Last week, Pew Research published a poll with a seemingly encouraging headline: “Despite Their Wide Differences, Many Israelis and Palestinians Want Bigger Role for Obama in Resolving Conflict.” The poll indeed showed pluralities of both groups wanting President Barack Obama to up his involvement, and if you only read the headline, the implication would be clear: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is solvable if America would just push a little harder, and both sides truly want it to do so.
Yet reading the entire poll produces the opposite conclusion: The conflict clearly isn’t solvable right now, because when asked whether there’s “a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully,” a whopping 61 percent of Palestinians said “no,” while only 14 percent said “yes.” (Israelis, in a triumph of hope over experience, said “yes” by a 50-38 margin.) In other words, a huge majority of Palestinians said that even if a Palestinian state is established, the conflict will continue as long as Israel continues to exist. So where does that leave the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace?
There were many lessons about the double-standards to which the world subjects Israel that were illuminated by the reaction to the deaths of two Hamas members posing as journalists during November’s hostilities in Gaza. Alana Goodman had covered the controversy extensively for COMMENTARY, criticizing New York Times scribe David Carr for not only pushing the line that the men were merely journalists caught up in the line of fire but then, when corrected, refusing to retract the story. Instead, he defended himself by saying that other organizations also referred to the Hamas men as journalists.
I noted in a follow-up that one such organization, Reporters Without Borders, penalized Israel in its annual survey of media freedom for killing the Hamasniks. One lesson in all this was the bias and unconscionably low standards of both the press and activist organizations that cover Israel. But another–and very important–lesson was this: Allowing terrorists to masquerade as journalists and then celebrating their “work” in war zones will almost surely put all journalists at much greater risk by blurring the lines that should keep them safe and treating terrorists as media martyrs. And it would be difficult to argue with the use of the term “martyr” here after Daniel Halper’s scoop yesterday that the two Hamasniks are being honored as such–by the Newseum:
There was much relief when, earlier today, a spokesman for Cambridge University in England released a statement denying that Stephen Hawking, the renowned British physicist, had invoked the academic boycott of Israel as the reason for his decision to withdraw from the “Facing Tomorrow” conference, which will be hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem in June.
As it turns out, Cambridge spoke too soon. Tim Holt, the spokesman who said that Hawking had backed out for health reasons, was compelled to issue the following clarification:
“We have now received confirmation from Professor Hawking’s office that a letter was sent on Friday to the Israeli President’s office regarding his decision not to attend the Presidential Conference, based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott.
“We had understood previously that his decision was based purely on health grounds having been advised by doctors not to fly.”
The spat between New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad must be afflicting liberals with severe cognitive dissonance. But there’s a very important lesson to be drawn from it.
The contretemps began when Cohen published a column on Friday that included numerous direct quotes from Fayyad, many of which were highly unflattering to the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party, Fatah. “This party, Fatah, is going to break down, there is so much disenchantment,” Cohen quoted Fayyad as saying. “Our story is a story of failed leadership, from way early on. It is incredible that the fate of the Palestinian people has been in the hands of leaders so entirely casual, so guided by spur-of-the-moment decisions, without seriousness. We don’t strategize, we cut deals in a tactical way and we hold ourselves hostage to our own rhetoric.”
In his post supporting a referendum on any Palestinian peace agreement (“Democracy is Not an Obstacle to Peace”), Jonathan Tobin asked why peace processors would possibly fear a referendum:
It is true that if a peace agreement were to be submitted to a vote, that would raise the possibility that Israel’s voters would reject it. But if a deal was truly in Israel’s best interests, what exactly are advocates of a two-state solution worried about?
It’s a good question. Let me try to address it–because the answer is probably something other than a fear that the referendum might fail.
As the Cold War began taking shape early in the Truman administration, famed containment advisor George Kennan argued for a middle way between the strident anti-Communism forming on the right and the strategy of appeasement advocated for by the American left. Kennan believed power and psychology, not ideology, were what motivated Soviet behavior, and this required patience from the U.S. “Since world hegemony was impossible in Kennan’s interpretation of history, so, too, was Communist hegemony after World War II,” explains Elizabeth Edwards Spalding.
