing Israel’s government would downplay it rather than responding.

Today, thanks to the peace talks, escalation is once again safe — because Hamas knows that if Israel responds forcefully, the PA will quit the talks, and the world will blame Israel. Thus, Israel is compelled to avoid responding.

In short, it’s not the peace talks that cause terror to escalate but the world’s insistence that Israel refrain from responding so as not to “disrupt” them. And by taking this attitude, the world has effectively made “peace” synonymous with stepped-up terror.

So if Time magazine really wants to know “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace,” it’s quite simple: as long as “peace” means absorbing ever-increasing casualties without responding, most Israelis would rather do without it.

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Hezbollah’s “Soviet” Southern Lebanon

Michael J. Totten hits one out of the park today with his account of an interview with Jonathan Spyer, a journalist and research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya. Spyer, who fought with the IDF in Lebanon in 2006, is publishing a book on his recent visits to southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah enclave he describes to Totten as “a fanatical Iranian province.”

It’s a wide-ranging interview, but its core theme is the palpable totalitarianism of the civic atmosphere in southern Lebanon. The links to Iran are visible everywhere. Says Spyer:

You have to experience it to understand just how strange and extreme the situation actually is. Between Beirut and Tel Aviv there is this enclave of Iran, this strange dark kingdom. And I found it fascinating.

At the entrance to one of these towns, there’s an old piece of the South Lebanon Army’s armor, a T-55 tank I think. And Hezbollah put up this huge cardboard statue of Ayatollah Khomeini…

I also saw Iranian flags down there. That’s how blatant and obvious it all is.

Totten: You don’t see the Lebanese flag in the south.

Spyer: Right. Only the Hezbollah flag, the Amal flag, and the Iranian flag. It was a real eye-opener. I knew this already, but it’s something else to see it in person.

Spyer analogizes the feel of civil life across Lebanon’s political divide – the divide between the official government in Beirut and the Hezbollah enclave in the south – to the conditions in the former Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. He captures vividly and convincingly how the people look over their shoulders and fear the unseen hand in their daily lives. And he acknowledges that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is more effectively totalitarian than the Iranian regime itself is today. (It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Hezbollah has achieved this while operating cheek-by-jowl with UNIFIL.)

The interview is an excellent read, and not just because I agree with Spyer’s assessments of Iranian intentions, the ethnic tensions of the Middle East, and the Oslo process. Totten, for his part, has done a superb job of juxtaposing illustrative photos with the text. As Spyer suggests, we may know many of these things already, but it’s something else to “see” them in person, through the eyes of a first-hand witness. Spyer is one I want to hear more from.

Michael J. Totten hits one out of the park today with his account of an interview with Jonathan Spyer, a journalist and research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya. Spyer, who fought with the IDF in Lebanon in 2006, is publishing a book on his recent visits to southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah enclave he describes to Totten as “a fanatical Iranian province.”

It’s a wide-ranging interview, but its core theme is the palpable totalitarianism of the civic atmosphere in southern Lebanon. The links to Iran are visible everywhere. Says Spyer:

You have to experience it to understand just how strange and extreme the situation actually is. Between Beirut and Tel Aviv there is this enclave of Iran, this strange dark kingdom. And I found it fascinating.

At the entrance to one of these towns, there’s an old piece of the South Lebanon Army’s armor, a T-55 tank I think. And Hezbollah put up this huge cardboard statue of Ayatollah Khomeini…

I also saw Iranian flags down there. That’s how blatant and obvious it all is.

Totten: You don’t see the Lebanese flag in the south.

Spyer: Right. Only the Hezbollah flag, the Amal flag, and the Iranian flag. It was a real eye-opener. I knew this already, but it’s something else to see it in person.

Spyer analogizes the feel of civil life across Lebanon’s political divide – the divide between the official government in Beirut and the Hezbollah enclave in the south – to the conditions in the former Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe. He captures vividly and convincingly how the people look over their shoulders and fear the unseen hand in their daily lives. And he acknowledges that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon is more effectively totalitarian than the Iranian regime itself is today. (It’s worth noting, as an aside, that Hezbollah has achieved this while operating cheek-by-jowl with UNIFIL.)

The interview is an excellent read, and not just because I agree with Spyer’s assessments of Iranian intentions, the ethnic tensions of the Middle East, and the Oslo process. Totten, for his part, has done a superb job of juxtaposing illustrative photos with the text. As Spyer suggests, we may know many of these things already, but it’s something else to “see” them in person, through the eyes of a first-hand witness. Spyer is one I want to hear more from.

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Will’s Formula for Peace: Stop the Process

George Will has been on a roll, writing one blockbuster column after another on Israel and what he correctly dubs the “mirage” that passes for a “peace process.” He gives some context:

Since 1967, faced with unrelenting Palestinian irredentism, Israel has been weaving the West Bank into a common fabric with the coastal plain, the nation’s economic and population center of gravity. Withdrawal from the West Bank would bring Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport within range of short-range rockets fired by persons overlooking the runways. So, the feasibility of such a withdrawal depends on how much has changed since 1974, when Yasser Arafat received a standing ovation at the United Nations when he said Israel had no right to exist.

