Commentary Magazine


Topic: peace process

Europe Pretends Palestinians Don’t Exist

A recurring obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the West’s refusal to grant Palestinians agency. The desire to blame Israel or “the occupation” (a term which itself has begun colonizing Israeli land to the point of meaninglessness) for every Palestinian crime treats the Palestinians as if they have no self-control and are incapable of independent thinking. Such an attitude will necessarily prevent them from realizing statehood because it withholds the very independence their Western advocates claim to support. The latest story out of Europe is a remarkable escalation of this behavior.

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A recurring obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the West’s refusal to grant Palestinians agency. The desire to blame Israel or “the occupation” (a term which itself has begun colonizing Israeli land to the point of meaninglessness) for every Palestinian crime treats the Palestinians as if they have no self-control and are incapable of independent thinking. Such an attitude will necessarily prevent them from realizing statehood because it withholds the very independence their Western advocates claim to support. The latest story out of Europe is a remarkable escalation of this behavior.

Haaretz reports that the European Union is considering essentially removing the Palestinians from the process while also advocating religious and ethnic apartheid against Jews in Jerusalem. The paper has obtained an internal EU document that purports to suggest opening negotiations with Israel over reducing Jewish rights in the Jewish state. I wrote nearly two years ago that the emergence of the EU’s “red lines” are incompatible with Israel’s red lines, and thus the relationship between Israel and the increasingly antidemocratic EU would only continue to deteriorate. The Haaretz report is late to this notion, but confirms the prediction:

The two-page document defines several of the EU’s “red lines” regarding Israeli actions in the West Bank:

1. Construction in the Givat Hamatos neighborhood, beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem. …

2. Construction in the E1 area between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. …

3. Further construction in the Har Homa neighborhood in Jerusalem, beyond the Green Line.

4. Israeli plans to relocate 12,000 Bedouin without their consent in a new town in the Jordan Valley, expelling them from lands in the West Bank, including E1. …

5. Harming the status-quo at the Temple Mount: The document said that attempts to challenge the status-quo have led to instability in East Jerusalem and increased tensions.

The clearest implication from this document is that according to the Europeans, the Palestinians simply don’t exist–not in any meaningful way outside of an abstract collection of non-Jews the Europeans intend to use as tools to further box in the Jews of the Middle East.

In 2011, Newt Gingrich found himself in hot water with the liberal press for saying the Palestinians were an “invented” people. His critics misunderstood the point he was trying to make, which is that Palestinian Arab nationalism as a unifying ideology is a recent phenomenon. He said as much not to disenfranchise the Palestinians but to defend the Jews of Israel from such disenfranchisement, in which the international community buys into Arab lies about Israel in order to delegitimize the Jewish state.

But Gingrich’s comments pale in comparison to the European Union’s new posture. To Gingrich, a century ago the Palestinians didn’t exist. To the Europeans, the Palestinians don’t currently exist. They do not want a true peace process, which would require good-faith negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. They want some clumsy 21st century neocolonialist glory in pretending that Brussels isn’t a global joke but rather a crusading imperial bureaucracy on the march dictating the boundaries of a changing Middle East. It isn’t enough that Europe has made its Jews feel unwelcome enough to flee the continent; they must also evict Jews thousands of miles away.

Of course, Europe’s track record of manufacturing countries and borders in the Middle East is about as good as one would expect when the goal was to divide the region against itself: the record is terrible. So now that those European-imposed or inspired borders are collapsing in a regional societal disintegration, it’s doubtful anyone is silly enough to take Europe’s advice on what the new boundaries should be once the dust settles, if it settles.

But the more pressing concern is that Europe’s latest antics will only serve to encourage and justify more violence against Jews. If Europe is going to back the Palestinian position on not rocking the boat on the Temple Mount, Brussels might want to remember that Mahmoud Abbas recently counseled violence, if necessary, to stop Jews from visiting their holy site. More terror struck Jerusalem today, and I imagine Israelis would appreciate Europe not pouring more gasoline on the fire.

It also demonstrates the absurdity of the European idea of negotiations. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Brussels seems to want a European-Israeli peace process. Europe’s peculiar take on this, however, is less like true negotiations and more like an advance warning. Wanting to “discuss” unspecified retribution against Israel if it doesn’t do as Europe says is not really a discussion at all, but a weasel-worded string of threats.

They’re also nonsensical and unreasonable. The EU’s red lines, especially on issues like E-1, contradict both the Olmert peace plan and the Clinton peace parameters. Following the EU’s advice, in other words, will make an agreement with the Palestinians virtually impossible. Which perhaps explains why the Europeans have taken the Palestinians out of the equation.

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The Settlements Dodge

Responding to Monday’s Palestinian statehood vote in Britain’s parliament, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz penned an op-ed provocatively titled “It’s the Settlements, Stupid.” Horovitz argues that the erosion of Israel’s diplomatic standing that made Monday’s vote possible has in large part been on account of Israel’s settlement policy. If true, then we live in strange times, where building homes for Jews can cause more outrage than Hamas stockpiling rockets and Iran developing nuclear weapons with which to murder those same Jews. And yet the following day, Sir Alan Duncan, Britain’s envoy to Yemen and Oman, gave a shocking speech asserting that those endorsing settlements should be considered on par with racists and hounded from Britain’s public life. The reality is, it is not the settlements that have eroded Israel’s standing, but rather the completely warped narrative that now surrounds them. And what’s worse, many Israelis have in no small part helped to create that narrative.

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Responding to Monday’s Palestinian statehood vote in Britain’s parliament, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz penned an op-ed provocatively titled “It’s the Settlements, Stupid.” Horovitz argues that the erosion of Israel’s diplomatic standing that made Monday’s vote possible has in large part been on account of Israel’s settlement policy. If true, then we live in strange times, where building homes for Jews can cause more outrage than Hamas stockpiling rockets and Iran developing nuclear weapons with which to murder those same Jews. And yet the following day, Sir Alan Duncan, Britain’s envoy to Yemen and Oman, gave a shocking speech asserting that those endorsing settlements should be considered on par with racists and hounded from Britain’s public life. The reality is, it is not the settlements that have eroded Israel’s standing, but rather the completely warped narrative that now surrounds them. And what’s worse, many Israelis have in no small part helped to create that narrative.

As Horovitz points out, settlement building was referenced some 40 times during the Westminster debate. That is certainly testament to the extent to which this issue has been turned into the weapon of choice for those looking to pour scorn on Israel. Horovitz also gives examples of the kind of talk about settlements that he’s referring to. One Conservative MP, who began by professing his deep friendship for Israel, went on to say that the recent “annexation” by Israel of 950 acres of West Bank land had outraged him more than anything else in his entire political life. He explained that, given all his support for Israel in the past, this move had made him appear the fool. But the truth is, many people had been fooled by the way that this event was willfully misrepresented, first by the Israeli left, and then by the international media. For as Eugene Kontorovich pointed out here at the time, there had in reality been no annexation whatsoever. Israel had simply come to a factual administrative finding about the status of the land in question (much of it purchased by Jews before Israel’s founding), but the world was encouraged to imagine privately owned Palestinian property being appropriated for colonization.

This sense of alien colonization of Palestinian land sits at the core of what many feel about the settlements. That was certainly the notion promoted in the other statement referenced by Horovitz, this time from Labor’s Andy Slaughter. “Who can defend settlement building — the colonization of another country? We are talking about 600,000 Israeli settlers planted on Palestinian soil,” declared Slaughter. But this is pretty astounding stuff. Would Slaughter describe an Arab living in Israel as “planted on Jewish soil”? Indeed, he’d cause a minor crisis within British politics if he started describing Pakistani immigrants to Britain as colonizers “planted on English soil.” Presumably, Slaughter’s belief that the very soil of the West Bank is somehow intrinsically and exclusively Palestinian stems from his equally misguided view that the West Bank is a foreign country.

There is of course an argument for turning the West Bank into a Palestinian state one day, but like the misbelief that the green line holds some sacrosanct status under international law, it is hard to understand why the territory seized and occupied by Jordan for just 19 years represents the precise boundaries for any future Palestinian state. Besides, long before anyone starts trying to determine exactly which areas should constitute a Palestinian state, someone has to come up with a model for making the land-for-peace transaction workable. So far this exchange has proved catastrophic. Gaza is the most obvious example, although there are several others. But in Gaza the Israeli experience has been one of removing settlements and getting a security nightmare in return.

If British parliamentarians are going to make an issue of settlements, then they at least owe it to Israelis to explain what they think would happen to Israel’s security if it reversed its settlement policy and evacuated the West Bank just as it did Gaza. But then the prevailing narrative on this subject, as conveyed by the international media, is supplied by Israelis themselves. For years large parts of the Israeli establishment have dismissed the realities of Palestinian intransigence and convinced themselves that ending the conflict is within Israel’s grasp, if only it can rein in Netanyahu and the settlements. By ignoring the need for–and indeed lack of–genuine Palestinian moderation, these Israelis inhabit a far more comforting paradigm, in which Israel can solve everything just as soon as it chooses. So tenaciously do some cling to this view that we recently saw how the far-left Peace Now group was even willing to manufacture a mini diplomatic crisis in U.S.-Israel relations just as Netanyahu was about to meet with Obama, inducing the media and state department into condemnation of a new settlement announcement … that wasn’t a new settlement, and had actually already been announced months previously.

Writing about the Westminster vote, Jonathan Tobin questioned what kind of Palestinian state British lawmakers imagine they are supporting. This is where the popular narrative about settlements really becomes twisted. Any Palestinian state worthy of being brought into existence, and that could be trusted to live peacefully alongside Israel, would be capable of tolerating a Jewish minority, just as Israel safeguards its Arab minority. If that was the Palestinian state the world was aiming for then settlements would hardly present an obstacle. But if that’s not the state being aimed for, well then peacemakers face a far greater headache than settlements.

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Palestinians Still Won’t Negotiate

The Palestinian Authority has submitted another one of its statehood bids to the United Nations, this time as a draft petition to the Security Council. These bids, like wars in Gaza, have become an almost biannual affair. Indeed, President Abbas expends far more energy on efforts to achieve statehood at the UN than he does with the Israelis through negotiations, despite the fact that all the governments of the world that really count have repeatedly told him that there is no alternative to a negotiated settlement. This time around Abbas’s UN stunt is a little different. The proposal put forward by the Palestinians today is asking the Security Council to enforce a framework on the negotiation process. In reality, however, what the Palestinians are asking for entirely invalidates the very idea of a negotiated peace.

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The Palestinian Authority has submitted another one of its statehood bids to the United Nations, this time as a draft petition to the Security Council. These bids, like wars in Gaza, have become an almost biannual affair. Indeed, President Abbas expends far more energy on efforts to achieve statehood at the UN than he does with the Israelis through negotiations, despite the fact that all the governments of the world that really count have repeatedly told him that there is no alternative to a negotiated settlement. This time around Abbas’s UN stunt is a little different. The proposal put forward by the Palestinians today is asking the Security Council to enforce a framework on the negotiation process. In reality, however, what the Palestinians are asking for entirely invalidates the very idea of a negotiated peace.

The draft of the Palestinian proposal, submitted just as Prime Minister Netanyahu was about to step into the Oval Office for a meeting with President Obama, seeks to win UN Security Council backing for a deadline that would force Israel to cede the West Bank by November 2016. But that is not all. The petition also gives an extensive rundown of what the final settlement must look like. In addition to the total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem being turned into the Palestinian capital, the resolution also calls for a complete end to all Israeli military activity in the territories, an end to any Israeli settlement construction, an opening of all Gaza’s borders, and the deployment of an international force throughout the disputed territories–for the protection of Palestinian civilians, of course. Naturally the resolution draft also calls for a just settlement of Palestinian refugees, which is code for Israel being obliged to allow several million Arabs claiming Palestinian descent to relocate to the Jewish state.

