Commentary Magazine


Topic: PA

Hamas Has Nothing to Teach Abbas About Promulgating Hate

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has just hired a new adviser, the Jerusalem Post reports. Mahmoud Awad Damra is one of the prisoners Israel freed to ransom kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in October; he was then five years into a 15-year sentence for his role as planner and logistics coordinator of several deadly terror attacks whose victims included three U.S. citizens. That, combined with his previous job running Yasser Arafat’s Force 17 security service, clearly qualifies him for his new role of advising Abbas on local government.

Two weeks ago, during a working visit to Turkey, Abbas took time out to meet with Amna Muna and 10 other convicted terrorists who were also freed in the Shalit deal, but whom Israel considered particularly dangerous and therefore refused to allow back into the West Bank. Muna used an Internet romance with a 16-year-old Israeli to lure him to Ramallah, where her partners in crime murdered him. When Israel protested this meeting, Abbas adviser Nimer Hamad insisted it was “natural” for a president to “meet his people wherever they are.” But of course: American and European presidents always make a point of meeting with convicted murderers during overseas trips – just like they always hire convicted terrorists as special advisers. Isn’t that how “moderate,” “peace-seeking” leaders are supposed to behave?

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has just hired a new adviser, the Jerusalem Post reports. Mahmoud Awad Damra is one of the prisoners Israel freed to ransom kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in October; he was then five years into a 15-year sentence for his role as planner and logistics coordinator of several deadly terror attacks whose victims included three U.S. citizens. That, combined with his previous job running Yasser Arafat’s Force 17 security service, clearly qualifies him for his new role of advising Abbas on local government.

Two weeks ago, during a working visit to Turkey, Abbas took time out to meet with Amna Muna and 10 other convicted terrorists who were also freed in the Shalit deal, but whom Israel considered particularly dangerous and therefore refused to allow back into the West Bank. Muna used an Internet romance with a 16-year-old Israeli to lure him to Ramallah, where her partners in crime murdered him. When Israel protested this meeting, Abbas adviser Nimer Hamad insisted it was “natural” for a president to “meet his people wherever they are.” But of course: American and European presidents always make a point of meeting with convicted murderers during overseas trips – just like they always hire convicted terrorists as special advisers. Isn’t that how “moderate,” “peace-seeking” leaders are supposed to behave?

Then there’s the children’s magazine Zayzafuna, which is partially funded by the PA and has several PA officials on its advisory board, including Deputy Education Minister Jihad Zakarneh. As Palestinian Media Watch revealed in a damning expose, the magazine combines genuinely positive educational content with gems like an essay by a teenage girl citing Hitler as one of her four heroes, because he’s “the one who killed the Jews.” The essay describes a dream in which she meets all four; Hitler receives her thanks for the sage advice he offers.

After PMW’s report was published, the Simon Wiesenthal Center urged UNESCO to end its support for the magazine, and surprisingly, UNESCO promised to do so. But there’s been no similar contrition from the PA. Indeed, as PMW noted, the latest issue of Zayzafuna contains new gems: an essay by a school principal lauding Arafat for demanding “the liberation of all the Palestinian land, without bargaining, without compromise,” and a map that makes the same point by showing all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza painted as a Palestinian flag.

All this begs the question of why American taxpayers should be supporting such activity: While the Obama administration demanded  UNESCO halt funding for Zayzafuna, it has simultaneously been urging Congress to approve funding for the PA – and since money is fungible, that helps Abbas finance projects like the magazine and Damra’s salary.

But it also underscores the absurdity of expecting the recent unity deal between Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas to moderate the latter. When it comes to inciting terror and promulgating hatred of Jews and Israel, Hamas has nothing to teach Abbas, only something to learn: For unlike Hamas, Abbas has figured out how to traffic in hatred while still being lauded worldwide as a peace-maker.

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The Jewish Chronicle Joins Condemnation of the Guardian

The Jewish Chronicle, a highly influential newspaper among the British Jewish community, published a surprisingly hard-hitting editorial today slamming the Guardian for its coverage of the Palestinian Papers controversy.

“There is nothing, of itself, wrong with the Guardian publishing its scoop; all serious newspapers relish scoops,” wrote the Chronicle, in reference to the Guardian‘s collaborating with Al Jazeera to break the Palestinian Papers story. “What is very wrong is the way the paper chose to present its story: the distortions, the bias, the agenda, the spin and the breathtaking arrogance of its handing down instructions to the Palestinians of how they should behave.”

The Guardian and Al Jazeera have been criticized for heavily spinning the story: taking quotes out of context, printing misleading claims, and leaving out information that might contradict a preconceived narrative.

But that’s nothing new for the Guardian, especially when it comes to its obsessive and highly tendentious coverage of Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s editorial section, however, did cross a line with the Palestinian Papers story — one that may be impossible to step back over.

Let’s no longer pretend that the Guardian supports a two-state solution. This week its editorial board aligned itself with the views of Hamas. Its columnists have called on Palestinians to rise up against the Palestinian Authority leaders. And, perhaps most shameful, it printed a cartoon of PA President Mahmoud Abbas dressed up like an Orthodox Jew — drawn by cartoonist Carlos Latuff, known for his viciously anti-Israel work.

“The Guardian crossed a line this week. It has not practised journalism but rather hardcore political activism, playing with people’s lives,” the Chronicle concluded.

The Chronicle’s editors are correct in their condemnation. Other Jewish organizations concerned about anti-Semitic incitement would be smart to follow their lead.

The Jewish Chronicle, a highly influential newspaper among the British Jewish community, published a surprisingly hard-hitting editorial today slamming the Guardian for its coverage of the Palestinian Papers controversy.

“There is nothing, of itself, wrong with the Guardian publishing its scoop; all serious newspapers relish scoops,” wrote the Chronicle, in reference to the Guardian‘s collaborating with Al Jazeera to break the Palestinian Papers story. “What is very wrong is the way the paper chose to present its story: the distortions, the bias, the agenda, the spin and the breathtaking arrogance of its handing down instructions to the Palestinians of how they should behave.”

The Guardian and Al Jazeera have been criticized for heavily spinning the story: taking quotes out of context, printing misleading claims, and leaving out information that might contradict a preconceived narrative.

But that’s nothing new for the Guardian, especially when it comes to its obsessive and highly tendentious coverage of Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s editorial section, however, did cross a line with the Palestinian Papers story — one that may be impossible to step back over.

Let’s no longer pretend that the Guardian supports a two-state solution. This week its editorial board aligned itself with the views of Hamas. Its columnists have called on Palestinians to rise up against the Palestinian Authority leaders. And, perhaps most shameful, it printed a cartoon of PA President Mahmoud Abbas dressed up like an Orthodox Jew — drawn by cartoonist Carlos Latuff, known for his viciously anti-Israel work.

“The Guardian crossed a line this week. It has not practised journalism but rather hardcore political activism, playing with people’s lives,” the Chronicle concluded.

The Chronicle’s editors are correct in their condemnation. Other Jewish organizations concerned about anti-Semitic incitement would be smart to follow their lead.

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Is This the End for the Palestinian Authority Leadership?

As more Palestinian Papers continue to leak out, the Jerusalem Post is reporting this morning that Hamas has called on Palestinians to protest the alleged “concessions” the PA offered to Israel.

Hamas’s incitement is no surprise. Since yesterday, Al Jazeera has reported that the PA offered the Israelis many of the settlements and admitted that the “right of return” was impractical. And tomorrow, the news network has indicated it will be broadcasting a story on the PA’s alleged collaboration with the Israeli security forces.

Jerusalem Post columnist Khaled Abu Toameh writes that the manner in which Al Jazeera has covered the papers is the equivalent of a show trial.

