Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinian Authority

Canada Shows the Way on Jerusalem

The Palestinian Authority is up in arms over a cup of coffee consumed by Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird. He was in the Middle East last week and made the requisite pilgrimage to Ramallah to give PA President Mahmoud Abbas a photo opportunity as well as a chance to beg yet another Western leader for more cash to keep his sinking ship afloat. But whatever success Abbas and company may have had in hitting up the Canadians for more money to squander is being overshadowed by their rage for Baird’s decision to meet with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Since it was located over the green line in the part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 prior to Jerusalem’s unification, the Palestinians consider this a violation of international law. In consequence of this protest, Baird received a stern letter from the PA and a Canadian diplomat was summoned for another meeting in Ramallah where, after the scolding is finished, the Palestinians would, no doubt, have another chance to talk about more cash to spread around in no-show and no-work patronage jobs that enable the Fatah Party to maintain its hold on the area.

Left-wing Canadian politicians are also using the incident to lambast Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, but no one in Ottawa should be trembling at the thought of offending Abbas. Though the Canadians say the meeting shouldn’t be construed as a change in policy, the get-together exposes the lie at the heart of so much of international comment about Israel’s capital. For decades the world has adhered to the fiction that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital and kept embassies in Tel Aviv so as to avoid giving the impression that it recognizes the reality that the ancient city is part of the Jewish state. But the world did not end when Baird sipped coffee with Livni. Nor did it further complicate the already moribund peace negotiations. All that happened is that the beggar of international politics got mad at one of their benefactors.

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The Palestinian Authority is up in arms over a cup of coffee consumed by Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird. He was in the Middle East last week and made the requisite pilgrimage to Ramallah to give PA President Mahmoud Abbas a photo opportunity as well as a chance to beg yet another Western leader for more cash to keep his sinking ship afloat. But whatever success Abbas and company may have had in hitting up the Canadians for more money to squander is being overshadowed by their rage for Baird’s decision to meet with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Since it was located over the green line in the part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 prior to Jerusalem’s unification, the Palestinians consider this a violation of international law. In consequence of this protest, Baird received a stern letter from the PA and a Canadian diplomat was summoned for another meeting in Ramallah where, after the scolding is finished, the Palestinians would, no doubt, have another chance to talk about more cash to spread around in no-show and no-work patronage jobs that enable the Fatah Party to maintain its hold on the area.

Left-wing Canadian politicians are also using the incident to lambast Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, but no one in Ottawa should be trembling at the thought of offending Abbas. Though the Canadians say the meeting shouldn’t be construed as a change in policy, the get-together exposes the lie at the heart of so much of international comment about Israel’s capital. For decades the world has adhered to the fiction that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital and kept embassies in Tel Aviv so as to avoid giving the impression that it recognizes the reality that the ancient city is part of the Jewish state. But the world did not end when Baird sipped coffee with Livni. Nor did it further complicate the already moribund peace negotiations. All that happened is that the beggar of international politics got mad at one of their benefactors.

Even before this incident, Harper’s government has repeatedly demonstrated its friendship for Israel with warmth that often exceeds that of the relationship between Israel and the United States. While the importance of its alliance with the world’s sole superpower cannot be compared to the one with its far less populous neighbor, the Canadians’ decision to buck conventional wisdom on Jerusalem and other issues is more than refreshing. It shows that the impact on peace or regional stability of doing things that do not adhere to the Palestinian line is negligible.

Meeting with Israelis in Jerusalem or even moving an embassy there wouldn’t prevent peace, were it possible. But it does deliver a body blow to the Palestinian delusion that if they just keep denying reality long enough, the rest of the world will force the Israelis to abandon their capital.

That’s a point the U.S. should consider when it panders to the Palestinians on Jerusalem. Even though everyone in Washington from President Obama on down knows that Israel will never return to the 1967 lines in the city, they have gone along with the myth that Israel’s government does not reside in the capital.

That this dispute should come up in the very week that Abbas and his cronies have finally rid themselves of the one Palestinian that the West trusts with their donations to the PA is telling. The resignation of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad pleases both Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas since his focus on development and honest governance was a problem for the corrupt agenda of the former and the terrorist aims of the latter. Both seem to think that his exit will not mean an end to the gravy train of Western donations. Nor do they think their dependence on the West should cause them to moderate their stands or even negotiate peace with an Israel that is willing to talk without preconditions.

Canada’s chutzpah shows that fears about the blowback for breaking down the myth about Israel and Jerusalem are overblown. It also demonstrates that what is needed is some reality-based diplomacy that will bring home to the PA that their effort to isolate Israel and to avoid peace negotiations will have consequences. Far from hurting the peace process, actions such as those undertaken by Canada only serve to prod the Palestinians to stop relying on the world to do their dirty work for them. As President Obama said last month, those who expect Israel to eventually disappear are mistaken. The same can be said for those who think it will be booted out of Jerusalem. Canada deserves cheers for reminding the Palestinians of this fact.

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Fayyad’s Exit Signals Oslo’s Bankruptcy

The resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a pivotal moment in the history of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Given that it is the product of an internal Palestinian political struggle rather than one in which Jews and Arabs are grappling for power, that may seem an exaggeration. But its significance should not be underestimated. The exit of the Palestinian technocrat lays bare the collapse of what the New York Times called “Fayyadism”—the hope that Palestinian nationalism would be refocused on development and coexistence rather than violence. Without the fig leaf of responsibility that Fayyad provided for the PA, the idea that it is anything but the same corrupt regime fatally compromised by connections with terror rings false.

The inability of Fayyad to either generate much public support among the people of the West Bank or to use his credentials as a respected international figure to outmaneuver Abbas is a tragedy for the Palestinian people. His failure dooms them to a choice between the venal and incompetent cadres of Fatah or the bloody Islamist tyranny of Hamas (which has always regarded the banishment of Fayyad from office as a precondition for any unity scheme with Abbas and the PA). That is unfortunate. The only question is whether those pushing Israel to further empower the now Fayyad-less PA will draw the only possible conclusion from these events and understand that the two-state solution that could conceivably solve the conflict must await a sea change in Palestinian politics that will allow another Fayyad to emerge and succeed.

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The resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a pivotal moment in the history of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Given that it is the product of an internal Palestinian political struggle rather than one in which Jews and Arabs are grappling for power, that may seem an exaggeration. But its significance should not be underestimated. The exit of the Palestinian technocrat lays bare the collapse of what the New York Times called “Fayyadism”—the hope that Palestinian nationalism would be refocused on development and coexistence rather than violence. Without the fig leaf of responsibility that Fayyad provided for the PA, the idea that it is anything but the same corrupt regime fatally compromised by connections with terror rings false.

The inability of Fayyad to either generate much public support among the people of the West Bank or to use his credentials as a respected international figure to outmaneuver Abbas is a tragedy for the Palestinian people. His failure dooms them to a choice between the venal and incompetent cadres of Fatah or the bloody Islamist tyranny of Hamas (which has always regarded the banishment of Fayyad from office as a precondition for any unity scheme with Abbas and the PA). That is unfortunate. The only question is whether those pushing Israel to further empower the now Fayyad-less PA will draw the only possible conclusion from these events and understand that the two-state solution that could conceivably solve the conflict must await a sea change in Palestinian politics that will allow another Fayyad to emerge and succeed.

There will be those who will inevitably blame Israel for Fayyad’s resignation since many in the world are incapable of interpreting any event that is construed as negative without seeing it as a manifestation of the malign influence of the Jewish state. But this is nonsense. Fayyad has always had the strong support of both the United States (under both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations) and of Israel, which despite its suspicions about the PA has seen him as an essential interlocutor and partner. His problem is that Abbas’s Fatah Party viewed him as an obstacle to both their drive for political hegemony in the West Bank as well as to the continuation of their crooked patronage schemes that diverted foreign aid money into the pockets of their leaders. As Jonathan Schanzer, who understands Palestinian politics as well as anybody writing about the subject in the West, wrote on the Foundation for Defense of Democracies blog this week as events unfolded:

With the most powerful faction in the West Bank gunning for Fayyad, it is likely a question of when, not if, the Palestinian premier departs.  This would be a blow to Palestinian reform efforts, but also shine a spotlight on the leadership deficit in the West Bank.

 It should be conceded that for those who see the question of Israeli-Palestinian peace solely from the frame of reference of the Jewish state’s problems in controlling large numbers of Arabs, the question of who runs a Palestinian government has always been considered irrelevant. Peace Now and other groups that venerated the Oslo Accords and the peace process were perfectly willing to hand over territory to a murderer and thief like Yasir Arafat and opposed all efforts to hold him accountable. So it should be anticipated that they, and others who push for Israeli withdrawals in order to weaken the Jewish state rather than to supposedly strengthen it by ending the “occupation,” will not care much whether the face of Palestinian nationalism is Fayyad, Abbas (currently serving the ninth year of the four-year term as president that he was elected to) or one of Hamas’s Islamists.

But the lack of a Fayyad matters because without him or someone like him, there is no pretense that what the peace processers seek to create in the West Bank is not a state living in peace with Israel (no matter where its borders are drawn) or its other Arab neighbors but a kleptocracy run by terrorists. If it is the former, then there is no doubt that a majority of the Israeli people would be willing to make painful compromises to achieve peace. If it is the latter, that is not only bad news for the Palestinian people who must suffer the depredations such tyrants will impose on them but it is also a guarantee that the terms of any peace deal signed with them will not be observed.

This conundrum goes to the heart of the original motivations behind the Oslo process that created the PA in 1993.

Shimon Peres may have conceived the Oslo process as a path to a “New Middle East” in which Israel and a Palestinian state led by Fayyads would create a Benelux-like enclave in the Middle East. The late Yitzhak Rabin went along with Peres’s Oslo gambit from a different point of view. He thought handing the territories over to Arafat would work because the old terrorist would be willing to settle for statehood in only part of the country and would then be free to quash Hamas and any other terrorists without the interference of a Supreme Court or gadfly groups like B’Tselem that inhibited Israeli counter-terror measures.

As it turns out, both of these men were wrong. Peres’s hopes about what the PA would become were delusional. But the hard-boiled Rabin was just as wrong to think a Palestinian state led by corrupt terrorists isn’t antithetical to the entire concept of two states for two peoples living alongside each other in peace. That was just as true for the slightly more presentable Abbas and his Fatah colleagues as it was for Arafat. This has already been amply demonstrated, first by Arafat’s use of terrorism and then by what has happened in Gaza where an independent Palestinian state in all but name already exists.

Fayyad’s tragedy was not just that both Fatah and Hamas wanted to be rid of him but that he was a man with virtually no support among ordinary Palestinians. So long as shedding Jewish blood is the main factor that gives a Palestinian political party credibility, men like Fayyad will have no chance no matter how much they are applauded by Americans or Israelis. The collapse of his effort to change Palestinian politics is therefore a key moment that should signal to the world that it must dispense with the theories of both Peres and Rabin and cease ignoring reality in favor of illusions.

That is something that groups and governments determined to keep funneling cash into the coffers of the PA and to push Israel to make concessions to it must understand. Until they do, the discussion about the peace process will continue to be a tragic waste of time and effort.