Kennan had made two very significant mistakes here–mistakes that proved less costly thanks to Harry Truman’s better judgment. First, as we now know, ideology indeed played a major role in Stalin’s policymaking decisions. Second, and more seriously from a policy standpoint, allowing Communism to expand until it reached its own limits and discredited itself would have meant consigning millions of people worldwide to suffer under the experiment. We didn’t have to test Stalinism further to know whether it had to be opposed.
Although there are obviously major differences between the centralized Communist movement radiating out from an empire that covered one-sixth of the world’s land mass and today’s rising tide of Islamism, there are still relevant lessons in Kennan’s mistakes. Western leaders shouldn’t fool themselves about the political ideology of Islamism, and they shouldn’t preach patience to those living under tyranny. And the case of Egypt would be a good place to start learning and applying those lessons.
Academics don’t agree about much, but the members of the Association for Asian American Studies agree, at least, that a “boycott of Israeli academic institutions” is warranted. That is what they resolved, not by a mere majority vote, but unanimously, on April 20, the last day of the Association’s national meeting.
Reportedly, only 10 percent of the members were present for the vote. So when I learned of the resolution, I assumed that we would soon hear from professors of Asian American Studies, enraged, or at least perplexed, that the AAAS had become the first U.S. academic organization to support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. But although one can find almost anything on the Web, you will not find even one professor of Asian American Studies who has respectfully disagreed with, let alone denounced, this move. The Asian American Studies professor who diverges publicly from the party line is that rare a beast.
Despite a stalled peace process and a recent Arab Peace Initative that has no hope of achieving its stated goal (as Jonathan and Seth discussed yesterday), there have been interesting developments in the region this week, albeit in cyberspace. The Google main search page for those searching within the West Bank and Gaza has been changed from “Palestinian Territories” to simply “Palestine.” Foreign Policy’s blog reported on the change and indicated it may have been inspired by the somewhat recent vote to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at the UN.
This isn’t the first time an online giant has become involved in the conflict. Last year it was noted by many Israelis that the location of their postings from within Israel were tagged “Palestine” and “East Jerusalem” on Facebook. One blogger for the Times of Israel noted:
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a piñata for those who think he should make even more concessions than his country has already made to the Palestinians even if the other side has shown no willingness to negotiate, let alone sign an agreement. But Thursday, he was assailed on another issue relating to the peace process. During a media session with a visiting foreign minister, he made it clear that if peace ever were to be signed, he would insist on the accord being submitted to the people of Israel for a vote.
This suggestion, made in the course of a discussion with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose nation is well known for its use of referendums, prompted some on the Israeli left as well as other Netanyahu critics to cry foul. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, even a member of his own government doesn’t like the idea:
Left-leaning Israeli supporters of a peace deal have long argued that a referendum could impede the leadership’s ability to seal a treaty with Palestinians.
[Tzipi] Livni, a former foreign minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians under the government led by Ehud Olmert, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, has publicly opposed the idea of a referendum. Ms. Livni now leads her own party, which is considered dovish on peace issues. She told Israel’s Army Radio a few days ago, “At the moment, a referendum is a way to forestall decisions approved by the Parliament and the cabinet.”
But rather than impeding peace, Netanyahu’s support for a referendum on any agreement with the Palestinians is the only way it can be implemented with the full support of the vast majority of Israelis.
Prolific blogger and commentator Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted an apt reminder yesterday that not everything in the Middle East revolves around the Israel-Palestinian conflict, even if U.S. policymakers often see it that way. Writes Goldberg:
Syria and Iraq are melting down, and the State Dept. and the Arab League are focused on…. the West Bank. The peace process is vital but there are more urgent matters than the peace process that are not linked to Israel-Palestine, that demand more attention.
Goldberg is right, but he doesn’t ask why. Perhaps this is one more example of the failure of Middle Eastern studies. The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has a membership database that lets users sort by discipline. For example, the MESA faculty database finds 151 students and professors who specialize in Iraq; and 223 who specialize in Syria. In contrast, 290 specialize in Palestine, and additional 33 who specialize in the West Bank specifically; and 20 in Gaza. Israel studies is growing, with 171 members. Almost as many focus on refugees and Diaspora studies.
