Commentary Magazine


Topic: peace-processing

The Peace Process Lacks Palestinian Peacemakers

Oh no, they tell us Mahmoud Abbas is on the ropes. A new cadre of PA figures is on the rise that is “less supportive of negotiations with Israel’s government.” Less than Abbas? Or more candid? You can’t get much less supportive than Abbas and his current crew, who continue to extol the names of terrorists and flee negotiations at the first opportune moment. But then again, Abbas has been reduced to the status of Arab League messenger boy. The new PA leadership wants to employ Gandhi-like nonviolent resistance? All they need is a tradition of nonviolent resistance, an ideology that shuns violence, and a popular consensus that killing Jews is a bad thing. I think Gandhi’s idea of a “march to the sea” isn’t exactly what the Palestinians have in mind.

But let’s understand the import of this: even within the PA, Abbas lacks a base of support. And he, we are told by the Obami, is the man and this is the unique moment that are going to give birth to a peace deal. Yes, it’s quite absurd.

It seems there is never quite the right Palestinian leader in place. This one is well-meaning, but has no backing. That one is popular, but allergic to peace talks. Another, after all, was imprisoned for terrorism. Perhaps there just isn’t someone who is willing to make a deal and who enjoys support within the Palestinian leadership and population. It might just be that the past 18 months of peace-processing, not to mention the past 60 years, have been a colossal waste of time.

Oh no, they tell us Mahmoud Abbas is on the ropes. A new cadre of PA figures is on the rise that is “less supportive of negotiations with Israel’s government.” Less than Abbas? Or more candid? You can’t get much less supportive than Abbas and his current crew, who continue to extol the names of terrorists and flee negotiations at the first opportune moment. But then again, Abbas has been reduced to the status of Arab League messenger boy. The new PA leadership wants to employ Gandhi-like nonviolent resistance? All they need is a tradition of nonviolent resistance, an ideology that shuns violence, and a popular consensus that killing Jews is a bad thing. I think Gandhi’s idea of a “march to the sea” isn’t exactly what the Palestinians have in mind.

But let’s understand the import of this: even within the PA, Abbas lacks a base of support. And he, we are told by the Obami, is the man and this is the unique moment that are going to give birth to a peace deal. Yes, it’s quite absurd.

It seems there is never quite the right Palestinian leader in place. This one is well-meaning, but has no backing. That one is popular, but allergic to peace talks. Another, after all, was imprisoned for terrorism. Perhaps there just isn’t someone who is willing to make a deal and who enjoys support within the Palestinian leadership and population. It might just be that the past 18 months of peace-processing, not to mention the past 60 years, have been a colossal waste of time.

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Why the “Peace Process” Is a Farce

Elliott Abrams succinctly explains why there is no hope in sight for a Middle East peace deal. In short, one side doesn’t want peace. He writes:

“I say in front of you, Mr. President, that we have nothing to do with incitement against Israel, and we’re not doing that,” claimed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to the White House in June.

It is unfortunate for the prospects of Middle East peace that this denial by Abbas (who is also head of the PLO and Fatah) was just plain untrue. In fact, this two-faced stance of Abbas and his cronies — proclaiming peaceful intentions to the international community while inciting their population to hatred of Israel — is one of the primary impediments to any sort of solution to the longstanding crisis.

Abrams notes the many examples of Palestinian duplicity. (“This very month, for example, Abbas publicly mourned the death of Mohammed Oudeh, mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre: ‘The deceased was one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement and lived a life filled with the struggle, devoted effort, and the enormous sacrifice of the deceased for the sake of the legitimate problem of his people.'”) And what is Obama’s reaction to all this? Well, he’s now up to having a stern talk with Abbas rather than pretending the incitement doesn’t exist.

Swell, but that doesn’t really get at the root of the problem: Obama’s entire peace-process gambit is hopelessly flawed, indeed farcical, because it assumes if we just find the right maps (listen, Bill Clinton had them memorized, and it helped not at all at Camp David), we’d have a peace deal. This is the fallacy that underlies the post-Oslo peace-processing and the reason why, as Abrams argues, we’d do better to focus on “the character of that state, and of Palestinian society” than on the fine points of a deal to which one side is unable and unwilling to agree.