Now, you can think these demands are reasonable or you can think that they are not. But what is undeniable is that it is ridiculous for Abbas to have essentially made meeting all his demands the precondition for his participation in any further peace talks. What kind of negotiation is it that can only begin once all of the outcomes have already been decided? In effect what the Palestinians have said is that there will now only be peace talks if the UN Security Council first obliges the Israelis to agree to grant to them everything they want in advance. And with the outcome of the talks predetermined, what exactly is supposed to be going on in that negotiating room? Abbas has it all worked out come November 2016, and in the meantime chief negotiators Saeb Erekat and Tzipi Livni will be in there whiling away the hours doing what? Parlor games perhaps?

The American, British, and Australian governments have all already said that they won’t be agreeing to the Palestinians’ non-negotiated statehood bid. Abbas and the PA know this. Yet apparently they are going to go ahead and lobby for a Security Council vote on their petition nonetheless. And when the bid gets knocked down by the inevitable U.S. veto, Abbas is threatening to submit an application for membership of the International Criminal Court. The Palestinians have been talking about doing this for years, but they still haven’t because they know that the PA—which now includes Hamas—is itself in full material breach of international law. Abbas is also threatening to end cooperation with Israel on security in the West Bank, an even more hollow threat given that, as we saw in the West Bank over the summer, the PA has been completely neglecting its commitments to keep down militants.

In an almost unreadable piece for Haaretz titled “Welcome to Post-Peace-Era Israel,” Carolina Landsman bemoans how both the Israeli right and left are gradually abandoning the notion of the two-state agreement. Landsman draws attention to an interesting reality and then, as if she hadn’t just read her own piece, promptly concludes by rehearsing the usual expressions about the need for a two-state arrangement anyway. But since Landsman is quite right about what she observes happening, she might at least stop to ask if there might not be a good reason that both sides of the political spectrum are finding themselves forced toward the same conclusion. Even if we leave Hamas out of the equation, the fact is that when Israelis look to Fatah they don’t see a negotiating partner there either. What they see is what they have: Abbas and his clique with their list of all-encompassing non-negotiable demands. Demands that they will not only not put up for discussion, but that they are now seeking to have imposed via the UN. And even with all the good will in the world, you still won’t get very far trying to negotiate with that.

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Why Erekat’s Anti-Israel Slander Matters

Those who want to blame Israel for the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians have long been running out of arguments. Israel keeps offering the Palestinians what they claim to want, and the Palestinian leadership keeps rejecting it out of hand. Because of the intellectual vacuity of the blame-Israel crowd, the rejectionists and their supporters increasingly resort to hysterical tirades in opposition to Israel’s survival as a Jewish state, which are nothing if not revealing. And the latest such outburst is no different.

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Those who want to blame Israel for the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians have long been running out of arguments. Israel keeps offering the Palestinians what they claim to want, and the Palestinian leadership keeps rejecting it out of hand. Because of the intellectual vacuity of the blame-Israel crowd, the rejectionists and their supporters increasingly resort to hysterical tirades in opposition to Israel’s survival as a Jewish state, which are nothing if not revealing. And the latest such outburst is no different.

Anti-Israel activist Max Blumenthal, son of Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal, last week compared Israel to ISIS/ISIL at the kangaroo court known as the Russell Tribunal, in which anti-Semites like Roger Waters gather to compare notes on their various libels against the Jews. The gag caught on, spawning the Twitter hashtag #JSIL. But it wasn’t used by anybody intelligent or important until lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat embraced it. According to the Times of Israel:

“Netanyahu is trying to disseminate fear of the Islamic State led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but Netanyahu forgets that he himself leads the Jewish state,” said Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator in peace talks with Israel.

“He wants us to call Israel the Jewish state and supports terrorist settlers who kill, destroy and burn mosques and churches… like Baghdadi’s men kill and terrorize,” Erekat told AFP.

It sounds like an attempt at a clever play on words–attempt being the operative word here–but coming from Erekat it’s worth drawing attention to. First of all, Erekat is no stranger to historical fabrication–this is not even the first time this year he’s made up history in order to undermine the Jews’ connection to Israel. Erekat is not an honest man, and he has no qualms about preying on the historical ignorance and political correctness of Western media, who are loath to challenge the Palestinian narrative.

But he’s not a fringe activist, like those who came up with the JSIL hashtag. He’s the chief Palestinian negotiator, and thus the man the Palestinians put front and center to craft an agreement. As the Tower reported on Erekat’s earlier comments:

The Israelis have long insisted that any peace deal should include language recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state,” in part but not completely as a signal from the Palestinians that a final peace deal genuinely guaranteed the end of territorial claims. Palestinian leaders have refused the demand, and Erekat’s reemphasis of the position was described by one Palestinian news outlet as a rejection of “the Jewishness of Israel.” Top Palestinian figures, up to and including Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, have more broadly kept up a campaign denying a historical Jewish link to parts of Israel including Jerusalem.

The Palestinians’ refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state is a refusal to accept the existence of Jews among them. This is why Israel wants the acknowledgement of Israel’s Jewish character: it would mean an end to the Palestinians’ campaign of extermination against the Jewish people. It’s the difference between a “peace process” and actual peace. The Israelis want peace; Western diplomats and their media cheerleaders want a peace process. The Palestinians want neither, but they’ll participate in the charade of a peace process as long as they continue to get concessions without having to give anything up. They are not yet ready to consider peace with Jews as a goal.

Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, and thus a guarantor of Jewish survival and continuity in a world that often appears indifferent to both, should not be controversial. But the survival of the Jewish people nonetheless remains a point of contention, something to be put on the table for the purposes of negotiation but not agreed to ahead of time. John Kerry, who led the last round of negotiations, has wavered on this, to his immense discredit.

Unfortunately, there remain those who believe the Jews should put their survival in the hands of the Palestinians out of some airy pseudoreligious devotion to multiculturalism. Orwell’s belief that some ideas are so foolish only an intellectual could believe them lives on in American academia: UCLA professor Patricia Marks Greenfield recently took to the pages of the Washington Post to declare that “If Gaza and the West Bank were truly part of Israel, and Israel were truly a multiethnic, secular society, there would be progress toward peace.”

Greenfield does not seem to fathom what this would truly mean for the Jews of Israel, nor does she express any desire for what Erekat ultimately seeks. And thus in the dry, innocuous-sounding parlance of the enlightened academic does the idea that the Jews should lose their state and control over their fate further the same ends, though certainly springing from a different mindset, as those of Saeb Erekat. And it is in that light that Erekat’s repulsive comparison of Israel to ISIS should be seen. Israel’s “partner for peace,” the Palestinian leadership, desires to see the end of the Jewish state which, in the minds of Israel’s enemies, means the end of the Jews.

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President Hollande’s Colonialist Solution

During Friday’s press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, France’s President Francois Hollande voiced his support for the United Nations Security Council imposing a solution on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The very notion that warring sides can be forced into peace with one another is of course absurd. Presumably, a deal that had to be imposed from outside would, by its very nature, not have the full or equal endorsement of both sides. But which side might be on the receiving end of such an imposition? Who would need coercing? Well, the clue was standing to the right of the French president.

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During Friday’s press conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, France’s President Francois Hollande voiced his support for the United Nations Security Council imposing a solution on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The very notion that warring sides can be forced into peace with one another is of course absurd. Presumably, a deal that had to be imposed from outside would, by its very nature, not have the full or equal endorsement of both sides. But which side might be on the receiving end of such an imposition? Who would need coercing? Well, the clue was standing to the right of the French president.

A beaming Mahmoud Abbas was nodding along to what is after all an endorsement of his very own plan. It is Abbas who is now pushing for a “solution” to be imposed on Israel. But what on earth is a European leader doing getting behind such an idea? Didn’t France get the message that the days when European politicians drew the borders of other people’s countries are over?

Hollande justified his position by arguing that negotiations have dragged on too long. Well, quite. But it is obscene that he should make such a statement alongside Abbas and while endorsing Abbas’s plan. It is, after all, Abbas who has acted as a serial negotiations blocker. Most of the time Abbas simply holds up efforts to even get negotiations started, usually demanding that before he can undergo the horror of sitting down to talk with Israeli officials, he must first be paid a tribute of extortionate concessions by Israel. Once negotiations finally get going, Abbas generally wastes time until the window allotted to negotiating expires, then he demands some more concessions before he will permit the talks to be resumed.

So yes, President Hollande is correct, fruitless talks have gone on too long. And yet, from the fact that he was making this announcement during a press conference with Abbas it seems reasonable to assume that the blame was not being placed at the Palestinian door. It also seems reasonable to assume that since this entire initiative originates with Abbas, the “peace plan” will be somewhat weighted in favor of the Palestinians. The Israelis, much to their cost, have repeatedly shown a readiness to surrender territory whenever they thought there was a chance of peace and security being achieved. If they were being offered a deal that genuinely guaranteed them that, then there would be no need to enlist the UN Security Council resolutions.

Yet Abbas has never found the level playing field of bilateral negotiations to his liking. For many years now he has been championing the notion of the Palestinians forcing an Israeli retreat via international diplomacy. This, of course, would allow him to push Israel back to something close to the 1949 armistice lines—which have no weight in international law as actual borders—without Israel receiving any meaningful guarantees regarding its security. And that really is why an imposed peace is so ludicrous. Even in the event that Abbas marshaled the international community for doing his bidding and imposing an Israeli withdrawal, it is doubtful that there would be any peace. In what way would Hamas, Islamic Jihad, ISIS, Hezbollah, Iran, and the rest of its proxies be beholden to this supposed solution?

If Hollande is proposing to return to the old colonial days when countries like his imposed borders on peoples and nations living overseas, then with what army does he intended to force this peace? He can have as many votes at the UN as he likes, but he would do well to remember that it is the Israeli army that is currently sheltering UN “peace keepers” in the Golan Heights. Presumably France would recommend the sanctions route that is now so beloved by Europe, bludgeoning Israel into choosing between poverty or insecurity.

Then there is also the question of why Hollande has been prepared to go along with this plan at a time when the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the last Middle Eastern issue that a world leader ought to be expending time or energy on. Would Hollande, or any European leader, have appeared alongside Netanyahu and voiced their support for imposing a solution on the Palestinians? Of course not. This isn’t about advancing peace or fairness, this is about promoting the Palestinian cause. As a man of the European left this is a cause that Hollande no doubt sympathizes with, but there is more.

During Israel’s war with Hamas this summer, Paris saw Europe’s most violent riots as France’s North African immigrant population vented its fury over what they perceived as French support for the Jewish state. In the course of these riots the mob trapped several hundred Jews in a Paris synagogue. Yet now it is not the plight of the Jews, but rather the cause of their attackers that has been taken up by the French government in what appears to be a blatant, and no doubt ill-fated, act of appeasement.

France’s colonialist past has brought a large Arab-Muslim population to its cities. Yet that last chapter of colonialism is apparently now opening the way to a new chapter of colonialism as Hollande seeks to dictate to the Israelis what their country should look like and where their borders should lie. All with a total disregard for the mounting regional turmoil that would seek to engulf Israel at the first opportunity.