“In other words, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men have been convicted of high treason — which, in the Arab and Islamic world, is a crime punishable by death,” he wrote. “Al-Jazeera is now waiting for the executioner (the Palestinians, in this case) to carry out the death sentence.”

That seems like a very possible fallout from the papers. While PA leaders claim that the documents are inaccurate, they have little ammunition to fight back against Al Jazeera’s reporting. Al Jazeera is a widely respected news outlet in the Arab world; in comparison, Mahmoud Abbas’s government was already viewed suspiciously by many Palestinians.

Toameh sees this as the beginning of the end for the current West Bank government:

It’s hard to see how, in light of this damning verdict, the PA will be able to salvage what’s left of its credibility. Al- Jazeera has succeeded in instilling in the minds of many Palestinians and Arabs the belief that the leaders of the PA are a bunch of corrupt traitors who serve Israeli and American interests.

The damage to the PA’s image and reputation is colossal and irreparable.

Maybe not irreparable, but it’s very hard to see how the already unstable PA will be able to survive this one.

As more Palestinian Papers continue to leak out, the Jerusalem Post is reporting this morning that Hamas has called on Palestinians to protest the alleged “concessions” the PA offered to Israel.

Hamas’s incitement is no surprise. Since yesterday, Al Jazeera has reported that the PA offered the Israelis many of the settlements and admitted that the “right of return” was impractical. And tomorrow, the news network has indicated it will be broadcasting a story on the PA’s alleged collaboration with the Israeli security forces.

Jerusalem Post columnist Khaled Abu Toameh writes that the manner in which Al Jazeera has covered the papers is the equivalent of a show trial.

“In other words, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his men have been convicted of high treason — which, in the Arab and Islamic world, is a crime punishable by death,” he wrote. “Al-Jazeera is now waiting for the executioner (the Palestinians, in this case) to carry out the death sentence.”

That seems like a very possible fallout from the papers. While PA leaders claim that the documents are inaccurate, they have little ammunition to fight back against Al Jazeera’s reporting. Al Jazeera is a widely respected news outlet in the Arab world; in comparison, Mahmoud Abbas’s government was already viewed suspiciously by many Palestinians.

Toameh sees this as the beginning of the end for the current West Bank government:

It’s hard to see how, in light of this damning verdict, the PA will be able to salvage what’s left of its credibility. Al- Jazeera has succeeded in instilling in the minds of many Palestinians and Arabs the belief that the leaders of the PA are a bunch of corrupt traitors who serve Israeli and American interests.

The damage to the PA’s image and reputation is colossal and irreparable.

Maybe not irreparable, but it’s very hard to see how the already unstable PA will be able to survive this one.

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Palestine Papers Confirm What Israel Has Said All Along

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

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Palestinian Authority: 10 EU States to Approve Palestinian Embassies

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed yesterday that 10 European Union states have decided to upgrade their PLO missions to embassy status. He didn’t specify which countries had allegedly agreed to this (though some foreign publications have recently tossed out the names France, Spain, Greece, and Portugal as possibilities):

Around 10 EU countries are set to upgrade the status of Palestinian representative offices in their capitals in the near future, chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat declared on Sunday.

This would mean that Palestinian missions would move a step closer toward becoming embassies whose officials enjoy full diplomatic immunity. … A PA official told The Jerusalem Post that the decision to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state was designed to shift the conflict from one over ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ to one over an “occupied state with defined borders.”

There’s an air of believability to Erekat’s claim in light of Norway’s recent approval of a Palestinian embassy, but I have to admit I’m still a bit skeptical, especially since the names of the countries aren’t mentioned. For one thing, unlike the EU states, Norway isn’t a member of the Quartet that brokers peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Would EU members really want to risk the semblance of neutrality by taking steps toward the unilateral validation of Palestinian statehood? And less than a week after the EU definitively rejected Erekat’s call to recognize Palestine as a country?

Supposing Erekat’s assertion is accurate, this move seems to be more symbolic than practical: for the EU member states, it’s a way to show solidarity with the Palestinians, while delivering a public jab at Israel over settlement construction. For the Palestinian Authority, it’s pretty much a PR move, designed to build momentum for a possible UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood, as well as an easy way to get the words “Israeli occupation” peppered into the news cycle.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have some problematic consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As David Frum pointed out yesterday, this type of unilateral approach to Palestinian statehood serves only to delay the peace process:

From the beginning of the Obama administration, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate directly with Israel. Indirect discussions have stumbled along without result. Abbas has insisted he cannot talk without a settlement freeze. Then when he gets his settlement freeze, he explains he still cannot talk.

The beauty of the UN approach is that it provides a perfect excuse never to talk to Israel again.

The UN approach may never achieve anything. It may leave the Palestinian people stuck in a frustrating status quo. But anything is better than a deal that would require a Palestinian leader to acknowledge the permanence of Israel. Back in 2000, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton that signing a treaty with Israel would cost Arafat his life. Abbas seems to have reached the same conclusion.

Of course, obstructing the peace process with Israel may be exactly what Erekat is hoping for. The PA official recently wrote a column in the Guardian calling for Israel to recognize the Palestinian “right of return,” so, clearly, a two-state solution isn’t even on his radar.

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed yesterday that 10 European Union states have decided to upgrade their PLO missions to embassy status. He didn’t specify which countries had allegedly agreed to this (though some foreign publications have recently tossed out the names France, Spain, Greece, and Portugal as possibilities):

Around 10 EU countries are set to upgrade the status of Palestinian representative offices in their capitals in the near future, chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat declared on Sunday.

This would mean that Palestinian missions would move a step closer toward becoming embassies whose officials enjoy full diplomatic immunity. … A PA official told The Jerusalem Post that the decision to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state was designed to shift the conflict from one over ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ to one over an “occupied state with defined borders.”

There’s an air of believability to Erekat’s claim in light of Norway’s recent approval of a Palestinian embassy, but I have to admit I’m still a bit skeptical, especially since the names of the countries aren’t mentioned. For one thing, unlike the EU states, Norway isn’t a member of the Quartet that brokers peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Would EU members really want to risk the semblance of neutrality by taking steps toward the unilateral validation of Palestinian statehood? And less than a week after the EU definitively rejected Erekat’s call to recognize Palestine as a country?

Supposing Erekat’s assertion is accurate, this move seems to be more symbolic than practical: for the EU member states, it’s a way to show solidarity with the Palestinians, while delivering a public jab at Israel over settlement construction. For the Palestinian Authority, it’s pretty much a PR move, designed to build momentum for a possible UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood, as well as an easy way to get the words “Israeli occupation” peppered into the news cycle.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have some problematic consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As David Frum pointed out yesterday, this type of unilateral approach to Palestinian statehood serves only to delay the peace process:

From the beginning of the Obama administration, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate directly with Israel. Indirect discussions have stumbled along without result. Abbas has insisted he cannot talk without a settlement freeze. Then when he gets his settlement freeze, he explains he still cannot talk.

The beauty of the UN approach is that it provides a perfect excuse never to talk to Israel again.

The UN approach may never achieve anything. It may leave the Palestinian people stuck in a frustrating status quo. But anything is better than a deal that would require a Palestinian leader to acknowledge the permanence of Israel. Back in 2000, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton that signing a treaty with Israel would cost Arafat his life. Abbas seems to have reached the same conclusion.

Of course, obstructing the peace process with Israel may be exactly what Erekat is hoping for. The PA official recently wrote a column in the Guardian calling for Israel to recognize the Palestinian “right of return,” so, clearly, a two-state solution isn’t even on his radar.