Thirty-six years later, Israelis can watch West Bank Palestinian television incessantly inculcating anti-Semitism and denial of Israel’s right to exist. Across the fence that has substantially reduced terrorism from the West Bank, Israelis see Ramallah, where Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, lives and where a square was recently named in honor of Dalal Mughrabi. In 1978, she, together with 11 other terrorists, hijacked an Israeli bus and massacred 37 Israelis and one American. Cigarette lighters sold on the West Bank show, when lit, the World Trade Center burning.

But undaunted by reality, Obama’s self-grandiosity — and frenzy to deflect attention from his failure to devise an effective Iran policy — once again comes to the fore. Substituting bumper-sticker sloganeering for careful analysis, the president demands not just talks “but ‘comprehensive’ solutions to problems, [which] may yet make matters worse by presenting its own plan for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Barack Obama insists that it is ‘costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure,’ although he does not say how.”

The left (the rest of the left, for Obama is very much their man in this regard) is infatuated with negotiations because the hope springs eternal that Israel can be bludgeoned into submission or ostracized if it resists. That also explains why Gen. David Petraeus’s ill-chosen words, which Will recites — “Israeli-Palestinian tensions ‘have an enormous effect on the strategic context'” — have been adopted as watchwords on the left. You see, if Israel is a national security liability, rather than an asset, the pummeling is not only justified but essential. (It is also nonsensical, as Will points out: “As though, were the tensions to subside, the hard men managing Iran’s decades-long drive for nuclear weapons would then say, ‘Oh, well, in that case, let’s call the whole thing off.'”)

Will gets to the nub of the matter: “The biggest threat to peace might be the peace process — or, more precisely, the illusion that there is one. The mirage becomes the reason for maintaining its imaginary ‘momentum’ by extorting concessions from Israel, the only party susceptible to U.S. pressure.”

In this regard, the Israeli government, by mouthing the same platitudinous phrases and offering a moratorium before partaking in another peace-process charade, has done itself no favors. The calculation, no doubt, is born out of necessity: the desire to avoid irreparable injury to the already bruised relationship with the U.S. requires complicity in the peace-process scam.

OK, so the Israeli government believes there is no alternative, but what has been the excuse for pro-Israel (the real pro-Israel ones, I mean) American Jewish groups? Why are they fixated, obsessed, and distracted by the non-peace process while the Iran nuclear program marches apace? Force of habit, perhaps. It is what they have been doing since Oslo (and before that); they have no other script. They also are, as we’ve much discussed, in the business of trying to get along as best they can with those in power. If those in power are determined to process the peace, then, by gosh, they are too. But even their ardor has cooled, and the lowering of expectations has become obvious. Sometimes one simply can’t keep up the pretense.

It would be a refreshing and important development if American Jewish leaders adopted Will’s approach: utter candor. The peace process is destructive, masks continued bad behavior by the Palestinians, and promotes animosity between the U.S. and Israel. Let’s get on with what matters: Iran. It would be bracing, brave, and clarifying. That it is also inconceivable tells you much about the state of mainstream American Jewish organizations and why so many of them teeter on the verge of irrelevance.

George Will has been on a roll, writing one blockbuster column after another on Israel and what he correctly dubs the “mirage” that passes for a “peace process.” He gives some context:

Since 1967, faced with unrelenting Palestinian irredentism, Israel has been weaving the West Bank into a common fabric with the coastal plain, the nation’s economic and population center of gravity. Withdrawal from the West Bank would bring Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport within range of short-range rockets fired by persons overlooking the runways. So, the feasibility of such a withdrawal depends on how much has changed since 1974, when Yasser Arafat received a standing ovation at the United Nations when he said Israel had no right to exist.

Thirty-six years later, Israelis can watch West Bank Palestinian television incessantly inculcating anti-Semitism and denial of Israel’s right to exist. Across the fence that has substantially reduced terrorism from the West Bank, Israelis see Ramallah, where Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, lives and where a square was recently named in honor of Dalal Mughrabi. In 1978, she, together with 11 other terrorists, hijacked an Israeli bus and massacred 37 Israelis and one American. Cigarette lighters sold on the West Bank show, when lit, the World Trade Center burning.

But undaunted by reality, Obama’s self-grandiosity — and frenzy to deflect attention from his failure to devise an effective Iran policy — once again comes to the fore. Substituting bumper-sticker sloganeering for careful analysis, the president demands not just talks “but ‘comprehensive’ solutions to problems, [which] may yet make matters worse by presenting its own plan for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Barack Obama insists that it is ‘costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure,’ although he does not say how.”

The left (the rest of the left, for Obama is very much their man in this regard) is infatuated with negotiations because the hope springs eternal that Israel can be bludgeoned into submission or ostracized if it resists. That also explains why Gen. David Petraeus’s ill-chosen words, which Will recites — “Israeli-Palestinian tensions ‘have an enormous effect on the strategic context'” — have been adopted as watchwords on the left. You see, if Israel is a national security liability, rather than an asset, the pummeling is not only justified but essential. (It is also nonsensical, as Will points out: “As though, were the tensions to subside, the hard men managing Iran’s decades-long drive for nuclear weapons would then say, ‘Oh, well, in that case, let’s call the whole thing off.'”)

