Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinian Authority

Kerry Lets Abbas Off the Hook Again

After a summit held in Jordan with its King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced himself satisfied that the dispute over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is on its way to being resolved. After hearing from both the Israelis and the Jordanians as well as meeting separately with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry admonished the parties to make good on their pledges to take “concrete steps” to ease tensions. Let’s hope Kerry is right that the worst is over in this latest episode and that a series of murders of Jews will prove to be a passing incident rather than a new intifada. But by giving Abbas a pass for his material role in inciting the violence, Kerry once again proved tone deaf to the reality of the conflict and the reason why his peace initiative failed.

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After a summit held in Jordan with its King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced himself satisfied that the dispute over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is on its way to being resolved. After hearing from both the Israelis and the Jordanians as well as meeting separately with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry admonished the parties to make good on their pledges to take “concrete steps” to ease tensions. Let’s hope Kerry is right that the worst is over in this latest episode and that a series of murders of Jews will prove to be a passing incident rather than a new intifada. But by giving Abbas a pass for his material role in inciting the violence, Kerry once again proved tone deaf to the reality of the conflict and the reason why his peace initiative failed.

The problem with Kerry’s evenhanded approach to the dispute disregards what actually happened. Israel has maintained the status quo on the Temple Mount in which Muslim religious authorities have complete control of the ancient site and Jews are allowed to visit but forbidden to pray. Some Jews have urged this be changed to give them the right to worship there too but the Netanyahu government, following in the footsteps of all its predecessors, has blocked this effort.

But that hasn’t satisfied the PA which has used this issue as a way to compete with Hamas in the battle for Palestinian public opinion. Rather than seeking to promote calm, Abbas deliberately ratcheted up tensions in recent month as he called on his people to do everything necessary to prevent Jews from “contaminating” the Temple Mount with their presence. When one Palestinian attempted to murder an activist who advocated Jewish prayer there, Abbas praised him as a “martyr” and said he went straight to heaven after being shot by police. Though many, including the New York Times, have tried to put forward the idea that the growing violence constitutes a “leaderless” intifada, the truth is, the unrest and violence is the direct result of two decades of PA incitement via its official media and schools. Abbas’s statements as well as the daily drumbeat of incitement from the PA media has created an atmosphere of religious war in which Muslims think the Jews are going to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount. The result has been entirely predictable in the form of a rash of “lone wolf” terror attacks on Jews — applauded by both Hamas and Fatah — that have taken several lives.

This is, of course, straight out of the traditional playbook of Palestinian nationalism having been first employed by Haj Amin el-Husseini, the pre-World War Two mufti of Jerusalem and Nazi ally, who helped incite several pogroms against Jews. As it was then, the point of the manufactured furor is not to push back against mythical Jewish attacks on Muslim rights or the mosques but to deny any rights — either historical or political — for Jews in Jerusalem or anywhere else in the country. As with the rest of a conflict that the PA could have ended several times in the last 15 years had it accepted Israeli peace offers of independence, pouring oil on this fire is a function of Palestinian resistance to the idea of any Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem or Israel, not a dispute that can be solved by good faith negotiations.

In playing the Temple Mount card, Abbas is walking a fine line between an attempt to boost his stock vis-à-vis Hamas and suicide since it is Israel that protects him against Hamas. Jordan, which has been forced by Abbas’s antics to condemn Israel as well, is similarly dependant on support for Israel, but can’t be seen to be against Palestinian terror if it is perceived as a “defense” of Arab rights.

But while we hope that this chapter is coming to a close, Kerry’s complacent pox on both your houses approach to Israel and the PA is only encouraging more Palestinian intransigence and violence. What was needed here was a direct U.S. condemnation of Abbas’s egregious incitement that led to bloodshed. But in its absence the likelihood grows that Abbas will continue to court disaster in his effort to boost his waning political clout in the West Bank. Kerry and President Obama’s continued effort to portray Abbas as a force for peace while flinging insults at Netanyahu is a formula for more unrest as well as an attack on the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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Obama, Abbas, and ‘Contaminating’ Jews

In a follow-up to his now infamous column in which he quoted “senior administration officials” hurling vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg echoed the Obama foreign-policy team in praising Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have” in the pursuit of peace. Though he acknowledged the Palestinian had “flaws,” the onus for the lack of progress toward peace was placed squarely on Israel, which was urged to take measures to appease Abbas. Given that Abbas’s “flaws” had already demonstrated his utter lack of interest in making peace, Goldberg’s incendiary pieces told us more about Obama’s animus for Israel than the state of the peace process. But Abbas’s most recent bouts of incitement toward violence place those who have vouched for him in a difficult spot and make their current silence about his activities all the more reprehensible.

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In a follow-up to his now infamous column in which he quoted “senior administration officials” hurling vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg echoed the Obama foreign-policy team in praising Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have” in the pursuit of peace. Though he acknowledged the Palestinian had “flaws,” the onus for the lack of progress toward peace was placed squarely on Israel, which was urged to take measures to appease Abbas. Given that Abbas’s “flaws” had already demonstrated his utter lack of interest in making peace, Goldberg’s incendiary pieces told us more about Obama’s animus for Israel than the state of the peace process. But Abbas’s most recent bouts of incitement toward violence place those who have vouched for him in a difficult spot and make their current silence about his activities all the more reprehensible.

Abbas helped launch the latest round of Palestinian violence by urging his people to resist Jews who venture onto the Temple Mount by all means. Those means turned out to be murder and when the PA head praised a slain terrorist who had attempted to murder a Jewish activist as a “martyr” who was heading straight to heaven, it showed just how far he was willing to go to capitalize on traditional memes of Palestinian hatred for Jews. Today, in the wake of more fatal car attacks and stabbings of Jews, Abbas doubled down on the hate. Referring to the attempts by some Jews to gain the right to pray on what it the holiest site in Judaism, Abbas was reported as saying the following in the Times of Israel:

“Keep the settlers and the extremists away from Al-Aqsa and our holy places,” Abbas demanded. “We will not allow our holy places to be contaminated. Keep them away from us and we will stay away from them, but if they enter al-Aqsa, [we] will protect al-Aqsa and the church and the entire country,” he said. It was unclear what church Abbas was referring to.

It should be acknowledged that Abbas is locked in a fierce competition with Hamas for support from Palestinians and by diving even deeper into the barrel of ancient libels, he is, by his own lights, merely pandering to domestic opinion. But the green light he is giving to random violence by Palestinians is unmistakable. The question is when will his Washington cheering section recognize that they have invested heavily in a figure that is counting on their support insulating him against any consequences for his actions?

On its face, Abbas would seem to be the last person who would want a third intifada since he stands to lose the most by an open breach with an Israeli security apparatus that is his only guarantee of survival against Hamas. Nor can he afford to alienate the Americans or the European Union since both provide him with the cash he needs to irrigate the corrupt kleptocracy that he presides over in the West Bank.

That ought to give both Israel and the West some leverage in moderating his language even if it has never been enough to cause him to be willing to defy Palestinian public opinion and negotiate a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

That is why the silence of the West about Abbas is so frustrating for Israel. For months, the Obama administration has been lauding the PA head as a courageous man of peace while badmouthing Netanyahu as an obstacle to it in both on and off the record statements. Thus it is no surprise that Abbas believes he has virtual carte blanche from his donors and political sponsors to go as far as he wants when it comes to inciting violence.

The problem here is that while the White House and State Department can often be relied upon to issue statements urging both sides to show restraint and condemning violence of all kinds, they generally have no problem being specific when it comes to Israel and Netanyahu. But even if we leave aside the unfair nature of most of the criticisms of the Israeli, they find it difficult, if not impossible to turn the same critical gaze at Abbas.

Let’s concede that even if Abbas were to have held his tongue and sought to calm tensions over Jerusalem, there is no guarantee that no violence would have occurred. But by seeking to outpace Hamas when it comes to fanning the flames about the mosques on the Temple Mount, Abbas has made a material contribution to Middle East violence. And he is doing it on the American taxpayer’s dime.

It should also be stated that some inflammatory voices on the Israeli right have contributed to the problem. As unfair as the status quo on the Temple Mount might be to Jews, overturning it right now would be the sort of thing that will get a lot of people killed. But it should be pointed out that instead of feeding and/or profiting from anger over this issue, Netanyahu and his government have tried to prevent violence, not encourage it, but keep getting slammed by Western critics for not altogether conceding Jewish rights throughout Jerusalem.

The issue here isn’t so much who gets to pray on the Temple Mount since there is no chance of the status quo being altered. Rather it is whether the West thinks it is OK for the recipient of their largesse to refer to Jews as “contaminators” of their own capital city. Such language isn’t merely pandering to Palestinian opinion; it is a sign that Abbas is part of the problem of violence and hate, not its potential solution.

For years, the same people hammering Netanyahu and excusing Abbas now were the ones urging a similar policy toward Yasir Arafat and his blatant incitement toward hate. Those who did so bore a degree of responsibility for the violence that ensued when Arafat blew up the peace process with a bloody second intifada. The same judgment will apply to the president and his cheerleaders as they stand by and watch Abbas play the same card.

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Abbas’s Palestine Is the Real Apartheid State

In recent weeks, critics of Israel have been crying foul over the fact that Jews have moved into some apartments in East Jerusalem neighborhoods. The fact that the homes were legally purchased and that the new residents were merely attempting to reside in the country’s as-yet-undivided capital was seen as irrelevant since the presence of Jews in Arab-majority areas is considered to be an obstacle to a potential partition of the city should a peace agreement with the Palestinians ever be signed. But even if we were to concede that such moves do infuriate Arabs, surely no one, not even Israel’s most adamant opponents, would be comfortable with laws that banned the presence of Jews in parts of Jerusalem or anywhere else. Right? Wrong.

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In recent weeks, critics of Israel have been crying foul over the fact that Jews have moved into some apartments in East Jerusalem neighborhoods. The fact that the homes were legally purchased and that the new residents were merely attempting to reside in the country’s as-yet-undivided capital was seen as irrelevant since the presence of Jews in Arab-majority areas is considered to be an obstacle to a potential partition of the city should a peace agreement with the Palestinians ever be signed. But even if we were to concede that such moves do infuriate Arabs, surely no one, not even Israel’s most adamant opponents, would be comfortable with laws that banned the presence of Jews in parts of Jerusalem or anywhere else. Right? Wrong.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas reacted to the fact that Jews have bought homes from Palestinians in parts of Jerusalem by vowing to toughen existing PA laws that forbid such sales. Yes, that’s right. In “Palestine”—be it the existing PA or Hamas states or the future independent Palestinian state that Europe is so eager to recognize even without it having to make peace with Israel—it is against the law to sell land or a home to a Jew.

The question of whether Jews should move into majority Arab neighborhoods or towns is a question of judgment. Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected any peace deal that would give them an independent state and a share of Jerusalem since it would require them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. It is possible to argue that the two communities are better off living separately. But voluntary separation is one thing, legal restrictions on the right of Jews to live in some areas is something very different.

After all, in the State of Israel, which is routinely and falsely accused of being an “apartheid state,” Arabs may live where they please. When some areas have tried to restrict sales of property to Arabs, Israel’s courts have ruled that this is inconsistent with the principles enunciated in the country’s basic laws. While Israel is not a perfect society and the Arab minority faces challenges that are often rooted in the century-old war over the land, the principle of equality before the law for all citizens is upheld.

But in “Palestine,” not only are there no courts or government to prevent individuals or groups from discriminating, but there it is the government itself that both promulgates and ruthlessly enforces such bias.

As the Times of Israel reports:

According to the official Palestinian Wafa news agency, Abbas on Monday imposed a sentence of hard labor for life on “anyone diverting, renting or selling land to an enemy state or one of its subjects.”

Jordan’s penal code number 16 article 114, applicable in the Palestinian territories, previously subscribed “temporary hard labor” to perpetrators of the crime.

In practice, this means Jews may not buy, rent, or sell land. In other words, should the state of Palestine that sits in the United Nations ever become a real sovereign country it will be the apartheid state, not democratic Israel.

The purpose of such laws is to thwart the Zionist enterprise by which Jews have returned to their ancient homeland by legally purchasing land. But the motivating factor here is Jew hatred. Should Palestine ever become a reality, the neighborhoods where Jews have bought homes would be part of it. At that point these few Jews would be no threat to the Arab majority. But the Palestinian vision of statehood remains one in which Israel would be a country where Jews and Arabs live while Palestine will be a Judenrein—Jew-free—entity.

