Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinian statehood

Will Obama Abandon Israel at the UN? Abbas Wants to Find Out

If you want an indication of how Middle East governments are adjusting their calculus according to the Obama administration’s decision to loudly distance itself from Israel, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s deliberations over his UN strategy is a good place to start. Abbas is planning to ask for a vote requiring Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines at the United Nations Security Council. But he’s unsure about the timing, and President Obama’s flagging support for Israel is one reason why.

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If you want an indication of how Middle East governments are adjusting their calculus according to the Obama administration’s decision to loudly distance itself from Israel, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s deliberations over his UN strategy is a good place to start. Abbas is planning to ask for a vote requiring Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines at the United Nations Security Council. But he’s unsure about the timing, and President Obama’s flagging support for Israel is one reason why.

As Raphael Ahren discusses today at the Times of Israel, the current makeup of the Security Council’s rotating members–the supporting cast to the five permanent members–is not as amenable to Palestinian demands as next year’s roster will be. But then there’s the Obama factor. It would seem prudent for Abbas to wait, since he needs nine votes out of fifteen. But he also knows that if he gets those nine votes, the measure will be subject to the veto power of the permanent members of the council. That really means the United States, in this context. And the Palestinians think this might be their best window to get the U.S. to abandon Israel at the UNSC:

Relations between the White House and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are famously strained, and Barack Obama, now entering the last stretch of his presidency and no longer tied to electoral considerations, could decide to turn his back on Jerusalem.

The US might be reluctant to isolate itself internationally by stymieing a move supported by a large majority of states in the United Nations, including the entire Arab world, especially as Washington seeks allies in its fight against the Islamic State terrorist group.

Despite this being a low ebb in recent years in the U.S.-Israel relationship, I highly doubt Obama will consider sitting on his hands for such a vote at the Security Council, for several reasons. First, though he obviously doesn’t think much of the Israelis, it’s not clear his opinion of the Jewish state has sunk so low as to officially have the U.S. abandon Israel at the UN in favor of the Palestinians.

Second, even if his dislike of Israel has sunk to that level, he probably would still veto the resolution. Obama has indisputably downgraded the U.S.-Israel relationship, most clearly by changing protocol so as to put distance between the two militaries during the last war and by withholding weapons transfers to Israel during wartime. He’s also encouraged a bizarre series of name-calling outbursts aimed at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, which have displayed this administration’s trademark grade-school intellect and overwhelming ignorance of world affairs. But the president tends to take out his anger on Israel in ways that he can always pretend are really just personal spats with Netanyahu.

Obama’s position is that he doesn’t mind being seen as hating Bibi, as long as he can retain plausible deniability that he also dislikes the Israelis who keep electing Bibi. Thus, blessing the Palestinian UN gambit would take away that plausible deniability. Keep in mind stopping the weapons transfer was not something the administration intended to make a public show of; it’s just that while the other mainstream outlets have become Obama’s press shop, the Wall Street Journal is still doing real journalism on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they revealed the breach. Abandoning Israel at the UN Security Council would be a very public acknowledgement that Obama’s obsession with picking fights with Netanyahu is not really about Netanyahu at all.

A third reason Obama would still veto such a resolution is that there are domestic political constraints on his behavior toward Israel. (You’re probably thinking: This is Obama being constrained? Indeed, it’s not a pretty sight.) The Democratic Party has lost the battle to try to convince Americans that Obama is with them on Israel. But they would like not to be saddled with Obama’s reputation. They want to nominate Hillary Clinton, who does not have a great record on Israel but anything’s better than what she’d be replacing. The more Obama attacks Israel needlessly, the more complicated the Democrats’ sales job becomes.

That seems to factor into Abbas’s calculations:

After the midterm elections and the Republican takeover of the Senate earlier this month, Obama is unlikely to get much work done domestically and may want to focus on foreign policy issues that could shape his legacy. Besides a nuclear agreement with Iran, the White House might also want to promote Middle East peace and pressure Israel through a pro-Palestinian resolution at the UN.

The sooner Obama does that the more distance Democrats can try to put between his abandonment of Israel and their reputation rehabilitation efforts. Still, Obama must know that if he allows the vote to go through (if it passes), he will be effectively ceding the peace process entirely to unilateral actions. The United States will become at that moment totally irrelevant to how the process proceeds.

It will either finally kill the peace process once and for all, in which case that would be Obama’s legacy, or it will lead to Israelis and Palestinians abandoning the process and going their own way without mediation, in which case Obama would get no credit for any positive results. Obama may like kicking dirt at Israel, but he probably still likes the spotlight even more.

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Why Can’t Jews Stay in a Palestinian State?

For 20 years Israeli governments of both the left and the right have agreed on one thing: Jews and Jewish settlements could not be left behind in any territory handed over to the Palestinians. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that he is willing to change that policy and that seems to have upset almost as many Israelis as Palestinians. Netanyahu stated that even in the event of a peace agreement he had no intention of repeating the precedent established by Ariel Sharon in Gaza in which every single settlement, soldier, and individual Jew was uprooted. According to Netanyahu, if there is a peace treaty, there’s no reason that Jewish communities could not remain in part of the Palestinian state along with the Palestinian inhabitants, if they were willing to do so.