Will gets to the nub of the matter: “The biggest threat to peace might be the peace process — or, more precisely, the illusion that there is one. The mirage becomes the reason for maintaining its imaginary ‘momentum’ by extorting concessions from Israel, the only party susceptible to U.S. pressure.”

In this regard, the Israeli government, by mouthing the same platitudinous phrases and offering a moratorium before partaking in another peace-process charade, has done itself no favors. The calculation, no doubt, is born out of necessity: the desire to avoid irreparable injury to the already bruised relationship with the U.S. requires complicity in the peace-process scam.

OK, so the Israeli government believes there is no alternative, but what has been the excuse for pro-Israel (the real pro-Israel ones, I mean) American Jewish groups? Why are they fixated, obsessed, and distracted by the non-peace process while the Iran nuclear program marches apace? Force of habit, perhaps. It is what they have been doing since Oslo (and before that); they have no other script. They also are, as we’ve much discussed, in the business of trying to get along as best they can with those in power. If those in power are determined to process the peace, then, by gosh, they are too. But even their ardor has cooled, and the lowering of expectations has become obvious. Sometimes one simply can’t keep up the pretense.

It would be a refreshing and important development if American Jewish leaders adopted Will’s approach: utter candor. The peace process is destructive, masks continued bad behavior by the Palestinians, and promotes animosity between the U.S. and Israel. Let’s get on with what matters: Iran. It would be bracing, brave, and clarifying. That it is also inconceivable tells you much about the state of mainstream American Jewish organizations and why so many of them teeter on the verge of irrelevance.

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Newsflash: Israelis Don’t Trust Obama

The Israeli Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University have a new survey out. The results are not surprising:

Nearly three-quarters of the Israeli Jewish public supports holding talks with the Palestinians, but only 32.4 percent believe they will lead to peace. High support for talks along with pessimism about their outcome has characterized public opinion since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. Most Israelis – 62% – support direct dialogue, with only 14% supporting proximity talks mediated by US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.

Could it be that the Israeli Jewish public doesn’t trust the Obami? Sure looks that way: “Most Israelis think that Obama favors the Palestinians, and 42.5% view Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policies towards the Palestinians as balanced.” How’s the Obama plan for staring down Bibi on a settlement freeze working out? Not so great:

Over half of the Israeli public favors renewed construction in the West Bank after the settlement freeze ends in September, claiming that “continuing the freeze means capitulation to the Americans and the Palestinians.” Conversely, 41.5% say the freeze should continue, in order to “help advance the negotiations with the Palestinians and improve Israel’s image in the international community.”

The J Street crowd and the so-called liberal Zionists (mostly liberal, not so Zionist) like to characterize their positions as merely in conflict with the “right-wing” Netanyahu government. But their outlook is in conflict with the Israeli people. And the American left’s support for Obama’s Israel policy (well, what used to be his policy before he tried making up with Bibi) has been overwhelmingly rejected by Israelis. The left likes to warn (threaten?) Israel that it can’t be a democracy unless it disgorges itself of the Palestinian population. But the central feature of a democracy is that voters elect their government and ultimately determine the course of their public policy. That is simply not acceptable to Jewish leftists, who, it seems, want neither a secure Israel nor a democratic one.

The Israeli Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University have a new survey out. The results are not surprising:

Nearly three-quarters of the Israeli Jewish public supports holding talks with the Palestinians, but only 32.4 percent believe they will lead to peace. High support for talks along with pessimism about their outcome has characterized public opinion since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. Most Israelis – 62% – support direct dialogue, with only 14% supporting proximity talks mediated by US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.

Could it be that the Israeli Jewish public doesn’t trust the Obami? Sure looks that way: “Most Israelis think that Obama favors the Palestinians, and 42.5% view Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policies towards the Palestinians as balanced.” How’s the Obama plan for staring down Bibi on a settlement freeze working out? Not so great:

Over half of the Israeli public favors renewed construction in the West Bank after the settlement freeze ends in September, claiming that “continuing the freeze means capitulation to the Americans and the Palestinians.” Conversely, 41.5% say the freeze should continue, in order to “help advance the negotiations with the Palestinians and improve Israel’s image in the international community.”

The J Street crowd and the so-called liberal Zionists (mostly liberal, not so Zionist) like to characterize their positions as merely in conflict with the “right-wing” Netanyahu government. But their outlook is in conflict with the Israeli people. And the American left’s support for Obama’s Israel policy (well, what used to be his policy before he tried making up with Bibi) has been overwhelmingly rejected by Israelis. The left likes to warn (threaten?) Israel that it can’t be a democracy unless it disgorges itself of the Palestinian population. But the central feature of a democracy is that voters elect their government and ultimately determine the course of their public policy. That is simply not acceptable to Jewish leftists, who, it seems, want neither a secure Israel nor a democratic one.

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Why the “Peace Process” Is a Farce

Elliott Abrams succinctly explains why there is no hope in sight for a Middle East peace deal. In short, one side doesn’t want peace. He writes:

“I say in front of you, Mr. President, that we have nothing to do with incitement against Israel, and we’re not doing that,” claimed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to the White House in June.

It is unfortunate for the prospects of Middle East peace that this denial by Abbas (who is also head of the PLO and Fatah) was just plain untrue. In fact, this two-faced stance of Abbas and his cronies — proclaiming peaceful intentions to the international community while inciting their population to hatred of Israel — is one of the primary impediments to any sort of solution to the longstanding crisis.