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Don’t Insult the King of Palestine

Last week President Obama used his speech in Jerusalem to Israeli students to once again prop up the idea that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is a reliable partner for peace. Despite his refusal to negotiate and his unwillingness to grab an Israeli offer of statehood in 2008, Abbas is still widely viewed in the West as a moderate and a good alternative to the extremists of Hamas. But, as was the case with his predecessor Yasir Arafat, the need to believe in the myth of Palestinian moderation tends to overshadow the truth about Abbas and his rule over the West Bank.

A little more light was shed on Abbas today as the New York Times—whose pages have been filled with cheerleading for the Palestinian Authority—published on its website last night a story about what happens to Palestinians who criticize the PA’s supremo. As Robert Mackey notes on the paper’s news blog The Lede:

A Palestinian court on Thursday upheld a one-year jail sentence for a journalist convicted of insulting President Mahmoud Abbas with a pastiche image posted on Facebook. Another Palestinian was given the same sentence last month for posting a humorous caption beneath an image of Mr. Abbas kicking a soccer ball on the social network.

The journalist, Mamdouh Hamamreh, said that he did not create or publish the composite image that compared Mr. Abbas to a character from a Syrian historical drama who collaborated with French colonialists. The court, applying part of the old Jordanian legal code that criminalizes insulting the king to an Internet jibe against the Palestinian president, was not swayed by Mr.Hamamreh’s s argument that he had played no part in the decision by the person who did upload the image to Facebook to draw it to his attention by adding his name as a tag to the text that accompanied it.

These incidents are just one more reminder that since its inception 20 years ago, the PA has been a corrupt tyranny that tramples on the rights of those people under its control. But the truth is, as was also the case with Arafat, the desire of many in the West as well as in Israel to have a Palestinian interlocutor causes them to ignore the PA’s sins or to whitewash them. Since we need Abbas to be the moderate alternative to Hamas, we cling to the idea that he really wants peace and even imagine that Israel will be better off if he and his cronies are put in charge of an independent state and tell ourselves it doesn’t matter if he is a petty tyrant or even a criminal. Indeed, that is what a lot of hardheaded Israelis have been telling us for years. But are they right?

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Last week President Obama used his speech in Jerusalem to Israeli students to once again prop up the idea that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is a reliable partner for peace. Despite his refusal to negotiate and his unwillingness to grab an Israeli offer of statehood in 2008, Abbas is still widely viewed in the West as a moderate and a good alternative to the extremists of Hamas. But, as was the case with his predecessor Yasir Arafat, the need to believe in the myth of Palestinian moderation tends to overshadow the truth about Abbas and his rule over the West Bank.

A little more light was shed on Abbas today as the New York Times—whose pages have been filled with cheerleading for the Palestinian Authority—published on its website last night a story about what happens to Palestinians who criticize the PA’s supremo. As Robert Mackey notes on the paper’s news blog The Lede:

A Palestinian court on Thursday upheld a one-year jail sentence for a journalist convicted of insulting President Mahmoud Abbas with a pastiche image posted on Facebook. Another Palestinian was given the same sentence last month for posting a humorous caption beneath an image of Mr. Abbas kicking a soccer ball on the social network.

The journalist, Mamdouh Hamamreh, said that he did not create or publish the composite image that compared Mr. Abbas to a character from a Syrian historical drama who collaborated with French colonialists. The court, applying part of the old Jordanian legal code that criminalizes insulting the king to an Internet jibe against the Palestinian president, was not swayed by Mr.Hamamreh’s s argument that he had played no part in the decision by the person who did upload the image to Facebook to draw it to his attention by adding his name as a tag to the text that accompanied it.

These incidents are just one more reminder that since its inception 20 years ago, the PA has been a corrupt tyranny that tramples on the rights of those people under its control. But the truth is, as was also the case with Arafat, the desire of many in the West as well as in Israel to have a Palestinian interlocutor causes them to ignore the PA’s sins or to whitewash them. Since we need Abbas to be the moderate alternative to Hamas, we cling to the idea that he really wants peace and even imagine that Israel will be better off if he and his cronies are put in charge of an independent state and tell ourselves it doesn’t matter if he is a petty tyrant or even a criminal. Indeed, that is what a lot of hardheaded Israelis have been telling us for years. But are they right?

The consensus in Israel dating back to Yitzhak Rabin has always been that it didn’t matter how beastly the Palestinian Authority was so long as it kept terrorists in line. Rabin famously defended the wisdom of putting Arafat in power by saying that he could fight terror “without a Supreme Court, without B’Tselem, and without bleeding heart liberals.” But unfortunately, Rabin’s prediction that the lack of Palestinian democracy would enhance Israel’s security was a colossal miscalculation. If anything, the lack of transparency only made it easier for Arafat to quietly subsidize terror by factions of his own Fatah Party even if he was also hoping to suppress his Hamas rivals.

Ariel Sharon also had little interest in the behavior of the Palestinian Authority toward its own people. He mocked Natan Sharansky for insisting that Israel’s security depended on the creation of a stable, democratic partner and that true peace would never happen until the PA stopped being a kleptocracy run by unaccountable tyrants.

As it turned out, Rabin and Sharon were both wrong and Sharansky’s predictions were proven prophetic; not only has the PA been a source of terror but its lack of legitimacy has undermined any hope that it could be a bulwark against the Islamists of Hamas.

It is true that Israel relies on the PA to keep the West Bank from being the terror base that Gaza has become under Hamas rule. But so long as it is looked upon by the Palestinian people with contempt and fear it will not have the ability to keep a peace agreement with Israel even if its leaders had the courage or the wisdom to sign one.

Highlighting the tyrannical nature of the PA—something once again made clear by Abbas’s unwillingness to allow even the mildest criticism of his rule—isn’t merely a matter of showing the contrast between democratic Israel and its antagonists. So long as Abbas—who is currently serving the ninth year of a four-year term as president of the PA—presides over a government of this nature any hope that he can be trusted to keep the peace is science fiction. Peace with such a king of Palestine would not be worth the paper it was printed on even were he willing to sign on the dotted line.

When Palestinians are ready to treat each other with dignity and respect, it will be possible to imagine that they will do the same to their Jewish neighbors. Until then, more talk about the PA being a partner for peace is pious hogwash.

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Palestinian “Moderates” Rely on Violence

The firing of a single rocket from Gaza today is easy to dismiss as just an isolated incident unworthy of much notice. The rocket was fired at the city of Ashkelon, but fortunately landed in an open field and did not lead to the activation of the Iron Dome defense system. But the attack, which was the first missile launched from Gaza since the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense last November, may tell us more about the violent intentions of the so-called moderates of the Palestinians than it does about the Hamas rulers of the strip.

As I noted on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s plans to launch a new intifada prior to President Obama’s visit to Israel isn’t exactly a secret. The recent outbreak of violent demonstrations in the West Bank isn’t so much a natural response to anything Israel has done as it is an orchestrated attempt to get the world to focus on Palestinian complaints. Thus it is not exactly a surprise to note that the group that claimed responsibility for today’s rocket wasn’t Hamas or any of its Islamist rivals but the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is part of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

The Al Aqsa group’s rocket launch is a reminder to foreign observers that their assumptions about the peaceful intent of Abbas and Fatah is based on willful ignorance and forgetfulness about the last time the PA decided to play the intifada game.

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The firing of a single rocket from Gaza today is easy to dismiss as just an isolated incident unworthy of much notice. The rocket was fired at the city of Ashkelon, but fortunately landed in an open field and did not lead to the activation of the Iron Dome defense system. But the attack, which was the first missile launched from Gaza since the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense last November, may tell us more about the violent intentions of the so-called moderates of the Palestinians than it does about the Hamas rulers of the strip.

As I noted on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s plans to launch a new intifada prior to President Obama’s visit to Israel isn’t exactly a secret. The recent outbreak of violent demonstrations in the West Bank isn’t so much a natural response to anything Israel has done as it is an orchestrated attempt to get the world to focus on Palestinian complaints. Thus it is not exactly a surprise to note that the group that claimed responsibility for today’s rocket wasn’t Hamas or any of its Islamist rivals but the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is part of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

The Al Aqsa group’s rocket launch is a reminder to foreign observers that their assumptions about the peaceful intent of Abbas and Fatah is based on willful ignorance and forgetfulness about the last time the PA decided to play the intifada game.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, after all, was created by Abbas’s predecessor, Yasir Arafat, in order to compete with Hamas. In the upside-down world of Palestinian politics, a group or a leader’s credibility is based on how many Jews it kills, not how much it can do to help the plight of their people. That’s why genuine moderates like PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is so well liked in the West, have virtually no constituency.

What may be happening now is, however, a reversal of roles as the PA attempts to bolster its support with violence while Hamas stands pat. Instead of Hamas using terrorism to upstage Fatah in the West Bank, what may be unfolding is a series of events in which it will be the alleged moderates–to whom Israel is being told to make concessions–looking to draw the Islamist rulers of Gaza into a new cycle of violence. The rocket firing was supposedly in retaliation for the death of a Palestinian demonstrator and must be seen in the context of an effort to provoke retaliation that will, they hope, galvanize international condemnation of Israel.

With the West Bank security fence making another campaign of Fatah-funded suicide bombings extremely difficult, and the Iron Dome system making missile attacks on Israel less of a threat, the Palestinians lack effective military options. But they do hope to create enough of a disturbance in order to make President Obama push Israel to do something to appease them. Yet since nothing–not even a settlement freeze–was enough to push Abbas to return to peace talks, there is very little reason for Obama to waste any of his political capital on a spat with Israel that he knows won’t advance the cause of peace.

The last intifada also started with what we were told was a spontaneous outbreak of popular protests, but which were actually instigated by Arafat and followed up with a murderous offensive sponsored by the PA. Fatah may think their interests are best served by heightening tensions with Israel and spilling some blood in order to gain attention. But if they were truly interested in peace or even independence, all they have to do is accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks. Until that happens, even an administration as friendly to their cause as that of President Obama is not likely to reward them for inciting violence.

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Obama’s Intifada Welcoming Committee

It’s difficult to say yet what exactly will be on President Obama’s mind when he heads to Israel next month, but an all-out push for another futile try to make peace with the Palestinians may not be on the agenda. It’s likely the president will continue his advocacy for a two-state solution, but after more than four years of failure even this administration appears to have gotten the message that any more effort expended on the peace process will be sunk, as it has every other time, by Palestinian intransigence. But the Palestinian Authority, which has ignored every attempt by the Obama White House to tip the diplomatic playing field in their favor, may be planning its own little surprise for the president.

As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reports, PA head Mahmoud Abbas is hoping to create an atmosphere in the country in advance of Obama’s arrival that will force him to push Israel for more concessions:

There are many signs that the Palestinian Authority is seeking to escalate tensions in the West Bank ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to the region next month.

Although the Palestinian Authority probably does not want an all-out confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis at this stage, some Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah believe that a “mini-intifada” would serve the Palestinians’ interests, especially on the eve of Obama’s visit.

The officials hope that scenes of daily clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in the West Bank will prompt Obama to exert pressure on the Israeli government to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinian Authority.