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Or He Could Hold His Breath Until He Faints

The Palestinian leadership in all its majesty:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas informed U.S. envoy George Mitchell last week that the renewal of settlement construction will not only bring about the collapse of peace talks but it will also induce his resignation from the post of Palestinian Authority president.

According to Palestinian sources close to the PA leadership, Abbas told Mitchell of his plans during their last meeting together.

Abbas’s resignation means the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, since it was agreed inside the government that no one from the leadership of Fatah will step up to replace Abbas as president, and no new elections will be held.

In a conversation he held last week in his plane with a reporter, Abbas said “this is the last time that you will fly with me while I am president of the PA.”

Goodness knows how Mitchell responded. But this sort of negotiation by temper tantrum places the entire “peace process” in perfect perspective. For 60 years the Palestinians have been playing the rejectionist, victim card. They figured they had the perfect “mark” in Obama and his hapless crew. In a sense, they were right; never have we had a president so susceptible to Palestinian bluster and so willing to heed their refrain of victimology. But those nettlesome Jews are having none of it. They’ve grown weary of the gamesmanship, have learned the futility of land for not-peace, and have figured out that Abbas not going to quit (And lose his invitations to European capitals? Perish the thought!), nor is he going to recognize the Jewish state.

So Abbas can return or not. Quit or not. I hope the Obami now fully appreciate the infantile leadership they have been coddling. And, by the way, why hasn’t George Mitchell threatened to quit?

The Palestinian leadership in all its majesty:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas informed U.S. envoy George Mitchell last week that the renewal of settlement construction will not only bring about the collapse of peace talks but it will also induce his resignation from the post of Palestinian Authority president.

According to Palestinian sources close to the PA leadership, Abbas told Mitchell of his plans during their last meeting together.

Abbas’s resignation means the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, since it was agreed inside the government that no one from the leadership of Fatah will step up to replace Abbas as president, and no new elections will be held.

In a conversation he held last week in his plane with a reporter, Abbas said “this is the last time that you will fly with me while I am president of the PA.”

Goodness knows how Mitchell responded. But this sort of negotiation by temper tantrum places the entire “peace process” in perfect perspective. For 60 years the Palestinians have been playing the rejectionist, victim card. They figured they had the perfect “mark” in Obama and his hapless crew. In a sense, they were right; never have we had a president so susceptible to Palestinian bluster and so willing to heed their refrain of victimology. But those nettlesome Jews are having none of it. They’ve grown weary of the gamesmanship, have learned the futility of land for not-peace, and have figured out that Abbas not going to quit (And lose his invitations to European capitals? Perish the thought!), nor is he going to recognize the Jewish state.

So Abbas can return or not. Quit or not. I hope the Obami now fully appreciate the infantile leadership they have been coddling. And, by the way, why hasn’t George Mitchell threatened to quit?

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Has Liberal Washington Figured Out the Palestinians?

During the course of his first year and a half in office, President Barack Obama demonstrated time and again that he was not shy about placing pressure on Israel. Having picked fights with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the West Bank soon after both men assumed their posts in 2009, and then again in 2010, over a housing start in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph Biden, Obama’s antipathy for the Israeli government is well established. But in spite of this, something interesting is happening in Washington as the peace talks promoted by Obama have foundered on the question of whether Israel will agree to renew a freeze on settlements as a precondition for the Palestinians’ continued presence at the table: Israel isn’t being blamed for the mess.

Some in the administration and even the established media have stumbled upon the fact that, as Ben Smith wrote yesterday in Politico, the problem is “the Palestinian insistence that one issue — settlements — be resolved before talks can begin.” This means that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now feeling some of the heat reserved last year for Netanyahu, and facing the prospect that if he fulfills his promise to withdraw from talks, he will bear the full blame for their collapse.” Smith even quotes Palestinian propagandist Hussein Ibish as admitting that the “onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away.”

Previous negotiations have always foundered on the Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer, since in 2000 and again in 2008 their leaders refused Israeli offers of a state and territory that included most of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Given the importance that Obama has put on this latest round of talks, which he has promoted, it was crucial for Abbas to see to it that the talks’ eventual failure (since fail they must, as Abbas knows he cannot sell even the most generous peace accord to his followers or his Hamas rivals) would be credited to Netanyahu, who was already disliked by the administration. But Abbas’s attempt to scuttle Obama’s show by not engaging in talks until the last weeks before the settlement freeze was ready to expire has apparently backfired. Though Abbas was probably confident that he could outmaneuver Netanyahu, he has failed, and as Smith says, the “arrow” indicating blame is now pointing to Abbas. As disliked as Netanyahu may be by both the Washington media and the White House, it is now more than obvious even in those quarters that whether or not the PA president walks out of the talks, Abbas has little interest in good-faith negotiations.

Just as important is that the tilt in the blame game illustrates the utter bankruptcy of the attempts by the left-wing J Street lobby to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government and undermine its base of support in Congress and among American Jews.

There are many reasons for the Soros-funded group’s failure, such as its lack of a viable constituency and the deft maneuvering of Netanyahu, which enabled him to weather a period of insult and pressure from Obama while maintaining a solid base of support at home. But most of all, J Street’s failure must be credited to the Palestinians, whose insincerity and fundamental inability to make peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders may be drawn, renders the leftist group’s agenda of pressure on Israel pointless.

During the course of his first year and a half in office, President Barack Obama demonstrated time and again that he was not shy about placing pressure on Israel. Having picked fights with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over Jewish settlements in the West Bank soon after both men assumed their posts in 2009, and then again in 2010, over a housing start in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph Biden, Obama’s antipathy for the Israeli government is well established. But in spite of this, something interesting is happening in Washington as the peace talks promoted by Obama have foundered on the question of whether Israel will agree to renew a freeze on settlements as a precondition for the Palestinians’ continued presence at the table: Israel isn’t being blamed for the mess.

Some in the administration and even the established media have stumbled upon the fact that, as Ben Smith wrote yesterday in Politico, the problem is “the Palestinian insistence that one issue — settlements — be resolved before talks can begin.” This means that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is now feeling some of the heat reserved last year for Netanyahu, and facing the prospect that if he fulfills his promise to withdraw from talks, he will bear the full blame for their collapse.” Smith even quotes Palestinian propagandist Hussein Ibish as admitting that the “onus is on the Palestinians not to walk away.”

Previous negotiations have always foundered on the Palestinians’ refusal to take yes for an answer, since in 2000 and again in 2008 their leaders refused Israeli offers of a state and territory that included most of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Given the importance that Obama has put on this latest round of talks, which he has promoted, it was crucial for Abbas to see to it that the talks’ eventual failure (since fail they must, as Abbas knows he cannot sell even the most generous peace accord to his followers or his Hamas rivals) would be credited to Netanyahu, who was already disliked by the administration. But Abbas’s attempt to scuttle Obama’s show by not engaging in talks until the last weeks before the settlement freeze was ready to expire has apparently backfired. Though Abbas was probably confident that he could outmaneuver Netanyahu, he has failed, and as Smith says, the “arrow” indicating blame is now pointing to Abbas. As disliked as Netanyahu may be by both the Washington media and the White House, it is now more than obvious even in those quarters that whether or not the PA president walks out of the talks, Abbas has little interest in good-faith negotiations.

Just as important is that the tilt in the blame game illustrates the utter bankruptcy of the attempts by the left-wing J Street lobby to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government and undermine its base of support in Congress and among American Jews.

There are many reasons for the Soros-funded group’s failure, such as its lack of a viable constituency and the deft maneuvering of Netanyahu, which enabled him to weather a period of insult and pressure from Obama while maintaining a solid base of support at home. But most of all, J Street’s failure must be credited to the Palestinians, whose insincerity and fundamental inability to make peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders may be drawn, renders the leftist group’s agenda of pressure on Israel pointless.