The point here is that peace is possible if both sides are prepared to compromise and recognize each other’s legitimacy. But the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority of Abbas, that both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry constantly praise as a true peace partner for Israel, is not only not interested in compromising. It is also promulgating and attempting to enforce laws that are based in anti-Semitic incitement. Were Israel to ban Arabs from moving into homes they owned in West Jerusalem, it would prompt an international outcry and condemnations from the United States. But instead America condemns Jews who move into Arab neighborhoods and stays silent when Abbas seeks to treat those who sell to Jews as criminals.

Instead of the Jewish home buying in Jerusalem being an obstacle to peace as Israel’s critics claim, it is the Arab attempt to criminalize selling to a Jew that best illustrates why peace is not yet possible.

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Can Abbas Challenge Hamas? Not Likely.

After 50 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, many in the international community are hoping the cease-fire will encourage a revival of the Middle East peace talks between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority that collapsed this past spring. But while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has welcomed the possibility, at least in theory, he does have one request of PA head Mahmoud Abbas: divorce Hamas. Is he being unreasonable?

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After 50 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, many in the international community are hoping the cease-fire will encourage a revival of the Middle East peace talks between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority that collapsed this past spring. But while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has welcomed the possibility, at least in theory, he does have one request of PA head Mahmoud Abbas: divorce Hamas. Is he being unreasonable?

The short answer is no.

Abbas has been the darling of the Western media and the Obama administration in recent years largely because of their antipathy for Netanyahu. His popularity has only increased recently because of the implicit comparison with Hamas whose decision to plunge the country into war resulted in death and destruction for the people of Gaza and achieved nothing for the Palestinians. Nothing, that is, except the satisfaction of killing 70 Jews and the spectacle of seeing most Israelis being obligated to run back and forth to bomb shelters to evade the largely ineffectual Hamas barrage of thousands of rockets. Hamas started the conflict when its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teens and they relentlessly escalated it at every turn despite Netanyahu’s acceptance of cease-fire offers that would have saved most of those Palestinians who were killed in the fighting.

This behavior was egregious enough that even Abbas felt he could get away with criticizing his Islamist rivals when he said this week that all of the deaths, injuries and damage done by the fighting could have been avoided and questioning the future of his unity pact with Hamas. But Abbas, who reportedly met with Netanyahu earlier this week, isn’t likely to throw Hamas out of his PA government. Though Hamas is unlikely to ever allow the PA back into Gaza as they agreed, the unity pact signed this past spring was Abbas’s ticket out of negotiations with Israel and, as such, allows him to posture as if he wants peace to Western audiences while reminding fellow Palestinians that he is just as committed to the long war against Israel as the Islamists.

The gap between reality and what Abbas says in public gets bigger all the time. While Abbas talks big about going back to the United Nations in order to force Israel to completely withdraw from the West Bank, there’s not much secret about the fact that the only thing keeping him in secure possession of his headquarters in Ramallah, not to mention, his life, is the protection afforded him by Israel’s security services. As the news about a planned Hamas coup against Abbas that was foiled by the Shin Bet proved, the last thing the PA leader actually wants is a West Bank without an Israeli security presence.

Yet if Abbas was really serious about obtaining an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem, he must know that the only way to do so is to convince Israelis that it would not turn into another version of Gaza. Israelis remember that they withdrew every soldier, settlement and settler from Gaza in 2005 in the hope of encouraging peace only to realize that what they had done was to provide Hamas with the opportunity of running a terrorist state on their doorstop. Given the ease with which Hamas ousted Fatah from the strip, it’s fair to ask why anyone would expect a different outcome if a similar experiment were tried in the West Bank.

Yet despite everything, Abbas clings to the pact with Hamas as if somehow this will save him. It won’t.

If we assume that Abbas truly wants a peace deal with Israel and statehood rather than just an excuse to keep avoiding peace talks, there is actually only one path to that outcome. While Netanyahu speaks of the necessity of a Fatah-Hamas divorce, what is needed is a PA decision to finally break with Hamas and to fight it just as Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has done with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Israel would love to see Abbas march into Gaza and oust Hamas from control as the unity pact supposedly promised. But given the weakness of the PA forces and the resolute nature of Hamas’s armed cadres (who massacred Fatah supporters when they seized the strip in a 2007 coup) that has about as much chance of happening as the Fatah government ridding itself of corruption. But if a two-state solution is to become a reality rather than a theory that is what it will take.

Until it does, all discussions of Israeli withdrawals or PA statehood initiatives are merely hot air. In his 10 years of power, Abbas has never shown the slightest indication that he is willing to do what it takes to achieve peace as opposed to just posture in order to appear belligerent in front of his own people. If Abbas is not a cipher that will never challenge Hamas, then he’s going to have to prove it. Unfortunately, nothing we have seen before, during or after the summer war with Hamas should lead anyone to think that he can.

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Abbas Can’t Solve Gaza or Make Peace

While both Hamas and Israel’s government have been trying to assert that they both won the war that apparently concluded with a cease-fire agreement yesterday, a third party is attempting to stake his claim as the man who can win the peace. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas anticipated the announcement of the cease-fire by vowing to go back to the United Nations on Monday to force Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank as well as Jerusalem. And some in the U.S. and Israel think the best response to the end of the fighting is to further empower Abbas as a counterweight to Hamas. While this sounds logical, it would be a colossal error.

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While both Hamas and Israel’s government have been trying to assert that they both won the war that apparently concluded with a cease-fire agreement yesterday, a third party is attempting to stake his claim as the man who can win the peace. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas anticipated the announcement of the cease-fire by vowing to go back to the United Nations on Monday to force Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank as well as Jerusalem. And some in the U.S. and Israel think the best response to the end of the fighting is to further empower Abbas as a counterweight to Hamas. While this sounds logical, it would be a colossal error.

Some critics of the Netanyahu government believe it has erred in recent years by being so critical of Abbas while essentially acquiescing to continued Hamas rule in Gaza. That school of thought holds that the prime minister thinks leaving Gaza in Hamas’s hands makes it impossible for Abbas to make peace and undermines the chances of a two-state solution. There is no doubt that some in the government would prefer the status quo to a peace deal that would give Abbas the West Bank for a Palestinian state. But those who believe that sort of Machiavellian thinking is responsible for the lack of peace are ignoring some hard truths about Abbas and the political culture of the Palestinians.

A rational analysis of the Palestinian predicament would lead one to think that this is Abbas’s moment. Hamas achieved nothing with its decision to launch a war of attrition with Israel after its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. Nothing, that is, except the utter devastation of Gaza, the loss of two thousand dead as well as the destruction of its terror tunnels and the expenditure of much of its rocket arsenal in return for only a few dozen dead Israelis and little damage to the Jewish state. By contrast, Abbas can now stride into Gaza with his PA forces and claim to be the man who can improve conditions for Palestinians and forge a deal that might give them independence. But those assumptions about Abbas’s ability to act decisively now completely ignore the realities of Palestinian politics as well as the utter incompetence of the PA.

Even if we were to take it as a given that Abbas is as dedicated to peace as some of his American and Jewish friends claim him to be, the notion that it has been Netanyahu’s disdain for the PA leader that has prevented peace is absurd. Throughout his years in power Abbas has had two key objectives: to portray himself as a peacemaker to the West and to avoid being trapped in any negotiations with Israel that might obligate him to sign a deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and end the conflict for all time. That’s why he fled the 2008 peace talks with Ehud Olmert even after Netanyahu’s predecessor offered virtually all of the West Bank and much of Jerusalem. It’s also why he boycotted peace talks from 2009 to 2013 and then fled them again at the first opportunity this spring when he signed a unity pact with Hamas rather than peace with Israel. And rather than ask the U.S. to drag Netanyahu back to the table now that the fighting in Gaza is over, he is running to the UN in a stunt that will discomfit the Israelis but do nothing to get Palestinians a state.

The reason he has stuck to this no-peace strategy can be discovered by asking why he has avoided elections (he’s currently serving the ninth year of a four-year term) in recent years with no sign that he is looking to take on Hamas at the ballot box even after their military failure. The unfortunate reality is that Abbas knows that even unsuccessful attempts to slaughter Jews—such as Hamas’s shooting of more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities or its attempt to use tunnels to pull off terrorist atrocities—boosts its credibility as the party that is doing the most to “resist” Israel. When Hamas talks about ending the “occupation” they are not referring to the West Bank (which the Palestinians could have had as long ago as 2000 when Israel made its first peace offer) but all of pre-June 1967 Israel, a stance that resonates more with the Palestinian street than Abbas’s clever equivocations. None of the positive statements he has made in recent years or the occasional help he provides Israel can override the fact that Palestinian national identity is still inextricably tied to the continuation of war on Zionism. Abbas may regret this, but he has showed time and again that he won’t do anything to change it.

As the revelations of a planned Hamas coup in the West Bank uncovered by the Shin Bet security service showed, the only thing keeping Abbas in charge in Ramallah is Israel and Palestinians know it. The notion that parachuting Abbas or his PA forces into Gaza will somehow stop Hamas from re-arming or using humanitarian aid to rebuild its bunkers and tunnels is a fantasy. So, too, is the idea that more Western or Israeli support will enable Abbas to govern either the West Bank or Gaza effectively with his corrupt and incompetent Fatah cadres.

It is an unfortunate fact that Israel’s decision to leave Hamas in place rather than seek its elimination has, despite its clear defeat in the field, bolstered the Islamist group. But Netanyahu can’t compensate for that by empowering Abbas. The PA leader hasn’t the guns or the guts to face down Hamas in its Gaza stronghold and doesn’t dare try his luck at the ballot box even in the West Bank where conditions are more favorable to him.

The vast majority of Israelis know that any withdrawals on the West Bank would probably mean the creation of a larger and more dangerous version of the mess in Gaza. That is something no rational government of any kind would countenance. So while neither Israelis or their American allies are satisfied with a reinstatement of the pre-Gaza war status quo, even the dangerous uncertainty such a decision represents is better than repeating the Jewish state’s calamitous decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005. Boosting Abbas at the expense of Hamas sounds logical, but it is part and parcel of the same fool’s errand diplomacy that brought the Middle East to the current impasse.

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Don’t Count on Abbas to Save Gaza

After months in eclipse, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s stock is on the rise. Which is to say that if Abbas’s future depends solely on the international media, talking heads on American television, and some of his supporters within the Israeli government, he’s in very good shape. But though a lot of people are counting on Abbas to be the linchpin of a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the notion that he is strong enough to take advantage of the opening he is being offered is based on blind hope, not reality.

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After months in eclipse, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s stock is on the rise. Which is to say that if Abbas’s future depends solely on the international media, talking heads on American television, and some of his supporters within the Israeli government, he’s in very good shape. But though a lot of people are counting on Abbas to be the linchpin of a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the notion that he is strong enough to take advantage of the opening he is being offered is based on blind hope, not reality.

The case for Abbas was laid out in today’s New York Times in an article in which the PA’s role in the peace talks that have been going on in Cairo is discussed. The widely held assumption is that Abbas and his Fatah Party can be dropped into Gaza and monitor the border crossings so as to ensure that the aid that pours into the strip will be used for humanitarian work and reconstruction of civilian infrastructure and homes, not for helping Hamas prepare for the next round of fighting with Israel.

It’s a nice idea. Ideally, the West and the Israelis would ultimately like Abbas to take back the control of Gaza from Hamas that it lost in a 2007 coup. But that’s thinking big. For starters, they want the PA’s presence in Gaza to be the method by which Israel and Egypt can be persuaded to re-open the borders and to loosen, if not end, the blockade of the Islamist-run strip.

If the idea worked, it would not only make it harder for Hamas to start another war; it would also be the method by which Fatah could start the process of regaining the support of Gaza Palestinians. Investing in Abbas and Fatah would, according to this theory, help Israel out of a dilemma in which any concessions to the Palestinians are seen as endangering the Jewish state’s security. The newly empowered PA would then be in a stronger position to edge out Hamas but to also make peace with Israel.

With the PA in charge in Gaza, it would no longer be plausible for Israelis to worry about handing over most of the West Bank to Abbas. Nor would it be necessary for it to continue the blockade of Gaza.

It all sounds logical and a surefire path to peace. The only problem is that it almost certainly won’t work.

Let’s start with the first step of the plan: parachuting a small force of Palestinians loyal to Abbas into Gaza to deal with the border.

The first problem is that the notion of trusting Fatah security forces to keep weapons out of Gaza or to make sure that building materials are directed to humanitarian rather than “military” projects is a joke. The history of the PA police and other forces supposedly loyal to Abbas tells us that these forces are highly unlikely to be reliable monitors of the security situation. Fatah’s people are even more corrupt than Hamas’s despots and therefore highly susceptible to pressures and blandishments that will make it impossible for the group to do its job. Nor are most of its personnel dedicated to the peaceful mission outlined for it in the cease-fire deal drafts. To the contrary, Fatah’s members are just as dedicated to Israel’s destruction as Hamas, though they prefer the job to be done more gradually.