The Washington Post has a story up today gently knocking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for being less than enthusiastic about the resurgence of the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab plan is slightly improved from its past iterations, but to understand why Netanyahu is so cautious about embracing the plan as an outline for negotiations, the Post story should be read in tandem with Jeffrey Goldberg’s incisive and spot-on portrait of the Qatari government in his latest Bloomberg column.
The setting for the column is a Brookings Institution event to honor Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. Brookings is, along with Hamas and other sordid outfits in whose company Brookings does not belong, funded by the Qatari government. Goldberg makes plain his discomfort with this. As I wrote in January, Qatar has been playing every side of the Middle East’s various conflicts, most often as a nuisance to American objectives. Goldberg’s whole column is worth reading, but this particular gem sticks out with regard to the Arab peace plan:
Having complained frequently about the media’s failure to report anything that might detract from their preferred narrative of Israel-as-villain, I’m delighted to discover that one British paper is bucking this trend. The Telegraph ran two articles this week describing the miserable situation in Hamas-run Gaza. And as reporter Phoebe Greenwood makes clear, the culprit isn’t Israel, but the elected Hamas government.
The first describes how Hamas has introduced military training into the curriculum of Gaza high schools–after having previously excised sports from said curriculum on the grounds that there wasn’t time for it. The mandatory weekly classes include learning how to shoot a Kalashnikov rifle; students who so choose can learn more advanced skills, like throwing grenades, at optional two-week camps. The article also includes video footage of Hamas militants demonstrating their skills for the students on a school playground: They carry out a mock raid on an Israel Defense Forces outpost, killing one soldier and capturing another, then demolish the outpost with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Today’s violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories contains some uncomfortable truths for Israel’s detractors, but also serves as a helpful microcosm of the larger conflict. A 30-year-old Israeli man, Eviatar Borovsky, was stabbed to death at a bus stop at Tapuach Junction by a Palestinian man, who was captured by border guards and taken into custody. A few hours later in Gaza, Haitham al-Mishal, a Palestinian involved in the production of rockets, was killed in a targeted strike by the IDF.
But the details that fill in the rest of the picture are a useful guide to the behavior of both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
When the news broke last week that Israel had prevented Gazan runners from participating in the West Bank’s first marathon, my initial reaction was to wonder why Israel had done something so stupid. Granted, Gaza is an enemy quasi-state that routinely launches rockets at Israel, and most countries don’t let enemy nationals enter or transit their territory; hence Israel’s refusal to allow Gazans to do so (aside from humanitarian cases like the many Gazans treated in Israeli hospitals) is usually perfectly justified. But exceptions are routinely made for international sporting events; that’s why Israel rightly objects when its own athletes are barred from international tournaments in Arab countries. Hence this ban, which was reported worldwide, could only hurt Israel’s image.
But it turns out Israel was perfectly justified in barring the Gaza athletes–because the marathon’s Palestinian organizers had barred Israeli participants. Clearly, no country should be expected to facilitate an “international” event that bars its own athletes from participating. That this justification was absent from last week’s news reports thus speaks volumes about both the incompetence of Israel’s public relations and the biases of international reporting on Israel.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is threatening to end relief operations for Syrian refugees, who currently number 1.3 million and counting, if it doesn’t receive the necessary funds soon. The agency says it has received only a third of the $1 billion it needs through June, and only $400 million of the $1.5 billion donors pledged earlier this year. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned explicitly that absent more funds, UNHCR will have to stop distributing food to refugees in Lebanon next month. And Jordan, which has the largest population of Syrian refugees, is threatening to close its borders to new entrants unless more aid is forthcoming urgently.
Meanwhile, another UN agency enjoys comfortable funding of about $1 billion a year to help a very different group of refugees–refugees who generally live in permanent homes rather than flimsy tents in makeshift camps; who have never faced the trauma of flight and dislocation, having lived all their lives in the place where they were born; who often have jobs that provide an income on top of their refugee benefits; and who enjoy regular access to schooling, healthcare and all the other benefits of non-refugee life. In short, these “refugees” are infinitely better off than their Syrian brethren–yet their generous funding continues undisturbed even as Syrian refugees are facing the imminent loss of such basics as food and fresh water. I am talking, of course, about UNRWA.