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The Same Mistake

Even Richard Cohen has figured out that it is not Bibi’s intransigence but Obama’s incompetence that is at the root of the non-peace-talks impasse. He writes:

Obama ought to confer with someone who knows the region — and listen to him or her. Trouble is, many experts have told him that his emphasis on settlements was the wrong way to go. As late as last week and the succession of meetings held at the United Nations, it was clear that Netanyahu would not ask his Cabinet to extend the settlement freeze. Yet not only did the White House reject this warning, the president repeated his call for a freeze. “Our position on this issue is well-known,” Obama told the U.N. General Assembly. “We believe that the moratorium should be extended.” Well, it wasn’t. …

The Obama approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem has been counterproductive. Either the Palestinians have to back down from their — even more importantly, Obama’s — insistence that all settlements be frozen in place or Netanyahu has to back down from his pledge that any moratorium would be temporary. Either Abbas or Netanyahu has to lose credibility and neither man can afford to. They are not mere negotiators; they are heads of government.

Obama, too, has to husband his credibility. He foolishly demanded something Israel could not yet give.

It is not as if this is a new mistake — it is the same one Obama and his “smart” diplomats have made from the onset of his term. The fixation on settlements remains. “From the very start, the president has taken a very hard line against settlements, refusing to distinguish between an apartment in Jerusalem and a hilltop encampment deep in the West Bank. He also seems not to understand their religious, cultural or historical importance to some Jews.”

The pattern repeats itself — Obama beats up on Israel, fails to deliver concessions to the PA,  and then commences begging with the parties not to break off talks and embarrass the U.S. president. Granted, Abbas is no Anwar Sadat, but Obama has made both himself and the PA president look weak and ineffective.

And we shouldn’t forget that we are not remotely close to a peace deal. For the Obami, it is a Herculean task just to keep everyone in the room. It doesn’t fill you with confidence, does it?

Even Richard Cohen has figured out that it is not Bibi’s intransigence but Obama’s incompetence that is at the root of the non-peace-talks impasse. He writes:

Obama ought to confer with someone who knows the region — and listen to him or her. Trouble is, many experts have told him that his emphasis on settlements was the wrong way to go. As late as last week and the succession of meetings held at the United Nations, it was clear that Netanyahu would not ask his Cabinet to extend the settlement freeze. Yet not only did the White House reject this warning, the president repeated his call for a freeze. “Our position on this issue is well-known,” Obama told the U.N. General Assembly. “We believe that the moratorium should be extended.” Well, it wasn’t. …

The Obama approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem has been counterproductive. Either the Palestinians have to back down from their — even more importantly, Obama’s — insistence that all settlements be frozen in place or Netanyahu has to back down from his pledge that any moratorium would be temporary. Either Abbas or Netanyahu has to lose credibility and neither man can afford to. They are not mere negotiators; they are heads of government.

Obama, too, has to husband his credibility. He foolishly demanded something Israel could not yet give.

It is not as if this is a new mistake — it is the same one Obama and his “smart” diplomats have made from the onset of his term. The fixation on settlements remains. “From the very start, the president has taken a very hard line against settlements, refusing to distinguish between an apartment in Jerusalem and a hilltop encampment deep in the West Bank. He also seems not to understand their religious, cultural or historical importance to some Jews.”

The pattern repeats itself — Obama beats up on Israel, fails to deliver concessions to the PA,  and then commences begging with the parties not to break off talks and embarrass the U.S. president. Granted, Abbas is no Anwar Sadat, but Obama has made both himself and the PA president look weak and ineffective.

And we shouldn’t forget that we are not remotely close to a peace deal. For the Obami, it is a Herculean task just to keep everyone in the room. It doesn’t fill you with confidence, does it?

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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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The Consequences of Clinton’s Expectations Game

Hillary Clinton’s happy talk about Middle East peace has become part of the soundtrack of the peace talks the administration has orchestrated. Both before and during her drop-in at Sharm el-Sheik, the secretary of state has exuded optimism about the American push for a renewal of a Jewish settlement freeze and the continuance of the negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The rhetoric from the Americans has been largely devoted, as Jennifer noted, to direct pressure on the Israelis to make concessions, while demands on the Palestinians remain amorphous. But this imbalance in pressure is just part of the problem. The raising of expectations about peace arriving within another year (as Obama’s envoy George Mitchell keeps telling the press) may have negative consequences that neither Obama nor Clinton is prepared to face.

Given the realities of Palestinian politics, both parties to the talks know very well that the chances of an agreement on final-status issues are slim and none. With his Hamas rivals in control of Gaza and threatening him in the West Bank (where he maintains control only with the help of Israel), Abbas is in no position to make any move to advance peace. Meanwhile Netanyahu is getting beat up by the Israeli right for being weak in the face of American pressure. He may not wish to make concessions on settlements or borders that will compromise his country’s security and be considered irretrievably ceded to the Arabs no matter the outcome of the talks if there is little likelihood that the Palestinians will declare a complete end to their 62-year-old war to destroy Israel. But he also doesn’t want to be blamed for the collapse of the talks when he knows that sooner or later Abbas will bolt.

However long Clinton and Mitchell force Abbas and Netanyahu to dance with each other, at some point the music is going to stop, and when it does, the Americans will have little to show for this latest attempt to persuade Abbas to do what he knows he cannot do. (It was, after all, Abbas who turned down a Palestinian state only two years ago, when Ehud Olmert offered him the same deal Obama is talking about now.) At that point, the pressure on PA president to initiate a campaign of terror against the Israelis in an effort to compete with Hamas for Palestinian popularity may be irresistible. By building up hopes for peace when the foundation for a lasting agreement doesn’t exist, what Obama and Clinton may be generating is a repeat of the aftermath of Camp David 2000, when Israel said yes and Yasir Arafat said no to a deal very much along the lines that the peace processors claim they want now. Anyone who thinks another intifada is out of the question need only read the statements emanating from Hamas this week. As the New York Times reported this afternoon:

The commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza, issued a harsh statement against the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying that Hamas remained committed to “liberating” Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, meaning both Israel itself and the West Bank it occupies. In a letter marking the end of the month of Ramadan, the Hamas military commander, Ahmad Al-Jaabari, said the path of jihad and resistance is the only way forward “until victory or martyrdom.” He criticized the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Abbas for negotiating “with the Zionist enemy.”

While the Americans may pretend that just a few more concessions from Netanyahu will do the trick, the specter of Hamas and a renewal of Palestinian violence remains the real obstacle to peace. Clinton’s sparkling optimism about the magic of diplomacy may be setting the stage for yet more bloodshed.

Hillary Clinton’s happy talk about Middle East peace has become part of the soundtrack of the peace talks the administration has orchestrated. Both before and during her drop-in at Sharm el-Sheik, the secretary of state has exuded optimism about the American push for a renewal of a Jewish settlement freeze and the continuance of the negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The rhetoric from the Americans has been largely devoted, as Jennifer noted, to direct pressure on the Israelis to make concessions, while demands on the Palestinians remain amorphous. But this imbalance in pressure is just part of the problem. The raising of expectations about peace arriving within another year (as Obama’s envoy George Mitchell keeps telling the press) may have negative consequences that neither Obama nor Clinton is prepared to face.

