Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinians

The Question Obama Should Ask Abbas

Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry “put the kibosh on the demand which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made central to peace negotiations with the Palestinians,” according to the report in The Times of Israel:

“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be, you know, raising it [Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state] again and again and again as the critical decider of their attitude towards the possibility of a state and peace, and we’ve obviously made that clear,” Kerry said.

Kerry noted that the “Jewish state” issue was addressed by UN resolution 181 in 1947, which granted international recognition to the fledgling state of Israel. There are “more than 40 – 30 mentions of a “Jewish state” in the resolution, Kerry said, and added that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat “confirmed that he agree it [Israel] would be a Jewish state” in 1988 and in 2004.

Seth Mandel and Tom Wilson have each addressed this issue in excellent posts. If it’s been internationally recognized since 1947, and if Arafat “confirmed” it in 1988 and 2004, what is the problem with confirming it again? Kerry’s argument reminds one of the reply that Talleyrand once made to a diplomat who proffered the “goes-without-saying” argument to him: “if it goes without saying, it will go still better by being said.”

This past Monday, the State Department tried to walk back comments from the prior week that indicated the U.S. was about to bail on any requirement that the Palestinians recognize a Jewish state. Spokesperson Jen Psaki had the following colloquy with reporters:

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Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry “put the kibosh on the demand which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made central to peace negotiations with the Palestinians,” according to the report in The Times of Israel:

“I think it’s a mistake for some people to be, you know, raising it [Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state] again and again and again as the critical decider of their attitude towards the possibility of a state and peace, and we’ve obviously made that clear,” Kerry said.

Kerry noted that the “Jewish state” issue was addressed by UN resolution 181 in 1947, which granted international recognition to the fledgling state of Israel. There are “more than 40 – 30 mentions of a “Jewish state” in the resolution, Kerry said, and added that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat “confirmed that he agree it [Israel] would be a Jewish state” in 1988 and in 2004.

Seth Mandel and Tom Wilson have each addressed this issue in excellent posts. If it’s been internationally recognized since 1947, and if Arafat “confirmed” it in 1988 and 2004, what is the problem with confirming it again? Kerry’s argument reminds one of the reply that Talleyrand once made to a diplomat who proffered the “goes-without-saying” argument to him: “if it goes without saying, it will go still better by being said.”

This past Monday, the State Department tried to walk back comments from the prior week that indicated the U.S. was about to bail on any requirement that the Palestinians recognize a Jewish state. Spokesperson Jen Psaki had the following colloquy with reporters:

QUESTION: There seems to be some confusion over some comments that you made on Friday about the whole recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. I’m wondering if you can address those. Has the Administration changed its position on this?

MS. PSAKI: We have not. Our position has been for quite some time that Israel is a Jewish state.

Then Psaki said the issue was something to be determined in negotiations and that she wasn’t going to say what should or should not be in a framework agreement. Now the secretary of state says it’s a “mistake” to raise the issue. With this administration, one can never rely on its “positions.” They are always subject to revision when the going gets tough. The red line turns out not to be red. The position stated with “Period!” at the end turns out to have a hidden asterisk. The position held “for quite some time” turns out to have no operational significance. It’s just a “position.”

In his March 4, 2014 address to AIPAC, after his meeting the day before with President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized the importance of the issue to Israel:

Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people — (applause) — where the civil rights of all citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, are guaranteed. The land of Israel is the place where the identity of the Jewish people was forged. It was in Hebron that Abraham bought the cave of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs. It was in Bethel that Jacob dreamed his dreams. It was in Jerusalem that David ruled his kingdom. We never forget that, but it’s time the Palestinians stopped denying history. (Applause.) Just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state. (Applause.)

President Abbas, recognize the Jewish state, and in doing so, you would be telling your people, the Palestinians, that while we might have a territorial dispute, the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own is beyond dispute. (Applause.) You would be telling Palestinians to abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees, or amputating parts of the Negev and the Galilee. In recognizing the Jewish state, you would finally making clear that you are truly prepared to end the conflict.

So recognize the Jewish state. No excuses, no delays, it’s time. (Applause.)

Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state has been one of Israel’s central demands in the “peace process” long before Netanyahu brought the issue into its current focus. It is the critical indicator of whether the Palestinians are engaged in a search for a two-state solution or a two-stage plan. So perhaps President Obama will use his meeting Monday with President for Life Abbas to address this issue. He can ask him the same question he used in another connection in his recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg: “If not now, when?”

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Kerry’s Unprepared for the Palestinian “No”

Secretary of State John Kerry knows that time is fast running out to get the Palestinians to agree to keep talking with Israel. In April the nine-month negotiating period that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas gave Kerry to pursue a deal will expire. He has sought to extend it by getting both sides to agree to a framework for more discussions. While the Israelis have, despite misgivings, indicated that they will sign on to the framework, the Palestinians are balking. The administration’s response to this has been to start peeling away elements of the framework that gave the Israelis some sense that they were not being railroaded. The first to go was, as Tom Wilson noted, the insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which Kerry discarded yesterday in congressional testimony. But if Kerry thinks not forcing Abbas to say the two little words that will signify that the conflict is over will get him to agree to the framework, he’s dreaming.

As I wrote yesterday, the Palestinians and their apologists like Peter Beinart think Kerry has been too kind to the Israelis since he has incorporated some of their demands about security into the framework as well as leaving the parties room to negotiate about borders, settlements, and Jerusalem. And he has also, at least to date, refused to budge on the question of the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. In his Pressure Points blog, Elliott Abrams rightly points out that this is the sticking point that no amount of American diplomacy or pressure on Israel will solve. Abbas can’t give in on refugees and that makes, as Abrams says, “a genuine peace agreement unrealistic and in fact impossible.” After all the months of negotiating and the various statements from Kerry and President Obama hammering Israel, the U.S. is in exactly the same position it was in last summer when Kerry embarked on his Middle East mission: the same reasons that prevented the Palestinians from saying yes to offers of statehood and peace in 2000, 2001, and 2008 still apply: they are never going to agree to anything that ends the conflict.

Though I took issue with Beinart’s silly effort to blame Kerry for being too pro-Israel, he was right about one thing. The messy aftermath of the collapse of diplomacy and the likelihood that the secretary has no clue about how to deal with the possibility of a revival of violence and increased diplomatic attacks on Israel mean that what will follow is very much Kerry’s fault.

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Secretary of State John Kerry knows that time is fast running out to get the Palestinians to agree to keep talking with Israel. In April the nine-month negotiating period that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas gave Kerry to pursue a deal will expire. He has sought to extend it by getting both sides to agree to a framework for more discussions. While the Israelis have, despite misgivings, indicated that they will sign on to the framework, the Palestinians are balking. The administration’s response to this has been to start peeling away elements of the framework that gave the Israelis some sense that they were not being railroaded. The first to go was, as Tom Wilson noted, the insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which Kerry discarded yesterday in congressional testimony. But if Kerry thinks not forcing Abbas to say the two little words that will signify that the conflict is over will get him to agree to the framework, he’s dreaming.

As I wrote yesterday, the Palestinians and their apologists like Peter Beinart think Kerry has been too kind to the Israelis since he has incorporated some of their demands about security into the framework as well as leaving the parties room to negotiate about borders, settlements, and Jerusalem. And he has also, at least to date, refused to budge on the question of the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. In his Pressure Points blog, Elliott Abrams rightly points out that this is the sticking point that no amount of American diplomacy or pressure on Israel will solve. Abbas can’t give in on refugees and that makes, as Abrams says, “a genuine peace agreement unrealistic and in fact impossible.” After all the months of negotiating and the various statements from Kerry and President Obama hammering Israel, the U.S. is in exactly the same position it was in last summer when Kerry embarked on his Middle East mission: the same reasons that prevented the Palestinians from saying yes to offers of statehood and peace in 2000, 2001, and 2008 still apply: they are never going to agree to anything that ends the conflict.

Though I took issue with Beinart’s silly effort to blame Kerry for being too pro-Israel, he was right about one thing. The messy aftermath of the collapse of diplomacy and the likelihood that the secretary has no clue about how to deal with the possibility of a revival of violence and increased diplomatic attacks on Israel mean that what will follow is very much Kerry’s fault.

When Kerry began his effort to revive negotiations his chances seemed slim, but he was determined nevertheless to solve a problem that had defeated all those who had gone before him. But what is now becoming clear is that Kerry never had a plan other than a belief that his diplomatic skills were equal to any test. Over the last eight months both Kerry and President Obama have chimed in to keep the heat on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu while continually praising Abbas for his commitment to peace. But if, even after all this and Kerry’s ditching of the Jewish state demand, Abbas still says no, the consequences will be more serious than just another proof of Kerry’s diplomatic incompetence.

Up until now Kerry’s effort has been portrayed as a noble endeavor made all the more heroic by the long odds that were stacked against it from the start. But if, as Kerry himself noted yesterday, distrust between the parties is greater than ever, it’s fair to ask how much of this is his fault. Though the framework he tried to craft was flawed, it was based on the notion that if there was to be an agreement it had to be one that would bring real peace. Yet what we are learning as the process unravels is that by focusing all the pressure on Israel the secretary has done nothing to bring the Palestinians closer to understanding that they must end the conflict. By speaking of violence and boycotts aimed at Israel after he fails, Kerry has made it certain that such things will happen but done nothing to avoid that outcome.

As the moment of truth looms closer on Kerry’s effort, it is time for him to stop badgering the Israelis and to begin to come to grips with Palestinian rejectionism. Abbas has come to rely on the animus of the Obama administration for Netanyahu, but he must be informed that a fourth “no” will have consequences. If not, then Obama and Kerry will truly be complicit in the mayhem that will follow. 

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Kerry Caves on Jewish State Demand

It was only ever a matter of time before Secretary of State John Kerry–desperate to hold together some semblance of a peace process–caved to Arab pressure and turned against Israel’s primary requirement that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as part of an end to the conflict. Speaking to members of Congress on Thursday, Kerry made it clear that he thought that such a demand on Israel’s part was a “mistake.” Once again the administration is trying to set the bar for an agreement so incredibly low that even the intransigent Palestinians can be slipped over it, whether they wish to be or not.

Kerry’s reasoning on this point was as shoddy as ever. He explained that since international law already confirmed Israel’s status as a Jewish state, there was no need for the Palestinians to give their recognition to this fact. Yet this is an unbelievable proposition. If Israel’s status as a Jewish state is mandated by international law, which it most certainly is, then it is hardly any great ask to require that any emerging Palestinian state comply with international law and recognize this fact. A meaningful end to the conflict clearly requires that the Palestinians confirm a cessation of any further claims against Israel, by accepting that they will no longer attempt to extinguish the Jewish state either by trying to flood it with the descendants of Arab refugees or by continuously demanding further territory.

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It was only ever a matter of time before Secretary of State John Kerry–desperate to hold together some semblance of a peace process–caved to Arab pressure and turned against Israel’s primary requirement that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state as part of an end to the conflict. Speaking to members of Congress on Thursday, Kerry made it clear that he thought that such a demand on Israel’s part was a “mistake.” Once again the administration is trying to set the bar for an agreement so incredibly low that even the intransigent Palestinians can be slipped over it, whether they wish to be or not.

Kerry’s reasoning on this point was as shoddy as ever. He explained that since international law already confirmed Israel’s status as a Jewish state, there was no need for the Palestinians to give their recognition to this fact. Yet this is an unbelievable proposition. If Israel’s status as a Jewish state is mandated by international law, which it most certainly is, then it is hardly any great ask to require that any emerging Palestinian state comply with international law and recognize this fact. A meaningful end to the conflict clearly requires that the Palestinians confirm a cessation of any further claims against Israel, by accepting that they will no longer attempt to extinguish the Jewish state either by trying to flood it with the descendants of Arab refugees or by continuously demanding further territory.

In these negotiations, Israel has made relatively few demands, simply insisting that an agreement must mean an end to the conflict and Palestinian claims, and that as such the Jewish state be recognized and that its security be assured. Yet Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, whose own demands multiply and mutate endlessly, has proven incapable of even agreeing to these basic requirements. Aware that this will mean the end of their shambolic peace process, Obama and Kerry are now putting pressure on Israel so that without the Palestinians having had to concede anything of any substance, an agreement will appear to have fallen into place nonetheless.

Yet, it will indeed only ever be the appearance of a peace agreement. In recent days southern Israel has been hit by a barrage of rockets from Gaza. Israel struck back, then a ceasefire was reached. The only problem is the rockets have kept falling on Israel anyway, as if the ceasefire had never existed. It is quite possible that the leaders of Islamic Jihad who agreed upon the ceasefire have upheld their part of it, but that would not necessarily prevent splinter groups from carrying on. This tells us a couple things about the agreements that Israel can make with its enemies. First, there is no guarantee that those who sign agreements one day will not just break them the next. Second, making agreements with Palestinian leaders is meaningless if those they claim to represent actually want no part in accepting Israel.

Speaking during a press conference with Abbas earlier on Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that Israeli and Palestinian leaders would need to take certain steps, even if they were unpopular with their wider publics. This really is a mistake. An end to the conflict cannot be imposed top-down by the leadership of either side. In the unlikely event that Abbas could be made to sign an agreement, nothing will have been achieved if large parts of the Palestinian population are in favor of continuing the war on Israel. Even if they are not given the means to elect leaders to fulfill this wish, as in Gaza, sooner or later they will be able to sweep away those that agreed to an unpopular peace and resume attacks on Israel, which will have made the territorial concessions that will make fending off such an assault all the more difficult, if not impossible.

