Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinian Authority

Kerry’s Diplomatic Double Standards

So, Secretary of State John Kerry is deeply upset and insulted that Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, criticized U.S. strategy and suggested that the United States is exuding weakness. One would think the former senator from Massachusetts would have a thicker skin, and might also consider if there was something to Yaalon’s remarks, however undiplomatic they might have been. Never mind, however. What is truly revealing is how Kerry acts in other circumstances when officials from other countries make similar statements castigating U.S. policy.

Here, for example, is Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaking earlier this month: “America no longer creates events in the region; rather it is the Muslims who create events and the Americans are forced to be another actor in decline, although not a dominant player. Meanwhile, the Americans have lost operational power against Syria today and this is a great proof for Muslims.” Kerry’s reaction? Crickets. Obama’s reaction? Nada. And, lest this be seen as an exception rather than the rule, here is an excerpt (and my analysis) of a statement from Tehran that went even further last month. And where is Kerry every time Iranian leaders encourage chants of “Death to America” after Friday prayers in central Tehran?

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So, Secretary of State John Kerry is deeply upset and insulted that Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, criticized U.S. strategy and suggested that the United States is exuding weakness. One would think the former senator from Massachusetts would have a thicker skin, and might also consider if there was something to Yaalon’s remarks, however undiplomatic they might have been. Never mind, however. What is truly revealing is how Kerry acts in other circumstances when officials from other countries make similar statements castigating U.S. policy.

Here, for example, is Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaking earlier this month: “America no longer creates events in the region; rather it is the Muslims who create events and the Americans are forced to be another actor in decline, although not a dominant player. Meanwhile, the Americans have lost operational power against Syria today and this is a great proof for Muslims.” Kerry’s reaction? Crickets. Obama’s reaction? Nada. And, lest this be seen as an exception rather than the rule, here is an excerpt (and my analysis) of a statement from Tehran that went even further last month. And where is Kerry every time Iranian leaders encourage chants of “Death to America” after Friday prayers in central Tehran?

The Obama administration’s heightened sensitivity to criticism doesn’t apply to the Palestinian Authority either. Kerry remains silent when his much-heralded partner in peace talks not only rejects American positions but also lionizes terrorists and murderers, hardly an attitude that advances U.S. interests in the region.

Bashing allies isn’t going to bring respect back to the United States on the world stage, nor is forcing allies to genuflect. Diplomatic temper tantrums aren’t going to imbue Kerry with an aura of competence that his policies and actions haven’t managed to achieve. Sometimes, tough words from friends are necessary, even with the moral inversion that currently underpins Obama and Kerry’s words and actions.

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Peace and the Palestinian We Do Not Know

In his now-famous interview with President Obama, Jeffrey Goldberg asked if he agreed with Secretary Kerry’s June 2013 statement to the American Jewish Committee that “we’re running out of time … [and] if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.” Obama added his own window-is-closing pressure on Israel, but the last sentence of his answer – which he intended as an argument for speed – actually argues for the opposite. Here is what he said:

I think [Kerry] has been simply stating what observers inside of Israel and outside of Israel recognize, which is that with each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept — in part because of changes in demographics; in part because of what’s been happening with settlements; in part because Abbas is getting older, and I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue. We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.

Before signing an agreement with an aging “president” more than five years past the end of his stated term — someone with no known successor, no process for choosing one, no institutions for holding elections, no capacity to implement any agreement in half his putative state (controlled by the terrorist group he promised to dismantle under the Road Map and didn’t), presiding over a society steeped in anti-Semitic incitement, unwilling to endorse even the concept of “two states for two peoples” (much less explicitly recognize a Jewish state) – we should put aside the perennial argument that time is running out, the over-hyped demographics, and “what’s happening in the settlements” (since what’s happening in the settlements is mostly construction in areas Israel will retain in any conceivable peace agreement), and pause to reflect on President Obama’s last sentence: “We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.”

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In his now-famous interview with President Obama, Jeffrey Goldberg asked if he agreed with Secretary Kerry’s June 2013 statement to the American Jewish Committee that “we’re running out of time … [and] if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.” Obama added his own window-is-closing pressure on Israel, but the last sentence of his answer – which he intended as an argument for speed – actually argues for the opposite. Here is what he said:

I think [Kerry] has been simply stating what observers inside of Israel and outside of Israel recognize, which is that with each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept — in part because of changes in demographics; in part because of what’s been happening with settlements; in part because Abbas is getting older, and I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue. We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.

Before signing an agreement with an aging “president” more than five years past the end of his stated term — someone with no known successor, no process for choosing one, no institutions for holding elections, no capacity to implement any agreement in half his putative state (controlled by the terrorist group he promised to dismantle under the Road Map and didn’t), presiding over a society steeped in anti-Semitic incitement, unwilling to endorse even the concept of “two states for two peoples” (much less explicitly recognize a Jewish state) – we should put aside the perennial argument that time is running out, the over-hyped demographics, and “what’s happening in the settlements” (since what’s happening in the settlements is mostly construction in areas Israel will retain in any conceivable peace agreement), and pause to reflect on President Obama’s last sentence: “We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.”

We do not know, in other words, who will be implementing the agreement Israel is being rushed to sign. We do not know whether it will be Hamas, taking over a Palestinian state in an election or coup (both have happened before); or perhaps the guy next in line in Abbas’s corrupt ruling party; or perhaps the charismatic terrorist currently serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli jail, who would undoubtedly be released as part of a “peace agreement” but is not likely to be the next Nelson Mandela. We do not know because the Palestinian Authority has demonstrated multiple times that if converted to a state it will be a failed one, lacking the basic institutions of a successful state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one. Yesterday the Fatah leadership unanimously endorsed Abbas’s rejection of any recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, without which the “two-state solution” is simply a two-stage plan.

If it is in fact urgent to sign an agreement while President-for-Life Abbas is still around, it is even more urgent for him to give his long overdue Bir Zeit speech, telling his people in Arabic that the price of a Palestinian state is recognition of a Jewish one, and that the conflict will not end with the “return” of the descendants of refugees from the 1948 war the Arabs started to a place where those descendants have never lived. It will end with their resettlement in the Arab states that started the war, where those descendants have lived their entire lives, deprived of basic civil and human rights by the countries of their birth.

If Abbas cannot give his Bir Zeit speech, it is not likely he can preside over a peaceful state. Moreover, as President Obama noted, we do not even know what the successor to Abbas will look like. Perhaps it is time to rethink a Palestinian state, not rush to create one.

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Press Freedom Index Dose of Reality

Reporters Without Borders today released its newest press freedom index. While its website is still a bit quirky—they must have modeled themselves after Healthcare.gov—and so it’s difficult to get the simple list of rankings, there are some notable findings.

First, despite all the hope for change, a dispassionate look at the Iranian press found that there had been no change in Iranian press freedom under new president Hassan Rouhani. Iran still remains in the basement; journalists are still imprisoned or killed; and there is no right to free speech.

Turkey, whose leader President Barack Obama has described as one of his most-trusted foreign friends, remains an embarrassment, ranking 154th in terms of press freedom. That puts Turkey behind Afghanistan, Iraq, and Russia, and on par with Belarus. Frank Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador in Ankara, continues to support Turkey’s European Union membership. Then again, Ricciardone once suggested Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was so popular, he could win elections in the United States and, according to declassified documents, Ricciardone once led the drive to normalize relations with that noted moderate and reformer, Saddam Hussein, so perhaps his cheerleading for dictators should be taken with a grain of salt.

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Reporters Without Borders today released its newest press freedom index. While its website is still a bit quirky—they must have modeled themselves after Healthcare.gov—and so it’s difficult to get the simple list of rankings, there are some notable findings.

First, despite all the hope for change, a dispassionate look at the Iranian press found that there had been no change in Iranian press freedom under new president Hassan Rouhani. Iran still remains in the basement; journalists are still imprisoned or killed; and there is no right to free speech.

Turkey, whose leader President Barack Obama has described as one of his most-trusted foreign friends, remains an embarrassment, ranking 154th in terms of press freedom. That puts Turkey behind Afghanistan, Iraq, and Russia, and on par with Belarus. Frank Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador in Ankara, continues to support Turkey’s European Union membership. Then again, Ricciardone once suggested Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was so popular, he could win elections in the United States and, according to declassified documents, Ricciardone once led the drive to normalize relations with that noted moderate and reformer, Saddam Hussein, so perhaps his cheerleading for dictators should be taken with a grain of salt.

Israel shot up in the rankings, after Reporters Without Borders penalized it last year for killing two Hamas operatives who were moonlighting as reporters. The NGO knocked several points off both the United States and the United Kingdom for their prosecution of whistle blowers, though there is a difference between prosecuting government officials who violated their oath to protect the secrecy of material versus targeting journalists who were simply doing their job. (Granted, the United States did a little of both.) Eritrea remained in the basement, behind even North Korea, which seems curious at best.

What does make interesting reading is to go down the list and compare the press freedom rankings of those countries the Obama administration coddles versus those countries Secretary of State John Kerry and Obama criticize; for example, juxtaposing China and Taiwan, or Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Here, it seems that the key to gaining praise from the White House is to imprison journalists, while granting citizens freedom and liberty seems a sure-fire means to find yourself in the White House’s diplomatic cross hairs. Perhaps the press freedom rankings can be a wakeup call to Obama and Kerry about how they judge and treat allies.

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Refugees Who Insist on the Impossible

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has a budget problem, and as a result its workers are on strike. As the New York Times reports, that’s bad news for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank who depend on the UN agency for food, services, and employment. But the controversy over the impact of the strike and the refugees’ demands for the Palestinian Authority to step in and pick up where the UN left off doesn’t address the heart of their problem. Instead of arguing over who should take care of them, the Palestinians should be seeking the same resolution that has successfully solved every other refugee problem since the Second World War: resettlement. Instead, they have been allowed to languish in camps to keep the war against Israel alive, doing far more injury to themselves than they have ever done to the Israelis.

The curious thing about the dispute between the refugees and the PA is that while the former demand that the corrupt Palestinian government take care of them while UNRWA is on strike, they are resolutely against being governed by it. Doing so would mean giving up their special status as refugees and taking up the more prosaic identity of Palestinian Arabs living on the territory of the putative independent Palestinian state that, while already recognized by some governments, doesn’t yet exist. Leaving the camps would mean a better life, either in the West Bank or elsewhere. But it would also entail giving up their precious fiction that the descendants of the Arabs who fled the land of what is now Israel will someday return to it and thus erase the Jewish state. Rather than do that, they prefer to stay where they are, living in poverty and condemning each subsequent generation to a futile and destructive quest that makes any peace agreement impossible. Instead of demanding more funding for UNRWA in order to continue to maintain the shaky welfare state operating in the West Bank, Gaza, and other refugee camps around the region, those who actually care about the welfare of the Palestinians should advocate instead for its dissolution.