It was not surprising that the Palestinians would immediately and angrily reject the suggestion that Jews could live in their putative new state. Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas had already denounced the idea, but lest anyone be in doubt about the Palestinian position, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat sought to clarify the official view:

Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state. No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.

It was interesting to note that both right-wing and left-wing critics of Netanyahu as well as members of his own Cabinet were almost as angry as the Palestinians. The right is appalled at Netanyahu’s tacit willingness to accept a Palestinian state, and the left thinks the prime minister was just playing a cynical tactical game designed solely to embarrass the Palestinians. The concerns of both factions may well be justified. Netanyahu, however, was right to raise the issue and to provoke a debate about the nature of the Palestinian state that is, after all, one of the goals of the current peace talks. Regardless of his  motives, this is a topic that must be addressed if the negotiations are truly aimed at ending the conflict.

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For 20 years Israeli governments of both the left and the right have agreed on one thing: Jews and Jewish settlements could not be left behind in any territory handed over to the Palestinians. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that he is willing to change that policy and that seems to have upset almost as many Israelis as Palestinians. Netanyahu stated that even in the event of a peace agreement he had no intention of repeating the precedent established by Ariel Sharon in Gaza in which every single settlement, soldier, and individual Jew was uprooted. According to Netanyahu, if there is a peace treaty, there’s no reason that Jewish communities could not remain in part of the Palestinian state along with the Palestinian inhabitants, if they were willing to do so.

It was not surprising that the Palestinians would immediately and angrily reject the suggestion that Jews could live in their putative new state. Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas had already denounced the idea, but lest anyone be in doubt about the Palestinian position, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat sought to clarify the official view:

Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state. No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.

It was interesting to note that both right-wing and left-wing critics of Netanyahu as well as members of his own Cabinet were almost as angry as the Palestinians. The right is appalled at Netanyahu’s tacit willingness to accept a Palestinian state, and the left thinks the prime minister was just playing a cynical tactical game designed solely to embarrass the Palestinians. The concerns of both factions may well be justified. Netanyahu, however, was right to raise the issue and to provoke a debate about the nature of the Palestinian state that is, after all, one of the goals of the current peace talks. Regardless of his  motives, this is a topic that must be addressed if the negotiations are truly aimed at ending the conflict.

The reason that Israeli governments have always agreed with the Palestinians about the need to evacuate any Israelis living in what might become a Palestinian state is no secret. It’s not just that the Palestinians don’t want Jews in their state and the fact that the settlers don’t want there to be a Palestinian state. It’s that any Israelis who chose to remain in their homes wouldn’t last any longer than the greenhouses that wealthy Americans purchased from Gaza settlers who were uprooted from their homes in 2005. Within hours of the Israeli army pullout, every one of these valuable facilities that could have been used to help revive the strip’s moribund economy was burned to the ground. The same fate awaited every other building left by the Jews, including every synagogue.

Without the protection of the Israel Defense Forces, Jews in Arab territory haven’t a chance. That’s a basic fact of life in the country that predates Israel’s birth. Without self-defense forces, Jewish settlers in those lands inside the pre-June 1967 borders were exposed to relentless harassment, terrorism, and even pogroms. And there is no reason to believe the situation would be any different in a future West Bank state where the Palestinian population has been educated for decades to believe Jews have no right to live in any part of the country.

But, as Netanyahu rightly pointed out, a peace treaty that would actually end the conflict rather than merely pause it until the Palestinians felt strong enough to resume hostilities must entail an acceptance on both sides of the legitimacy of the rights of the other side. Just as Arabs are equal before the law in the State of Israel, have the right to vote, and serve in its Knesset, a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state must not exclude the possibility of allowing a Jewish minority within its borders. If that is something that the PA is unable to countenance, it proves once again that it isn’t interested in peace. A state where Jews are, as Erekat says, “illegal” is one that is committed to a permanent state of war against Israel.

Israeli right-wingers are angry at Netanyahu’s acceptance in principle of a Palestinian state. Without the threat of repeating the traumatic scenes that characterized the Gaza withdrawal, a division of the West Bank would, at least in theory, be more likely.

Yet the prime minister’s suggestion also angered supporters of a two-state solution. In particular, Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni, who as Tom Wilson wrote earlier today seems to understand that the talks have little chance of success, bitterly denounced Netanyahu’s statement as designed more to prove the Palestinians weren’t negotiating in good faith than achieving a deal.

Livni may well be correct about Netanyahu’s intentions. Goading the Palestinians into repeating their intolerant and anti-Semitic objections to Jews living within their borders undermines their cause. Like previous generations of negotiators, Livni seems to think peace can be achieved by ignoring the hatred on the other side. But merely drawing a line between Israel and the Palestinians and calling it a border won’t end a conflict that is rooted in the Arab and Muslim rejection of the idea of legitimacy for any Jewish state no matter how large or small it might be.

It has become a cliché of Middle East commentary to speak of the painful sacrifices that Israel must make if it is to have peace. That is true. But the path to peace is a two-way street. If the Palestinians want a state, it cannot be on genocidal terms that require the ethnic cleansing of Jews. Until they’re ready to live alongside Jews inside their state—and to guarantee their security—genuine peace is nowhere in sight.

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A Greeting from the Palestinian State

President Obama visited Ramallah today and held a joint news conference with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas during which he reiterated the U.S. stand in favor of the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. But just before that confab he received a greeting from the real Palestinian state in all but name, already in existence on Israel’s opposite border. Rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel with reports saying that two landed in Sderot and that others may have been fired elsewhere.

While none of the terror groups, including the Hamas rulers of Gaza, took responsibility for the attacks, the message was clear. While the president was engaging in an awkward dance with Abbas about the peace process, the result of the last major Israeli attempt to trade land for peace was illustrating not only that the PA didn’t control much of what would constitute that independent state but that those who did had no interest in a two-state solution.

The Obama-Abbas press conference struck a very different note from the friendly exchanges that marked the president’s appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president was again stating his support for the idea of a Palestinian state and doing so in terms that ought to concern friends of Israel, he also pushed back a little bit on Abbas’s charade that Israeli settlements were preventing the outbreak of peace.

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President Obama visited Ramallah today and held a joint news conference with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas during which he reiterated the U.S. stand in favor of the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. But just before that confab he received a greeting from the real Palestinian state in all but name, already in existence on Israel’s opposite border. Rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel with reports saying that two landed in Sderot and that others may have been fired elsewhere.

While none of the terror groups, including the Hamas rulers of Gaza, took responsibility for the attacks, the message was clear. While the president was engaging in an awkward dance with Abbas about the peace process, the result of the last major Israeli attempt to trade land for peace was illustrating not only that the PA didn’t control much of what would constitute that independent state but that those who did had no interest in a two-state solution.

The Obama-Abbas press conference struck a very different note from the friendly exchanges that marked the president’s appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president was again stating his support for the idea of a Palestinian state and doing so in terms that ought to concern friends of Israel, he also pushed back a little bit on Abbas’s charade that Israeli settlements were preventing the outbreak of peace.

Obama said he wanted an “independent, viable and contiguous” Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel, though he did not explain how that could be accomplished given the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are separated and cannot be connected except by rendering the Jewish state non-contiguous. He also returned to a theme familiar from his first term when he said Israeli settlements were “not constructive and appropriate.” He even said that building in the E-1 area in between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim cold not be squared with the creation of a Palestinian state, even though doing so would not prevent it from being viable or contiguous.

But Obama also said that settlements were not the core issue at the heart of the conflict and that if all the other factors dividing the two sides were resolved settlements would not prevent peace. Even more importantly, he emphasized that there ought to be no preconditions placed by either side before peace negotiations could be resumed. That’s a direct shot at Abbas who has refused to talk to the Israelis since 2008 and consistently set conditions for doing so that were merely a thinly veiled excuse for staying away from the table.

While signs of Obama’s own unhealthy obsessions with settlements were still apparent, this shows the president has learned a thing or two since he began his administration with a drive to force Israel to freeze building in the mistaken idea that this would make peace possible. Years of trying to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of Abbas have shown him that the Palestinian leader’s main priority has always been to find excuses not to negotiate, because doing so might place him in the position of having to actually sign an agreement. Though the president restated his positions on settlements and peace, he seemed to put the ball squarely in Abbas’s court when it came to negotiations. Though many observers thought the president would use his second term to resume a campaign of pressure on Israel to make concessions, even the Palestinian leg of his trip to the country shows that he may no longer be interested in investing scarce political capital in a fight with the Israelis when there is little chance the intended beneficiaries of his policy wish to take advantage of it.

Just as important, the rocket fire from Gaza was a reminder that Abbas, who recently began the ninth year of the four-year-term in office to which he was elected in 2005, is merely the sham leader of his people. Gaza, from which Israel withdrew every soldier and settler that same year, is, for all intents and purposes, the independent Palestinian state that Obama has been talking about. Rather than living in peace with Israel, it is nothing but a terrorist staging ground from which rockets continue to fly as testimony to the unshaken faith of its leaders in the unending war against the Zionism that Obama specifically endorsed yesterday upon his arrival in Israel.

It may well be that the president is hoping to persuade Israelis to trust him on both the peace process and the threat from Iran. That may be a prelude to future conflicts with Netanyahu. But his message to Palestinians seems to be more one of “get your act together” than one that offers them hope they can count on the president to hammer the Israelis on their behalf. While some supporters of Israel will grouse about what the president said today about settlements, what the Palestinians heard actually offered them very little comfort. The lack of a direct demand from Obama for a settlement freeze and the seeming endorsement of Israel’s call for resumption of negotiations without preconditions means the Palestinians have been put on notice that the president’s second term may not be squandered on further attempts to help a divided people that won’t help themselves.