Thursday saw one other event of major import; Israel’s Knesset passed a bill requiring that further territorial concessions on Israel’s part will have to be approved by the Israeli public in a referendum. Naturally, Tzipi Livni and the rest of the Israeli left voiced their opposition to such a law. Not only does the Israeli left hold much of the Israeli public in contempt as backward reactionaries, but it seems that some of them have such messianic impulses where a peace agreement is concerned that they want one implemented whether or not it can be justified strategically. And they certainly don’t want a security cautious Israeli public getting in the way of any of this.

More importantly, not only should the Israeli public have a referendum on any final agreement, but so must the Palestinians. It won’t really be peace unless the vast majority of people on both sides agree the conflict is over. Israel needs to know that it is the Palestinian people who really accept a Jewish state, not just a group of politicians in Ramallah whose own democratic mandate expired years ago. Nevertheless, it would at least be a start to have the likes of Abbas recognize the very same Jewish state that Obama claims the Palestinian president is currently negotiating with in “good faith.” For Kerry to now be faltering on Israel’s most basic requirement for peace renders him virtually redundant as someone who can oversee the process effectively.

Both the Palestinians and the EU have been making a lot of noise about what unilateral actions they will take if and when talks fail. Perhaps it is time that Israel started to air some talk of its own unilateral moves if talks are to fail. There are several leading figures in the governing coalition who would like to see Israeli sovereignty applied to the West Bank settlement blocs. A gentle reminder of this fact might start to get Israel taken a little more seriously in Washington once again.   

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Blaming Kerry for Palestinian Rejectionism

Give left-wing author Peter Beinart some credit. He’s paying enough attention to the negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to understand that there’s almost no chance that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will sign a peace deal. But whom does he blame for this in his latest cri de coeur about the peace process in Haaretz? Secretary of State John Kerry.

Of course, Beinart thinks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also at fault for insisting that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say that they renounce their dreams of destroying it. He also slams Netanyahu for asking for serious security guarantees in the event that an agreement is concluded as well as demanding that the U.S. make good on the promises made to Israel prior to the Gaza withdrawal about the major settlement blocs in the West Bank being retained. In carping about Netanyahu he’s essentially blaming the people of Israel for rejecting the policies of the left after the collapse of Oslo and the Gaza disaster. To his way of thinking, democracy is all well and good but since liberal intellectuals like himself know what’s best for the country, the results of the last two Knesset elections should be set aside in order to allow American pressure to dictate peace terms with the Palestinians. Most of all he refuses to give the Palestinians any agency in their decision to turn down peace again.

This is familiar territory for Beinart. But now that Kerry is in the midst of an all-out effort to get Israel and the PA to agree to a new framework to allow for further talks with the Israelis set to say yes and the Palestinians almost certain to say no again, he’s been forced to come up with a new set of justifications for the left’s perennial argument that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. His answer is that the true villain of the moment is Kerry and the liberal Jews who have been cheering the secretary on in his efforts to pressure Israel into accepting the framework. Why? Because, according to Beinart, Kerry’s terms are too favorable to Israel.

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Give left-wing author Peter Beinart some credit. He’s paying enough attention to the negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to understand that there’s almost no chance that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will sign a peace deal. But whom does he blame for this in his latest cri de coeur about the peace process in Haaretz? Secretary of State John Kerry.

Of course, Beinart thinks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also at fault for insisting that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say that they renounce their dreams of destroying it. He also slams Netanyahu for asking for serious security guarantees in the event that an agreement is concluded as well as demanding that the U.S. make good on the promises made to Israel prior to the Gaza withdrawal about the major settlement blocs in the West Bank being retained. In carping about Netanyahu he’s essentially blaming the people of Israel for rejecting the policies of the left after the collapse of Oslo and the Gaza disaster. To his way of thinking, democracy is all well and good but since liberal intellectuals like himself know what’s best for the country, the results of the last two Knesset elections should be set aside in order to allow American pressure to dictate peace terms with the Palestinians. Most of all he refuses to give the Palestinians any agency in their decision to turn down peace again.

This is familiar territory for Beinart. But now that Kerry is in the midst of an all-out effort to get Israel and the PA to agree to a new framework to allow for further talks with the Israelis set to say yes and the Palestinians almost certain to say no again, he’s been forced to come up with a new set of justifications for the left’s perennial argument that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. His answer is that the true villain of the moment is Kerry and the liberal Jews who have been cheering the secretary on in his efforts to pressure Israel into accepting the framework. Why? Because, according to Beinart, Kerry’s terms are too favorable to Israel.

This is, of course, the same secretary of state that pressured the Israelis to release over 100 terrorist murderers to bribe the PA to come back to the negotiating table after boycotting talks for years. And he’s the same guy who threatened Israel with a new intifada and with expanded boycotts and economic warfare if they didn’t agree to his framework, setting the stage for more violence and delegitimization of the Jewish state after his efforts failed.

But Beinart has a beef with Kerry because in coming up with his framework, he’s incorporated some of Israel’s key demands and left other elements up to negotiations between the two parties. According to Beinart, Kerry has deviated from the plans offered to the Palestinians by Ehud Barak in 2000 and 2001 and the one proposed by Ehud Olmert in 2008. The differences between those schemes and the one in Kerry’s framework are small but significant.

The first problem is that Kerry agrees with the Israelis that the Palestinians should swallow hard and say the two little words—“Jewish state”—that signify they are ending the conflict for all time rather than pausing it in order to resume it later under more favorable circumstances.

The second is agreeing to a phased transition in which Israeli troops would remain in the Jordan Valley for perhaps as long as 10 or 15 years. Beinart agrees with the Palestinians that that kind of a security guarantee, made all the more necessary in recent years because of the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as the threats to Jordan from Iran and Syria, is unacceptable.

What else? Beinart is unhappy about Kerry’s terms for the division of Jerusalem. Kerry is leaving the details of how to partition it to the parties and said one of the Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city could serve as the Palestinian capital. Beinart agrees with Abbas and wants all Arab neighborhoods in the city to be constituted as the new capital of Palestine.

Beinart is also in a huff about the fact that Kerry’s framework doesn’t pay even lip service to the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” that would allow them to flood Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees. While Olmert foolishly offered the Palestinians the right to bring as many as 15,000 into Israel, Kerry has wisely turned them down flat on this question.

These differences from the plans of 2000, 2001, and 2008 don’t change the fact that if the Palestinians are smart enough to say yes to the framework, they would get their independent state including almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and be compensated for the settlement blocs with equal amounts of Israeli territory. But in order to get it they have to agree to the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside their nation and they have to agree not to use their state to restart the conflict once Israel withdraws. Since its inception, Palestinian nationalism has been solely focused on denying Zionism’s legitimacy rather than on building a nation. That’s why Abbas is no more capable of agreeing to peace now than he was in 2008 when he fled from Olmert’s offer or Yasir Arafat was when he said no twice to Ehud Barak.

But Beinart prefers to ignore the truth about Abbas and the political culture of rejection to which he is both enabler and hostage. Instead, he blames Israel and Kerry for not giving even more.

Interestingly, Beinart’s plan of action to deal with the problem doesn’t involve efforts to beg the Palestinians not to say no to peace and independence for the fourth time since the summer of 2000. Instead, he wants his friends at J Street and other liberal Jewish backers of the Obama administration to turn their wrath on the secretary of state. He wants the left to “raise a stink” against Kerry and the administration in order to get them to change the framework to make it more acceptable to the Palestinians, including deleting references to the Jewish state and giving the green light for the refugees.

Such an effort on the part of J Street is as unlikely as it would be absurd. J Street is more pro-Obama than it is pro-peace or pro-Israel. It will never launch a campaign against Kerry’s efforts to broker a deal in order to tilt the playing field even more toward the Palestinians than the secretary has already done.

This difference between Beinart and Kerry illustrates, if nothing else, the secretary’s sincerity. Kerry’s chances of success were always near zero and his willingness to undertake this mission despite the very real chances that attempting it would cause more harm than good by encouraging terrorism and boycotts after the inevitable Palestinian refusal testifies both to his poor judgment and his hubris. But Kerry also understands that after the collapse of Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza and the three Palestinian “no’s” to peace offers, Israelis need to be persuaded that this peace is genuine and will guarantee the Jewish state’s survival. And that is why Abbas will never sign any deal with anything like reasonable terms.

Beinart understands that this decision will, like the many Palestinian decisions to repeatedly reject peace throughout the last century, undermine his thesis about Israel being to blame. So in order to preserve his dubious narrative of the conflict, he must start setting up Kerry as the fall guy for Palestinian rejectionism. Reading Beinart’s piece, I almost felt sorry for Kerry. Almost. 

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The “Roadblocks” to Peace Haven’t Budged

Today’s international edition of the New York Times carries an op-ed on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by Ephraim Sneh, the former IDF general and well-known figure in the defense establishment. Sneh wants to solve the four “insurmountable stumbling blocks: Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the ‘right of return,’ Jerusalem and security arrangements.” And he offers his plan to remove what the headline calls the “roadblocks” to peace. Unfortunately, Sneh’s good-faith effort to move the negotiations forward reminds the reader just why those four roadblocks are so difficult to dislodge.

On security arrangements, Sneh follows the logic that the Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians all have a shared interest in preventing the rise of Islamist rebel factions with the ability to cross borders between the three. That’s true, but the logic goes both ways: it may be rational for Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling party to oppose and marginalize Islamist extremists, but it’s also rational for him to believe–especially in the age of the Arab Spring–that he can’t prevent the organic gravitational pull of homegrown (or foreign-funded) extremists to disaffected Palestinians living under his corrupt authoritarianism. In such a case, logic suggests capitulation and cooptation, not a high-minded show of backbone by standing with Israel.

Sneh proposes a division of East Jerusalem instead of a division of Jerusalem. Permit Israel to keep its Jewish neighborhoods–including those built after 1967–Sneh argues, and give the Palestinian state the rest. It’s not clear if either side would agree to this, though given Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements over the last few years, Israel seems far more likely to accept these parameters than would the Palestinians, to say nothing of the logistical nightmare of actually dividing the city. But the centerpiece of Sneh’s Jerusalem proposal would be “a Vatican-like status” for the city’s holy sites. We don’t get the details from Sneh for how a tri-faith version of the Vatican would work exactly, probably because it would do nothing to dissolve conflict over the area but would erode some degree of Jewish sovereignty over its holiest site.

On the Palestinian “right of return,” Sneh proposes that Secretary of State John Kerry put together a framework that excludes the word “right.” The Palestinian legislature can pass their own right of return laws the way Israel has, but using terms like “rights,” according to Sneh, is a surefire way to get the Palestinians to loudly embrace their victimology and walk away. Thus they should simply talk about a “return,” and a symbolic one at that. It’s difficult to imagine this idea getting off the ground with the Palestinians, but it won’t get pushback from Israel.

On the remaining issue, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Sneh writes:

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Today’s international edition of the New York Times carries an op-ed on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by Ephraim Sneh, the former IDF general and well-known figure in the defense establishment. Sneh wants to solve the four “insurmountable stumbling blocks: Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the ‘right of return,’ Jerusalem and security arrangements.” And he offers his plan to remove what the headline calls the “roadblocks” to peace. Unfortunately, Sneh’s good-faith effort to move the negotiations forward reminds the reader just why those four roadblocks are so difficult to dislodge.

On security arrangements, Sneh follows the logic that the Palestinians, Israelis, and Jordanians all have a shared interest in preventing the rise of Islamist rebel factions with the ability to cross borders between the three. That’s true, but the logic goes both ways: it may be rational for Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling party to oppose and marginalize Islamist extremists, but it’s also rational for him to believe–especially in the age of the Arab Spring–that he can’t prevent the organic gravitational pull of homegrown (or foreign-funded) extremists to disaffected Palestinians living under his corrupt authoritarianism. In such a case, logic suggests capitulation and cooptation, not a high-minded show of backbone by standing with Israel.

Sneh proposes a division of East Jerusalem instead of a division of Jerusalem. Permit Israel to keep its Jewish neighborhoods–including those built after 1967–Sneh argues, and give the Palestinian state the rest. It’s not clear if either side would agree to this, though given Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements over the last few years, Israel seems far more likely to accept these parameters than would the Palestinians, to say nothing of the logistical nightmare of actually dividing the city. But the centerpiece of Sneh’s Jerusalem proposal would be “a Vatican-like status” for the city’s holy sites. We don’t get the details from Sneh for how a tri-faith version of the Vatican would work exactly, probably because it would do nothing to dissolve conflict over the area but would erode some degree of Jewish sovereignty over its holiest site.

On the Palestinian “right of return,” Sneh proposes that Secretary of State John Kerry put together a framework that excludes the word “right.” The Palestinian legislature can pass their own right of return laws the way Israel has, but using terms like “rights,” according to Sneh, is a surefire way to get the Palestinians to loudly embrace their victimology and walk away. Thus they should simply talk about a “return,” and a symbolic one at that. It’s difficult to imagine this idea getting off the ground with the Palestinians, but it won’t get pushback from Israel.

On the remaining issue, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Sneh writes:

A demand to officially recognize Israel as the Jewish state has never been submitted to any Arab counterpart: not Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, Jordan’s King Hussein or Syria’s Hafez al-Assad. Yet Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, keeps raising such a declaration as a condition because there is no Israeli — certainly not me — who would not sympathize with it and because he believes that President Abbas cannot provide it, knowing that it could drive a wedge between Mr. Abbas and the Arab citizens of Israel.