Given the realities of Palestinian politics, both parties to the talks know very well that the chances of an agreement on final-status issues are slim and none. With his Hamas rivals in control of Gaza and threatening him in the West Bank (where he maintains control only with the help of Israel), Abbas is in no position to make any move to advance peace. Meanwhile Netanyahu is getting beat up by the Israeli right for being weak in the face of American pressure. He may not wish to make concessions on settlements or borders that will compromise his country’s security and be considered irretrievably ceded to the Arabs no matter the outcome of the talks if there is little likelihood that the Palestinians will declare a complete end to their 62-year-old war to destroy Israel. But he also doesn’t want to be blamed for the collapse of the talks when he knows that sooner or later Abbas will bolt.

However long Clinton and Mitchell force Abbas and Netanyahu to dance with each other, at some point the music is going to stop, and when it does, the Americans will have little to show for this latest attempt to persuade Abbas to do what he knows he cannot do. (It was, after all, Abbas who turned down a Palestinian state only two years ago, when Ehud Olmert offered him the same deal Obama is talking about now.) At that point, the pressure on PA president to initiate a campaign of terror against the Israelis in an effort to compete with Hamas for Palestinian popularity may be irresistible. By building up hopes for peace when the foundation for a lasting agreement doesn’t exist, what Obama and Clinton may be generating is a repeat of the aftermath of Camp David 2000, when Israel said yes and Yasir Arafat said no to a deal very much along the lines that the peace processors claim they want now. Anyone who thinks another intifada is out of the question need only read the statements emanating from Hamas this week. As the New York Times reported this afternoon:

The commander of the military wing of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza, issued a harsh statement against the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying that Hamas remained committed to “liberating” Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, meaning both Israel itself and the West Bank it occupies. In a letter marking the end of the month of Ramadan, the Hamas military commander, Ahmad Al-Jaabari, said the path of jihad and resistance is the only way forward “until victory or martyrdom.” He criticized the Palestinian Authority under Mr. Abbas for negotiating “with the Zionist enemy.”

While the Americans may pretend that just a few more concessions from Netanyahu will do the trick, the specter of Hamas and a renewal of Palestinian violence remains the real obstacle to peace. Clinton’s sparkling optimism about the magic of diplomacy may be setting the stage for yet more bloodshed.

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RE: Why There Is No Peace

Bibi is indeed coming under pressure to halt the peace-talks charade. The Jerusalem Post reports:

“The terror attack near Kiryat Arba is a reminder to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who his partners are,” said MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union). “The Likud government’s negotiations with the terrorist Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) are an energy boost to murderousness and terror. The blood of those harmed is upon the head of the Likud government.”

MK Uri Ariel  (National Union) called on Netanyahu to freeze the nascent negotiations slated to begin on Thursday in Washington. “Now it is clear – the most violent period is when there are negotiations. Netanyahu must immediately freeze the talks and concentrate on promising peace for Israeli civilians.” …

Everyone who in recent months was a partner to the myth that Abu Mazen controlled the field must come to their senses and immediately suspend the activities to strengthen the Palestinian army that is being established with American assistance,” said [MK Aryeh] Eldad. “Such a body is not capable of effectively combating Hamas, and we should not be surprised if its weapons are directed against us.”

Other officials were “more ambiguous,” and still others insisted that this showed how vital talks are. (The same nonsense emanated from our own State Department.)

Meanwhile, the Simon Wiesenthal Center put out a tough-minded statement:

“Far from being ‘senseless’, these cold blooded execution style Hamas murders underscore the reality that PA President Abbas does not fully control Palestinian territories,” said Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, who are respectively the  Founder and Dean and Associate Dean of the international Jewish human rights NGO. “Hamas is exercising its murderous veto power over any proposed peaceful solution two-state solution, and as long the Palestinian people back them, they will never have peace,” they added.

“Today’s murders prove that the peace talks in Washington will go nowhere until the world stops demanding that Israel make ‘more painful concessions for peace’ and instead focus on how to defang and oust Hamas from power,” Rabbi Hier and Rabbi Cooper concluded.

So now we have a test. Where is the condemnation from CAIR and from Imam Rauf? Now would be the time to prove their alleged “moderate” bona fides. But more important, where is the statement – in Arabic — from Mahmoud Abbas declaring that the terrorist acts are contrary to the interests of the Palestinian people and calling for a complete cessation of all violence? That would seem to be the first order of business at the peace talks. Because you can’t have peace when one side is still killing. And you will hear that, oh, that was Hamas and Abbas can’t control them. Well then what, pray tell, is the point of a “peace agreement”?

It would be a fine idea if Bibi did return for the funerals — not cancel the talks, but emphasize that the safety of his citizens is his highest priority. If he doesn’t make that crystal clear, why should others take him seriously?

Bibi is indeed coming under pressure to halt the peace-talks charade. The Jerusalem Post reports:

“The terror attack near Kiryat Arba is a reminder to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who his partners are,” said MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union). “The Likud government’s negotiations with the terrorist Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) are an energy boost to murderousness and terror. The blood of those harmed is upon the head of the Likud government.”

MK Uri Ariel  (National Union) called on Netanyahu to freeze the nascent negotiations slated to begin on Thursday in Washington. “Now it is clear – the most violent period is when there are negotiations. Netanyahu must immediately freeze the talks and concentrate on promising peace for Israeli civilians.” …

Everyone who in recent months was a partner to the myth that Abu Mazen controlled the field must come to their senses and immediately suspend the activities to strengthen the Palestinian army that is being established with American assistance,” said [MK Aryeh] Eldad. “Such a body is not capable of effectively combating Hamas, and we should not be surprised if its weapons are directed against us.”

Other officials were “more ambiguous,” and still others insisted that this showed how vital talks are. (The same nonsense emanated from our own State Department.)

Meanwhile, the Simon Wiesenthal Center put out a tough-minded statement:

“Far from being ‘senseless’, these cold blooded execution style Hamas murders underscore the reality that PA President Abbas does not fully control Palestinian territories,” said Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, who are respectively the  Founder and Dean and Associate Dean of the international Jewish human rights NGO. “Hamas is exercising its murderous veto power over any proposed peaceful solution two-state solution, and as long the Palestinian people back them, they will never have peace,” they added.

“Today’s murders prove that the peace talks in Washington will go nowhere until the world stops demanding that Israel make ‘more painful concessions for peace’ and instead focus on how to defang and oust Hamas from power,” Rabbi Hier and Rabbi Cooper concluded.

So now we have a test. Where is the condemnation from CAIR and from Imam Rauf? Now would be the time to prove their alleged “moderate” bona fides. But more important, where is the statement – in Arabic — from Mahmoud Abbas declaring that the terrorist acts are contrary to the interests of the Palestinian people and calling for a complete cessation of all violence? That would seem to be the first order of business at the peace talks. Because you can’t have peace when one side is still killing. And you will hear that, oh, that was Hamas and Abbas can’t control them. Well then what, pray tell, is the point of a “peace agreement”?

It would be a fine idea if Bibi did return for the funerals — not cancel the talks, but emphasize that the safety of his citizens is his highest priority. If he doesn’t make that crystal clear, why should others take him seriously?

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Abbas Miffed at Obama

Mahmoud Abbas is grousing that Obama is being “unclear” with him on future peace talks. That’s rich. The man who has a hundred and one excuses for avoiding direct talks and who says he’s not inciting violence (What — the square named after a murderer? A heartfelt eulogy for the mastermind of the 1972 massacre of the Israeli Olympic athletes? Oh that?) now does not appreciate getting imprecise answers. This report explains:

Abbas was speaking during a closed meeting of members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah.

Abbas was quoted by some Fatah operatives as saying that Egypt and Jordan supported the PA’s refusal to move to direct talks unless progress is first achieved on the issues of security and the future borders of a Palestinian state.

“We can’t go to direct negotiations like blind people,” Abbas was quoted as saying.