There is one more noteworthy item. Abrams provides a candid account of a dinner with Abbas in June:

At a dinner for Abbas during his Washington visit, I confronted him with several recent examples of incitement, as well as the denial that he made to the President. His reply was that of a bureaucrat, not a peacemaker: He did not deny the allegations, but said that if true they should be raised at a tripartite committee (the United States, the Palestinian Authority and Israel) that had been established by the Oslo Accords.

Funny, in all the happy-talk reports from Jewish leaders and ex-government officials attending the dinner, they never mentioned this revealing episode. This is one more infuriating instance in which establishment Jewish leaders have placed comity ahead of honesty. It has seemed very important to them, at a cost to their own intellectual credibility, to sustain the illusion that the peace process is more than a futile exercise.

It would be helpful if both the administration and Jewish groups were frank about the central reason why the Palestinians have no state: they don’t want to give up killing Jews. But then they’d have to admit that their infatuation with the peace process and their hopes for a two-state solution are based on willful ignorance.

Elliott Abrams succinctly explains why there is no hope in sight for a Middle East peace deal. In short, one side doesn’t want peace. He writes:

“I say in front of you, Mr. President, that we have nothing to do with incitement against Israel, and we’re not doing that,” claimed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to the White House in June.

It is unfortunate for the prospects of Middle East peace that this denial by Abbas (who is also head of the PLO and Fatah) was just plain untrue. In fact, this two-faced stance of Abbas and his cronies — proclaiming peaceful intentions to the international community while inciting their population to hatred of Israel — is one of the primary impediments to any sort of solution to the longstanding crisis.

Abrams notes the many examples of Palestinian duplicity. (“This very month, for example, Abbas publicly mourned the death of Mohammed Oudeh, mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre: ‘The deceased was one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement and lived a life filled with the struggle, devoted effort, and the enormous sacrifice of the deceased for the sake of the legitimate problem of his people.'”) And what is Obama’s reaction to all this? Well, he’s now up to having a stern talk with Abbas rather than pretending the incitement doesn’t exist.

Swell, but that doesn’t really get at the root of the problem: Obama’s entire peace-process gambit is hopelessly flawed, indeed farcical, because it assumes if we just find the right maps (listen, Bill Clinton had them memorized, and it helped not at all at Camp David), we’d have a peace deal. This is the fallacy that underlies the post-Oslo peace-processing and the reason why, as Abrams argues, we’d do better to focus on “the character of that state, and of Palestinian society” than on the fine points of a deal to which one side is unable and unwilling to agree.

There is one more noteworthy item. Abrams provides a candid account of a dinner with Abbas in June:

At a dinner for Abbas during his Washington visit, I confronted him with several recent examples of incitement, as well as the denial that he made to the President. His reply was that of a bureaucrat, not a peacemaker: He did not deny the allegations, but said that if true they should be raised at a tripartite committee (the United States, the Palestinian Authority and Israel) that had been established by the Oslo Accords.

Funny, in all the happy-talk reports from Jewish leaders and ex-government officials attending the dinner, they never mentioned this revealing episode. This is one more infuriating instance in which establishment Jewish leaders have placed comity ahead of honesty. It has seemed very important to them, at a cost to their own intellectual credibility, to sustain the illusion that the peace process is more than a futile exercise.

It would be helpful if both the administration and Jewish groups were frank about the central reason why the Palestinians have no state: they don’t want to give up killing Jews. But then they’d have to admit that their infatuation with the peace process and their hopes for a two-state solution are based on willful ignorance.

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Aaron David Miller: Obama Is the Biggest Concern in the Middle East

In an interview with JTA, Aaron David Miller recaps and puts an exclamation point on his important piece calling for an end to the “religion” of the peace process — that is, the reality-free belief in the centrality of the Palestinian conflict to all Middle East issues and the equally fantastical conviction that an agreement is possible in the first place. He says:

“What I find difficult to reconcile is how you’re going to get to a conflict-ending agreement which addresses the four core issues that have driven the Israelis and the Palestinians and brought each issue to a finality of claims. … I just do not see how to do that given the gaps that exist and the inherent constraints on the leaders in the absence also of a real sense of urgency.”

He reminds us that the Oslo paradigm is now badly outdated:

Miller describes how the situation has worsened since the last major effort at a resolution, the Camp David-Taba talks of 2000-01: The status of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been wounded profoundly by the ouster of his moderate party, Fatah, from Gaza at the gunpoint of Hamas; Netanyahu is bound by a right-wing coalition (of his choosing) that is not ready to countenance a full-fledged settlement freeze, never mind compromise on Jerusalem; and Obama has had 15 months, distracted by the economy and health care, to match Clinton’s six full years focused on the issue.