However, the Palestine National Council, in its Declaration of Independence of Nov. 15, 1988, already acknowledged the definition of Israel as the Jewish state when it referred to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, saying it had partitioned Palestine into two states, Arab and Jewish. In fact, Yasir Arafat reiterated this recognition. The Palestinian leadership just needs to declare that the recognition Mr. Netanyahu is demanding is implicit in that 25-year-old document.

I’m afraid this appears to miss the point on such recognition. An “implicit” recognition in a pre-Oslo document that the current Palestinian leadership refuses to repeat (even “implicitly”) is not what’s being asked. And there’s a good reason for that. Saying someone else kinda sorta implied recognition removes such recognition from the intent of the man actually signing the agreement, if there is one.

Israel wants recognition from its “peace partner,” not a ghost. They want this because they believe–with much justification–that such recognition is the difference between a peace agreement and actual peace. The stated purpose of the two-state solution is to resolve the conflict. Palestinian statehood that merely strengthens their hand in an ongoing war to annihilate their Jewish neighbors is not something Israelis have much interest in, nor should they.

It’s Sneh’s conclusion, however, that goes off the rails:

In Israel, there cannot be such an agreement without a political crisis. In the Knesset, 42 of the 68 members of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition are beholden to the settlers who fiercely oppose any agreement with the Palestinians. Mr. Netanyahu therefore will be compelled to change his coalition partners, make way for another prime minister or call elections so that a government that is not dependent on settlers’ support can take power. But a transient political crisis is better for Israel than the horrible repercussions of a failure of Mr. Kerry’s efforts.

Netanyahu presides over this governing coalition because the Israeli voters chose these parties to represent them in the government. Why should Netanyahu be compelled to call elections? The last elections were only a year ago, and this is the government the people chose. What kind of banana republic would call elections repeatedly and unceasingly until the people capitulated to the American secretary of state?

And what in modern Israeli history suggests this is the road to success anyway? Sneh isn’t unaware that left-leaning Israeli leaders already tried, more than once, to strike such an agreement. Labor took two bites at that apple, Kadima one. This is precisely the pattern of failure Israelis are trying not to replicate. Sneh’s frustration is understandable and widely shared, and his column is an expression of an admirable Israeli desire for peace. But it’s also quite wide of the mark.

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EU Report Demonizes Israel as Threatening Regional Security

The European Union has released a breathtaking and spurious report on the present situation in Gaza, one that is disproportionately malicious even by European standards. The report attempts to give the impression of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which it quite predictably blames on Israel, and claims that this crisis has implications for destabilizing the security of the entire region. Once again, Europeans are attempting to blame Jews and their state for the wider problems of the world. Perhaps most shocking of all are the numerous ways in which this report seeks to legitimate the Hamas narrative.

The underlying thesis appears to be that Israel is implementing a blockade on Gaza, which must be lifted, or else there will be terrible consequences for all of us. Even if Europe’s allegations about the blockade were accurate, which they are not, what is particularly noteworthy about the report is the shameless way it seeks to frame Israel as the guilty party. Apparently allotting little or no responsibility to Hamas–which only governs the place after all–the report accuses that, “Israel bears the prime responsibility for the situation in Gaza.” Yet this cannot possibly be the case. Gaza has a border with Egypt, one that the Egyptians have policed more stringently at some times than others, depending on who has been governing there. Even if the most severe siege was being inflicted against Gaza, it could not be maintained without the participation of both countries. One cannot be more to blame than the other. Yet, the European report tarnishes Israel nonetheless.

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The European Union has released a breathtaking and spurious report on the present situation in Gaza, one that is disproportionately malicious even by European standards. The report attempts to give the impression of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which it quite predictably blames on Israel, and claims that this crisis has implications for destabilizing the security of the entire region. Once again, Europeans are attempting to blame Jews and their state for the wider problems of the world. Perhaps most shocking of all are the numerous ways in which this report seeks to legitimate the Hamas narrative.

The underlying thesis appears to be that Israel is implementing a blockade on Gaza, which must be lifted, or else there will be terrible consequences for all of us. Even if Europe’s allegations about the blockade were accurate, which they are not, what is particularly noteworthy about the report is the shameless way it seeks to frame Israel as the guilty party. Apparently allotting little or no responsibility to Hamas–which only governs the place after all–the report accuses that, “Israel bears the prime responsibility for the situation in Gaza.” Yet this cannot possibly be the case. Gaza has a border with Egypt, one that the Egyptians have policed more stringently at some times than others, depending on who has been governing there. Even if the most severe siege was being inflicted against Gaza, it could not be maintained without the participation of both countries. One cannot be more to blame than the other. Yet, the European report tarnishes Israel nonetheless.

That said, the report does also seek to criticize Egypt, yet it does so on the most extraordinary account. In recent months Egyptian authorities have gone to great lengths to shut down vast networks of illegal smuggling tunnels that exist beneath the Rafah border. These are the tunnels used to bring lethal weapons into the Islamist-run enclave. The Iranian-supplied arms aboard the ship seized by Israel in recent days were intended to enter Gaza via these very tunnels. This report, however, alleges that these tunnels provided 80 percent of Gaza’s food and medical supplies. By presenting the closure of the terror tunnels as a lamentable move, the EU report seeks to legitimize the means by which terrorists arm themselves against Israeli civilians.

More to the point, the report’s underlying claim about the blockade of such essential items is simply untrue. Not only have the restrictions on goods allowed into Gaza been greatly relaxed in recent years, there was never any blockade on such humanitarian items as medical supplies in the first place. Even during the intensity of the fighting of the 2009 war in Gaza, Israel held daily ceasefires for bringing such supplies into Gaza.

When flowers and fruits grown in Gaza are on sale in Europe, it is the height of European hypocrisy to claim that there is a “pressing humanitarian situation” and “increased food insecurity” in the Gaza Strip. Goods and people are allowed to cross between Israel and Gaza all the time. Weapons are not permitted into Gaza, nor are dual-use items that could be used for military purposes, which includes certain building materials—although Israel does permit building materials for internationally approved projects. But with little else to focus on, the report makes misleading claims about fuel supplies and bemoans Gaza’s ailing construction industry.

Given that this report attempts to argue that Israel is instigating a crisis that could have dire consequences for the entire region, it seems to essentially be making the bizarre claim that if construction workers in Gaza remain idle much longer then there will be some kind of security catastrophe. As is so typical of European policy toward the region, the positions taken in this report are a moral and logical inversion. The report insists that if Israel does not ease it restrictions on the Gaza border still further then there could be serious consequences for stability and security. Quite the opposite is the case. Israel’s restrictions are entirely necessitated by security concerns; easing them or not cracking down on smuggling tunnels would allow for a flow of weapons and related materials to militants that would only facilitate more terrorist violence, more insecurity, and more instability.

Yet, the report also calls for reconciliation between the listed terrorist organization Hamas and the only marginally more moderate Fatah, which currently runs the Palestinian Authority and is engaged in U.S.-sponsored talks with Israel. If Hamas were to join the already intransigent Fatah, then what remains of the peace process would likely disintegrate altogether.   

This EU report attempts to cast Israel as irresponsibly enforcing a blockade that jeopardizes the security of the entire region. In fact, emboldening Islamists by legitimizing their demands and narrative, or challenging security arrangements that keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists, is what really threatens stability in the area. Yet, given the Europeans’ ever more warped view of Israel, we should have expected nothing less.  

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Cameron’s Knesset Speech: Closer to Australia and Canada than Obama

Observers awaiting British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech to Israel’s Knesset, which he delivered earlier today, had been unsure of what to expect. Would the prime minister present a speech similar to the warm pledges of unadulterated support recently offered by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or would it be closer to the barbed lecture Israel received from Martin Shulz, president of the European parliament, who visited in February?

Indeed, given the harsh misrepresentation that Israel’s government suffered from President Obama in his recent Bloomberg interview, the way had certainly been cleared for Cameron to deliver a tough message if he felt so inclined. And Cameron certainly has no shortage of domestic incentives to appear critical of Israel; large parts of the British public are actively hostile to Israel, while the British Foreign Office is also notoriously cold in its attitude to Israel–hence the unfortunate comments made by Cameron about Gaza during his 2010 visit to Turkey.

Given this background, the speech that Cameron delivered today was decidedly more supportive of Israel than might have been expected. The tone was much closer to that given by Harper, and if this attitude comes to be fully borne out in British policy, then it would place the UK in the same camp as the governments of other pro-Israel English speaking democracies such as Canada and Australia. In this sense the sentiments Cameron expressed today are quite at odds with the increasingly thinly veiled threats coming from Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. Crucially, Cameron set himself apart from both the Europeans and the Obama administration by announcing that he wouldn’t be giving Israel any “lectures” on how to run the peace process.

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Observers awaiting British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech to Israel’s Knesset, which he delivered earlier today, had been unsure of what to expect. Would the prime minister present a speech similar to the warm pledges of unadulterated support recently offered by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or would it be closer to the barbed lecture Israel received from Martin Shulz, president of the European parliament, who visited in February?

Indeed, given the harsh misrepresentation that Israel’s government suffered from President Obama in his recent Bloomberg interview, the way had certainly been cleared for Cameron to deliver a tough message if he felt so inclined. And Cameron certainly has no shortage of domestic incentives to appear critical of Israel; large parts of the British public are actively hostile to Israel, while the British Foreign Office is also notoriously cold in its attitude to Israel–hence the unfortunate comments made by Cameron about Gaza during his 2010 visit to Turkey.

Given this background, the speech that Cameron delivered today was decidedly more supportive of Israel than might have been expected. The tone was much closer to that given by Harper, and if this attitude comes to be fully borne out in British policy, then it would place the UK in the same camp as the governments of other pro-Israel English speaking democracies such as Canada and Australia. In this sense the sentiments Cameron expressed today are quite at odds with the increasingly thinly veiled threats coming from Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. Crucially, Cameron set himself apart from both the Europeans and the Obama administration by announcing that he wouldn’t be giving Israel any “lectures” on how to run the peace process.

Perhaps the most significant remarks made by Cameron in the course of his speech were those concerning the Jewish nature of Israel. There had been much anticipation about whether or not Cameron would utter the words “Jewish state.” Given that the Palestinians have said they will refuse under any circumstances to recognize Israel as being the state of the Jewish people, and that the European Union has expressed ambivalence about this Israeli demand, many were waiting to see which side Britain would come out for on this issue. It is heartening then that, in addition to referencing Israel as a “secure homeland for the Jewish people,” Cameron’s outline of his vision for peace included an endorsement of the formulation: “mutual recognition of the nation state of the Palestinian people and the nation state of the Jewish people.” 

Cameron was sure to stress the long and ancient history of the Jews to the land of Israel and spoke of his appreciation of the Jewish people, for their contribution to his country and to the world, as well as of his own distant Jewish ancestry. Naturally, the prime minister spoke at lengths about the history of anti-Semitism and the need to remember the Holocaust, as well as pledging his commitment to defending Jewish practices in Britain today, including kosher slaughtering, which is currently under attack there.

Indeed, Mr. Cameron articulated the all-important connection between remembering the past and acting in the present for Israel’s safety. Touching on the early British role in advancing Zionism, he then went on to declare, “So let me say to you very clearly: with me, you have a British prime minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock solid.” The prime minister detailed how he had worked to overturn British laws on universal jurisdiction, which were being used by anti-Israel campaigners to keep senior Israelis out of Britain. He claimed credit for acting to create a European consensus for proscribing Hezbollah, for working to try and drive anti-Semitic incitement from British universities, and for keeping anti-Semitic Islamist preachers out of Britain. Equally, Cameron condemned all attempts to boycott Israel, saying, “Israel’s place as a homeland for the Jewish people will never rest on hollow resolutions passed by amateur politicians.”

Having referred to the questioning of Israel’s right to exist as “despicable” and “abhorrent,” Cameron spoke of how Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people is founded in international law and “destiny,” and assured his listeners that “together we will defeat [delegitimization].” Similarly, the prime minister described Israel’s defense of its citizens as “enshrined in international law, natural justice and fundamental morality.” Cameron recognized the concern of territory ceded by Israel becoming a terror base, mentioning the recent interception of a ship carrying Iranian weapons to Gaza and the danger posed by Palestinian incitement, specifically deploring the naming of schools after suicide bombers.

Whereas Obama has threatened Israel that it will become more internationally isolated, Cameron asserted, “No more excuses for the 32 countries who refuse to recognize Israel,” and described as “outrageous” and “ridiculous” the lectures Israel receives at the UN. And Cameron also broke with Obama doctrine, and no doubt the thinking of his own diplomatic service, by refuting the notion that Israel and the absence of an agreement with the Palestinians is causing the problems in the region. Rather, Cameron spoke at considerable length about the “poison” of Islamism. A peace agreement would not stop Iran, noted Cameron, and he stressed that he was not “starry-eyed about the new regime” and shared Israel’s “skepticism” on that front.

If the attitude expressed in this speech were implemented as British policy, then Cameron would rightfully earn himself a place alongside Stephen Harper, Australia’s Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop, and the English speaking leaders of the West. Meanwhile Obama is earning himself a place alongside Martin Shulz and the Europeans.  

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The Futile Search for Middle East Solutions

In today’s Mosaic Magazine, author Hillel Halkin provides yet another entry in the growing list of proposed “solutions” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Put forward as a response to Yoav Sorek’s Mosaic essay in which that writer essentially called upon Israel to annul the Oslo peace process and establish what might be termed a one-state proposal. Unlike most such ideas put forward by Israel’s enemies which amount to nothing more than replacing the one Jewish state with one more Arab one, Sorek’s idea — which was endorsed here by Tom Wilson — is rooted in extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank but within a context in which it is understood that the country will remain a Jewish state.