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Real Estate, Jewelry, and the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute

Today’s publication of Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter (Princeton University Press) by Jonathan Marc Gribetz, an assistant professor of Near Eastern studies and Judaic studies at Princeton, marks a minor miracle: it may well be the only book ever published with dust-jacket endorsements by both Ruth R. Wisse (a “brilliant study” and “an indispensable work”) and Rashid Khalidi (“prodigious research”). The publisher calls it a “landmark book,” one that “fundamentally recasts our understanding of the modern Jewish-Arab encounter.”

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Today’s publication of Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter (Princeton University Press) by Jonathan Marc Gribetz, an assistant professor of Near Eastern studies and Judaic studies at Princeton, marks a minor miracle: it may well be the only book ever published with dust-jacket endorsements by both Ruth R. Wisse (a “brilliant study” and “an indispensable work”) and Rashid Khalidi (“prodigious research”). The publisher calls it a “landmark book,” one that “fundamentally recasts our understanding of the modern Jewish-Arab encounter.”

This post is not intended as a review, but rather a reflection on one of Professor Gribetz’s central insights. To call the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a “dispute over real estate,” he writes, is like calling a fight over a family inheritance a “dispute over jewelry and china”: in both cases, the description misses the crux of the matter. In his book, Professor Gribetz demonstrates that, from the beginning, the Jewish-Arab conflict was a “struggle over history and identity”–played out over land, but involving fundamental issues that have always transcended the apparent subject of the dispute.

In the early years, there were frequent expressions of commonality between Jews and Arabs, epitomized by the 1919 agreement between Chaim Weizmann, the head of the Zionist Organization, and Faisal Hussein, the leader of the Arabs. The agreement cited “the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people” and declared Arab support for the 1917 Balfour Declaration and Jewish support for an Arab state adjacent to Palestine. Faisal thereafter wrote to Felix Frankfurter (then also a Zionist leader) that “we Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement,” and “will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.” That obviously did not last long.

Professor Gribetz ends his book by noting that while relations between Jews and Arabs worsened after 1919, his study itself shows that perceptions between peoples are not immutable; so it “stands to reason that they can improve as well.” He does not address what might lead to such an improvement, but perhaps we can determine what will be necessary by viewing his central insight in light of the peace proposals in the decades following the period he covers.

The 1919 Weizmann-Faisal agreement was never implemented, but in 1921 Great Britain divided Palestine and gave half to Transjordan. In later years, there were numerous two-state solutions proposed for the remaining half of Palestine, all of which ended exactly as did the 1919 pact:

(1) In 1937, the Jews accepted the two-state solution proposed by the British Peel Commission; the Arabs rejected it;

(2) In 1947, the Jews accepted the UN’s two-state solution; the Arabs rejected it;

(3) In 1967, Israel wanted to trade land for recognition and peace; the Arabs issued their three adamant “no’s”;

(4) In 1978, Israel agreed to Palestinian autonomy as part of the peace agreement with Egypt; the Palestinians rejected it;

(5) In July 2000, at Camp David, Israel offered the Palestinians a state; they walked away;

(6) In December 2000, Israel formally accepted the Clinton Parameters for a two-state solution; in January 2001, the Palestinians rejected them;

(7) In 2005, Israel removed every soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza and turned the entire territory over to the Palestinian Authority; so far there have been three rocket wars on Israel from the land Israel gave the Palestinians to build a state;

(8) In 2008, the Israeli prime minister begged the Palestinian president to accept a two-state solution in which the Palestinians would get land equal to 100 percent (after swaps) of the West Bank and Gaza; the Palestinians walked away again;

(9) In 2009, the new Israeli prime minister formally endorsed a Palestinian state, implemented an unprecedented settlement construction freeze, and met a stone wall.

Nearly 100 years after the first two-state solution was endorsed by the Zionists, the current Palestinian president repeatedly states he will “never” recognize a Jewish state; refuses to endorse “two states for two peoples” as the goal of the peace process; and will not give a Bir Zeit speech to match the Israeli prime minister’s 2009 Bar-Ilan address that endorsed a Palestinian state. He demands more of the remaining jewelry and china, while maintaining a “right to recover” the rest and repeatedly “reconciling” with those dedicated to killing the other side of the family.

The problem in that scenario is not the jewelry and china. Those who read Professor Gribetz’s book will likewise learn that the real estate was not the heart of the initial Jewish-Arab encounter. Middle East peace will not arrive simply by drawing a line on a map, because the crux of this dispute has never been the real estate.

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Bill Clinton: Bibi Derangement Syndrome’s Patient Zero

Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

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Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

The latest episode of Clinton’s condition took place at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, when Clinton was goaded into defending his Middle East policy by a pro-Palestinian activist. Caleb Howe has the transcript of the video captured by C-Span cameras:

Activist: If we don’t force [Netanyahu] to make peace, we will not have peace.

Clinton: Wait, wait, wait. First of all, I agree with that. But in 2000, Ehud Barak, I got him to agree to something that I’m not sure I would have gotten Rabin to agree to, and Rabin was murdered for giving land to the Palestinians.

Activist: I agree. But Netanyahu is not the guy.

Clinton: So, they got … I agree with that, but we had, I had him a state, they would have gotten 96% of the West Bank, land swap in Gaza, appropriate water rights … and East Jerusalem! Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.

And by the way, don’t forget, both Arafat and Abbas later said they would take it. They said, they said, ‘we changed our minds, we want it now’ and by then they had a government wouldn’t give it to them.

Let’s unpack this. First of all, Clinton agrees that Netanyahu must be forced by the U.S. to make peace. Presumably Clinton doesn’t agree with Samantha Power that the U.S. should invade Israel to force this peace, but he never says exactly which gun he’d prefer be held to Bibi’s head. (Perhaps holding up weapons resupply during wartime, as President Obama has done?)

He also agrees with the protester that Netanyahu is “not the guy” with whom such a peace agreement can be signed. This will likely not make Israelis too happy, because they know from experience that when Clinton doesn’t want an Israeli prime minister in office, he jumps right into the elections to try to arrange his preferred outcome.

In 1996, this meddling took the form of Clinton pretty much openly campaigning for Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres. In 1999, this meant Clinton’s advisors helping to run Ehud Barak’s campaign. The first time he was nearly successful–if memory serves, many Israelis went to sleep with Peres leading the election returns and woke to prime minister-elect Netanyahu. The second time he was successful.

But all along it was personal animus that guided Clinton–a deeply dangerous and thoroughly irresponsible way to conduct foreign policy, which helps explain why Clinton’s foreign policy was such a mess. Say what you will about George W. Bush’s case for regime change in Iraq, but it rested on more than “There’s something about this guy I just don’t like.” The same cannot be said for Clinton.

Indeed, it wasn’t as though Netanyahu was intransigent on matters of peace with the Palestinians. Once in office, Netanyahu too struck deals with Arafat. He agreed to the Wye River accords despite his belief that Clinton went back on a promise to free Pollard, and he agreed to redeploy troops from Hebron while continuing to implement Oslo.

Next, we have Clinton’s assertion that giving Palestinians sovereignty in East Jerusalem is “Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.” This is obviously untrue. During the Bush presidency, Ehud Olmert made such an offer to Mahmoud Abbas, who walked away. Not only that, but even Netanyahu has hinted at a willingness to divide Jerusalem.

That also undercuts the latter part of that claim by Clinton, that Abbas regretted saying no but by the time he wanted such a deal it was off the table. It was not off the table; it was offered, again, to Abbas directly.

So is anything Clinton said true? Actually, there is a kernel of truth–no doubt purely accidental–in what he said about Barak and Rabin. But it further undermines his point. Rabin was far from the two-state-cheerleader the left makes him out to be. He was far more reluctant to consider dividing Jerusalem and establishing a fully independent Palestinian state than his later successors–including Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi now is to the left of where Rabin was then on pretty much all the main issues.

So is Barak, of course, which was Clinton’s point. But the real story here is the fact that you can’t simply jump from Rabin to Barak: Netanyahu was in between, and he played a significant role by forcing the right to accept and implement Oslo in order to govern and by showing the Israeli right could be talked into withdrawing from territory, even places as holy and significant as Hebron. The rightist premiers that followed Barak continued withdrawing from territory and offering peace plans to the Palestinian leadership.

When it comes to Israel, liberal politicians tend to fall into one of two categories: either they’re ignorant of Israeli history and politics, or they assume their audience to be. For Clinton it’s almost surely the latter, which makes it all the more ignoble.

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Abbas’s Rigged Peace Plan

Over the weekend Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo at the Arab League conference. Precisely what Abbas said to the foreign ministers of the other Arab countries remains unclear, as his keynote address was declared a closed session at the last minute. However, during his stay in Cairo Abbas was meeting with Egyptian President Sisi and others in an effort to drum up regional support for his new peace initiative. Indeed, the head of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, has hailed Abbas as being ready to negotiate a final settlement.

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Over the weekend Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Cairo at the Arab League conference. Precisely what Abbas said to the foreign ministers of the other Arab countries remains unclear, as his keynote address was declared a closed session at the last minute. However, during his stay in Cairo Abbas was meeting with Egyptian President Sisi and others in an effort to drum up regional support for his new peace initiative. Indeed, the head of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, has hailed Abbas as being ready to negotiate a final settlement.

Washington is noticeably less confident. After Abbas dispatched his chief negotiators to meet with Secretary Kerry, U.S. officials have criticized the plan as “unilateral” and even hinted that there would be an American veto should Abbas seek to pursue his plan at the United Nations and in the Security Council.

This chilly response from the administration, usually so impetuous about racing ahead with the peace process, should certainly send some alarm bells ringing. After all, given that Abbas all but shut down the last round of peace negotiations, finally fleeing them just at the moment at which a decision had to be made about their extension, one has to wonder why he is suddenly so eager to resume the talks. And why now exactly? Having apparently been only too pleased to escape the negotiation table, why is Abbas suddenly so determined to be seen as reengaging?

After all, Abbas had every opportunity to continue with the U.S. sponsored negotiations that the Palestinian Authority had been participating in until May of this year. Yet Abbas had refused to extend the talks unless his extensive list of demands were met in advance, insisting that the Palestinians would instead pursue membership of several key international bodies. The Israelis had agreed to a dramatic increase in the number of Palestinian terror prisoners that they would release provided that Abbas agreed to press on with negotiations and stay away from the international bodies. Abbas chose to forgo both the additional prisoner releases and an extension of the talks. Now he insists he is ready to get back to talking peace with Israel.

One reason for Abbas’s sudden turnaround stems from his own Fatah faction’s standing in the wake of the recent war in Gaza. It might be assumed that after the death and destruction that Hamas’s war wrought on the people of Gaza, that terror group would have fallen permanently out of favor. Yet perversely the bloodletting has apparently only endeared Hamas to the Palestinian public. Recent polling shows that in both Gaza and the West Bank Hamas enjoys unprecedented levels of approval, with 74 percent expressing a desire to see Hamas’s terror tactics extended to the West Bank. Unlike Fatah, Hamas is seen as engaging in real “resistance.” And because both the Obama administration and the Europeans put such considerable pressure on Israel to reward Hamas’s terror war by granting far-reaching concessions, the message was received loud and clear on the Palestinian street: terrorism gets things done.

Abbas is desperate to be seen to be regaining the initiative. Yet given his past record, it would be mistaken to imagine that he has suddenly become serious about ending the conflict with Israel. Abbas has had multiple opportunities to achieve Palestinian statehood but has shirked the responsibility every time, knowing full well that an Israeli withdrawal would mean his inevitable overthrow by Hamas. Rather, as becomes apparent when one looks more closely at what is being put forward by Abbas, the focus is less on achieving peace and more on establishing a series of penalties against Israel for when the talks fail to bear fruit, as Abbas knows will be the case. This isn’t about reconciliation, this is about demonstrating to the Palestinian public that diplomacy is still an effective way of waging warfare by other means.

From what we know about the plan–from Abbas’s own words to Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog and from what has been leaked by former PA minister Mahmoud al-Habash–the plan is booby-trapped against Israel at every turn. The plan allows for negotiations to take place for a maximum of nine months, with that period being broken down into a timetable for reaching agreement on the key issues of Abbas’s choosing, with borders clearly featuring as his highest priority. If at any point this process doesn’t go according to plan and Abbas’s timetable isn’t kept to then Abbas is threatening to drag Israel before the International Criminal Court, to end cooperation on security in the West Bank and to resume efforts to achieve statehood via the UN.

There were many reasons to suspect that the last round of U.S. sponsored negotiations were unfavorable to the Israeli position, but even that playing field wasn’t uneven enough for Abbas. The only negotiations Abbas is interested in are ones that are fixed in his favor–fixed to ensure he gets what he wants, and more importantly, fixed to punish Israel if he doesn’t. For the moment even John Kerry appears nervous about backing so outrageous a proposal as this one. But with Abbas expected to announce his initiative later this month at the UN General Assembly meeting, we’ll see if the administration’s opposition holds out.

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“Parallel States” Plan for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is a Recipe for Disaster

I have long argued that the Oslo framework holds back the two-state solution by tying each side to a rigid set of parameters that “everybody knows” and yet nobody seems to want. The process can be disrupted and reshaped without giving up on the idea of two states for two peoples. In fact, I imagine a bit of creativity would help things along.

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I have long argued that the Oslo framework holds back the two-state solution by tying each side to a rigid set of parameters that “everybody knows” and yet nobody seems to want. The process can be disrupted and reshaped without giving up on the idea of two states for two peoples. In fact, I imagine a bit of creativity would help things along.

With that said, solutions that are radically different are not automatically preferable just because of their radicalism. At Tablet, Mathias Mossberg has published an adaptation from the new book on the conflict he edited, One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States. It is a long read, but interesting and imaginative. It is also, however, deeply misguided, unrealistic, and a formula for trouble as far as the eye can see.

Mossberg’s basic idea is one of “Parallel States,” in which both Israel and the Palestinian territories would become part of one state structure but divide sovereignty among the individuals of this modified “condominium” based on religion, ethnicity, or personal preference. It’s worth reading the whole piece to see how Mossberg has fleshed out the plan, but here is the crux:

In a Parallel States structure, one Israeli state and one Palestinian would both cover the whole area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. In such a scenario, military, political, and economic barriers would be lifted, and a joint security and defense policy, a common and equitable economic policy, and joint and harmonized legislation would replace existing divisions. Such a structure would allow both for an independent Palestinian state and for Israel to be both Jewish and democratic at the same time. It would bring an end to occupation and would permit free movement over the whole area for both peoples, as well as providing a vision for an end of conflict.

There are a few points to make in response. The first is that the bureaucracy such a structure would create would be a nightmare–it would make the current Israeli bureaucracy look like a floating libertarian utopia in comparison. How to adjudicate a neighborly dispute when each is a “citizen” of a different state authority on the same land? What if someone changes citizenship, since personal choice is an option here? Which law applies to their past contracts? Employment terms? Accumulated physical and intellectual property?

Second, Mossberg relies on a few tropes to sign the two-state solution’s death certificate, such as discredited demographic time bomb fears and the idea that settlements contribute to a state of affairs that is making a Palestinian state in the West Bank virtually impossible, which is not remotely true and glosses over the lack of outward expansion of the settlements over the last decade-plus. Any solution to the conflict that’s based on false premises, as Mossberg’s is, should raise red flags immediately.

Third, Mossberg doesn’t–at least in this lengthy essay–really grapple with the toughest obstacles. Here is his section on security:

Security and defense would be of paramount importance in a Parallel States structure, as well as in a more conventional two-state structure. This poses particularly vital questions, in that security is a basic need for each side in existential and concrete ways. To craft a common Israeli-Palestinian security strategy, outlining how Israelis and Palestinians could cooperate and ultimately join forces in a common security system, covering external borders as well as internal order, is a challenge that should not be underestimated.

A joint external security envelope, with a high degree of cooperation on external security and with joint or coordinated external border control, has to be envisaged. It is worth noting, though, that already today there are elements of an internal security structure that contains separate institutions and security forces, but also a high degree of coordination.

Yes, it would be a challenge. How might it be solved? Not with academic platitudes, that’s for sure.

Fourth, Mossberg all but cheers the end of the Westphalian order. This strikes me as a mistake. Just because the nation state is struggling in the modern era does not mean it deserves to perish. It’s true that Mossberg is not removing sovereignty when he removes the nation state. But it would be a step backward in global order–possibly with major repercussions elsewhere.

Finally, there is the reason we are having this discussion, at least according to Mossberg: Gaza. The recent Gaza war, he says, probably signals the end of the traditional two-state solution. But his Parallel State structure calls for the erasure of borders. Israel and the PA in the West Bank have established some very constructive avenues for security cooperation, though they would be challenged significantly by this state condominium-esque arrangement.

Gaza, on the other hand, is a different entity entirely. Yet Mossberg mostly treats Gaza as a question of economic integration, with not nearly enough energy devoted to the much greater question of security. Gaza is led by Hamas. The terrorist group won’t disappear just by having its official authority taken away. How could Hamas be integrated into a borderless Israeli-Palestinian state project? The answer is: it couldn’t, not in a way that would enable the survival of the state structure.

If the answer is, then, that Hamas has to be routed and replaced in Gaza, then that seems to be an argument for the rejuvenation of the two-state solution, not its abandonment. In any case, the Parallel States structure is not the answer.

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Is the Media’s Patience with Hamas Running Out?

Watching the media in the wake of Hamas’s deadly attack and capture of an Israeli soldier, one gets the impression that the press is taking Hamas’s violation of the cease-fire personally. On CNN this morning, Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour was questioned by CNN’s morning anchor Kate Bolduan with what can only be described as slightly bemused exasperation in the face of Mansour’s dissembling. Her co-host Chris Cuomo then questioned White House spokesman Josh Earnest, and pressed Earnest on whether the U.S. would demand the return of the soldier unconditionally, rather than allow Hamas the victory of negotiations over the soldier. Both had a tone of utter impatience with diplomatic cliches.

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Watching the media in the wake of Hamas’s deadly attack and capture of an Israeli soldier, one gets the impression that the press is taking Hamas’s violation of the cease-fire personally. On CNN this morning, Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour was questioned by CNN’s morning anchor Kate Bolduan with what can only be described as slightly bemused exasperation in the face of Mansour’s dissembling. Her co-host Chris Cuomo then questioned White House spokesman Josh Earnest, and pressed Earnest on whether the U.S. would demand the return of the soldier unconditionally, rather than allow Hamas the victory of negotiations over the soldier. Both had a tone of utter impatience with diplomatic cliches.

We might finally be getting an answer to the question of whether Hamas can exhaust press sympathy. Yesterday, upon the announcement of the 72-hour cease-fire, journalists took to Twitter to trade jokes about what they would do with all their newfound free time. The jocular tone was not only because of the length of the cease-fire, but because it left the impression that the war might indeed be over. A three-day cease-fire, during which Israel was permitted to continue neutralizing the terror tunnels when the Israeli government’s own estimates had the IDF days away from completing the task, meant there might be no reason to resume fighting after the cease-fire. The war, it is now clear thanks to Hamas, is not over.

Both the coverage of this conflict and the diplomacy around it by the West have been poorer than usual. The press has shown about as many pictures of Hamas fighters as unicorns, and have mangled even basic international laws and conventions in order to absolve these invisible Hamasniks of the war crimes they are unambiguously committing. Because “human rights” groups have also fabricated their own version of international law, and these reporters rely on such groups, it’s easy to see how the misinformation ends up presented as straight news.

The diplomacy fared no better. Secretary of State John Kerry has earned himself quite a reputation: par for the course in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the failure to secure a deal. It takes a special degree of incompetence to attain a failure that truly stands out for its destructiveness. The 72-hour cease-fire was supposed to be Kerry’s way of leaving the table with at least some of his chips. It collapsed in 90 minutes, but it would probably be more accurate to say, considering the planning of the attack, that it never existed in the first place.

All of which puts both the media and commentators in a tough spot. Hamas has never, at any time in this conflict, been genuinely interested in a serious peace. Which leaves war as the only means to return quiet, eventually, to Israel’s border. There is nothing terribly unusual about this: sometimes there is no choice but to defeat the enemy on the battlefield. But because the Gaza war is wrapped up in the politics of Palestinian statehood, the diplomatic track is never abandoned for any extended period of time.

For example, in a thoughtful, serious, but ultimately unconvincing post, Michael Koplow writes:

The fact is that there is no military solution to dealing with Hamas – as opposed to mitigating its military effectiveness – and the only way to neutralize Hamas is through political means. Hamas is in control of Gaza and not going anywhere. … The military component is necessary for an eventual political component, but without that second part, Israel will just be fighting in Gaza again in two or three years. For some people that might be fine, but every time it happens, Israel emerges damaged and one step closer to genuine isolation. The quicker that everyone realizes that a political solution is the only long-term one, the better everyone will be.

And what is that political solution? It’s not a negotiated truce with Hamas, which Israel has tried and keeps trying. He’s right though: there is a political solution, however remote: the two-state solution. That may or may not be on the horizon, but if there’s going to be a political, non-military solution to this conflict, that would be it. Benjamin Netanyahu embraced it, and was even willing to make concessions just to get Abbas to start negotiating. Abbas has ultimately spoiled the negotiations each time they’ve been tried during his presidency, but he’s at least participated in the process.

That process would necessitate two states living side by side, a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. Whatever people think of the intentions or good faith of Netanyahu and Abbas for a true, lasting two-state peace deal, they have at least been willing to partake in the process. Hamas rejects the premise. If Hamas decides not to reject the premise, then a political solution to Gaza would be truly on the table, if still an uphill battle.

It might be too much to ask for the media to realize this, as they’ve been so devoted to their own false narrative of Israel’s culpability that they might actually believe it. But the apparent kidnapping today has clearly begun to rattle an international community that had shown Hamas far too much patience so far. If the coverage begins to reflect that, it would put Hamas in danger of losing the one aspect of this war they have so far been winning.

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An “Economic Peace” for Gaza?

One of the themes we return to time and again on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the international community’s Oslo vision of the peace process requires the rejection of the only tactics and strategies that have proved successful. The momentum for a two-state solution outran the establishment of the conditions in the Palestinian territories that would foster and support what is otherwise a worthy goal.

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One of the themes we return to time and again on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the international community’s Oslo vision of the peace process requires the rejection of the only tactics and strategies that have proved successful. The momentum for a two-state solution outran the establishment of the conditions in the Palestinian territories that would foster and support what is otherwise a worthy goal.

At the top of this list is what’s referred to as “economic peace,” the attempts led by Benjamin Netanyahu to increase economic cooperation with and development in the West Bank to improve the lives of Palestinians until a final-status agreement can be reached. As I’ve pointed out here before, economic peace actually has a track record of success, unlike most of the West’s meddling in the peace process.

Opponents of economic peace–including American officials current and former–have tended to argue that it’s a scam, a way for Netanyahu to forestall the two-state solution without publicly saying so. They’re wrong, of course: anything that replaces desperation with economic growth helps the Palestinian moderates and shows the value of cooperating with Israel. There’s also been another element to economic peace: demonstrate that the Hamas way is a dead end. And now Netanyahu is taking that argument to the next step, the New York Times reports:

After years in which Israel’s prevailing approach to the Gaza Strip was a simple “quiet for quiet” demand, there is growing momentum around a new formula, “reconstruction for demilitarization.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only the latest in a string of Israeli leaders who saw Gaza mainly as an irritant to be controlled with periodic crackdowns and as a roadblock to resolving the nation’s broader conflict with the Palestinians. But as Israel’s latest military bout with the Islamist Hamas faction, which dominates Gaza, has proved tougher than previous rounds, even Mr. Netanyahu has begun talking about Gaza’s need for “social and economic relief” from decade-old Israeli restrictions on trade and travel.

This is basically economic peace for Gaza. And its purpose is twofold. The first is to buy time: Israel is essentially negotiating with the international community at this point, repeatedly justifying its legitimate right of self-defense. The international community very quickly gets tired of seeing the images of war, and calls for an end to the fighting regardless of the military objectives accomplished or the near-certainty that the cease-fire would allow Hamas to rearm and restock for the next war.

The international community has not been persuaded by Israel’s clear military objectives, because they could not care less about the repercussions of leaving the task undone. Anyone who decries the imbalance of fatalities by pointing to how few Jews have been killed so far is not going to be moved by the possibility of terrorism against Israel. Even Human Rights Watch’s director Ken Roth got in on the action, unilaterally rewriting the laws of conflict to wave away the rights of Israeli soldiers on Israeli territory. So Netanyahu understands that while he’s quite obviously right–Israel cannot pretend those tunnels aren’t there–the world’s indifference to Israel’s fate means being right isn’t enough.

An economic peace for Gaza asks the world to envision a demilitarized Gaza’s potential for peace and economic success, and to have the patience to see that vision through. And it also has one other purpose: it gives Palestinians, and their international backers, a choice. Do they prefer Gaza to be controlled by a weaponized terrorist machinery, or do they prefer a much-improved standard of living and engagement with the outside world?

For this argument, Netanyahu at least has the wind at his back. After all, the current war in Gaza has demolished any and all arguments in favor of lifting the siege without demilitarization. Nothing illustrates this better than the terror tunnels. Hundreds of thousands of tons of cement and other supplies to build an underground city to which only terrorists have access while Palestinians above suffer: it’s irrefutable proof lifting import restrictions would only help Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian civilians.

And in doing so, it would lay the groundwork for the next war, in which the Palestinians would be used by Hamas as human shields and we’d be having this discussion all over again. When people decry the “cycle of violence,” they usually mean the Israelis and Palestinians are equally culpable. But though that particular definition of the phrase is ignorant and morally objectionable, they are onto something. There is a cycle of violence, and it goes like this: Hamas terrorists attack Israel, step up rocket attacks while Israel shows restraint, and eventually provoke an Israeli counteroffensive in self-defense.

Netanyahu is proposing to break the cycle. Demilitarize Gaza, he argues, and the restrictions on trade would lose their primary justification. Demilitarizing Gaza would force Israel’s hand with regard to the siege. He is, in effect, calling the bluff of those who claim to care more about Palestinian life than Israeli death. The international community’s response will tell us much about which of those two they see as the greater priority.

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Lessons from the Failed Peace Process

There are a few conclusions to be drawn from Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon’s deeply reported and engagingly written investigation into the failure of the recent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The first is that, if the reporting is accurate, there is no longer any doubt that it was the Palestinian side that blew up the talks. They attempted to kill the process twice, but the first time the Israeli negotiators, led by Tzipi Livni, rescued the talks. The second time, the Palestinians ensured nothing could be done to save the process.

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There are a few conclusions to be drawn from Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon’s deeply reported and engagingly written investigation into the failure of the recent Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The first is that, if the reporting is accurate, there is no longer any doubt that it was the Palestinian side that blew up the talks. They attempted to kill the process twice, but the first time the Israeli negotiators, led by Tzipi Livni, rescued the talks. The second time, the Palestinians ensured nothing could be done to save the process.

The second conclusion is that the way the Palestinians, led by Mahmoud Abbas and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, blew up the talks bodes ill for any future peace process:

Over the next three weeks, with April 29 approaching, Indyk would meet nine times with Livni, Molho, Erekat, and Faraj in a bid to salvage the peace talks. He was determined to get everything in writing this time. No more misunderstandings. And by April 23, the sides seemed close to an extension agreement. Indyk drove to Ben Gurion Airport that day to pick up his wife, and while at the baggage claim, he got a call from Livni. She’d heard that the Palestinians had just done something to ruin all the progress they had made. Indyk immediately phoned Erekat, who said he wasn’t aware of the development, but would investigate. Back at the U.S. consulate, the Kerry team was combing over the details of the emerging deal, with the secretary calling periodically to check in. Soon, the news penetrated their office, too. Weeks earlier, they had been surprised by the timing of Abu Mazen’s U.N. ceremony, but not by the act. The Palestinians had put them on notice. But as the American officials huddled around a desktop computer, hungry for actual details about this rumor they were hearing, they couldn’t believe the headline that now flashed across the screen: FATAH, HAMAS END YEARS OF DIVISON, AGREE TO UNITY GOVERNMENT. The next day, the Israeli Cabinet had voted to suspend the talks. John Kerry’s peace process was over.

It’s one thing to threaten action, set a deadline, and then carry it out. That is essentially what the Palestinians did with their UN gambit. But the idea that the process could just end on a Palestinian whim can poison the well (or whatever’s left of it).

That’s because for the Palestinians, once the process begins it’s in the hands of Abbas, Erekat, and some high-level members of Abbas’s cabinet. That is not the case for Israel. As the report details, the day the Palestinians signed their applications to the UN agencies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding meetings throughout the day in his office seeking to reassure skeptics in his coalition without alienating Livni and the peace processors to their left. Additionally, he had to deal with the constant threat of rebellion from Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing party that held the third-most seats in the governing coalition.

The unity deal between Hamas and Fatah was an unmitigated disaster for the peace process. It was more than just a setback: it raised the possibility that any Israeli leader who risked his government for a peace process would get a more terroristic Palestinian government than he or she started with and would have imminent war looming. The Palestinians are willing to pull the plug without warning. That’s a lesson their Israeli and American counterparts will learn.

And it is related to the third conclusion to be drawn from the essay. The authors relate a conversation between Kerry and Netanyahu in which Netanyahu raises the issue of Palestinian incitement. Eventually, the following exchange occurs:

Kerry pressed on: “When I fought in Vietnam, I used to look at the faces of the local population and the looks they gave us. I’ll never forget it. It gave me clarity that we saw the situation in completely different ways.”

“This isn’t Vietnam!” Netanyahu shouted. “No one understands Israel but Israel.”

That comment may paint Netanyahu as defensive, but in fact he’s right–and the essay demonstrates that convincingly. Kerry and his negotiating team, as well as the Palestinian leadership, consistently misread the Israeli political scene and Netanyahu’s reaction to it. Autocrats don’t seem to understand democratic politics, and Kerry’s team exhibited no real grasp of what it takes to form a consensus and keep a government intact in Israel.

The reporters themselves even got tripped up by Israeli politics and leaned heavily on trite and completely inaccurate narratives. At one point in the article, they refer to Netanyahu as “a right-wing ideologue”–an absurdly reductionist and patently false claim. If Netanyahu, the famous dealmaker and pragmatist who elicits much Israeli wariness precisely because he is not an ideologue, can be classified as such, then everybody and nobody is an “ideologue.”

Elsewhere in the piece we are told, indefensibly, that “Tea Party types were continuing their slow-motion takeover of the Likud.” This is a common, but no less justifiable, trope. It is a sign either that the writer can only understand politics through shallow American analogies or that the writer assumes that to be true of the reader. Or both, I suppose. Whatever the reason, the “Tea Party” contention is obviously untrue, and those who offer it with regard to Israeli politics are doing their readers a considerable disservice.

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Israel Now Criticized for Wanting Peace

Because there are only so many complaints that can be lodged at Israel (thought the well does seem bottomless at times), it was perhaps inevitable that the criticism of the Jewish state would produce some strange narratives. Those who feel compelled to oppose whatever Israel is doing at any given time are going to have to latch on, occasionally, to counterintuitive accusations. And a recent critique of Israeli policy fits that bill.

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Because there are only so many complaints that can be lodged at Israel (thought the well does seem bottomless at times), it was perhaps inevitable that the criticism of the Jewish state would produce some strange narratives. Those who feel compelled to oppose whatever Israel is doing at any given time are going to have to latch on, occasionally, to counterintuitive accusations. And a recent critique of Israeli policy fits that bill.

Portraying Israel as the warlike aggressor gets increasingly ridiculous, as Hamas initiates each round of violence with indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians in much of the country, including Israel’s major port city, its capital, and the area near its major international airport. Additionally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has exhibited restraint, attempting to stave off the need for a limited ground incursion, which has now commenced, with repeated attempts at a truce. And that, apparently, is the new objection to Israel’s actions.

BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel reports on two consecutive efforts by Israel to get Hamas to “yes” in talks for a truce:

“There were talks, and they were a step in the right direction, but to declare that a cease-fire agreement was reached is premature,” said one Palestinian official currently in Cairo on the delegation. “Hamas has made it clear that their demands have not yet been met, and there are further discussions to be held.” This appeared to echo previous concerns when a cease-fire deal was announced by Israel on Tuesday, despite claims from Hamas that it had not been consulted and would not have accepted the offer.

Chief among the demands of Hamas, he said, was that Egypt open its Rafah crossing with Gaza, and Israel ease the naval blockade of Gaza.

“We do not understand the reports currently in the media, they are misleading,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the group had agreed not to speak to media until a cease-fire was officially announced. He added that it was his suspicion that someone from the Israeli delegation leaked information to the BBC, in the hopes that announcing a cease-fire deal would pressure Hamas into agreeing to the offer already on the table.

Israel tried to get a ceasefire–not just a temporary humanitarian ceasefire, but a cessation of the current round of violence–on Tuesday, but couldn’t get Hamas to sign on. They tried again, and the Palestinians accused Israel of leaking news of an agreement in order to pressure Hamas to accept the truce. The Israelis, in other words, stand accused of being too aggressively peace-minded.

There was a similar complaint, though concerning a different era, in the July 12 edition of the Economist. The magazine ran a book review on Ahron Bregman’s latest history of the post-1967 conflict. According to the review, Bregman–who served in the Israel Defense Forces during its first Lebanon war and subsequently left Israel “unhappy about the country’s policy towards the Palestinians,” according to the Economist–accuses then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak of manipulating the U.S. and Yasser Arafat into the peace process. From the review:

In 1999 Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Barak, lured Mr Clinton, Mr Bregman suggests, into one failed summit after another, providing Mr Barak with enough cover to allow him to claim that Israel had no partner for peace.

After persuading Mr Clinton to tempt President Assad to Geneva in March 2000 with the promise of ground-breaking proposals, says the author, Mr Barak back-pedalled on an earlier Israeli promise of a full withdrawal. Hours before the summit was due to start, Mr Barak insisted that Israel should keep a sliver of land, 400 metres wide, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. Mr Assad withdrew.

Four months later Mr Barak persuaded Mr Clinton to try again, cajoling a wary Yasser Arafat to negotiate a final settlement at Camp David.