Then there’s the region: “Hezbollah and Hamas,” Miller says referring to the terrorist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. “You have two non-state actors, two non-state environments who are not proxies of Iran and or Syria but who clearly reflect their capacity to want to influence events — and then you have Iran” and its potential nuclear threat.

What concerns him most? Not another failed round of peace-processing. Not the continued Palestinian radicalization. No, it’s Obama that has him most nervous:

The prospect that Miller says unnerves him most is that the Obama administration says it will step in with a conflict-ending agreement if the current proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians go nowhere.

“I’m very uneasy because at the end of the day, I don’t see what the game is, I don’t see what the strategy is,” he said. “Even if it’s an initiative, what’s the objective, what’s the strategy?”

Interestingly and predictably, Jeremy Ben-Ami lets it be know that he doesn’t care much for reality: “We don’t have the luxury of time; the tensions on the ground are too high. … That’s the difference between being an analyst and actually trying to assess outcomes.” What? Even for him, that’s incoherent.

But it’s a helpful reminder that the people who favor Obama’s obsession with the peace process are the same who demand that Israel make all sorts of unilateral concessions, oppose sanctions against Iran, and are content to carve up the Jewish state into a shrunken carcass of its former self. They couldn’t be happier with Obama — enabled by the no-longer-reality-based Dennis Ross — who’s just the one to jam a deal, or try to, down Israel’s throat.

In an interview with JTA, Aaron David Miller recaps and puts an exclamation point on his important piece calling for an end to the “religion” of the peace process — that is, the reality-free belief in the centrality of the Palestinian conflict to all Middle East issues and the equally fantastical conviction that an agreement is possible in the first place. He says:

“What I find difficult to reconcile is how you’re going to get to a conflict-ending agreement which addresses the four core issues that have driven the Israelis and the Palestinians and brought each issue to a finality of claims. … I just do not see how to do that given the gaps that exist and the inherent constraints on the leaders in the absence also of a real sense of urgency.”

He reminds us that the Oslo paradigm is now badly outdated:

Miller describes how the situation has worsened since the last major effort at a resolution, the Camp David-Taba talks of 2000-01: The status of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been wounded profoundly by the ouster of his moderate party, Fatah, from Gaza at the gunpoint of Hamas; Netanyahu is bound by a right-wing coalition (of his choosing) that is not ready to countenance a full-fledged settlement freeze, never mind compromise on Jerusalem; and Obama has had 15 months, distracted by the economy and health care, to match Clinton’s six full years focused on the issue.

Then there’s the region: “Hezbollah and Hamas,” Miller says referring to the terrorist groups in Lebanon and Gaza, respectively. “You have two non-state actors, two non-state environments who are not proxies of Iran and or Syria but who clearly reflect their capacity to want to influence events — and then you have Iran” and its potential nuclear threat.

What concerns him most? Not another failed round of peace-processing. Not the continued Palestinian radicalization. No, it’s Obama that has him most nervous:

The prospect that Miller says unnerves him most is that the Obama administration says it will step in with a conflict-ending agreement if the current proximity talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians go nowhere.

“I’m very uneasy because at the end of the day, I don’t see what the game is, I don’t see what the strategy is,” he said. “Even if it’s an initiative, what’s the objective, what’s the strategy?”

Interestingly and predictably, Jeremy Ben-Ami lets it be know that he doesn’t care much for reality: “We don’t have the luxury of time; the tensions on the ground are too high. … That’s the difference between being an analyst and actually trying to assess outcomes.” What? Even for him, that’s incoherent.

But it’s a helpful reminder that the people who favor Obama’s obsession with the peace process are the same who demand that Israel make all sorts of unilateral concessions, oppose sanctions against Iran, and are content to carve up the Jewish state into a shrunken carcass of its former self. They couldn’t be happier with Obama — enabled by the no-longer-reality-based Dennis Ross — who’s just the one to jam a deal, or try to, down Israel’s throat.

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Israel Policy Debacle? Order Up More Spin!

Well, for anyone not entirely deluded by visions of peace processing and endless European conferences (yes, we’re talking Obama, George Mitchel, and the band of sycophantic enablers of the Martin Indyk variety), this should come as no surprise:

An American official has played down the prospects of any immediate progress in US envoy George Mitchell’s efforts to resume peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. “Are we expecting a breakthrough this visit? Probably not,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Friday.

Really nothing immediately? But the president had gotten impatient and gone to such great lengths to bash Israel into submission. This was all for naught? It must be disappointing, indeed, to those who imagine that Obama and crew are doing something productive to find out that there is not a hint of peace and the process is grinding to a halt. But Mitchell keeps on flying, meeting, cajoling, and babbling about a two-state solution, which is nowhere in sight. (“Mitchell stressed that the Obama administration was working to advance mutual Israeli and US interests, which he said were led by a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on the two-state solution, Israel Radio reported.”)

Meanwhile, the Obami have decided that what is missing from their exquisite Middle East policy is some more PR. Because it is always about a PR deficiency and never a policy problem with this gang. A voice of sanity pipes up:

“What happened here, is they came to a moment of truth about 10 days, two weeks ago, ‘we have failed,’” the former Democratic official continued. “’Our Middle East policy and posture is in chaos, is in failure, and there is no way to ignore it. And therefore, what do we do about it?’ And they decided, we need to change the posture. They realized they were going down a bad path. So they launched a PR campaign — a blitz — entirely to support the policy.”

Change the “posture” but keep the policy that has proven to be a complete failure. And meanwhile, while spinning their wheels and trying out new spin, the Obami still have no viable plan for halting the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. The steady progress of Iran’s nuclear policy, even more than the wreckaage left in the wake of this administration’s Israel policy, is what we should not ignore and what very well may be the dismal legacy of the Obama team.

Well, for anyone not entirely deluded by visions of peace processing and endless European conferences (yes, we’re talking Obama, George Mitchel, and the band of sycophantic enablers of the Martin Indyk variety), this should come as no surprise:

An American official has played down the prospects of any immediate progress in US envoy George Mitchell’s efforts to resume peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. “Are we expecting a breakthrough this visit? Probably not,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Friday.

Really nothing immediately? But the president had gotten impatient and gone to such great lengths to bash Israel into submission. This was all for naught? It must be disappointing, indeed, to those who imagine that Obama and crew are doing something productive to find out that there is not a hint of peace and the process is grinding to a halt. But Mitchell keeps on flying, meeting, cajoling, and babbling about a two-state solution, which is nowhere in sight. (“Mitchell stressed that the Obama administration was working to advance mutual Israeli and US interests, which he said were led by a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on the two-state solution, Israel Radio reported.”)

Meanwhile, the Obami have decided that what is missing from their exquisite Middle East policy is some more PR. Because it is always about a PR deficiency and never a policy problem with this gang. A voice of sanity pipes up:

“What happened here, is they came to a moment of truth about 10 days, two weeks ago, ‘we have failed,’” the former Democratic official continued. “’Our Middle East policy and posture is in chaos, is in failure, and there is no way to ignore it. And therefore, what do we do about it?’ And they decided, we need to change the posture. They realized they were going down a bad path. So they launched a PR campaign — a blitz — entirely to support the policy.”

Change the “posture” but keep the policy that has proven to be a complete failure. And meanwhile, while spinning their wheels and trying out new spin, the Obami still have no viable plan for halting the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. The steady progress of Iran’s nuclear policy, even more than the wreckaage left in the wake of this administration’s Israel policy, is what we should not ignore and what very well may be the dismal legacy of the Obama team.

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Building Peace by Ending Endism

In the past four years, there have been two experiments in peace-processing. The first was to dismantle every Israeli settlement, withdraw every Israeli settler, and turn over the entire area to the Palestinian Authority. The result of that experiment was a terrorist mini-state in Gaza — one that used the land to launch rockets at its neighbor and eventually caused a war, and that is today preparing for yet another one.

The second experiment is what Benjamin Netanyahu has referred to as the establishment of an “economic peace.” Tom Gross, a Middle East analyst and former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, provides a glimpse of what is happening with that approach, reporting on a day spent in Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank — a city bustling “in a way I have not previously seen in many years of covering the region”:

Wandering around downtown Nablus the shops and restaurants I saw were full. There were plenty of expensive cars on the streets. Indeed I counted considerably more BMWs and Mercedes than I’ve seen, for example, in downtown Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

And perhaps most importantly of all, we had driven from Jerusalem to Nablus without going through any Israeli checkpoints. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has removed them all since the Israeli security services (with the encouragement and support of President George W. Bush) were allowed, over recent years, to crush the intifada, restore security to the West Bank and set up the conditions for the economic boom that is now occurring.