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The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has a budget problem, and as a result its workers are on strike. As the New York Times reports, that’s bad news for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank who depend on the UN agency for food, services, and employment. But the controversy over the impact of the strike and the refugees’ demands for the Palestinian Authority to step in and pick up where the UN left off doesn’t address the heart of their problem. Instead of arguing over who should take care of them, the Palestinians should be seeking the same resolution that has successfully solved every other refugee problem since the Second World War: resettlement. Instead, they have been allowed to languish in camps to keep the war against Israel alive, doing far more injury to themselves than they have ever done to the Israelis.

The curious thing about the dispute between the refugees and the PA is that while the former demand that the corrupt Palestinian government take care of them while UNRWA is on strike, they are resolutely against being governed by it. Doing so would mean giving up their special status as refugees and taking up the more prosaic identity of Palestinian Arabs living on the territory of the putative independent Palestinian state that, while already recognized by some governments, doesn’t yet exist. Leaving the camps would mean a better life, either in the West Bank or elsewhere. But it would also entail giving up their precious fiction that the descendants of the Arabs who fled the land of what is now Israel will someday return to it and thus erase the Jewish state. Rather than do that, they prefer to stay where they are, living in poverty and condemning each subsequent generation to a futile and destructive quest that makes any peace agreement impossible. Instead of demanding more funding for UNRWA in order to continue to maintain the shaky welfare state operating in the West Bank, Gaza, and other refugee camps around the region, those who actually care about the welfare of the Palestinians should advocate instead for its dissolution.

The Times report paints a fairly accurate picture of the systemic chaos of Palestinian society. According to Palestinian population figures, fully 740,000 of the 2.4 million Palestinians living in the West Bank call themselves refugees. These figures are notoriously unreliable since both the refugees and other Palestinian groups have a financial and political incentive to inflate the estimates of their population. But even if we were to accept these numbers as accurate, the current Palestinian refugee population is primarily a function of a political decision undertaken by Arab governments and the leadership of the Palestinians to keep them trapped in camps so they can continue to be used as pawns in the never-ending propaganda war against Israel. Since 1945, wars have created tens of millions of refugees around the world. All, with the sole exception of the Palestinians, are served by a single UN refugee agency, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). And almost all, including the hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Arab and Muslim countries who were forced to flee their homes after 1948, have been resettled in new ones. But only the Palestinians, for whom UNRWA was specifically created, were not given the aid they needed to develop skills and get on with their lives.

The fault for this decades-long scandal lies principally with the Arab states. Not one has sought to absorb the refugees created by the war of aggression launched by the Arab world against the new Jewish state in 1948. Worse than that, the refugees were not allowed to leave the camps and denied the opportunity to acquire citizenship in any of the Arab countries in which they resided. That was also the case with Egypt and Jordan, the nations that governed, respectively, Gaza and the West Bank from 1949 to 1967 when the Arab and Muslim world refused to advocate the creation of a Palestinian state in those territories. Instead, their goal was to eradicate the Jewish state that existed inside the truncated borders created by the 1949 armistice agreements that ended Israel’s War of Independence.

But the refugees and the Palestinian political movements themselves also bear a great deal of the blame for the fact that the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren of the 1948 refugees are stuck in exactly the same predicament as their forebears. A case in point is provided by the Times in its interview with Mai Abd al-Razzaq, a 49-year-old Palestinian seeking services from UNRWA.

Asked about a solution for the refugee problem, Mrs. Abd al-Razzaq laughed and said: “It is impossible to return.” But she added: “We insist on return. We don’t want to give up our rights. We will leave it for the generations to come. We don’t want our grandchildren to say we sold out the land.”

Others made the same counter-productive point, eschewing any solution but a “return,” which is tantamount to a demand for the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and a preservation of a conflict for which they send out new generations of children to goad or to engage in violent exchanges with Israelis. Seen in that light, the answer to their problems is not more money for UNRWA and its employees nor for a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in helping them. The only answer is the abolition of UNRWA  and its replacement by an agency dedicated to giving Palestinians the same resettlement help other refugees have received. Until that happens, the refugees—still the driving force of Palestinian politics—will ensure peace with Israel can never be achieved.

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Palestinians Move to Breach Process

Despite having made a commitment to refrain from taking actions to pursue statehood unilaterally during the course of the current U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel, on Monday Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas chaired a meeting preparing plans to do precisely that. While the State Department has been quick to condemn as “offensive and inappropriate” the remarks made by Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s obsession with the negotiation process, this move by the Palestinians risks having far more serious repercussions for the likelihood of achieving a negotiated settlement. Indeed, the fact that Abbas is already making contingency plans, months before negotiations are due to conclude in April, suggests that the Palestinians also lack confidence in the efficacy of Kerry’s strategy.

Under the framework for the current round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel agreed to release a cohort of convicted terrorists and in return the Palestinians would halt their campaign to gain membership in an increasing number of United Nations agencies. Previously this had been the PA’s preferred strategy for avoiding making peace with Israel while gaining international recognition of statehood. By successfully gaining a seat at ever more international bodies, the Palestinians have been positioning themselves to be able to better manipulate international law against the Jewish state.

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Despite having made a commitment to refrain from taking actions to pursue statehood unilaterally during the course of the current U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel, on Monday Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas chaired a meeting preparing plans to do precisely that. While the State Department has been quick to condemn as “offensive and inappropriate” the remarks made by Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s obsession with the negotiation process, this move by the Palestinians risks having far more serious repercussions for the likelihood of achieving a negotiated settlement. Indeed, the fact that Abbas is already making contingency plans, months before negotiations are due to conclude in April, suggests that the Palestinians also lack confidence in the efficacy of Kerry’s strategy.

Under the framework for the current round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel agreed to release a cohort of convicted terrorists and in return the Palestinians would halt their campaign to gain membership in an increasing number of United Nations agencies. Previously this had been the PA’s preferred strategy for avoiding making peace with Israel while gaining international recognition of statehood. By successfully gaining a seat at ever more international bodies, the Palestinians have been positioning themselves to be able to better manipulate international law against the Jewish state.

Since negotiations began in July, Israel has stood by its part of the agreement and so far released 78 of the 104 Palestinian prisoners due for release. As part of this arrangement, the final group of prisoners is to be released ten weeks from now, at the end of March.

During this same nine-month period the Palestinian Authority was obligated not to take unilateral moves toward statehood outside of the agreed-upon negotiation framework. This period is due to end in April. Israel has requested that this window for negotiations be extended, but Abbas has already stated that the Palestinians will not continue peace talks beyond that date. Now, at a meeting Abbas chaired in Ramallah on Monday, the Executive Committee of the PLO announced the decision to resume its moves to seek membership in U.N. bodies, in direct contravention of the agreed-upon peace framework.

The Palestinian News Agency WAFA reports that the statement released by the PLO announces that the Executive Committee has called on its political committee to immediately prepare an operative plan “to implement [the] UN General Assembly resolution that granted Palestine a non-member observer status that allows it to join all UN international agencies.” This move should be of far more critical concern to Secretary Kerry and the State Department than the throwaway remarks of Minister Ya’alon. If the Palestinians are serious about pursuing this breach of their commitments, then Kerry’s peace plans could unravel even faster than many observers already expected them to.

The fact that over the weekend Abbas insisted that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, that Jerusalem would have to be the Palestinian capital, and that the Palestinian refugees, or rather their descendants, would have to have a right of return to their lands, by which he means Israel, hardly bodes well for the outcome of Kerry’s talks. Nor does the fact that the Palestinians seem unwilling to countenance an extension of peace negotiations beyond April, or that from the beginning there have been constant noises from Palestinian negotiators about an imminent collapse of the talks.

The State Department can express its deep sense of offense at Ya’alon’s cynicism about the peace process if it wishes. Yet the fact that the Palestinians are already making contingency plans for the failure of the talks is an indication of just how much faith they really have in these negotiations reaching any kind of successful conclusion.    

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Take Claims of Diplomatic Progress with a Grain of Salt

The White House is denying that talks over the technicalities of the Iranian nuclear deal have broken down, never mind that diplomats have so far been unable to resolve differences regarding Iran’s nuclear centrifuge research and so the preliminary deal announced late last year has yet to take effect. “The P5+1 and Iran made progress in our discussions regarding the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action over the past several weeks,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan assured the Washington Free Beacon when it asked about the state of negotiations, given that negotiators had gone home absent an agreement.

Talk of progress might be reassuring, but it is important for outside observers to take them with a grain of salt. While conducting research for my forthcoming book about the history of diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, I went through decades of State Department and National Security Council briefings regarding high-stakes diplomacy with North Korea, Iran, and the Palestinian Authority. With the benefit of time, I was also able to compare the statements of the diplomatic briefers with their declassified notes and intelligence regarding what actually had occurred. Seldom did claims of progress actually correlate to progress. Nor had the State Department developed metrics before beginning talks to chart their progress. Rather, the State Department often claims progress not to describe the results of negotiations, but instead to protect the institutional interest of continuing talks and a process in which politicians have invested.

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The White House is denying that talks over the technicalities of the Iranian nuclear deal have broken down, never mind that diplomats have so far been unable to resolve differences regarding Iran’s nuclear centrifuge research and so the preliminary deal announced late last year has yet to take effect. “The P5+1 and Iran made progress in our discussions regarding the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action over the past several weeks,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan assured the Washington Free Beacon when it asked about the state of negotiations, given that negotiators had gone home absent an agreement.

Talk of progress might be reassuring, but it is important for outside observers to take them with a grain of salt. While conducting research for my forthcoming book about the history of diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups, I went through decades of State Department and National Security Council briefings regarding high-stakes diplomacy with North Korea, Iran, and the Palestinian Authority. With the benefit of time, I was also able to compare the statements of the diplomatic briefers with their declassified notes and intelligence regarding what actually had occurred. Seldom did claims of progress actually correlate to progress. Nor had the State Department developed metrics before beginning talks to chart their progress. Rather, the State Department often claims progress not to describe the results of negotiations, but instead to protect the institutional interest of continuing talks and a process in which politicians have invested.

Diplomacy might yet yield results but, in the meantime, rather than accept claims of progress, it would behoove congressmen and journalists to ask the State Department in advance of any talks what their definition for progress is absent any final agreement. If they do so, they may find that, in diplo-speak, the line between progress and failure does not exist.

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A Cultural Gulf Between Israel and Palestine

Last night there was a big party in Ramallah. As the Times of Israel described it, the gathering at the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority’s government compound in the city, was festive as people gathered to welcome home 21 of the 26 convicted terrorist murderers who were set free by Israel this week as part of the deal that got the Palestinians to agree to peace talks. Loudspeakers blasted songs, friends and relatives of those released danced, and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas proudly held their hands aloft in a victory gesture.

By contrast, the mood in Israel was somber as the relatives of the people who had been killed by those treated as heroes in Ramallah mourned anew. The New York Times described the difference between the two reactions as “an emotional gulf” and that is, to some extent, certainly true. One group of people was happy as murderers went free while others wept. But the gulf here is more than emotional or merely, as the Times seemed to describe it, a difficult process that is part of the price Israel must pay for the chance of peace. In fact, the “emotional gulf” is indicative of a vast cultural divide between these two peoples that explains more about the absence of peace than any lecture about history, borders, or refugees. Simply put, so long as the Palestinians honor murderers, there is no reason to believe they are willing to end the conflict.

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Last night there was a big party in Ramallah. As the Times of Israel described it, the gathering at the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority’s government compound in the city, was festive as people gathered to welcome home 21 of the 26 convicted terrorist murderers who were set free by Israel this week as part of the deal that got the Palestinians to agree to peace talks. Loudspeakers blasted songs, friends and relatives of those released danced, and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas proudly held their hands aloft in a victory gesture.

By contrast, the mood in Israel was somber as the relatives of the people who had been killed by those treated as heroes in Ramallah mourned anew. The New York Times described the difference between the two reactions as “an emotional gulf” and that is, to some extent, certainly true. One group of people was happy as murderers went free while others wept. But the gulf here is more than emotional or merely, as the Times seemed to describe it, a difficult process that is part of the price Israel must pay for the chance of peace. In fact, the “emotional gulf” is indicative of a vast cultural divide between these two peoples that explains more about the absence of peace than any lecture about history, borders, or refugees. Simply put, so long as the Palestinians honor murderers, there is no reason to believe they are willing to end the conflict.

The accounts of the aftermath of the release sought to balance the embarrassing ceremony in Ramallah by highlighting the decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow the building of 1,500 apartments in Jerusalem. There’s no question that the move was motivated by a desire on Netanyahu’s part to pacify the anger felt by many of his supporters about the release of terrorists. Even members of his coalition called it cynical and they are probably right about that, even though they, like most Israelis, see nothing wrong with Israel building in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in their capital that would remain in the Jewish state even if there were a peace treaty that created a Palestinian state. Some would have preferred a building freeze to the disgrace of allowing the killers out of jail and that, too, is understandable.

But the lesson here isn’t so much about whether Netanyahu is playing political games or the false charge that building in Jerusalem is any way an obstacle to peace. It is that the two peoples in this conflict seem to be driven by values that are not merely at odds but which represent a gulf between civilizations.

The focus of Palestinian nationalism is not on building up their putative state, making it a better place to live, or even in creating a political process that would allow them to express their views freely. None of that was on display in Ramallah as a “president” serving the ninth year of the four-year term to which he was elected did his utmost to identify his political fortunes with people who had stabbed, shot, and blown up Jews in cold blood. Abbas did so because the political culture of the Palestinians still venerates the shedding of blood as the essential bona fides of any patriot. That is why terrorists are Palestinian heroes rather than shameful remnants of a violent past that is supposedly finished. He successfully demanded the release of the killers because that is something that makes him more popular.

Among Israelis, there is a debate about the wisdom of West Bank settlements even though few dispute the right of their country to build in any part of their capital. But Israelis don’t treat that tiny minority of Jews who have committed acts of lawless violence against Arabs as heroes. They are punished, not cheered. Until the same is true of the Palestinians, peace is nowhere in sight.

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Euros Don’t Care PA Steals Their Money

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was in Berlin this week and received the usual reception that he gets in European capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned Israeli settlement building and then vowed to continue funneling cash to the PA. The latter point is especially crucial because the PA dependent on European aid. But nowhere in Merkel’s remarks did the question of what exactly the PA does with all the funds poured into its coffers by Germany and the rest of the EU community.

Had she done so, she could have referred to an article in Britain’s Sunday Times that said the European Court of Auditors, the official European Union body monitoring the group’s funds, found that the PA has misspent nearly $3 billion in EU donations during the period covering 2008 to 2012. The audit body said the money was not being used for the purpose for which it was intended and that there were “significant shortcomings” in the PA’s accounts of what it did with the money. In other words, they are now well aware that Abbas and his cronies are robbing them blind just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did when he ran things in Ramallah.

The question is, why does a nation like Germany, that was rightly prepared to pull the plug on a debt-ridden fellow EU member state like Greece unless they got their fiscal house in order, not care that the Palestinians are stealing their money?

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was in Berlin this week and received the usual reception that he gets in European capitals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned Israeli settlement building and then vowed to continue funneling cash to the PA. The latter point is especially crucial because the PA dependent on European aid. But nowhere in Merkel’s remarks did the question of what exactly the PA does with all the funds poured into its coffers by Germany and the rest of the EU community.

Had she done so, she could have referred to an article in Britain’s Sunday Times that said the European Court of Auditors, the official European Union body monitoring the group’s funds, found that the PA has misspent nearly $3 billion in EU donations during the period covering 2008 to 2012. The audit body said the money was not being used for the purpose for which it was intended and that there were “significant shortcomings” in the PA’s accounts of what it did with the money. In other words, they are now well aware that Abbas and his cronies are robbing them blind just as his predecessor Yasir Arafat did when he ran things in Ramallah.

The question is, why does a nation like Germany, that was rightly prepared to pull the plug on a debt-ridden fellow EU member state like Greece unless they got their fiscal house in order, not care that the Palestinians are stealing their money?

Merkel, who in many ways functions as the financier of the continent, is not as hostile to Israel as many of her European colleagues. But like everyone else in the EU, she thinks nothing of pouring her people’s money down the rat hole of the PA. The reasons for this are not hard to figure out.

The primary reason is the bigotry of low expectations. Like many of those who form the Palestinians’ foreign cheerleaders, the Europeans tend to act as if the PA and its people are not capable of responsible behavior. They believe, perhaps not entirely wrongly, that the only way to persuade the Palestinian people to keep Abbas and the corrupt Fatah in power rather than choosing the Islamists of Hamas is to bribe them. They seem to think them incapable of choosing democracy and good government over violence and terrorism.

It may well be that Abbas and Fatah are better than Hamas but the only way to force them to start using the billions that come into their hands from foreign donors on the Palestinian people is to make them accountable. Abbas, who is in the ninth year of the four-year-term as president to which the Palestinians elected him, depends on the European Union for the money that keeps the PA afloat via no show and no work jobs that spread that portion of the wealth that isn’t pocketed by the Fatah elite around the territories. While former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tried to reform the Ramallah government, he never stood a chance against Fatah.

But instead of trying to stop the PA from abusing their people, Germany and the rest of the EU continues to enable them to go on stealing. That’s something they’d never do the Greeks, who were driven hard to cut back on their profligate government in order to be bailed out of bankruptcy by the Germans.

The Palestinian government will never act in a responsible manner until they are forced to. That’s something that probably most ordinary Palestinians would like to see. But because pressure on the PA would be seen as somehow betraying the Palestinian cause or favorable to Israel (which also needs the PA to function), it never happens in a meaningful way.

In the meantime, Germans who care very much how the Greeks spend their money, continue to act as if the Palestinians can do what they like with it. Blaming the Israelis for all of the Palestinians’ woes is popular but it doesn’t come close to diagnosing the real problem. Until that changes, the PA will continue to be not only corrupt, but also a hotbed of potential violence ready to bubble over.

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Incitement Is the Obstacle to Peace

During the course of his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, President Obama repeated his evenhanded mantra about the Middle East peace process. The short version of it is to say that if you want Israel to survive you also have to support a Palestinian state. Both sides of the conflict have a right to live “in dignity and security” and both sides should be urged to make compromises and accept peace. But the problem with this formulation, which was repeated by many other world leaders at the UN podium, is that it reflects a false moral equivalence between the two sides. That false balance was reflected in the events last weekend that led to the murders of two Israeli soldiers in terrorist incidents.

As the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote yesterday, these were not the acts of isolated extremists trying to undermine the peaceful intentions of Palestinian leaders. Responsibility for one of the murders was taken by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of the Fatah Party led by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who was praised by President Obama for engaging in talks with Israel. The PA condemned neither killing. But even if it did issue some statement of regret, it would be pure hypocrisy since such acts are encouraged every day by the PA’s official media and education system which continues to laud terrorism and to treat murders of Jews and Israelis as the duty of every Palestinian.

Yet neither the Obama administration nor anyone at the UN ever bothers to point out that there is only one side in this contract that devotes its resources to inciting hatred and violence against their antagonists: the Palestinians. Until that imbalance is corrected, all the evenhanded rhetoric heard at the UN or anywhere else will be a waste of time.

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During the course of his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, President Obama repeated his evenhanded mantra about the Middle East peace process. The short version of it is to say that if you want Israel to survive you also have to support a Palestinian state. Both sides of the conflict have a right to live “in dignity and security” and both sides should be urged to make compromises and accept peace. But the problem with this formulation, which was repeated by many other world leaders at the UN podium, is that it reflects a false moral equivalence between the two sides. That false balance was reflected in the events last weekend that led to the murders of two Israeli soldiers in terrorist incidents.

As the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote yesterday, these were not the acts of isolated extremists trying to undermine the peaceful intentions of Palestinian leaders. Responsibility for one of the murders was taken by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of the Fatah Party led by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who was praised by President Obama for engaging in talks with Israel. The PA condemned neither killing. But even if it did issue some statement of regret, it would be pure hypocrisy since such acts are encouraged every day by the PA’s official media and education system which continues to laud terrorism and to treat murders of Jews and Israelis as the duty of every Palestinian.

Yet neither the Obama administration nor anyone at the UN ever bothers to point out that there is only one side in this contract that devotes its resources to inciting hatred and violence against their antagonists: the Palestinians. Until that imbalance is corrected, all the evenhanded rhetoric heard at the UN or anywhere else will be a waste of time.

Even dedicated peace processors like longtime State Department official Dennis Ross have long acknowledged that the principal failure of those pushing the implementation of the Oslo Accords was their decision to ignore Palestinian incitement. Back in the 1990s, discussions of how the Palestinians were laying the groundwork for a new campaign of terrorism was considered irrelevant or a distraction of the big picture in which Israel was being pressured to make more concessions to satisfy the Palestinians. That fatal mistake was Oslo’s undoing. But 20 years after the ecstatic reaction to the signing on the White House Lawn, President Obama is making the same mistake when he and Secretary of State John Kerry ignore the Palestinian campaign of hate.

Anyone who expects peace talks to succeed or to be meaningful when the same party that is supposedly negotiating with Israel is encouraging its people to treat terrorism against Jews as an act of heroism is deluding themselves. Allowing the PA to get away with saying one thing in English to the Western press and another in Arabic in their official media and school texts is a formula that will ensure that the mistakes of Oslo will be repeated.

The path to peace is not as simple as merely saying both sides have rights–though any formulation that accepts that Israel has rights in the dispute over Jerusalem and the West Bank rather than just security concerns, as Obama indicated, would be an improvement. But what is truly necessary is for the West to make it plain to Abbas and the PA that it cannot go on subsidizing terrorists like the Aqsa Brigades or eulogizing them when murderers are released from Israeli jails at the behest of the U.S. So long as that is the rule, it won’t matter what happens in the talks that Kerry has orchestrated with such great effort. Settlements can be negotiated and, as Israel has shown in the past, surrendered in the hope of real peace (a hope that has so far been disappointed). But the conflict will not end so long as the Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim and Arab world think there’s nothing wrong with killing Jews. If President Obama really wants to advance the cause of peace, he should focus on that point the next time he rises to the UN podium.

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Why the Peace Talks Are Private

The resumption of the Middle East peace talks is a major victory for Secretary of State John Kerry, even if no one other than him thinks they have a chance of succeeding. But you may have noticed one curious element of this much-ballyhooed diplomatic event: it’s being conducted almost entirely in private. This might be explained by the need to keep the talks from being blown up by leaks from either the Israelis or the Palestinians that might be designed to embarrass the other side. But rather than the blackout being imposed by a State Department determined to push the uphill slog to peace without interruption from the press, the request for privacy came only from the Palestinians. The purpose of that desire for secrecy tells us a lot more about why the talks are fated not to succeed than they do about either side’s will to negotiate.

As Khaled Abu Toameh points out in an article written for the Gatestone Institute, the point of keeping the press away from the talks is not so that they can be conducted without interference so much as it is to save the negotiators–and the Palestinian Authority that sent them–from the outrage of a Palestinian public that wants no part of any measure that smacks of coexistence with the Jewish state. Whether or not PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his lead negotiator Saeb Erekat are sincere about wanting an agreement that will end the conflict, after two decades of efforts to demonize the Israelis and make cooperation impossible, they fear that any publicity about the talks will create a devastating backlash. Far from anti-peace sentiment being the work solely of their Hamas rivals, the PLO council dominated by Abbas’s Fatah Party is making it clear it will oppose any agreement.

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The resumption of the Middle East peace talks is a major victory for Secretary of State John Kerry, even if no one other than him thinks they have a chance of succeeding. But you may have noticed one curious element of this much-ballyhooed diplomatic event: it’s being conducted almost entirely in private. This might be explained by the need to keep the talks from being blown up by leaks from either the Israelis or the Palestinians that might be designed to embarrass the other side. But rather than the blackout being imposed by a State Department determined to push the uphill slog to peace without interruption from the press, the request for privacy came only from the Palestinians. The purpose of that desire for secrecy tells us a lot more about why the talks are fated not to succeed than they do about either side’s will to negotiate.

As Khaled Abu Toameh points out in an article written for the Gatestone Institute, the point of keeping the press away from the talks is not so that they can be conducted without interference so much as it is to save the negotiators–and the Palestinian Authority that sent them–from the outrage of a Palestinian public that wants no part of any measure that smacks of coexistence with the Jewish state. Whether or not PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his lead negotiator Saeb Erekat are sincere about wanting an agreement that will end the conflict, after two decades of efforts to demonize the Israelis and make cooperation impossible, they fear that any publicity about the talks will create a devastating backlash. Far from anti-peace sentiment being the work solely of their Hamas rivals, the PLO council dominated by Abbas’s Fatah Party is making it clear it will oppose any agreement.

The reason for the widespread Palestinian opposition to any accord is rooted in a definition of Palestinian nationalism that is incompatible with compromise with Zionism. Since the Palestinian movement grew up primarily by opposing the return of the Jews to the country, the notion of a state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel is anathema under almost any conditions. Even if Israel’s maximum concessions increased to the point where they matched the Palestinians’ minimum terms for peace, that would still entail giving up the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and grant legitimacy to a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. And that is something most Palestinians are still unwilling to do.

But more than that is the nature of the Palestinian political culture that has grown up in the wake of the 1993 Oslo Accords. As Abu Toameh rightly notes, most Palestinians are intolerant of any sort of cooperation with Israelis to the point where they oppose even competitions between youth soccer teams. Thus, the debate about the talks is not so much about the terms of peace as it is about the “crime” of talking with Israelis.

Unfortunately, even if the talks were to bring the two sides closer, this means that any tentative agreement is bound to be abandoned by the PA before it is brought before the people for the same reason that Yasir Arafat said no to a Palestinian state in 2000 and 2001 and Abbas fled the negotiations in 2008 when he was offered an even sweeter deal. Since not even a powerful leader like Arafat felt he could survive peace, there is no reason to think Abbas thinks differently and everything he has done in office confirms that supposition. Having not only failed to prepare the Palestinian people for peace but fomented more hatred for Jews and Israel, it is inconceivable that anything offered by the Netanyahu government would be enough to make Abbas think he could dare to sign on the dotted line.

Seen in this context the lack of cameras at the opening of the talks is not a sign of seriousness. It is an indication that the Palestinians are still not ready to make peace.

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Hamas Still Has Peace Veto

There has been a lot cheerleading in the media the last few days for Secretary of State John Kerry and the new Middle East peace negotiations he has sponsored. While expectations that the talks will lead to peace couldn’t be lower, the main narrative explaining that tends to stick with the notion that neither Israel nor the Palestinians really want peace. That piece of conventional wisdom is generally false since it is based on a false moral equivalence between the position of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu has been offering peace talks without preconditions for years and signed (and kept) peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office. Abbas has already turned down a far more generous peace deal in 2008 than anybody can imagine him getting this time around.

But as wrongheaded as the attempts to preemptively blame Netanyahu for the inevitable failure of the talks are, the real mistake in most coverage of this event is the omission of the one factor that by definition makes an agreement impossible: Hamas. The problem with Abbas is not just that he isn’t really interested in genuine peace or that he is in the ninth year of the four-year presidential term for which he was elected. It’s that he and his Fatah Party-run PLO don’t speak for the 40 percent of Palestinians living in Gaza who are ruled by Hamas. While Politico deserves some credit for highlighting this crucial factor in an article today, it has been relegated to a footnote elsewhere. The problem is not just that Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel’s existence or its right to exist. It’s that Hamas is already running an independent Palestinian state in all but name right now and thus maintains a functional veto over anything that Abbas might sign, assuming, of course, that Abbas signs anything. While some may see this as a reason to lift the boycott of the terrorist movement, what it really means is that peace is simply impossible so long as Hamas is left in place.

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There has been a lot cheerleading in the media the last few days for Secretary of State John Kerry and the new Middle East peace negotiations he has sponsored. While expectations that the talks will lead to peace couldn’t be lower, the main narrative explaining that tends to stick with the notion that neither Israel nor the Palestinians really want peace. That piece of conventional wisdom is generally false since it is based on a false moral equivalence between the position of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu has been offering peace talks without preconditions for years and signed (and kept) peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office. Abbas has already turned down a far more generous peace deal in 2008 than anybody can imagine him getting this time around.

But as wrongheaded as the attempts to preemptively blame Netanyahu for the inevitable failure of the talks are, the real mistake in most coverage of this event is the omission of the one factor that by definition makes an agreement impossible: Hamas. The problem with Abbas is not just that he isn’t really interested in genuine peace or that he is in the ninth year of the four-year presidential term for which he was elected. It’s that he and his Fatah Party-run PLO don’t speak for the 40 percent of Palestinians living in Gaza who are ruled by Hamas. While Politico deserves some credit for highlighting this crucial factor in an article today, it has been relegated to a footnote elsewhere. The problem is not just that Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel’s existence or its right to exist. It’s that Hamas is already running an independent Palestinian state in all but name right now and thus maintains a functional veto over anything that Abbas might sign, assuming, of course, that Abbas signs anything. While some may see this as a reason to lift the boycott of the terrorist movement, what it really means is that peace is simply impossible so long as Hamas is left in place.

Peace process optimists acknowledge the absence of Hamas at the table but say it is irrelevant. Their argument claims that Hamas has already implicitly recognized Israel via indirect cease fire talks following bouts of fighting along the border, and that the Islamist group has effectively ceded responsibility for negotiating with the Jewish state to Abbas and Fatah. But these are merely tactical steps that do nothing to change Hamas’s worldview or its purpose.

Those who see the two movements as somehow complementing each other ignore the fact that Fatah and Hamas remain locked in a death struggle over control of Palestinian politics. The main currency in that competition remains violence against Israel and fidelity to the guiding principles of Palestinian nationalism, the chief of which is rejection of Israel’s legitimacy.

The dynamic of Israeli politics is such that the overwhelming majority of Israelis are likely to support any peace deal that promises an end to the conflict, as they did in 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed. But if Abbas ever presents a deal to his people that will, as it must, preserve Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and put an end to the fantasy of a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees, he will be handing his own head on a platter to Hamas. As has been pointed out numerous times over the last decade, Abbas is much weaker than Yasir Arafat. Yet even the old terrorist didn’t feel he could get away with signing a peace agreement that ended the conflict.

Nor will including Hamas in the talks or an American decision to embrace the Gaza government make it easier for Abbas to deal. Support for this idea is based on Western naïveté and ignorance about the basics of Palestinian politics. Their international legitimization will only strengthen the forces of intolerance and intransigence within Palestinian society that already make peace unlikely.

Twenty years ago, the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin believed that Oslo would empower Arafat and Fatah to take on Hamas and eliminate it, thereby clearing the way for peace. But instead of waging war on the Islamists, Fatah chose instead to continue its own terrorist offensive against Israel. A historic opportunity was lost and the current circumstances don’t appear to offer Abbas the same chance. Until the day comes when either Hamas abandons the Islamist philosophy it inherited from its Muslim Brotherhood mentors or the PA finds a leader with the will to fight Hamas, the chances for peace are minimal. It is this Hamas factor, and not Netanyahu’s toughness or even the chance that he will weaken, that remains the obstacle to peace for which Kerry has no solution.

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Releasing Palestinian Terrorists for a Ruse

Even most of his sternest critics are giving John Kerry credit for good intentions in his efforts to reconvene Middle East peace talks. The prospects for success are minimal and the consequences of almost certain failure are awful to contemplate. But few would deny that Kerry means well. But there is one aspect to the American participation in what is likely to be yet another in a long list of failures that cannot be spun as a worthwhile risk taken in the name of the cause of peace. Along with other absurd Palestinian demands that Israel concede the substance of the talks prior to the beginning of negotiations is one particular condition that Kerry should never have been a party to: the release of terrorist murderers.

In order to avoid the blame for the failure of Kerry’s quest, Israel has been reportedly forced to agree to the release of 82 terrorists imprisoned since before the 1993 Oslo Accords as part of a package of concessions aimed at enticing the Palestinian Authority to rejoin the talks they’ve been boycotting for the last four and a half years. According to the Times of Israel, the Israeli Cabinet is scheduled to vote on the release prior to the start of the event Kerry has stage-managed. Among those to be released are believed to be a large number convicted of cold-blooded murders of Israeli men, women, and children. Even if you concede Kerry’s good intentions, this outrage is not something that should be done in the name of the people of the United States even if the supposed object is the achievement of peace. That the release of unrepentant murderers should be the result of U.S. policy is not merely painful for Israelis—especially the families of the victims—it is a disgrace. That this is being done to further a process that even officials of the PA agree is nothing more than a ruse rather than a genuine pursuit of peace is doubly disgraceful.

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Even most of his sternest critics are giving John Kerry credit for good intentions in his efforts to reconvene Middle East peace talks. The prospects for success are minimal and the consequences of almost certain failure are awful to contemplate. But few would deny that Kerry means well. But there is one aspect to the American participation in what is likely to be yet another in a long list of failures that cannot be spun as a worthwhile risk taken in the name of the cause of peace. Along with other absurd Palestinian demands that Israel concede the substance of the talks prior to the beginning of negotiations is one particular condition that Kerry should never have been a party to: the release of terrorist murderers.

In order to avoid the blame for the failure of Kerry’s quest, Israel has been reportedly forced to agree to the release of 82 terrorists imprisoned since before the 1993 Oslo Accords as part of a package of concessions aimed at enticing the Palestinian Authority to rejoin the talks they’ve been boycotting for the last four and a half years. According to the Times of Israel, the Israeli Cabinet is scheduled to vote on the release prior to the start of the event Kerry has stage-managed. Among those to be released are believed to be a large number convicted of cold-blooded murders of Israeli men, women, and children. Even if you concede Kerry’s good intentions, this outrage is not something that should be done in the name of the people of the United States even if the supposed object is the achievement of peace. That the release of unrepentant murderers should be the result of U.S. policy is not merely painful for Israelis—especially the families of the victims—it is a disgrace. That this is being done to further a process that even officials of the PA agree is nothing more than a ruse rather than a genuine pursuit of peace is doubly disgraceful.

It is true that Israel has often released large batches of Palestinian terrorists in the past. Most recently, the Netanyahu government made the difficult decision to spring over a thousand prisoners, including many with a lot of blood on their hands, in order to purchase the freedom of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The prime minister was bitterly criticized by many on the Israeli right and even many American conservatives who argued, with reason, that giving up so many killers would boost terrorism and merely encourage other attempts to hold Israelis for ransom. Even so, I thought Netanyahu’s decision was justified since the ethos of Israel and public opinion demanded that the government pay virtually any price to redeem a captive rather than to let him or die in the name of principle. Like it or not, that prisoner exchange could not have been avoided.

But there is no such justification for turning loose more terrorists this time.

It is true that winning the freedom of Palestinians convicted of killing Jews is an obsession of the PA and its leadership. PA TV glorifies imprisoned terrorists as “heroes” and regularly highlights their families. Since Palestinian culture glorifies such violence, there is nothing else Abbas could do that would be as popular as forcing Israel to free those Arabs who have committed atrocities.

It is that reasoning that has led Kerry to force Netanyahu to agree to the release. If Hamas gained popularity for the Shalit exchange, Washington thinks a batch of freed terrorists will do the same for Abbas and thereby, at least in theory, boost the chances for peace.

But as the PA has told its own people over and over again, their object in the talks isn’t peace. Indeed, as its religious endowments minister explained on PA TV in a Friday sermon last week, the whole point of negotiations is nothing more than a ruse intended to fool the Jews.

With PA leader Mahmoud Abbas sitting right there as he spoke live, Mahmoud Habbash:

compared the decision of the PA leadership to negotiate with Israel to the agreement of the Prophet Muhammad on a 10-year truce with his rivals in the Quraish tribe of Mecca, known as the Treaty of Hudaibiya, reached in the year 628 CE.

The significance of the treaty is that the prophet reneged on the promise and used the respite to help conquer the Jewish tribe.

That Kerry is treating the fact that Abbas sat right there and listened to this with approval as irrelevant to the prospects of peace, and not a sign that the prisoner release should be canceled, is a sign that Washington has learned nothing since Yasir Arafat made a similar speech about Oslo being merely part of a two-phase effort to destroy Israel in 1994.

President Obama has done his best to exploit the tears and pain of the families of the Newtown massacre in his effort to promote gun control-legislation. But apparently the same pain of Israeli victims of Palestinian killers means little or nothing to him. Whatever one may think of the need for peace talks, we should all be ashamed of the American involvement in letting killers walk in this manner.

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The High Price of Kerry’s Pyrrhic Victory

After weeks of looking silly chasing his tail in what appeared to be a futile attempt to revive Middle East peace talks, Secretary of State John Kerry is looking like a winner this afternoon as he was able to announce that he had been able to “establish a basis” for a new round of negotiations of between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Assuming the Palestinians actually show up next week in Washington as Kerry thinks they will, this will be something of a victory for a secretary who has gone from humiliation to humiliation during his brief term in office. Even if all it amounts to is a photo op, Kerry can claim it is evidence of the diplomatic prowess he thinks he possesses. But before he starts writing his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (if it isn’t already composed at least in his head), we need to understand that it is highly unlikely that anything good may come of this initiative. Even worse, the price the United States has paid for getting even this far may be far higher than any possible good that could come from this event.

It should be understood that the tentative and highly conditioned agreement to return to negotiations was only won by an American agreement to accept Palestinian preconditions that President Obama had already rejected and that would, in no small part, tilt the diplomatic playing field against Israel:

Ahmed Majdalani, a PLO executive committee member, told the Associated Press that Kerry has proposed holding talks for six to nine months focusing on the key issues of borders and security arrangements. He said Kerry would endorse the 1967 lines as the starting point of negotiations and assured the Palestinians that Israel would free some 350 prisoners gradually in the coming months.

This came after President Obama phoned Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday to pressure him to cooperate with Kerry. Israel had already agreed to talk without preconditions, but apparently the president wanted Netanyahu’s assurance that he would not protest the way the secretary had buckled to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s conditions. But having arrived at negotiations in this manner, neither Kerry nor Obama seems to have considered what comes next. The Palestinians have already made it abundantly clear that they won’t actually negotiate in good faith but will only show up expecting the U.S. to deliver Israeli concessions to them on a silver platter. Even if he wanted to sign an accord, Abbas hasn’t the power to speak for all Palestinians. Since that is a certain formula for failure, it is incumbent on Washington to understand that another breakdown in talks could serve as a new excuse for Palestinian violence.

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After weeks of looking silly chasing his tail in what appeared to be a futile attempt to revive Middle East peace talks, Secretary of State John Kerry is looking like a winner this afternoon as he was able to announce that he had been able to “establish a basis” for a new round of negotiations of between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Assuming the Palestinians actually show up next week in Washington as Kerry thinks they will, this will be something of a victory for a secretary who has gone from humiliation to humiliation during his brief term in office. Even if all it amounts to is a photo op, Kerry can claim it is evidence of the diplomatic prowess he thinks he possesses. But before he starts writing his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech (if it isn’t already composed at least in his head), we need to understand that it is highly unlikely that anything good may come of this initiative. Even worse, the price the United States has paid for getting even this far may be far higher than any possible good that could come from this event.

It should be understood that the tentative and highly conditioned agreement to return to negotiations was only won by an American agreement to accept Palestinian preconditions that President Obama had already rejected and that would, in no small part, tilt the diplomatic playing field against Israel:

Ahmed Majdalani, a PLO executive committee member, told the Associated Press that Kerry has proposed holding talks for six to nine months focusing on the key issues of borders and security arrangements. He said Kerry would endorse the 1967 lines as the starting point of negotiations and assured the Palestinians that Israel would free some 350 prisoners gradually in the coming months.

This came after President Obama phoned Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday to pressure him to cooperate with Kerry. Israel had already agreed to talk without preconditions, but apparently the president wanted Netanyahu’s assurance that he would not protest the way the secretary had buckled to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s conditions. But having arrived at negotiations in this manner, neither Kerry nor Obama seems to have considered what comes next. The Palestinians have already made it abundantly clear that they won’t actually negotiate in good faith but will only show up expecting the U.S. to deliver Israeli concessions to them on a silver platter. Even if he wanted to sign an accord, Abbas hasn’t the power to speak for all Palestinians. Since that is a certain formula for failure, it is incumbent on Washington to understand that another breakdown in talks could serve as a new excuse for Palestinian violence.

The reason why rational observers have been so wary of Kerry’s initiative is not just the fact that the Palestinians had no interest in returning to negotiations they’ve been boycotting for four and a half years. Both Israel and the Palestinians didn’t wish to obstruct Kerry’s desire for talks. He might have left off once the Palestinians demonstrated their lack of interest, but since he persisted in this manner, they felt they had no choice but to show up.

But Abbas and the PA are too weak to agree to any deal that would conclusively end a conflict that neither Hamas nor much of Fatah actually wants to end. Recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn, is something that no Palestinian leader can afford to do at this point in history. The culture of Palestinian politics that has revolved around the delegitimization of Israel and Jewish history makes it impossible. That’s why they’ve already rejected three Israelis offers of a Palestinian state including almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem. So even if Netanyahu were foolish enough to agree to withdrawals that would, in effect, recreate the independent Palestinian terror state that already exists in Gaza in the West Bank, Abbas still can’t say yes.

But by forcing this confrontation at a time when conditions simply don’t exist for a resolution of the conflict, Kerry is not just occupying himself with an issue that is clearly less pressing that the other crises in the Middle East like Egypt, Syria or the Iranian nuclear threat. Since failure is foreordained and the Palestinians are likely to bolt the talks at the first opportunity, what will follow will be far worse than merely a continuation of the present stalemate. The Palestinians will treat any outcome—even one created by their intransigence—as an excuse for either an upsurge in violence against Israel or an effort to use their status at the United Nations to work to further isolate the Jewish state.

Just as damaging, by again putting the U.S. seal of approval on the Palestinian demand for the 1967 lines as Israel’s borders, Kerry and Obama have also worsened Israel’s position once the talks collapse. Any outcome other than total Israeli acquiescence to Palestinian demands would also serve as justification for more European Union sanctions on Israel, even, as is likely, if such a surrender were to fail to be enough to entice the Palestinians to take yes for an answer.

Netanyahu will be criticized by many in his party for going along with what is likely to be at best, a farce, and, at worst, a dangerous trap. But having already rightly said that he was willing to negotiate with Abbas under any circumstance, he must send representatives to Washington. But neither he, the people of Israel, nor the Jewish state’s friends in this country should be under any illusions that what will ensue from Kerry’s diplomatic experiment will be helpful.

As much as Israel wants and needs peace, the conflict is at a stage when the best that can be hoped for is that it be managed in such a way as to minimize violence and encourage Palestinian development. Though Kerry is offering the PA lots of cash, there is little chance it will be used appropriately or get the desired result.

Next week’s talks may be heralded as an unprecedented opportunity for peace, but the odds are, we will look back on this moment the way we do foolhardy efforts such as President Clinton’s Camp David summit in 2000 that set the stage for a bloody intifada that cost the lives of over a thousand Jews and far more Palestinians. The agreement to talk about talking is a pyrrhic victory for Kerry. Those who cheer this effort should think hard about who will bear the responsibility for the bloodshed that could result from Kerry’s folly.

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Kerry’s Illusion of Momentum

Lest anyone think Secretary of State John Kerry was working hard to deal with urgent foreign-policy problems today, fear not. Although he was doing nothing to end the standoff with Russia over Edward Snowden, stop Iran’s nuclear program, deal with the chaos in Egypt or the ongoing civil war in Syria that is strengthening Tehran’s hand, he didn’t come away empty-handed from his latest trip to the Middle East to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Nobody other than Kerry seriously believes Kerry’s efforts to re-start the peace process will succeed. Both sides are at pains to try to avoid getting the blame for the inevitable failure. Yet Kerry hasn’t persuaded the Palestinians to negotiate, let alone actually end the conflict with Israel and, indeed, may be making things worse by encouraging them to ask for more preconditions that serve as a pretext for staying away from the talks. But his fool’s errand did get the endorsement of the Arab League today.

The statement from the League won’t alter the division among Palestinians between Hamas and Fatah that makes peace impossible. Nor will it prevent Abbas from raising the ante, as he keeps demanding more concessions from Israel in order to sit with them while having no intention of actually negotiating. But it does give Kerry the illusion of momentum that he needs so desperately in order to justify wasting his time on a dead end that offers no chance of a resolution while urgent situations that require his attention are given short shrift.

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Lest anyone think Secretary of State John Kerry was working hard to deal with urgent foreign-policy problems today, fear not. Although he was doing nothing to end the standoff with Russia over Edward Snowden, stop Iran’s nuclear program, deal with the chaos in Egypt or the ongoing civil war in Syria that is strengthening Tehran’s hand, he didn’t come away empty-handed from his latest trip to the Middle East to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Nobody other than Kerry seriously believes Kerry’s efforts to re-start the peace process will succeed. Both sides are at pains to try to avoid getting the blame for the inevitable failure. Yet Kerry hasn’t persuaded the Palestinians to negotiate, let alone actually end the conflict with Israel and, indeed, may be making things worse by encouraging them to ask for more preconditions that serve as a pretext for staying away from the talks. But his fool’s errand did get the endorsement of the Arab League today.

The statement from the League won’t alter the division among Palestinians between Hamas and Fatah that makes peace impossible. Nor will it prevent Abbas from raising the ante, as he keeps demanding more concessions from Israel in order to sit with them while having no intention of actually negotiating. But it does give Kerry the illusion of momentum that he needs so desperately in order to justify wasting his time on a dead end that offers no chance of a resolution while urgent situations that require his attention are given short shrift.

Though the New York Times trumpeted the Arab League statement as proof that Kerry’s efforts are being rewarded with success, the real news came out of Ramallah where, as Ynet reported, Abbas was doubling down on his insistence on a laundry list of preconditions before he will consider returning to the negotiations that he has been boycotting since the start of the Obama administration. According to Western sources, Kerry’s latest meeting with Abbas to get him to rejoin the talks didn’t get him to budge but it did yield more demands from the Fatah leader.

In addition to the massive infusion of Western aid into the coffers of the Palestinian Authority that Kerry has been offering Abbas, they are now asking for an airport and the right to build hotels on the Dead Sea in areas that have heretofore been under exclusive Israeli control, as well as more work permits for Palestinians to enter Israel. The ostensible purpose of these provisions would be to boost the dormant Palestinian economy, but obviously Israelis would have reason to worry about how Fatah would use an airport and whether the permits might open up an avenue for terrorism that has been closed by the security fence in the West Bank.

It isn’t likely that Israel would agree to all of these demands any more than they will give in on the various other points raised by the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has rightly insisted on negotiations without preconditions, a stand endorsed by President Obama during his visit to the region in March. But what Kerry doesn’t seem to realize is that the endless bargaining in which the Palestinians talk about talking is merely another delaying tactic intended to serve as an excuse for their failure to actually negotiate. Though Kerry claimed a victory today and keeps saying that the gap between the sides is getting smaller, his trips only seem to encourage the Palestinians to keep asking for more without ever gaining their assent to deal with the Israelis.

There are those who may wonder what the president thinks about the secretary’s lack of actual success, but the more time he spends pursuing this dead end, the more likely it is that President Obama is perfectly happy to let Kerry chase his tail in this manner since it takes him out of the loop on other, more important issues that are being handled out of the White House. Kerry’s mythical illusion of momentum allows him to continue in this manner, but it also may be serving as an excuse to keep him from applying his inept diplomatic style elsewhere. As bad as the president has been doing on other fronts, it is, perhaps, a blessing in disguise that Kerry is diverted elsewhere, lest he make things even worse in Egypt, Syria, Iran or Russia.

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Anti-Semitic Hate for Kids … and Adults

Prior to his wife’s illness, the assumption was that Secretary of State John Kerry would be returning to the Middle East this week for another round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But whenever Kerry does get back to wandering between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the same obstacles that have prevented peace will still be there. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas knows that if he does as Kerry bids and negotiates with Israel and signs an agreement ending the conflict, he will be running up against the Palestinian reluctance to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. But while the media continues to focus on the deadlocked talks about talks, they rarely devote much energy to determining what exactly is driving the Palestinian culture of rejection.

Part of the answer to that puzzle is supplied from those who, unlike the mainstream media, do pay attention to what is written and broadcast in the official Palestinian media run by Abbas’s PA. Those wondering why the Palestinians would reject peace offers including an independent state (as they have three times since 2000), can do no better than to view this PA TV excerpt brought to our attention from Palestinian Media Watch in which two little Palestinian girls are asked to recite a hateful poem that refers to Jews in the following manner:

“Most evil among creations, barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs,” condemned to “humiliation and hardship.”

It also went on to say the following about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity

Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate

And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.

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Prior to his wife’s illness, the assumption was that Secretary of State John Kerry would be returning to the Middle East this week for another round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at reviving the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. But whenever Kerry does get back to wandering between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the same obstacles that have prevented peace will still be there. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas knows that if he does as Kerry bids and negotiates with Israel and signs an agreement ending the conflict, he will be running up against the Palestinian reluctance to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. But while the media continues to focus on the deadlocked talks about talks, they rarely devote much energy to determining what exactly is driving the Palestinian culture of rejection.

Part of the answer to that puzzle is supplied from those who, unlike the mainstream media, do pay attention to what is written and broadcast in the official Palestinian media run by Abbas’s PA. Those wondering why the Palestinians would reject peace offers including an independent state (as they have three times since 2000), can do no better than to view this PA TV excerpt brought to our attention from Palestinian Media Watch in which two little Palestinian girls are asked to recite a hateful poem that refers to Jews in the following manner:

“Most evil among creations, barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs,” condemned to “humiliation and hardship.”

It also went on to say the following about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem:

Jerusalem vomits from within it your impurity

Because Jerusalem, you impure ones, is pious, immaculate

And Jerusalem, you who are filth, is clean and pure.

It is shocking that the official media of the group that Kerry considers a partner for peace would be broadcasting hate and using children to do it. But, of course, as anyone who follows the PMW website regularly knows, there is actually nothing unusual about the PA acting in this manner.

The PA media has broadcast a steady diet of hatred against Israel and Jews since its inception after the Oslo Accords brought it into existence with numerous examples of them employing children and broadcasts specifically aimed at youngsters to do so. One of the great tragedies of the last 20 years has been the way Israel’s supposed peace partners have sowed the seeds of future conflict by inculcating their youth with doctrines that treat Jews as subhuman monsters with no rights or claims upon the land that both sides claim as their own.

There will be those who will argue that similar hatred exists among Israelis, as occasional incidents inside the green line and so-called “price tag” attacks on Palestinians in the territories indicate. But the difference between the two sides is actually illustrative of the way Israel has embraced the hope for peace while Palestinians have not.

The point is hatred of Jews by Palestinians is something that is officially endorsed by the Palestinian Authority while hatred of Arabs is incessantly condemned by the Israeli media and the government. Jewish prejudice against Arabs exists, but only as the actions of a minority, while mainstream Palestinian culture endorses hate. While Israeli schools adopted curricula seeking to promote “peace education,” the Palestinian schools still use textbooks that are filled with the same kind of vile delegitimization seen on PA TV.

But such hatred isn’t limited to just the Palestinians. As the Elder of Ziyon blog reports today, the American website Mondoweiss seems to be competing with the PA in the effort to delegitimize Jewish rights. In the course of a blog post alleging that Jewish settlers were infringing on the rights of Arab worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Mondoweiss editor and contributor Annie Robbins made the following claim in response to a comment from a reader who pointed out that the Tomb is an ancient site of Jewish worship that even predates the Holy Temples in Jerusalem:

allegedly. there’s no proof that was the location of some grand temple. maybe lots of jewish stuff retroactively lands itself right underneath islamic structures. did you ever think of that? jealous much?

For anyone commenting on the Middle East to not know that the Muslim Conquests involved the planting of mosques on top of the holy sites of other faiths in places like Turkey, India as well as Israel is to demonstrate historical illiteracy on an Olympic scale. The line that separates stupidity from religious prejudice in such assertions is nonexistent since the only possible motivation for these statements is malice rooted in anti-Semitic hatred.

But while we know that Mondoweiss represents the views of denizens of the fever swamps of the left, it is important to remember that it is quite common for Abbas to make similar statements denying any Jewish connection to Jerusalem or the existence of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah or the temple. So long as hate speech is mainstream among the Palestinians, peace with Israel is not something that can be conjured up by a hard working secretary of state.

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Hamdallah, We Hardly Knew Ye

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas thought he was getting a pliant, user-friendly prime minister when he appointed Rami Hamdallah to replace Salam Fayyad. But two weeks after Abbas replaced the Western favorite who tried to rid the PA of corruption with what was thought to be a reliably pro-Fatah academic, he now finds himself looking for another replacement. Hamdallah quit today and, according to Reuters, posted an explanation on his Facebook page that said the decision was due to “outside interferences in his powers and duties.” In other words, even though, unlike Fayyad, Hamdallah was a Fatah Party member with no known political ambitions of his own, he still found it impossible to act as a façade for the PA kleptocracy.

Contrary to the slant of the Reuters piece, the main complication of this event for the PA isn’t the fact that Secretary of State John Kerry will be going back to the Middle East soon in his quixotic effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Palestinians aren’t going to go back to the table to negotiate with Israel no matter who is their prime minister and everyone except Kerry knows it. Abbas’s problem is finding a respectable front man for the PA in order to keep foreign aid pouring in to his government. With Fayyad, who was the first Palestinian leader to ever try to improve the lot of his people, there was a hope that the PA could be transformed from the corrupt fiefdom created by Yasir Arafat. Without him, all Abbas has to offer the West are Fatah functionaries who know their only job is to make sure the theft and graft that Fayyad tried to stop resumes.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas thought he was getting a pliant, user-friendly prime minister when he appointed Rami Hamdallah to replace Salam Fayyad. But two weeks after Abbas replaced the Western favorite who tried to rid the PA of corruption with what was thought to be a reliably pro-Fatah academic, he now finds himself looking for another replacement. Hamdallah quit today and, according to Reuters, posted an explanation on his Facebook page that said the decision was due to “outside interferences in his powers and duties.” In other words, even though, unlike Fayyad, Hamdallah was a Fatah Party member with no known political ambitions of his own, he still found it impossible to act as a façade for the PA kleptocracy.