This is why the Palestinian Authority leadership has been encouraging its constituents lately to wage a “popular intifada” against Israel, each time finding another excuse to initiate confrontations between Palestinians and Israel.

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It’s difficult to say yet what exactly will be on President Obama’s mind when he heads to Israel next month, but an all-out push for another futile try to make peace with the Palestinians may not be on the agenda. It’s likely the president will continue his advocacy for a two-state solution, but after more than four years of failure even this administration appears to have gotten the message that any more effort expended on the peace process will be sunk, as it has every other time, by Palestinian intransigence. But the Palestinian Authority, which has ignored every attempt by the Obama White House to tip the diplomatic playing field in their favor, may be planning its own little surprise for the president.

As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reports, PA head Mahmoud Abbas is hoping to create an atmosphere in the country in advance of Obama’s arrival that will force him to push Israel for more concessions:

There are many signs that the Palestinian Authority is seeking to escalate tensions in the West Bank ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to the region next month.

Although the Palestinian Authority probably does not want an all-out confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis at this stage, some Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah believe that a “mini-intifada” would serve the Palestinians’ interests, especially on the eve of Obama’s visit.

The officials hope that scenes of daily clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in the West Bank will prompt Obama to exert pressure on the Israeli government to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinian Authority.

This is why the Palestinian Authority leadership has been encouraging its constituents lately to wage a “popular intifada” against Israel, each time finding another excuse to initiate confrontations between Palestinians and Israel.

Like the decision of his predecessor Yasir Arafat to launch the second intifada in 2000 after rejecting Ehud Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state, the whole point of the agitation is to manufacture a sense of crisis that requires U.S. intervention. If the resulting chaos further wounds an already depressed West Bank economy or results in violence that takes the lives of even more Palestinians than Israelis, the PA leadership will still think another intifada a clever idea.

In one sense they are right. Any escalation of violence, no matter how much it is the product of a political decision rather than a popular protest, will generate a lot of negative press for Israel. Even the most restrained measures of Israeli self-defense (such as the security fence that prevents suicide bombings) will be denounced by Europe and by many American liberals as disproportionate or cruel. As has been the case since 1948, the plight of the Palestinians Arabs will ignored as they are used as political pawns in the effort to destroy Israel.

But the Palestinians’ problem is that although they are certainly capable of churning up enough violence and suffering in order to get more attention for their cause, their obvious disinclination in making peace on any terms makes it difficult to sustain the interest of even the most sympathetic of foreign leaders, such as Barack Obama. Their refusal to return to the negotiating table with the Israelis even after Obama had pressured Prime Minister Netanyahu to freeze West Bank settlement building and their decision to abandon the U.S.-led process in favor of a dead-end bid for United Nations recognition may have finally made it obvious even to this administration than any political capital expended on them would be wasted.

Nor, even under U.S. duress, is there much chance that Israel will consent to a West Bank withdrawal that is likely to duplicate the situation in Gaza, where Hamas terrorists used land vacated by the Israelis to create a terrorist state.

All this means that while the Palestinians have the capacity to make themselves troublesome, they do not have the ability to take advantage of the good will felt for them by many in this administration or the zeal of new Secretary of State John Kerry to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed.

Another intifada will be a trial for the Israelis and an annoyance for President Obama, who is far more interested in keeping Netanyahu in check when it comes to forestalling the Iranian nuclear threat than he is in appeasing the Palestinians. But it will be a tragedy for the people of the West Bank. Until they are ready to throw off a leadership that is incapable of ending the conflict or recognizing a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, they will continue to suffer.

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The Palestinians Never Wanted Fayyadism

There was one point on which both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations as well as the Israeli governments of Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu all agreed upon. All four thought Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was someone who wanted to be a partner for peace with Israel and ought to be encouraged. Fayyad earned almost universal praise from both peace process cheerleaders and skeptics who saw the American-educated technocrat as someone who was devoted to reforming the corrupt and incompetent PA and giving his people something they were denied under the rule of both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas: good government and economic development.

That Fayyad failed in his efforts is not a matter that most people think is worth debating. The only question is why he didn’t succeed. To that query, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen provides the answer that is his catch-all excuse for anything that goes wrong in the Middle East: Israel. That this onetime apologist for an anti-Semitic Iranian regime prefers to focus on the supposed evils of the Netanyahu government is hardly surprising. But his inability to understand just how isolated Fayyad was in Palestinian society speaks volumes about why most Israel-bashers are clueless about Arab rejectionism.

The most important thing to understand about Fayyad’s place in Palestinian politics is that he has always been a man without a party. In a political culture in which membership in one of the two main terror groups — Fatah and Hamas — or one of the smaller splinter organizations like Islamic Jihad has been keystone to identity and the ability to get ahead, Fayyad is that rarest of Palestinian birds: a true independent. In a society in which the ability to shed Israeli and Jewish blood has been the only true indicator of street cred, Fayyad has always come up short. Though Abbas and others recognized his ability as well his ability to charm the Americans into keeping U.S. aid flowing to Ramallah, he has never had anything that remotely resembled a political constituency. Palestinians may long for good government and the rule of law as much as any other people, but Fayyad’s platform of cooperation with Israel and peace lacked support.

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There was one point on which both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations as well as the Israeli governments of Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu all agreed upon. All four thought Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was someone who wanted to be a partner for peace with Israel and ought to be encouraged. Fayyad earned almost universal praise from both peace process cheerleaders and skeptics who saw the American-educated technocrat as someone who was devoted to reforming the corrupt and incompetent PA and giving his people something they were denied under the rule of both Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas: good government and economic development.

That Fayyad failed in his efforts is not a matter that most people think is worth debating. The only question is why he didn’t succeed. To that query, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen provides the answer that is his catch-all excuse for anything that goes wrong in the Middle East: Israel. That this onetime apologist for an anti-Semitic Iranian regime prefers to focus on the supposed evils of the Netanyahu government is hardly surprising. But his inability to understand just how isolated Fayyad was in Palestinian society speaks volumes about why most Israel-bashers are clueless about Arab rejectionism.

The most important thing to understand about Fayyad’s place in Palestinian politics is that he has always been a man without a party. In a political culture in which membership in one of the two main terror groups — Fatah and Hamas — or one of the smaller splinter organizations like Islamic Jihad has been keystone to identity and the ability to get ahead, Fayyad is that rarest of Palestinian birds: a true independent. In a society in which the ability to shed Israeli and Jewish blood has been the only true indicator of street cred, Fayyad has always come up short. Though Abbas and others recognized his ability as well his ability to charm the Americans into keeping U.S. aid flowing to Ramallah, he has never had anything that remotely resembled a political constituency. Palestinians may long for good government and the rule of law as much as any other people, but Fayyad’s platform of cooperation with Israel and peace lacked support.

That Fayyad would blame the Israelis rather than his own people for his failure is understandable since to do otherwise would be a death sentence. But his complaints about Israeli settlements or security measures in the West Bank lack credibility. The fact that Israelis have continued to build in Jerusalem and the suburban settlement blocs that everyone understands would remain within Israel in the event of a peace deal renders the charge that they will prevent the creation of a Palestinian state elsewhere absurd. As for Israeli incursions into the West Bank, were Abbas’ security forces interested in foiling terror or stamping out Hamas cells as they are obligated to do under their Oslo commitments, they wouldn’t be necessary. If Israel has sought to exert pressure on the PA it is because Abbas remains determined to avoid peace talks and his governments remains a font of anti-Semitic incitement that lays the foundation for endless conflict.

Cohen’s claim that Netanyahu really doesn’t want peace despite his repeated embrace of a two-state solution to the conflict is merely an attempt to cover up the fact that has always been the Palestinians who have turned down peace and continue to refuse to negotiate with him.

Fayyad claims with Cohen’s approval that the movement to reconcile Fatah and Hams is a sign that the Palestinians are giving up their war on Israel’s existence. But Cohen omits one very relevant fact from his column that undermines the notion that it is Israel that has been Fayyad’s undoing. Fatah and Hamas may never consummate the unity deals they have signed. But the one point on which Abbas has always been ready to concede to Hamas has been firing Fayyad. If Hamas ever does become part of the PA government it will mean the American favorite is toast. The fact is the rise of Hamas, backed as it is by the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt, marks the death knell of any slim hope that Fayyadism has a future.

The Palestinians are choosing, as they have always chosen, to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Having come into existence solely in order to oppose the return of the Jews to the country, Palestinian nationalism appears incapable of redefining itself in such a way as to give Fayyad a chance. The example of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza — which has become a platform for terrorism — makes it impossible for Israel to consider further withdrawals that would duplicate that situation in the West Bank.

Were it in the power of either the United States or Israel to make Fayyad the leader of the Palestinians they would do so. But his constituency has always been in Washington, Jerusalem and the international media not among Palestinians. Someday they may be ready for a Fayyad, but that day is not in the foreseeable future.

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Do the Palestinians Really Want U.S. Aid?

The State Department said yesterday it is seeking release of $495.7 million in U.S. funds for the Palestinian Authority designated for 2012, and another $200 million designated so far for 2013 – all of which is currently subject to a congressional hold imposed after the PA sought UN recognition as a “state” and began yet another “reconciliation” with Hamas. At yesterday’s State Department press conference, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked to “give us a sense of where things are with Congress” on this issue and responded that the administration is working with Congress to get the money released to the PA, because:

“[W]e think it’s very, very important that they remain effective in supporting the needs of the Palestinian people … So we’re continuing to work through this. I would simply say that the Secretary feels extremely strongly that it is time now to get this support to the Palestinian Authority.” [Emphasis added]

Ms. Nuland said Secretary Kerry has been raising this issue “in every conversation he’s had with his colleagues” in Congress. But if it is very, very important to get the money to the PA, and if Secretary Kerry feels extremely strongly that now is the time, the people he should be talking to are not in Congress. They are in the PA.

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The State Department said yesterday it is seeking release of $495.7 million in U.S. funds for the Palestinian Authority designated for 2012, and another $200 million designated so far for 2013 – all of which is currently subject to a congressional hold imposed after the PA sought UN recognition as a “state” and began yet another “reconciliation” with Hamas. At yesterday’s State Department press conference, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was asked to “give us a sense of where things are with Congress” on this issue and responded that the administration is working with Congress to get the money released to the PA, because:

“[W]e think it’s very, very important that they remain effective in supporting the needs of the Palestinian people … So we’re continuing to work through this. I would simply say that the Secretary feels extremely strongly that it is time now to get this support to the Palestinian Authority.” [Emphasis added]

Ms. Nuland said Secretary Kerry has been raising this issue “in every conversation he’s had with his colleagues” in Congress. But if it is very, very important to get the money to the PA, and if Secretary Kerry feels extremely strongly that now is the time, the people he should be talking to are not in Congress. They are in the PA.

The PA can get the money released by assuring the U.S. that they will (1) not take further steps to change the legal status of the disputed territories outside negotiations with Israel (since the Palestinians promised in the Oslo agreement not to take “any [such] step”); and (2) not reconcile with an organization designated by the U.S. government as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), a Specially Designated Terrorist (SDT), and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) — particularly when the PA promised in the Road Map to dismantle the FTO/SDT/SDGT, which has now waged two rocket wars against Israel and refuses to endorse any of the Quartet requirements for the “peace process.”