Abrams notes the many examples of Palestinian duplicity. (“This very month, for example, Abbas publicly mourned the death of Mohammed Oudeh, mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre: ‘The deceased was one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement and lived a life filled with the struggle, devoted effort, and the enormous sacrifice of the deceased for the sake of the legitimate problem of his people.'”) And what is Obama’s reaction to all this? Well, he’s now up to having a stern talk with Abbas rather than pretending the incitement doesn’t exist.

Swell, but that doesn’t really get at the root of the problem: Obama’s entire peace-process gambit is hopelessly flawed, indeed farcical, because it assumes if we just find the right maps (listen, Bill Clinton had them memorized, and it helped not at all at Camp David), we’d have a peace deal. This is the fallacy that underlies the post-Oslo peace-processing and the reason why, as Abrams argues, we’d do better to focus on “the character of that state, and of Palestinian society” than on the fine points of a deal to which one side is unable and unwilling to agree.

There is one more noteworthy item. Abrams provides a candid account of a dinner with Abbas in June:

At a dinner for Abbas during his Washington visit, I confronted him with several recent examples of incitement, as well as the denial that he made to the President. His reply was that of a bureaucrat, not a peacemaker: He did not deny the allegations, but said that if true they should be raised at a tripartite committee (the United States, the Palestinian Authority and Israel) that had been established by the Oslo Accords.

Funny, in all the happy-talk reports from Jewish leaders and ex-government officials attending the dinner, they never mentioned this revealing episode. This is one more infuriating instance in which establishment Jewish leaders have placed comity ahead of honesty. It has seemed very important to them, at a cost to their own intellectual credibility, to sustain the illusion that the peace process is more than a futile exercise.

It would be helpful if both the administration and Jewish groups were frank about the central reason why the Palestinians have no state: they don’t want to give up killing Jews. But then they’d have to admit that their infatuation with the peace process and their hopes for a two-state solution are based on willful ignorance.

Elliott Abrams succinctly explains why there is no hope in sight for a Middle East peace deal. In short, one side doesn’t want peace. He writes:

“I say in front of you, Mr. President, that we have nothing to do with incitement against Israel, and we’re not doing that,” claimed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to the White House in June.

It is unfortunate for the prospects of Middle East peace that this denial by Abbas (who is also head of the PLO and Fatah) was just plain untrue. In fact, this two-faced stance of Abbas and his cronies — proclaiming peaceful intentions to the international community while inciting their population to hatred of Israel — is one of the primary impediments to any sort of solution to the longstanding crisis.

Abrams notes the many examples of Palestinian duplicity. (“This very month, for example, Abbas publicly mourned the death of Mohammed Oudeh, mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre: ‘The deceased was one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement and lived a life filled with the struggle, devoted effort, and the enormous sacrifice of the deceased for the sake of the legitimate problem of his people.'”) And what is Obama’s reaction to all this? Well, he’s now up to having a stern talk with Abbas rather than pretending the incitement doesn’t exist.

Swell, but that doesn’t really get at the root of the problem: Obama’s entire peace-process gambit is hopelessly flawed, indeed farcical, because it assumes if we just find the right maps (listen, Bill Clinton had them memorized, and it helped not at all at Camp David), we’d have a peace deal. This is the fallacy that underlies the post-Oslo peace-processing and the reason why, as Abrams argues, we’d do better to focus on “the character of that state, and of Palestinian society” than on the fine points of a deal to which one side is unable and unwilling to agree.

There is one more noteworthy item. Abrams provides a candid account of a dinner with Abbas in June:

At a dinner for Abbas during his Washington visit, I confronted him with several recent examples of incitement, as well as the denial that he made to the President. His reply was that of a bureaucrat, not a peacemaker: He did not deny the allegations, but said that if true they should be raised at a tripartite committee (the United States, the Palestinian Authority and Israel) that had been established by the Oslo Accords.

Funny, in all the happy-talk reports from Jewish leaders and ex-government officials attending the dinner, they never mentioned this revealing episode. This is one more infuriating instance in which establishment Jewish leaders have placed comity ahead of honesty. It has seemed very important to them, at a cost to their own intellectual credibility, to sustain the illusion that the peace process is more than a futile exercise.

It would be helpful if both the administration and Jewish groups were frank about the central reason why the Palestinians have no state: they don’t want to give up killing Jews. But then they’d have to admit that their infatuation with the peace process and their hopes for a two-state solution are based on willful ignorance.

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No Peace in Sight

Lee Smith’s latest column should be read by all those who are fixated on a two-state solution. In his conversation with Dore Gold and his review of Israel’s Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace (“essays about security and diplomacy by leading figures in Israel’s security establishment”), Smith provides some useful context for those obsessed with the “peace process”:

[E]veryone in Washington who believes that they know what Israel’s vision of a final settlement looks like is in for a surprise. Israel will have to retain security control over the Jordan rift valley, which means not just the river bank but the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge. It is important to remember that the West Bank overlooks Israel’s coastal plain and 70 percent of the country’s population. If the Hamas rockets fired from Gaza were launched from the West Bank on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it could bring Israel to its knees, disrupting the country’s economic and social life on a massive scale and shutting down Ben Gurion Airport. Moreover, Islamist militants from all around the region would attempt to transit through Jordan into the West Bank to launch attacks against the Zionist entity, destabilizing the Hashemite Kingdom.