The idea that PA officials or security people will be an effective barrier to the re-militarization of Gaza—as opposed to the goal of demilitarization that Israel wants and which is a prerequisite for peace—is farcical. Even if the PA were parachuted into Gaza, the chances that they would stop Hamas from doing what it likes are minimal. Putting them in there might enable Israel to claim that they had degraded Hamas militarily as well as politically, but it is highly likely that this would merely be a fig leaf on an already bad situation as it reverted to the pre-Operation Protective Edge reality in which Hamas was actively preparing for the next war.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Abbas and his forces are sincere about wanting peace. The problem with the plan to use Abbas to police the Gaza border is that it places him in the position in which he has never been particularly comfortable as well as one in which he can easily be portrayed as Israel’s puppet, indeed its policeman, rather than an independent leader.

That’s the conundrum on which many previous peace efforts have also failed. Israel has always wanted the PA to neutralize Palestinian Islamist radicals without the same interference, as the late Yitzhak Rabin often put it, from a Supreme Court and the checks and balances that come with the Jewish state’s democratic legal system. But neither Yasir Arafat nor his successor Abbas ever embraced that role wholeheartedly no matter how great their antipathy for their Hamas rivals. Both understood that fighting Hamas or even acting as a restraint on the Islamists undermined their credibility with Palestinian public opinion.

Much though Israel and the West would like to change it, the perverse dynamic of the political culture of Palestinian society has always rewarded those groups that shed blood or demonstrate belligerence against Israel while punishing those who support peace or at least a cessation of hostilities. That’s why Abbas, who is currently serving the 10th year of a four-year term as president, has avoided new elections.

Moreover, even if PA forces were serious about stopping Hamas, the small border force currently envisaged would, as was the case in 2007, be no match for the Islamists if they choose to resist them.

No matter how you slice it, there simply is no scenario in which the PA really can wrench control of Gaza away from Hamas while the latter is still fully armed and in control of the strip’s government. Building a port in Gaza or anything else intended to make it easier to import materials and arms into the strip without first eliminating Hamas is asking for trouble. Nor is it reasonable to expect Abbas to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state and begin the process of ending the conflict while he is put in such an untenable situation.

Much as many in Israel and the United States would like to imagine that Abbas can somehow supplant Hamas, that just isn’t in the cards short of an all-out Israeli invasion of Gaza. More sensible Israelis know that the results of their nation’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 makes it obvious that any further territorial surrenders in the West Bank won’t enhance the chances of peace but will, instead, create new terror strongholds that will be even more dangerous and harder to wipe out. Though the Cairo talks have raised his profile from the near-anonymity that was forced upon him during the fighting, Abbas is just as irrelevant to the solution to the problem of Gaza as he ever was.

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Did Hamas Win? Not Exactly.

In today’s New York Times, Yediot Aharonot military analyst Ronen Bergman has some sobering conclusions about the fighting in Gaza. While he agrees that in an objective sense, Hamas was defeated on the battlefield by the Israel Defense Forces, it must be acknowledged that the terrorist group exposed some of the army’s deficiencies and may well have established itself as “an equal party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.”

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In today’s New York Times, Yediot Aharonot military analyst Ronen Bergman has some sobering conclusions about the fighting in Gaza. While he agrees that in an objective sense, Hamas was defeated on the battlefield by the Israel Defense Forces, it must be acknowledged that the terrorist group exposed some of the army’s deficiencies and may well have established itself as “an equal party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.”

For those who have acted as if Hamas is the victor in the fighting because it forced Israel to counter-attack and thus created havoc in Gaza, our John Podhoretz’s opinion on this issue published last week in the New York Post still holds. Hamas didn’t win. It lost much of its arsenal and saw its carefully built network of border tunnels destroyed before they could be used to pull off a massive terrorist atrocity. And for all the talk about Israel losing in the court of public opinion, it’s not clear that the latest war changed a thing in that battle. Due in no small measure to the rising tide of anti-Semitism, hatred for Israel is greater than ever. But support for the Jewish state here in the United States remains high.

And yet, as the always insightful Bergman notes, the IDF has plenty of lessons to learn from the last month. Iron Dome proved to be one of the greatest technological advances in recent military history as it effectively negated Hamas’s vast arsenal of long- and medium-range rockets (something that was very bad news indeed for Hezbollah which now realizes that their rocket threat on Israel’s northern border is now also officially useless). But along with the high-tech victory, there were also obvious intelligence failures. The Israelis underestimated the size of Hamas’s arsenal as well as the fighting ability of its cadres in Gaza. Nor was the army ready for the size or the scope of the tunnel threat once the fighting started. It will have to invest heavily in efforts to detect tunnel building or face a rerun of that episode in the future. Bergman also notes correctly that Israel’s special forces proved unable or unwilling to pull off any major operations that might have either inflicted great damage on Hamas or deal a devastating blow to the Islamists’ morale.

Does that all add up to a situation in which the war ends pretty much the way it started but “with significant damage to Israel’s deterrence,” as Bergman summed it up?

The hope within Israel’s Defense Ministry is that the devastating damage done to Hamas’s infrastructure will mean that it will be years before the terrorists think about starting another round. But considering that with Hamas seemingly determined to keep the rockets flying until it gets want it wants in negotiations, it is far from certain that this war is really over. Hamas is hoping to keep up a war of attrition and that is the sort of conflict that is hard for any democracy, even one, like Israel, that understands it is locked in a battle for the survival of their homeland, to win.

Moreover, Bergman’s conclusion about Hamas improving its status in negotiations with Egypt and Israel is inarguable. By surviving this war of choice that it started, Hamas can claim a victory of a sort. No matter how badly its forces are whipped in the field or how pathetic its rocket offensive has become with almost no real damage done to Israel despite thousands of attacks, as long as it is still standing when the shooting stops, it hasn’t entirely lost.

Nor does the talk about replacing Hamas with the supposedly more moderate and utterly irrelevant Palestinian Authority—at least at the border crossings—amount to much. Anyone who expects the humanitarian aid—including the concrete for rebuilding Gaza—that will inevitably flow into the strip to be kept out of Hamas’s hands is dreaming. Hamas isn’t giving up power voluntarily and there is no sign that it can be overthrown.

What Bergman’s conclusions do mean is that, as John noted last week, Israel’s only option in this conflict is to stay strong and prepare as best it can for the inevitable next round of a long war. Contrary to President Obama and others who want to save the Jewish state from itself, that war can’t be ended by territorial withdrawals on the West Bank that would create a larger and more dangerous version of Gaza.

Israel has good reason to be proud of its army after the last month. But no one should assume that their victories mean that the threat from Hamas has really been diminished. No one wants to give the murderers and war criminals of Hamas any credit but while their organization remains in charge in Gaza, they haven’t really been defeated. If Israel wants to change that unpalatable strategic conclusion, it’s going to have to do what it understandably appears unwilling to do: re-occupy Gaza and finish the Islamist terror movement once and for all.

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If Hamas Survives, Forget About Peace … Or Quiet

As the fighting in Gaza continues with no lasting cease-fire in sight, some of the discussion about this war has shifted to whether Israel can or should seek to depose its Hamas enemies altogether. This is a debate that is long overdue.

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As the fighting in Gaza continues with no lasting cease-fire in sight, some of the discussion about this war has shifted to whether Israel can or should seek to depose its Hamas enemies altogether. This is a debate that is long overdue.

In Haaretz, Benny Morris suggests that while he doesn’t expect it to happen, sooner or later Israel must take on the unpleasant task of defeating Hamas once and for all. Our Max Boot disagrees since he believes the casualties that would inevitably result from such a long and bloody struggle would be prohibitive for Israel. More than that, he argues that in the absence of a viable alternative to Hamas to run Gaza, Israel really has no choice but to let the Islamists remain in place when the current round of fighting ends at some point.

While I think Max’s two objections to Morris’s suggestion provide a formidable rationale for a decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to call a halt to his country’s counter-offensive, I have to come down on the other side of this argument. A long battle to take down Hamas would be costly. Nor can Israel be certain of what would follow. But a failure to end the rocket and terror tunnel threat from Gaza now would be an even costlier mistake that Netanyahu and his successors would regret.

Prior to the current outbreak and even after the rocket fire from Gaza resumed this month I was among those who thought Israel would never consider retaking control of the strip. But like most wars, this one has changed the way both sides looked at the conflict. Israelis now see that the tunnel city underneath Gaza is no minor nuisance but a strategic threat that will require a major commitment of forces to contain if Hamas is allowed to reconstruct even a portion of its terror infrastructure. Though the Iron Dome missile defense system has prevented the thousands of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza from causing many casualties, it is a misnomer to assume that it provides a complete answer to that danger. Whether or not a single rocket ever kills an Israeli, Hamas has forced two-thirds of the population of Israel to spend part of their lives in bomb shelters. With thousands of rockets still left in their possession, Israel cannot contemplate a cease-fire that would allow Hamas to resume this ordeal at any future time of their choosing. And anything short of their elimination will ensure that this is exactly what they will do.

Moreover, even much of the Israeli left now understands that there can be no compromise with Hamas. Any thoughts that the unity pact signed this spring with Fatah would moderate their positions are now seen as absurd. As Morris rightly points out, this round of fighting is not just the latest tit-for-tat in a cycle of violence but rather the natural result from an ideological commitment to shedding the blood of Israelis in a never-ending war to destroy the Jewish state. When Hamas says it is the “resistance” to the “occupation,” its spokesmen are not referring to the West Bank but pre-1967 Israel. Though both Netanyahu and the people of Israel would have preferred to offer Hamas “quiet for quiet” and to end the fighting weeks ago, the tunnels and the weeks of rocket fire leave them no alternative but to seek a conclusion to this problem. While pundits are fond of saying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a political rather than a military solution, so long as Hamas is in power that is simply not true.

If Israel is to have quiet and have any hope of peace in the long run, Hamas has to go. While they rule Gaza, not only is a two-state solution off the table; any assurance that normal life in the territories or much of Israel can be counted on is also not possible.

Max is right that the cost of taking out Hamas will be terrible. But the assumption that Israelis are not willing to pay that price may no longer be valid. Every poll of opinion in Israel now shows that up to 90 percent of the people support the war and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict. More importantly, the vast majority also believe it would be a mistake to stop the fighting before the country’s security is assured.

Few would have believed that such results were possible even in a time of peace. But for Israelis to take this position after weeks of fighting during the course of which they have lost dozens of soldiers—each death being a traumatizing event for the small country where the majority of young people serve in the army—shows that there has been a major shift in opinion on the subject. Israelis from across the political spectrum are no longer willing to be held hostage to the caprices of a band of Islamist murderers bent on destroying them. While no one can be sure how long this consensus will hold, Netanyahu clearly has the support he needs to carry on with this vital mission for the foreseeable future.

Max’s suggestion that the example of America’s lack of a post-Saddam scenario in Iraq should give Israel pause is also very much to the point. There is no question that Netanyahu will have to answer objections that center on the question of what will follow Hamas in Gaza. But the possible answers to this question are not such a mystery even if none of them are attractive.

The most logical answer is the Palestinian Authority. After all, the PA ran Gaza along with most of the West Bank prior to Hamas’s bloody 2007 coup. The return of the PA would end the blockade that Israel, Egypt, and most of the international community placed on the strip after the terror group took power there. Such an outcome would also make it possible for talks about a two-state solution to resume. It is precisely the justified fear on the part of most Israelis that the West Bank would become another Hamasistan that makes territorial withdrawal there unlikely even in the unlikely event that Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Would the PA be able to fend off an Islamist insurgency in Gaza? It might be difficult, but I think the answer is yes and the West Bank provides a precedent. Hamas could never have ousted Abbas in Gaza had not Ariel Sharon removed Israel’s army and all the settlements in 2005. Joint Israel-PA security cooperation has kept a lid, albeit a shaky one, on the West Bank as it did in Gaza prior to 2005. There is no reason to believe they would fail in Gaza now.

Benny Morris is merely echoing a developing Israeli consensus about Gaza when he says there is no alternative to finishing off Hamas. Just as there is no reason for the U.S. to compromise with al-Qaeda, neither is there any logical or ethical rationale for a continuation of Hamas’s rule in Gaza. Putting off a conclusion to this war will only lead to more suffering for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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Hamas and the New Middle East

The spiraling conflict between Israel and Hamas may be part of an unfortunately regular pattern, but the recent events were also an indication of the new Middle East. That was clear earlier this week when Haaretz’s Barak Ravid published the tick-tock of how the attempts to strike a truce collapsed. Secretary of State John Kerry was getting ready to pick up nuclear diplomacy with his Iranian interlocutors in Vienna when he offered to take a temporary diversion to the Middle East. But, each for their own reasons, “Egyptians and Israelis both politely rejected that offer, telling Kerry they are already in direct contact and didn’t need American mediation.”