Yet Barak didn’t walk away from the deal on the table; Arafat did. Bregman seems to paint Barak as a serial flake, ending the prospect of peace with Syria and “cajoling” Arafat to a peace summit in order that Barak’s grand gamble would fail, forever tarnishing his legacy and beginning the end of his career as a potential premier and heralding the descent of his Labor Party into near-irrelevance.

No one looks very intelligent claiming that Israel is run by warmongers. So the new plan is to condemn Israel for its enthusiasm for peace negotiations. Israelis have long known that whatever they do, they’ll be criticized for it, and this appears to be just the latest iteration of Israel’s opponents’ fundamental hypocrisy.

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John Kerry’s War

Being a pessimist means that having your predictions come true rarely brings much joy. That’s the situation I and many other Israelis and Palestinians are in right now–all those who warned that John Kerry’s insistence on restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks would likely spark a new round of Palestinian-Israeli violence, but were drowned out by those who insist that talking never does any harm. It’s already too late to spare Israelis and Palestinians the bloody consequences of Kerry’s hubris. But it’s important to understand why such initiatives so frequently result in bloodshed, so that future secretaries of state can avoid a recurrence.

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Being a pessimist means that having your predictions come true rarely brings much joy. That’s the situation I and many other Israelis and Palestinians are in right now–all those who warned that John Kerry’s insistence on restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks would likely spark a new round of Palestinian-Israeli violence, but were drowned out by those who insist that talking never does any harm. It’s already too late to spare Israelis and Palestinians the bloody consequences of Kerry’s hubris. But it’s important to understand why such initiatives so frequently result in bloodshed, so that future secretaries of state can avoid a recurrence.

First, as repeated efforts over the last 14 years have shown, Palestinians and Israelis aren’t ready to make a deal. Serious efforts were made at the Camp David talks in 2000, the Taba talks in 2001, the Livni-Qureia talks in 2007-08, the Olmert-Abbas talks in 2008, and, most recently, Kerry’s talks, but all failed because the gaps between the parties couldn’t be bridged. As Shmuel Rosner noted in a perceptive New York Times op-ed in May, that’s because many issues Westerners don’t much care about, and therefore imagine are easy to compromise on, are actually very important to the parties involved and thus impossible to compromise on. That isn’t likely to change anytime soon, and until it does, negotiations will never bring peace.

But failed peace talks inevitably make violence more likely, for two main reasons. First, they force both sides to focus on their most passionate disagreements–the so-called “core issues” that go to the heart of both Israeli and Palestinian identity–rather than on less emotional issues. On more mundane issues, Israel and the Palestinian Authority can sometimes agree–as they did on a series of economic cooperation projects last June, before Kerry’s peace talks gummed up the works. But even if they don’t, it’s hard for people on either side to get too upset when their governments squabble over, say, sewage treatment. In contrast, people on both sides do get upset when their governments argue over, say, the “right of return,” because that’s an issue where both sides view the other’s narrative as negating their own existence.

Second, failed peace talks always result in both sides feeling that they’ve lost or conceded something important without receiving a suitable quid pro quo. Palestinians, for instance, were outraged when Kerry reportedly backed Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state, while Israelis were outraged by Kerry’s subsequent U-turn on the issue. Thus both sides ended up feeling as if their positions on this issue were undermined during the talks. The same goes for the Jordan Valley, where both Israelis and Palestinians felt Kerry’s proposals didn’t meet their respective needs, but now fear these proposals will serve as the starting point for additional concessions next time.

Added to this were the “gestures” Kerry demanded of both sides: that Israel free dozens of vicious killers and the PA temporarily refrain from joining international organizations. Though the price Kerry demanded of Israel was incomparably greater, neither side wanted to pay its assigned share. So when the talks collapsed, both felt they had made a sacrifice for nothing.

In short, failed peace talks exacerbate Israeli-Palestinian tensions rather than calming them. And when tensions rise, so does the likelihood of violence. That’s true in any situation, but doubly so for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because terrorist groups like Hamas are always happy to throw a match into a barrel of explosives. The unsurprising result is that spasms of violence, like the second intifada and the current war, have frequently followed failed peace talks.

So if Washington truly wants to avoid Israeli-Palestinian violence, the best thing it could do is stop trying to force both sides into talks that are doomed to fail. For contrary to the accepted wisdom, which holds that “political negotiations” are the best way to forestall violence, they’re actually the best way to make violence more likely.

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Peace Process Gets a Boost: Indyk Quits

Years ago while planning out a story on Israel’s Labor Party, I called a former Clinton administration official who had been part of the White House’s Mideast diplomatic team. He declined to comment, saying he simply doesn’t talk about Israeli domestic politics. I was surprised but understood. Yet I couldn’t figure out quite why I was surprised until I saw a different U.S. official, Martin Indyk, talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Years ago while planning out a story on Israel’s Labor Party, I called a former Clinton administration official who had been part of the White House’s Mideast diplomatic team. He declined to comment, saying he simply doesn’t talk about Israeli domestic politics. I was surprised but understood. Yet I couldn’t figure out quite why I was surprised until I saw a different U.S. official, Martin Indyk, talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Indyk, who the AP reports is now resigning from President Obama’s Mideast team, had the opposite policy of the official I had called seeking comment. Indyk never hesitated to prattle on about Israeli domestic politics to any reporter who would listen. I was reminded of this when Indyk was universally identified as the source for bitter complaints about Israel to the Israeli press after Indyk failed miserably as the Obama administration’s peace envoy. As Elder of Ziyon noted, Indyk’s meddling in domestic Israeli politics while working for Bill Clinton was so egregious and out of control that Knesset member Uzi Landau lodged an official complaint with Clinton over it in 2000, writing:

In addition to his remarks concerning Jerusalem, Ambassador Indyk offered his views regarding secular-religious tensions in Israel and the role of the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism. He also intimated his tacit support for Prime Minister Barak’s so-called secular revolution. As a commentator in the liberal daily Ha’aretz noted, “readers are urged to imagine what the Americans would say if the Israeli ambassador to Washington were to come to a local religious institution and say such things.”

As a veteran Knesset member who has consistently supported closer ties between our two nations, I wish to strongly protest Ambassador Indyk’s blatant interference in Israel’s internal affairs and democratic process. I am sure you would agree that it is simply unacceptable for a foreign diplomat to involve himself so provocatively in the most sensitive affairs of the country to which he is posted. If a foreign ambassador stationed in the United States were to involve himself in a domestic American policy debate regarding race relations or abortion, the subsequent outcry would not be long in coming.

Ambassador Indyk’s remarks about Jerusalem are an affront to Israel, particularly since he made them in the heart of the city that he aspires to divide. By needlessly raising Arab expectations on the Jerusalem issue, rather than moderating them, Ambassador Indyk has caused inestimable damage to the peace process. It is likewise inexplicable that Ambassador Indyk would choose to interject his private religious preferences into the debate over secular-religious tensions in Israel.

Indyk’s dislike of much of the Israeli public led to his infamous refusal to acquaint himself with the reality of Israeli life and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Thus as our Rick Richman wrote in May, even while Indyk was in Israel he had his facts backwards. At a Washington Institute for Near East Policy event, Indyk took questions from the institute’s director, Robert Satloff. One question was about settlements: Indyk had blamed Benjamin Netanyahu for “rampant settlement activity,” but of course this was not true. Netanyahu has quietly reined in the settlements. Richman quotes Indyk’s response:

I’ve not heard of this second account — it doesn’t make any sense to me — and I honestly don’t understand what it means. Maybe someone else can explain it to me.

Not only did Indyk not know the basic truth about Israeli policy, but he admitted he couldn’t even understand it. When the facts conflicted with his prejudiced preconceptions, he couldn’t process the information.

Which explains why he used his time as peace envoy to mount a disinformation campaign against the democratically elected Israeli government. The Washington Free Beacon had reported back in May that Indyk was at the center of an Obama administration media campaign against Israel during the negotiations. Such behavior is almost guaranteed to make Israelis suspicious of Indyk and encourage Palestinians to believe they don’t have to make concessions because the Obama administration will simply keep pressuring Israel no matter what.

In other words, Indyk’s behavior was the surest path to failure. Which is precisely what happened. Just as it is precisely what happened the last time he was tasked with representing the White House in the Middle East. Indyk stepping down may be a result of the breakdown of the peace process, but it is its own silver lining: with Indyk back home, the prospects for peace automatically get just a bit brighter.

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Two More Myths About Israeli Settlements Bite the Dust

One encouraging element to the gross media bias against Israel is that eventually, many of the lies spread about Israel and republished uncritically in the press finally become undeniably impossible to believe. This realization leads to stories that emerge, Austin Powers-like, from a time machine, awkwardly in perpetual awe of facts any informed person knew years, if not decades, before.

Jewish settlement is frequently the subject of such stories. One of my all-time favorites is this 2009 piece in the New York Times by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, declaring that an Israeli-Palestinian deal might indeed be possible because, through “scores of interviews over several months, including with settler firebrands,” they have learned that the settlers “are unlikely to engage in organized armed conflict with the Israeli military” should a deal be struck.

It was a long story, the upshot of which was to repeatedly proclaim, as if they had invented the wheel, that Jews living in their historic homeland are not, in fact, psychotic mobs of violent fanatics. Better late than never for Bronner and Kershner, I suppose, but it was only news to those who get all their information from the New York Times.

The popular Mideast news site Al-Monitor has a new entry in this field. Headlined “Youths’ abduction stirs Israeli sympathy for settlers,” the author proceeds to explain that Israelis don’t think Jews deserve to be kidnapped by terrorists just because they found themselves outside the green line:

Throughout the first and second intifadas, there were many voices in the public discourse blaming the settlers for the series of terrorist attacks in Israel. The left regarded the settlements as an obstacle to peace; the right regarded them as an obstacle to war. On the left, authors, intellectuals, pundits and politicians took the position that Israel’s very domination of the territories was the main cause of Palestinian violence. For many Israelis, life beyond the Green Line was like living in another country. Time after time, surveys confirmed that most Israelis had never set foot in the territories and that many of them had never actually seen a settlement up close.

Then the three teenagers were abducted. It’s hard to think of another event in the territories that has evoked so much sympathy among Israelis.

This is apparently troublesome, though, because:

The [Israeli] minister even expressed his concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might actually exploit the past few days’ outpouring of support to even expand further the settlement enterprise in the occupied territories.

For some people, there’s always a downside to Jews supporting other Jews. In this case, it is that Jews will continue supporting their fellow Jews. But let’s look at that minister’s concern that Netanyahu will expand the settlement enterprise. One of the persistent myths about Netanyahu is that he is a pro-settlement hardliner. It is pervasive and false. It’s easy for uninformed Westerners to believe it, because they want to believe it, but it also exposes their ignorance of Israeli politics. In fact, not only is Netanyahu not a pro-settlements ideologue, but his actions as prime minister actually leave the opposite impression.

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One encouraging element to the gross media bias against Israel is that eventually, many of the lies spread about Israel and republished uncritically in the press finally become undeniably impossible to believe. This realization leads to stories that emerge, Austin Powers-like, from a time machine, awkwardly in perpetual awe of facts any informed person knew years, if not decades, before.

Jewish settlement is frequently the subject of such stories. One of my all-time favorites is this 2009 piece in the New York Times by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, declaring that an Israeli-Palestinian deal might indeed be possible because, through “scores of interviews over several months, including with settler firebrands,” they have learned that the settlers “are unlikely to engage in organized armed conflict with the Israeli military” should a deal be struck.

It was a long story, the upshot of which was to repeatedly proclaim, as if they had invented the wheel, that Jews living in their historic homeland are not, in fact, psychotic mobs of violent fanatics. Better late than never for Bronner and Kershner, I suppose, but it was only news to those who get all their information from the New York Times.

The popular Mideast news site Al-Monitor has a new entry in this field. Headlined “Youths’ abduction stirs Israeli sympathy for settlers,” the author proceeds to explain that Israelis don’t think Jews deserve to be kidnapped by terrorists just because they found themselves outside the green line:

Throughout the first and second intifadas, there were many voices in the public discourse blaming the settlers for the series of terrorist attacks in Israel. The left regarded the settlements as an obstacle to peace; the right regarded them as an obstacle to war. On the left, authors, intellectuals, pundits and politicians took the position that Israel’s very domination of the territories was the main cause of Palestinian violence. For many Israelis, life beyond the Green Line was like living in another country. Time after time, surveys confirmed that most Israelis had never set foot in the territories and that many of them had never actually seen a settlement up close.

Then the three teenagers were abducted. It’s hard to think of another event in the territories that has evoked so much sympathy among Israelis.

This is apparently troublesome, though, because:

The [Israeli] minister even expressed his concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might actually exploit the past few days’ outpouring of support to even expand further the settlement enterprise in the occupied territories.

For some people, there’s always a downside to Jews supporting other Jews. In this case, it is that Jews will continue supporting their fellow Jews. But let’s look at that minister’s concern that Netanyahu will expand the settlement enterprise. One of the persistent myths about Netanyahu is that he is a pro-settlement hardliner. It is pervasive and false. It’s easy for uninformed Westerners to believe it, because they want to believe it, but it also exposes their ignorance of Israeli politics. In fact, not only is Netanyahu not a pro-settlements ideologue, but his actions as prime minister actually leave the opposite impression.

As Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot write at Foreign Affairs, Netanyahu has slowed construction in settlements to the point that it “can hardly sustain even natural population growth.” Additionally:

A geographic analysis of the data, moreover, suggests that the settlers have an additional reason to worry: under Netanyahu’s current government, construction outside the so-called major settlement blocs — the areas most likely to remain part of Israel in a final peace settlement — has steadily decreased. Over the past five years, the number of homes approved for construction in the smaller settlements has amounted to half of what it was during Netanyahu’s first premiership in 1996–99. Moreover, the homes the government is now approving for construction are positioned further west, mostly in the major blocs or in areas adjacent to the so-called Green Line, the de facto border separating Israel from the West Bank. The 1,500 units that Israel announced plans for earlier this month were also in the major blocs and in East Jerusalem, continuing the pattern.

Despite the fact that this might qualify as a bombshell to those in the press, Abrams and Sadot have another piece of news. After talking about land swaps and the geography of the peace process, they write:

Accusations that Netanyahu is reluctant to negotiate for peace bury the true headline: that his government has unilaterally reduced Israeli settlement construction and largely constrained it to a narrow segment of territory. This might well be the signal that Israel’s historical settlement enterprise is nearing its end, and whatever its reasons — international pressures, demographic fears, or a shift in public opinion — it is a trend that deserves U.S. attention.

Let’s repeat that: Benjamin Netanyahu’s behavior toward the settlements raises the possibility that “Israel’s historical settlement enterprise is nearing its end” and that Netanyahu is the one who might preside over it. Liberal critics of Israel have slammed Netanyahu as a prime minister who could make true history by striking a peace deal but is letting ego and ideology get in the way. The reality is that he may just make history of the kind those leftist critics thought they could only dream of, and they don’t even realize it.

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Hamas-Fatah Unity: When Policymakers Don’t Look Ahead

Competing with Hamas or other extremists for the allegiance of the “Arab street” often means an anti-Semitic and baldly violent race to the bottom. So it was a welcome surprise when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned in strong terms the kidnapping of three Israeli teens last week. Speaking in Arabic in Saudi Arabia, according to the Times of Israel, Abbas said: “Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us [the Palestinians]. … The three young men are human beings just like us and must be returned to their families.”

Today the paper notes the predictable response from Hamas:

His stance quickly drew fire from Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, who blasted Abbas for “basing his statements solely on the Israeli narrative, without presenting any true information.”

Hamas MP Mushir al-Masri joined Abu Zuhri’s criticism, accusing Abbas of preferring the three Israeli youths to thousands of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.

Abbas surely knew he’d be labeled a collaborator and a traitor for his comments, so it’s all the more encouraging he made them anyway. And he also struck a nerve: when Abbas said the kidnappers “want to destroy” the Palestinians, he’s right up to a point. What Hamas terrorists and their supporters want to destroy are the prospects for peace and the two-state solution, and thus an independent Palestine. Since “resistance” is Hamas’s raison d’être, anything or anyone who gets in their way constitutes an existential threat to them.

Those who want to see the emergence of some sort of relatively moderate Palestinian governance are naturally cheered by this exchange, then. But this is even more of a vindication for those who opposed bringing Hamas into the government in the first place.

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Competing with Hamas or other extremists for the allegiance of the “Arab street” often means an anti-Semitic and baldly violent race to the bottom. So it was a welcome surprise when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned in strong terms the kidnapping of three Israeli teens last week. Speaking in Arabic in Saudi Arabia, according to the Times of Israel, Abbas said: “Those who perpetrated this act want to destroy us [the Palestinians]. … The three young men are human beings just like us and must be returned to their families.”

Today the paper notes the predictable response from Hamas:

His stance quickly drew fire from Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, who blasted Abbas for “basing his statements solely on the Israeli narrative, without presenting any true information.”

Hamas MP Mushir al-Masri joined Abu Zuhri’s criticism, accusing Abbas of preferring the three Israeli youths to thousands of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.

Abbas surely knew he’d be labeled a collaborator and a traitor for his comments, so it’s all the more encouraging he made them anyway. And he also struck a nerve: when Abbas said the kidnappers “want to destroy” the Palestinians, he’s right up to a point. What Hamas terrorists and their supporters want to destroy are the prospects for peace and the two-state solution, and thus an independent Palestine. Since “resistance” is Hamas’s raison d’être, anything or anyone who gets in their way constitutes an existential threat to them.

Those who want to see the emergence of some sort of relatively moderate Palestinian governance are naturally cheered by this exchange, then. But this is even more of a vindication for those who opposed bringing Hamas into the government in the first place.

The “unity” government between Fatah and Hamas has only one wild card: Fatah. Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel; the terror group’s every action and statement is based in Hamas’s genocidal campaign. Fatah is less predictable. It is also animated by a desire to promulgate a wild-eyed anti-Semitism and the denial of human rights, but Abbas has always been less convinced that campaigns of indiscriminate murder are helpful to the cause.

So Fatah answered Hamas’s taunts:

“[Hamas's] cheap accusations concerning the prisoners are nothing but words,” read a statement on Fatah’s official website. “Everyone knows that president [Abbas] has placed our heroic prisoners at the top of his agenda … his insistence on freeing the fourth batch of veteran prisoners halted the negotiations. We did not agree to what Hamas has agreed to, namely the deportation of prisoners abroad, far from their families.”

The Cairo reconciliation agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas in May 2011 explicitly called for “peaceful and political resistance,” the statement continued; the kidnapping, it implied, constituted a breach of that accord.

What Fatah is experiencing now is an internecine version of what Hamas does to any impending Israeli-Palestinian deal. When the two sides appear to be making progress, Hamas reignites its terror campaign against Israel, undermining the Palestinian Authority’s public standing and forcing a response from Israel. Israeli self-defense brings international condemnation from the self-obsessed opportunists who invest their reputations in the peace process, and it forces security questions to the fore.

That, in turn, exposes the PA’s bad faith. Were Abbas and his crew willing to ensure Israel’s security, the process could continue. But they are not willing (in some cases, able) to do so. Their bluff called, the Palestinians walk away from negotiations. The process collapses, with the PA looking ever weaker, ignorant European diplomats buffoonishly railing against Israel in the public sphere, and the Americans, if led by a Democratic presidential administration, going back to trying to destabilize Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Now it is a Fatah-Hamas deal on the table, but the Hamasniks’ response is the same: violence against innocents. Can Abbas walk away from the unity government? It’s not so easy, though I suppose it isn’t quite too late. This is part of the reason the Obama administration’s decision to support Hamas’s participation in the government was so foolish.

The “cooperation” the West is lauding between Israel and the PA is necessary because of the decision to let Hamas into the henhouse. Abbas cannot defeat them on his own, so the IDF remains his only real hope of staying in power. How will that play with the Palestinian street? And if this does cause the collapse of the unity deal, then we’re back where we started except it took the kidnapping of three Jews to get us there. Those supporting this deal do not seem to have looked very far ahead. Their response to the current crisis shows that hasn’t changed.

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Palestinian “Unity” Government So Far Not Applying to Gaza

When Hamas ejected Fatah from Gaza in 2007, the terror group did more than simply carve out a base of influence. Because of Gaza’s geographic isolation from the West Bank, once Hamas was able to solidify control it created a shadow state governed by one-party rule and with its own foreign policy. In authoritarian societies like Hamas-ruled Gaza, government control is such that the unaccountable bureaucracy is staffed with appointees whose livelihood depends on the whim and favor of those above them. So that’s where their loyalties lie.

This situation–Gaza’s isolation and its one-party rule–means that integrating Hamas into the broader Palestinian governance structure in the West Bank is far easier than integrating non-Hamasniks into Gaza. That goes double for Hamas’s rival, Fatah. The two may have signed a unity agreement seeking to forge a common government and hold elections, but how will it go when Palestinian Authority “unity” government figures try to apply that piece of paper to Gaza? The New York Times gives us an idea:

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When Hamas ejected Fatah from Gaza in 2007, the terror group did more than simply carve out a base of influence. Because of Gaza’s geographic isolation from the West Bank, once Hamas was able to solidify control it created a shadow state governed by one-party rule and with its own foreign policy. In authoritarian societies like Hamas-ruled Gaza, government control is such that the unaccountable bureaucracy is staffed with appointees whose livelihood depends on the whim and favor of those above them. So that’s where their loyalties lie.

This situation–Gaza’s isolation and its one-party rule–means that integrating Hamas into the broader Palestinian governance structure in the West Bank is far easier than integrating non-Hamasniks into Gaza. That goes double for Hamas’s rival, Fatah. The two may have signed a unity agreement seeking to forge a common government and hold elections, but how will it go when Palestinian Authority “unity” government figures try to apply that piece of paper to Gaza? The New York Times gives us an idea:

The Palestinian Authority has had a new government for 10 days now, but the prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, acknowledged on Thursday that he still lacked any authority in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip and that nothing has yet changed on the ground.

Though the new government was approved by both of the rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, Mr. Hamdallah offered no plan for disarming militants, integrating the two sides’ security forces, or even for getting Gaza’s 1.7 million residents to start paying taxes and electricity bills.

How does Mr. Hamdallah plan to rectify this? Your guess is as good as his:

In an hourlong interview, Mr. Hamdallah laid much of the responsibility for reconciling the West Bank and Gaza after seven years of schism on two committees, one of which has yet to be formed. He repeated political platitudes about Palestinian unity, but offered no practical program to deliver it.

Part of that can be explained by the fact that Hamdallah apparently doesn’t approve of the team he was not able to choose:

Mr. Hamdallah, who has been prime minister for a year, said he was dissatisfied with his new cabinet, which was selected through negotiations between the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, the militant Islamic faction that has ruled Gaza since 2007. If the decision had been left up to him, he said, he would have chosen “very few” of the ministers in the new cabinet.

Asked when he would visit Gaza, Mr. Hamdallah was silent for a long moment and then said, “We haven’t set a time for that.”

Let’s stipulate that we’re not even two weeks into this new government, and that the leadership is temporary anyway until elections can be held, and so no one’s expecting miracles. But Palestinian leaders hoping to break up Hamas’s monopoly in Gaza really should consider actually going there.

Unless it’s all for show, as skeptics of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal have been warning. As the Times notes:

Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian poet and political activist who lives in Australia but has many relatives in Gaza, said the bank crisis showed a “lack of trust on the ground between the two factions.”

“If it’s a normal democracy in a sovereign nation, you can have diverse views with conflicting agendas,” Ms. Sabawi said. “But we’re talking about a people under occupation. Their politics, their policies, are always beholden to whomever is paying their money. It really has been reduced to just theater.”

There can’t be a peace deal without Palestinian unity, but there can’t be Palestinian unity without a peace deal, and around and around we go. Yet the remark about it all being “just theater,” however accurate, also points to the fact that the Obama administration is playing the same game.

All these loopholes and facades, such as the idea that no one in the new government is explicitly a member of Hamas, are not fooling Washington. They are, instead, adhering to precisely what Washington wants from them at the moment. American law says we can’t fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, but the Obama administration wants to support Palestinian unity which necessarily has to include Hamas–regardless of what their party registration cards say.

As long as there’s a technicality on which the administration can legally continue its policy of engagement, it will do so. No one’s fooling anyone, because they don’t have to.

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Did the Oslo Accords Kill the Peace Process?

One of the striking aspects of the last two decades of Shimon Peres’s long career in Israeli public life is how much of a prisoner he was to his own near-success. Peres was a driving force behind the Oslo peace process and the crucial negotiations that led to the Declaration of Principles before the agreement melted under the hot lights of reality. Yet in many ways the deal trapped him, having to carry its banner and defend the possibility of its fulfillment for the rest of his time in office.

Peres was on the Israeli left, sure, but his career had been marked–as so many of his contemporaries in both generations–by partisan fluidity. The AFP analysis Jonathan mentioned yesterday illustrates this: it says Peres was once considered a hawk because, in part, he ordered the shelling of Lebanese territory in 1996. Yet that was after Oslo. By such an accounting, Peres was a pragmatist. But with Oslo only mostly dead, he was never really able, aside from a token move to leave Labor for Kadima under Ariel Sharon, to get out of its shadow.

This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Oslo has trapped, to a large extent, Peres’s country on the whole, including Israeli politicians who don’t support or defend it. Consider the Herzliya conference in Israel this week. While former ambassador Michael Oren’s “Plan B” idea for a new direction in the peace process–something akin to a coordinated unilateralism–has been discussed for months, BuzzFeed reports that Herzliya has seen something of a parade of alternative peace plans.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, former settlers’ advocate Dani Dayan, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have all offered their ideas. Here’s the crux of Dayan’s:

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One of the striking aspects of the last two decades of Shimon Peres’s long career in Israeli public life is how much of a prisoner he was to his own near-success. Peres was a driving force behind the Oslo peace process and the crucial negotiations that led to the Declaration of Principles before the agreement melted under the hot lights of reality. Yet in many ways the deal trapped him, having to carry its banner and defend the possibility of its fulfillment for the rest of his time in office.

Peres was on the Israeli left, sure, but his career had been marked–as so many of his contemporaries in both generations–by partisan fluidity. The AFP analysis Jonathan mentioned yesterday illustrates this: it says Peres was once considered a hawk because, in part, he ordered the shelling of Lebanese territory in 1996. Yet that was after Oslo. By such an accounting, Peres was a pragmatist. But with Oslo only mostly dead, he was never really able, aside from a token move to leave Labor for Kadima under Ariel Sharon, to get out of its shadow.

This is hardly surprising considering the fact that Oslo has trapped, to a large extent, Peres’s country on the whole, including Israeli politicians who don’t support or defend it. Consider the Herzliya conference in Israel this week. While former ambassador Michael Oren’s “Plan B” idea for a new direction in the peace process–something akin to a coordinated unilateralism–has been discussed for months, BuzzFeed reports that Herzliya has seen something of a parade of alternative peace plans.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, former settlers’ advocate Dani Dayan, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have all offered their ideas. Here’s the crux of Dayan’s:

He wants to ignore the peace process entirely and to loosen restrictions on Palestinians and improve their daily lives without waiting for a negotiated solution. Dayan, an advocate of one shared state for Palestinians and Israelis, is pressing the Israeli government to remove the separation barrier — a looming symbol of Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank — that separates Israeli and Palestinian communities. Israelis and Palestinians should be allowed to live wherever they want, he argues, and travel into one another’s territories. …

Many of Israel’s right-wing leadership, including Danny Danon, the deputy defense minister, have also thrown their weight behind the plan.

“In general I think that we should try to find ways to make the lives of the Palestinians easier,” Danon said. “That’s something I support.”

The plan has also been well-received by former Israeli defense officials. Moshe Arens, a former defense minister, has publicly backed the plan.

And here, according to the Wall Street Journal, are Lapid’s and Bennett’s:

Ministers have revived two previously rejected proposals that suggest opposite directions for Israel. One, touted by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose hard-line party represents Jewish settlers in the West Bank, calls for annexing parts of the territory claimed by Palestinians for a future state.

A contrasting proposal made by centrist Finance Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday at a national-security conference envisions a military withdrawal from the West Bank and evacuations of Jewish settlements to spur an eventual peace deal.

Whatever their merits, these plans have two main obstacles. The first is the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas. The Journal’s headline says it all: “Israel Ministers Press for New West Bank Strategy.” Indeed, West Bank strategy. There is no deal to be had with Hamas in Gaza, which essentially has constructed its own state–Somalia instead of Singapore, as Dayan correctly terms it–and which will seek to export its ideology to the West Bank. It’s possible that if the two are truly separate, a deal can be had with the West Bank. The sense of urgency is there anyway, since Israel left Gaza completely but has a far more integrated relationship with the West Bank.

But the other obstacle is the peace process everyone’s running away from. As Rick Richman likes to point out, the peace processers are beholden to this idea that “everybody knows” what a final-status deal would look like. This belief is strangely impervious to evidence.

Or perhaps not so strangely. The longer this dedication to Oslo goes on, the easier it is to at least understand why its adherents can’t bring themselves to quit cold turkey.

There’s always the chance that a confluence of ideas like what took place at Herzliya will change the calculus–that if left, right, and center all push for a grand rethinking of the peace process it might happen. But that’s not been the case in recent years. And the dedication to the status quo, which ignores changes on the ground and keeps policymakers of the future glued to discredited ideas of the past, negates critical thinking and discourages creative solutions. If that doesn’t change, Oslo will continue to be associated with preventing peace, not presaging it.

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“Lebanonization” and Other Bogus Defenses of Obama’s Hamas Policy

The Obama administration’s strategy to deflect criticism of its support for Hamas’s role in the emerging Palestinian government is becoming clear. American officials will accuse Israel of hypocrisy, and rely on the media to parrot the accusation. There are two elements to the charge, and neither–as would be expected from an Obama-Kerry brainstorm–have merit. But they are revealing nonetheless.

Today’s New York Times story on the matter includes both charges. The first: “The Israeli government, [Kerry] noted, was continuing to send the Palestinian Authority tax remittances.” The implication is that Israel is in no place to protest American funding of a government including Hamas since they are doing so themselves. Yet to suggest that tax remittances are the same, or should be considered the same, as foreign aid is absurd on its face–and, frankly, rather embarrassing for Kerry who may not understand basic economics himself but can afford to hire someone who does.

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The Obama administration’s strategy to deflect criticism of its support for Hamas’s role in the emerging Palestinian government is becoming clear. American officials will accuse Israel of hypocrisy, and rely on the media to parrot the accusation. There are two elements to the charge, and neither–as would be expected from an Obama-Kerry brainstorm–have merit. But they are revealing nonetheless.

Today’s New York Times story on the matter includes both charges. The first: “The Israeli government, [Kerry] noted, was continuing to send the Palestinian Authority tax remittances.” The implication is that Israel is in no place to protest American funding of a government including Hamas since they are doing so themselves. Yet to suggest that tax remittances are the same, or should be considered the same, as foreign aid is absurd on its face–and, frankly, rather embarrassing for Kerry who may not understand basic economics himself but can afford to hire someone who does.

Additionally, the United States and Israel often have different approaches to the Palestinians because of the different roles the two play. Generally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed ending American aid to the Palestinian Authority, and has gone to bat for Obama by lobbying Congress to back off such proposals. The reason is the Palestinians have two primary choices for leadership: Fatah and Hamas. Until now Hamas has been excluded from the broader government, which means any money that flows to Mahmoud Abbas may have been misused in any number of ways, but it at least propped up the far superior alternative to Hamas.

Had Fatah been abandoned by the West, Hamas would have taken over the West Bank too. It can be argued that this process incentivizes Abbas’s misbehavior because it signals to him that he can get away with virtually anything. But actions have consequences, and the consequences of setting Abbas adrift would be disastrous.

The whole point of propping up Abbas was to fund the PA instead of Hamas, in an effort to weaken the latter. Funding a Palestinian government that includes Hamas is, strategically, the opposite of what the United States has been doing. It is not hypocritical of Israel to point this out. Indeed, it should not need pointing out. But if the geniuses running the White House and State Department insist on behaving as though they were born yesterday, they can expect the leaders of the nations that will bear the brunt of the consequences to treat them as such.

The other accusation of hypocrisy concerns the so-called “Lebanonization” of the Palestinian Authority. Here’s the Times:

Nothing illustrated the complexity of the situation for the United States better than Mr. Kerry’s backdrop: He was in Lebanon to underscore American support for the Lebanese government — which includes the Islamic militant group, Hezbollah.

This argument has gained some traction recently, but its popularity is truly puzzling. The implication here is that the United States supports the Lebanese government even though the terrorist group Hezbollah is an influential part of that government. Therefore, how can Israel oppose American support for a similar government in the Palestinian territories when it does not push back against American support for Lebanon?

Can anyone at the State Department guess the difference between the Palestinians and Lebanon? Show of hands? If you said, “The Israeli government is not involved in land-for-peace negotiations, including the possibility of ceding control of holy places and uprooting Israelis from ancient Jewish land, with the Lebanese,” then you get a gold star.

As the Times story notes, this is really a preliminary confrontation. There will supposedly be elections within the next six months or so, and Hamas will want to participate. Wouldn’t that be dangerous? Sure, but here’s an American official putting everyone at ease:

“Can a group that has a political party and a militia of 20,000 troops run in an election?” a senior administration official said. “These are issues that are going to have be dealt with down the road.”

We’ll find out together! It’ll be exciting. Of course, we already know the answer, since Hamas has already participated in elections in what was widely viewed as a mistake back in 2006. And Hamas currently governs its own province of the territories, the Gaza Strip. The Americans have already seen this movie, but they still can’t wait to see how it ends.

That, of course, could be the one silver lining. If Hamas enters the government and Israel refuses to negotiate with them, it’ll put the onus back where it belongs: on the Palestinian leadership to prove it can build a state that would coexist side by side with a Jewish state. It’ll be John Kerry’s chance to prove the Israelis wrong, though I don’t think they’ll be holding their breath.

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