And it’s not just Nablus:

Life is even better in Ramallah, where it is difficult to get a table in a good restaurant. New apartment buildings, banks, brokerage firms, luxury car dealerships and health clubs are to be seen. In Qalqilya, another West Bank city that was previously a hotbed of terrorists and bomb-makers, the first ever strawberry crop is being harvested in time to cash in on the lucrative Christmas markets in Europe. Local Palestinian farmers have been trained by Israeli agriculture experts and Israel supplied them with irrigation equipment and pesticides.

A year ago, Uzi Arad, a prominent Israeli foreign-policy academic, suggested that the way forward in the “peace process” is to put an end to “endism” — the belief that “we are within reach of resolving everything in one fell swoop.” Endism is what marked the two-week final-status negotiations at Camp David; the subsequent four-month process, culminating in the unsuccessful Clinton Parameters; and the failed one-year Annapolis Process under President Bush. Against advice from both the Left and Right, President Obama tried his own hand at endism, and his efforts cratered in less than a year.

Netanyahu has endorsed a two-state solution, as long as the Palestinians recognize one of them as Jewish and demilitarize the other so it cannot threaten Israel. Both conditions have been rejected even by the peace-partner Palestinians, not to mention those in control of the land handed over to them in 2005. Thus another attempt at endism is proving to be futile– and four times is enough in any event. Endism needs to be ended, not mended.

It is time, as the title of Gross’s article suggests, for “Building Peace Without Obama’s Interference” — and long past the time for Obama to turn his full attention, as Arad suggested a year ago, to Iran.

In the past four years, there have been two experiments in peace-processing. The first was to dismantle every Israeli settlement, withdraw every Israeli settler, and turn over the entire area to the Palestinian Authority. The result of that experiment was a terrorist mini-state in Gaza — one that used the land to launch rockets at its neighbor and eventually caused a war, and that is today preparing for yet another one.

The second experiment is what Benjamin Netanyahu has referred to as the establishment of an “economic peace.” Tom Gross, a Middle East analyst and former Jerusalem correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, provides a glimpse of what is happening with that approach, reporting on a day spent in Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank — a city bustling “in a way I have not previously seen in many years of covering the region”:

Wandering around downtown Nablus the shops and restaurants I saw were full. There were plenty of expensive cars on the streets. Indeed I counted considerably more BMWs and Mercedes than I’ve seen, for example, in downtown Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

And perhaps most importantly of all, we had driven from Jerusalem to Nablus without going through any Israeli checkpoints. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu has removed them all since the Israeli security services (with the encouragement and support of President George W. Bush) were allowed, over recent years, to crush the intifada, restore security to the West Bank and set up the conditions for the economic boom that is now occurring.

And it’s not just Nablus:

Life is even better in Ramallah, where it is difficult to get a table in a good restaurant. New apartment buildings, banks, brokerage firms, luxury car dealerships and health clubs are to be seen. In Qalqilya, another West Bank city that was previously a hotbed of terrorists and bomb-makers, the first ever strawberry crop is being harvested in time to cash in on the lucrative Christmas markets in Europe. Local Palestinian farmers have been trained by Israeli agriculture experts and Israel supplied them with irrigation equipment and pesticides.

A year ago, Uzi Arad, a prominent Israeli foreign-policy academic, suggested that the way forward in the “peace process” is to put an end to “endism” — the belief that “we are within reach of resolving everything in one fell swoop.” Endism is what marked the two-week final-status negotiations at Camp David; the subsequent four-month process, culminating in the unsuccessful Clinton Parameters; and the failed one-year Annapolis Process under President Bush. Against advice from both the Left and Right, President Obama tried his own hand at endism, and his efforts cratered in less than a year.

Netanyahu has endorsed a two-state solution, as long as the Palestinians recognize one of them as Jewish and demilitarize the other so it cannot threaten Israel. Both conditions have been rejected even by the peace-partner Palestinians, not to mention those in control of the land handed over to them in 2005. Thus another attempt at endism is proving to be futile– and four times is enough in any event. Endism needs to be ended, not mended.

