Commentary Magazine


Topic: peace process

Why UNRWA Perpetuates the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Part of the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is pretending to hold actors and institutions involved to a higher set of expectations than experience would dictate. Over the course of last summer’s war between Hamas in Gaza and the Israel Defense Forces, this meant propagating the idea that it was in any way shocking when the terrorist organization’s weapons–stockpiled for the express purpose of killing Jews in a maniacal, genocidal campaign–turned up, repeatedly, at schools run by UNRWA: the UN agency dedicated to keeping Palestinians living like refugees in perpetuity.

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Part of the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is pretending to hold actors and institutions involved to a higher set of expectations than experience would dictate. Over the course of last summer’s war between Hamas in Gaza and the Israel Defense Forces, this meant propagating the idea that it was in any way shocking when the terrorist organization’s weapons–stockpiled for the express purpose of killing Jews in a maniacal, genocidal campaign–turned up, repeatedly, at schools run by UNRWA: the UN agency dedicated to keeping Palestinians living like refugees in perpetuity.

So now it’s unclear precisely how to react to a raft of stories demonstrating the reason it wasn’t surprising to find Hamas weapons in UNRWA schools: because UNRWA teachers and principles share Hamas’s violently anti-Semitic ideology. Yet in fact this is newsworthy, for an important reason beyond the obvious. First, though, it’s instructive to see just what American taxpayers are getting for their UNRWA money.

On November 20, after the Har Nof massacre in which Palestinian terrorists murdered four rabbis in a Jerusalem synagogue, the Algemeiner reported:

Popular Jewish blogger Elder of Ziyon has amassed evidence of UNRWA employees lauding the Jerusalem attack, among them Maha al Mosa, an UNRWA teacher in Syria who prayed for the two terrorists to be accepted in “paradise” as “martyrs,” Ibrahim Hajjar, another teacher based in Hebron, who published a poem praising the terrorists, and another Syrian-based teacher who, using a pseudonym, posted a celebratory picture of Adolf Hitler on his Facebook page.

The latest outrage centers on Naief al-Hattab, school director of UNRWA’s Zaitoun Elementary School Boys “B” and former school headmaster of Shijia Elementary School Boys “A” for Refugees. Writing on his Facebook page, al-Hattab congratulated the terrorists on their “wonderful revenge.” Al-Hattab, who shook hands with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on his visit to Gaza in October, has previously posted inflammatory statements and images, among them one of a young child brandishing a sub-machine gun. It is not clear whether this child is related to al-Hattab, or whether he attends the Zaitoun Elementary School which al-Hattab runs.

Elder of Ziyon followed up with two more posts, the latest one coming today, on an UNRWA teachers group posting various jihadist media and anti-Israel incitement. And that brings us to the reason UNRWA’s exploits are important. We already know what UNRWA does; it exists to perpetuate Palestinian poverty and statelessness while pocketing American taxpayer cash. It’s a scam, but at this point it’s certainly no secret.

But these latest stories are good examples of why UNRWA does what it does. The organization keeps Palestinians mired in desperation because they agree with the Hamas struggle to eliminate Israel. And the UNRWA schools are where they can exert the utmost control over Palestinian minds, shaping them to abhor the Jewish people and to value bigotry and terrorism over education and productive job training.

Promoting hate is not incidental to UNRWA’s mission. It is UNRWA’s mission. This suggests it values neither Jewish life nor Palestinian life, and it certainly doesn’t believe Palestinians are entitled to a dignified existence. Why would Hamas weapons show up at an UNRWA school? Why wouldn’t they show up there? Where else would be more appropriate?

On Friday, Andrew Roberts reflected on the perpetual refugee status of the descendents of the actual Palestinian refugees. Roberts noted that what happened to the Palestinians “happened so often in the mid-1940s to early 1950s that it is surprising that the plural of the word exodus—exodi?—is not used in reference to this period.”