To sum up, there is no peace partner for Israel to negotiate with and no territorial compromise that is currently feasible. But the Obami push on, oblivious to all of that — or perhaps intentionally filling the time as they fail to craft an approach that could thwart Iran’s nuclear program. But Smith finds a silver lining in the Obami’s cluelessness:

There is no going back to Oslo, no matter what the Obama Administration believes or hopes. Perhaps the only thing saving Netanyahu from having to fight with a U.S. president and thereby unnerve the Israeli electorate is the incompetence of the White House. Had Obama not pushed Netanyahu so hard on settlements, twice, he wouldn’t have pushed Mahmoud Abbas into a corner where it was impossible for the Palestinian president to be less intransigent than the United States, thus freezing the diplomatic process.

The paradox of the U.S. president’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause and lack of sympathy for Israeli territorial and security claims is that he has managed to fulfill the dreams of hard-liners on both sides and turn back the clock 20 years to before the ill-fated Oslo process even began. For the first time in two decades, the Palestinians and Israelis are not in direct negotiations. A final Palestinian-Israeli agreement couldn’t be further away, which means that Netanyahu can smile for the cameras and shake the president’s hand and breathe easily, now that he doesn’t have to explain that a peace deal, if it happens, won’t look like what everyone in Washington thinks it will.

We can understand the incompetence and utter unseriousness of the Obama team, but what is the excuse for Jewish groups? They mouth the same platitudes without answering the central dilemma: how is there to be peace with those who have not renounced terrorism, and why is “land for peace” still a viable approach? In some sense, Jewish groups are trapped in a paradigm that was central to their organizations’ missions for decades. The world has changed, the president is a change (from anyone who has previously occupied the Oval Office), and yet America Jewry is stuck in the Oslo time warp, championing a two-state solution that is not remotely attainable.

It is not only the administration that has to rethink its entire approach to Israel, but American Jewry as well. It’s time, I would suggest, to concentrate on what matters: preventing a nuclear Iran, enforcing UN resolution 1701 (regarding Lebanon), continuing support for economic development on the West Bank, and beating back attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state. As for the “peace process,” American Jewish leaders should stop pretending there’s any there there. And if they think there is, American Jewry needs savvier leaders.

Lee Smith’s latest column should be read by all those who are fixated on a two-state solution. In his conversation with Dore Gold and his review of Israel’s Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace (“essays about security and diplomacy by leading figures in Israel’s security establishment”), Smith provides some useful context for those obsessed with the “peace process”:

[E]veryone in Washington who believes that they know what Israel’s vision of a final settlement looks like is in for a surprise. Israel will have to retain security control over the Jordan rift valley, which means not just the river bank but the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge. It is important to remember that the West Bank overlooks Israel’s coastal plain and 70 percent of the country’s population. If the Hamas rockets fired from Gaza were launched from the West Bank on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it could bring Israel to its knees, disrupting the country’s economic and social life on a massive scale and shutting down Ben Gurion Airport. Moreover, Islamist militants from all around the region would attempt to transit through Jordan into the West Bank to launch attacks against the Zionist entity, destabilizing the Hashemite Kingdom.

To sum up, there is no peace partner for Israel to negotiate with and no territorial compromise that is currently feasible. But the Obami push on, oblivious to all of that — or perhaps intentionally filling the time as they fail to craft an approach that could thwart Iran’s nuclear program. But Smith finds a silver lining in the Obami’s cluelessness:

There is no going back to Oslo, no matter what the Obama Administration believes or hopes. Perhaps the only thing saving Netanyahu from having to fight with a U.S. president and thereby unnerve the Israeli electorate is the incompetence of the White House. Had Obama not pushed Netanyahu so hard on settlements, twice, he wouldn’t have pushed Mahmoud Abbas into a corner where it was impossible for the Palestinian president to be less intransigent than the United States, thus freezing the diplomatic process.

The paradox of the U.S. president’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause and lack of sympathy for Israeli territorial and security claims is that he has managed to fulfill the dreams of hard-liners on both sides and turn back the clock 20 years to before the ill-fated Oslo process even began. For the first time in two decades, the Palestinians and Israelis are not in direct negotiations. A final Palestinian-Israeli agreement couldn’t be further away, which means that Netanyahu can smile for the cameras and shake the president’s hand and breathe easily, now that he doesn’t have to explain that a peace deal, if it happens, won’t look like what everyone in Washington thinks it will.

We can understand the incompetence and utter unseriousness of the Obama team, but what is the excuse for Jewish groups? They mouth the same platitudes without answering the central dilemma: how is there to be peace with those who have not renounced terrorism, and why is “land for peace” still a viable approach? In some sense, Jewish groups are trapped in a paradigm that was central to their organizations’ missions for decades. The world has changed, the president is a change (from anyone who has previously occupied the Oval Office), and yet America Jewry is stuck in the Oslo time warp, championing a two-state solution that is not remotely attainable.

