The headline writers at Bloomberg knew exactly which part of Jeffrey Goldberg’s column would prove juiciest to those perusing the web today: “Obama: ‘Israel Doesn’t Know What Its Best Interests Are’”. The quote from the president will bother Israel’s defenders for the same reason Obama is usually able to push their buttons: Obama’s lack of knowledge about Jewish history, his decision to take potshots at the Likud party as a way to win over those hostile to the Jewish state during the 2008 election, and his refusal to learn basic facts about issues before throwing temper tantrums about them make him among the least credible public officials on the issue of what is in Israel’s best interests.
Goldberg’s access to Obama’s inner circle has made him an excellent source on the Obama administration’s perspective on Israel, though stories like this don’t exactly paint the president in a particularly positive light–especially the president’s belief that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “coward.” But childish name-calling aside, the president, according to the column, seems to have given up on Netanyahu. He can’t muster outrage at Israeli actions that elicit rage from leftist activists and cartoonishly biased and inaccurate “news” stories. (The New York Times deserves special mention here for publishing an article on the E-1 corridor around Jerusalem and then publishing a “correction” noting that the entire premise of the article was wrong, having since consulted a map.) But the president seems unwilling to admit how he has contributed to the situation that upsets him so.
David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, writes that there will likely be “a different Israel” after the January 22 election–one that has voted to reject a Palestinian state. He attributes the “dramatic imminent shift” not to the Israeli electorate moving right (total seats held by the right and left may not change materially), but to a right that has become “far-right.” The prime minister will stay the same, but he will head “a very different party.”
This analysis ignores an important fact: the Israeli left has also moved right–and its own shift has been even more dramatic. In “We Gave Peace a Chance,” Daniel Gordis notes that what destroyed the Israeli left was four years of the “Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada),” which disabused Israelis of the idea that the Palestinian leadership wanted a deal, and the fact that Arabs have become ever more candid about their ultimate goal, with Mahmoud Abbas telling Egyptian TV “he would never, in a thousand years, recognize a Jewish state.” Gordis writes that “Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying”:
In a rare moment of perception, Thomas Friedman wrote recently that if you want to be taken seriously in Israel, “there is an unspoken question in the mind of virtually every Israeli that you need to answer correctly: ‘Do you understand what neighborhood I’m living in?’”
What brought this to mind was the latest broadside by Friedman’s fellow New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who reiterated what has become the favorite mantra not only of those who support Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, but of liberal American Jewish groups like J Street and even the Union for Reform Judaism: that Israel’s “true friends” are those who tell it, loudly and publicly, that its policies are “self-defeating and wrong,” in an effort to stop what they perceive as its rush to self-destruction. I fully agree that friends should warn against behavior they view as self-destructive. But anyone who thinks that confronting Israel publicly is helping rather than hurting it doesn’t understand what neighborhood Israel is living in.
Despite bipartisan opposition from Congress, the State Department has decided to extend a waiver to the PLO mission office, keeping it open for at least another six months, the Hill reports:
The State Department has decided to keep the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in Washington open for another six months despite anti-terrorism legislation making it illegal, according to regulatory documents filed Tuesday.
Administrations of both parties have waived the provisions of the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act since President Clinton started doing so in 1994, citing U.S. national-security interests. The waiver is particularly controversial this time, however, because the PLO obtained the status of an observer state at the United Nations in November despite bitter opposition from the United States and Israel.
“I hereby determine and certify that the Palestinians have not, since the date of enactment of that Act, obtained in the U.N. or any specialized agency thereof the same standing as member states or full membership as a state outside an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians,” Deputy Secretary of State William Burns wrote in a State Department notice posted Tuesday. The notice is dated Oct. 8, before the U.N. vote.
Glenn Kessler has a helpful roundup of some of the most troubling Chuck Hagel comments (though a much more extensive list can be found at ECI’s ChuckHagel.com). This one in particular, from a 1998 AP interview, jumped out:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ”essentially stopped the process,” Hagel said. ”The Israeli government essentially continues to play games,” stonewalling implementation of the Oslo peace accords.
”What I fear more today is that desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away,” Hagel said. ”And that’s where the Palestinians are today.”
The Israeli government needs to understand that implementation of the peace agreement is in its own interests, he said.
Hagel said Arabs generally believe America ”has tilted toward Israel” in its Mideast relations and there will be no lasting peace in the region without relationships with Iran.
”I think we should continue to pursue openings with Iran, understanding this is still a nation very hostile to the West,” he said. ”We need to understand cold, hard realities and be very clear-eyed and clearheaded, but every opening we should take.”