He continued:

Yet all of these refugee groups, except one, chose to try to make the best of their new environments. Most have succeeded, and some, such as the refugees who reached America in that decade, have done so triumphantly. The sole exception has been the Palestinians, who made the choice to embrace fanatical irredentism and launch two intifadas—and perhaps now a third—resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis.

The Palestinians should certainly own up to much of the blame for repeatedly rejecting the two-state solution and a sovereign nation-state of their own. To do otherwise would be to rob them of their agency–a bigotry of the left all too often foisted upon the Palestinians.

But we should also wonder how much independence and self-reliance the Palestinians’ supposed friends and allies want them to have. To judge by UNRWA’s example, not much. In such a case, it’s clear that UNRWA’s noxious participation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is itself an impediment to peace. And not a minor one, either.

As long as UNRWA is treated as a legitimate participant this process–and loads of American cash says they indeed are–then the perspective they impart on young Palestinian minds will also be seen as legitimate. And that means terror and anti-Semitism will be subsidized and promoted as an acceptable path to a resolution. Which means they will not only continue, but almost certainly increase.

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Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Peace, and Fading Fast

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the two-state solution in particular, is more than just a strategy. To some, as Aaron David Miller and others have written, it is a religion in itself. To others, such as Arab states in the Middle East, it is an excuse. To still others, like UNRWA, it is a self-enrichment scheme designed to perpetuate the conflict. But to nearly everyone, it is, at its most basic level, a market–for ideas, for products, for influence. And as some organizations are finding out now, the bungling of the peace process, such as that done by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, is bad for business.

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The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the two-state solution in particular, is more than just a strategy. To some, as Aaron David Miller and others have written, it is a religion in itself. To others, such as Arab states in the Middle East, it is an excuse. To still others, like UNRWA, it is a self-enrichment scheme designed to perpetuate the conflict. But to nearly everyone, it is, at its most basic level, a market–for ideas, for products, for influence. And as some organizations are finding out now, the bungling of the peace process, such as that done by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, is bad for business.

BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray documents the travails of one such group: the American Task Force on Palestine. It was founded in 2003, she notes, to advocate for Palestinian statehood among policymakers. It was self-consciously moderate, attracting political figures (like then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) to its events and associating itself with Palestinian figures like former prime minister Salam Fayyad, a moderate technocrat who hoped to crack down on corruption and bad governance and was driven out of Palestinian politics for his efforts.

Though the group wasn’t awash in money, things were going fairly well for a while, Gray writes. Indeed, though Gray doesn’t go into the political developments in the U.S. during ATFP’s rise, they are significant. George W. Bush publicly pushed for the creation of a Palestinian state early on in his presidency, giving renewed momentum to the idea of two states for two peoples. The Bush administration’s progress included giving Ariel Sharon the support he needed (later rescinded by Barack Obama in a damaging blow to hopes for peace) to withdraw from the entire Gaza Strip and set the stage for even more territorial concessions. By the end of the Bush administration, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was presenting a map and a generous offer of a deal to Mahmoud Abbas.

That’s when the backsliding began, as Abbas walked away from the offer without making a counteroffer. Then Obama came to office and began to dismantle the progress all sides had worked to achieve. Obama and Kerry, the arsonists of the ongoing blaze in Israel and the Palestinian territories, pushed the two sides farther apart, alienated everyone involved, and sided against not just Israel but also the Palestinian Authority whenever Hamas’s interests were at stake. The process, not exactly on the brink of success to begin with, collapsed.

So what happens to groups like the American Task Force on Palestine when the process is at a low ebb? Gray explains:

But things changed for ATFP this year. This summer’s war between Israel and Hamas and the breakdown of U.S.-mediated peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians aiming to broker a two-state solution, which is core to ATFP’s mission, have proven to be a toxic combination to the nonprofit. The group has decided to cancel its annual gala this year, which usually brings in half of its annual fundraising. And its founder says it will have to cut staff and office space. ATFP’s situation is a casualty of a larger shift: The hope for a two-state solution, which is official U.S. policy and regarded by the establishment as the only legitimate way to end the conflict, is running out of steam, causing a major existential crisis for some of those most dedicated to it.