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The spiraling conflict between Israel and Hamas may be part of an unfortunately regular pattern, but the recent events were also an indication of the new Middle East. That was clear earlier this week when Haaretz’s Barak Ravid published the tick-tock of how the attempts to strike a truce collapsed. Secretary of State John Kerry was getting ready to pick up nuclear diplomacy with his Iranian interlocutors in Vienna when he offered to take a temporary diversion to the Middle East. But, each for their own reasons, “Egyptians and Israelis both politely rejected that offer, telling Kerry they are already in direct contact and didn’t need American mediation.”

According to Ravid, the Israelis expected a visit from Kerry to be interpreted as pressure on Israel, a lesson probably learned from Kerry’s time as secretary of state thus far. The Egyptians, on the other hand, wanted to prove they could still play the role of mediator. But while that certainly could be true, it seems incomplete. The Egyptians, apparently, excluded Hamas from early deliberations to craft the truce. Whether the Egyptian leadership truly wanted a truce or not, it’s clear they were most concerned that the truce not undermine the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas or the Israeli leadership in favor of Hamas. As Avi Issacharoff writes in the Times of Israel:

Hamas wants this in order to bring an end to the blockade on Gaza, open the Rafah Border Crossing, and in many ways to ensure its own survival.

On Tuesday morning, many people in Israel raised an eyebrow at Hamas’s rejection of the Egyptian ceasefire. But if we examine the crisis from the prism of Egypt-Hamas relations, we can see things differently.

Cairo offered the organization the same language it rejected from the outset: quiet for quiet. But for Hamas, the big problem was the way the Egyptian ceasefire was presented: At the same time that Razi Hamid, Hamas representative in Gaza, received the Egyptian document, the initiative was already being published in the Egyptian media.

This was a humiliation for Hamas, since no one thought to consult with its leadership. And still, as even senior Hamas officials admit, there is no other mediator in the region. Just like real estate agents who have a monopoly on a certain area, Egypt has a monopoly on Israel-Hamas relations.

At the very least, the Egyptian leadership does not seem to be in any rush to see Hamas given any breathing space. And neither does Abbas, whose leverage over Hamas has become all the more important in light of the recent unity deal between Hamas and Fatah.

Abbas, arguably, had the most to lose in the continued Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Hamas was able to essentially shut down the country, sending Israelis fleeing to bomb shelters and disrupting air travel and Israel’s economic activity and productivity. This is where Hamas’s relative weakness works to its advantage among its own people. Israel may have superior firepower, and both Israel and Fatah may have the United States in their corner, but Hamas can bring life to a (temporary) standstill in Israel at a moment’s notice. They can make the argument that Abbas’s cooperation with Israel and his participation in the peace talks has done nothing to bring about the ostensible goal of an independent Palestine.

Hamas doesn’t care about that, having made clear its objective has nothing to do with a two-state solution but with a genocidal war against the Jewish state. As such, its ability to disrupt and sabotage any attempts at a peaceful solution are crucial to its own raison d’être. By the same token, then, any weakening of Hamas helps both Abbas and any prospects, however remote, for a negotiated solution.

So while Egypt’s “failure” to step in and constructively play the role of mediator has been lamented, the priorities of the new regime in Cairo are actually geared much more toward those of the West. The defeat of Hamas, its diplomatic isolation, and the depletion of its terrorist capabilities are not just beneficial to Israel but also to Egypt, the Palestinian Authority structure in the West Bank, and America and its allies’ desire to limit Iranian influence in the region.

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Hamas Reaps Benefits from Terror

The arrest of six Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager last week has largely let Hamas off the hook for its campaign of terrorism.

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The arrest of six Israeli Jews for the murder of an Arab teenager last week has largely let Hamas off the hook for its campaign of terrorism.

The aberrant act of an isolated group that has been condemned by every sector of Israeli society has reinforced a narrative of moral equivalence. But Hamas’s confidence that it is profiting from the crisis that began with its kidnapping and murder of three Jewish boys last month is illustrated by the barrage of missiles it is firing on southern Israel.

The torrent of rockets—with hundreds being fired from Gaza in the last few days—is more than a routine statement about Hamas’s desire to show its belligerence to Palestinians who can always be counted on to applaud terror. The Islamist group was in dire straits when it decided in April to go into partnership with the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority. At the time, many commentators believed this would allow PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to tame the terrorist group and forge an alliance that would create room for both Palestinian unity and peace. But the events of the last month demonstrate just how foolish that hope proved to be.

Far from influencing Hamas to support peace, the Islamists have shown that they are the ones calling the tune. When a Hamas cell kidnapped three Israeli teens, Palestinian society didn’t recoil in horror. Nor did Abbas and Fatah drop Hamas from the PA government. While the PA leaders made a belated though welcome condemnation of the crime, Palestinian social media delivered the verdict that Hamas had hoped for as the atrocity was cheered with a popular three-fingered salute. Instead of supporting measures to isolate a movement that was determined to oppose peace, Palestinians took to the streets to obstruct and harass Israeli troops searching for the lost boys with rocks and violence.

Nor was there any outpouring of regret or soul searching about this behavior once the bodies of the three Israeli teens were found. After the Palestinian youth was discovered, the crime was used as an excuse for more Arab rioting, both inside Israel and in the West Bank. With Hamas now raining down hundreds of missiles on southern Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu finds himself in a quandary in which any action ordered to silence the terrorist enclave in Gaza will be seen as an escalation of the situation rather than a needed effort to contain it.

The despicable murder of Muhammed Khdeir has reinforced the Western media’s predictable narrative of moral equivalence in which all violence is seen as part of one pointless cycle of violence in which both sides are trapped. But though the two crimes give some superficial justification to that frame of reference, this focus has allowed the Obama administration to evade scrutiny for its coddling of the PA-Hamas alliance.

Netanyahu has good reason to be wary of a large-scale assault on Gaza. Israel has neither the desire to take back control of the strip nor any appetite for the casualties on both sides that would result from a new counter-offensive. The United States, which demanded that Israel show “restraint” in response to Hamas’s murder of the three boys, is now even more adamant about stopping any effort to make the terrorists pay for their crime. The prime minister also knows that Hamas is hoping for an opportunity to demonstrate to Palestinians that they are still the address for anti-Israel terror even as they remain firmly ensconced in the PA government.

How will all this end? At this point, Hamas seems to think that it will be Netanyahu who will blink first since at this point it seems unlikely that the normally cautious prime minister will risk further antagonizing the U.S. when he seems not to think that Israel has much to gain from a new fight in Gaza.

But if the two sides do merely stand down, there should be no illusions about who was the winner in this exchange. Hamas started this fight with a gruesome terror attack but rather than paying any real price—other than the arrest of some of its West Bank operatives—for this atrocity, it has enhanced its standing among Palestinians. By provoking a group of Jewish extremists to behave in the same bestial fashion, it has also obscured the real differences between the two societies and hurt their erstwhile rival/partner Abbas by exposing him to ridicule from Palestinians who saw his condemnation of terror as weakness or toadying to the Israelis. By firing rockets deep into Israel without incurring a response that will threaten its leadership or its weapon stores, Hamas will have re-established itself as an equal to Abbas rather than a junior partner.

American officials who wring their hands about a cycle of violence need to understand that their initial appeasement of Hamas after the signing of its unity pact with Fatah has done real harm to the already dim prospects for peace. If in April there was an opportunity for the U.S. to make a statement about isolating the terror group after the unity deal was signed, the prevarications of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry on the issue have created an opening for Hamas to gain ground in a way that few predicted. Unless Netanyahu is willing to take the risks associated with actions that will really make the terror group pay, it is Hamas that will emerge from these events as a stronger and more dangerous force than it was only a few weeks ago. In this case, terrorism has paid handsomely for a group the administration dismissed as having been past its expiration date.

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No Separating Palestinian Corruption From Terror

As the second week of the search for the three Israeli teenagers abducted by Hamas terrorists comes to an end, the announcement of the names of two prime suspects in the kidnapping is all that passes for progress in the search. But while these Hamas operatives are still on the loose, the international community is grappling with what it seems to consider a more important problem: how to pay 42,000 Hamas employees in Gaza.

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As the second week of the search for the three Israeli teenagers abducted by Hamas terrorists comes to an end, the announcement of the names of two prime suspects in the kidnapping is all that passes for progress in the search. But while these Hamas operatives are still on the loose, the international community is grappling with what it seems to consider a more important problem: how to pay 42,000 Hamas employees in Gaza.

The 42,000 Hamas workers seem to be the big losers in the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement that put an end to Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace initiative. The unity deal was motivated in large measure by the fact that the Islamist group has run out of money due to its break with its former Iranian sponsors and the shutting down of smuggling tunnels to Egypt by the military government in Cairo. They hoped the shortfall would be resolved by going into business with their Fatah rivals in control of the Palestinian Authority. The PA, which is subsidized via aid from the European Union and the United States, was supposed to pay the salaries of the 42,000 Hamas government employees. But since the Fatah-run kleptocracy has also been paying the salaries of the workers that it employed in Gaza since the Hamas coup in 2007, it has now said that it can’t afford to pay both them and the Hamas staff.

This both exposes the corruption at the heart of Palestinian governance and also raises some serious questions about how and why the U.S. can go on in its relationship with the PA.

The fact is Fatah governs the West Bank largely by the traditional Tammany Hall tactic of spreading around the wealth. The roster of Palestinians with government jobs of the no-work and the no-show variety is so vast that estimates vary. But no matter what the actual number is, the point is that Fatah uses foreign aid money to support large numbers of West Bank Palestinians in this manner. Hamas played the same game in Gaza before the cash ran out. Neither group cares much about actually using their funds to provide even basic services for Palestinians. The point of jobs that are in the gift of either Fatah or Hamas is to secure political loyalty and all that it entails when you are dealing with organizations that have both “political” and “military” wings.

That fact doesn’t come across in the latest sympathetic piece about life in Gaza from the New York Times. In it, the paper profiles two Gazans. One, a Fatah supporter, has been living the Palestinian version of La Dolce Vita since 2007 as he collected his full salary without ever doing a day’s work in the last seven years. The other, the Hamas supporter, made peanuts and was actually forced to perform some duties while his friends were in power. But now that they’ve run out of money, he’s been plunged back into poverty. The upshot of all this is that the international community needs to step up and give him his old salary back even though the tiny, though overpopulated Gaza Strip does not need two bloated sets of civil servants.

But what needs to be remembered here is that you can’t really separate what might be dismissed as routine political corruption from the more dangerous and deadly work that other people do for Hamas. The two Hamas members that are being named as suspects in the kidnapping have been missing since the crime occurred. That has led Israeli authorities to the not unreasonable conclusion that it wasn’t a coincidence that a pair of veteran terrorists who operate in the area of the kidnapping just happened to go out for a walk that night and never came home.

The international community, which has refused to shut down aid to the PA after it allied itself with open terrorists even after the kidnapping, may view the plight of the horde of underemployed Palestinian government employees as an entirely separate issue from that of violence. But though foreign governments may think Palestinian graft isn’t something they should care about, they need to understand that money that is donated to pay the out-of-work Hamas guy in Gaza is just as likely to find its way to men like the kidnappers. Money is, after all, fungible. The same applies to funds donated to the PA since it pays salaries and pensions to convicted terrorist murderers sitting in Israeli jails or living in a comfortable retirement after being exchanged for Israeli kidnap victims like Gilad Shalit. Though the PA is attempting to financially squeeze Hamas, as long as the terror group is going to be part of Mahmoud Abbas’s government, the notion that the PA is a legitimate peace partner is a myth.

If the Palestinians are to go on shaking down Western governments for contributions to pay their people for no-work or no-show jobs, they at least need to put a halt to terrorism. Sympathy for Palestinian workers is easy. But so long as the Israeli teenagers remain missing—and with each passing day hope for their safe recovery may be dimming—the West needs to refuse to go on doing business as usual with the corrupt Palestinian bureaucracy that turns a blind eye to, and subsidizes, terror.

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Kidnapping Hasn’t Altered West’s View of Conflict or the Palestinians

Another day went by without any word about the whereabouts of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped by Hamas terrorists last week. While the lack of any evidence that the three are still alive or a ransom demand is deeply troubling, the Israel Defense Forces have conducted extensive searches throughout the West Bank as well as seeking to exact a severe price from the terrorist group. The IDF has arrested scores of Hamas operatives as well as taken into custody 50 of the terrorists freed in the 2012 swap in which the Jewish state traded over 1,000 prisoners for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

These sweeps have caused IDF commanders to claim they have inflicted a powerful blow against Hamas’s infrastructure. Re-arresting some of the prisoners traded for Shalit also allows Israel to make a crucial point. Since the object of the abduction of the three boys was to force Israel to release even more terrorists—including some, like those in the Shalit deal, with blood on their hands—this move is an attempt to demonstrate that the kidnapping has backfired. But the boasts from both Israeli politicians and military officials that Hamas is already the loser in this affair may be more intended to boost their citizens’ morale than an objective analysis of the situation. While Hamas may have been dealt a setback that makes it less able to operate in the West Bank, unless the Israelis are prepared to stand their ground on demands for release of the Hamas prisoners, the Islamist group will still be able to claim victory. That’s especially true if the boys aren’t found, if more terrorists walk free as a result of this affair or if, as appears likely, international public opinion begins to swing back to the Palestinians after a week during which the kidnapping engendered more sympathy than usual for the Israelis.

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Another day went by without any word about the whereabouts of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped by Hamas terrorists last week. While the lack of any evidence that the three are still alive or a ransom demand is deeply troubling, the Israel Defense Forces have conducted extensive searches throughout the West Bank as well as seeking to exact a severe price from the terrorist group. The IDF has arrested scores of Hamas operatives as well as taken into custody 50 of the terrorists freed in the 2012 swap in which the Jewish state traded over 1,000 prisoners for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

These sweeps have caused IDF commanders to claim they have inflicted a powerful blow against Hamas’s infrastructure. Re-arresting some of the prisoners traded for Shalit also allows Israel to make a crucial point. Since the object of the abduction of the three boys was to force Israel to release even more terrorists—including some, like those in the Shalit deal, with blood on their hands—this move is an attempt to demonstrate that the kidnapping has backfired. But the boasts from both Israeli politicians and military officials that Hamas is already the loser in this affair may be more intended to boost their citizens’ morale than an objective analysis of the situation. While Hamas may have been dealt a setback that makes it less able to operate in the West Bank, unless the Israelis are prepared to stand their ground on demands for release of the Hamas prisoners, the Islamist group will still be able to claim victory. That’s especially true if the boys aren’t found, if more terrorists walk free as a result of this affair or if, as appears likely, international public opinion begins to swing back to the Palestinians after a week during which the kidnapping engendered more sympathy than usual for the Israelis.

As Raphael Aren wrote in the Times of Israel today, the IDF operations have sought to delegitimize the Fatah-Hamas unity government in the eyes of the world by pointing out the involvement of Hamas in terrorism. But as Israel has learned to its sorrow many times in the past, there are severe limits as to how much leeway the world is prepared to grant it when it comes to self-defense. Though the kidnapping has been roundly, if sometimes belatedly condemned by world leaders, none have drawn the appropriate conclusion from the spectacle of a partner in the Palestinian government conducting terrorist operations. Neither the U.S. nor the European Union has halted aid to the PA in spite of the clear indication that rather than being absorbed by the supposedly more moderate Fatah, Hamas has remained steadfast in its support for terrorism. Just as telling are the calls from Washington and European capitals for Israel to show “restraint” in its efforts to strike back at the terrorists or to find the boys.

While the West will tolerate some Israeli efforts aimed at hindering Hamas operations as well as those focused on recovery of the kidnapping victims, it’s clear that none will endorse anything that would go beyond those limited measures. Though the U.S. is preoccupied with the crisis in Iraq, there is little doubt the Obama administration would lash out at Israel if it expelled senior Hamas members from the West Bank to Gaza. Nor would it stand by if the Israelis put the squeeze on PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to make good on his pledges to help find the boys or in any way punished Hamas’s Fatah partners.

While the Israeli government may think the kidnapping—and the broad support for it among the Palestinian people—ought to inform the world’s view of the conflict, neither the Obama administration nor its European allies share that opinion. From their frame of reference, the kidnapping is just an annoyance, albeit a painful one, that Israelis must put up with. Barring a swift resolution to this incident, it is likely pressure will start to build in the international community for the Israelis to stand down and begin releasing the re-arrested Shalit-swap prisoners. Indeed, already voices are being raised claiming that Israel is engaging in “collective punishment” against the Palestinians in its anti-Hamas campaign. While the charge is specious, the willingness to turn the tables on the Israelis and to treat Hamas and its supporters as the victims reflects the prejudicial atmosphere in which the Jewish state must operate.

Contrary to the expectations of some in Israel, the #bringbackourboys hashtag social media campaign hasn’t really caught fire outside of the Jewish community. Nor has the rival #threeshalits hashtag—a phrase that demonstrates the broad support for terrorism among Palestinians—influenced either the U.S. or international public opinion to cause them to question their belief that the Israelis are the real obstacle to peace. By raising the ante with Israel in this manner, Hamas has shown the Palestinians that they are the true standard-bearers in the ongoing conflict with the Jews. Unless the IDF can find the boys and the Netanyahu government sticks to its guns in the months ahead on prisoner releases, Hamas will be able claim victory despite the blows they have absorbed.

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Three-Fingered Palestinian Values

According to today’s New York Times there’s a debate going on in Israel about the “conduct” of the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped last week by Hamas terrorists and whose whereabouts and safety remain unknown. While the Times conceded that the overarching concern of Israeli society today is the fate of the three boys, the story claimed that the victims’ decision to try and hitchhike their way home from the Hebron area was a “cavalier practice” that had endangered others because of the price their country might have to pay to obtain their return.

But the impulse here to blame the victims rather than the criminals seems to have more to do with a desire by some on Israel’s far left and foreign critics of the country to demonize any Jew who lives or studies in the West Bank. No matter what mode of travel these youngsters chose, they had a right to be able to move about the country without fear of being kidnapped or killed. Though West Bank Jews have recently come in for a great deal of criticism about the actions of a tiny minority that have committed acts of vandalism and violence against Arabs, the truth is that the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish inhabitants of the settlements have done no harm to their Palestinian neighbors. Except, that is, by committing the sin of living where Arabs believe no Jew has the right to exist.

Rather than focusing on whether Jews have a right to travel without an expectation of being attacked — something that is so commonplace that the Western press only reports the most spectacular instances — what is needed now is an examination of why it is that Palestinian society not only doesn’t condemn such kidnappings but treats them as national achievements. The widespread applause for the kidnapping, similar to the cheers other acts of terrorism draw from Palestinians, is a significant story that the Times and most of the Western press continues to ignore. And it is that imbalance in the coverage of this story that is at the heart of the question of why Middle East peace remains nowhere in sight.

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According to today’s New York Times there’s a debate going on in Israel about the “conduct” of the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped last week by Hamas terrorists and whose whereabouts and safety remain unknown. While the Times conceded that the overarching concern of Israeli society today is the fate of the three boys, the story claimed that the victims’ decision to try and hitchhike their way home from the Hebron area was a “cavalier practice” that had endangered others because of the price their country might have to pay to obtain their return.

But the impulse here to blame the victims rather than the criminals seems to have more to do with a desire by some on Israel’s far left and foreign critics of the country to demonize any Jew who lives or studies in the West Bank. No matter what mode of travel these youngsters chose, they had a right to be able to move about the country without fear of being kidnapped or killed. Though West Bank Jews have recently come in for a great deal of criticism about the actions of a tiny minority that have committed acts of vandalism and violence against Arabs, the truth is that the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish inhabitants of the settlements have done no harm to their Palestinian neighbors. Except, that is, by committing the sin of living where Arabs believe no Jew has the right to exist.

Rather than focusing on whether Jews have a right to travel without an expectation of being attacked — something that is so commonplace that the Western press only reports the most spectacular instances — what is needed now is an examination of why it is that Palestinian society not only doesn’t condemn such kidnappings but treats them as national achievements. The widespread applause for the kidnapping, similar to the cheers other acts of terrorism draw from Palestinians, is a significant story that the Times and most of the Western press continues to ignore. And it is that imbalance in the coverage of this story that is at the heart of the question of why Middle East peace remains nowhere in sight.

As the Times of Israel notes today, when Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas belatedly condemned the kidnapping, he found himself a minority of one in Palestinian politics. The Palestinians have now adopted a ubiquitous three-fingered salute — mocking the plight of the three kidnapped boys — as their new symbol of “resistance” against Israel. Support for the kidnapping isn’t confined to extremists or the most violent elements of terrorist groups but seems to cut across Palestinian society from street demonstrations to social media as a symbol of national pride.

Despite some comments from PA officials about holding Hamas responsible for the crime uttered only to Western and Israeli reporters, the kidnapping seems to have revealed that the Fatah and Hamas are generally unified but not for peace but in support of terrorist acts against Israelis.

Apologists for the Palestinians claim this is a natural reaction to the imprisonment of some 5,000 Arabs by Israel for security offenses. The only way to free these prisoners is, they say, for Palestinians to seize Israelis and to trade them for their compatriots. Abbas has claimed that the fate of the Palestinian prisoners is the number one issue for his people and it is no surprise that he bartered his willingness to return to peace talks for the freedom of some 100 imprisoned terrorists

But the problem here is that this is not simply a matter of Palestinians wishing to redeem those held by Israel. While there are some among the 5,000 in Israeli jails who may not have shed blood, most are there because of participation in the campaign of murder and mayhem aimed at Jews that Palestinians and the international media dubbed the second intifada. The core of this issue isn’t a matter of prisoner exchanges but the overwhelming Palestinian support for the atrocities that landed most of the objections of their concern in Israeli jails. The cheers from Palestinian crowds that greeted some of those released last fall was not in spite of the fact that they had shed Jewish blood but because of it. Indeed, there is no way to explain the glee that is being displayed among Palestinians about the kidnapping of three teenagers other than as a function of their belief that Jews, whether young or old, secular or religious, living inside the ’67 lines or “settlers” are all legitimate targets for violence.

Abbas, who personally embraced many of the murderers he helped liberate, claimed when speaking to Western audiences that kidnapping and other acts of terrorism are “not part of our culture.” But everything we have seen from the Palestinians the last few days, as well as during the last two decades of peace processing, tells us that it is very much part of Palestinian culture and national identity. So long as that is the case, and no matter what the Israelis do or offer, the conflict will go on.

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The Kidnapping and Palestinian Politics

The kidnapping of three Israeli teens last week by Hamas terrorists has largely flown below the radar in the mainstream American media over the weekend. The alarming developments in Iraq are part of the reason for this since Americans are generally indifferent to foreign news and have trouble focusing on more than one foreign crisis at a time. But just as the Sunni Islamist offensive overturned the Obama administration’s claim that it had successfully ended the war in Iraq, so, too, does the kidnapping challenge its assumptions about the Palestinians.

The ho-hum reaction of the international community, and especially the United States, to the recent decision of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to sign a unity pact with Hamas was rooted in a belief that both major Palestinian movements were essentially political entities that had transcended their violent pasts. Instead of understanding that the deal was a sign that both Fatah and Hamas were united in being irretrievably opposed to signing a peace accord with Israel rather than ready for peace, both the Obama administration and the European Union preferred to believe that the Jewish state was to blame for the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. The conventional wisdom peddled by the foreign-policy establishment instructed us that Hamas’s financial problems and its isolation in the wake of the fall last year of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government meant that it was being forced to knuckle under to the dictates of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, the man whom the administration had dubbed a courageous leader for peace.

If all that was true, what then could possibly explain the decision of Hamas to commit a spectacular act of terrorism that may well lead to further violence and endanger the vital foreign aid that keeps the new Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government afloat? The answer is simple. In hurting Israel in this fashion, Hamas is giving the West a basic lesson in Palestinian politics. Far from surrendering to Fatah, the kidnapping shows Hamas is hopeful of not only holding onto Gaza but of extending its influence in the West Bank.

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The kidnapping of three Israeli teens last week by Hamas terrorists has largely flown below the radar in the mainstream American media over the weekend. The alarming developments in Iraq are part of the reason for this since Americans are generally indifferent to foreign news and have trouble focusing on more than one foreign crisis at a time. But just as the Sunni Islamist offensive overturned the Obama administration’s claim that it had successfully ended the war in Iraq, so, too, does the kidnapping challenge its assumptions about the Palestinians.

The ho-hum reaction of the international community, and especially the United States, to the recent decision of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to sign a unity pact with Hamas was rooted in a belief that both major Palestinian movements were essentially political entities that had transcended their violent pasts. Instead of understanding that the deal was a sign that both Fatah and Hamas were united in being irretrievably opposed to signing a peace accord with Israel rather than ready for peace, both the Obama administration and the European Union preferred to believe that the Jewish state was to blame for the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. The conventional wisdom peddled by the foreign-policy establishment instructed us that Hamas’s financial problems and its isolation in the wake of the fall last year of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government meant that it was being forced to knuckle under to the dictates of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, the man whom the administration had dubbed a courageous leader for peace.

If all that was true, what then could possibly explain the decision of Hamas to commit a spectacular act of terrorism that may well lead to further violence and endanger the vital foreign aid that keeps the new Fatah-Hamas Palestinian government afloat? The answer is simple. In hurting Israel in this fashion, Hamas is giving the West a basic lesson in Palestinian politics. Far from surrendering to Fatah, the kidnapping shows Hamas is hopeful of not only holding onto Gaza but of extending its influence in the West Bank.

Abbas belatedly condemned the kidnapping today, but his reluctance to use the full force of his Western-backed regime on his would-be Islamist partner stems from his understanding of the political culture of his people. He knows that rather than undermining support for Hamas, the atrocity will bolster its popularity, especially on the West Bank where the lives of ordinary Palestinians may well be disrupted by Israeli efforts to find the kidnappers and their victims. Just as the national cause of Palestinian Arabs has always been inextricably tied to efforts to battle Zionism rather than the cause of building up their own culture and identity, their political factions have always understood that attacks on Jews were the only credentials that counted when it came to gaining support on the Palestinian street. Since neither Fatah nor Hamas can compete for such backing by pointing to their records in governance as the Islamists’ rule of Gaza has proved to be every bit as disastrous as Fatah’s West Bank kleptocracy, they must, instead, always revert to violence. The fact that the Palestinian media has generally welcomed the kidnapping rather than denouncing it illustrates this point.

As Avi Isacharoff writes in the Times of Israel, since the unity agreement was signed in April, Hamas has been working hard to foment unrest in the West Bank. Part of that was its exploitation of a hunger strike being undertaken by terrorists in Israeli prisons, but the main object of this activity hasn’t been so much an effort to undermine their Zionist enemy but to destabilize Abbas’s West Bank government even as it was in the process of absorbing Hamas and trying to retake control of Gaza.

Hamas must surely believe that a repeat of its triumph in both kidnapping Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and then trading him for over a thousand captured terrorists will put them in a stronger position to not only hold onto the independent Palestinian state in all but name that they have ruled in Gaza but also give them a shot at toppling Abbas in the West Bank. Even worse, they know that if Abbas cooperates with Israel in finding the kidnapped teens, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has rightly demanded, it will undermine him just at the moment when he was basking in praise for rejecting the Jewish state’s peace offers and bringing Hamas back into the PA’s fold.

All this illustrates the utter folly that was the foundation of both Kerry’s peace initiative and the complacence with which the administration accepted the Hamas unity pact. So long as the Palestinian factions believe they stand to gain by practicing terrorism, an end to the conflict is nowhere in sight. Though Washington preferred to believe that Fatah and even Hamas had abandoned violence and were amenable to peace if Israel could be pressured into making even more concessions than those contained in previous rejected peace offers, the kidnapping offers President Obama a lesson in the basics of Palestinian politics that he has so far chosen to ignore.

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“Lebanonization” and Other Bogus Defenses of Obama’s Hamas Policy

The Obama administration’s strategy to deflect criticism of its support for Hamas’s role in the emerging Palestinian government is becoming clear. American officials will accuse Israel of hypocrisy, and rely on the media to parrot the accusation. There are two elements to the charge, and neither–as would be expected from an Obama-Kerry brainstorm–have merit. But they are revealing nonetheless.

Today’s New York Times story on the matter includes both charges. The first: “The Israeli government, [Kerry] noted, was continuing to send the Palestinian Authority tax remittances.” The implication is that Israel is in no place to protest American funding of a government including Hamas since they are doing so themselves. Yet to suggest that tax remittances are the same, or should be considered the same, as foreign aid is absurd on its face–and, frankly, rather embarrassing for Kerry who may not understand basic economics himself but can afford to hire someone who does.

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The Obama administration’s strategy to deflect criticism of its support for Hamas’s role in the emerging Palestinian government is becoming clear. American officials will accuse Israel of hypocrisy, and rely on the media to parrot the accusation. There are two elements to the charge, and neither–as would be expected from an Obama-Kerry brainstorm–have merit. But they are revealing nonetheless.

Today’s New York Times story on the matter includes both charges. The first: “The Israeli government, [Kerry] noted, was continuing to send the Palestinian Authority tax remittances.” The implication is that Israel is in no place to protest American funding of a government including Hamas since they are doing so themselves. Yet to suggest that tax remittances are the same, or should be considered the same, as foreign aid is absurd on its face–and, frankly, rather embarrassing for Kerry who may not understand basic economics himself but can afford to hire someone who does.

Additionally, the United States and Israel often have different approaches to the Palestinians because of the different roles the two play. Generally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed ending American aid to the Palestinian Authority, and has gone to bat for Obama by lobbying Congress to back off such proposals. The reason is the Palestinians have two primary choices for leadership: Fatah and Hamas. Until now Hamas has been excluded from the broader government, which means any money that flows to Mahmoud Abbas may have been misused in any number of ways, but it at least propped up the far superior alternative to Hamas.

Had Fatah been abandoned by the West, Hamas would have taken over the West Bank too. It can be argued that this process incentivizes Abbas’s misbehavior because it signals to him that he can get away with virtually anything. But actions have consequences, and the consequences of setting Abbas adrift would be disastrous.

The whole point of propping up Abbas was to fund the PA instead of Hamas, in an effort to weaken the latter. Funding a Palestinian government that includes Hamas is, strategically, the opposite of what the United States has been doing. It is not hypocritical of Israel to point this out. Indeed, it should not need pointing out. But if the geniuses running the White House and State Department insist on behaving as though they were born yesterday, they can expect the leaders of the nations that will bear the brunt of the consequences to treat them as such.

The other accusation of hypocrisy concerns the so-called “Lebanonization” of the Palestinian Authority. Here’s the Times:

Nothing illustrated the complexity of the situation for the United States better than Mr. Kerry’s backdrop: He was in Lebanon to underscore American support for the Lebanese government — which includes the Islamic militant group, Hezbollah.

This argument has gained some traction recently, but its popularity is truly puzzling. The implication here is that the United States supports the Lebanese government even though the terrorist group Hezbollah is an influential part of that government. Therefore, how can Israel oppose American support for a similar government in the Palestinian territories when it does not push back against American support for Lebanon?

Can anyone at the State Department guess the difference between the Palestinians and Lebanon? Show of hands? If you said, “The Israeli government is not involved in land-for-peace negotiations, including the possibility of ceding control of holy places and uprooting Israelis from ancient Jewish land, with the Lebanese,” then you get a gold star.

As the Times story notes, this is really a preliminary confrontation. There will supposedly be elections within the next six months or so, and Hamas will want to participate. Wouldn’t that be dangerous? Sure, but here’s an American official putting everyone at ease:

“Can a group that has a political party and a militia of 20,000 troops run in an election?” a senior administration official said. “These are issues that are going to have be dealt with down the road.”

We’ll find out together! It’ll be exciting. Of course, we already know the answer, since Hamas has already participated in elections in what was widely viewed as a mistake back in 2006. And Hamas currently governs its own province of the territories, the Gaza Strip. The Americans have already seen this movie, but they still can’t wait to see how it ends.

That, of course, could be the one silver lining. If Hamas enters the government and Israel refuses to negotiate with them, it’ll put the onus back where it belongs: on the Palestinian leadership to prove it can build a state that would coexist side by side with a Jewish state. It’ll be John Kerry’s chance to prove the Israelis wrong, though I don’t think they’ll be holding their breath.

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Not First Time Palestinian Aid Violated the Law

Jonathan Tobin noted yesterday that the Obama administration’s decision to continue funding the Palestinian Authority despite its inclusion of Hamas is a clear violation of U.S. law. He is absolutely right. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s decision, alas, was entirely predictable. In my recent book on the history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, I chronicle CIA, State Department, and White House efforts across decades to subvert U.S. law and engage with the worst, most extreme Palestinian elements.

In July 1979, for example, Andrew Young, a civil rights hero whom Carter had appointed to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, met secretly with Zehdi Terzi, the PLO’s representative at the UN. True, Young had not cleared his meeting with the State Department. Like many diplomats, he found freelancing with rogues to be cool. When the matter became public, Carter reprimanded Young, and Young resigned. He remained defiant, however, and chided U.S. refusal to talk to the PLO. That much was public. What was not aired publicly at the time, but became clear from both letters, declassified documents, and memoirs, is that Carter blamed not Young but rather the Israelis for forcing the matter to come to a head.

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Jonathan Tobin noted yesterday that the Obama administration’s decision to continue funding the Palestinian Authority despite its inclusion of Hamas is a clear violation of U.S. law. He is absolutely right. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s decision, alas, was entirely predictable. In my recent book on the history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, I chronicle CIA, State Department, and White House efforts across decades to subvert U.S. law and engage with the worst, most extreme Palestinian elements.

In July 1979, for example, Andrew Young, a civil rights hero whom Carter had appointed to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, met secretly with Zehdi Terzi, the PLO’s representative at the UN. True, Young had not cleared his meeting with the State Department. Like many diplomats, he found freelancing with rogues to be cool. When the matter became public, Carter reprimanded Young, and Young resigned. He remained defiant, however, and chided U.S. refusal to talk to the PLO. That much was public. What was not aired publicly at the time, but became clear from both letters, declassified documents, and memoirs, is that Carter blamed not Young but rather the Israelis for forcing the matter to come to a head.

No doubt, Carter had a soft spot for the PLO. After Iranian revolutionaries seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979, Carter used the PLO as an intermediary with the hostage-takers. When the Iranian hostage-takers released black and female hostages, the State Department credited the PLO. Diplomats didn’t realize that this was a gesture the Iranians would have made anyway, because the revolutionary leadership had internalized third world propaganda on American society and wanted to show that they were supporters of ‘social justice.’ Regardless, by accepting the PLO as an intermediary, Carter and the State Department granted the PLO legitimacy at a time when it refused to abandon terrorism. Congress was less willing simply to criticize and posture, and instead moved to constrain Carter’s outreach: It opposed both the UN Special Committee on Palestinian Rights and American participation in the International Monetary Fund if the PLO joined.

Compared to Carter, Ronald Reagan was a breath of fresh air. During his campaign, Reagan swore he would not negotiate with terrorists. The State Department had come to a different conclusion. In the early 1980s, the PLO was on the ropes. Israel’s 1982 Lebanon invasion soundly defeated the PLO and forced its leadership into exile. The PLO remained as committed to terrorism as ever, most famously hijacking the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. The execution, reportedly on Arafat’s orders, of an elderly, wheelchair-bound American Jew reinforced the PLO’s pariah status. Rather than gear policy to undermine the weakened PLO further, the State Department engaged the group.

In one of the closest parallels to what is occurring today, U.S. diplomats in 1985 were willing to accept the fiction of a joint Jordanian-PLO delegation in order to sit down with the PLO. Arafat’s refusal to even rhetorically foreswear terrorism, however, led to the cancellation of talks. In the aftermath of the Achille Lauro hijacking, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987, which formally declared the PLO to be a terrorist organization for purposes of U.S. law, and reinforced the prohibition on U.S. dialogue with the group. This act forced the State Department to close the PLO’s offices in Washington, against American diplomats’ wishes, although the United Nations treaty protected the PLO offices in New York.

The PLO got a new lease on life with the outbreak of the first intifada in December 1987. In February 1988, in the midst of almost daily violence, Mohamed Rabie, a Palestinian academic close to the PLO leadership, approached William Quandt, a Carter-era National Security Council aide and sought Quandt’s help with an introduction to NSC officials to explore U.S. interest for dialogue with the PLO. Two diplomats serving on the NSC—Robert Oakley and Dennis Ross—were happy to oblige. Talking to terrorists makes careers. In the book, I go into considerable detail into that dialogue. The PLO gained a great deal of legitimacy and that late Reagan-era dialogue actually set the stage for the full embrace of the PLO five years later.

It is one thing for the Congress to make laws in order to constrain the State Department and protect against diplomats’ worst instincts. It is another thing to enforce the law. During the Clinton administration, efforts to subvert Congress in order to keep dialogue with the PLO alive became even more nefarious.

In 1989, noting that the PLO continued its terrorism with Arafat’s cognizance, Congress passed the PLO Commitments Compliance Act (PLOCCA), which required the State Department to affirm every 120 days that the PLO was abiding by its commitment to abandon terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist. If the PLO did not meet its commitments, then dialogue should cease. That happened once. On May 30, 1990, terrorists attacked a Tel Aviv beach. When Arafat refused to discipline Abul Abbas, the PLO executive committee member who planned the attack, the State Department suspended dialogue for a few weeks.