This is a useful article because it provides three key insights into Hagel’s views on Middle East policy in general:
On the list of possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, somewhere between “fully independent Palestinian state on PA territory” and “Jordan is Palestine” falls a hybrid of the two: “Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.” Longtime Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab writes in the Atlantic that the idea seems to be experiencing something of a revival. Most notably, Mahmoud Abbas himself has reportedly suggested its consideration.
A Jordanian-Palestinian confederation in some ways is a relic of the past, before a fully independent Palestinian state was regarded as the consensus solution to the conflict. Kuttab notes that since the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration at the United Nations gave them symbolic recognition, Abbas may be open to the idea of a confederation, in which a state of Palestine would be technically independent but Jordan would play a role in maintaining security and probably—though this hasn’t been spelled out—in the Palestinian state’s general foreign affairs portfolio. But the idea is less realistic than it may seem. Kuttab, unfortunately, doesn’t discuss why that is. He writes:
In what is becoming a standard trope for Israeli leftists, Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit today decries the “savagery” of Israel’s “rising political forces,” who are “alien to the new West’s values.” To which my response is, “thank God”–because the “new West’s values” are antithetical to the very existence of a Jewish state. And if that sounds far-fetched, just consider European Commission President Manuel Barroso’s speech last week when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on the European Union’s behalf.
Quoting the commission’s first president, Walter Hallstein, Barroso declared that 20th-century history showed “The system of sovereign nation-states has failed,” because “through two world wars it has proved itself unable to preserve peace.” Therefore, Barroso said, “nations needed to think beyond the nation-state” and create “supranational institutions.” Later, he reiterated this point by quoting one of the EU’s founding fathers, Jean Monnet: “The sovereign nations of the past can no longer solve the problems of the present,” Monnet said, and even the EU itself “is only a stage on the way to the organized world of the future.”
One of the saddest comments I’ve ever heard was Gaza resident Ziad Ashour’s statement to the New York Times last week. Ever since the first intifada erupted in 1987, the 43-year-old butcher said, “things have steadily declined in Gaza.”
Think about that for a moment: After 25 years of fighting Israel in every possible way–“popular resistance,” suicide bombings, rockets, diplomatic warfare, boycott/divestment/sanctions efforts–all the Palestinians have to show for it is 25 years of steady decline. Indeed, the facts bear out Ashour’s assessment: Despite massive international aid, Gaza’s per capita GDP has remained virtually flat, totaling $817 in 1987 and $876 in 2010. Unemployment, which was generally under 5 percent in the 1980s, had soared to 45 percent by the end of 2010. And to add insult to injury, neither the terror nor the diplomatic warfare succeeded in preventing Israel from flourishing over those 25 years.
It looks like the congressional debate over whether to close the PLO office in Washington is far from over. Arutz Sheva reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers began circulating a letter calling for a strong response to the Palestinian Authority’s UN bid, including the closure of the PLO office:
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Edward Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) are circulating a letter in response to the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid at the United Nation (sic), urging that the U.S. to utilize “every means at our disposal to ensure that this General Assembly vote does not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other UN bodies or international forums.”
“We are deeply disappointed and upset that the Palestinian leadership rebuffed the entreaties of your Administration and the Congress and insisted on pursuing this distinctly unhelpful initiative,” the letter states.
Echoing the apprehension of the mainstream Jewish community, the lawmakers assert that, “This Palestinian action violated both the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, and it opened the door for expanded Palestinian efforts to attack, isolate, and delegitimize Israel in a variety of international forums- a threat which, even if unrealized, would hang over Israel’s head during any future negotiations or any effort by the Israeli government to defend its citizens from terrorism.” …
“We can do this by closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C. We can also call our Consul-General in Jerusalem home for consultations. We urge you to take these steps,” the letter adds.
Yesterday, I took issue with the Union for Reform Judaism for condemning planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 region. Many liberal American Jews would doubtless respond that they don’t object to E-1 remaining Israeli under an Israeli-Palestinian agreement; they merely object to building there before such an agreement exists. That, after all, is precisely what Ehud Olmert said last week when asked how he could condemn the Netanyahu government for doing something he himself supported as prime minister.
Unfortunately, this response betrays a serious lack of understanding of how the “peace process” actually works. First, as I noted yesterday, insisting that Israeli construction is an “obstacle to peace” even in areas that every proposed agreement has assigned to Israel merely encourages Palestinian intransigence by feeding their fantasies that the world will someday pressure Israel into withdrawing to the 1967 lines. Equally important, however, is that in a world where Israeli security concerns are routinely dismissed as unimportant, construction has proven the only effective means of ensuring Israel’s retention of areas it deems vital to its security.