There’s more than mere symbolism in what this says about the peace process. On a practical level, it shows that relying on the two-state solution as your raison d’être is a poor business model. The American government can afford for John Kerry to toss a match onto the Mideast tinderbox and walk away; private organizations, not so much.

On a political level, it shows the damage for a pro-Palestinian organization to align itself with moderate elements. With regard to the Palestinian polity, this means people like Fayyad, who represented a genuine desire for positive change and the willingness to do the hard work of state building. He was the only one, unfortunately.

It would be one thing if Fayyad had been forced to make only incremental change slowly so as not to rock the boat too much. Instead the system treated him like a virus, seeking to neutralize and then expel him. Which is exactly what happened. When moderate elements are not even tolerated, there’s not much room for a two-state solution or its supporters.

And domestically, it also says much about the hate and intolerance of the Palestinians’ Western supporters. Here’s Gray talking to ATFP’s president on what it’s like to be seen as a collaborator with the enemy merely for talking to Jews:

“That is part of the problem with raising money,” Asali said. “The mere fact that we talk to the Israelis publicly, here and in Israel, and to the Jewish organized and non-organized community has presented a major obstacle in our communication with our community.”

“We are for dealing with the establishment that deals with Palestine and Israel,” he said. “Which means by necessity that at least half of it would be Jewish or Israeli.”

Precisely. You can’t have a negotiating process leading to a two-state solution if you won’t deal with one side. Which raises the unfortunate fact: a great many of the Palestinians’ supporters and allies don’t actually want a two-state solution. They are not invested in real peace or ending the conflict; they are invested in ending Israel.

It’s tempting to say “with friends like these…” but that misses the point. The Palestinians’ supporters are not unintentionally undermining them with their hate. They are taking their cues from the Palestinian government. Those who support the Palestinians but also want peace and a two-state solution are few in number, and dwindling still.

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The Dubious Embrace of Palestinian Unilateralism

A new craze is sweeping European politics: Palestinian unilateralism. One by one Europe’s parliaments and governments are choosing to endorse recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of any peace process with Israel. In doing so these democratic assemblies are sabotaging the very peaceful two-state outcome that they claim to believe in. And yet for many of those driving these moves, although they may talk the language of peace, this is now becoming about something quite different. It is not so much ending the conflict that appears to be galvanizing these parliamentary resolutions, but rather a completely warped notion of “justice.” Realizing the obsession of Palestinian statehood is the goal, regardless of whether it brings peace or not.

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A new craze is sweeping European politics: Palestinian unilateralism. One by one Europe’s parliaments and governments are choosing to endorse recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of any peace process with Israel. In doing so these democratic assemblies are sabotaging the very peaceful two-state outcome that they claim to believe in. And yet for many of those driving these moves, although they may talk the language of peace, this is now becoming about something quite different. It is not so much ending the conflict that appears to be galvanizing these parliamentary resolutions, but rather a completely warped notion of “justice.” Realizing the obsession of Palestinian statehood is the goal, regardless of whether it brings peace or not.

Just this week the Spanish parliament voted in favor of such a move advocating recognition of Palestinian statehood, with 319 parliamentarians supporting the motion and just two opposing, and one abstention. Similar votes have already passed the British and Irish parliaments and the French are to have an equivalent vote at the end of the month. In these countries the parliamentary motions in question have been non-binding on the governments, although the French president already appeared to express support for backing unilateral Palestinian moves at the Security Council. The Swedish government, meanwhile, officially recognized Palestinian statehood back in October.