“We can’t enter direct negotiations without clarity.”

Abbas complained that Obama recently sent him an oral message urging him to launch direct negotiations with Israel unconditionally.

According to the PA president, Obama’s message was “unclear and ambiguous.”

Abbas was quoted as saying: “With all due respect to the American president, his message was not clear. We want to clear answers to questions we presented to the Americans, especially regarding security, borders and the status of Jerusalem. We continue to insist that any negotiations with Israel be based on recognition of 1967 as the future borders of the Palestinian state.”

Abbas said that the US administration has also failed to give the Palestinians a clear answer with regard to Israel’s policy of settlement construction.

Upon closer examination, it is not “clarity” he is seeking but rather Israel on a platter, served up by Obama. He wants the terms set — “clear” — before he arrives for the signing ceremony. He doesn’t like being told, after 18 months of evading and dodging Bibi’s offer of direct negotiations, that he needs to get in the room with the representatives of the state he will be expected to recognize.

This is one more snub, of course, of Obama, who gave Abbas a nice Oval Office visit and pledged to move the parties to direct negotiations. After a year of suck-uppery to the Palestinians and trying everything he could think of to make Israel cough up more and more concessions, the president’s “peace process” is nowhere. It turns out that the Palestinians really don’t want to make a deal. Who knew? Well, apparently everyone but the White House and the liberal punditocracy. In the meantime, damage has been done to the U.S.-Israeli relationship, the delegitimizers in international bodies have grown more confident, and Iran inches ever closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Really, losing his Palestinian fan club is the least of Obama’s failures.

Mahmoud Abbas is grousing that Obama is being “unclear” with him on future peace talks. That’s rich. The man who has a hundred and one excuses for avoiding direct talks and who says he’s not inciting violence (What — the square named after a murderer? A heartfelt eulogy for the mastermind of the 1972 massacre of the Israeli Olympic athletes? Oh that?) now does not appreciate getting imprecise answers. This report explains:

Abbas was speaking during a closed meeting of members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah.

Abbas was quoted by some Fatah operatives as saying that Egypt and Jordan supported the PA’s refusal to move to direct talks unless progress is first achieved on the issues of security and the future borders of a Palestinian state.

“We can’t go to direct negotiations like blind people,” Abbas was quoted as saying.

“We can’t enter direct negotiations without clarity.”

Abbas complained that Obama recently sent him an oral message urging him to launch direct negotiations with Israel unconditionally.

According to the PA president, Obama’s message was “unclear and ambiguous.”

Abbas was quoted as saying: “With all due respect to the American president, his message was not clear. We want to clear answers to questions we presented to the Americans, especially regarding security, borders and the status of Jerusalem. We continue to insist that any negotiations with Israel be based on recognition of 1967 as the future borders of the Palestinian state.”

Abbas said that the US administration has also failed to give the Palestinians a clear answer with regard to Israel’s policy of settlement construction.

Upon closer examination, it is not “clarity” he is seeking but rather Israel on a platter, served up by Obama. He wants the terms set — “clear” — before he arrives for the signing ceremony. He doesn’t like being told, after 18 months of evading and dodging Bibi’s offer of direct negotiations, that he needs to get in the room with the representatives of the state he will be expected to recognize.

This is one more snub, of course, of Obama, who gave Abbas a nice Oval Office visit and pledged to move the parties to direct negotiations. After a year of suck-uppery to the Palestinians and trying everything he could think of to make Israel cough up more and more concessions, the president’s “peace process” is nowhere. It turns out that the Palestinians really don’t want to make a deal. Who knew? Well, apparently everyone but the White House and the liberal punditocracy. In the meantime, damage has been done to the U.S.-Israeli relationship, the delegitimizers in international bodies have grown more confident, and Iran inches ever closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Really, losing his Palestinian fan club is the least of Obama’s failures.

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No Shortage of ‘Barbarians’ to Oppose Peace

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

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Lieberman’s Truthful Indiscretion

Avigdor Lieberman is in trouble again. The Israeli foreign minister was quoted at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, as saying that he thought there was “absolutely no chance of reaching a Palestinian state by 2012.” Those words were enough to inspire the New York Times to predict that Lieberman’s remarks could “further strain peace efforts.” As the Times helpfully pointed out, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said his goal is to be ready to set up a functioning state by the start of 2012. PA President Mahmoud Abbas tried to win Brownie points with Washington (which has been trying to convene peace talks) by countering that, unlike Lieberman, he still believed in the peace process.

Lieberman is well known for what critics have always considered a thuggish personality and the fact that his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has insulated the Yisrael Beiteinu Party head from all important foreign-policy decisions, especially anything having to do with the United States. There is little doubt that Lieberman is as undiplomatic a foreign-policy spokesman as any country could have. But he was speaking the unvarnished truth when he scoffed at the notion that peace and a Palestinian state would arrive by 2012.

But contrary to the assumptions of Israel’s critics, the reason for this has nothing to do with the “hard-line” nature of the government in which Netanyahu and Lieberman serve. Both have expressed their willingness to accept a two-state solution. The problem is that Abbas and Fayyad, those alleged peace optimists, have no intention of signing a peace deal with Israel no matter how many concessions on land or any other issue Netanyahu and Lieberman are prepared to make.

The extent of the disingenuousness of this discussion, in which Israel is blamed for the dim prospects for peace, cannot be overestimated. Had the PA’s goal been simply to have a state alongside Israel, there would have been no need to wait for 2012. Unmentioned in the account of Lieberman’s gaffe is the fact that in 2008, Abbas and Fayyad rejected Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state that would have included virtually all the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. Their predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected similar offers in 2000 and 2001. These refusals made it clear that the dynamic of Palestinian political culture made any peace agreement, no matter where the borders were drawn, impossible as long as it required the Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

The current situation finds Abbas and Fayyad afraid to anger the Palestinian street by making such a pledge and unwilling even to negotiate directly with Israel. At the same time, the Islamists of Hamas are not only still firmly in control of Gaza but the international isolation of their terror regime is also breaking down in the wake of the aid flotilla incident, a development that weakens Abbas. Under these circumstances, it is hard to see how any serious person could possibly believe that peace efforts have any sort of chance no matter what concessions might be dragged out of the Israelis by the Obama administration. But rather than face these unpleasant facts, it’s much easier to blame it all on Lieberman and Israel.

Avigdor Lieberman is in trouble again. The Israeli foreign minister was quoted at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, as saying that he thought there was “absolutely no chance of reaching a Palestinian state by 2012.” Those words were enough to inspire the New York Times to predict that Lieberman’s remarks could “further strain peace efforts.” As the Times helpfully pointed out, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said his goal is to be ready to set up a functioning state by the start of 2012. PA President Mahmoud Abbas tried to win Brownie points with Washington (which has been trying to convene peace talks) by countering that, unlike Lieberman, he still believed in the peace process.

Lieberman is well known for what critics have always considered a thuggish personality and the fact that his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has insulated the Yisrael Beiteinu Party head from all important foreign-policy decisions, especially anything having to do with the United States. There is little doubt that Lieberman is as undiplomatic a foreign-policy spokesman as any country could have. But he was speaking the unvarnished truth when he scoffed at the notion that peace and a Palestinian state would arrive by 2012.

But contrary to the assumptions of Israel’s critics, the reason for this has nothing to do with the “hard-line” nature of the government in which Netanyahu and Lieberman serve. Both have expressed their willingness to accept a two-state solution. The problem is that Abbas and Fayyad, those alleged peace optimists, have no intention of signing a peace deal with Israel no matter how many concessions on land or any other issue Netanyahu and Lieberman are prepared to make.