Contrary to the slant of the Reuters piece, the main complication of this event for the PA isn’t the fact that Secretary of State John Kerry will be going back to the Middle East soon in his quixotic effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Palestinians aren’t going to go back to the table to negotiate with Israel no matter who is their prime minister and everyone except Kerry knows it. Abbas’s problem is finding a respectable front man for the PA in order to keep foreign aid pouring in to his government. With Fayyad, who was the first Palestinian leader to ever try to improve the lot of his people, there was a hope that the PA could be transformed from the corrupt fiefdom created by Yasir Arafat. Without him, all Abbas has to offer the West are Fatah functionaries who know their only job is to make sure the theft and graft that Fayyad tried to stop resumes.

There’s no telling what Hamdallah might have accomplished had he stayed in office and tried to follow in Fayyad’s footsteps. But even before, as scholar Jonathan Schanzer said on Twitter, New York Times pundit and Fayyad cheerleader Thomas Friedman got a chance to write a column praising Hamdallahism, the new PM realized that he was there to play the fool for Abbas and his cronies and wouldn’t play along.

But before we waste too much time lamenting yet another lost opportunity for the Palestinians to change their lives, let’s understand that Hamdallah would have faced the same problem that sunk Fayyad had he stayed in office. The Palestinian political culture remains one in which a focus on good government or transparency is a minor concern. Fayyad was a man without a party or a political constituency when he tried to change the West Bank. That doesn’t just mean that he was without the support of a major faction such as Fatah. It means that by stopping corruption he placed himself in a position where he threatened the vast network of no-show and no-work jobs (paid for with foreign contributions) that employ a significant percentage of the Palestinian workforce. Not only could Fayyad not count on any organization or grass roots groups with Palestinian society to support him, he knew all too well that the organizations and people that run things were determined to stop him. No amount of Israeli or American support could have saved Fayyad, and the same would have been true of Hamdallah.

A PA that is too belligerent and too weak to make peace with Israel is a bad bet for foreign donors, but don’t expect that to stop the Europeans and perhaps even Kerry from continuing to try to bribe the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table or to create a viable government. It won’t work. As Fayyad and Hamdallah learned, the point of Palestinian politics is to perpetuate the conflict with Israel and to enrich Fatah officials. Anyone who gets in the way of that will last as long as Hamdallah did. 

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Why Palestinians Block Wall Changes

As I predicted two months ago, the prospects that Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky’s fair-minded plan for changes at Jerusalem’s Western Wall will be implemented have run into an impassable obstacle. Sharansky’s plan was to create a third section of the Kotel that would create a space for egalitarian services that would remove a source of conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshipers. It has been met with generally good reviews among both Israelis and Diaspora Jews who don’t like the way this sacred place has become for all intents and purposes an open-air Orthodox synagogue rather than a place of pilgrimage for all Jews. But as nasty and as bitter as the infighting between Jewish factions may be, the real conflict in the city remains the one between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Post reports today that the Palestinian Authority’s religious affairs minister has said it will not permit Israel to change the entrance to the Temple Mount—which adjoins and looks down on the Wall Plaza—in order to expand the area where Jews may worship at the remnant of their ancient holy place. But the motivation of this veto isn’t pure spite. Just as they have used their power to set off violence and riots to protest even the most harmless alterations to the area in the last 20 years, Palestinian leaders are determined to stop Sharansky’s scheme in its tracks because they regard all of the Old City as not only theirs by right but a place that will be theirs in the event of any peace deal. Rather than this issue being a purely internecine conflict between women who wish to wear prayer shawls and read Torah and those Orthodox adherents who want to prevent them from doing so, the question of who is in charge at the Kotel still shrinks in significance when placed in the context of the Palestinian struggle to return to a period of history when Jews had no rights in Jerusalem.

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As I predicted two months ago, the prospects that Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky’s fair-minded plan for changes at Jerusalem’s Western Wall will be implemented have run into an impassable obstacle. Sharansky’s plan was to create a third section of the Kotel that would create a space for egalitarian services that would remove a source of conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshipers. It has been met with generally good reviews among both Israelis and Diaspora Jews who don’t like the way this sacred place has become for all intents and purposes an open-air Orthodox synagogue rather than a place of pilgrimage for all Jews. But as nasty and as bitter as the infighting between Jewish factions may be, the real conflict in the city remains the one between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Post reports today that the Palestinian Authority’s religious affairs minister has said it will not permit Israel to change the entrance to the Temple Mount—which adjoins and looks down on the Wall Plaza—in order to expand the area where Jews may worship at the remnant of their ancient holy place. But the motivation of this veto isn’t pure spite. Just as they have used their power to set off violence and riots to protest even the most harmless alterations to the area in the last 20 years, Palestinian leaders are determined to stop Sharansky’s scheme in its tracks because they regard all of the Old City as not only theirs by right but a place that will be theirs in the event of any peace deal. Rather than this issue being a purely internecine conflict between women who wish to wear prayer shawls and read Torah and those Orthodox adherents who want to prevent them from doing so, the question of who is in charge at the Kotel still shrinks in significance when placed in the context of the Palestinian struggle to return to a period of history when Jews had no rights in Jerusalem.

The problem is that in order for Sharansky’s plan to be implemented, alterations must be made to the Mugrabi Bridge that provides access to the Temple Mount from the Wall Plaza. Israel has sought to renovate the bridge in recent years, a move that would only benefit Muslims and the foreign tourists who visit the mosques on the hill (Jews are forbidden to pray there), but it has been prevented from doing so by the demands of the Muslim Wakf which administers the Temple Mount.

The issue here isn’t just preservation of an ancient site in pristine condition since the Temple Mount has already been the scene of massive vandalism committed by the Wakf, which is determined to ignore or bury the evidence of the Jewish origins of the place. The Wakf claims the Kotel is theirs and rejects Jewish sovereignty over any part of it or the city that surrounds it as well as any association with Judaism or the history of the Jewish people. Palestinian Authority leaders and their media have repeatedly claimed that the ancient temples were not built on the Mount where Muslim conquerors subsequently built mosques, just as they deny the associations of the Jews with the rest of their ancient homeland. The rejection of the Sharansky plan is a function of the desire of the PA to exercise control over the entire Old City.

The PA and the Wakf don’t want to stop the expansion of the areas where people can pray at the Wall only because they wish to discomfit the Jews but because they envision administering it themselves in the future.

The dispute between the Women of the Wall and Orthodox authorities is a significant issue that can poison the relationship between Israel and the vast majority of American Jews who affiliate with non-Orthodox denominations. But the PA’s pronouncement is a reminder that the real fight in Jerusalem is not between Jews. So long as Palestinians are determined to reverse the verdict of history and return Jews to a subordinate status in their ancient capital, the spat between Jewish factions will have to wait.

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The End of Palestinian Reform

Many in the West have been in denial about the demise of the one genuine moderate in Palestinian politics. But it’s no longer possible to deny that Fayyadism is officially dead and buried. The long anticipated replacement of Salam Fayyad as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority finally happened yesterday. PA head Mahmoud Abbas named Rami Hamdallah as Fayyad’s successor. But not even those news outlets most dedicated to publishing happy talk about the PA and downplaying its endemic corruption could pretend that this is anything but a retrograde move. Far from continuing the American-educated technocrat’s policies aimed at stopping corruption and facilitating development, even the New York Times admits that Hamdallah is likely to keep foreign donations “in the family” and return the PA back to the bad old days when Yasir Arafat and his cronies were pocketing billions intended to better the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

Some Palestinians questioned the effect of Mr. Hamdallah’s appointment on the confidence of foreign donor nations whose funds keep the Palestinian Authority functioning. Some also suggested that Mr. Hamdallah’s closeness to Fatah meant that there would be fewer checks and balances. Mr. Fayyad was a political independent that was often at loggerheads with Fatah. The Palestinian Parliament has not functioned since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian elections.

One Palestinian expert, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly, said that Mr. Abbas had appointed a prime minister “from within the family,” harking back to the era of Yasir Arafat, Mr. Abbas’s predecessor. Then, the expert said, things were run “like a family business, and that was not healthy.”

The Fayyad experiment in reform was largely the result of pressure from the Bush administration to democratize the PA and to get it working on improving the lives of Palestinians in order to strengthen its case for independence. But by appointing Hamdallah, Abbas is showing that he not only doesn’t give a damn what the Obama administration thinks but that he believes a return to Arafat’s ways won’t bring about any consequences from Washington.

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Many in the West have been in denial about the demise of the one genuine moderate in Palestinian politics. But it’s no longer possible to deny that Fayyadism is officially dead and buried. The long anticipated replacement of Salam Fayyad as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority finally happened yesterday. PA head Mahmoud Abbas named Rami Hamdallah as Fayyad’s successor. But not even those news outlets most dedicated to publishing happy talk about the PA and downplaying its endemic corruption could pretend that this is anything but a retrograde move. Far from continuing the American-educated technocrat’s policies aimed at stopping corruption and facilitating development, even the New York Times admits that Hamdallah is likely to keep foreign donations “in the family” and return the PA back to the bad old days when Yasir Arafat and his cronies were pocketing billions intended to better the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

Some Palestinians questioned the effect of Mr. Hamdallah’s appointment on the confidence of foreign donor nations whose funds keep the Palestinian Authority functioning. Some also suggested that Mr. Hamdallah’s closeness to Fatah meant that there would be fewer checks and balances. Mr. Fayyad was a political independent that was often at loggerheads with Fatah. The Palestinian Parliament has not functioned since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian elections.

One Palestinian expert, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly, said that Mr. Abbas had appointed a prime minister “from within the family,” harking back to the era of Yasir Arafat, Mr. Abbas’s predecessor. Then, the expert said, things were run “like a family business, and that was not healthy.”

The Fayyad experiment in reform was largely the result of pressure from the Bush administration to democratize the PA and to get it working on improving the lives of Palestinians in order to strengthen its case for independence. But by appointing Hamdallah, Abbas is showing that he not only doesn’t give a damn what the Obama administration thinks but that he believes a return to Arafat’s ways won’t bring about any consequences from Washington.

The most credible observer of Palestinian politics, Khaled Abu Toameh, was even more pointed than the Times:

For Abbas and Fatah, Fayyad, a widely respected economist, posed a real problem and threat. As long as Fayyad was prime minister, it was almost impossible for Abbas and Fatah to lay their hands on hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid. …

Yet more important than getting rid of Fayyad was finding an uncharismatic and inexperienced figure that would play the role of the loyal and dutiful servant of Abbas and Fatah leaders. …

In this regard, Hamdallah will not be different from any official working in Abbas’s office. In fact, some Palestinians reacted jokingly to the appointment by saying that a secretary in Abbas’s office has more powers than the new prime minister.

Fayyad’s intentions as far as changing the political culture of the Palestinians were clear. He wanted to clean up the PA’s act and create a new constituency for policies oriented toward prosperity and peace, rather than the perpetual war fever and hatred for Israelis and Jews that keep both Fatah and Hamas afloat. But rather than being sandbagged by the U.S. and Israel, as Fayyad and some of his foreign supporters falsely claimed, his problem was always Abbas and the Fatah Party that bitterly resented his interference in their plans to keep foreign money from falling into the hands of the party and its leaders as had been the case when Arafat ruled.