For anyone genuinely committed to a peaceful two-state outcome it should be plain enough to see that such votes can only hinder attempts to achieve a meaningful resolution of this conflict. Quite apart from the fact that these purely symbolic resolutions do nothing material to make Palestinian statehood a reality, they actually make reaching a two-state agreement still less likely. After all, the reasoning behind the two-state process was that the Palestinians would receive sovereignty in return for committing to safeguard Israel’s security. But if Palestinians are led to believe that ultimately the world will intervene to force their state into being, then all incentive to reach an agreement with Israel is nullified.

By supporting Palestinian unilateralism European countries threaten to wreck the possibility of the very land for peace agreement that they themselves have repeatedly insisted they wish to be the guarantors of. Because when it comes to land for peace they are telling the Palestinians that they can now get the former without having to give the latter in return. What Europe’s parliamentary assemblies are conspiring to create is a two-state non-solution in which conceivably a Palestinian state might be made a reality, but the conflict would only continue, and in all likelihood intensify.

The problem is that Israel and many of her supporters have in fact unwittingly laid the groundwork for such an outcome. Since the advent of Oslo, Israel has been embarking on a peace process that hasn’t brought it any closer to peace, but has gradually eroded its claim to much of the territory it holds and with that its international standing. The eagerness to end the conflict with the Palestinians by establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank has led Israel to surrender its claim to these territories, so inadvertently accepting the role as an illegitimate occupier of Palestinian land. As such, for the rest of the world creating a Palestinian state is becoming less and less about achieving peace and more and more about winning “justice” for the Palestinians.

After all, European lawmakers can hardly have failed to notice the way things have been going. Quite the opposite. Not only are they well aware that twenty years of negotiations have gone nowhere, but they must also have noticed that far from Israel’s territorial concessions advancing peace, these moves have only assisted Palestinian militants in waging war and in the process getting as many of their own people killed as possible. And yet Europe’s politicians don’t seem to care.

Another thing that they can’t have missed, and don’t seem to care about, is what Palestinians have actually done with sovereignty when they’ve achieved it. The brutal theocratic despotism of Hamas in Gaza cuts a pretty chilling impression of what life might be like in a Palestinian state of the future. Yet equally Mahmoud Abbas’s semi-autonomous polity in the West Bank is not only deeply undemocratic, it is also viciously oppressive of its own Palestinian population. And what’s more, rather than use this opportunity for nation building, Abbas and his gang have instead channeled their energies into endless incitement against Israel, the consequences of which we are only now beginning to see borne out with incidents such as this week’s horrific synagogue attack in Jerusalem. As Ruthie Blum pointed out in her recent Israel Hayom column, the way is being paved for Islamic State in Israel.

If European parliamentarians really cared about making peace through two states a reality then they would be doing everything to make it clear to Palestinians that intransigence, incitement, and violence will get them nowhere. Yet having lost interest in such tiresome matters as security and stability for Israelis and Palestinians, Europe’s politicians prefer to champion an abstract notion of “justice,” no matter how many people get hurt along the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That seems to factor into Abbas’s calculations:

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

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

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

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Is the Post-Abbas Mideast Already Here?

Hamas celebrated an act of suicide terrorism in Jerusalem today that mirrored both late October’s attack at a Jerusalem light rail stop and another attack later today in the West Bank. It is not suicide bombing, but more like a form of Islamist suicide by cop. Terrorists are driving cars into civilians–a tool of attack not new to the conflict but which is currently happening with some regularity–and in the first two attacks the terrorist killed a civilian and the terrorist was also killed, in each case by Israeli police arriving at the scene to stop more violence. In this afternoon’s attack, the third in the last two weeks, the driver of the vehicle sped away.

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Hamas celebrated an act of suicide terrorism in Jerusalem today that mirrored both late October’s attack at a Jerusalem light rail stop and another attack later today in the West Bank. It is not suicide bombing, but more like a form of Islamist suicide by cop. Terrorists are driving cars into civilians–a tool of attack not new to the conflict but which is currently happening with some regularity–and in the first two attacks the terrorist killed a civilian and the terrorist was also killed, in each case by Israeli police arriving at the scene to stop more violence. In this afternoon’s attack, the third in the last two weeks, the driver of the vehicle sped away.