Israel’s current government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has never shied away from engaging its critics abroad, as is evident by the numerous op-eds authored by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Oren was considered an inspired choice for ambassador to the U.S. in part because he is one of the leading historians on the Middle East and has written perhaps the definitive history of America’s involvement in the Middle East from its founding.
Oren was also teaching at Georgetown before being asked to represent Israel’s government in Washington, and he had previously worked as an IDF spokesman as well. Netanyahu himself speaks in flawless, almost accentless English, having spent so many years in top-flight American schools. It seemed that Netanyahu had recognized Israel’s weakness in communication, and sought to rectify that. Netanyahu himself stresses the history of Israel and of the Jewish people when he talks about the challenges confronting the Jewish state–a feature of his diplomatic style that often annoys the media in part because of their sometimes-staggering ignorance of that very history.
And on that topic, with Israel embroiled in just such a diplomatic controversy over building in Jerusalem, the city’s mayor has joined the effort with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat takes readers on a historical journey through the ages, explaining the Jewish people’s thousands-year-old connection to the city and its existence as a united capital (until Jordan’s occupation of the city from 1948-67). Barkat also makes the important point that Jewish sovereignty over the city has been its only reliable guarantor of religious openness, access, and equality.
Last week, Seth wrote an excellent post on the irreconcilability of European and Israeli visions for a two-state solution. What’s far more worrying, however, is that liberal American Jews appear to be on the European side of the divide. To grasp just how wide the gap yawns, compare the Union for Reform Judaism’s response to planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 area to today’s remarks by one of Israel’s most dovish politicians, Tzipi Livni.
Last week, the URJ issued a statement condemning Israeli settlement activity, “especially in the E-1 area,” saying it “makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution.” Now here’s what Livni–long the darling of liberal American Jews for her dovish views, and someone who has consistently blamed the Netanyahu government for the impasse in peace talks–told a gathering of foreign ambassadors today:
Last week, the New York Times quietly made two corrections to Jodi Rudoren’s December 2, 2012 news article headlined “Dividing the West Bank, and Deepening a Rift.” In a December 7 “Correction” appended to the article, the Times acknowledged that Israeli development in the E1 area “would not divide the West Bank in two” (emphasis added); and it “would not, technically, make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). So technically–not to put too fine a point on it–the central premise of the article was flat-out wrong.
The E1 area, which connects Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem in a stretch of desert less than two miles long, is retained by Israel in the “Everyone Knows” peace plan–as everyone knows who has bothered to look at a map of the Clinton parameters, or maps of various similar plans. But in a December 6 post at the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier called the plan for Jewish housing in E1 “an outrageous proposal …. which would scuttle any cartographically meaningful state for the Palestinians.” Since the proposal would not divide the West Bank, nor prevent a contiguous Palestinian state, nor preclude it on about 95 percent of the West Bank, Wieseltier appears to be cartographically challenged. Either that, or he relies on the New York Times.
It is to be expected that whenever something alters the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the world wonders aloud how this change will affect the peace process. And so it is with Israel’s Iron Dome, the missile defense system that kept so many Israelis safe during the recent rocket blizzard from the terrorist enclave of Gaza. But I wrote at the time that it was wishful thinking to assume that Iron Dome would fundamentally change the course of the conflict.
“It isn’t perfect, it’s expensive, and living under constant threat of rocket fire would still be hellish—it cannot be easy to get used to bombs exploding over your head all day long. The best solution, without a doubt, would be for the Palestinians to eschew terrorism and give up their mission to destroy Israel,” I wrote. Over the weekend, the Washington Post tackled this question at greater length, but still misses the point. The paper asks whether the relative safety brought about by systems like Iron Dome will make Israel more likely to agree to territorial compromise or more likely instead to ignore the conflict and the cause of peace and negotiations altogether. The answer, of course, is neither.
Under other circumstances, I might enjoy watching “human rights” activists decry the very international justice system they lobbied so hard to establish. But not when reactions like this one, by David Harland of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, show just how much resistance there will be to the important norms established last month by the appellate court of an international war crimes tribunal in the Hague. In a verdict ironically issued just as the world was obsessing over Palestinian civilians killed in the latest Hamas-Israel war, the court essentially upheld, in a Balkan context, all the arguments Israel routinely makes about the legitimacy of its own military operations. Consequently, the judges acquitted and freed two Croatian generals whom a trial court had convicted of war crimes and sentenced to 18 and 24 years, respectively.