Both Sorek’s proposal and that put forward by Caroline Glick in her new book (which was given a persuasive endorsement by Seth Lipsky in the New York Sun) take it as a given that the two-state solution that has been sought in vain during the 20 years since the Oslo Accords were signed will never succeed. Halkin doesn’t disagree on that point but is less sanguine than either Sorek or Glick about Israel’s ability to incorporate the large Arab population of the West Bank into Israel. In response he offers a compromise that is neither a pure one- or two-solution. He calls it “two-state minus” in which a Jewish state would co-exist alongside a Palestinian one in the territory that is now controlled by Israel. The majority status of the two peoples in their enclaves would be protected but both Jews and Arabs living in the two states would be free to choose either nationality no matter where they lived as well as to travel and work in either sector. He likens it to the way the nation states of the European Union retain their individual sovereignty while having that power restrained by their mutual obligations.

But while it sounds nice it is no more realistic than any other “solution” out on the market. Like the advocates of the other two state concepts, Halkin’s idea rests on the assumption that the Palestinians will be satisfied with anything less than the end of Jewish sovereignty in any form over any part of the country. Until the Palestinians embrace the reality of Israel’s permanence and renounce their century-old war on Zionism, the only viable scenario is one that manages the conflict rather than solving it.

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In today’s Mosaic Magazine, author Hillel Halkin provides yet another entry in the growing list of proposed “solutions” to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Put forward as a response to Yoav Sorek’s Mosaic essay in which that writer essentially called upon Israel to annul the Oslo peace process and establish what might be termed a one-state proposal. Unlike most such ideas put forward by Israel’s enemies which amount to nothing more than replacing the one Jewish state with one more Arab one, Sorek’s idea — which was endorsed here by Tom Wilson — is rooted in extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank but within a context in which it is understood that the country will remain a Jewish state.

Both Sorek’s proposal and that put forward by Caroline Glick in her new book (which was given a persuasive endorsement by Seth Lipsky in the New York Sun) take it as a given that the two-state solution that has been sought in vain during the 20 years since the Oslo Accords were signed will never succeed. Halkin doesn’t disagree on that point but is less sanguine than either Sorek or Glick about Israel’s ability to incorporate the large Arab population of the West Bank into Israel. In response he offers a compromise that is neither a pure one- or two-solution. He calls it “two-state minus” in which a Jewish state would co-exist alongside a Palestinian one in the territory that is now controlled by Israel. The majority status of the two peoples in their enclaves would be protected but both Jews and Arabs living in the two states would be free to choose either nationality no matter where they lived as well as to travel and work in either sector. He likens it to the way the nation states of the European Union retain their individual sovereignty while having that power restrained by their mutual obligations.

But while it sounds nice it is no more realistic than any other “solution” out on the market. Like the advocates of the other two state concepts, Halkin’s idea rests on the assumption that the Palestinians will be satisfied with anything less than the end of Jewish sovereignty in any form over any part of the country. Until the Palestinians embrace the reality of Israel’s permanence and renounce their century-old war on Zionism, the only viable scenario is one that manages the conflict rather than solving it.

Sorek and especially Glick, who writes with her characteristic clarity about the fatal mistakes of Israel’s leaders, perform a valuable service in debunking many of the false assumptions about the conflict that are the foundation of the two-state idea. Both rightly point out that Arab rejectionism is not based on anger about Israel’s occupation of territory in June 1967 but on their belief that Zionism is illegitimate. As Sorek writes about the Israeli embrace of Oslo, “In embracing the Palestinian national movement as its partner, Israel pretended not to see that, absent its fundamental objection to the existence of the Jewish state, there was no Palestinian national movement.” The reckless pursuit of peace on these false terms led to the abandonment of Israel’s claim to its own rights in the dispute, a form of unilateral moral disarmament that has helped legitimize the arguments of anti-Zionists, which have grown louder and more vituperative despite the Jewish state’s sacrifices at Oslo and in the Gaza withdrawal. They also call into question the conventional wisdom that the growth rates of the two peoples will inevitably lead to an Arab majority West of the Jordan, based as it is on unreliable population data and projections that may not be accurate.

But it is hard to argue with Halkin’s dismissal of their assumptions that, with patience and creative energy, the population of the West Bank can be integrated into a democratic Israel without fatally undermining the democratic and Jewish nature of the state. Indeed, the same factors that render the two-state solution a forlorn hope for peace also undermine the notion that the Palestinian Arabs will ever accept permanent minority status in a Jewish state even if they were never able to out reproduce the Jews. Some form of separation is inevitable.

Even more to the point, those who imagine that the Oslo genie can be put back into the bottle at this late point are mistaken. Israel’s predicament is that it can’t go back to the situation that preceded Oslo or that of the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War when it might have been theoretically possible (if still unlikely) for Israel to annex the West Bank in some manner or to give somehow give some of it back to Jordan. By bringing back Yasir Arafat to the country and giving his Fatah movement control over the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s leaders implicitly recognized the right of the Palestinians to self governance in some part of the country and made it only a matter of time until some sort of Palestinian state was going to be created. Though the reality of the PA under the reign of Yasir Arafat and then Mahmoud Abbas and his Hamas rivals makes that acceptance look like a self-destructive delusional nightmare, it can’t be walked back. The U.S. and Europe may vainly rail at Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in contravention to international law, an Israeli annexation of the West Bank (which, in contrast to Russia’s aggression, Israel could, contrary to conventional wisdom, make a reasonable case for under international law) would never be accepted by the rest of the world, including Israel’s vital American ally. Israel hasn’t the strength to resist the rest of the world in that matter. Nor, it should be pointed, do most Israelis have much appetite for such an idea. In spite of the fact that Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza was a disaster, only a minority of Israelis would favor a plan to reassert their control’s permanent control of the area.

Sorek and Glick are right about the dangers of the two-state solution under the current circumstances and Halkin is right that a one-state solution in which the one state is a Jewish state of Israel is a fantasy. Other one-state proposals are merely thinly veiled programs for the eradication of the Jewish homeland and/or genocide of its population.

So where does that leave Israel and its government? In a difficult position where it stands to be criticized from the left for doing too little to achieve peace and to be blasted by the right for both countenancing a retreat from the country’s vital interests and the rights of the Jewish people. While the former critics are mistaken and the latter have a point, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hasn’t the luxury of pontificating from the sidelines. Instead he is left to try and do the only thing any Israeli government can do: manage the conflict until the other side comes to its senses and is willing to make a permanent peace on reasonable terms.

In the absence of that sea change in Palestinian public opinion that will make it possible for Abbas or one of his successors to recognize Israel as a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and to give up the hope of a “right of return” on the part of the 1948 refugees, talk of a solution of any kind is a waste of time. And though Israel has been told for the past 46 years that the status quo isn’t viable, that has proven to be equally mistaken. As unsatisfying as merely preserving the current unsatisfactory arrangement may be for both sides, doing so in a manner which limits the bloodshed and the involvement of the two peoples in each other’s lives is undoubtedly preferable to giving in to the temptation to replicate Gaza in the West Bank or to imagine that Israel can annex the territories without a terrible cost.

That is not the sort of thing most people want to hear since they prefer to believe that all problems are soluble, especially those related to life and death. But it is nonetheless true. 

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Netanyahu’s European Border Fantasy

While Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have often taken on the air of farce, in recent days they appeared to cross over into the realm of the truly bizarre. Over the weekend it was announced that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has tasked his cabinet secretary with researching the complex border arrangements that exist between Belgian Baarle-Hertog and Dutch Baarle-Nassau. Naturally, this is not some purely academic exercise concerning the eccentric cartography of the Low Countries. Rather, it seems that Israel’s prime minister is entertaining the disturbing notion that that the Jewish state might seek to emulate these border arrangements as a way of surmounting the problem of what to do about the Jewish communities in the West Bank, if a Palestinian state were to be established.

Belgium and Holland have what has been described as one of the most complex border arrangements in the world. Under these arrangements enclaves of each country sit within the territory of the other, with 24 separate and mostly non-contiguous fragments of land existing as minute islands within the greater territory of the two states. With the Palestinians having made clear that they want to join with the other countries of the region in enjoying the luxury of a Jew-free state, Netanyahu’s earlier suggestion that Israeli civilians would stay behind after an Israeli withdrawal has been rendered null and void. Yet while many were skeptical about whether Netanyahu had ever really been serious about that first proposal, it would seem that he is far more serious about his pledge not to forcibly evacuate any Israelis from their homes. 

Since the Palestinians are insisting that they won’t share a future state with Jews and with Israel’s prime minister saying he won’t make the Jews of the West Bank leave, it seems that the Baarle-Nassau plan has arisen as a farfetched attempt to bridge a clear impasse in negotiations. When President Obama attempts to set up Netanyahu as intransigent in the peace process, as he did in his recent interview in Bloomberg, proposals such as this one demonstrate the fantastical, and indeed ridiculous, lengths that Netanyahu is apparently willing to go to so as to assist Kerry’s plan. One can only imagine what kind of things the Obama administration might be threatening Israel with behind closed doors.

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While Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have often taken on the air of farce, in recent days they appeared to cross over into the realm of the truly bizarre. Over the weekend it was announced that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has tasked his cabinet secretary with researching the complex border arrangements that exist between Belgian Baarle-Hertog and Dutch Baarle-Nassau. Naturally, this is not some purely academic exercise concerning the eccentric cartography of the Low Countries. Rather, it seems that Israel’s prime minister is entertaining the disturbing notion that that the Jewish state might seek to emulate these border arrangements as a way of surmounting the problem of what to do about the Jewish communities in the West Bank, if a Palestinian state were to be established.

Belgium and Holland have what has been described as one of the most complex border arrangements in the world. Under these arrangements enclaves of each country sit within the territory of the other, with 24 separate and mostly non-contiguous fragments of land existing as minute islands within the greater territory of the two states. With the Palestinians having made clear that they want to join with the other countries of the region in enjoying the luxury of a Jew-free state, Netanyahu’s earlier suggestion that Israeli civilians would stay behind after an Israeli withdrawal has been rendered null and void. Yet while many were skeptical about whether Netanyahu had ever really been serious about that first proposal, it would seem that he is far more serious about his pledge not to forcibly evacuate any Israelis from their homes. 

Since the Palestinians are insisting that they won’t share a future state with Jews and with Israel’s prime minister saying he won’t make the Jews of the West Bank leave, it seems that the Baarle-Nassau plan has arisen as a farfetched attempt to bridge a clear impasse in negotiations. When President Obama attempts to set up Netanyahu as intransigent in the peace process, as he did in his recent interview in Bloomberg, proposals such as this one demonstrate the fantastical, and indeed ridiculous, lengths that Netanyahu is apparently willing to go to so as to assist Kerry’s plan. One can only imagine what kind of things the Obama administration might be threatening Israel with behind closed doors.

After all, Netanyahu is astute enough to know whom he is dealing with when negotiating about the contours of a future Palestinian state. That is why the Israeli government is insisting that Israel maintain defensible borders by holding onto the Jordan Valley. They make this demand precisely because they know that a future Palestinian state would be neither Belgium nor Holland. Indeed, the Dutch-Belgium border has been pretty quiet for several centuries now; the Dutch have not been embroiled in a generations-long conflict to extinguish the Kingdom of Belgium; one doesn’t generally hear statements from Brussels about how they will never recognize the Netherlands as a Dutch state.

That said, even in these two countries, supposedly at the heart of the project for a post-national European federation, neither exactly known for being rocked by fierce inter-ethnic strife, there is still constantly talk of Belgium being partitioned between the Flemish and the Walloons. Brussels might well become the divided capital of two states while Jerusalem remains the united capital of just one. Even for Europeans it turns out national identity cannot be made to vanish so easily.

Yet, where as in sleepy Baarle-Nassau the international border between Holland and Belgium passes between sidewalk cafes, with residents strolling casually between the two states without noticing, can anyone in their right mind imagine that the same jovial atmosphere would be repeated along an Israeli-Palestinian border? It was not so long ago that Palestinians were venturing to Israeli pavement cafes simply for the purpose of blowing them up. Experience should have taught Israel by now that it can vacate the West bank if it so chooses, but that the only prudent thing to do would be to prepare for that territory to become yet another terror state too.

Even if a Palestinian state in the West Bank managed to somehow resist becoming a second Gaza, it is still quite plausible that relations between the two states might often be strained. What then would become of the Jews clinging on in these many isolated and perhaps stranded communities? Think blockaded West Berlin during the Cold War, only instead of half a city, just a small Jewish village perched precariously on a hilltop, surrounded on all sides. Those who could massacre the Fogel family in their sleep, who could jubilantly hold up their blood stained hands to a cheering mob after murdering two IDF reservists in the Ramallah police station they stormed, might find such vulnerable outposts all too tempting.

And under such an arrangement, would there be Palestinian enclaves in Israeli territory? Through land swap deals, might Arab border towns go to the Palestinian side? After the Netanyahu government has insisted it must hold the Jordan Valley, it makes a mockery to talk of the need for defensible borders in one place while proposing such impossible borders elsewhere. The only comfort here is the thought that the Palestinians’ compulsive tendency for fleeing peace agreements means this kind of derangement will likely never come to fruition.       

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Will Obama Blame Israel for Abbas’ ‘No?’

According to today’s New York Times, the conceit behind President Obama’s recent attacks on Israel was to redress what he felt was an imbalanced approach to American diplomacy. Apparently the president thinks Secretary of State John Kerry has been too nice to the Israelis during the course of his effort to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. Thus, the president has decided to play “bad cop,” to Kerry’s “good cop” in dealings with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president’s assumption of the role of the bully in his Bloomberg interview with Jeffrey Goldberg was entirely convincing, the Israelis may be forgiven for wondering when the good cop will start making nice with them. This is, after all, the same secretary that has threatened Israel with boycotts and even a third intifada if they were not sufficiently forthcoming in the negotiations, leaving the impression that the American tandem was conducting a coordinated campaign of pressure rather than a more nuanced effort to convince Jerusalem to make concessions.

Having paid for Palestinian participation in the talks with the release over 100 terrorist murderers and reportedly already conceded a withdrawal from at least 90 percent of the West Bank once the talks began, the Israelis had good reason to be surprised by Obama’s decision to pile. But while Washington has been obsessively focused on forcing the Israelis to accept a two-state solution and a framework for negotiations that they have already agreed to, the administration seems equally determined to ignore what the Palestinians are doing. Thus the statements from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who received fulsome praise from the president for his commitment to peace, that he will never agree to a key element of Kerry’s framework is being ignored by the White House.

In a statement released by the official PA press agency WAFA, Abbas reiterated what he has been saying for months. He will not sign on to any framework, let alone a peace treaty that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. In Abbas’ words, “There is no way. We will not accept.” The question now is what are Obama and Kerry going to do about it? Their answer will speak volumes not only about the future of Kerry’s talks but their commitment to a genuine peace that will ensure rather than endanger Israel’s survival.

Abbas’ latest “no” leaves President Obama and Kerry with a crucial choice.

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According to today’s New York Times, the conceit behind President Obama’s recent attacks on Israel was to redress what he felt was an imbalanced approach to American diplomacy. Apparently the president thinks Secretary of State John Kerry has been too nice to the Israelis during the course of his effort to revive peace talks with the Palestinians. Thus, the president has decided to play “bad cop,” to Kerry’s “good cop” in dealings with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. While the president’s assumption of the role of the bully in his Bloomberg interview with Jeffrey Goldberg was entirely convincing, the Israelis may be forgiven for wondering when the good cop will start making nice with them. This is, after all, the same secretary that has threatened Israel with boycotts and even a third intifada if they were not sufficiently forthcoming in the negotiations, leaving the impression that the American tandem was conducting a coordinated campaign of pressure rather than a more nuanced effort to convince Jerusalem to make concessions.

Having paid for Palestinian participation in the talks with the release over 100 terrorist murderers and reportedly already conceded a withdrawal from at least 90 percent of the West Bank once the talks began, the Israelis had good reason to be surprised by Obama’s decision to pile. But while Washington has been obsessively focused on forcing the Israelis to accept a two-state solution and a framework for negotiations that they have already agreed to, the administration seems equally determined to ignore what the Palestinians are doing. Thus the statements from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who received fulsome praise from the president for his commitment to peace, that he will never agree to a key element of Kerry’s framework is being ignored by the White House.

In a statement released by the official PA press agency WAFA, Abbas reiterated what he has been saying for months. He will not sign on to any framework, let alone a peace treaty that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. In Abbas’ words, “There is no way. We will not accept.” The question now is what are Obama and Kerry going to do about it? Their answer will speak volumes not only about the future of Kerry’s talks but their commitment to a genuine peace that will ensure rather than endanger Israel’s survival.

Abbas’ latest “no” leaves President Obama and Kerry with a crucial choice.

They can insist that Abbas budge on the Jewish state issue because they know that without it the Palestinians are not conceding the end of the conflict. Unless Abbas says those two little words it will be obvious that despite Obama’s praise for him, he is just as committed to a vision of Palestinian nationalism that is inextricably tied to a war on Zionism as was his predecessor Yasir Arafat. By walking away from the talks over this point, Abbas will be delivering the fourth Palestinian no to an Israeli offer of statehood after previous rejections in 2000, 2001 and 2008.

If so, Obama will be placed in a position where he would be obligated to place the blame for Kerry’s failure just as President Bill Clinton had to blame Arafat for the collapse of the 2000 Camp David Summit as well as the subsequent Taba Conference. But given his antipathy for Netanyahu, the Israelis have to be wondering whether the president will find some reason to let Abbas off the hook.

Even worse is the possibility that they will cave in to Abbas’ demands rather than sticking to their commitment to Israel on the Jewish state issue.

While the Palestinians’ unwillingness to give up their hope of swamping Israel with refugees via a “right of return” and the pressure exerted on the PA from Hamas and Islamic Jihad has always made Kerry’s effort seem like a fool’s errand, he has conducted himself as if the chances for success were good. That’s why he readily accepted the notion that the Palestinians would acknowledge Israel as the Jewish state because in exchange for such a statement they would be rewarded with the territory and sovereignty they say they want.

In other words, while Kerry has always been prepared to give the Palestinians a peace deal that was more favorable to their ambitions than to Israel’s rights, he was still insisting that the end result must be genuine peace rather than a pause in the conflict. If his framework is altered to allow Abbas to avoid saying those two words, Kerry is aware that Israel can have no confidence that it will get peace no matter how much land they give up.

Obama and Kerry believed their bad cop/bad copy routine would be enough to bludgeon the Israelis into giving away the West Bank and perhaps even a share of Jerusalem and they appear to be right about that assumption. But, like all other would-be Middle East peacemakers they forgot or ignored the need to get the Palestinians to agree to peace.

If the administration allows Abbas to escape accountability on this crucial point it will expose their peace efforts as worse than a sham.  As I wrote yesterday, the Jewish state is not a contrived controversy but a concept that lies at the heart of the conflict. Israelis have repeatedly shown their willingness to take risks for peace but the Palestinians are still stuck with a historical narrative that won’t allow them to give up their dream of Israel’s extinction.

Abbas has no intention of ever signing a peace treaty with Israel or granting it legitimacy as a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn or how much of Jerusalem they obtain. But if the United States can’t be honest about this even when Abbas gives them a flat no to one of the basic principles of peace, then it is clear that the purpose of the negotiations isn’t a resolution of the conflict but another excuse to bash Israel. If, after Kerry’s mission fails or even if it continues on terms that are incompatible with peace, Israelis should expect to be blamed no matter what they have conceded or how many times Abbas has said no. But so long as Abbas refuses to say two words, those charges will be lies.

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Spain, Portugal and the Right of Return

Ali Jarbawi, a former Palestinian Authority minister, regurgitated several standard Palestinian talking points in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. Jonathan Tobin has already ably dissected most of them, but I’d like to focus on one he didn’t address: Jarbawi’s claim that the “right of return” is “guaranteed to refugees by international law.” Unfortunately for Jarbawi, this is a bad time to try to make that particular claim, because two European Union members, Spain and Portugal, are currently decisively refuting it.

Both countries recently announced plans to offer citizenship to descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews they expelled 500 years ago. At first glance, this might seem as if they had recognized a “right of return” – were it not for the fact that they’ve simultaneously refused to offer citizenship to descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Muslims expelled at about the same time.

 This has infuriated Muslim organizations, which are demanding equal treatment for their co-religionists. And if, as Palestinians claim, “return” were indeed a right guaranteed to all descendants of refugees in perpetuity, regardless of circumstances, these organizations would be justified. But in reality, it’s no such thing. And the arguments raised against it in Spain and Portugal apply to the Israeli-Palestinian case as well.

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Ali Jarbawi, a former Palestinian Authority minister, regurgitated several standard Palestinian talking points in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. Jonathan Tobin has already ably dissected most of them, but I’d like to focus on one he didn’t address: Jarbawi’s claim that the “right of return” is “guaranteed to refugees by international law.” Unfortunately for Jarbawi, this is a bad time to try to make that particular claim, because two European Union members, Spain and Portugal, are currently decisively refuting it.

Both countries recently announced plans to offer citizenship to descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews they expelled 500 years ago. At first glance, this might seem as if they had recognized a “right of return” – were it not for the fact that they’ve simultaneously refused to offer citizenship to descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Muslims expelled at about the same time.

 This has infuriated Muslim organizations, which are demanding equal treatment for their co-religionists. And if, as Palestinians claim, “return” were indeed a right guaranteed to all descendants of refugees in perpetuity, regardless of circumstances, these organizations would be justified. But in reality, it’s no such thing. And the arguments raised against it in Spain and Portugal apply to the Israeli-Palestinian case as well.

First, according to the legislator who drafted Portugal’s law of return, the circumstances of the Jewish and Muslim expulsions were completely different. “Persecution of Jews was just that, while what happened with the Arabs was part of a conflict,” Jose Ribeiro e Castro said. ”There’s no basis for comparison.”

That, of course, is equally true of Palestinian refugees: Far from being the victims of persecution, they fled and/or were expelled during a bloody conflict in which five Arab armies, aided by large contingents of local Palestinian irregulars, invaded the newborn state of Israel and tried to eradicate it. Thus Israel owes no moral debt to the refugees comparable to that of Spain and Portugal to their Jews.

Second, as noted by Egyptian-Belgian journalist Khaled Diab, there’s the demographic issue: While “only a few thousand” Jews are considered likely to apply for Spanish and Portuguese citizenship, “unknown millions of Arabs and Muslims” might be eligible. And that creates a real problem:

If only a fraction of these were to apply, it could significantly and rapidly alter Spain’s demographic make-up. And in a country that was devoid of Muslims for half a millennium but lies on the fault line separating the two “civilizations,” this could well spark civil strife or even conflict.

That, of course, is far more true of tiny Israel, with only 8 million people, compared to Spain’s 47 million. If you believe UNRWA’s figures, the original 700,000 Palestinian refugees now have 5 million descendants. If substantial numbers of them relocated to Israel – and given the choice, they probably would, since Israel offers a better economy and more civil rights than the Arab countries where most now live – that could convert Israel’s Jewish majority into an Arab one. In short, it wouldn’t just risk “civil strife”; it would completely eradicate the Jewish state.

To be clear, nobody thinks Spain and Portugal have a legal obligation to offer citizenship even to descendants of their Jewish refugees: There is no such obligation under international law. But to the extent that one might posit a moral obligation, the Spanish and Portuguese cases clearly show that this obligation applies only to victims of persecution, not to those of armed conflict – and only if the demographic consequences won’t endanger the recipient country.

So the next time you hear someone claim Palestinians have a “right of return,” just refer them to Spain and Portugal for a brief lesson in what that “right” really means: exactly nothing.

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At the Heart of the Jewish State Issue

As we learned last weekend via Bloomberg, President Obama is obsessed with the idea that Israeli intransigence is the reason there is no peace in the Middle East. Obama’s whitewashing of the rejectionism of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas is shocking in its single-minded determination to ignore both recent history and the current state of the negotiations. Israel has already shown its willingness to accept a U.S. framework for continued talks despite their justified misgivings about the direction of the negotiations. Meanwhile the Palestinians have given every indication that they won’t buy into the framework because they fear it will commit them to the one thing they have repeatedly shown no interest in accepting: peace.

Further proof of that comes today from the New York Times in the form of an op-ed from a leading Palestinian academic explaining why his people could never agree to one of the key points in the framework: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Ali Jarbawi of Bir Zeit University gives a number of reasons why the Jewish state demand is a non-starter. But the Palestinians would probably be better off if they gave up trying to explain why that is so. The more we understand about the Palestinians’ objections to this condition, the less likely peace will ever be agreed to, no matter what the terms.

Not entirely by coincidence, the Times editorial page endorsed the Palestinian position on the Jewish state today. But the paper was far more concerned with seconding President Obama’s stance and ignoring Israel’s past offers of statehood turned down by the Palestinians (in 2000, 2001 and 2008) and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated statements about his willingness to accept a two-state solution if it meant real peace. Their dismissal of the Jewish state demand, which has been accepted by both Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, is however, a key point that should alert readers to the fact that the paper’s supposed concern for Israel’s future is less than sincere. But those wishing to understand the Palestinian’s reluctance to accept the necessity to merely say a few words in exchange for tangible concessions in terms of land from Israel need to read Jaberi’s article to understand why this seemingly trivial concern is actually at the heart of the dispute.

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As we learned last weekend via Bloomberg, President Obama is obsessed with the idea that Israeli intransigence is the reason there is no peace in the Middle East. Obama’s whitewashing of the rejectionism of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas is shocking in its single-minded determination to ignore both recent history and the current state of the negotiations. Israel has already shown its willingness to accept a U.S. framework for continued talks despite their justified misgivings about the direction of the negotiations. Meanwhile the Palestinians have given every indication that they won’t buy into the framework because they fear it will commit them to the one thing they have repeatedly shown no interest in accepting: peace.

Further proof of that comes today from the New York Times in the form of an op-ed from a leading Palestinian academic explaining why his people could never agree to one of the key points in the framework: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Ali Jarbawi of Bir Zeit University gives a number of reasons why the Jewish state demand is a non-starter. But the Palestinians would probably be better off if they gave up trying to explain why that is so. The more we understand about the Palestinians’ objections to this condition, the less likely peace will ever be agreed to, no matter what the terms.

Not entirely by coincidence, the Times editorial page endorsed the Palestinian position on the Jewish state today. But the paper was far more concerned with seconding President Obama’s stance and ignoring Israel’s past offers of statehood turned down by the Palestinians (in 2000, 2001 and 2008) and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated statements about his willingness to accept a two-state solution if it meant real peace. Their dismissal of the Jewish state demand, which has been accepted by both Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, is however, a key point that should alert readers to the fact that the paper’s supposed concern for Israel’s future is less than sincere. But those wishing to understand the Palestinian’s reluctance to accept the necessity to merely say a few words in exchange for tangible concessions in terms of land from Israel need to read Jaberi’s article to understand why this seemingly trivial concern is actually at the heart of the dispute.

Let’s first dismiss the claim made by both the Times and Jarbawi that this demand by Israel is an innovation on Netanyahu’s part whose purpose is to derail the peace process. But there’s nothing new about it. The original 1947 United Nations partition resolution stated that the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River was to be divided between an Arab state and one it designated as a “Jewish state.” If the Palestinians are now reversing their adamant rejection of partition by saying they will be satisfied by an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, there should be no problem accepting this term.

But they can’t and Jarbawi doesn’t shy away from explaining why. The Palestinians can’t say the words “Jewish state” because to do so would force them to give up their historical narrative in which they see themselves as victims of history who can only be made whole by annulling the results of Israel’s War of Independence. This is not merely a matter of Israelis stating their sympathy for the losers in that war and. The key principle of Palestinian nationalism is rejection of Zionism and the existence of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. If Palestinians agree that a Jewish state has a right to exist that means they are forever giving up their dreams of extinguishing it. That seems unfair to Jaberi because it means the 1948 refugees and their descendants will be deprived of their dream of “return” which means the end of Israel as a Jewish state. But without accepting this will never happen the Palestinians are, at best, merely agreeing to a pause in their war against Israel and not in concluding it.

Jarbawi then makes the specious point that agreeing to Israel being a Jewish state would compromise the rights of Israel’s Arab minority. Jaberi knows very well this is a red herring since Israel’s basic laws hold that it is both a Jewish state and one in which ethnic and religious minorities have full rights. Israeli Arabs are equal before the law in Israel, serve in its Knesset, government and its judiciary. There is no conceivable scenario under which those rights will be annulled even in the event of war, let alone the outbreak of peace. But his real objection to this point comes in the following paragraph when he says his real worry is that even if those conditions are confirmed, Palestinians fear that a peace treaty might mean that Jews living in the West Bank who wish to remain in their homes in the event of peace would be given the same rights that Arabs have in Israel.

A savvy Palestinian propagandist might have been willing to concede the right of Jews to live in the West Bank as a protected minority in a Palestinian state, but not Jarbawi. Speaking for what is mainstream, indeed, the virtually unanimous opinion of Palestinians, the academic says Jews have no right to be there and therefore cannot be accorded the equal rights that Arabs have inside Israel. Their vision of peace is apparently one in which a Jew-free Palestinian state exists alongside an Israel flooded by Palestinian refugees who would vote the Jewish state out of existence.

While Obama, Kerry and the Times are mindlessly blaming Netanyahu for fighting a two-state solution he has already accepted, the Palestinians persist in laying down terms for peace that are not only unrealistic but demonstrate that the end of their century-old conflict with Zionism is still at the top of their agenda. Two little words would be enough to convince the world that the Palestinians are sincere about peace even though Israel has good reason to doubt Abbas’ sincerity or his ability to make a deal stick even if he signed one. But the more the Palestinians explain why they cannot say them the more obvious it becomes that peace is not their objective.

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Cinematic Intifada: ‘Omar’ and the Oscars

Last night at the Oscars, the award for Best Foreign Language Film went to The Great Beauty, a Fellini-esque Italian movie. The most important story about the Oscar in this category, however, involves one of the films that failed to win: Omar, a film the Motion Picture Academy credited to a country it called “Palestine” – remarkably similar to another film, Bethlehem, which was Israel’s Oscar submission this year. In The New Yorker, film critic Anthony Lane noted the similarities:

The Israeli submission … was “Bethlehem,” a thriller about a young Palestinian man, with links to terrorist activities, who is secretly controlled by an Israeli handler. The Palestinian offering was “Omar,” a thriller about a young Palestinian man, with links to terrorist activities, who is secretly controlled by an Israeli handler. Who said the two sides in the conflict have no common ground?

There was a distinct difference, however, in the treatment of the two movies by the Academy, and in the two films themselves. Omar made it onto the Academy’s nine-film shortlist, and then was selected as one of the Oscar nominees. Bethlehem won the Ophir award in Israel (the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars) for “Best Picture” of the year, but it did not make it onto the Academy’s shortlist, much less garner a nomination. And thereby hangs a tale.

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Last night at the Oscars, the award for Best Foreign Language Film went to The Great Beauty, a Fellini-esque Italian movie. The most important story about the Oscar in this category, however, involves one of the films that failed to win: Omar, a film the Motion Picture Academy credited to a country it called “Palestine” – remarkably similar to another film, Bethlehem, which was Israel’s Oscar submission this year. In The New Yorker, film critic Anthony Lane noted the similarities:

The Israeli submission … was “Bethlehem,” a thriller about a young Palestinian man, with links to terrorist activities, who is secretly controlled by an Israeli handler. The Palestinian offering was “Omar,” a thriller about a young Palestinian man, with links to terrorist activities, who is secretly controlled by an Israeli handler. Who said the two sides in the conflict have no common ground?

There was a distinct difference, however, in the treatment of the two movies by the Academy, and in the two films themselves. Omar made it onto the Academy’s nine-film shortlist, and then was selected as one of the Oscar nominees. Bethlehem won the Ophir award in Israel (the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars) for “Best Picture” of the year, but it did not make it onto the Academy’s shortlist, much less garner a nomination. And thereby hangs a tale.

The two films have identical plot structures; each is very well made; but they do not in fact, as Lane wrote, show that the two sides in the conflict have common ground. On the contrary, for reasons I have addressed in the March issue of The Tower Magazine (“Ideology at the Oscars”), they demonstrate why common ground is a distant dream, and why the Academy’s Oscar nomination for Omar will have the effect of widening the gap. One of the films treats the young Palestinian terrorist as a thoughtful teenager in love, pushed into violence by Nazi-like Israelis; the other film, jointly written by a Jewish-Muslim team that treats both the Palestinian youth and the Israeli handler as complicated, conflicted characters, attempting to juggle personal and political loyalties, is all the more powerful for its nuance.

The two films, taken together, vividly demonstrate the inadequacy of “processes,” “parameters,” “plans,” or “frameworks” to produce peace, given the current Palestinian culture, even if the current Palestinian “president” – now finishing the first decade of his four-year term, still unable to set foot in the half of his putative country (controlled by the terrorist group with which he periodically tries to “reconcile”), governing his own half without any of the institutions necessary for a successful state (including the rule of law, a free press, elections, or a civil society or educational system not rampant with incitement) – were to sign a “historic” or “breakthrough” document embodying the latest process/plan/parameters/framework.

Although Omar did not receive the Oscar, the nomination itself implicated the Academy, perhaps unwittingly, in an ongoing cinematic intifada that is described in my Tower article. The Academy should engage in some serious self-reflection on the process it followed this year in elevating Omar and snubbing Bethlehem.

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The President’s Prophetic Threats to Israel

In an extraordinary—and I don’t use the word in a complimentary way—interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg, President Obama follows his secretary of state in warning Israel and its leader that a failure to “make peace” now with the Palestinians will have terrible consequences. Israel is “more isolated internationally,” and will become more so; there will be more Palestinians and Israeli Arabs as time goes on, not fewer, so Israel had better move now; and not to move now is to create the conditions for a “permanent Israeli occupation of the West Bank….there comes a point when you cannot manage this anymore.”

The wild logical contradictions in his remarks expose the degree to which the American approach in the Kerry peace talks is to haunt Israel with the dire nightmare it will face should the talks fail; Palestinian rejectionism plays almost no role in the Obaman calculus here.

The Palestinians, in Obama’s view, do not actually need to make changes; astonishingly, he says, they’re ready for peace. “The Palestinians,” the president says, overlooking every piece of polling data we have about the opinions of the Palestinians, “would still prefer peace. They would still prefer a country of their own that allows them to find a job, send their kids to school, travel overseas, go back and forth to work without feeling as if they are restricted or constrained as a people. And they recognize that Israel is not going anywhere.”

Ah. So that 2011 poll that says 60 percent of the Palestinians reject a two-state solution is bunk—a poll whose findings have not been  contradicted since. If Palestinians refuse to accept a two-state solution, they do not “recognize that Israel is not going anywhere.” Rather, they are still engaging in a pseudo-national fantasy about Israel’s disappearance or destruction. And they are so eager for peace and coexistence with Israel that they remain the only significant Muslim population that still has a favorable view of suicide bombings, according to a Pew survey.

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In an extraordinary—and I don’t use the word in a complimentary way—interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg, President Obama follows his secretary of state in warning Israel and its leader that a failure to “make peace” now with the Palestinians will have terrible consequences. Israel is “more isolated internationally,” and will become more so; there will be more Palestinians and Israeli Arabs as time goes on, not fewer, so Israel had better move now; and not to move now is to create the conditions for a “permanent Israeli occupation of the West Bank….there comes a point when you cannot manage this anymore.”

The wild logical contradictions in his remarks expose the degree to which the American approach in the Kerry peace talks is to haunt Israel with the dire nightmare it will face should the talks fail; Palestinian rejectionism plays almost no role in the Obaman calculus here.

The Palestinians, in Obama’s view, do not actually need to make changes; astonishingly, he says, they’re ready for peace. “The Palestinians,” the president says, overlooking every piece of polling data we have about the opinions of the Palestinians, “would still prefer peace. They would still prefer a country of their own that allows them to find a job, send their kids to school, travel overseas, go back and forth to work without feeling as if they are restricted or constrained as a people. And they recognize that Israel is not going anywhere.”

Ah. So that 2011 poll that says 60 percent of the Palestinians reject a two-state solution is bunk—a poll whose findings have not been  contradicted since. If Palestinians refuse to accept a two-state solution, they do not “recognize that Israel is not going anywhere.” Rather, they are still engaging in a pseudo-national fantasy about Israel’s disappearance or destruction. And they are so eager for peace and coexistence with Israel that they remain the only significant Muslim population that still has a favorable view of suicide bombings, according to a Pew survey.

“The voices for peace within the Palestinian community will be stronger with a framework agreement,” the president says. But why would the “voices for peace” need to be “stronger” if they reflect the actual views of the Palestinian people? They should be more than strong enough on their own now. Indeed, if they are so strong, we would not be hearing repeated denunciations of the “framework” process from Palestinian negotiators.

The president’s fantasies about the Palestinians also  involve Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. “I think,” he says, “nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue.” Nobody would dispute? In 2008, offered a peace deal by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that involved Abbas actually drawing a new West Bank map giving the Palestinians something between 92 and 95 percent of the territory, Abbas basically fled the table and didn’t return. Granted, he didn’t do what Yasser Arafat did after a similar deal at Camp David in 2000 and begin the second intifada, but this hardly demonstrates a commitment to a diplomatic effort—except for one that fails.

So the Palestinians, in the president’s view, are all in. It’s really quite wonderful, in fact: “You’ve got a partner on the other side who is prepared to negotiate seriously, who does not engage in some of the wild rhetoric that so often you see in the Arab world when it comes to Israel, who has shown himself committed to maintaining order within the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority and to cooperate with Israelis around their security concerns — for us to not seize this moment I think would be a great mistake.”

Yes, the PA is such a partner for peace that even with negotiations going on, it celebrates acts of violence against Israel on a constant basis, as this report details

Not to mention the little wrinkle that Abbas doesn’t speak in any way for half of the Palestinian polity, the half living under the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza. Ah, but that’s no problem, in the president’s view. “There would still be huge questions about what happens in Gaza,” the president says, “but I actually think Hamas would be greatly damaged by the prospect of real peace.” Really! Unlike Abbas, who has not faced Palestinian voters since 2004, Hamas actually won a free election in the past decade and its unquestioned commitment to Israel’s destruction is clearly shared by the people who live under its aegis. They do not want peace.

All of this is folderol, anyway, because the president clearly thinks peace is solely Israel’s to make, and basically, Binyamin Netanyahu should listen to Obama’s mother and rip off the band-aid: “One of the things my mom always used to tell me and I didn’t always observe, but as I get older I agree with — is if there’s something you know you have to do, even if it’s difficult or unpleasant, you might as well just go ahead and do it, because waiting isn’t going to help. When I have a conversation with Bibi, that’s the essence of my conversation: If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?”

Now that’s some chutzpah right there, because of course the president is invoking the words of Hillel, the ancient Jewish sage, as a rhetorical tool against the Israeli prime minister. Of course, Obama leaves out the key words of Hillel’s famed plaint, which are: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” Israel must be for itself, because there is almost no country left in the world that will be for it; while the president says the American commitment to Israel is “rock-solid,” clearly he does not believe it will necessarily be so in the future…nor should it be.

Says the president of Netanyahu, “if he does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach. And as I said before, it’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.” That’s ridiculous. A peace deal with the Palestinians is of course the right thing to do for Israel. But if there can be no peace deal, or can be no peace deal that does not pose a severe danger to Israel’s survival, then it is not the right thing to do.

The only “plausible” thing to do is to challenge the Palestinians to cure themselves of their psychotic political culture and become a rational actor with whom a true peace can be made. Is that a tragedy? It sure is. Sometimes there are tragedies, and they must be faced realistically, not wished away.

One thing that cannot be wished away is the president’s insistence on placing the burdens on Israel. This is something else his apologists can no longer wish away.

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How Will Obama Soothe Abbas’s Rage?