Hamas and other Palestinian “resistance” groups have not, apparently, abandoned suicide terrorism after all and are now engaged in a renewed campaign. This type of violence is, of course, reminiscent of the second intifada, which is why it has Jerusalem on edge. The Palestinians have responded to each attack by rioting, so they are basically in a consistent state of violent agitation.

There is something more concerning about this latest round of Palestinian violence, however. Though it is perpetrated in some cases by members of Hamas, it has a spontaneous quality to it, and the riots in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem are keeping the atmosphere that engenders it going seemingly around the clock. And as much as it is reminiscent of past such campaigns of violence, there is indeed something a bit different about this one: it is heralding the arrival of the post-Abbas Palestinian polity.

Now it’s true that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is not only still present and accounted for but is also helping to spark the violence by calling for resistance against Jewish civilians in Jerusalem. But Abbas is not leading; he’s merely following in the path of those who started the party without him. Abbas was famously opposed to Yasser Arafat’s decision to launch the second intifada, and he surely knows that chaos and disorder and Hamas-fueled anarchy only undermine his own power. But he can’t stand around with his hands in his pockets either, because support for spilling Jewish blood drives Palestinian popular opinion.

If Abbas survives this current attempted intifada–and make no mistake, Abbas is in the crosshairs of Hamas’s terror campaigns as well–it will be nominally and, in fact, quite pathetically. And the current disorder is precisely why Israel has been protecting Abbas and helping him hold power: Abbas is no partner for peace, but he is the least-bad option available. A powerless, irrelevant, or deposed Abbas means these terror campaigns of Iran’s Palestinian proxies are all that remains of concerted Palestinian strategy.

Concern over a post-Abbas Middle East is becoming more common. Last month, the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur wrote a typically incisive essay on the state of play between Israel and the Arab world, noting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–often one to embrace ideas that seem absurd only to soon solidify into conventional wisdom–was preparing for this eventuality. Last year Jonathan Schanzer explained, quite rightly, that it was time for Abbas to name a successor to ensure continuity in the peace process.

But what if the more dangerous scenario is not an absent Abbas but an irrelevant one? That’s what seems to be playing out right now. It’s possible that an Abbas-led PA is a leaderless PA. There is no old guard and no new blood, but something in between that leaves the Palestinian polity not yet in league with the Islamist fanatics of Hamas in a fluid, precarious state on the precipice.

And so we have the vicious yet cartoonish spectacle of the Palestinian president effectively joining a Palestinian intifada that started without him. Arafat wanted an intifada, and he got one. Abbas didn’t, and for a time was able to prevent it. Does Abbas want an intifada now? He can’t possibly be that stupid. But it doesn’t appear to matter.

Just what is Abbas actually doing, as leader of the PA? Getting the Palestinians closer to a peace deal? Certainly not; he walked away from it (more than once). Preventing Hamas from setting the terms of the debate? Hardly. Keeping a lid on an angry Palestinian polity inclined to violence? Not anymore. Abbas may or may not get swept away by a new uprising. It’s ironic that what could save him from such a fate is the fact that, increasingly, it might not even be worth the trouble.

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Where This Administration’s Sympathies Really Lie

If you want a clear indication of how the Obama administration really feels about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then you only have to look to the State Department’s reactions to the recent shootings in Israel of two U.S. citizens. The first was the shooting of a Palestinian youth engaged in an act of terrorism against Israeli security forces, the second was an assassination attempt on a rabbi and civil-rights activist. Both were U.S. citizens and yet each shooting drew a very different response from the administration. Conceivably, that would be perfectly appropriate; one would hardly expect someone shot in the midst of a terrorist act to be afforded the same kind of concern as that given to a cold blooded attempted murder of a religious leader devoted to the fight for religious civil liberties. And yet the reactions from the state department were an inversion of the very responses one might expect.

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If you want a clear indication of how the Obama administration really feels about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then you only have to look to the State Department’s reactions to the recent shootings in Israel of two U.S. citizens. The first was the shooting of a Palestinian youth engaged in an act of terrorism against Israeli security forces, the second was an assassination attempt on a rabbi and civil-rights activist. Both were U.S. citizens and yet each shooting drew a very different response from the administration. Conceivably, that would be perfectly appropriate; one would hardly expect someone shot in the midst of a terrorist act to be afforded the same kind of concern as that given to a cold blooded attempted murder of a religious leader devoted to the fight for religious civil liberties. And yet the reactions from the state department were an inversion of the very responses one might expect.

When the Palestinian-American teen Orwa Abd al-Wahhab Hammad was shot dead by Israeli security forces on October 25 he was poised to hurl a Molotov cocktail onto the Israeli traffic passing below on Route 60. Israeli soldiers had successfully intervened to prevent an attack. Yet the State Department could not have been more displeased. Making an issue of Hammad’s dual American citizenship, spokeswoman Jen Psaki demanded a full “speedy and transparent investigation.” Psaki went on to stress that the United States “expresses its deepest condolences to the family of a U.S. citizen minor who was killed by the Israeli Defense Forces.” Shockingly, when pressed on this message of condolences given the circumstances of the shooting, Psaki confirmed that the administration does not consider Hammad a terrorist, this despite his links to Hamas.

Contrast that with how the state department has responded to the shooting in Jerusalem of Rabbi Yehuda Glick, a longtime campaigner for religious freedom and equal worshiping rights for Muslims and Jews on the Temple Mount. The point is made most sharply by a letter–made public over social media–sent by Rabbi Glick’s brother to the Israeli writer and commentator Caroline Glick (no relation). Yitz Glick writes in the letter: “I just wanted to tell you that our family is shocked that we haven’t heard a single word from the US State Dept., the US Ambassador or any representative of the US government regarding the shooting of our brother a US citizen Yehuda Glick…No outrage, no wishes of speedy recovery not a single word from any US official.”

The Obama administration’s handling of this case is made all the more troubling by Palestinian president Abbas’s role here. As it was, Abbas’s Palestinian Authority had already ramped up incitement against Jewish worship on the Temple Mount, making Rabbi Glick a likely target for attack. But worse still, when Glick’s would-be assassin was subsequently killed in a shootout with the police during an attempted arrest, Abbas hailed this terrorist as a martyr and described Israeli attempts to prevent further violence at the Mount as being tantamount to a “declaration of war.”

A pretty twisted agenda is at work when the U.S. government is seeking to whitewash a terrorist hurling Molotov cocktails at Israelis, classifying him not as a terrorist but rather simply a U.S. citizen and a minor, demanding that those responsible for preventing this terror attack be put under immediate investigation. Worse still, that when an American rabbi is shot in an assassination attempt, the administration clearly couldn’t care less. Of course, there’s no hiding the fact that the state department despises Glick’s campaign. They clearly oppose any change to the “status quo” on the Temple Mount; in other words, the U.S. government is against religious freedom for Jews and Christians at this most important of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

But then, the Obama administration’s entire attitude on Jerusalem is warped. Not only has the administration opposed building homes for Jews in Jerusalem neighborhoods that even under the most farfetched versions of the two-state solution would remain part of Israel. But just this week, the administration’s lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that Israel’s claims in Jerusalem are comparable with Russia’s in Crimea.

Popular wisdom has it that all of this shameful behavior is an expression of the administration’s central Middle East delusion: that distancing America from Israel will win friends and influence people throughout the Muslim world. Well, no doubt some in the State Department believe that. But it is clear that for others, and indeed for Obama himself, feelings here run much deeper. Quite simply this administration’s sympathies lie with the Palestinian cause, for it is just the kind of third-world cause that so many went into the Democratic Party hoping to promote. Because frankly, Obama’s unrealistic realpolitik only goes so far in explaining the callousness with which his government has reacted to these two very different shootings of U.S. citizens in Israel.