The appellate court’s first important move was acknowledging the obvious fact that in wartime even the most careful army makes mistakes. The trial court had convicted the Croats of illegally shelling four towns they were trying to capture. The appeals court said the lower court’s criterion–“that any shell that landed more than 200 meters away from a military target must have been fired indiscriminately–was arbitrary and ‘devoid of any specific reasoning’,” to quote The Guardian’s apt summary. In short, it accepted the fact that soldiers are human beings who make mistakes, and errant shells don’t necessarily mean the soldiers fired indiscriminately.
Hamas, at least according to one increasingly popular line of reasoning in both the U.S. and Europe, is supposed to be turning more moderate because of its governance responsibilities in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, many commentators claimed to see evidence of its growing maturity in its decision to agree with Israel on a relatively fast cease-fire deal after the most recent round of fighting. Many call for engaging in negotiations with Hamas on the assumption that it is tacitly accepting a two-state solution.
Such analysis has always appeared to be the triumph of hope over experience and never more so than following Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal’s triumphal homecoming to the Gaza Strip–a territory he had never previously visited in his life but where he exercises a large degree of influence. His speech, to mark the 25th anniversary of Hamas’s founding, was not exactly a model of moderation. Here is what he had to say:
Earlier this week, I wrote a post wondering whether J Street has increased its influence on the Hill after the November election. A good test, I said, was whether J Street was able to rally enough objections to legislation responding to the UN vote.
One of these amendments — which would have shuttered the PLO mission in D.C. — was dropped from the defense authorization bill that passed the Senate earlier this week. According to Open Zion’s Ali Gharib, this proves that J Street has gained clout in Washington:
Seth made an excellent point yesterday about the irreconcilability of Israeli and European visions of the two-state solution. I’d like to add a linguistic corollary: Israel and its supporters need to eliminate the phrase “Israel’s best friends in Europe” from their lexicon with regard to Germany, Britain, France and their ilk. This is not just a matter of semantics. Aside from the insult to Israel’s one real friend in Europe, the emotional baggage this phrase carries is seriously warping the Israeli-European relationship.
Just consider the events of the past week, following Europe’s decision to support (or at least not oppose) the Palestinians’ UN bid and Israel’s decision to move forward on planning and zoning approvals for construction in E-1, the corridor linking Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. Europeans are outraged; they feel betrayed. They thought they had an understanding with Israel that it would let the UN vote pass quietly; they felt Israel was being ungrateful for their backing during its recent Gaza operation and their imposition of stiff sanctions on Iran. Israel is also outraged; it feels betrayed. It thought it had an understanding with the Europeans that they would oppose (or at least not support) the UN bid; it felt Europe was being unappreciative of the many concessions it has made to the Palestinians, from an unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze through various measures to bolster the Palestinian Authority’s finances. In short, this isn’t a diplomatic dispute; it’s a lover’s quarrel–which is precisely why it escalated so rapidly and hysterically into threats of sanctions.
European foreign ministries are still reacting furiously to the Israeli government’s preliminary zoning steps in what is known as the E-1 corridor around Jerusalem. It is unlikely that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning to move the project, initiated by Yitzhak Rabin, any closer than that to actually putting a shovel in the ground. In all likelihood, Netanyahu was simply sending a signal in the ongoing tussle over symbolic declarations of sovereignty.
European governments profoundly misunderstand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Mideast in general, and they may have misinterpreted a signal for a plan of action. But their overreaction was followed by even more overreaction, and threats of more to come. Haaretz reports:
The United Nations General Assembly vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state was a defeat for Obama administration diplomacy. The problem for Obama and Secretary of State Clinton was not their opposition to Palestinian statehood: Obama is certainly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, as are most within the State Department. In this, as the press often forgets, they also join most Israelis who desire a two-state solution, albeit it one that will guarantee peace and security. The problem with the UN vote—and the reason for the U.S. vote against—was its unilateralism: The Palestinians had committed at Oslo to negotiate with Israel as a condition of the Palestinian Authority’s existence, and for the last four years, this they have refused to do, choosing instead to cast aside their earlier commitments just the same as Hamas has refused to abide by commitments made by their predecessors in the Palestinian parliament.
Regardless, why did so many countries break from precedent and their promises and vote against the U.S. position? Seth Mandel tackled this last week. From Melbourne, Australia, however, AIJAC director Colin Rubenstein flags a speech by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who stepped down five years ago yesterday, in which he addressed the UN vote: