Last week, Pew Research published a poll with a seemingly encouraging headline: “Despite Their Wide Differences, Many Israelis and Palestinians Want Bigger Role for Obama in Resolving Conflict.” The poll indeed showed pluralities of both groups wanting President Barack Obama to up his involvement, and if you only read the headline, the implication would be clear: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is solvable if America would just push a little harder, and both sides truly want it to do so.
Yet reading the entire poll produces the opposite conclusion: The conflict clearly isn’t solvable right now, because when asked whether there’s “a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully,” a whopping 61 percent of Palestinians said “no,” while only 14 percent said “yes.” (Israelis, in a triumph of hope over experience, said “yes” by a 50-38 margin.) In other words, a huge majority of Palestinians said that even if a Palestinian state is established, the conflict will continue as long as Israel continues to exist. So where does that leave the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace?
The Washington Post has a story up today gently knocking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for being less than enthusiastic about the resurgence of the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab plan is slightly improved from its past iterations, but to understand why Netanyahu is so cautious about embracing the plan as an outline for negotiations, the Post story should be read in tandem with Jeffrey Goldberg’s incisive and spot-on portrait of the Qatari government in his latest Bloomberg column.
The setting for the column is a Brookings Institution event to honor Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani. Brookings is, along with Hamas and other sordid outfits in whose company Brookings does not belong, funded by the Qatari government. Goldberg makes plain his discomfort with this. As I wrote in January, Qatar has been playing every side of the Middle East’s various conflicts, most often as a nuisance to American objectives. Goldberg’s whole column is worth reading, but this particular gem sticks out with regard to the Arab peace plan:
As Secretary of State Kerry proceeds to gin up yet another peace process, armed with the Israel Policy Forum letter urging more “confidence-building steps” from Israel, it might be worthwhile to reflect on two things we have learned about the “two-state solution” from the repeated failures over two decades to effectuate it.
First, the Palestinians have shown that they are unable to form a peaceful democratic state. They have a “president” who next week enters the 100th month of his 48-month term; he has now been “out of office” longer than he was in it. The person who held the office before him served 107 months of his own 48-month term, until he had to leave office on account of death. Between them, the two presidents rejected three offers of a state (in 2000, 2001 and 2008). The current president has not been able to set foot in half his putative state for more than five years; he cannot arrange a new election, even in the half-state where he resides. There is no functioning legislature, so he rules by decree; those who would criticize him for this are best advised not to put their thoughts on Facebook. He is 78 years old, in uncertain health, with no known successor, and has long said he wants to retire; he continues to serve as “president” because peace processors need someone to play one on TV.
Earlier this week, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) released a new poll of 1,270 Palestinians. The Jerusalem Post highlighted one of the findings: “poll finds 55% support two-state solution.” The PCPSR has been releasing these polls since 2003, and they always lead to misleading headlines such as the one in the Jerusalem Post–because a “two-state solution” as used in the polls doesn’t mean what you think it means.
In addition to polling whether Palestinians support a two-state solution in general, the PCPSR polls the support for a two-state solution modeled on the Clinton Parameters, described by the PCPSR as involving the following:
The bias against Israel in the press, and especially the New York Times, has become so steady and predictable that it can be difficult to muster outrage. But that doesn’t mean the Times isn’t still trying to make waves. Indeed, since the paper flaunts, rather than attempts to disguise, its hostility to Israel, it can be easy to miss when the Times crosses yet another line. And the paper and its editors have done so again this weekend with its depraved magazine cover article cheerleading a new intifada against Israel.
As Jonathan wrote yesterday, the Times has chosen to greet President Obama’s trip to Israel with the magazine piece on the Palestinian settlement of Nabi Saleh and the story by Jodi Rudoren on the supposed injustice of allowing Jews to live in Jerusalem. Jonathan ably deconstructed the Rudoren piece and explained quite clearly why the author of the magazine piece, Ben Ehrenreich, who trumpets the nobility of anti-Zionism, lacks any credibility on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It can’t be argued that the Times didn’t know exactly what it was getting with Ehrenreich. And so it should be asked, instead, why the Times’s editors wanted a piece openly supportive of another intifada. After all, the article is crystal clear about its intentions. One key part comes late in the piece, when Ehrenreich writes:
Our colleague Michael Rubin testified this morning before a House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee hearing on Fatah-Hamas “reconciliation.” He presented a very valuable short history of the failure to enforce Palestinian “peace process” commitments, worth reading in its entirety. Here is a brief excerpt from his prepared testimony:
After a wave of terrorist attacks followed Palestinian assurances that terror would cease, President George W. Bush had had enough. Engagement for engagement’s sake had failed. He decided to take a zero tolerance approach. … The State Department resisted Bush’s new approach. … Amidst international criticism and resistance from within his own administration … Bush abandoned his principled stand, and the State Department quickly reverted to business as usual. A no-nonsense demand to end terrorism before diplomacy gave way to the Road Map, whose own benchmarks soon fell victim to a desire to keep the Palestinians at the table.