President Obama came into the White House determined to prioritize the Middle East peace process in 2009. That decision caused him to spend much of his first term immersed in picking fights with the Israeli government while doing nothing to actually advance the chances of peace. Since his 2012 election-year Jewish charm offensive in which such disputes were avoided, the president has largely distanced himself from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, letting Secretary of State John Kerry bear the burden and the opprobrium for pursuing what most savvy observers think is a fool’s errand. But, if today’s report in the New York Times is correct, he may be returning to his old hobby with a vengeance next month and using meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to keep Kerry’s effort alive.

But the most important aspect of another presidential deep dive into the complicated negotiations isn’t about whether it will ultimately succeed. Given the distance between the parties on the main issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, and whether the Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it’s doubtful any amount of pressure exerted by the White House on either side will produce the document that will earn Kerry his Nobel Peace Prize. Rather, Obama’s objective is to merely keep the negotiations initiated by the secretary alive by getting Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a framework to keep the talks going beyond the nine-month period originally agreed upon last year. Since, despite some clear misgivings about Kerry’s purpose, the Israelis appear ready to agree to keep talking, the only real variable is whether the Palestinians will do the same. But rather than go along in order to avoid shouldering the blame for the collapse of the peace process, Abbas apparently intends to squeeze the Americans. The question is what will Obama give him in order to win his assent.

Altering the negotiations in his favor was the obvious intent of Abbas’s temper tantrum last week during his meeting with Kerry in Paris. Though widely reported in the Palestinian and Israeli press, Abbas’s fit over what he termed Kerry’s “insane” framework wasn’t even mentioned in the Times account. That means the key points to watch about the Washington meetings is whether Obama will change the framework by discarding its insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or security guarantees in order to keep Abbas talking.

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President Obama came into the White House determined to prioritize the Middle East peace process in 2009. That decision caused him to spend much of his first term immersed in picking fights with the Israeli government while doing nothing to actually advance the chances of peace. Since his 2012 election-year Jewish charm offensive in which such disputes were avoided, the president has largely distanced himself from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, letting Secretary of State John Kerry bear the burden and the opprobrium for pursuing what most savvy observers think is a fool’s errand. But, if today’s report in the New York Times is correct, he may be returning to his old hobby with a vengeance next month and using meetings with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to keep Kerry’s effort alive.

But the most important aspect of another presidential deep dive into the complicated negotiations isn’t about whether it will ultimately succeed. Given the distance between the parties on the main issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, and whether the Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it’s doubtful any amount of pressure exerted by the White House on either side will produce the document that will earn Kerry his Nobel Peace Prize. Rather, Obama’s objective is to merely keep the negotiations initiated by the secretary alive by getting Israel and the Palestinians to agree to a framework to keep the talks going beyond the nine-month period originally agreed upon last year. Since, despite some clear misgivings about Kerry’s purpose, the Israelis appear ready to agree to keep talking, the only real variable is whether the Palestinians will do the same. But rather than go along in order to avoid shouldering the blame for the collapse of the peace process, Abbas apparently intends to squeeze the Americans. The question is what will Obama give him in order to win his assent.

Altering the negotiations in his favor was the obvious intent of Abbas’s temper tantrum last week during his meeting with Kerry in Paris. Though widely reported in the Palestinian and Israeli press, Abbas’s fit over what he termed Kerry’s “insane” framework wasn’t even mentioned in the Times account. That means the key points to watch about the Washington meetings is whether Obama will change the framework by discarding its insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state or security guarantees in order to keep Abbas talking.

Kerry’s obsessive pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement has earned him a lot of criticism from some members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet, who wonder what’s the point of their country being badgered to make concessions to Palestinians who show no sign of being willing to end the conflict. Kerry’s approach takes for granted that Israel will give up almost all of the West Bank to create a new Palestinian state in the West Bank for Abbas and Fatah to go along with the one that exists in all but name in Gaza under the rule of Hamas. But Kerry has agreed to some far-reaching security commitments about the disposition of the West Bank that, while arguably impractical because of the commitment of NATO or U.S. troops, still are incompatible with the Palestinian conception of sovereignty. The Kerry framework also leaves the future of Jerusalem open and, more importantly, commits the Palestinians to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

The Jewish state demand has been much abused by Israel’s critics who wrongly claim it is a new and unnecessary demand cooked up by Netanyahu in order to derail the talks. But without it, the Palestinians are not obligating themselves to end the conflict for all time and thus alter the point of their national movement from one of eradicating every vestige of Zionism to a more positive one about building a better life for their people in a partitioned country.

The path to peace won’t be found by soothing Abbas’s rage at being maneuvered into having to accept negotiations when signing a deal is the last thing he wants to do. Rather than returning to his default position of pressuring Netanyahu, the keynote of President Obama’s involvement should be making it clear to Abbas that he must accept the framework. The Israelis have already paid dearly, with concessions that included the release of over 100 Palestinian terrorist murderers and a de facto freeze in settlement building outside of their settlement blocs that would be retained in any agreement, in order to persuade Abbas to come back to the table last year. It would be outrageous for Obama to respond to Palestinian blackmail by simply acquiescing to their demands and expect Israel to proceed without the assurance that the framework will be kept in place.

If the president’s new foray into the peace process blindly follows the familiar pattern of Obama’s past conduct in which Netanyahu is ambushed and then strong-armed into making more concessions to Abbas, it would be grossly unfair. But more than that, it would undermine any chance of ever getting the Palestinians to realize that the price of independence means accepting the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Peace requires a sea change in Palestinian politics. But it will also mean a similar change in the president’s knee-jerk impulse to put the entire onus for the impasse on an Israel that has already proved it is willing to take risks for peace.

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New York Times: Soft Spot for Khalidi?

There’s a brouhaha at Ramaz, the private Orthodox high school on the Upper East Side, around Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor at Columbia and promoter of the Palestinian hard line. Some students invited him to speak, but the head of the school didn’t like the idea and disinvited him. Khalidi has said nothing, but he doesn’t have to. He only benefits from these episodes, and it’s not the first time. In 2005, he was dropped from a New York City teacher ed program, with the same predictable result of turning him into a free speech martyr. This tableau seems destined to be repeated over and over again.

I’m not an officer, donor, trustee, student, teacher, or parent stakeholder at Ramaz, so I don’t care how many pretzels they have to twist over Rashid Khalidi. But I do care how the New York Times reported one aspect of the story this morning: “Critics have accused the professor of having had ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he has denied.” The reference here is to the activities of Khalidi when he resided in Beirut in the 1970s and up until Israel’s 1982 invasion. In those days, the PLO ran an exterritorial gangland, and was neck-deep in terrorism planned by Arafat and his mob.

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There’s a brouhaha at Ramaz, the private Orthodox high school on the Upper East Side, around Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor at Columbia and promoter of the Palestinian hard line. Some students invited him to speak, but the head of the school didn’t like the idea and disinvited him. Khalidi has said nothing, but he doesn’t have to. He only benefits from these episodes, and it’s not the first time. In 2005, he was dropped from a New York City teacher ed program, with the same predictable result of turning him into a free speech martyr. This tableau seems destined to be repeated over and over again.

I’m not an officer, donor, trustee, student, teacher, or parent stakeholder at Ramaz, so I don’t care how many pretzels they have to twist over Rashid Khalidi. But I do care how the New York Times reported one aspect of the story this morning: “Critics have accused the professor of having had ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he has denied.” The reference here is to the activities of Khalidi when he resided in Beirut in the 1970s and up until Israel’s 1982 invasion. In those days, the PLO ran an exterritorial gangland, and was neck-deep in terrorism planned by Arafat and his mob.

Note this phrase: “Critics have accused…” Today’s article thus repeats a trope that appeared back in 2008, when the Times ran a piece on Khalidi prompted by his past association with Barack Obama:

He taught at universities in Lebanon until the mid-’80s, and some critics accuse him of having been a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mr. Khalidi has denied working for the group, and says he was consulted as an expert by reporters seeking to understand it.

Again, it’s the “critics” who “accuse him.”

Well, I’m a critic, but we critics didn’t just imagine Khalidi’s PLO affiliation. We were alerted to it by a parade of highly regarded journalists, including two from the New York Times. So here are the “critics” who first leveled the “accusation” (still more sourcing here):

• Joe Alex Morris Jr., reporting from Beirut for the Los Angeles Times on September 5, 1976, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a PLO spokesman.”

• James M. Markham, reporting from Beirut in the New York Times on February 19, 1978, quoted Khalidi and described him as “an American-educated Palestinian who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut and also works for the P.L.O.”

• A Pacifica Radio documentary, reporting in 1979 from Beirut, interviewed Khalidi “at the headquarters of the PLO in Beirut,” and described him as “an official spokesperson for the Palestinian news service Wafa,” “PLO spokesperson,” “official spokesperson for the PLO,” and “the leading spokesperson for the PLO news agency, Wafa.”

• Thomas Friedman, reporting from Beirut in the New York Times on June 9, 1982, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a director of the Palestinian press agency, Wafa.”

• Doyle McManus, reporting on rumored American-PLO contacts in the Los Angeles Times on February 20, 1984, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a former PLO official.”

• James Rainey, reporting on Khalidi’s connection to Obama for the Los Angeles Times on October 30, 2008, described him as “a renowned scholar on the Palestinians who in the 1970s had acted as a spokesman for Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization.” (As I noted at the time, the Los Angeles Times thus honorably stood by the 1976 reportage of its legendary, long-dead Beirut correspondent, Joe Alex Morris Jr.)

• Thomas W. Lippman, for thirty years a diplomatic, national security, and Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post, in a letter published in that paper on November 1, 2008, wrote that “Khalidi was indeed ‘a PLO spokesman.’ In the early years of the Lebanese civil war, Mr. Khalidi was the Beirut-based spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and his office was a stop on the daily rounds of journalists covering that conflict. As we used to say in the pre-electronic newspaper business: Check the clips.”

None of these people were or are “critics” of Rashid Khalidi, and two of them were reporting for the New York Times itself. So why does the Times repeatedly inform us that it is only Khalidi’s “critics” who have “accused” him, when in fact a raft of esteemed journalists who interviewed him in Beirut identified him as a PLO spokesman, as a fact? This is not another he-said she-said (or Jew-says Arab-says) question. As Thomas Lippman said: Check the clips.

This is another opportunity to urge the New York Times to get off its derriere and get to the bottom of the Khalidi story. It is unthinkable that a Brooklyn-born, Yale-educated U.S. citizen operated in PLO headquarters in Beirut in the late 1970s, and wasn’t known to the personnel of the U.S. embassy and the CIA station. That was over thirty years ago, so some documents must have been declassified. Can we get some investigative reporting here? Instead all we’ve ever read about Khalidi in the Times is the puff piece. How boring.

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The Real Victims of Israel Apartheid Week Aren’t Israelis

On Tuesday, I discussed how Israel Apartheid Week, which is taking place this week and next, feeds off latent anti-Semitism. But it’s a truism that anti-Semitism never harms the Jews alone, and IAW is a classic example. To understand why, consider three news reports from the last two weeks.

Some 500,000 Syrian civilians, or perhaps even more, have fled Aleppo in response to the government’s aerial bombing campaign, “creating what aid workers say is one of the largest refugee flows of the entire civil war”–an impressive achievement for a war that’s already created 2.4 million refugees and caused 6.5 million to be internally displaced. Tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing spiraling violence in the Central African Republic, “in what human rights groups and a top United Nations official characterized … as de facto ethnic cleansing.” And in South Sudan, where a fragile truce has broken down, almost 900,000 people have been displaced, while “millions could go hungry if fields remain unplowed before the coming rainy season.”

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On Tuesday, I discussed how Israel Apartheid Week, which is taking place this week and next, feeds off latent anti-Semitism. But it’s a truism that anti-Semitism never harms the Jews alone, and IAW is a classic example. To understand why, consider three news reports from the last two weeks.

Some 500,000 Syrian civilians, or perhaps even more, have fled Aleppo in response to the government’s aerial bombing campaign, “creating what aid workers say is one of the largest refugee flows of the entire civil war”–an impressive achievement for a war that’s already created 2.4 million refugees and caused 6.5 million to be internally displaced. Tens of thousands of Muslims are fleeing spiraling violence in the Central African Republic, “in what human rights groups and a top United Nations official characterized … as de facto ethnic cleansing.” And in South Sudan, where a fragile truce has broken down, almost 900,000 people have been displaced, while “millions could go hungry if fields remain unplowed before the coming rainy season.”

And those are just samples. Altogether, millions of people round the world are being killed, displaced, and/or facing starvation. Yet IAW activists are blanketing campuses throughout the West with a campaign aimed at persuading educated young people that the world’s biggest problem, the one they should focus on persuading their governments to solve, is a low-level conflict that isn’t generating mass slaughter, mass displacement, or mass starvation–one whose total casualties over 65 years are barely a tenth of those produced by Syria’s civil war in less than three. And because the miserable Syrians, Central Africans, and South Sudanese have no comparably well-funded and well-organized group to press their cases, a great many well-meaning Westerners have become convinced that Israel’s “oppression” of the Palestinians truly is the world’s most pressing problem, and are lobbying their governments to direct their efforts accordingly.

In democracies, governments tend to react to public pressure. A classic example is the “Kony 2012” video, which detailed the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony’s militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army, in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan: The video went viral, and its popularity is credited with spurring Western governments to make hunting down Kony a higher priority, which in turn helped persuade the African Union to launch a mission to do so. Yet any government has only so much time, energy, money, and political capital to spend; thus a greater investment in one cause inevitably comes at the expense of other causes for which there is less public pressure.