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The Palestinian State’s Rocket Offensive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palestinian “President” Nears Record

Next week, Mahmoud Abbas will enter the 92nd month of his 48-month term, and now has Yasser Arafat’s record in sight. Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996, running essentially unopposed (his opponent was a 72-year old woman with no political party). In 2004, in the ninth year of his four-year term, he left office on account of death. His second-in-command was elected president less than two months later, running essentially unopposed (Hamas boycotted the election). Abbas is now midway through the eighth year of his own four-year term, almost certain to break Arafat’s record if he can just stay healthy.

Next month, Abbas plans to return to the UN to seek recognition of a virtual Palestinian state — having already rejected a real one back when he was actually in office. Khaled Abu Toameh writes that Abbas’s decision to return to the UN is a ploy to avoid internal problems and extort more funds from the U.S. and Europe. But rather than sinking more money into another Palestinian president who rejects a state if the price is recognition of a Jewish one in defensible borders, perhaps it is time for a long-overdue review of U.S. policy.

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Next week, Mahmoud Abbas will enter the 92nd month of his 48-month term, and now has Yasser Arafat’s record in sight. Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996, running essentially unopposed (his opponent was a 72-year old woman with no political party). In 2004, in the ninth year of his four-year term, he left office on account of death. His second-in-command was elected president less than two months later, running essentially unopposed (Hamas boycotted the election). Abbas is now midway through the eighth year of his own four-year term, almost certain to break Arafat’s record if he can just stay healthy.

Next month, Abbas plans to return to the UN to seek recognition of a virtual Palestinian state — having already rejected a real one back when he was actually in office. Khaled Abu Toameh writes that Abbas’s decision to return to the UN is a ploy to avoid internal problems and extort more funds from the U.S. and Europe. But rather than sinking more money into another Palestinian president who rejects a state if the price is recognition of a Jewish one in defensible borders, perhaps it is time for a long-overdue review of U.S. policy.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said yesterday there would be no diplomatic progress as long as Abbas remains in power, citing the “slanderous” letter the PA sent last month to the EU and Abbas’s failure to respond to recent Israeli steps, which included: thousands of additional work permits; advances of about $50 million to pay PA salaries before Ramadan; an agreement with the Palestinian Energy Authority for more electric power substations in the West Bank; new infrastructure projects in Area C; and removal of additional roadblocks.

The issue is more fundamental, however, than Abbas’s decision to ignore the latest Israeli efforts. He once demanded a construction freeze, got one for ten months in the West Bank, and ignored that too. He received an offer of a state from Ehud Olmert, who begged him to accept it, and ignored that as well, rejecting the urgings of both Secretary Rice and President Bush. He ignored the personal request of President Obama last year to call off the grandstanding trip to the UN and return to negotiations. He published a New York Times op-ed, replete with distortions, seeking recognition of the “long delayed Palestinian state” not to end claims but to “pave the way” to “pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.”

Abbas does not have the political legitimacy to negotiate a peace agreement, nor the power to implement one even if he did. But the broader policy issue is this: Palestinian political culture has now produced a terrorist tyranny in Gaza and a faux democracy in the West Bank, unable even to hold local elections, lacking the civil, legal, and political institutions necessary to prevent the winner of its Potemkin presidential elections from serving as president-for-life. Why should the U.S. continue to support the creation of an already failed state?

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WaPo Finds Israel, Reality “Puzzling”

The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson has published his account of Mitt Romney’s trip abroad, focusing on the GOP candidate’s time in Israel. It is an editorial disguised as a story–common for presidential campaigns–and includes snarky asides unworthy of lefty blog posts, let alone newspaper reporting. But the crux of the problem for Wilson is identified in the headline: he calls Romney’s comments about Palestinian culture “puzzling.” Because he does not quote anyone in the story calling those comments “puzzling,” it’s clear from the context that Wilson is the puzzled one.

So let’s help him out a bit. Of Romney’s comments on Palestinian culture as one factor in the lagging Palestinian economy, Wilson writes:

The assessment is one not widely shared within Israel, and suggested a lack of sustained study or nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

Wilson does not provide any attribution to back that statement up, probably because it is demonstrably false. It is, in fact, quite easy to find those in Israel and their democratically-elected government officials expressing this idea. But perhaps we should ask the Palestinians what they think. In 1994, at the beginning of the Oslo process but decades after the Six-Day War created the current geopolitical setting, Eyad El-Sarraj, the founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, wrote the following:

Palestinians have to address taboos and bring into the open ideological, cultural and political weaknesses which have infiltrated their national movement and seriously damaged their individual and collective awareness. They have to address their dependency on the outside world, their self-indulgent image of the victim, their own cycle of violence and oppression, their conflict between religious and secular identity, and the erosion of their national identity. Above all they have to confront the loss of the dream of liberating all of Palestine and the accompanying grief. They will have to exercise democratic debate and respect the right to oppose. Only then will a new style of political and community leadership evolve.