The extent of the disingenuousness of this discussion, in which Israel is blamed for the dim prospects for peace, cannot be overestimated. Had the PA’s goal been simply to have a state alongside Israel, there would have been no need to wait for 2012. Unmentioned in the account of Lieberman’s gaffe is the fact that in 2008, Abbas and Fayyad rejected Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state that would have included virtually all the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. Their predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected similar offers in 2000 and 2001. These refusals made it clear that the dynamic of Palestinian political culture made any peace agreement, no matter where the borders were drawn, impossible as long as it required the Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

The current situation finds Abbas and Fayyad afraid to anger the Palestinian street by making such a pledge and unwilling even to negotiate directly with Israel. At the same time, the Islamists of Hamas are not only still firmly in control of Gaza but the international isolation of their terror regime is also breaking down in the wake of the aid flotilla incident, a development that weakens Abbas. Under these circumstances, it is hard to see how any serious person could possibly believe that peace efforts have any sort of chance no matter what concessions might be dragged out of the Israelis by the Obama administration. But rather than face these unpleasant facts, it’s much easier to blame it all on Lieberman and Israel.

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West Bank Murder Puts Peace Advocacy in Perspective

In recent weeks, all the focus in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been on Gaza. So far Israel’s government, supported by the vast majority of its people, has resisted international pressure to lift the blockade of Gaza, a measure that would grant both a psychological victory to the Islamist terrorists of Hamas as well as facilitate the rearming and refortification of the region.

But while Israelis and their friends are rightly focused on preventing Hamas from resuming its rocket attacks on southern Israel, attacks on Jewish targets in the West Bank have been largely ignored. Part of the reason is that the security fence that separates the area from pre-1967 Israel has effectively halted the flow of suicide bombers. But there have been literally hundreds of incidents of shootings as well as many attacks with lethal rocks on Israeli motorists in the West Bank. Fortunately, most have not resulted in casualties. Yesterday, however, a Palestinian shooter in the Hebron area ambushed a police vehicle. The attack left one officer dead and another wounded. Interestingly, the New York Times article that reported the shooting also included some interesting information about the supposedly draconian Israeli security regime in the West Bank. Since Israel has been trying to hand over security responsibilities in the region to the Palestinian Authority’s forces, according to the left-wing group B’Tselem, which opposes Israel’s presence in the West Bank, 20 staffed security checkpoints have been closed in the past two years.

The point is, the much-lauded administration of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, tells Americans and other Westerners that they want peace with Israel. But the PA-sponsored incitement against Jews and the presence of Jews in their midst continues. Fayyad’s boycott of Israeli goods may be intended to boost his popularity, but it also feeds into the demonization of Israelis, which is the primary obstacle to lasting peace and implicitly legitimizes the Palestinian sport of taking potshots at Israeli vehicles.

Of course, there are those critics of Israel who believe that the mere presence of a Jew on the West Bank, even one just driving in a car, is sufficient provocation to justify a murderous Palestinian attack, or at least enough to rationalize such a crime. But those who feel this way should ponder the Gaza precedent.

In 2005 Israel withdrew every settlement and every soldier from Gaza, which is what Israel’s critics want it to do in the West Bank. But the result wasn’t peace but an escalation of violence across the border into Israel proper, with the evacuated territory turned into a terrorist base from which thousands of missiles were launched at Israeli towns and villages. The idea of repeating this exercise in the West Bank, which borders Israel’s main population centers, is unthinkable, but that is exactly what those who decry the “occupation” are demanding. Though the vast majority of Israelis would like nothing better to completely separate themselves from the Palestinians and would gladly accept a two-state solution, they are not prepared to allow the West Bank to turn into another Hamasistan.

Advocates for peace who reduce the situation to simplistic pieties should understand that yesterday’s shooting is a reminder of the grim reality of Palestinian hatred and violence and the unpleasant choices that face the Israeli people.

In recent weeks, all the focus in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been on Gaza. So far Israel’s government, supported by the vast majority of its people, has resisted international pressure to lift the blockade of Gaza, a measure that would grant both a psychological victory to the Islamist terrorists of Hamas as well as facilitate the rearming and refortification of the region.

But while Israelis and their friends are rightly focused on preventing Hamas from resuming its rocket attacks on southern Israel, attacks on Jewish targets in the West Bank have been largely ignored. Part of the reason is that the security fence that separates the area from pre-1967 Israel has effectively halted the flow of suicide bombers. But there have been literally hundreds of incidents of shootings as well as many attacks with lethal rocks on Israeli motorists in the West Bank. Fortunately, most have not resulted in casualties. Yesterday, however, a Palestinian shooter in the Hebron area ambushed a police vehicle. The attack left one officer dead and another wounded. Interestingly, the New York Times article that reported the shooting also included some interesting information about the supposedly draconian Israeli security regime in the West Bank. Since Israel has been trying to hand over security responsibilities in the region to the Palestinian Authority’s forces, according to the left-wing group B’Tselem, which opposes Israel’s presence in the West Bank, 20 staffed security checkpoints have been closed in the past two years.

The point is, the much-lauded administration of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, tells Americans and other Westerners that they want peace with Israel. But the PA-sponsored incitement against Jews and the presence of Jews in their midst continues. Fayyad’s boycott of Israeli goods may be intended to boost his popularity, but it also feeds into the demonization of Israelis, which is the primary obstacle to lasting peace and implicitly legitimizes the Palestinian sport of taking potshots at Israeli vehicles.

Of course, there are those critics of Israel who believe that the mere presence of a Jew on the West Bank, even one just driving in a car, is sufficient provocation to justify a murderous Palestinian attack, or at least enough to rationalize such a crime. But those who feel this way should ponder the Gaza precedent.

In 2005 Israel withdrew every settlement and every soldier from Gaza, which is what Israel’s critics want it to do in the West Bank. But the result wasn’t peace but an escalation of violence across the border into Israel proper, with the evacuated territory turned into a terrorist base from which thousands of missiles were launched at Israeli towns and villages. The idea of repeating this exercise in the West Bank, which borders Israel’s main population centers, is unthinkable, but that is exactly what those who decry the “occupation” are demanding. Though the vast majority of Israelis would like nothing better to completely separate themselves from the Palestinians and would gladly accept a two-state solution, they are not prepared to allow the West Bank to turn into another Hamasistan.

Advocates for peace who reduce the situation to simplistic pieties should understand that yesterday’s shooting is a reminder of the grim reality of Palestinian hatred and violence and the unpleasant choices that face the Israeli people.

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How Can Obama Boost Abbas While Appeasing Hamas on the Blockade?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas trooped to the White House for his promised photo op and received presidential promise of a new $400 million aid package for the West Bank and Gaza that will, the White House hopes, go to pay for improving the Palestinians’ health and infrastructure needs.

The point of the visit is clearly to give a boost to Abbas, whom both Israel and the United States consider their preferred Palestinian negotiating partner. Washington touts Abbas’s credentials as a potential peacemaker but, like his predecessor and longtime boss, arch-terrorist Yasir Arafat, the PA president has repeatedly turned down Israeli offers of statehood and peace. But because the alternative is Hamas, the radical Islamist terrorist group that controls Gaza, Abbas must be propped up as much as possible.

But by joining those pushing to have Israel weaken its blockade of Abbas’s Hamas rivals, it’s not clear that Obama is doing much to help the Fatah party leader. As the Washington Post reported, with Abbas beside him, Obama declared, “The situation in Gaza is unsustainable.” While stopping short of expressing U.S. support for lifting the blockade, Obama said that arms should be kept out while food and building materials are let in. Of course, food is already let in, and Hamas’s desire for more construction materials has more to do with a desire to rebuild and strengthen its fortifications and tunnel networks than the needs of ordinary Gazans. And Obama said nothing about how the aid he promised the Palestinians or the goods he’d like to see pass through the weakened Israeli blockade will be delivered to the people there without Hamas taking what it likes.