It is not only the administration that has to rethink its entire approach to Israel, but American Jewry as well. It’s time, I would suggest, to concentrate on what matters: preventing a nuclear Iran, enforcing UN resolution 1701 (regarding Lebanon), continuing support for economic development on the West Bank, and beating back attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state. As for the “peace process,” American Jewish leaders should stop pretending there’s any there there. And if they think there is, American Jewry needs savvier leaders.

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RE: RE: Peter Beinart and the Destruction of Liberal Zionism

Let me second Ted Bromund’s praise for Noah Pollak’s extraordinary essay on the liberal desertion of Israel — and offer a comment on Ted’s suggestion that the retreat dates from the 1967 war rather than the failure of the 1993 Oslo peace process.

In 1992, Ruth Wisse published a landmark book, entitled If I Am Not for Myself … The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews, in which she argued that the attempt by Jews to prove themselves moral behind the banner of liberalism could not succeed but that liberalism itself would “assuredly be judged by whether it can protect the Jews.” A year later, the peace process began with the famous White House handshake between Israel’s prime minister and the head of a terrorist group.

It was a liberal dream come true – the “peace of the brave,” as future Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasir Arafat would repeatedly call it, requiring only sufficient courage by Israel to take the risks necessary to produce it. To those skeptical about turning over land to an organization devoted to Israel’s destruction, Amos Oz observed that one made peace with one’s enemies, not with one’s friends. It was considered a brilliant response.

Seven years later, Arafat was offered a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem — and turned it down in favor of a new terror war. Reflecting later on the Oslo accords, Professor Wisse observed that they had “made Israel the first sovereign nation in memory to arm its declared enemy with the expectation of gaining security.” Five years later, Israel would do it all over again, turning over Gaza to its enemies after removing every settler and soldier, in the expectation of gaining (in Ehud Olmert’s words) “more security … [and] a new pattern of relations.” The result was a new rocket war.

The fundamental liberal premise — that human beings are essentially all alike, wanting simply to (as the slogan of the peace process continually put it) “live side by side in peace and security” — had produced not peace but successive wars. As Israel became reluctant to take any further disaster-producing risks, or suffer rockets without a response, an increasing number of liberals believed themselves forced to choose between Israel and liberalism, and an increasing number chose the latter. Peter Beinart is only the latest to do so, trying to jump on an already-crowded train.

Liberals tend to stand by Israel as long as it adheres to the Torah of Liberalism, but they are less supportive when Israel takes seriously some of the promises in that other Torah, which is not a book about human beings perfectible by reason. The issues involved in Noah’s essay are part of a story that goes back much further than 1993 or 1967; it would take a book to explain it.

Let me second Ted Bromund’s praise for Noah Pollak’s extraordinary essay on the liberal desertion of Israel — and offer a comment on Ted’s suggestion that the retreat dates from the 1967 war rather than the failure of the 1993 Oslo peace process.

In 1992, Ruth Wisse published a landmark book, entitled If I Am Not for Myself … The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews, in which she argued that the attempt by Jews to prove themselves moral behind the banner of liberalism could not succeed but that liberalism itself would “assuredly be judged by whether it can protect the Jews.” A year later, the peace process began with the famous White House handshake between Israel’s prime minister and the head of a terrorist group.

It was a liberal dream come true – the “peace of the brave,” as future Nobel Peace Prize winner Yasir Arafat would repeatedly call it, requiring only sufficient courage by Israel to take the risks necessary to produce it. To those skeptical about turning over land to an organization devoted to Israel’s destruction, Amos Oz observed that one made peace with one’s enemies, not with one’s friends. It was considered a brilliant response.

Seven years later, Arafat was offered a Palestinian state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem — and turned it down in favor of a new terror war. Reflecting later on the Oslo accords, Professor Wisse observed that they had “made Israel the first sovereign nation in memory to arm its declared enemy with the expectation of gaining security.” Five years later, Israel would do it all over again, turning over Gaza to its enemies after removing every settler and soldier, in the expectation of gaining (in Ehud Olmert’s words) “more security … [and] a new pattern of relations.” The result was a new rocket war.

The fundamental liberal premise — that human beings are essentially all alike, wanting simply to (as the slogan of the peace process continually put it) “live side by side in peace and security” — had produced not peace but successive wars. As Israel became reluctant to take any further disaster-producing risks, or suffer rockets without a response, an increasing number of liberals believed themselves forced to choose between Israel and liberalism, and an increasing number chose the latter. Peter Beinart is only the latest to do so, trying to jump on an already-crowded train.

Liberals tend to stand by Israel as long as it adheres to the Torah of Liberalism, but they are less supportive when Israel takes seriously some of the promises in that other Torah, which is not a book about human beings perfectible by reason. The issues involved in Noah’s essay are part of a story that goes back much further than 1993 or 1967; it would take a book to explain it.

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RE: Peter Beinart and the Destruction of Liberal Zionism

Noah Pollak’s superb piece on Beinart prompts, first, my regret that I left Yale just before Noah arrived, so I can’t claim to have taught him anything.  But it, along with Benjamin Kerstein’s essay on “Liberalism and Zionism,” prompts a further reflection. Both Noah and Ben argue that Beinart exemplifies the vacuity of liberalism. As Noah puts it, “Because the history of the peace process repudiates so many of liberalism’s most cherished premises, liberalism is increasingly repudiating Israel. … In this way, the failure of the liberal vision is transformed from being a verdict on liberalism to being a verdict on Israel.”