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Peace-Processing, Web-Scrubbing, and the Supreme Court

Next Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument again in Zivotofsky v. Kerry, on the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” as their place of birth in their passports, if they so request. The administration argues the Constitution’s “Reception Clause” (which provides the president “shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers”) gives the president sole authority over whether Americans born in the city that has been Israel’s capital since 1950 can have “Israel” in their passports. Kerry’s brief–in its opening paragraph–asserts that any action that “would signal, symbolically or concretely,” that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as within Israel would “critically compromise” the American ability to “further the peace process.” It would, apparently, make the process go “poof.”

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Next Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument again in Zivotofsky v. Kerry, on the constitutionality of the law allowing Jerusalem-born Americans to have “Israel” as their place of birth in their passports, if they so request. The administration argues the Constitution’s “Reception Clause” (which provides the president “shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers”) gives the president sole authority over whether Americans born in the city that has been Israel’s capital since 1950 can have “Israel” in their passports. Kerry’s brief–in its opening paragraph–asserts that any action that “would signal, symbolically or concretely,” that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as within Israel would “critically compromise” the American ability to “further the peace process.” It would, apparently, make the process go “poof.”

It is the same argument Hillary Clinton made in her own Supreme Court brief, back when the case was titled Zivotofsky v. Clinton. But if this is a serious argument, an urgent message needs to be dispatched to the White House Web-Scrubbers. Again.

Those familiar with this case–now in its 11th year–will recall that when it first came before the Court in 2011, the White House website, inconveniently for the administration’s central argument, featured pictures of Vice President Biden’s 2010 visit to–as each caption read–“Jerusalem, Israel.” The New York Sun first reported this anomaly in an August 4, 2011 article entitled, “Jerusalem Case at Supreme Court May Pit White House Web Site Against the President.” Three business days later–and two hours after the Weekly Standard published a screenshot of one of the pictures–the White House removed the word “Israel” from every caption. Then the administration scrubbed references to “Jerusalem, Israel” on other federal websites, and even went so far as to alter documents prepared by the Bush administration.

Now that the case is back before the Court, I checked again and found that as recently as three months ago, the White House issued a press release referring to “Jerusalem, Israel.” Entitled “President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts,” it listed nominees the president said would bring “a wealth of experience” to his administration–including one whose experience, the press release stated, included work in … “Jerusalem, Israel.” The amicus brief of the Zionist Organization of America points to numerous other references to “Jerusalem, Israel” currently on the websites of the Defense Department, Treasury Department, Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies.

If the administration genuinely believes that printing “Israel” in the U.S. passport of an American born in western Jerusalem jeopardizes a peace process currently deader than Generalissimo Franco, perhaps the president should appoint a Web-Scrubbing Czar–someone who can coordinate web-scrubbing throughout his administration. It would avoid the spectacle of an administration repeatedly making an argument repeatedly contradicted by its own websites.

And once again I ask: why is President Obama making a federal case out of this? He could do what President Clinton did when Congress passed a law giving Americans born in Taiwan the right to put “Taiwan,” rather than “China,” on their passports. Clinton implemented the law while issuing a statement that it did not change American policy that the United States recognizes only one China. Why not allow Zivotofsky to have “Israel” in his passport while announcing it does not change American policy that Jerusalem is a final status issue to be negotiated by the parties?

Such a resolution would conclude the case without a constitutional clash with Congress, and without a change in the administration’s foreign policy; it would avoid the necessity of a Supreme Court decision on an issue of first impression; it would terminate a decade of increasingly pointless refusals to implement a duly enacted law; and it will not–I think I can assure the administration on this–compromise the U.S. ability to advance the peace process. Indeed what has plagued that process for the past six years has been a U.S. administration so focused on one-sided demands on Israel that it fights all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid putting “Israel” in a Jerusalem-born American’s passport, scrubbing federal websites and altering official documents in its attempt to prevail.

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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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