If it is not important to the PA to provide such assurances, it is hard to see why it is important for the U.S. to provide more money (much less nearly $700 million), nor why anyone would feel that now is the time to do it. On the contrary, this would seem to be the appropriate time to communicate that violating promises – and refusing to promise to abide by them in the future — has consequences. The administration should be telling the PA it feels extremely strongly that it is very, very important to provide the assurances now. Instead, it is pressing Congress to waive them.

In his first week in office, the new secretary of state has just sent a strong message that he believes the PA’s refusal to confirm its two central promises should draw no penalty. He thinks the problem is not the PA, but the Congress. Heckuva job, John.

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Money Alone Won’t Bail Out the West Bank

As I noted yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the road this week attempting to persuade Arab countries to give him money. Unfortunately for Abbas, his upgrade at the United Nations last month hasn’t made his panhandling act any more popular with those who voted to upgrade his status at the world body. In fact, the Palestinian Authority is broke. Though this isn’t the first time the PA has had cash flow problems, the current shortage is especially acute and enough to provoke a stern editorial from the New York Times blaming the problem primarily on Israel. But while Israel has withheld some tax revenue from Abbas, the problem in the West Bank goes a lot deeper than the current dispute between the Netanyahu government and the PA.

The Times is right that it is in no one’s interest that the PA collapse, but its call for more money from Israel, the United States, the Arab world and the international community to be poured into Abbas’s coffers misses the point about what is going on in the West Bank. No amount of foreign aid can fix a government and a society that is completely dysfunctional. The issue of the PA’s insolvency is directed related to its steadfast refusal to make peace. Though a Palestinian government that isn’t a basket case is needed to make a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict work, the issue here isn’t just that the PA is corrupt and incompetent. It is corrupt and incompetent in large measure because the political culture of Palestinian society is still more interested in perpetuating the conflict with Israel than in building a state.

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As I noted yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the road this week attempting to persuade Arab countries to give him money. Unfortunately for Abbas, his upgrade at the United Nations last month hasn’t made his panhandling act any more popular with those who voted to upgrade his status at the world body. In fact, the Palestinian Authority is broke. Though this isn’t the first time the PA has had cash flow problems, the current shortage is especially acute and enough to provoke a stern editorial from the New York Times blaming the problem primarily on Israel. But while Israel has withheld some tax revenue from Abbas, the problem in the West Bank goes a lot deeper than the current dispute between the Netanyahu government and the PA.

The Times is right that it is in no one’s interest that the PA collapse, but its call for more money from Israel, the United States, the Arab world and the international community to be poured into Abbas’s coffers misses the point about what is going on in the West Bank. No amount of foreign aid can fix a government and a society that is completely dysfunctional. The issue of the PA’s insolvency is directed related to its steadfast refusal to make peace. Though a Palestinian government that isn’t a basket case is needed to make a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict work, the issue here isn’t just that the PA is corrupt and incompetent. It is corrupt and incompetent in large measure because the political culture of Palestinian society is still more interested in perpetuating the conflict with Israel than in building a state.

Though the Arab and Muslim states that profess to support the Palestinians have done little to help them, throughout the nearly 20 years of its existence, the PA has been the recipient of vast sums of aid from Israel, the United States and the international community. For the most part, this money has been either stolen or wasted. The portion of it that did filter its way down to the Palestinian public was often spent on backing terrorist groups or on a vast scheme of public employment. That did little to develop the economy of the West Bank but it did serve to solidify the loyalty of those getting no-show or no-work jobs to first Yasir Arafat and then his successor Abbas.

In recent years, as the Times notes, there has been an effort by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to actually serve his people and to foster development as well as good government. The problem is that as much as the Americans and Israelis would like to help Fayyad, his efforts are still the exception to the rule. The unpopular Fayyad has little real influence over the PA’s future. He will also be sidelined if the Fatah-Hamas merger ever is brought to fruition.

More importantly, the failure of the West Bank economy is due to the refusal of Abbas to talk or make peace with Israel. Had he done so in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him statehood, things would be very different today. That is also true of Arafat’s refusal of Ehud Barak’s peace offers in 2000 and 2001. The second intifada that he launched ruined the West Bank’s economy.

The plain truth is that there is no assurance that the money that the United States, Israel or the Europeans are asked to hand over to Abbas will do anything more than prop up a failed regime. It may be that subsidizing failure is a better alternative than the chaos that would ensue if the PA completely collapsed, but it is not the answer to the problem.

What the PA really needs is not so much a handout as a sea change in its culture that would allow Abbas or a successor to end the conflict and to start the business of building a stable society that is not obsessed with violence against Israel. So long as that doesn’t happen, the Palestinians will continue to be beggars and the Israeli public will never support a withdrawal that might lead to the West Bank becoming a terrorist launching pad the way Gaza has become since 2005.

The PA’s bankruptcy is as much moral as it is financial. Until the Palestinians and those like the Times who want to help them realize this, aid to them will continue to be a case of throwing more money down the rabbit hole.

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The Palestinians’ Christmas Lies

Christmas in Bethlehem and video of the annual parade in the Palestinian city south of Jerusalem is standard holiday fare on television news. Since the days of Yasir Arafat the Palestinian Authority has made a big deal out of the Christmas celebration, and the media’s need for footage suitable for a day on which little news is made has always been a bonanza for Fatah. The result is that along with quaint pictures of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity Western viewers are given the impression that Christianity is both protected and cherished by the PA. PA leaders also use the occasion to try and make the argument that the Palestinians, rather than the Israelis, are the true descendants of the Jewish nation that produced Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago.

Both assertions are equally false. Modern day Christians face harassment and exclusion throughout a region where the Arab Spring has brought Islamists to power, and nowhere is that more true than in the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, the assertion that Jesus was a Palestinian, first aired by Arafat and often repeated by his successor Mahmoud Abbas as well as moderate Salam Fayyad, is nothing less than an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and to steal its history. Western news organizations should know better than to fall prey to these propaganda points.

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Christmas in Bethlehem and video of the annual parade in the Palestinian city south of Jerusalem is standard holiday fare on television news. Since the days of Yasir Arafat the Palestinian Authority has made a big deal out of the Christmas celebration, and the media’s need for footage suitable for a day on which little news is made has always been a bonanza for Fatah. The result is that along with quaint pictures of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity Western viewers are given the impression that Christianity is both protected and cherished by the PA. PA leaders also use the occasion to try and make the argument that the Palestinians, rather than the Israelis, are the true descendants of the Jewish nation that produced Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago.

Both assertions are equally false. Modern day Christians face harassment and exclusion throughout a region where the Arab Spring has brought Islamists to power, and nowhere is that more true than in the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, the assertion that Jesus was a Palestinian, first aired by Arafat and often repeated by his successor Mahmoud Abbas as well as moderate Salam Fayyad, is nothing less than an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and to steal its history. Western news organizations should know better than to fall prey to these propaganda points.

As Britain’s Telegraph reports in a timely feature, Christianity is “close to extinction” in the Middle East. While the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt who face the prospect of life under the Muslim Brotherhood has garnered some attention in the past few months, Palestinian Christians have already been subjected to this sort of situation under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and the result is the decimation of their community.

Bethlehem is a case study, since the once predominantly Christian town has become a Muslim stronghold ever since Israel ceded control of the area to the PA under the Oslo Accords. Christian villages in the area like Beit Jala also have suffered since the PA let terrorists use it as a launching point for shooting attacks on the adjacent Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem during the second intifada. Should the PA launch a third such offensive against Israel this year, you can bet that Palestinian Christians, who have fled their old homes in large numbers in the last 20 years, will pay a disproportionate price.

Of course, it should be admitted that Palestinian Christians are often the most virulent critics of Israel, since they have seen secular nationalism to be a way of fitting into an Arab world where Muslim faith is the principle source of identity. Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarch demonstrated that factor again this year when he told the world that this Christmas would be a celebration of “the birth of Palestine” as well as of that of the Christian savior. But no one should be fooled into thinking Christians are equal partners with the Muslim majority that treats them as nothing more than dhimmi–a protected but unequal minority. For all of the tension between Jews and Arabs, it is only in democratic Israel that Christians have complete religious freedom in the region.

As for the “Jesus is a Palestinian” meme, it is a risible misuse of history that few people take seriously, but it ought not to be ignored. Denying the historical ties between the Jewish people and the land of Israel has always been integral to anti-Zionist propaganda. The point is to depict Israelis as foreign thieves who have stolen Palestinian land rather than as Jews who have returned to their ancestral homeland. The use of this lie is a reminder that the ultimate goal of Palestinian moderates as well as the Islamists of Hamas (who have made the lives of Christians in Gaza untenable–a warning to the Coptics who will have to live under the thumb of their Muslim Brotherhood allies) is to destroy Israel, not to live in peace alongside it.

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Palestinians Burning Their Bridges

The Palestinians and their leadership have spent the last 20 years converting a strong Israeli majority in favor of the peace process into one that regards the whole concept as a dangerous fantasy. Twenty years ago the Israeli left romped in an election that relegated the Likud to minority status. In next month’s Knesset elections, not even the Labor party will spend time advocating for more concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for the hope of peace. Terrorism, the second intifada, the rise of Hamas and the conversion of Gaza into a terror state have effectively destroyed the Israeli left. But rather than react to this somber shift in the mood of their neighbors with an attempt to restart peace talks or to convince them that their goal is to end the conflict rather than to merely continue it on more advantageous terms, the Palestinians are planning on doubling down on their negative image.

As the Associated Press reports, the Palestinian Authority is planning on responding to the expected re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a wide range of activities designed to deepen rather than to ameliorate the antagonism and the cynicism with which the majority of Israelis view them. The PA plans to use its enhanced status at the UN to pursue specious charges of war crimes against Israelis in the International Criminal Court and advocating for sanctions and boycotts against the Jewish state. Worse than that, they are threatening not just to organize mass protests and confrontations with Israelis in the West Bank but to end all security cooperation between their armed forces and those of Israel, a measure that has helped keep relative peace in the region. While PA leader Mahmoud Abbas thinks this is a clever tactic designed to force President Obama to pressure Israel into giving in to more of his demands, the result will be nothing less than a third intifada that may help further isolate Israel but which will devastate the Palestinian economy and effectively end all hope for Israeli support for a two-state solution.

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The Palestinians and their leadership have spent the last 20 years converting a strong Israeli majority in favor of the peace process into one that regards the whole concept as a dangerous fantasy. Twenty years ago the Israeli left romped in an election that relegated the Likud to minority status. In next month’s Knesset elections, not even the Labor party will spend time advocating for more concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for the hope of peace. Terrorism, the second intifada, the rise of Hamas and the conversion of Gaza into a terror state have effectively destroyed the Israeli left. But rather than react to this somber shift in the mood of their neighbors with an attempt to restart peace talks or to convince them that their goal is to end the conflict rather than to merely continue it on more advantageous terms, the Palestinians are planning on doubling down on their negative image.