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The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson has published his account of Mitt Romney’s trip abroad, focusing on the GOP candidate’s time in Israel. It is an editorial disguised as a story–common for presidential campaigns–and includes snarky asides unworthy of lefty blog posts, let alone newspaper reporting. But the crux of the problem for Wilson is identified in the headline: he calls Romney’s comments about Palestinian culture “puzzling.” Because he does not quote anyone in the story calling those comments “puzzling,” it’s clear from the context that Wilson is the puzzled one.

So let’s help him out a bit. Of Romney’s comments on Palestinian culture as one factor in the lagging Palestinian economy, Wilson writes:

The assessment is one not widely shared within Israel, and suggested a lack of sustained study or nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.

Wilson does not provide any attribution to back that statement up, probably because it is demonstrably false. It is, in fact, quite easy to find those in Israel and their democratically-elected government officials expressing this idea. But perhaps we should ask the Palestinians what they think. In 1994, at the beginning of the Oslo process but decades after the Six-Day War created the current geopolitical setting, Eyad El-Sarraj, the founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, wrote the following:

Palestinians have to address taboos and bring into the open ideological, cultural and political weaknesses which have infiltrated their national movement and seriously damaged their individual and collective awareness. They have to address their dependency on the outside world, their self-indulgent image of the victim, their own cycle of violence and oppression, their conflict between religious and secular identity, and the erosion of their national identity. Above all they have to confront the loss of the dream of liberating all of Palestine and the accompanying grief. They will have to exercise democratic debate and respect the right to oppose. Only then will a new style of political and community leadership evolve.

Last year, Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem were asked, in a final peace deal in which all Israeli control and stewardship over the West Bank would cease and the new Palestinian state called East Jerusalem its sovereign capital, would they rather be citizens of Israel or Palestine? Respondents were also asked if they would move elsewhere in Israel specifically to avoid having to live under Palestinian rule. A plurality responded in favor of Israeli citizenship, even if they had to move. Why?

When asked to provide the top reasons they chose one citizenship over the other, those who chose Israeli citizenship stressed freedom of movement in Israel, higher income, better job opportunities and Israeli health insurance.

So there would be much more economic opportunity in Israel, even once the Palestinians were freed from the “occupation.” We could go on, but you get the point. As I said: Wilson’s claim is demonstrably false, as Professor Google would have told him immediately. Does Wilson quote anyone at all in the story, you ask? Yes he does:

“This really is an election about the economy,” said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a nonprofit organization that promotes a two-state solution to the conflict.

Now, Ibish is a prolific Mideast commentator and has every right to register his opinion with reporters. But perhaps Ibish could have been balanced with an additional quote from someone with a slightly different perspective on ethnic conflict. After all, this is what Ibish thinks of Israel:

The system of ethnic discrimination imposed by military force and Israel’s “civil administration” in the occupied territories is by far the most extreme form of discriminatory abuse anywhere in the world today.

And you thought Darfur was bad! In any case, Wilson doesn’t need to quote a lot of “experts,” because he just offers his opinions. Here is a paragraph that belongs in the Newseum:

Romney’s advisers have argued that Obama — who ended the Iraq war, ordered the operation that killed Osama bin Laden and emphasized alliances at a time of austerity at home — is vulnerable in the area of foreign policy. Recent polling disagrees.

Wilson does not put quotes around that paragraph nor attribute it to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. Perhaps that will be added to an updated version of the story. Until then, we can only hope the Post finds the Middle East slightly less puzzling in the future.

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Settler Leader’s Wrongheaded Proposal

Yesha Chairman Dani Dayan’s New York Times op-ed is sure to rankle Mideast watchers on both sides of the issue. Dayan writes that not only is the two-state solution dead, but it should be declared so and the settlement movement should be free to expand throughout the West Bank. Although Dayan makes a couple of important points about the weakness of the current push for a two-state solution, he ignores both an accepted reality and the Palestinian people, and two of his ideas contained in the op-ed would be, if accepted, detrimental to the American foreign policy doctrine that results in such steadfast American support for Israel.

First and foremost, a majority of Israelis (usually around the 60 percent mark, sometimes higher) consistently support the two-state solution, even at a time when that proposal is clearly at a post-Oslo low point. So Dayan need not appeal to readers of the New York Times; he is far from convincing his own countrymen to join him. It is much easier to understand why the Times chose to publish the op-ed: the American left would like to frame the debate as consisting of two points of view–Dayan’s and J Street’s. Both are outside the mainstream consensus on this issue, and it is only up against Dayan’s arguments that the hard-left can appear reasonable. With regard to Dayan, there are three questions he should be asked after writing this op-ed.