Consequently, to the degree that groups like IAW succeed in generating public pressure for Western governments to make “Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians” a top priority, they inevitably cause these governments to devote less attention to real crimes happening in places like Syria, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. In other words, they are contributing directly to the ongoing slaughter, displacement and hunger in those countries by persuading Western citizens, and hence Western governments, that far more effort should be invested in trying to create a Palestinian state than in trying to ease the much greater distress elsewhere in the world.

Thus while Israelis are IAW’s main targets, they are far from being its main victims. The real victims are the millions being massacred, displaced, and starved while the West ignores them, because it’s too busy obsessing over Israel.

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Reading John B. Judis Very Closely

In a New Republic article entitled “Conservative Critics Say My New Israel Book Is Anti-Semitic. They Must Not Have Read It Very Closely,” John B. Judis challenges the “condemnatory reviews” of his book by Ron Radosh, Jordan Chandler Hirsch, and “Robert Richman in Commentary.” I’m pretty sure he means me, although I am not sure he read my review very closely, since he mangles the reviewer’s name and quotes only from the conclusion, without addressing any points in between. He writes that his “usual policy” with critical reviews is to ignore them, since “any publicity is good publicity as long as the reviewers spell my name correctly.”

His New Republic response denies that he wants to “abolish or delegitimize” Israel–but he is unable to support that claim by citing anything he actually wrote in his book. He suggests instead that reviewers should have read what he, as the author, did not write in the book, but which he thinks should be inferred from his encouraging words elsewhere for Barack Obama and John Kerry:

Radosh talks about delegitimization. Richman hints at darker designs. He accuses me of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state… Judis’s policy preference is entirely clear to those with eyes to see. Judis suggests he is bringing a moral vision to Americans who lack a historical perspective, but he lacks the courage to spell out his obvious conclusion.” Richman seems to think I support the replacement of Israel with an Arab-majority state, but that I was fearful of expressing this proposal in my book.

What I was fearful of doing was making proposals that would look outdated within months of my book’s publication, so I avoided any statements about borders or refugees or East Jerusalem. But you’d not have to graduate from a fancy law school to understand that I thought Barack Obama’s initial proposals in September 2009 and John Kerry’s in 2013 for a two-state solution were attempts to resolve rather than exacerbate the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. If Kerry succeeds, I conclude, “the time for an end to the irrepressible conflict could finally come.”

If Radosh or Richman had any doubts about my views, they could have consulted my articles that over the years supporting the attempt to achieve a two-state solution.

Here’s precisely why I accused Judis of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.”

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In a New Republic article entitled “Conservative Critics Say My New Israel Book Is Anti-Semitic. They Must Not Have Read It Very Closely,” John B. Judis challenges the “condemnatory reviews” of his book by Ron Radosh, Jordan Chandler Hirsch, and “Robert Richman in Commentary.” I’m pretty sure he means me, although I am not sure he read my review very closely, since he mangles the reviewer’s name and quotes only from the conclusion, without addressing any points in between. He writes that his “usual policy” with critical reviews is to ignore them, since “any publicity is good publicity as long as the reviewers spell my name correctly.”

His New Republic response denies that he wants to “abolish or delegitimize” Israel–but he is unable to support that claim by citing anything he actually wrote in his book. He suggests instead that reviewers should have read what he, as the author, did not write in the book, but which he thinks should be inferred from his encouraging words elsewhere for Barack Obama and John Kerry:

Radosh talks about delegitimization. Richman hints at darker designs. He accuses me of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state… Judis’s policy preference is entirely clear to those with eyes to see. Judis suggests he is bringing a moral vision to Americans who lack a historical perspective, but he lacks the courage to spell out his obvious conclusion.” Richman seems to think I support the replacement of Israel with an Arab-majority state, but that I was fearful of expressing this proposal in my book.

What I was fearful of doing was making proposals that would look outdated within months of my book’s publication, so I avoided any statements about borders or refugees or East Jerusalem. But you’d not have to graduate from a fancy law school to understand that I thought Barack Obama’s initial proposals in September 2009 and John Kerry’s in 2013 for a two-state solution were attempts to resolve rather than exacerbate the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. If Kerry succeeds, I conclude, “the time for an end to the irrepressible conflict could finally come.”

If Radosh or Richman had any doubts about my views, they could have consulted my articles that over the years supporting the attempt to achieve a two-state solution.

Here’s precisely why I accused Judis of having “written a book that insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.”

He asserts the “darker side of Zionism” was “the attempt to impose a Jewish state on a people who had lived in Palestine for 1,300 years” (page 133). He argues that there was a “moral contradiction” in political Zionism: “by attempting to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, Zionists would be ‘encroaching upon the native population’” (page 170). He repeats the point 14 pages later, writing that there were “moral contradictions that afflicted political Zionism” (page 184). He declares it “correct” that the “Balfour Declaration was itself to blame” for the problem of Palestine (page 251). He asserts that Zionists “conspired” with the British “to screw the Arabs out of a country that by the prevailing standards of self-determination would have been theirs” (page 251). He asserts “Israel today has become one of the world’s last colonial powers” (page 356).

And lest any reader miss what he really thinks is the true source of the conflict, here is what Judis wrote on pages 351-352 as “the main lesson” of his entire book:

[T]he Zionists who came to Palestine to establish a state trampled on the rights of the Arabs who already lived there. That wrong has never been adequately addressed or redressed, and for there to be peace of any kind between the Israelis and Arabs, it must be.

You don’t have to be a graduate of a fancy law school–you just have to be able to read–to understand that Judis portrays political Zionism as infected by a dark side, premised on a fundamental moral defect, imposing a state on a native people who were “screwed” out of the state that in his view should have been theirs; that the Balfour Declaration supporting a Jewish national home in Palestine was “itself to blame”; that Israel is “one of the world’s last colonial powers”; and that the “trampling” on the rights of the Arabs by the “Zionists who came to establish a state” not only needs to be addressed but–even more seriously–“redressed.” That’s why I wrote that Judis “insists the source of the conflict was the Jewish desire for a state.” He spends the first 128 pages of his book arguing that position.

As for his refusal in his book to state his policy preference (thus leaving it to the imagination or inference of readers to divine what policy would follow from delegitimizing Zionism), Judis now alleges in the New Republic that he was “fearful” of making policy proposals because they might “look outdated” within a few months after his book’s publication. That, however, is not what he wrote in his book.

What he wrote in his book was that he did not specify his preferred policy because he was supposedly not “thoroughly acquainted with the current actors” (page 8). He thought he knew them well enough, however, to criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu, “who was nothing if not clever,” for setting conditions for a Palestinian state “that Palestinians had already rejected,” such as Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state (page 366). But that recognition has always been the core issue, long before Netanyahu raised it; it goes to the heart of whether the “peace process” is about peace, or about creating a state that retains a specious but relentlessly asserted “right of return” to “redress” what Judis spends 400 pages describing as a great historical screwing and trampling by what he deems an immoral movement, political Zionism.

It is nice that Judis wishes John Kerry well in ending what Judis calls an “irrepressible conflict.” But Judis’s book will be used to prop up those who object to any Jewish state, who think Israel is the sole cause of the conflict, who believe the philosophy that created Israel is fundamentally immoral, and who assert that Israel is a colonialist state. His faux-scholarly book will be used, in sum, not to end the conflict, but to continue it–by delegitimizing Israel, giving a tool to those whose ultimate goal is to abolish it completely.

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“The New War on Israel”–Our E-Book

Just out from COMMENTARY is our first topical e-book, The New War on Israel—and How to Fight Back. Over the past year especially, efforts to delegitimate the Jewish state have taken on a new urgency and force, much of it from liberals and leftists who are using their own Jewishness as a weapon. We have assembled several of our best articles and blog posts in a coherent whole to expose the hollowness and injustice of the arguments and the highly problematic nature of the way in which they are conducted. The ebook features pieces by me, Joshua Muravchik, Jonathan Tobin, Rick Richman, Ben Cohen, Adam Kredo, and others. It is essential reading. You can purchase it here.

Just out from COMMENTARY is our first topical e-book, The New War on Israel—and How to Fight Back. Over the past year especially, efforts to delegitimate the Jewish state have taken on a new urgency and force, much of it from liberals and leftists who are using their own Jewishness as a weapon. We have assembled several of our best articles and blog posts in a coherent whole to expose the hollowness and injustice of the arguments and the highly problematic nature of the way in which they are conducted. The ebook features pieces by me, Joshua Muravchik, Jonathan Tobin, Rick Richman, Ben Cohen, Adam Kredo, and others. It is essential reading. You can purchase it here.

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The Return of West Bank Terror?

While in recent years it has generally been true that Israel’s primary terror threat comes from the territories it fully evacuated–Gaza, southern Lebanon, and the Sinai–there have been growing concerns about the resurgence of militant Islamist groups operating in the West Bank. For the most part, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority keeps down the Islamist groups in the parts of the West Bank it controls, less as a favor to Israel than as a means of preventing itself from being ousted as in Gaza. Yet, while there is certainly no indication that we are on the cusp of a third intifada, the threat from terror cells in the West Bank is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

Most recently, Israelis have been reminded of the ongoing security threat coming from parts of the West Bank by the spate of terror incidents that have targeted Route 443, which skims the West Bank and serves as one of only two highways linking Israel’s commercial center in Tel Aviv with its political capital in Jerusalem. In the past two months Route 443 has witnessed a sharp rise in attacks on vehicles traveling that road, some 20 of which saw the use of Molotov cocktails. The situation on the road has become so precarious that Israel’s security personnel have declared the highway off-limits to Israel’s government officials, and today it was announced that the Shin Bet has uncovered a 15-man Hamas terror cell plotting to carry out roadside bombings along Route 443.

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While in recent years it has generally been true that Israel’s primary terror threat comes from the territories it fully evacuated–Gaza, southern Lebanon, and the Sinai–there have been growing concerns about the resurgence of militant Islamist groups operating in the West Bank. For the most part, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority keeps down the Islamist groups in the parts of the West Bank it controls, less as a favor to Israel than as a means of preventing itself from being ousted as in Gaza. Yet, while there is certainly no indication that we are on the cusp of a third intifada, the threat from terror cells in the West Bank is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

Most recently, Israelis have been reminded of the ongoing security threat coming from parts of the West Bank by the spate of terror incidents that have targeted Route 443, which skims the West Bank and serves as one of only two highways linking Israel’s commercial center in Tel Aviv with its political capital in Jerusalem. In the past two months Route 443 has witnessed a sharp rise in attacks on vehicles traveling that road, some 20 of which saw the use of Molotov cocktails. The situation on the road has become so precarious that Israel’s security personnel have declared the highway off-limits to Israel’s government officials, and today it was announced that the Shin Bet has uncovered a 15-man Hamas terror cell plotting to carry out roadside bombings along Route 443.

The Shin Bet has also raised concerns in recent weeks about efforts by Hamas to strengthen its links in the Arab sectors of Jerusalem, in addition to revealing a separate Jerusalem-based al-Qaeda cell working on bomb plots to target the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. Hamas maintains strongholds throughout several West Bank cities, and while these are officially under the authority of Fatah, it has been suggested that without the IDF presence running throughout the rest of the West Bank Fatah’s grip on the Palestinian Authority would not likely last for long. The West Bank’s largest city, Hebron, is commonly thought to be predominately loyal to Hamas, while to the north Nablus has witnessed sizable Hamas rallies in recent years. Indeed, last October the IDF was compelled to carry out an incursion into Nablus to intercept a number of Hamas operatives based in that city. Similarly, last month the IDF was also forced to carry out a raid on Islamic Jihad bases in Jenin where the group remains strong.

It would appear that some of these militant groups are growing in confidence, as demonstrated by an increasing willingness to openly reveal their presence within the West Bank’s PA-controlled areas. In late January an armed member of Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigade was sited at a memorial event in Jenin, alongside members of Islamic Jihad and, most notably of all, the individual in question was also seen sharing a stage with members of Fatah’s military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. More recently, over the weekend, Abu Dis on the outskirts of Jerusalem, hosted large militaristic celebrations to mark the anniversary of the founding of the terror group the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in the kind of display that had not generally been tolerated in PA-controlled areas in recent years. It should then also be noted that the DFLP is a constituent member of the same PLO that Abbas’s Fatah is part of.

Naturally, this kind of apparent militant upsurge, at such a sensitive time for the U.S.-led peace negotiations, provokes a series of pressing questions. Following the Camp David negotiations in 2000, when Arafat found himself backed into a negotiating corner, he made his escape route, in part, by triggering the Palestinian terror war that became the second intifada. As much as Mahmoud Abbas looks less and less pleased to be part of the negotiating process, it is doubtful that he would resort to directly initiating terror as an exit strategy. Though it should be noted that both during this round of negotiations and all the more so during the brief round of negotiations in 2010, there was a measurable upsurge in terror against Israelis.

Given the way these public displays by terror groups and their affiliates appear to now be tolerated in PA-controlled areas, it is certainly plausible that even if the PA isn’t actively instigating such activities, it may have made a decision to somewhat loosen its measures against such groups. Alternatively, this could simply be an indication of the growing weakness of the Palestinian Authority under Abbas. All of which must be taken into consideration when it comes to the current negotiations. From the start of the resumption of peace talks there have been ongoing concerns that were talks to collapse under particularly unhappy circumstances, this could trigger a new wave of Palestinian terror attacks. Equally, were the talks to lead to Israel making further territorial concessions in the West Bank, this would also be deeply concerning in light of a resurgence of Islamist groups in these areas.

To be clear, the present situation in the West Bank is far more secure and stable than in those territories Israel has withdrawn from. But given the partial control of the PA over the West Bank the situation remains mixed and the current trend does not appear to be in a promising direction.  

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