As the Associated Press reports, the Palestinian Authority is planning on responding to the expected re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a wide range of activities designed to deepen rather than to ameliorate the antagonism and the cynicism with which the majority of Israelis view them. The PA plans to use its enhanced status at the UN to pursue specious charges of war crimes against Israelis in the International Criminal Court and advocating for sanctions and boycotts against the Jewish state. Worse than that, they are threatening not just to organize mass protests and confrontations with Israelis in the West Bank but to end all security cooperation between their armed forces and those of Israel, a measure that has helped keep relative peace in the region. While PA leader Mahmoud Abbas thinks this is a clever tactic designed to force President Obama to pressure Israel into giving in to more of his demands, the result will be nothing less than a third intifada that may help further isolate Israel but which will devastate the Palestinian economy and effectively end all hope for Israeli support for a two-state solution.

The Palestinians claim they have no choice but to resort to this strategy because the Israelis and even many of their foreign friends such as President Obama are ignoring them. But the reason why someone as sympathetic to the Palestinians and hostile to Israel’s government as Obama may have given up on the peace process is that four years of attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction was never enough to convince the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Palestinian harassment of Israelis at the UN and in international forums will be annoying but won’t change a thing. But their decision to go back to intifada tactics is a guarantee of bloodshed. They may claim their protests will be peaceful, but rock throwing inevitably escalates to more violent tactics. It is also a given that Hamas and terrorist elements of Abbas’s Fatah that are tasked with competing with the Islamists in that category will be using the protests as cover for attacks. If the PA ends security cooperation, it will end the same way the second intifada did with PA “police” joining the terrorists in shooting at Israelis.

This will kill what little support remains inside Israel for compromise with the PA. But Abbas is not wrong to believe that it will make the Palestinians more rather than less popular in Europe, where any form of Israeli self-defense will be depicted as immoral no matter what the circumstances might be. A rising tide of anti-Semitism on the continent has made Israel particularly unpopular there. But while heightening Israel’s isolation may seem like a smart thing to do in Ramallah, it won’t do a thing to give the Palestinians a better life or to get them closer to peace or independence.

The only thing that will do that is for Abbas to do the one thing he has refused to do since he fled the talks with Netanyahu’s predecessor when he was offered a state. The best alternative to the status quo isn’t an intifada that will send the conflict into another death spiral of violence and futility. It is negotiations for a two-state solution that no Israeli government could spurn. By choosing to avoid that obvious path to peace, the Palestinians are burning their last bridges to the Israeli people. They shouldn’t expect the United States, even during a second Obama administration to dig them out of the hole they are placing themselves in.

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The Real Obstacle to Peace: Israel’s Critics

The Obama administration joined the chorus of United Nations, European and Arab critics of Israel this week when it blasted the decision of the Netanyahu government to approve plans to build new housing in two Jerusalem neighborhoods and one in the adjacent suburban area known as E1. While the Obama administration did not join its European allies and other members of the UN Security Council declaring the building illegal and an obstacle to a two-state solution that must cease immediately, it did declare that the activity put peace “further at risk.” Israel’s critics make the argument that this sort of condemnation is heightening the country’s isolation and is to blame for the lopsided vote in favor of upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s status at the UN earlier this month. But the hypocrisy of these charges makes it easy to understand why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is ignoring them.

The point here isn’t just—as we have repeatedly pointed out here at Contentions—that building in these areas of Jerusalem as well as in E1 wouldn’t prevent a two-state solution were the Palestinians inclined to negotiate with Israel to get one. The building within Jerusalem’s city limits in Jewish neighborhoods that were built decades ago, such as Ramat Sharon and Gilo, are in places that no one envisions being given to the Palestinians even in the most generous offer possible. The same is true of the new Givat Hamatos project. As for the E1 area in between the city and the suburb of Ma’ale Adumim, it, too, is in an area that Israel has always intended to keep. That is a point underlined by the fact that it was Yitzhak Rabin that put it under the jurisdiction of the adjacent Jewish town.

But the real hypocrisy isn’t the fact that all those countries as well as the Palestinians know very well that it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference to a two-state solution if Israel built 100,000 new homes in these places or none at all. It is the fact that these countries continue to ignore the fact that it is the Palestinians who refuse to negotiate and who continue to issue statements making clear their intention to destroy Israel without drawing much comment from nations that are supposedly so interested in peace.

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The Obama administration joined the chorus of United Nations, European and Arab critics of Israel this week when it blasted the decision of the Netanyahu government to approve plans to build new housing in two Jerusalem neighborhoods and one in the adjacent suburban area known as E1. While the Obama administration did not join its European allies and other members of the UN Security Council declaring the building illegal and an obstacle to a two-state solution that must cease immediately, it did declare that the activity put peace “further at risk.” Israel’s critics make the argument that this sort of condemnation is heightening the country’s isolation and is to blame for the lopsided vote in favor of upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s status at the UN earlier this month. But the hypocrisy of these charges makes it easy to understand why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is ignoring them.

The point here isn’t just—as we have repeatedly pointed out here at Contentions—that building in these areas of Jerusalem as well as in E1 wouldn’t prevent a two-state solution were the Palestinians inclined to negotiate with Israel to get one. The building within Jerusalem’s city limits in Jewish neighborhoods that were built decades ago, such as Ramat Sharon and Gilo, are in places that no one envisions being given to the Palestinians even in the most generous offer possible. The same is true of the new Givat Hamatos project. As for the E1 area in between the city and the suburb of Ma’ale Adumim, it, too, is in an area that Israel has always intended to keep. That is a point underlined by the fact that it was Yitzhak Rabin that put it under the jurisdiction of the adjacent Jewish town.

But the real hypocrisy isn’t the fact that all those countries as well as the Palestinians know very well that it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference to a two-state solution if Israel built 100,000 new homes in these places or none at all. It is the fact that these countries continue to ignore the fact that it is the Palestinians who refuse to negotiate and who continue to issue statements making clear their intention to destroy Israel without drawing much comment from nations that are supposedly so interested in peace.

After all, it was just 11 days ago that Khaled Mashaal, the head of the Hamas movement that already rules the independent Palestinian state in all but name, stated the following to a cheering crowd in Gaza: 

Palestine from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, is our land and we will never give up one inch or any part of it.

Though the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas subsequently took issue with this declaration and then disingenuously tried to assert that Hamas has already recognized Israel (it hasn’t), the fact remains that the Fatah leader has signed a unity agreement with its Islamist partner that sooner or later will be put into effect. Do the U.S. or the Europeans really expect Israel to hand over more land to such an alliance? There is a broad consensus inside Israel against any such plan that explains why Netanyahu’s coalition is set to romp in next month’s elections.

Nor do the claims that Israel’s building plans make it harder for Abbas hold up. Were Netanyahu building new towns deep inside the West Bank, as the settlement movement would like him to do, it could be credibly argued that such plans would prevent the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. But why would that be true of building in existing Jewish neighborhoods on territory that would be part of the land swaps that even President Obama has acknowledged would be part of a deal that was based on the 1967 lines?

The problem here is not just that what Israel is doing is no obstacle to peace. It is that by joining in condemnations of building inside Jerusalem, President Obama and the Europeans are encouraging the Palestinians to believe that they will someday force the Jewish state to give up not just the West Bank but its capital too. An end to the conflict will only come on the day when the Palestinian so-called moderates like Abbas and extremists like Meshaal understand this. Far from Netanyahu being the obstacle to peace, it is the administration and its friends at the UN that are doing more to make that goal impossible than the Israelis.  

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PA’s UN Bid Won’t Undermine Hamas

While there is some debate as to who emerged as the real winner from the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel, there’s little doubt that the big loser was the Palestinian Authority. The PA’s head, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah party were shown to be irrelevant to the Middle East conflict as Hamas demonstrated once again that it is running an independent Palestinian state in all but name. The firing of hundreds of rockets at Israel boosted Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians who still view violence as the only credential that brings political credibility. But Abbas still has one card to play: his attempt to get the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the PA’s status at the world body to nonmember observer status. The proposed resolution would recognize “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.”

There’s little doubt that a majority of UN member states will vote for the resolution, but the value of this move was enhanced by the announcement today that France will vote for it. This gives Abbas a much-needed shot in the arm, as it appears that the West will be split with the French being joined by some other European nations while the U.S. and Germany will oppose it. But any expectation that this vote will ensure that Abbas will hold onto the West Bank, let alone lead a state of Palestine some day, is unfounded. Though the vote might make some mischief for Israel at the UN and at the International Criminal Court, most Palestinians understand this is about symbolism, not power. Since Abbas can’t or won’t pay the price of genuine independence — making peace with Israel — his UN gambit remains nothing more than posturing intended to help him avoid the negotiations that could actually help him get something Hamas can’t achieve. Until that changes, any effort to help Abbas via the UN won’t do a thing to undermine Hamas.

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While there is some debate as to who emerged as the real winner from the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel, there’s little doubt that the big loser was the Palestinian Authority. The PA’s head, Mahmoud Abbas, and his Fatah party were shown to be irrelevant to the Middle East conflict as Hamas demonstrated once again that it is running an independent Palestinian state in all but name. The firing of hundreds of rockets at Israel boosted Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians who still view violence as the only credential that brings political credibility. But Abbas still has one card to play: his attempt to get the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade the PA’s status at the world body to nonmember observer status. The proposed resolution would recognize “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their state of Palestine on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.”

There’s little doubt that a majority of UN member states will vote for the resolution, but the value of this move was enhanced by the announcement today that France will vote for it. This gives Abbas a much-needed shot in the arm, as it appears that the West will be split with the French being joined by some other European nations while the U.S. and Germany will oppose it. But any expectation that this vote will ensure that Abbas will hold onto the West Bank, let alone lead a state of Palestine some day, is unfounded. Though the vote might make some mischief for Israel at the UN and at the International Criminal Court, most Palestinians understand this is about symbolism, not power. Since Abbas can’t or won’t pay the price of genuine independence — making peace with Israel — his UN gambit remains nothing more than posturing intended to help him avoid the negotiations that could actually help him get something Hamas can’t achieve. Until that changes, any effort to help Abbas via the UN won’t do a thing to undermine Hamas.

Those worried about Hamas’s ascendancy keep telling us that the only way to answer the Islamist threat is to bolster Abbas’s corrupt and discredited government. That seems to be the motivation for the French whose president, Francois Hollande, is also not adverse to firing a shot across the bow of an Israeli government that the doesn’t like. But as the reservations expressed by the British government — which is equally hostile to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu but more attuned to political reality — make clear, the UN vote won’t bring the region closer to peace.

As the New York Times notes:

A British official told The Financial Times that Britain was prepared to back the Palestinians but wanted three assurances: that the Palestinians would not then seek to join the International Criminal Court; that they would not follow with a bid for full membership; and that Mr. Abbas return to negotiations without conditions.

These are assurances that Abbas knows he cannot honestly make since the whole point of the UN effort is to help him avoid negotiations which complicate his efforts to compete with Hamas for popularity on the Palestinian street, not to revive them.

France’s betrayal will help heighten the isolation of Israel. But this won’t do a thing to help the lives of ordinary Palestinians or to bring them closer to the independence they say they want. The only thing that can do that is to talk directly to Israel. Yet Hamas’s growing influence internationally as the result of their alliances with Egypt and Turkey means that Abbas has even less room to maneuver than before.