After Oslo, and after Arafat returned to Gaza, he was dismissive of commitments both to ensure security and revoke portions of the PLO’s charter that called for Israel’s destruction. Because the State Department ignored Arafat’s backpedaling, the Senate tried to rein in engagement. On July 15, 1994, the Senate prohibited release of taxpayer funds to the PLO unless the PLO complied with its commitments to renounce and control terrorism. Congressional action did not filter down to diplomats on the ground, though. “I took every opportunity I could to see Arafat,” recounted Edward Abington Jr., the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem. “I just felt it was important to be seen as very active, as understanding Palestinian positions, showing sympathy and empathy.” In retirement, Arafat rewarded Abington with a golden parachute.

Throughout the later Clinton administration, the State Department actively buried information that it had at its disposal proving Arafat’s complicity in terrorism in order to avoid triggering an automatic U.S. aid cut-off. Documents captured from Arafat’s Ramallah compound showed the depth of Arafat’s personal involvement in financing and directing terror attacks. A comparison of declassified intelligence with the timing of Congressional testimony by senior American diplomats shows unequivocally that senior State Department officials—many of whom subsequently joined the Obama administration—had simply lied to Congress in order to keep the taxpayer money flowing and keep shuttle diplomacy alive.

Jonathan is absolutely correct that “Congress must restrict his ability to funnel money to Palestinian terrorists in the future. Let us hope they have the will. But until Congress holds senior American officials accountable for demonstrably lying to Congress, there is no disincentive for flagrantly breaking the law.

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Palestinians Unite to Preserve Corruption

The unity agreement that brought together the Fatah and Hamas Palestinian factions is, according to the New York Times, already paying dividends for the Palestinian people. According to the feature on the efforts to implement the accord, newspapers from the West Bank and Jerusalem are now on sale in Gaza and those from the Hamas-ruled enclave are now available on newsstands in the area run by the Palestinian Authority. That’s good news for consumers of the propaganda published by the two main Palestinian factions’ media operations.

Meanwhile, the Times is far more interested in the brewing controversy over what to do about the murders committed by the two factions against each other. A Palestinian commission is trying to get the families of the members of Fatah slaughtered by Hamas in its 2007 coup to accept monetary compensation rather than press their case and insist that the murderers be given the death penalty. The same is true of those families of Hamas members killed by Fatah. The pressure for the families to accept “social reconciliation” is yielding mixed results as many residents of both the West Bank and Gaza weaned on a culture of violence directed mainly against Israelis and Jews are focused on revenge and not much interested in the concept of forgiveness, even when applied to fellow Palestinians.

This dynamic will play a large role in whether this scheme will work in the long run. But of far greater interest to the rest of the world are two other questions that will impact both the chances of peace with Israel and the willingness of the international community to subsidize the PA: integration of the “security” forces employed by Fatah and Hamas and how to pay for all of the Palestinians in both factions that are being supported via no-work and no-show government jobs.

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The unity agreement that brought together the Fatah and Hamas Palestinian factions is, according to the New York Times, already paying dividends for the Palestinian people. According to the feature on the efforts to implement the accord, newspapers from the West Bank and Jerusalem are now on sale in Gaza and those from the Hamas-ruled enclave are now available on newsstands in the area run by the Palestinian Authority. That’s good news for consumers of the propaganda published by the two main Palestinian factions’ media operations.

Meanwhile, the Times is far more interested in the brewing controversy over what to do about the murders committed by the two factions against each other. A Palestinian commission is trying to get the families of the members of Fatah slaughtered by Hamas in its 2007 coup to accept monetary compensation rather than press their case and insist that the murderers be given the death penalty. The same is true of those families of Hamas members killed by Fatah. The pressure for the families to accept “social reconciliation” is yielding mixed results as many residents of both the West Bank and Gaza weaned on a culture of violence directed mainly against Israelis and Jews are focused on revenge and not much interested in the concept of forgiveness, even when applied to fellow Palestinians.

This dynamic will play a large role in whether this scheme will work in the long run. But of far greater interest to the rest of the world are two other questions that will impact both the chances of peace with Israel and the willingness of the international community to subsidize the PA: integration of the “security” forces employed by Fatah and Hamas and how to pay for all of the Palestinians in both factions that are being supported via no-work and no-show government jobs.

While reform of the PA’s spending policies is key to any hope of building an economy for the Palestinians, the more immediate question is what to do about the glut of government workers in Gaza. For the last seven years 70,000 Fatah employees have been collecting their paychecks without having to show up for work in Gaza since the Hamas coup. Meanwhile, 40,000 Hamas supporters are also getting government paychecks for doing or not doing the same jobs. Since the economy of both the West Bank and Gaza is largely fueled by the paychecks that come from this patronage scheme, turning off the spigot for either of these groups would create a crisis that could lead to violence.

The fact that Hamas made do with only 40,000 government employees where Fatah had 70,000 is not so much a tribute to the efficiency of the Islamists as it is one to the vast scale of the patronage system that was put in place by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat. Suffice it to say that Hamas is no more likely to get a good day’s work from many of its 40,000 workers than Fatah was from most of its 70,000. But unless the PA can find a way to keep all 110,000 on the government payroll, there will be major trouble in the Strip, of which the suffering of the families of these “workers” will be just the tip of the iceberg.

But as much as this problem makes the struggles of American state governments with an expensive municipal bureaucracy look like child’s play, it must be recognized that such corrupt practices are the foundation of the Palestinian economy. Government corruption and regulations aimed at filling the pockets of PA leaders make normal economic development virtually impossible. The attempt of former PA prime minister Salam Fayyad to implement reform was a flop because both Palestinian parties opposed it. The only thing keeping the West Bank fiscally afloat is the money donated by the EU and the U.S. in order to pay an even larger number of PA patronage employees, few of whom are asked to lift a finger in exchange for the money.

Thus, while many Palestinian sympathizers have been lauding the unity agreement, it must be recognized that as much as it is an effort to allow the two factions to join forces to thwart peace, it also will help stop any movement toward reform and economic development. The point here is that the price of this unity is not only a situation where an unreconstructed Hamas that will not renounce violence or its war on Israel will ensure that peace never happens. It also means that the same international community that has been bilked for billions that wound up in the pockets of PA leaders and their families will now be expected to perform the same service for Hamas’s large payroll.

Unfortunately, rather than calling out the Palestinians for this trick, the European Union has announced it will continue aid to the PA. Just as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu predicted, unity will mean that Hamas and its terrorist cadres will operate behind a façade of PA bureaucrats while not only fomenting violence but also getting paid by the West for it.

This development should signal U.S. lawmakers that it is high time for them to push to enforce the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 that mandates a cutoff of U.S. aid to the Palestinians if Hamas is brought into the PA fold. Any further delays in doing so due to the Obama administration’s futile efforts to revive a peace process that was already dead the day Fatah and Hamas joined hands will only lead to American taxpayers paying a portion of the tab for all those no-show and no-work Palestinian jobholders.

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Nakba Day and Plausible Peace Plans

The market for new Middle East peace plans is pretty much like that available for diets. Just as there will never be a shortage of schemes offering you a way to lose weight by various means, the supply of “new” solutions to the conflict in the Middle East is a well that never runs dry. The latest entry to what is a growing genre comes from Israeli journalist and author Ari Shavit, whose book—My Promised Land—on the conflict got generally favorable reviews in the United States. Writing in the New Republic, Shavit offers what he claims is not only a new approach but a “plausible” one that seeks to learn from the mistakes made by the peace processors in the more than 20 years since the Oslo Accords.

Like that book (which was subjected to a thorough and withering takedown by the irreplaceable Ruth Wisse), whose superficial evenhandedness endeared it to both liberal Jewish friends of Israel and many who are not its friends, Shavit’s plan sounds smart and also avoids the clichés about Israelis needing to search their souls or having to be saved from themselves by wise foreigners. Indeed, there is much to recommend it. Shavit counsels that we should forget about what he calls “Old Peace” with its obsession with crafting grand agreements and promoting White House ceremonies and instead concentrate on “New Peace”—an idea that will focus on Palestinian economic development and reform as a way to transition them and their Israeli neighbors to accepting a two state solution that will be based on ending the conflict rather than merely pausing it. But the idea isn’t new. Though he gives the back of his hand to Israel’s current government as being part of the problem rather than the solution, this concept of fostering change on the ground as the foundation for genuine reconciliation is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been advocating for years even as he has accepted a two-state solution as the basis for agreements.

But as smart as this may be, the problem with Shavit’s “New Peace” is pretty much the same as the shortcomings with the old variety. And the evidence of the impractical nature of his plan is very much on display today as the Palestinians and their cheerleaders around the world celebrate “Nakba Day.” May 15 is the anniversary of Israel’s Independence in 1948, an event that Palestinians refer to as the “disaster” or nakba. The parades, speeches, and vows of eliminating the Jewish state that are echoing throughout the political culture of the Palestinians today are proof that, at least for the foreseeable future, such practical plans as that of Shavit, which require them to put aside their historic grudges and focus on building a productive future, haven’t got a chance.

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The market for new Middle East peace plans is pretty much like that available for diets. Just as there will never be a shortage of schemes offering you a way to lose weight by various means, the supply of “new” solutions to the conflict in the Middle East is a well that never runs dry. The latest entry to what is a growing genre comes from Israeli journalist and author Ari Shavit, whose book—My Promised Land—on the conflict got generally favorable reviews in the United States. Writing in the New Republic, Shavit offers what he claims is not only a new approach but a “plausible” one that seeks to learn from the mistakes made by the peace processors in the more than 20 years since the Oslo Accords.

Like that book (which was subjected to a thorough and withering takedown by the irreplaceable Ruth Wisse), whose superficial evenhandedness endeared it to both liberal Jewish friends of Israel and many who are not its friends, Shavit’s plan sounds smart and also avoids the clichés about Israelis needing to search their souls or having to be saved from themselves by wise foreigners. Indeed, there is much to recommend it. Shavit counsels that we should forget about what he calls “Old Peace” with its obsession with crafting grand agreements and promoting White House ceremonies and instead concentrate on “New Peace”—an idea that will focus on Palestinian economic development and reform as a way to transition them and their Israeli neighbors to accepting a two state solution that will be based on ending the conflict rather than merely pausing it. But the idea isn’t new. Though he gives the back of his hand to Israel’s current government as being part of the problem rather than the solution, this concept of fostering change on the ground as the foundation for genuine reconciliation is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been advocating for years even as he has accepted a two-state solution as the basis for agreements.

But as smart as this may be, the problem with Shavit’s “New Peace” is pretty much the same as the shortcomings with the old variety. And the evidence of the impractical nature of his plan is very much on display today as the Palestinians and their cheerleaders around the world celebrate “Nakba Day.” May 15 is the anniversary of Israel’s Independence in 1948, an event that Palestinians refer to as the “disaster” or nakba. The parades, speeches, and vows of eliminating the Jewish state that are echoing throughout the political culture of the Palestinians today are proof that, at least for the foreseeable future, such practical plans as that of Shavit, which require them to put aside their historic grudges and focus on building a productive future, haven’t got a chance.

Shavit’s plan requires Israel to enact a total freeze on building in those Jewish settlements in the West Bank that are beyond the security fence. That’s a measure that wouldn’t inconvenience Israel all that much since almost all of the new housing beyond the 1967 lines is in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs that are inside the fence and would be kept by Israel in any peace agreement. But Shavit also says that Israel should withdraw completely from large swaths of the West Bank and that each such area would become an economic opportunity zone for Palestinian entrepreneurs where a free-market economy would grow without the debilitating corruption of the current Palestinian Authority.

The zones would be aided by the Arab states and the European Union and overseen by the United States. This new spirit of growth would foster a different civil political culture that would replace the old Palestinian one in which national identity is inextricably tied to war to the death against Zionism. Only by recreating themselves in this manner will Palestinians ever be willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. As Shavit writes:

The new Palestinian moderates can grow and prosper within the protective greenhouse of a New Peace structure that will expand the Palestinian geographic, political, and economic space—year by year, quarter by quarter. If at any given point in time the Palestinians are better off than in the previous point in time, there is hope. A new generation of modernized and globalized West Bankers may find reconciliation with their Israeli neighbors essential—and feasible. Over time, a benign Palestine may be established and a two-state steady-state may come to be.