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Yesha Chairman Dani Dayan’s New York Times op-ed is sure to rankle Mideast watchers on both sides of the issue. Dayan writes that not only is the two-state solution dead, but it should be declared so and the settlement movement should be free to expand throughout the West Bank. Although Dayan makes a couple of important points about the weakness of the current push for a two-state solution, he ignores both an accepted reality and the Palestinian people, and two of his ideas contained in the op-ed would be, if accepted, detrimental to the American foreign policy doctrine that results in such steadfast American support for Israel.

First and foremost, a majority of Israelis (usually around the 60 percent mark, sometimes higher) consistently support the two-state solution, even at a time when that proposal is clearly at a post-Oslo low point. So Dayan need not appeal to readers of the New York Times; he is far from convincing his own countrymen to join him. It is much easier to understand why the Times chose to publish the op-ed: the American left would like to frame the debate as consisting of two points of view–Dayan’s and J Street’s. Both are outside the mainstream consensus on this issue, and it is only up against Dayan’s arguments that the hard-left can appear reasonable. With regard to Dayan, there are three questions he should be asked after writing this op-ed.

First, the obvious: What about the Palestinians? Dayan doesn’t say Israel should give the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria voting rights. If he would, is he not concerned about the demographics at play? If he would not, is he suggesting that the Palestinians should be a permanently stateless people and that Israel would be permanently without clear national borders? He writes that Israeli security should be paramount, but the Judea and Samaria he envisions would be a long-term security nightmare for Israel.

Second, has he thought through the implications to U.S. foreign policy of his proposal? Specifically, he seems to want the U.S.–a principal external force on the peace process–to ignore its own dedication to the right of self-determination for the Palestinians. But that would mean weakening American devotion to the general principle of self-determination, which is a major driving force behind continued American support for Israel. Does Dayan, as a political figure in a country whose right to exist is constantly being questioned by a resurging global anti-Semitism, not just in the Arab states but all over Europe, really want to weaken American support for the idea of a right to self-determination?

Additionally, Dayan writes that the return of the Palestinian refugees from around the Arab world to the Palestinian state would be a major security threat. But he also acknowledges that those Palestinian refugees are treated as second-class citizens in those countries and kept in squalor elsewhere (chiefly by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Should they stay that way? And isn’t a primary goal of Israeli national policy to convince the Palestinians to return to a Palestinian state, not Israel? Humanitarian concerns often clash with security concerns, but that doesn’t mean we ignore the humanitarian concerns altogether–it means we go back to the drawing board and get creative, not give up.

And finally: Dayan claims removing the settlers would be impossible. Why? Today there are no settlers in Gaza. He’s also moving the goal posts; many of the settlements would remain in Israel as part of any final-status agreement. Israel’s critics often dishonestly ignore this when speaking in broad terms about The Settlers. Dayan is making the same mistake, and playing right into their hands.

The fact is, Dayan is right that the current Palestinian leadership prefers the status quo, and are not making the effort needed to secure a deal. He’s also right that a Hamas takeover of all of the future state of Palestine would immediately nullify the peace deal, and anyone who thinks Hamas isn’t still dedicated to Israel’s destruction is not paying attention. But it would be more constructive if Dayan made these critiques of Mideast policy as part of an effort to reform the current structure of the two-state solution in ways that might make it more workable, not less.

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Palestinian Statehood Showdown at UN?

The last thing President Obama needs is another September showdown over Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly. Last year’s fiasco was damaging enough, and that wasn’t with a presidential election looming. But that’s exactly what Palestinian envoy Maen Rashid Areikat is threatening, according to The Hill:

The lack of progress on a two-state solution led the Palestinians to unilaterally seek United Nations recognition as a sovereign state last year — a move the Obama administration vowed to block — and Areikat warned that the Palestinians might well try again.

“The Palestinian leadership said that they reserve the right to resort to any and every venue possible to further our objectives,” Areikat said, noting that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made that clear to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when he met with her on June 20, their first meeting in nine months.

“If the political vacuum continues, we will go to the United Nations General Assembly. We are going to explore other venues, and we have the right to do that.”

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The last thing President Obama needs is another September showdown over Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly. Last year’s fiasco was damaging enough, and that wasn’t with a presidential election looming. But that’s exactly what Palestinian envoy Maen Rashid Areikat is threatening, according to The Hill:

The lack of progress on a two-state solution led the Palestinians to unilaterally seek United Nations recognition as a sovereign state last year — a move the Obama administration vowed to block — and Areikat warned that the Palestinians might well try again.

“The Palestinian leadership said that they reserve the right to resort to any and every venue possible to further our objectives,” Areikat said, noting that Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat made that clear to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when he met with her on June 20, their first meeting in nine months.

“If the political vacuum continues, we will go to the United Nations General Assembly. We are going to explore other venues, and we have the right to do that.”

If the political vacuum continues? Of course the political vacuum is going to continue. Can you imagine Obama voluntarily resurrecting the issue of Israel-Palestinian negotiations before the election? It would only be a reminder of his failures in this arena, his clashes with Israel about settlements and borders, and his incoherent Middle East policy.