Today Mahmoud Abbas begins the ninth year of his four-year term, having originally taken office on January 15, 2005, after a quickie election held a few weeks after Yasir Arafat died in the ninth year of his own four-year term. As Daled Amos notes, “it’s nice work if you can get it.”
Palestinian democracy has been a bit of a disappointment: each of the peace-partner presidents were offered a state on virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem, and each of them walked away. Each time, the Palestinian public not only did not protest their president’s rejection of “the long overdue Palestinian state”; they did not even demand another presidential election when the presidential terms expired. Like his predecessor, Abbas will end up serving as president longer after his term expired than when he was legally in office.
The headline writers at Bloomberg knew exactly which part of Jeffrey Goldberg’s column would prove juiciest to those perusing the web today: “Obama: ‘Israel Doesn’t Know What Its Best Interests Are’”. The quote from the president will bother Israel’s defenders for the same reason Obama is usually able to push their buttons: Obama’s lack of knowledge about Jewish history, his decision to take potshots at the Likud party as a way to win over those hostile to the Jewish state during the 2008 election, and his refusal to learn basic facts about issues before throwing temper tantrums about them make him among the least credible public officials on the issue of what is in Israel’s best interests.
Goldberg’s access to Obama’s inner circle has made him an excellent source on the Obama administration’s perspective on Israel, though stories like this don’t exactly paint the president in a particularly positive light–especially the president’s belief that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “coward.” But childish name-calling aside, the president, according to the column, seems to have given up on Netanyahu. He can’t muster outrage at Israeli actions that elicit rage from leftist activists and cartoonishly biased and inaccurate “news” stories. (The New York Times deserves special mention here for publishing an article on the E-1 corridor around Jerusalem and then publishing a “correction” noting that the entire premise of the article was wrong, having since consulted a map.) But the president seems unwilling to admit how he has contributed to the situation that upsets him so.
David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, writes that there will likely be “a different Israel” after the January 22 election–one that has voted to reject a Palestinian state. He attributes the “dramatic imminent shift” not to the Israeli electorate moving right (total seats held by the right and left may not change materially), but to a right that has become “far-right.” The prime minister will stay the same, but he will head “a very different party.”
This analysis ignores an important fact: the Israeli left has also moved right–and its own shift has been even more dramatic. In “We Gave Peace a Chance,” Daniel Gordis notes that what destroyed the Israeli left was four years of the “Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada),” which disabused Israelis of the idea that the Palestinian leadership wanted a deal, and the fact that Arabs have become ever more candid about their ultimate goal, with Mahmoud Abbas telling Egyptian TV “he would never, in a thousand years, recognize a Jewish state.” Gordis writes that “Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying”:
Glenn Kessler has a helpful roundup of some of the most troubling Chuck Hagel comments (though a much more extensive list can be found at ECI’s ChuckHagel.com). This one in particular, from a 1998 AP interview, jumped out:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ”essentially stopped the process,” Hagel said. ”The Israeli government essentially continues to play games,” stonewalling implementation of the Oslo peace accords.
”What I fear more today is that desperate men do desperate things when you take hope away,” Hagel said. ”And that’s where the Palestinians are today.”
The Israeli government needs to understand that implementation of the peace agreement is in its own interests, he said.
Hagel said Arabs generally believe America ”has tilted toward Israel” in its Mideast relations and there will be no lasting peace in the region without relationships with Iran.
”I think we should continue to pursue openings with Iran, understanding this is still a nation very hostile to the West,” he said. ”We need to understand cold, hard realities and be very clear-eyed and clearheaded, but every opening we should take.”
This is a useful article because it provides three key insights into Hagel’s views on Middle East policy in general:
Yesterday, I took issue with the Union for Reform Judaism for condemning planned Israeli construction in the West Bank’s E-1 region. Many liberal American Jews would doubtless respond that they don’t object to E-1 remaining Israeli under an Israeli-Palestinian agreement; they merely object to building there before such an agreement exists. That, after all, is precisely what Ehud Olmert said last week when asked how he could condemn the Netanyahu government for doing something he himself supported as prime minister.
Unfortunately, this response betrays a serious lack of understanding of how the “peace process” actually works. First, as I noted yesterday, insisting that Israeli construction is an “obstacle to peace” even in areas that every proposed agreement has assigned to Israel merely encourages Palestinian intransigence by feeding their fantasies that the world will someday pressure Israel into withdrawing to the 1967 lines. Equally important, however, is that in a world where Israeli security concerns are routinely dismissed as unimportant, construction has proven the only effective means of ensuring Israel’s retention of areas it deems vital to its security.
Last week, the New York Times quietly made two corrections to Jodi Rudoren’s December 2, 2012 news article headlined “Dividing the West Bank, and Deepening a Rift.” In a December 7 “Correction” appended to the article, the Times acknowledged that Israeli development in the E1 area “would not divide the West Bank in two” (emphasis added); and it “would not, technically, make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible” (emphasis added). So technically–not to put too fine a point on it–the central premise of the article was flat-out wrong.
The E1 area, which connects Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem in a stretch of desert less than two miles long, is retained by Israel in the “Everyone Knows” peace plan–as everyone knows who has bothered to look at a map of the Clinton parameters, or maps of various similar plans. But in a December 6 post at the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier called the plan for Jewish housing in E1 “an outrageous proposal …. which would scuttle any cartographically meaningful state for the Palestinians.” Since the proposal would not divide the West Bank, nor prevent a contiguous Palestinian state, nor preclude it on about 95 percent of the West Bank, Wieseltier appears to be cartographically challenged. Either that, or he relies on the New York Times.
It is to be expected that whenever something alters the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the world wonders aloud how this change will affect the peace process. And so it is with Israel’s Iron Dome, the missile defense system that kept so many Israelis safe during the recent rocket blizzard from the terrorist enclave of Gaza. But I wrote at the time that it was wishful thinking to assume that Iron Dome would fundamentally change the course of the conflict.
“It isn’t perfect, it’s expensive, and living under constant threat of rocket fire would still be hellish—it cannot be easy to get used to bombs exploding over your head all day long. The best solution, without a doubt, would be for the Palestinians to eschew terrorism and give up their mission to destroy Israel,” I wrote. Over the weekend, the Washington Post tackled this question at greater length, but still misses the point. The paper asks whether the relative safety brought about by systems like Iron Dome will make Israel more likely to agree to territorial compromise or more likely instead to ignore the conflict and the cause of peace and negotiations altogether. The answer, of course, is neither.
European foreign ministries are still reacting furiously to the Israeli government’s preliminary zoning steps in what is known as the E-1 corridor around Jerusalem. It is unlikely that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning to move the project, initiated by Yitzhak Rabin, any closer than that to actually putting a shovel in the ground. In all likelihood, Netanyahu was simply sending a signal in the ongoing tussle over symbolic declarations of sovereignty.
European governments profoundly misunderstand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Mideast in general, and they may have misinterpreted a signal for a plan of action. But their overreaction was followed by even more overreaction, and threats of more to come. Haaretz reports:
Just in case there were any doubts, last week provided conclusive proof: Yes, Palestinian violence pays. And the so-called “enlightened” countries–those Western states who claim to deplore violence and favor the peaceful resolution of conflicts–are the very ones who will reward violence the most. That’s precisely what happened with the Palestinians’ successful bid for UN recognition as a nonmember observer state.
Most European countries understood that this move would at best not advance the peace process, and at worst hinder it. So some had planned to vote no, while others planned to abstain. But then Hamas dramatically escalated its rocket fire on Israel, forcing Israel to respond; Hamas thus became the center of world attention while the Palestinian Authority was sidelined. So in an effort to give the PA a boost, European governments switched their votes at the last minute: Those who had planned to vote no abstained, and those who had planned to abstain voted yes. In other words, they agreed to support something they had previously considered “unhelpful” just because Hamas fired lots of rockets at Israel.
As Jonathan notes, the media will be working overtime to milk Mitt Romney’s comments at a private fundraiser as much as possible, but they are unlikely to get much traction with Romney’s remarks on the Middle East. The New York Times’s David Sanger does his level best today, even throwing in a reaction quote from Hamas for posterity (spoiler: Hamas thinks Romney is controlled by Zionists). But Sanger, in the end, comes away with nothing much because on this issue, Romney appears to have a thoughtful and realistic, if gloomy, opinion.
When asked at this fundraiser about “the Palestinian problem,” Romney responded by pointing out that even beyond the notorious sticking points in the peace process, there are other issues—Would the Palestinian state be demilitarized? Would it have sole, or shared, control of its airspace?—that suggest the conflict is much more complex than most politicians are ready to admit. And Romney did conclude by saying he hoped something would change the calculus and bring about a breakthrough in the peace process. Sanger’s use of Hamas was ostensibly to demonstrate that the Palestinians “had a different view.” That may be, but Hamas is as opposed to the peace process as anyone, and Sanger seems unaware of the irony in having a Hamasnik criticize someone else’s pessimism on the peace process.
If the White House ceremony bringing together Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat to put their commitment to the Oslo process in writing marked a boost of forward momentum on the peace process, the Camp David Summit of 2000 did the opposite. Arafat’s rejection—predetermined, it turned out—of the peace agreement without a counteroffer, followed by his initiation of the intifada, constituted a major warning sign to peace processers that the two-state solution was slipping away, and maybe already had.
The practicality gap between support for the two-state solution in the abstract and getting the plan through Arafat, who had chosen terror over dialogue, seemed to be widening. Ehud Barak, the Labor prime minister representing Israel at Camp David, lost his bid for re-election in 2001, and the state hasn’t had a Labor prime minister since. Into this breach came Barak advisor Yossi Alpher, who founded an online magazine with former Palestinian Authority legislator Ghassan Khatib, called Bitterlemons. The webzine was in many ways ahead of its time as an online forum, and it attempted to create a digital Israeli-Palestinian dialogue track as the respective governments moved further from reconciliation. Yesterday, Laura Rozen reported the webzine is closing. From Alpher’s announcement:
We are ceasing publication for reasons involving fatigue–on a number of fronts. First, there is donor fatigue. Why, donors ask, should we continue to support a Middle East dialogue project that not only has not made peace, but cannot “prove” to our satisfaction–especially at a time of revolution and violence throughout the region–that it has indeed raised the level of civilized discussion? Why fight the Israeli right-wing campaign against European and American state funding and the Palestinian campaign against “normalization”?
These last two negative developments also reflect local fatigue. There is no peace process and no prospect of one. Informal “track II” dialogue–bitterlemons might be described as a “virtual” track II–is declining. Here and there, writers from the region who used to favor us with their ideas and articles are now begging off, undoubtedly deterred by the revolutionary rise of intolerant political forces in their countries or neighborhood.
The Alienation Thesis or the Distancing Thesis or the Detachment Thesis or whatever we’re calling it this week — the claim American Jews are increasingly estranged from Israel because of Israeli policies — is the central dogma of the anti-Israel left. If it’s true then groups like J Street are engaged in the salutary work of broadening pro-Israel Jewish politics to include traditionally anti-Israel positions. If it’s false then those groups are taking Jews who would have ended up with muddy pro-Israel sentiments and are needlessly bombarding them with anti-Israel propaganda. “Alienation” or “distancing” or “detachment” is the argumentative premise at the source of everything that happens downstream.
It’s not an accident that sophisticated erstwhile J Street defenders like Jeffrey Goldberg instinctively throw it in whenever they try to defend the organization. J Street itself, for all of the organization’s borderline aggressive lack of tactical acumen, makes a point of blandly asserting that the thesis is true. Hand wringing pathos-soaked “why must Israel do things that make me sad” Jews like Peter Beinart have been blandly pretending it’s valid for the better part of a decade.
The annual AIPAC conference now taking place in Washington is the year’s flagship display of American support for Israel, so it’s an appropriate time to consider the roots of this support. To that end, a recent Gallup poll offers some strikingly counterintuitive data: In contrast to the conventional wisdom, which holds that support for Israel depends on its willingness to pursue peace with the Palestinians, it turns out that support for Israel has historically been lowest precisely when it pursues peace most vigorously.
The Gallup data includes a graph displaying 25 years of responses, from 1988 through 2012, to the question of whether Americans’ sympathies lie more with Israel or the Palestinians. It turns out the all-time peak for pro-Israel sympathies, 64 percent, was hit in 1991 – two years before the Oslo Accord was signed. Granted, that was the year of the Gulf War, when Palestinians outraged Americans by backing Saddam Hussein. But it was also the era of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who flatly refused to talk to the PLO or even consider territorial concessions, and expanded settlements at a pace no subsequent government has approached. If pursuit of peace were the defining factor in mobilizing American support for Israel, pro-Israel sentiment should have soared after Yitzhak Rabin signed Oslo. Instead, it remained 20 to 25 points below the peak throughout Rabin’s term, and only during the last three years – with peace talks frozen and much of the world blaming Israel – has it once again surpassed 60 percent.