Though the bulk of the administration’s focus on the peace process has been on pressuring Israel, to his credit President Obama did mention that he wanted more progress from the Palestinians on both security and incitement issues. The latter is a reference to the fact that the official Palestinian media, which is under Abbas’s control, continue to incite hatred against Israel and Jews.

In reply, Abbas made the usual pleasant noises in English about peace, coexistence, and a denial that his government and media have “anything to do with that,” referring to the incitement. However, a visit to the website of Palestine Media Watch quickly illustrates the mendacity of Abbas’s White House statement.

Abbas feels he must speak out about the blockade because his constituency demands that he do so. But he knows that any substantial lifting of the sanctions on Gaza will be seen as a huge victory for Hamas. Abbas’s term as PA president expired more than a year ago, an inconvenient fact that is never mentioned by either American or Israeli officials. But there is a reason why he doesn’t dare call a new election. If he did, Hamas might soon be in control of both the West Bank and Gaza. While Washington knows this, by paying lip service to the Palestinian propaganda campaign that has sought to demonize Israel’s legal and justifiable efforts to isolate Hamas in Gaza, the president may be doing more to help Hamas than to help Abbas.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas trooped to the White House for his promised photo op and received presidential promise of a new $400 million aid package for the West Bank and Gaza that will, the White House hopes, go to pay for improving the Palestinians’ health and infrastructure needs.

The point of the visit is clearly to give a boost to Abbas, whom both Israel and the United States consider their preferred Palestinian negotiating partner. Washington touts Abbas’s credentials as a potential peacemaker but, like his predecessor and longtime boss, arch-terrorist Yasir Arafat, the PA president has repeatedly turned down Israeli offers of statehood and peace. But because the alternative is Hamas, the radical Islamist terrorist group that controls Gaza, Abbas must be propped up as much as possible.

But by joining those pushing to have Israel weaken its blockade of Abbas’s Hamas rivals, it’s not clear that Obama is doing much to help the Fatah party leader. As the Washington Post reported, with Abbas beside him, Obama declared, “The situation in Gaza is unsustainable.” While stopping short of expressing U.S. support for lifting the blockade, Obama said that arms should be kept out while food and building materials are let in. Of course, food is already let in, and Hamas’s desire for more construction materials has more to do with a desire to rebuild and strengthen its fortifications and tunnel networks than the needs of ordinary Gazans. And Obama said nothing about how the aid he promised the Palestinians or the goods he’d like to see pass through the weakened Israeli blockade will be delivered to the people there without Hamas taking what it likes.

Though the bulk of the administration’s focus on the peace process has been on pressuring Israel, to his credit President Obama did mention that he wanted more progress from the Palestinians on both security and incitement issues. The latter is a reference to the fact that the official Palestinian media, which is under Abbas’s control, continue to incite hatred against Israel and Jews.

In reply, Abbas made the usual pleasant noises in English about peace, coexistence, and a denial that his government and media have “anything to do with that,” referring to the incitement. However, a visit to the website of Palestine Media Watch quickly illustrates the mendacity of Abbas’s White House statement.

Abbas feels he must speak out about the blockade because his constituency demands that he do so. But he knows that any substantial lifting of the sanctions on Gaza will be seen as a huge victory for Hamas. Abbas’s term as PA president expired more than a year ago, an inconvenient fact that is never mentioned by either American or Israeli officials. But there is a reason why he doesn’t dare call a new election. If he did, Hamas might soon be in control of both the West Bank and Gaza. While Washington knows this, by paying lip service to the Palestinian propaganda campaign that has sought to demonize Israel’s legal and justifiable efforts to isolate Hamas in Gaza, the president may be doing more to help Hamas than to help Abbas.

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Peace Plans and Palestinian Politics

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

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Here We Go Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Back to the Future

A year into the Obama administration, a pattern has been established for public diplomacy with Israel versus the Palestinians. For Israel, the administration airs an ongoing series of petty complaints, most of which relate to housing construction in Obama-disapproved neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Such construction is hurting the peace process, intones Robert Gibbs; it prevents the recommencement of negotiations and is inconsistent with the Road Map, he laments.

Even defensive IDF operations, such as the one last week that eliminated three Fatah murderers, are now reason for public finger-wagging from the administration and requests for “clarification.” This was done on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. There indeed should have been a request for clarification, but it should have been directed at the PA, given the fact that the terrorists in question were on the payroll of the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party, Fatah.

By contrast, the administration has been indifferent to Palestinian terrorism and its official celebration by the PA. I can’t recall a single instance in which the president or a prominent member of his administration criticized the Palestinians for anything. Maybe it’s because the PA has been doing such a commendable job when it comes to incitement and terrorism? Not quite.

In just the past week, official PA television has hailed the first female Palestinian suicide bomber; PA president Mahmoud Abbas personally honored Dalal Mughrabi, a legend of Palestinian terrorism who participated in the coastal-road massacre, the deadliest act of terrorism in Israel’s history (37 innocents were murdered); and both Abbas and the supposedly moderate PA Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad, celebrated the killers of Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai, who was gunned down by members of Fatah while driving last week.

Meanwhile, Politico reported that a federal judge “complained that the Obama administration was ‘particularly unhelpful’ and the State Department ‘mealy-mouthed’ in refusing to provide official guidance” on a lawsuit that implicates the Palestinian Authority in the terror murder of an American citizen.

President Obama is repeating one of the worst mistakes of the Oslo period, when the official promotion of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority was studiously ignored on behalf of the larger “peace” mission. We know how successful that strategy was.

A year into the Obama administration, a pattern has been established for public diplomacy with Israel versus the Palestinians. For Israel, the administration airs an ongoing series of petty complaints, most of which relate to housing construction in Obama-disapproved neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Such construction is hurting the peace process, intones Robert Gibbs; it prevents the recommencement of negotiations and is inconsistent with the Road Map, he laments.

Even defensive IDF operations, such as the one last week that eliminated three Fatah murderers, are now reason for public finger-wagging from the administration and requests for “clarification.” This was done on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. There indeed should have been a request for clarification, but it should have been directed at the PA, given the fact that the terrorists in question were on the payroll of the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party, Fatah.

By contrast, the administration has been indifferent to Palestinian terrorism and its official celebration by the PA. I can’t recall a single instance in which the president or a prominent member of his administration criticized the Palestinians for anything. Maybe it’s because the PA has been doing such a commendable job when it comes to incitement and terrorism? Not quite.

In just the past week, official PA television has hailed the first female Palestinian suicide bomber; PA president Mahmoud Abbas personally honored Dalal Mughrabi, a legend of Palestinian terrorism who participated in the coastal-road massacre, the deadliest act of terrorism in Israel’s history (37 innocents were murdered); and both Abbas and the supposedly moderate PA Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad, celebrated the killers of Rabbi Meir Avshalom Hai, who was gunned down by members of Fatah while driving last week.

Meanwhile, Politico reported that a federal judge “complained that the Obama administration was ‘particularly unhelpful’ and the State Department ‘mealy-mouthed’ in refusing to provide official guidance” on a lawsuit that implicates the Palestinian Authority in the terror murder of an American citizen.

President Obama is repeating one of the worst mistakes of the Oslo period, when the official promotion of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority was studiously ignored on behalf of the larger “peace” mission. We know how successful that strategy was.

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Palestinians See Netanyahu as a “Man of His Word”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

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