True. But it is both more and less than that. For Beinart is not really writing about Israel at all. For him, and for the thousands of allies this lonely man possesses, the real issue is that, as Ben points out, Israel was born of a 19th-century nationalist impulse. At the time, that was not illiberal. On the contrary, support for national self-determination, as long as the people in question were capable of founding and sustaining a legitimate, sovereign state, was the essence of liberalism. The only difference was that the Jewish people, instead of being oppressed by one foreign power — as the Poles were by the Russians, or the Greeks by the Turks — were being oppressed by many.

The problem today is not that the peace process has failed or that this reveals the failure of the liberal vision. All that is true enough. The problem is that the liberal vision itself has changed. Not all liberals reject the nation-state, but suspicion of the nation-state as the organizing unit for the world does stem predominantly from the left. In view of the importance that the left attaches to the state as the provider of welfare benefits, this is both ironic and contradictory. But it does not change the fact that one reason liberals (especially those of a European persuasion) have fallen out of love with Israel is that it — along with the United States — was founded on and persists in maintaining a democratic and nationalist vision.

This is why the liberal critics bracket Israel and the U.S. They claim they do so because the U.S. supports Israel. Actually, they do it because they reject the worldview on which both nations are founded, the worldview that has motivated the U.S. to support Israel. For the critics, democracy and nationalism must ultimately be in conflict. Hence the importance of the EU and transnational initiatives like the International Criminal Court. This is a worldview founded in the European reaction to the Second World War. The fact that this war led to the destruction of the European nations and the rise of the Israeli one is another reason for anti-national liberals to look upon it with scorn: to them, Israel appears to be resisting the lessons of history.

The failure of the peace process undoubtedly contributes to the rising scorn. But the liberal retreat from Israel began long before Oslo and its failure.  It dates from the 1967 war, which shocked the newly sensitive souls of many on the left. Israel, in other words, is really a case study. It was protected for a time from the decay of the ideology of liberal nationalism on the left by the socialism of many of its founders and by the horror of the Holocaust. But that immunity began to expire two generations ago, and the process is continuing, as essays like Beinart’s reveal. The fact that Beinart himself believes he is writing uniquely and revealingly about Israel is just more evidence that liberals of his ilk have no idea how far they have drifted from the ideology their forebears celebrated.

Noah Pollak’s superb piece on Beinart prompts, first, my regret that I left Yale just before Noah arrived, so I can’t claim to have taught him anything.  But it, along with Benjamin Kerstein’s essay on “Liberalism and Zionism,” prompts a further reflection. Both Noah and Ben argue that Beinart exemplifies the vacuity of liberalism. As Noah puts it, “Because the history of the peace process repudiates so many of liberalism’s most cherished premises, liberalism is increasingly repudiating Israel. … In this way, the failure of the liberal vision is transformed from being a verdict on liberalism to being a verdict on Israel.”

True. But it is both more and less than that. For Beinart is not really writing about Israel at all. For him, and for the thousands of allies this lonely man possesses, the real issue is that, as Ben points out, Israel was born of a 19th-century nationalist impulse. At the time, that was not illiberal. On the contrary, support for national self-determination, as long as the people in question were capable of founding and sustaining a legitimate, sovereign state, was the essence of liberalism. The only difference was that the Jewish people, instead of being oppressed by one foreign power — as the Poles were by the Russians, or the Greeks by the Turks — were being oppressed by many.

The problem today is not that the peace process has failed or that this reveals the failure of the liberal vision. All that is true enough. The problem is that the liberal vision itself has changed. Not all liberals reject the nation-state, but suspicion of the nation-state as the organizing unit for the world does stem predominantly from the left. In view of the importance that the left attaches to the state as the provider of welfare benefits, this is both ironic and contradictory. But it does not change the fact that one reason liberals (especially those of a European persuasion) have fallen out of love with Israel is that it — along with the United States — was founded on and persists in maintaining a democratic and nationalist vision.

This is why the liberal critics bracket Israel and the U.S. They claim they do so because the U.S. supports Israel. Actually, they do it because they reject the worldview on which both nations are founded, the worldview that has motivated the U.S. to support Israel. For the critics, democracy and nationalism must ultimately be in conflict. Hence the importance of the EU and transnational initiatives like the International Criminal Court. This is a worldview founded in the European reaction to the Second World War. The fact that this war led to the destruction of the European nations and the rise of the Israeli one is another reason for anti-national liberals to look upon it with scorn: to them, Israel appears to be resisting the lessons of history.

The failure of the peace process undoubtedly contributes to the rising scorn. But the liberal retreat from Israel began long before Oslo and its failure.  It dates from the 1967 war, which shocked the newly sensitive souls of many on the left. Israel, in other words, is really a case study. It was protected for a time from the decay of the ideology of liberal nationalism on the left by the socialism of many of its founders and by the horror of the Holocaust. But that immunity began to expire two generations ago, and the process is continuing, as essays like Beinart’s reveal. The fact that Beinart himself believes he is writing uniquely and revealingly about Israel is just more evidence that liberals of his ilk have no idea how far they have drifted from the ideology their forebears celebrated.