As Boston was mourning its victims of terror yesterday, a Parisian suburb was planning a gala fete for terrorists. Among those slated to be honored at tonight’s ceremony in St. Denis are Allam Kaabi, convicted of assassinating Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001, and Salah Hamouri, convicted of plotting to assassinate Israel’s former Sephardi chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef. Both are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who were released in 2011 as part of the exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
Though sponsored by a private organization, the ceremony is to be held in a building owned by the municipality, thus lending the town’s imprimatur to it. And, adding insult to injury, it’s slated to be graced by a representative of Amnesty International: Evidently, this self-styled human rights organization has no problem with targeted killings of Israeli civilians, though it objects vociferously to targeted killings of terrorists.
The departure of Salam Fayyad from the Palestinian government presents an easy trap for outside observers to fall into: because nothing much will change once he’s gone, it will be assumed that nothing much would have changed had he stayed. That may be true, but American officials would be gravely mistaken to believe it was inevitable.
In truth, the great tragedy of “Fayyadism”–technocratic reform and the building of functional state institutions–is not that it failed but that it never existed. As Nathan Brown wrote for his report on Fayyadism for the Carnegie Endowment, state building under Fayyad was a mirage. Brown’s report has been widely cited ever since, but it’s worth pointing out the part of Brown’s diagnosis that was so widely ignored in favor of blaming only Israel or PA factional politics. Brown wrote:
Today is the ninth anniversary of one of the key documents in the history of the “peace process”: the April 14, 2004 letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon, reiterating a “steadfast commitment” by the U.S. to “defensible borders” for Israel, and recognizing that Palestinian refugees would return to a Palestinian state, not to Israel. In Tested by Zion, his invaluable account of the Bush administration and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Elliott Abrams describes how carefully considered the letter was: there were “many drafts, as words, phrases, and paragraphs came in and went out.” At the end, “the headline was clear: There would be no return to 1967 and Israel could keep the major settlement blocks.”
The letter was more than a statement of U.S. policy. It was part of a deal. One of the most troublesome signs of the new approach adopted by President Obama in 2009 was the repeated refusals by administration spokespersons to answer whether the U.S. was bound by the letter. At 22, I stopped counting the number of times the question was asked and not answered, as the administration signaled Israel that the prior U.S. commitment was no longer reliable. But last week, on his return visit to Israel seeking to re-invigorate the “peace process,” Secretary of State Kerry was asked about it again.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk begins his book on the Clinton administration’s Mideast diplomacy with the initial focus on brokering peace between Israel and Syria, then led by Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez. Assad’s demand was a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for a full peace. The Israeli prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, was open to it both because he wanted real peace with Syria–Israel already had a longstanding peace agreement with Egypt, a certain level of cooperation with Lebanese officials and armed forces, and a relationship with Jordan that was a peace agreement in all but name, which was finally signed in 1994–and because he thought it would encourage the Palestinians to want peace as well.
He was right about the latter point, though the Palestinians would end up hijacking the entire process and peace with Syria never happened. But ahead of a trip to Washington to meet with Clinton, Rabin wanted to know how the U.S. would guarantee the peace, as Indyk phrases it, “especially in the event of Asad’s death.” Would Clinton put American troops on the Golan, if it came to that and Israel was proscribed by the peace agreement from sending its own troops? Clinton asked Colin Powell for his advice. Indyk recounts the exchange:
As Secretary of State Kerry proceeds to gin up yet another peace process, armed with the Israel Policy Forum letter urging more “confidence-building steps” from Israel, it might be worthwhile to reflect on two things we have learned about the “two-state solution” from the repeated failures over two decades to effectuate it.
First, the Palestinians have shown that they are unable to form a peaceful democratic state. They have a “president” who next week enters the 100th month of his 48-month term; he has now been “out of office” longer than he was in it. The person who held the office before him served 107 months of his own 48-month term, until he had to leave office on account of death. Between them, the two presidents rejected three offers of a state (in 2000, 2001 and 2008). The current president has not been able to set foot in half his putative state for more than five years; he cannot arrange a new election, even in the half-state where he resides. There is no functioning legislature, so he rules by decree; those who would criticize him for this are best advised not to put their thoughts on Facebook. He is 78 years old, in uncertain health, with no known successor, and has long said he wants to retire; he continues to serve as “president” because peace processors need someone to play one on TV.