It is time, as the title of Gross’s article suggests, for “Building Peace Without Obama’s Interference” — and long past the time for Obama to turn his full attention, as Arad suggested a year ago, to Iran.

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Gilo and Diplomatic Dismay

Noah, as you note, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’s statement that the administration is “dismayed” at the construction of more housing in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem — because “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations” – is a non-sequitur.  Last May, Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the White House for his first meeting as prime minister with President Obama and announced he wanted to commence negotiations “immediately,” without preconditions, which has been his position ever since.

What unilaterally preempted negotiations was the Obama/Abbas precondition of a settlement “freeze” that (1) was not previously demanded in any prior negotiations, (2) contradicted a six-year understanding about the meaning of a “freeze” (no new settlements, no expansion of existing settlement borders, and no financial incentives for new settlers), (3) could not be defined in practical terms even by George Mitchell, and (4) was not a condition that any Israeli government, Left or Right, could accept.

There was a little comedy silver at the State Department press conference yesterday, as spokesman Ian Kelly repeated the notion that the expansion of housing in Gilo was “dismaying” because it could “unilaterally” preempt negotiations. One of the reporters asked Kelly if he could “give us just a brief synopsis of the progress that Senator Mitchell has made in his months on the job” — to which Kelly responded that the administration had gotten both sides to agree on a goal:

QUESTION: But previous Israeli administration — previous Israeli governments had agreed to that already.

MR. KELLY: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: So in other words, the bottom line is that, in the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has come up with or established since he started, is zero.

MR. KELLY: I wouldn’t say zero.

QUESTION: Well, then what would you say it is?

MR. KELLY: Well, I would say that we’ve gotten both sides to commit to this goal. They have — we have — we’ve had a [sic] intensive round or rounds of negotiations, the President brought the two leaders together in New York. Look —

QUESTION: But wait, hold on. You haven’t had any intense —

MR. KELLY: Obviously —

QUESTION: There haven’t been any negotiations.

MR. KELLY: Obviously, we’re not even in the red zone yet, okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: I mean, we’re not — but it’s — we are less than a year into this Administration, and I think we’ve accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years.

QUESTION: Well, I — really, because the previous administration actually had them sitting down talking to each other. You guys can’t even get that far.

MR. KELLY: All right.

In the last year of the Bush administration, the U.S. convened an international conference at Annapolis to launch final-status negotiations, devoted its secretary of state to trip after trip to the Middle East to push the negotiations, produced a new Israeli offer of a Palestinian state on effectively all the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem, and watched the Palestinians take the opportunity to miss another of their famous opportunities.

In the first year of the Obama administration, the U.S. has not been able to start negotiations, even after the president made it his first foreign-policy priority, and even after Israel announced it wanted to start them immediately without preconditions.

The proper response to this extraordinary display of diplomatic incompetence should not be dismay at Israel — and certainly not the inaccurate claim of accomplishing eight years’ worth of peace-processing in one year — but rather serious self-reflection. As Jonathan properly notes, the treatment of Gilo by the Obama administration as if it were a “settlement” is a serious change in the tone and substance of the U.S. position (contradicting, among other things, the 2004 Bush Letter given in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and encouraging further Palestinian intransigence), one that puts peace even further away.

Noah, as you note, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’s statement that the administration is “dismayed” at the construction of more housing in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem — because “neither party should unilaterally preempt negotiations” – is a non-sequitur.  Last May, Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the White House for his first meeting as prime minister with President Obama and announced he wanted to commence negotiations “immediately,” without preconditions, which has been his position ever since.

What unilaterally preempted negotiations was the Obama/Abbas precondition of a settlement “freeze” that (1) was not previously demanded in any prior negotiations, (2) contradicted a six-year understanding about the meaning of a “freeze” (no new settlements, no expansion of existing settlement borders, and no financial incentives for new settlers), (3) could not be defined in practical terms even by George Mitchell, and (4) was not a condition that any Israeli government, Left or Right, could accept.

There was a little comedy silver at the State Department press conference yesterday, as spokesman Ian Kelly repeated the notion that the expansion of housing in Gilo was “dismaying” because it could “unilaterally” preempt negotiations. One of the reporters asked Kelly if he could “give us just a brief synopsis of the progress that Senator Mitchell has made in his months on the job” — to which Kelly responded that the administration had gotten both sides to agree on a goal:

QUESTION: But previous Israeli administration — previous Israeli governments had agreed to that already.