The problem those promoting the UN initiative fail to address is that as long as Fatah is locked in a contest with Hamas to see who can be the most hostile to Israel that it can never win, there’s nothing that anyone in the West can do to help it.

The last time Abbas tried to outmaneuver Israel and the U.S. at the UN the result was a humiliating rebuff that showed his “diplomatic tsunami” was nothing more than an embarrassing drizzle. Though he may do better this year, the disconnect between an illusory diplomatic victory and the facts on the ground for the Palestinians will do more to loosen Abbas’s hold on the West Bank and help Hamas gain ground there than another UN defeat. Those seeking to undermine Hamas via the UN are doing the Palestinian people no favors.

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Hamas and the Two-State Solution Myth

Since Hamas initiated the latest round of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s critics have been hard-pressed to criticize the country’s need to defend its people against a barrage of hundreds of rockets fired by terrorists. But that hasn’t stopped some of them from trying to use the conflict to claim that the only solution is to further empower the Islamist terrorist group that rules over Gaza with an iron hand. That’s the prescription for a new U.S. foreign policy coming from the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. Beinart thinks what America and Israel need to do is try and use a cease-fire agreement to co-opt the Islamists into backing a new peace process, along with their Fatah rivals of the Palestinian Authority, as well as to promote Palestinian democracy.

It is an article of faith on the left that the two-state solution, rather than Israeli military efforts, is the only answer to Palestinian terrorism. But though most Israelis, including the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, have accepted the idea in principle, the repeated refusal of even the so-called moderate Palestinians to negotiate have rendered the idea moot for the foreseeable future. But as unrealistic as calls for Israel to do something to boost the PA are at this moment, to imagine, as Beinart does, that Hamas can be co-opted into such a process by Western recognition demonstrates an astonishing lack of understanding of the situation.

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Since Hamas initiated the latest round of fighting in Gaza, Israel’s critics have been hard-pressed to criticize the country’s need to defend its people against a barrage of hundreds of rockets fired by terrorists. But that hasn’t stopped some of them from trying to use the conflict to claim that the only solution is to further empower the Islamist terrorist group that rules over Gaza with an iron hand. That’s the prescription for a new U.S. foreign policy coming from the Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart. Beinart thinks what America and Israel need to do is try and use a cease-fire agreement to co-opt the Islamists into backing a new peace process, along with their Fatah rivals of the Palestinian Authority, as well as to promote Palestinian democracy.

It is an article of faith on the left that the two-state solution, rather than Israeli military efforts, is the only answer to Palestinian terrorism. But though most Israelis, including the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, have accepted the idea in principle, the repeated refusal of even the so-called moderate Palestinians to negotiate have rendered the idea moot for the foreseeable future. But as unrealistic as calls for Israel to do something to boost the PA are at this moment, to imagine, as Beinart does, that Hamas can be co-opted into such a process by Western recognition demonstrates an astonishing lack of understanding of the situation.

Beinart is right when he characterizes the Israeli counter-offensive as merely a short-term solution rather than a long-term strategy. Many Israelis regard Operation Pillar of Defense in much the same way they saw the 2008 campaign called Cast Lead: as nothing more than a periodic effort to hamper Hamas’s military capability. The 2005 decision to withdraw from Gaza was a security disaster, but few Israelis want any part of governing the strip again. All they want is for it to be prevented from threatening their country, and to that end they back a regular “grass cutting” in Gaza that will make it harder for Hamas to terrorize millions of Israelis the way they have in the last week.

This Israeli consensus frustrates foreign observers like Beinart who insist they can solve a problem that citizens of the Jewish state see as having been proven to be intractable by 20 years of failed peace processing. They also understand that, contrary to Beinart, the last thing Hamas wants is either peace with Israel under any circumstances or democracy for the Palestinians.

Far from being tempted to bolster Abbas, the current Hamas campaign is intended to boost their own standing among Palestinians at Fatah’s expense. Moreover, Hamas’s leadership believes the support it has gotten from Egypt and Turkey renders Abbas obsolete. In a sense, they are right. Far from highlighting the need for a Palestinian state, the current fighting is a reminder that one already exists in Gaza and its leaders believe the Palestinian people prefer to be sacrificed on the altar of unending war with Israel than good government or peace.

Ending the West’s efforts to isolate Hamas won’t revive the two-state solution. What it would do is to legitimize a brutal, dictatorial Islamist regime in Gaza and encourage Hamas to think that they can eventually seize the West Bank as well.

Should his friends in the Obama administration heed Beinart’s point of view and the United States reward Hamas in this fashion, it wouldn’t just strengthen Hamas’s ability to withstand future Israeli counter attacks. It would also kill whatever slim hopes exist for democratization of the corrupt and violent Palestinian political culture.

Beinart concludes his piece by trotting out one of the oldest lamest arguments of those trying to revive hopes for peace with Israel’s foes. It is the old quote about the need to make peace with enemies, not your friends. But if there is anything Israelis have learned in the 20 years since Oslo, it is that you make peace with enemies who are willing to live in peace and give up the hope of your destruction, not enemies who merely wish to gain concessions prior to restarting the conflict on more advantageous terms. That’s the mistake Israel made with Yasir Arafat. It won’t make the same one with the Islamists of Hamas.

The fact that there is no long-term political solution available to Israel as it copes with a terrorist state on its doorstep is frustrating. But pundits like Beinart and the Obama administration need to be reminded that the choice facing Israel isn’t between peace and talking to Hamas. It’s between survival and death.

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The Palestinian State’s Rocket Offensive

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said today he wasn’t backing down from his plan to try and get the United Nations to recognize an independent state without it first having to make peace with Israel. Abbas believes that if the UN General Assembly votes in the coming months to recognize the PA as a nonmember observer state — an upgrade from its current status — it will give him more leverage with the United States as well as make it easier for the Palestinians to harass the Jewish state in forums like the International Criminal Court. But the leaders of the real independent Palestinian state aren’t interested in helping Abbas get a make believe one.

More than 80 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel over the weekend as Hamas unleashed a barrage that wounded several Israelis and damaged buildings in Sderot and the Sha’ar Hanegev area. The motive for the escalation from the normal volume of fire over the border (more than 600 missiles have been fired at Israel from Gaza in 2012 up until Saturday) from the Hamas-run enclave is a matter of speculation. But the most logical explanation is a desire on the part of the terrorist group that exercises sovereignty in Gaza to remind the world that it is they, and not Abbas and his Fatah, that are in control of events. This latest surge in terror from the place that is an independent Palestinian state in all but name also is a heads-up to even those inclined to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause of the nature of that state and what would happen if they had the same freedom of action in the West Bank alongside Israel’s main population centers.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas said today he wasn’t backing down from his plan to try and get the United Nations to recognize an independent state without it first having to make peace with Israel. Abbas believes that if the UN General Assembly votes in the coming months to recognize the PA as a nonmember observer state — an upgrade from its current status — it will give him more leverage with the United States as well as make it easier for the Palestinians to harass the Jewish state in forums like the International Criminal Court. But the leaders of the real independent Palestinian state aren’t interested in helping Abbas get a make believe one.

More than 80 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel over the weekend as Hamas unleashed a barrage that wounded several Israelis and damaged buildings in Sderot and the Sha’ar Hanegev area. The motive for the escalation from the normal volume of fire over the border (more than 600 missiles have been fired at Israel from Gaza in 2012 up until Saturday) from the Hamas-run enclave is a matter of speculation. But the most logical explanation is a desire on the part of the terrorist group that exercises sovereignty in Gaza to remind the world that it is they, and not Abbas and his Fatah, that are in control of events. This latest surge in terror from the place that is an independent Palestinian state in all but name also is a heads-up to even those inclined to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause of the nature of that state and what would happen if they had the same freedom of action in the West Bank alongside Israel’s main population centers.

One of the main reasons the PA’s first attempt to get UN recognition failed last year — why the so-called “diplomatic tsunami” never materialized — was the understanding even on the part of Israel’s critics that such a move was rendered impossible by the fragmented nature of Palestinian politics. Abbas not only doesn’t control Gaza, the government there is, for all intents and purposes, the sovereign over the area. Even if Israel withdrew tomorrow from the West Bank, it would mean the corrupt and incompetent Fatah ran part of a state of “Palestine” while Hamas ruled another with an iron fist. That is a formula for chaos and more violence, not independence.

Despite off-and-on negotiations for a unity government, Hamas is carefully biding its time as it plots an eventual West Bank takeover. It certainly has no interest in seeing Abbas, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, win a victory at the UN. The recent surge in terror attacks on Israeli targets serves to bolster Hamas’s popularity since in the upside-down world of Palestinian politics, parties gain ground by violence against Israel and the Jews rather than doing something for their own people. But it also helps to undercut Abbas’s pretensions to leadership over a unified people seeking redress at the UN.

Some may wonder whether Hamas terrorism, like the recent kind words directed at former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert by Abbas, are intended to influence the January elections in the Jewish state. That’s doubtful, but even if true it is a futile gesture. The vast majority of Israelis long ago gave up on the Palestinians. They understand that a sea change will have to take place in their political culture before a leader or a party willing to actually end the conflict with Israel can be produced. That’s why the notion that Olmert or anyone else could put together a coalition to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by running on a platform seeking to revive the peace process is about as likely as Fatah and Hamas competing peacefully in a democratic election and then working together to ease the plight of their people.

The reality of life in southern Israel is brutal and will, no doubt, create more pressure on Netanyahu to eventually act decisively to clip the wings of the growing military threat in Gaza. The Iron Dome anti-missile system has had some limited successes, such as the interception this weekend of rockets heading for the cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon. But the towns along the border like Sderot are still getting pasted. Above all, the near-daily assault from Gaza brings home to Israelis the real meaning of Palestinian independence.

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Will Obama Impose a Peace Plan On Israel?

President Obama started his first term seeking to distance the United States from Israel in an effort to jump-start Middle East peace talks. As it turned out, the fights he picked with Israel over settlements, borders and Jerusalem not only failed to entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but also actually caused them to be more intransigent on issues that required compromise if peace is ever to be made. But that hasn’t stopped some on the left from dreaming about the president starting off his second term with one of their favorite fantasies: an American peace plan that would be imposed on Israel’s government on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

That’s the rumor floated by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz yesterday. The veteran journalist is a virulent critic of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and, like others on the Israeli left, has long since despaired of being able to convince their fellow Israelis to follow their advice. Since Israeli democracy has consistently failed to produce a government that will do as he thinks best, he is hoping the re-elected American president will issue a dictat that will effectively nullify the results of the planned January vote for a new parliament that is likely to return Netanyahu’s existing center-right coalition to power. But though Eldar is right to think that Obama would probably like nothing better than to hammer the Israelis again, he’s making the same mistakes Israeli leftists have made for the last 20 years of peace processing: ignoring the Palestinians. They can always be counted on to spike any deal no matter how favorable it might be to their cause.