A Palestinian statehood bid at the UN would put Obama in yet another diplomatic and political bind. Last year, the criticism of Obama was relentless. The congressional race in New York between Republican Bob Turner and Democrat David Welprin evolved into a referendum on Obama’s Israel policy — and Obama lost. That’s not something he’ll want to rehash two months before the presidential election.

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Palestinians Go Back to UN Dead-End

One would have thought the Palestinians might have learned their lesson when they devoted all of their efforts last year to an attempt to get the United Nations to issue a unilateral recognition of their independence. Many predicted the showdown over the initiative would produce a “diplomatic tsunami” that would overwhelm Israel and do serious damage to its political standing around the world and even in the United States. But those predictions, which were rightly debunked here at Contentions before the UN General Assembly met last September, proved to be mere hot air. Rather than a tsunami, the Palestinian push to make an end run around the peace process was a total flop, as even many European and Third World countries not sympathetic to Israel bailed on them.

But rather than moving on from that failure and seeking a diplomatic path to statehood, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, told the Times of Israel today that he and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas are heading back to the UN this fall for another tilt at the statehood windmill. Observers should take this signal for what it is: an indisputable statement of their disinterest in making peace with Israel on any terms.

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One would have thought the Palestinians might have learned their lesson when they devoted all of their efforts last year to an attempt to get the United Nations to issue a unilateral recognition of their independence. Many predicted the showdown over the initiative would produce a “diplomatic tsunami” that would overwhelm Israel and do serious damage to its political standing around the world and even in the United States. But those predictions, which were rightly debunked here at Contentions before the UN General Assembly met last September, proved to be mere hot air. Rather than a tsunami, the Palestinian push to make an end run around the peace process was a total flop, as even many European and Third World countries not sympathetic to Israel bailed on them.

But rather than moving on from that failure and seeking a diplomatic path to statehood, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, told the Times of Israel today that he and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas are heading back to the UN this fall for another tilt at the statehood windmill. Observers should take this signal for what it is: an indisputable statement of their disinterest in making peace with Israel on any terms.

The Palestinian failure at the UN exposed more than their leadership’s faulty judgment. It demonstrated that even an international community that could always be counted on to bash Israel understood that a peace accord had to precede a Palestinian state. The idea of giving even symbolic sovereignty to the Fatah-Hamas mess was always a non-starter. The world body made it clear to the Palestinian Authority that if it wanted a state, negotiations with Israel was the only way to get it.

But if this message fell on deaf Palestinian ears it is not because the PA’s leadership doesn’t understand that they have no more chance of getting UN approval for their proposal than they have of persuading the Israelis of giving up and disbanding their state. If they would prefer another humiliation at the UN to talking with the Israelis it is not because the Israelis won’t negotiate — the Netanyahu government has been pleading with the PA to engage in talks without preconditions for more than three years — but because negotiations are the one thing that really scares them.

The UN ploy has exposed for anyone who cares to open their eyes the fact that the political culture of the Palestinians still makes it impossible for the PA — whether it is run by Abbas and his Fatah alone or in conjunction with the terrorists of Hamas — to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. The only kind of Palestinian state they want or can possibly accept is one that won’t require them to pledge to end the conflict and live in amity with their Jewish neighbors, even if all settlements in the West Bank were wiped off the map.

Erekat and apologists will go on blaming the Israelis and talking about settlements being an obstacle to peace even though Netanyahu has signaled that he is willing to give up territory if it means a real and permanent peace. But the rerun of their UN fiasco is proof that they would rather have their European allies shame them than go back to the table. Middle East peace is still theoretically possible, but so long as the Palestinians prefer surefire diplomatic failure to negotiations, it remains but a dream.

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The Real Threat to the Two-State Solution

The EU accused Israel yesterday of endangering the two-state solution, inter alia via such crimes as failing to allow more Palestinian construction in parts of the West Bank under full Israeli control. How this threatens a two-state solution is never explained, for the simple reason that it obviously doesn’t: Israel’s refusal to authorize certain Palestinian construction now in no way prevents a Palestinian government from authorizing it later if that land becomes Palestinian under a peace deal.

But focusing on such non-problems allows the EU to ignore the real threat to the two-state solution: the ongoing Palestinian refusal to talk to Israel – not only among the official leadership, but among civil society as well.

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The EU accused Israel yesterday of endangering the two-state solution, inter alia via such crimes as failing to allow more Palestinian construction in parts of the West Bank under full Israeli control. How this threatens a two-state solution is never explained, for the simple reason that it obviously doesn’t: Israel’s refusal to authorize certain Palestinian construction now in no way prevents a Palestinian government from authorizing it later if that land becomes Palestinian under a peace deal.

But focusing on such non-problems allows the EU to ignore the real threat to the two-state solution: the ongoing Palestinian refusal to talk to Israel – not only among the official leadership, but among civil society as well.