Fayyad’s activities were also a threat to Abbas’s continued refusal to negotiate with Israel since the development plans he championed were predicated on the notion of a two-state solution. Without him, Abbas can continue to talk about peace to Western audiences while continuing to fuel the fires of hatred among Palestinians with no worries about Fayyad’s efforts undermining his strategy.

Without Fayyad, the pretense that the PA is anything but a kleptocracy is now gone. So, too, should the flow of American and European money to Abbas.

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The Palestinian Excuse Machine

Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the Middle East peace process hasn’t accomplished much so far and isn’t likely to do better in the future. But it has posed an interesting challenge to the Palestinians. Given that they don’t wish to further offend the United States or disrupt the flow of Western aid that keeps the corrupt Palestinian Authority afloat, and also don’t wish to return to negotiating with Israel under virtually any circumstances, how do they justify continuing their four-and-half-year-old boycott of peace talks? Their answer to that dilemma is clear: continue to pile on the calumnies against the Jewish state and hope that it will be seen to justify their ongoing refusal to even talk with Israel.

Their reasoning for sticking to this tried and true formula for avoiding peace talks is sound. Given that both Washington and much of the Western media has always been ready to buy into their abuse of Israel and to stick to the idea that the Palestinians are innocent victims rather than the principle authors of their own misery, why shouldn’t they continue to pretend that Israeli building in Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace that prevents them from returning to the table?

But anyone who is familiar with the parameters of past peace talks that they claim to wish to build on understands that their complaints about Jews in Jerusalem or canards about ethnic cleansing are not only false but simply excuses manufactured to justify their unwillingness to play ball with Kerry.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the Middle East peace process hasn’t accomplished much so far and isn’t likely to do better in the future. But it has posed an interesting challenge to the Palestinians. Given that they don’t wish to further offend the United States or disrupt the flow of Western aid that keeps the corrupt Palestinian Authority afloat, and also don’t wish to return to negotiating with Israel under virtually any circumstances, how do they justify continuing their four-and-half-year-old boycott of peace talks? Their answer to that dilemma is clear: continue to pile on the calumnies against the Jewish state and hope that it will be seen to justify their ongoing refusal to even talk with Israel.

Their reasoning for sticking to this tried and true formula for avoiding peace talks is sound. Given that both Washington and much of the Western media has always been ready to buy into their abuse of Israel and to stick to the idea that the Palestinians are innocent victims rather than the principle authors of their own misery, why shouldn’t they continue to pretend that Israeli building in Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace that prevents them from returning to the table?

But anyone who is familiar with the parameters of past peace talks that they claim to wish to build on understands that their complaints about Jews in Jerusalem or canards about ethnic cleansing are not only false but simply excuses manufactured to justify their unwillingness to play ball with Kerry.

The Palestinian complaints about Israeli building in East Jerusalem dooming peace talks are patently absurd. The plans, which consist of tenders for the construction of 300 apartments in the Ramot neighborhood and 800 in the Gilo area, would in no way affect the Palestinian position or their hopes for an independent state that might include part of the city.

Ramot and Gilo are located in parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 and thus are over the “green line” that once divided the city. But these are 40-year-old neighborhoods that are long established, not some remote hilltop settlements in parts of the West Bank that are assumed to be part of a future Palestinian state.

In every peace plan put forward by peace groups as well as the Israeli government’s offers of statehood to the Palestinians, the Jewish areas of East Jerusalem remain part of Israel. The Palestinians know that even in the most generous distribution of territory—including the one put forward by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 that called for the abandonment of the Old City by Israel—Ramot and Gilo and other such neighborhoods are not going to be handed over to them and emptied of their Jewish inhabitants. In other words, if the Palestinian goal is truly to have a state alongside Israel that includes the Arab sections of East Jerusalem, it doesn’t matter how many Jews are in Ramot and Gilo.

But, of course, the PA isn’t really interested in a partition of Jerusalem or the 1967 lines as it is in finding a reason to avoid talking to Israel. That’s why they are forced to try to blow up the issue of Jews in East Jerusalem as a provocation that prevents them from negotiating.

To be fair to the Palestinians, they are in some ways merely following the lead of the Obama administration that has made an issue of building in Jerusalem during the president’s first term. But, fortunately, Obama and Kerry have seen sense and abandoned past attempts to get Israel to agree to a building freeze in its own capital and instead urged the Palestinians to negotiate without preconditions.

But that is something that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows he cannot do. Abbas fled from Olmert’s offer that would have given him virtually everything he says he wants because he knows that he could not survive after signing a deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

Despite Kerry’s naïve optimism that he can succeed where all his predecessors have failed, the intervening years have not altered Abbas’s position. With his Hamas rivals ensconced in Gaza and his own political position still precarious as he serves the ninth year of his four-year term as president, Abbas has no leeway to agree to a peace that would conclude the conflict. Palestinian politics remains mired in the rejectionism that has characterized its relationship toward Zionism since its inception. Nor is Abbas strong enough to resist the demands of the descendants of the 1948 refugees for Israel’s destruction even if he really were willing to make peace.

But faced with Kerry’s pleas for talks, all Abbas can do is to stall and pretend that Jews building in areas that the Palestinians will never get even in a division of Jerusalem is reason to avoid talking. Both Washington and the Western press shouldn’t fall for the latest version of the PA’s excuses.

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The Misleading Fayyad Blame Game

The political demise of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad continues to drive much of the discussion about the dead-in-the-water Middle East peace process in the media. Thus, it’s no surprise that Fayyad’s No. 1 fan at the New York Times would weigh in today on the paper’s op-ed page to perform his own postmortem on the death of “Fayyadism.” Thomas Friedman, who modestly takes credit for coining the term, writes today that there is plenty of blame to go around for his favorite’s failure. He rightly notes that both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party and their Hamas rivals always wanted to get rid of Fayyad–the factor that I wrote last week was the main reason Fayyadism was doomed from the start. But Friedman also puts forward a theory about the American and Israeli responsibility for Fayyad’s failure.

According to this line of argument, which is rapidly being incorporated into the catechism of Israel-bashers, the cutoff of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority by Congress as well as the withholding of various revenues by the Israelis precipitated Fayyad’s end. In this telling, without the cash to keep the Palestinian economy afloat, Fayyad’s reform agenda and administration rapidly collapsed, allowing his enemies to force him out. This narrative holds that it was these cuts, which were implemented to punish the PA for its decision to go to the United Nations to pursue independence rather than to negotiate for it in peace talks, were counterproductive and ultimately responsible for the exit of the only Palestinian leader who could be said to care about his people or peace.

But while this way of looking at things is convenient for those who always prefer to blame the Israelis and the pro-Israel community in the United States for everything that happens in the Middle East, it is completely illogical.

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The political demise of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad continues to drive much of the discussion about the dead-in-the-water Middle East peace process in the media. Thus, it’s no surprise that Fayyad’s No. 1 fan at the New York Times would weigh in today on the paper’s op-ed page to perform his own postmortem on the death of “Fayyadism.” Thomas Friedman, who modestly takes credit for coining the term, writes today that there is plenty of blame to go around for his favorite’s failure. He rightly notes that both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party and their Hamas rivals always wanted to get rid of Fayyad–the factor that I wrote last week was the main reason Fayyadism was doomed from the start. But Friedman also puts forward a theory about the American and Israeli responsibility for Fayyad’s failure.

According to this line of argument, which is rapidly being incorporated into the catechism of Israel-bashers, the cutoff of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority by Congress as well as the withholding of various revenues by the Israelis precipitated Fayyad’s end. In this telling, without the cash to keep the Palestinian economy afloat, Fayyad’s reform agenda and administration rapidly collapsed, allowing his enemies to force him out. This narrative holds that it was these cuts, which were implemented to punish the PA for its decision to go to the United Nations to pursue independence rather than to negotiate for it in peace talks, were counterproductive and ultimately responsible for the exit of the only Palestinian leader who could be said to care about his people or peace.

But while this way of looking at things is convenient for those who always prefer to blame the Israelis and the pro-Israel community in the United States for everything that happens in the Middle East, it is completely illogical.

As even Friedman admits, Fayyad was adamantly opposed to the PA’s UN gambit that was nothing more than a way to evade peace talks since Abbas was unable and/or unwilling to ever make a deal with the Israelis. By placing the full force of U.S. policy on the same side as Fayyad, the Obama administration, Congress and Israel were backing up the PA prime minister, not undermining him. The PA remains completely dependent on foreign aid from the West, and using this leverage was the only way for President Obama and the Israelis to convey to Abbas that he should listen to Fayyad rather than make a grand gesture at the UN that would do nothing for the Palestinian people.

Fayyad was, of course, completely right. Abbas’s end run around the U.S.-sponsored peace process did nothing for the Palestinians. Though, after more than a year of effort, they got the UN General Assembly to pass a symbolic measure that upgraded the PA’s observer status at the world body, that did not bring them the independence that could only be won by ending the conflict with Israel.

But instead of admitting that Fayyad was correct, the Fatah Party blamed him for the collapse of the kleptocracy that was funded by foreign money. Palestinian woes were not the fault of Fayyad’s austerity policies but the fruit of a system in which no-work and no-show jobs for a vast army of Fatah backers was the backbone of the West Bank’s economy. For all of Fayyad’s much-praised efforts to improve the PA’s government and to create economic growth, he remained unable to change that fundamental fact of Palestinian life. The so-called “diplomatic tsunami” that was supposed to overwhelm Israel as a result of this debate also fizzled.

Friedman acknowledges that there is no hope for the Palestinians so long as “there is no place” for a man like Fayyad in their government. But he fails to draw the proper conclusions from this point. The Fatah party that had no use for a person who was an obstacle to their corrupt practices sabotaged Fayyad. But the reason why they could get away with this is that Fayyad had no political constituency of his own. That was not just because he was more of a technocrat than a politician. The lack of any appreciable support for Fayyad demonstrates that the Palestinian political culture remains hostile to his message of development and coexistence. Though left-wing critics of Israel continue to pretend that Palestinians want peace, terror-oriented groups like Fatah and Hamas can count on a virtual monopoly of public support in both the West Bank and Gaza.

While Friedman admits that Arab dissatisfaction with autocrats like Hosni Mubarak or Mahmoud Abbas won’t inevitably lead to liberalism, he still holds to the idea that if Fayyad had been given enough foreign support, he might have prevailed. In fact, he did have the support of the U.S. and Israel, but there isn’t enough money in the United States or Israel to buy Fayyad a loyal base of Palestinian supporters. Blaming the pro-Israel community in the United States—Friedman’s favorite whipping boy that he alleges has “bought” Congress—for seeking to hold the PA accountable for its actions is absurd.

If the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict is dead, it is not because some Israelis and Americans have not tried hard enough to help a friendly Palestinian. It is because that favored Palestinian hadn’t the support at home to keep him going. Until there is a sea change in Palestinian culture to allow a Fayyad to succeed, no amount of U.S. aid or Israeli diplomatic concessions will create a viable partner with whom the Jewish state can make peace. 

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