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President Obama started his first term seeking to distance the United States from Israel in an effort to jump-start Middle East peace talks. As it turned out, the fights he picked with Israel over settlements, borders and Jerusalem not only failed to entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but also actually caused them to be more intransigent on issues that required compromise if peace is ever to be made. But that hasn’t stopped some on the left from dreaming about the president starting off his second term with one of their favorite fantasies: an American peace plan that would be imposed on Israel’s government on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

That’s the rumor floated by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz yesterday. The veteran journalist is a virulent critic of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and, like others on the Israeli left, has long since despaired of being able to convince their fellow Israelis to follow their advice. Since Israeli democracy has consistently failed to produce a government that will do as he thinks best, he is hoping the re-elected American president will issue a dictat that will effectively nullify the results of the planned January vote for a new parliament that is likely to return Netanyahu’s existing center-right coalition to power. But though Eldar is right to think that Obama would probably like nothing better than to hammer the Israelis again, he’s making the same mistakes Israeli leftists have made for the last 20 years of peace processing: ignoring the Palestinians. They can always be counted on to spike any deal no matter how favorable it might be to their cause.

It may be asking too much to hope the president and his foreign policy team have learned their lesson when it comes to counting on the Palestinians. Every attempt by Obama to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction has been met with rejection or indifference. Rather than taking advantage of the president’s stands on borders and especially Jerusalem, which have done more to undermine Israel’s position than that of any of his predecessors, the Palestinian Authority always refused to budge. Indeed, in a stinging insult to Obama that was a poor reward for his favors, the PA actually tried an end run around American diplomacy by asking the United Nations to recognize their independence without first making peace with Israel. In the last year, Obama appeared to get the message that there is no benefit to trying to help the Palestinians. Though that may have been as much a product of his election-year Jewish charm offensive as anything else, it is still hard to avoid the conclusion the president isn’t interested in wasting any more time on futile efforts that will always be rejected by Mahmoud Abbas or Hamas no matter how hard he presses the Israelis.

Nevertheless, Eldar thinks the second attempt of the PA to win UN recognition will give Obama the opening he needs to float a new American peace plan. Eldar assumes the president doesn’t want to veto the Palestinian initiative and fears the result of its adoption, since that would bring Israeli retaliation that could bring down Abbas. Though Eldar doesn’t mention it, it would also trigger a U.S. aid cutoff to the president’s beloved UN. Eldar thinks a better third option would be a U.S. peace plan that could be imposed on Israel in exchange for a promise to safeguard its security and to prevent Iran from going nuclear. To that end, he cites a report being prepared by former U.S. diplomats that would meet his criteria for an Israeli retreat and an independent Palestinian state.

But Eldar’s scenario is a leftist fantasy that won’t come true. The PA’s UN campaign — the so-called diplomatic “tsunami” that was supposed to isolate Israel but which turned out to be nothing more than a light drizzle — failed in 2011. That was not just the result of Obama’s veto threat, but also because even the Palestinians’ friends know that granting independence to the PA when its Hamas rival controls much of its territory is insane. The PA is a corrupt, bankrupt failure that can’t make peace even if it wanted to, and even the Europeans know Abbas’s gambit would be a disaster.

Obama might like to settle his account with Netanyahu, but he knows it would mean picking a nasty and costly political fight that would not bring peace any closer. Nor will it make Netanyahu more amenable to a compromise over Iranian nukes–something that is probably much higher on Obama’s priority list.

The next four years are likely to be just as stormy as the previous four were for the U.S.-Israel relationship. But the idea that Obama will stick his neck out for the Palestinians is probably just wishful thinking for Netanyahu-bashers.

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Why Hamas is Still Bragging About Shalit

One year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swallowed hard and made a decision that most Israelis understood was unpalatable but necessary: trading 1,027 imprisoned terrorists to Hamas in exchange for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. On the anniversary of the unsightly deal, Hamas is still bragging about the ransom it exacted from Israel and promising to kidnap more Jews. As Haaretz reports, Hamas is celebrating not just with its boasts and threats but also by releasing a video about Shalit’s capture and imprisonment. The Israel Defense Forces has been on its guard since Shalit’s capture in 2006 but each cross-border raid from Gaza as well as those that have come via Sinai in the last year have had as their goal the creation of more Gilad Shalit dilemmas for Netanyahu.

In some quarters, this might revive the debate about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s choice that, as his critics pointed out at the time, certainly enhanced the prestige of Hamas and strengthened their grip on Palestinian public opinion. Even if Netanyahu could never have willingly consigned a conscript like Shalit to unending imprisonment or death, those arguments were correct as far as they went. But the real reason to revisit the Shalit episode is not to second-guess the deal but to get a better understanding of Palestinian political culture and the slim chances for peace.

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One year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swallowed hard and made a decision that most Israelis understood was unpalatable but necessary: trading 1,027 imprisoned terrorists to Hamas in exchange for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. On the anniversary of the unsightly deal, Hamas is still bragging about the ransom it exacted from Israel and promising to kidnap more Jews. As Haaretz reports, Hamas is celebrating not just with its boasts and threats but also by releasing a video about Shalit’s capture and imprisonment. The Israel Defense Forces has been on its guard since Shalit’s capture in 2006 but each cross-border raid from Gaza as well as those that have come via Sinai in the last year have had as their goal the creation of more Gilad Shalit dilemmas for Netanyahu.

In some quarters, this might revive the debate about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s choice that, as his critics pointed out at the time, certainly enhanced the prestige of Hamas and strengthened their grip on Palestinian public opinion. Even if Netanyahu could never have willingly consigned a conscript like Shalit to unending imprisonment or death, those arguments were correct as far as they went. But the real reason to revisit the Shalit episode is not to second-guess the deal but to get a better understanding of Palestinian political culture and the slim chances for peace.

The point of Hamas’s chest-thumping 12 months after the Shalit deal is not to twit Netanyahu. As much as many serious thinkers bewailed the ransom, bringing Shalit home to his family only enhanced his popularity. Any reminder of this tough decision actually helps the prime minister as he prepares for a re-election campaign in which the opposition has no credible opponent for the country’s leadership.

What Hamas is doing with its histrionics is to puff its own reputation on the Palestinian street. With the prestige of its Fatah rivals on the decline and the Palestinian Authority seen as a bankrupt and corrupt failed state in the making, Hamas looks to remind ordinary Palestinians that they have done what Mahmoud Abbas cannot do: humiliate Israel and inflict pain and suffering on the Jewish people. Indeed, with Hamas being challenged by even more radical Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad and other splinter groups, Gaza’s rulers see their key to popularity in reinforcing their image as the tormenters of Israel.

This is important not just because it makes the reliance placed on Abbas and the PA by both Israel and the West look like a shaky proposition but also because it highlights what is still the key to winning the hearts and minds of the Palestinian street: anti-Jewish violence.

The competition between Hamas and Fatah is seen not just in their on-again, off-again attempts to form a unity government but in the way the two churn out anti-Semitic invective in their official media and broadcast outlets.

What friends of Israel ought to remember most about the Shalit deal was not so much the horror of murderers being released by Israel to the consternation of the families of terror victims but the joyous welcome that those who killed without mercy received when they returned to Gaza.

So long as Palestinian groups can only curry favor with their people by boasting of killing or kidnapping Jews rather than by trying to give them a better life (something a genuine moderate like PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad knows only too well), talk about peace between Israelis and Palestinians is futile. That is something the majority of Israelis have come to understand and is one of the reasons why Netanyahu is an overwhelming favorite for re-election. It is to be hoped that this is also a lesson that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will take to heart if they are tempted next year to begin another campaign of pressure against Israel to make concessions to Palestinians who have no interest in peace.

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Washington Should Play the Funding Card on PA’s UN bid

UNESCO director Irina Bokova griped publicly last week about how much her organization is suffering from the U.S. funding cutoff sparked by its admission of “Palestine” last year. That provides Washington with real leverage to foil the Palestinian Authority’s planned bid for UN General Assembly recognition as a nonmember observer state later this fall. Incredibly, however, the administration doesn’t seem to be making use of it.

It ought to be clear that thwarting the PA’s bid is an American interest. First, as Washington itself acknowledged in a memo to European countries reported by The Guardian two weeks ago, it would have “significant negative consequences” for the peace process, to which America officially remains committed. Second, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said explicitly that he wants recognition mainly so he can “pursue claims against Israel” in various legal forums, including the International Criminal Court – which in April declined to indict Israel for “war crimes” in Gaza solely on the technical grounds that the UNGA hadn’t yet recognized “Palestine” as a state. But an ICC case against Israel over Gaza, as I explain here, would significantly increase the risk that American officers could someday face ICC indictments as well.

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UNESCO director Irina Bokova griped publicly last week about how much her organization is suffering from the U.S. funding cutoff sparked by its admission of “Palestine” last year. That provides Washington with real leverage to foil the Palestinian Authority’s planned bid for UN General Assembly recognition as a nonmember observer state later this fall. Incredibly, however, the administration doesn’t seem to be making use of it.

It ought to be clear that thwarting the PA’s bid is an American interest. First, as Washington itself acknowledged in a memo to European countries reported by The Guardian two weeks ago, it would have “significant negative consequences” for the peace process, to which America officially remains committed. Second, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said explicitly that he wants recognition mainly so he can “pursue claims against Israel” in various legal forums, including the International Criminal Court – which in April declined to indict Israel for “war crimes” in Gaza solely on the technical grounds that the UNGA hadn’t yet recognized “Palestine” as a state. But an ICC case against Israel over Gaza, as I explain here, would significantly increase the risk that American officers could someday face ICC indictments as well.

In its memo, Washington warned that the UNGA bid would threaten U.S. funding to the PA. That may have some impact on already cash-strapped European countries, some of whom, as The Guardian reported, are worried “that the EU would have to fill the funding gap.” But since various European countries have happily stepped into the breach during past PA funding crises, it’s hard to see this as a winning argument even for the EU. And it certainly won’t trouble that vast majority of UNGA members who don’t give the Palestinians a dime.

In contrast, just about every country likely to vote in favor of recognizing “Palestine” has an interest in preserving the UNGA. For most, this is because the General Assembly is a much more effective vehicle for pursuing their own interests than the Security Council, where the U.S. and other permanent members have veto power. But even Europe, which wields significant clout in the Security Council, cares about the UNGA’s continued ability to function, due to its intense emotional commitment to the sanctity of international organizations. Hence a threat that accepting “Palestine” would result in the General Assembly losing its U.S. funding – which amounts to 22 percent of the agency’s budget – could be much more effective.

Yet so far, Washington has declined to make this threat explicitly. One ambiguous sentence in its memo – that recognizing Palestine “would have significant negative consequences … for the UN system,” could be interpreted as an implicit threat to suspend funding, but it could equally well be interpreted as warning of some more intangible harm, such as damage to the UN’s image, or to its ability to facilitate the peace process.

This issue ought to be a no-brainer: Washington has a clear interest in preventing the UNGA from recognizing “Palestine,” and it also has the tools to do so. The only question is whether it also has the will.

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Is Abbas Israel’s Necessary Enemy?