Last week, for instance, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in the West Bank announced that any journalist who dared meet with an Israeli colleague would be expelled from the union, and perhaps even from his job, for the crime of “normalization” with Israel. Because many Israeli journalists (unlike the Israeli mainstream) vocally support the Palestinian Authority’s stated preconditions for resuming negotiations – a complete settlement freeze and an upfront Israeli agreement to a final border based on the 1967 lines – one would think Palestinians would want to encourage them. Instead, the journalists’ union has just declared that even Israelis who fully support Palestinian demands will be treated as bitter enemies. And then the “international community” wonders why mainstream Israelis fear that ceding the West Bank would result in yet another enemy state rather than a friendly, peaceful neighbor.

Nor is the union’s decision an aberration: Such boycotts are official PA policy, and are consistently aimed precisely at the most pro-Palestinian Israelis, such as authors and peace activists. In short, from the Palestinian perspective, there’s no such thing as a good Israeli; all Israelis are enemies.

Given this, is it really surprising that two-thirds of Jewish Israelis believe most Palestinians “have not accepted Israel’s existence and would destroy it if they could,” and are thus reluctant to make territorial concessions that could enable them to do so?

In the EU’s fantasy land, all the Palestinians want is a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital. But as Cameron Brown of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies noted last week, three simple statements by Palestinian leaders would suffice to persuade an overwhelming majority of Israelis to agree to this: that the Palestinians renounce all claim to pre-1967 Israel, that they are willing to share custody of Jerusalem’s holy sites, and that refugees will be resettled in the Palestinian state rather than Israel. That would tell Israelis that the Palestinians’ goal really is a state alongside Israel rather than Israel’s destruction.

But Palestinian leaders have never said this, and they never will. Because the unpleasant truth, as polls consistently show, is that most Palestinians still do seek Israel’s destruction.

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Fayyad Acknowledges Palestinians Are “Losing the Argument”

While it’s true the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, their “friends” don’t do them any favors either. From the conspiracy theorists ranting about the “Israel Lobby” to “peace studies” intellectuals who inevitably turn out to be vicious anti-Semites to the proudly ignorant activists who debase the Civil Rights movement and the struggle against South African apartheid by using those terms in vain, pro-Palestinian advocates have been manifestly unable to mount a serious intellectual argument for their cause. And failed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad seems to know it.

Reuters interviewed the hapless technocrat, and he couched his failure in terms more sensible than his allies ever offer:

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said on Tuesday the Palestinians may have “lost the argument” on the international stage for an independent state but cautioned that continued Israeli occupation was unsustainable….

He also warned his administration’s future was clouded by severe financial strains and said the Palestinians had failed to galvanize a distracted world behind their cause.

“I think we are losing the argument, if we have not already lost the argument. But that doesn’t make our position wrong,” said the former World Bank economist, a political independent who has had strong support amongst Western powers.

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While it’s true the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, their “friends” don’t do them any favors either. From the conspiracy theorists ranting about the “Israel Lobby” to “peace studies” intellectuals who inevitably turn out to be vicious anti-Semites to the proudly ignorant activists who debase the Civil Rights movement and the struggle against South African apartheid by using those terms in vain, pro-Palestinian advocates have been manifestly unable to mount a serious intellectual argument for their cause. And failed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad seems to know it.

Reuters interviewed the hapless technocrat, and he couched his failure in terms more sensible than his allies ever offer:

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said on Tuesday the Palestinians may have “lost the argument” on the international stage for an independent state but cautioned that continued Israeli occupation was unsustainable….

He also warned his administration’s future was clouded by severe financial strains and said the Palestinians had failed to galvanize a distracted world behind their cause.

“I think we are losing the argument, if we have not already lost the argument. But that doesn’t make our position wrong,” said the former World Bank economist, a political independent who has had strong support amongst Western powers.

Yes, they are losing the argument, and have been for quite some time. Statehood in the real world is not something you’re granted for pitching a fit and kicking dirt at the United Nations. The toxic mix of cowards and criminals who make up the “flotilla” movement won’t convince anyone you’re ready to be treated like a responsible actor on the world stage. And brainwashing young minds to hate your “peace partners” isn’t the strongest case for independence.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which exists to keep poor Palestinians penned up in refugee camps to radicalize instead of educate them, has contributed its own acid to the steady corrosion of the prospects for a peaceful settlement. And never permitting, let alone encouraging, a sense of moral responsibility on the part of the Palestinians is the opposite of being pro-Palestinian–it shows, as Bret Stephens pointed out in his review of Peter Beinart’s new book, “an unwitting, but profound, contempt” for the Palestinians by assigning them “no moral agency.”

Fayyad seems to understand that a myopic focus on Israel keeps people talking about Israel. But it would behoove the Palestinians and their defenders to talk a bit about the Palestinians and their cause. Is there a case for Palestinian statehood? I’m sure there is, but Fayyad may now understand that the global left cannot be relied upon to make it.

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