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Aaron David Miller: Obama Is the Biggest Concern in the Middle East

In an interview with JTA, Aaron David Miller recaps and puts an exclamation point on his important piece calling for an end to the “religion” of the peace process — that is, the reality-free belief in the centrality of the Palestinian conflict to all Middle East issues and the equally fantastical conviction that an agreement is possible in the first place. He says:

“What I find difficult to reconcile is how you’re going to get to a conflict-ending agreement which addresses the four core issues that have driven the Israelis and the Palestinians and brought each issue to a finality of claims. … I just do not see how to do that given the gaps that exist and the inherent constraints on the leaders in the absence also of a real sense of urgency.”

He reminds us that the Oslo paradigm is now badly outdated:

Miller describes how the situation has worsened since the last major effort at a resolution, the Camp David-Taba talks of 2000-01: The status of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been wounded profoundly by the ouster of his moderate party, Fatah, from Gaza at the gunpoint of Hamas; Netanyahu is bound by a right-wing coalition (of his choosing) that is not ready to countenance a full-fledged settlement freeze, never mind compromise on Jerusalem; and Obama has had 15 months, distracted by the economy and health care, to match Clinton’s six full years focused on the issue.

Then there’s the region: “Hezbollah and Hamas,” Miller says referring to the terrorist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. “You have two non-state actors, two non-state environments who are not proxies of Iran and or Syria but who clearly reflect their capacity to want to influence events — and then you have Iran” and its potential nuclear threat.

What concerns him most? Not another failed round of peace-processing. Not the continued Palestinian radicalization. No, it’s Obama that has him most nervous:

The prospect that Miller says unnerves him most is that the Obama administration says it will step in with a conflict-ending agreement if the current proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians go nowhere.

“I’m very uneasy because at the end of the day, I don’t see what the game is, I don’t see what the strategy is,” he said. “Even if it’s an initiative, what’s the objective, what’s the strategy?”

Interestingly and predictably, Jeremy Ben-Ami lets it be know that he doesn’t care much for reality: “We don’t have the luxury of time; the tensions on the ground are too high. … That’s the difference between being an analyst and actually trying to assess outcomes.” What? Even for him, that’s incoherent.

But it’s a helpful reminder that the people who favor Obama’s obsession with the peace process are the same who demand that Israel make all sorts of unilateral concessions, oppose sanctions against Iran, and are content to carve up the Jewish state into a shrunken carcass of its former self. They couldn’t be happier with Obama — enabled by the no-longer-reality-based Dennis Ross — who’s just the one to jam a deal, or try to, down Israel’s throat.

In an interview with JTA, Aaron David Miller recaps and puts an exclamation point on his important piece calling for an end to the “religion” of the peace process — that is, the reality-free belief in the centrality of the Palestinian conflict to all Middle East issues and the equally fantastical conviction that an agreement is possible in the first place. He says:

“What I find difficult to reconcile is how you’re going to get to a conflict-ending agreement which addresses the four core issues that have driven the Israelis and the Palestinians and brought each issue to a finality of claims. … I just do not see how to do that given the gaps that exist and the inherent constraints on the leaders in the absence also of a real sense of urgency.”

He reminds us that the Oslo paradigm is now badly outdated:

Miller describes how the situation has worsened since the last major effort at a resolution, the Camp David-Taba talks of 2000-01: The status of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been wounded profoundly by the ouster of his moderate party, Fatah, from Gaza at the gunpoint of Hamas; Netanyahu is bound by a right-wing coalition (of his choosing) that is not ready to countenance a full-fledged settlement freeze, never mind compromise on Jerusalem; and Obama has had 15 months, distracted by the economy and health care, to match Clinton’s six full years focused on the issue.

Then there’s the region: “Hezbollah and Hamas,” Miller says referring to the terrorist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. “You have two non-state actors, two non-state environments who are not proxies of Iran and or Syria but who clearly reflect their capacity to want to influence events — and then you have Iran” and its potential nuclear threat.

What concerns him most? Not another failed round of peace-processing. Not the continued Palestinian radicalization. No, it’s Obama that has him most nervous:

The prospect that Miller says unnerves him most is that the Obama administration says it will step in with a conflict-ending agreement if the current proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians go nowhere.

“I’m very uneasy because at the end of the day, I don’t see what the game is, I don’t see what the strategy is,” he said. “Even if it’s an initiative, what’s the objective, what’s the strategy?”

Interestingly and predictably, Jeremy Ben-Ami lets it be know that he doesn’t care much for reality: “We don’t have the luxury of time; the tensions on the ground are too high. … That’s the difference between being an analyst and actually trying to assess outcomes.” What? Even for him, that’s incoherent.

But it’s a helpful reminder that the people who favor Obama’s obsession with the peace process are the same who demand that Israel make all sorts of unilateral concessions, oppose sanctions against Iran, and are content to carve up the Jewish state into a shrunken carcass of its former self. They couldn’t be happier with Obama — enabled by the no-longer-reality-based Dennis Ross — who’s just the one to jam a deal, or try to, down Israel’s throat.

Read Less




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