As we noted on Thursday, the main point to be gleaned from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s address to the General Assembly of the United Nations was his utter irrelevance. That Abbas was reduced to pleading with a friendly audience not to ignore his cause was both pathetic and a clear sign he is painfully aware that the international community has lost interest in him, if not the Palestinians as a whole. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke from the same podium shortly after Abbas spoke, confirmed Abbas’s insignificance by only briefly mentioning the Palestinians in remarks that were centered on the Iranian nuclear threat. But the PA head’s latest insults directed at Israel did not go completely unanswered by Israel. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, never one to pull his punches, pointed out the obvious when he said, as Haaretz reports:

Lieberman characterized Abbas as “the biggest obstacle to peace…everyone who heard Abbas’s speech understands that he does not intend, and does not want, to be a partner in a peace agreement,” while in a meeting in New York with foreign ministers of France, Spain, Russia and others.

Lieberman is right about all of this, but his desire to see Abbas replaced as head of the Palestinian Authority generated a response from his cabinet colleague, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who characterized Lieberman’s statement as detrimental to Israel’s interests. Barak said the alternative to Abbas’s rule in the West Bank is Hamas. That both men are basically right about Abbas sums up Israel’s peace process dilemma in a nutshell.

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As we noted on Thursday, the main point to be gleaned from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s address to the General Assembly of the United Nations was his utter irrelevance. That Abbas was reduced to pleading with a friendly audience not to ignore his cause was both pathetic and a clear sign he is painfully aware that the international community has lost interest in him, if not the Palestinians as a whole. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke from the same podium shortly after Abbas spoke, confirmed Abbas’s insignificance by only briefly mentioning the Palestinians in remarks that were centered on the Iranian nuclear threat. But the PA head’s latest insults directed at Israel did not go completely unanswered by Israel. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, never one to pull his punches, pointed out the obvious when he said, as Haaretz reports:

Lieberman characterized Abbas as “the biggest obstacle to peace…everyone who heard Abbas’s speech understands that he does not intend, and does not want, to be a partner in a peace agreement,” while in a meeting in New York with foreign ministers of France, Spain, Russia and others.

Lieberman is right about all of this, but his desire to see Abbas replaced as head of the Palestinian Authority generated a response from his cabinet colleague, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who characterized Lieberman’s statement as detrimental to Israel’s interests. Barak said the alternative to Abbas’s rule in the West Bank is Hamas. That both men are basically right about Abbas sums up Israel’s peace process dilemma in a nutshell.

Though Lieberman is generally dismissed as a bull in the diplomatic china shop, his disgust with Abbas is entirely justified. The Palestinian’s stated desire for negotiations is given the lie by the fact that he has refused to negotiate for the past four years, even during a period when Israel adopted a West Bank settlement freeze. That followed his refusal even to discuss a generous peace offer from Israel in 2008 that would have given the Palestinians an independent state in almost the entire West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas has neither the interest nor the will to make peace. Whatever his personal inclinations, he knows the Palestinians won’t accept any accord that legitimizes a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, and he will never sign any treaty that would conclusively end the conflict. The PA leader sanctions the fomenting of anti-Semitism and hatred for Israel in his official media. Abbas is also corrupt and undemocratic, as he is currently serving in the eighth year of a four-year presidential term because he is afraid of facing his Hamas rivals in a free election.

But Barak is right when he notes that the alternative to Abbas is far worse. Were the Islamists of Hamas who currently run Gaza to extend their rule to the West Bank, it would produce a security nightmare for Israel. Abbas is an obstacle to a peace settlement. But the choice for Israel is not between peace with the PA or war with Hamas, but between the unsatisfactory status quo and a worsening security situation with a Hamas that has gained strength at Abbas’s expense.

The notion of a “Palestinian Spring” in which West Bankers would rise up and throw out a corrupt Fatah would not lead to either democracy or peace, but a Hamas government that would be a formula for further instability and violence.

Critics of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu like to blame him and Israel for the stalemate in the peace process, but Israelis understand that peace simply isn’t an option until there is a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians that might make it a possibility. The best scenario they can hope for is a continuation of a situation where terrorism is under control. For that, as Barak argues, they need Abbas and Fatah. He may be an enemy, but under the current circumstances, he appears to be a necessary one. That’s a hard truth that both left-wing Israel-haters and Israeli right-wingers must make their peace with.

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How Irrelevant Are the Palestinians? Very.

The key phrase in Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly today didn’t mention Israel. He had promised Jewish leaders he would recognize Jewish rights to the land that is disputed by Israelis and Palestinians. He moved a little closer to such recognition with his mention of the ties of the three monotheistic religions to the country and did say he didn’t want to delegitimize Israel–though much of his speech was clearly aiming at just such a goal. But the most important sentence was the one where he complained about the Palestinians being moved “to the bottom of the global agenda.” He then went on to claim that the PA alone was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians and that there could not be two such bodies.

It was those sentences, in which he vainly banged his head against the wall of world indifference to his cause, that were telling. The fact is the Palestinians are at the bottom of the world agenda. That’s because, contrary to his boast, the PA is a corrupt, ineffective state which doesn’t control all of the territory it claims since Gaza is ruled by Hamas. Thus, while much of the world applauds Abbas’s imprecation of Israel as a racist, colonialist state and his outright lies about the fomenting of hatred that his government promotes, they have no interest in supporting him. It was for that reason that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Abbas’s speech barely a mention as he went on to concentrate on his country’s real problem: a nuclear Iran.

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The key phrase in Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly today didn’t mention Israel. He had promised Jewish leaders he would recognize Jewish rights to the land that is disputed by Israelis and Palestinians. He moved a little closer to such recognition with his mention of the ties of the three monotheistic religions to the country and did say he didn’t want to delegitimize Israel–though much of his speech was clearly aiming at just such a goal. But the most important sentence was the one where he complained about the Palestinians being moved “to the bottom of the global agenda.” He then went on to claim that the PA alone was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians and that there could not be two such bodies.

It was those sentences, in which he vainly banged his head against the wall of world indifference to his cause, that were telling. The fact is the Palestinians are at the bottom of the world agenda. That’s because, contrary to his boast, the PA is a corrupt, ineffective state which doesn’t control all of the territory it claims since Gaza is ruled by Hamas. Thus, while much of the world applauds Abbas’s imprecation of Israel as a racist, colonialist state and his outright lies about the fomenting of hatred that his government promotes, they have no interest in supporting him. It was for that reason that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Abbas’s speech barely a mention as he went on to concentrate on his country’s real problem: a nuclear Iran.

Abbas’s unhappy acknowledgement of the world’s opinion of the PA summed up exactly why the “diplomatic tsunami” that was supposed to engulf Israel last fall never happened. The global community may not like Israel and is not enraged by the anti-Semitic incitement that the Palestinians routinely produce. But they know that Abbas can’t make peace with Israel and won’t negotiate with it to create a state that will, as Netanyahu said, recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state. They also know the PA is incapable of governing such a state and that Abbas, in the eighth year of his current four-year term as president, fears that Hamas will supplant him if given the chance.

The Palestinian issue is one that the world cares about. But it doesn’t care about the PA. That is why they are on the bottom of the global agenda and will stay there so long as they produce leaders such as Abbas.

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Palestinians Face Own Diplomatic Tsunami

It seems like it’s been more than just 12 months since the pro-Israel community was in uproar about an imminent “diplomatic tsunami” that we were told would swamp the Jewish state. The “tsunami” was the Palestinian Authority’s plan to get the United Nations to grant it independence without first having to make peace with Israel. The assumption among foreign policy “realists” and the Jewish left was that the Palestinians would carry the international community with them and force Israel’s government to make even more concessions to avoid total isolation. But the “tsunami” that Ehud Barak feared never came to pass. If anything, what followed that fall was a diplomatic disaster for the Palestinians that illustrated that they were the ones who were isolated.

Though the PA vowed last year they would be back at the UN for another round of this fight, yesterday they signaled they would not bother. Though PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will address the UN again in September and mention the issue, the Palestinians won’t try to get it passed in either the Security Council or even the General Assembly, where everyone assumes they have an automatic majority. This concession shows just how thoroughly Israel’s supposedly incompetent government defeated them in 2011. But it may also signify a belief on their part that they would do better to keep quiet until President Obama is safely re-elected rather than cause trouble that would only worsen their situation during the fall campaign.

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It seems like it’s been more than just 12 months since the pro-Israel community was in uproar about an imminent “diplomatic tsunami” that we were told would swamp the Jewish state. The “tsunami” was the Palestinian Authority’s plan to get the United Nations to grant it independence without first having to make peace with Israel. The assumption among foreign policy “realists” and the Jewish left was that the Palestinians would carry the international community with them and force Israel’s government to make even more concessions to avoid total isolation. But the “tsunami” that Ehud Barak feared never came to pass. If anything, what followed that fall was a diplomatic disaster for the Palestinians that illustrated that they were the ones who were isolated.

Though the PA vowed last year they would be back at the UN for another round of this fight, yesterday they signaled they would not bother. Though PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will address the UN again in September and mention the issue, the Palestinians won’t try to get it passed in either the Security Council or even the General Assembly, where everyone assumes they have an automatic majority. This concession shows just how thoroughly Israel’s supposedly incompetent government defeated them in 2011. But it may also signify a belief on their part that they would do better to keep quiet until President Obama is safely re-elected rather than cause trouble that would only worsen their situation during the fall campaign.

The “tsunami” failed not just because President Obama kept his word about threatening to veto a Palestinian attempt to get the Security Council to give them full member status. The U.S. wound up not even having to exercise that veto because the Palestinians couldn’t even get other, erstwhile sympathetic nations, to vote for them. Even the automatic Palestinian majority in the General Assembly was wary of wasting time and effort on this lost cause. The world knew the PA was a corrupt and bankrupt organization incapable of exercising sovereignty even if it was handed to them on a silver platter. For all of the anti-Zionist propaganda that is routinely aired at the UN, most member states, even those most hostile to Israel, understand that the Palestinians are only interested in perpetuating the conflict, not genuinely seeking a two state solution. Nor were they interested in picking a fight with the U.S. Congress, which was sure to vote to cut off funds to the world body if the Palestinians got their way.

It should also be noted that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is generally regarded in the United States as a bull in a china shop, actually maneuvered quite adeptly in the diplomatic battles that preceded the fizzling out of the “tsunami.” Countries that might have been expected to back the Palestinians flipped and Lieberman deserves some of the credit for this, along with the Americans.

Abbas knows that a repeat of the exercise this year would bring a similar result, hence their quiet waving of the white flag. But the Palestinians are still holding onto the hope that a re-elected Barack Obama will give them an advantage and the abandonment of the UN gambit is also a sign that they are not eager to do anything that might hinder his chances at the polls. If there is to be any trouble from them, it will almost certainly come after November when they may think the president’s attitude toward their requests will be more flexible than it was during his election year Jewish charm offensive.

Israelis are similarly uncertain about the consequences of Obama’s re-election, as they fear a second term will embolden him to return to efforts to force them to make concessions in a quixotic attempt to revive the peace process. But the problem for the Palestinians is that even a president as sympathetic to their cause as Obama isn’t likely to stick his neck out for them in the absence of a firm determination on their part to actually negotiate with Israel and to accept a reasonable peace offer. Even a re-elected Obama, who would also be tangling with Israel over the Iranian nuclear threat, may understand that hammering the Jewish state is a futile endeavor as long as the Palestinians are unwilling to make peace. The real diplomatic tsunami is the tide of indifference that Palestinian rejectionism has bred even among those most likely to back their cause.

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