Anyone who cares about Israel or the Palestinians should hope it someday becomes a reality. But the problem with what Shavit calls “Fayyadism”—named for the reform-minded former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad—was amply illustrated by his failure. Despite the praise showered on him by Americans, Europeans, and Israelis and the aid they sought to give him, Fayyad and other like-minded Palestinians have no discernible constituency among their own people. The corrupt kleptocrats of Fatah and the terrorists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad may have nothing to offer Palestinians but more of the same blood, privation, and failure they’ve been giving them throughout the century-old conflict over the land with the Jews, but they remain the only viable factions.

Shavit’s reference to his opportunity zones as a “greenhouse” is telling. It should be remembered that when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, wealthy American Jews bought the greenhouses built by Jewish settlers in order to give them to local Arabs who could then build their economy. But the greenhouses were destroyed in a paroxysm of Palestinian rage against anything connected to the Jews hours after the Israelis left. Much as Shavit might hope that Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank will produce a different result, there is no reason to think that any land abandoned to the Palestinians will not be converted to terrorist hotbeds, much as the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza soon became.

Unlike most foreign critics of Israel, Shavit understands that Israelis have become disillusioned with the peace process not because they want to rule over the Palestinians but because every previous peace deal has resulted in a trade of land for terror, not peace. He’d like the next time to be different, but offers no safeguards for that other than vague talk about American supervision. But does he really think Americans wish to take up the job of counter-terrorism in the West Bank currently done by Israelis just when they’ve tired of fighting counter-insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Shavit knows that Palestinians must change if they are ever to have peace or sovereignty. But the idea that this change can be imposed upon them from the outside or be the result of foreign investment projects is to engage in the same kind of magical thinking that has sunk every “Old Peace” venture in the last generation. The sea change in Palestinian political culture that will finally give up the fight to reverse the verdict of the Nakba must come from within. Until it does, Shavit’s peace plan, like every other one proposed by Americans or Israelis from the left, right, and center, is a waste of time.

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Latest Palestinian ‘No’ Leaves Israel Pondering Unattractive Options

Today Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu went to Israel’s Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to announce his push for the Knesset to adopt a new basic law that would formally declare that Israel was the nation state of the Jewish people. The proposal, uttered in the same spot where David Ben Gurion declared Israel’s independence in 1948, would not compromise the rights of Israel’s non-Jewish minorities but does seek to remove any doubt about the future of the country either in the aftermath of a peace treaty with the Palestinians or without it. Some of his domestic critics were right to point out that the passage of such a law would change nothing in Israel since it is already a Jewish state with full and equal rights for non-Jews. But the latest revelations about the recently scuttled peace talks speak volumes about why the negotiations promoted by Secretary of State John Kerry failed.

As the Times of Israel reports, Israel tried to get Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to agree to anything that would acknowledge that Israel was a Jewish state. They even proposed wording that would at the same time say that the new Palestinian nation was the state of the Palestinian Arabs. But the two states for two peoples formula that has always been at the heart of the pro-peace agenda among Jews is not one that Abbas could swallow even in its most even-handed form. The goal was mutual recognition rather than forcing the Palestinians to accept an Israeli ultimatum. But not even the most flexible formula was something the PA would even discuss let alone accept because doing so would implicitly concede that the Palestinians were concluding the conflict and accepting that the verdict of the War of Independence is final.

This leaves Israelis pondering what their next step will be now that the Palestinians have blown up the process.

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Today Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu went to Israel’s Independence Hall in Tel Aviv to announce his push for the Knesset to adopt a new basic law that would formally declare that Israel was the nation state of the Jewish people. The proposal, uttered in the same spot where David Ben Gurion declared Israel’s independence in 1948, would not compromise the rights of Israel’s non-Jewish minorities but does seek to remove any doubt about the future of the country either in the aftermath of a peace treaty with the Palestinians or without it. Some of his domestic critics were right to point out that the passage of such a law would change nothing in Israel since it is already a Jewish state with full and equal rights for non-Jews. But the latest revelations about the recently scuttled peace talks speak volumes about why the negotiations promoted by Secretary of State John Kerry failed.

As the Times of Israel reports, Israel tried to get Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to agree to anything that would acknowledge that Israel was a Jewish state. They even proposed wording that would at the same time say that the new Palestinian nation was the state of the Palestinian Arabs. But the two states for two peoples formula that has always been at the heart of the pro-peace agenda among Jews is not one that Abbas could swallow even in its most even-handed form. The goal was mutual recognition rather than forcing the Palestinians to accept an Israeli ultimatum. But not even the most flexible formula was something the PA would even discuss let alone accept because doing so would implicitly concede that the Palestinians were concluding the conflict and accepting that the verdict of the War of Independence is final.

This leaves Israelis pondering what their next step will be now that the Palestinians have blown up the process.

With the PA having embraced the Hamas terrorist movement, negotiations are not likely to be resumed soon. With the U.S. perhaps considering issuing its own peace plan that is likely to be more in line with Palestinian demands than Israel’s position, some in the Jewish state feel the time is right for some unilateral steps. It is in this context that Netanyahu’s Jewish state proposal must be seen. But that symbolic gesture aside, Israel would be wise to avoid seeking to repeat the mistake it made in 2005 when Ariel Sharon sought to unilaterally set Israel’s borders by withdrawing from Gaza. No matter what Israel gives up, it will get no credit from the international community.

Respected thinkers like Michael Oren, the immediate past Israeli ambassador to the U.S., believe that there must be a “plan B” in the aftermath of the collapse of the talks. He suggests a withdrawal to the security fence that would remove some settlements and make it clear that the settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem will forever be part of Israel.

But the problem here is that withdrawing from one place won’t convince anyone that Israel has a right to keep another. To the contrary, as with the various withdrawals that Israel has undertaken since the start of the Oslo Accords, every retreat is considered by both the Palestinians and the international community as proof that the territories are all stolen property that must be returned to the Arabs rather than as disputed lands that should be split as part of a rational compromise. The Gaza fiasco should have taught the Israelis this truth as well as making clear how costly in terms of its security such retreats can be.

Nor should anyone be holding out much hope for another try at the process even though it is doubtful that Kerry is ready to concede that his quest was nothing more than a fool’s errand. Ironically, former President Bill Clinton spoke at length during an appearance at Georgetown University this week about his own peace process push in 2000. Not for the first time, Clinton exploded the myths put forward by Obama National Security Council staffer Robert Malley that the Palestinians were not at fault for the failure of the Camp David Summit. Clinton repeated his previous assertions that it was Yasir Arafat who turned down Israel’s offer of peace in spite of the fact that then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak was ready to concede control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

This is significant because it set the pattern that Abbas has followed in the years after Arafat left the scene. The rejection of even a mutual declaration of recognition by Abbas constituted the fourth Palestinian no to peace and statehood in 15 years. That won’t change until the political culture of the Palestinians that inextricably links rejection of Zionism to their national identity changes.

But rather than seeking unilateral moves that will strengthen neither Israel’s security nor its popularity abroad or another deep dive into a peace process that is doomed to failure, the Jewish state must be prepared to wait patiently until the Palestinians are finally ready to make peace. Managing the conflict doesn’t satisfy those who want to resolve the conflict. But, as the Israelis have shown over the last forty years, it is the safest and most reasonable approach to a problem that, despite their best intentions, they can’t solve by themselves. It remains the best of a number of poor choices available to them.

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J Street Finds Itself Marooned with Hamas

Pity the members of J Street. The left-wing lobby was brought into existence in order to act as a Jewish cheering section for Obama administration pressure on Israel. Its allegedly “pro-Israel, pro-peace” platform is predicated on the notion that the Jewish state must be saved from itself by means of heavy-handed American arm-twisting. It hoped Obama, whose election its members regarded as proof that they, rather than the mainstream AIPAC, represented the bulk of American Jewry, would apply the screws to Israel’s government and magically produce a peace agreement.

But well into the sixth year of Obama’s presidency, their hopes have been dashed. Bereft of influence on Capital Hill or even within the administration it relentlessly supports, J Street has found itself on the sidelines continually seeking to fan each flame of U.S.-Israel discord into a fire that will produce the peace process breakthrough it devoutly insists is always just around the corner. Though J Street has not been without its moments of triumph when Obama has gratuitously slammed Israel and its government, disappointment always follows because not even the most hostile administration to the Jewish state since Jimmy Carter has ever been willing to escalate those spats into all-out political war. Thus, despite its approval of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative and of Obama’s disdain for Prime Minister Netanyahu, J Street finds itself out of sync with the administration.

That’s the position J Street finds itself in again today when it urged Obama not to let the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement be an impediment to pursuing pressure on Israel. That put it at odds with an administration which considered the PA’s alliance with the Islamist terror movement both disappointing and troubling. The idea that Obama and Kerry would, as J Street urges, seize this moment to produce their own peace plan and demand Israel accept it is farcical. Instead of being able to use its influence in the Oval Office and the State Department, J Street is marooned with Hamas.

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Pity the members of J Street. The left-wing lobby was brought into existence in order to act as a Jewish cheering section for Obama administration pressure on Israel. Its allegedly “pro-Israel, pro-peace” platform is predicated on the notion that the Jewish state must be saved from itself by means of heavy-handed American arm-twisting. It hoped Obama, whose election its members regarded as proof that they, rather than the mainstream AIPAC, represented the bulk of American Jewry, would apply the screws to Israel’s government and magically produce a peace agreement.

But well into the sixth year of Obama’s presidency, their hopes have been dashed. Bereft of influence on Capital Hill or even within the administration it relentlessly supports, J Street has found itself on the sidelines continually seeking to fan each flame of U.S.-Israel discord into a fire that will produce the peace process breakthrough it devoutly insists is always just around the corner. Though J Street has not been without its moments of triumph when Obama has gratuitously slammed Israel and its government, disappointment always follows because not even the most hostile administration to the Jewish state since Jimmy Carter has ever been willing to escalate those spats into all-out political war. Thus, despite its approval of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative and of Obama’s disdain for Prime Minister Netanyahu, J Street finds itself out of sync with the administration.

That’s the position J Street finds itself in again today when it urged Obama not to let the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement be an impediment to pursuing pressure on Israel. That put it at odds with an administration which considered the PA’s alliance with the Islamist terror movement both disappointing and troubling. The idea that Obama and Kerry would, as J Street urges, seize this moment to produce their own peace plan and demand Israel accept it is farcical. Instead of being able to use its influence in the Oval Office and the State Department, J Street is marooned with Hamas.

As the New York Times reports:

After months of intensive shuttle diplomacy in which Mr. Kerry relentlessly pursued the peace process and even dangled the possibility of releasing an American convicted of spying for Israel to salvage the lifeless talks, his spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, called the Palestinian move “disappointing” and the timing “troubling.”

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties,” Ms. Psaki said, citing conditions Hamas has repeatedly rejected. “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist.”

J Street’s argument about Hamas being no impediment to peace (echoed here by the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg) is so out of touch with mainstream opinion in Israel and the American Jewish community it claims to represent as to be cringe inducing. They note that peace process cynics have rightly pointed out that so long as the Palestinians were hopelessly split between Fatah and Hamas, with the former running the West Bank and the latter operating an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas had no ability to sign a peace deal even if he wanted to. It claims that critics of the process will now switch to saying that a unified Palestinian government with Hamas will be unable to make a deal and asserts that this illustrates their fundamental opposition to peace.

This is, of course, nonsense. The reason why the Israeli government and the pro-Israel community in the United States reject Fatah-Hamas unity is because the Islamist movement as well as a significant slice of Fatah want no part of peace. As I wrote earlier this month when noting the comparisons between the struggle for peace in Ireland and that in the Middle East, just as Irish leaders were forced to choose between peace with Britain and peace with maximalist extremists, so, too, did Fatah have to make such a choice. But unlike Michael Collins, Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat were never able to muster the courage to wage war on those Palestinians who refused to accept a two-state solution. Whether that division was rooted in their own intransigence or their fear of Hamas, the result is the same.

While there is good reason to doubt that this reconciliation will be implemented, its purpose is not to prepare the ground for a unified push for peace but to allow both Fatah and Hamas to perpetuate the status quo. Abbas never wanted to negotiate with Israel and seized the first pretext he could find to abandon the talks. Neither Fatah nor Hamas can make peace or pursue the development Palestinians badly need, but both understand that they must continue to distract the people who suffer under their joint misrule from this fact.

Even more to the point, J Street’s suggestion that this is the moment for Kerry to put forward his own peace plan shows just how out of touch they are. Kerry may have been foolhardy enough to think the magic of his personality could achieve what all of his predecessors failed to accomplish, but he is not so stupid as to think he could persuade a Palestinian government that included Hamas would accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Nor would Obama risk his limited political capital in a midterm election year on a fight with Israel that would, like his previous squabbles with Netanyahu, do nothing to advance the cause. That’s why J Street, for all of President Obama’s sympathy for its goals, finds itself once again marginalized.  

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