MR. KELLY: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: So in other words, the bottom line is that, in the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has come up with or established since he started, is zero.

MR. KELLY: I wouldn’t say zero.

QUESTION: Well, then what would you say it is?

MR. KELLY: Well, I would say that we’ve gotten both sides to commit to this goal. They have — we have — we’ve had a [sic] intensive round or rounds of negotiations, the President brought the two leaders together in New York. Look —

QUESTION: But wait, hold on. You haven’t had any intense —

MR. KELLY: Obviously —

QUESTION: There haven’t been any negotiations.

MR. KELLY: Obviously, we’re not even in the red zone yet, okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: I mean, we’re not — but it’s — we are less than a year into this Administration, and I think we’ve accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years.

QUESTION: Well, I — really, because the previous administration actually had them sitting down talking to each other. You guys can’t even get that far.

MR. KELLY: All right.

In the last year of the Bush administration, the U.S. convened an international conference at Annapolis to launch final-status negotiations, devoted its secretary of state to trip after trip to the Middle East to push the negotiations, produced a new Israeli offer of a Palestinian state on effectively all the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem, and watched the Palestinians take the opportunity to miss another of their famous opportunities.

In the first year of the Obama administration, the U.S. has not been able to start negotiations, even after the president made it his first foreign-policy priority, and even after Israel announced it wanted to start them immediately without preconditions.

The proper response to this extraordinary display of diplomatic incompetence should not be dismay at Israel — and certainly not the inaccurate claim of accomplishing eight years’ worth of peace-processing in one year — but rather serious self-reflection. As Jonathan properly notes, the treatment of Gilo by the Obama administration as if it were a “settlement” is a serious change in the tone and substance of the U.S. position (contradicting, among other things, the 2004 Bush Letter given in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, and encouraging further Palestinian intransigence), one that puts peace even further away.

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Talking to Enemies, Losing Friends

My friend Lee Smith has a terrific piece in the Weekly Standard about what the peace process is doing to the democracy movement in Lebanon:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recused herself from every other issue in the region, including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. As for Syria and Lebanon, she contracted this out to France, whose new president Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner butchered the affair, with some assistance from Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who has looked to placate Syria since the Hariri murder. Secretary Rice says nice things about Lebanese democracy, but the fact is that nothing matters to her half as much as the peace process. This myopia is what led Rice to make room for Syria in her three-ring circus on the Chesapeake Bay. Since Israeli-Palestinian comity warrants all of the time and prestige of the Secretary of State, and since Damascus’s friends in Hamas can make things very tough for peace processing, they must be rewarded for their blackmail and invited to Annapolis.

Consciously or not, Rice signaled where America’s real priorities lie — not with protecting a fledgling democracy in Beirut from the terrorist state next door, but in trying to reward a society that breeds terrorism within its own state.

Lee predicts that the peace process will imperil the Hariri tribunal and deliver Lebanon back to Syria and Hezbollah. Read the whole thing.

My friend Lee Smith has a terrific piece in the Weekly Standard about what the peace process is doing to the democracy movement in Lebanon:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recused herself from every other issue in the region, including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. As for Syria and Lebanon, she contracted this out to France, whose new president Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner butchered the affair, with some assistance from Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who has looked to placate Syria since the Hariri murder. Secretary Rice says nice things about Lebanese democracy, but the fact is that nothing matters to her half as much as the peace process. This myopia is what led Rice to make room for Syria in her three-ring circus on the Chesapeake Bay. Since Israeli-Palestinian comity warrants all of the time and prestige of the Secretary of State, and since Damascus’s friends in Hamas can make things very tough for peace processing, they must be rewarded for their blackmail and invited to Annapolis.

Consciously or not, Rice signaled where America’s real priorities lie — not with protecting a fledgling democracy in Beirut from the terrorist state next door, but in trying to reward a society that breeds terrorism within its own state.

Lee predicts that the peace process will imperil the Hariri tribunal and deliver Lebanon back to Syria and Hezbollah. Read the whole thing.

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Re: the meaning of Annapolis

John, those are good points, and I’m largely in agreement with you on the interplay among Israel, America, and the Palestinians. It’s true—there’s going to be a time when the rubber meets the road, when all of the Annapolis rhetoric is tested against the situation on the ground. The same dynamic has controlled the entirety of the post-Gulf war history of peace processing—the ideas are old, the speeches are hackneyed plagiarisms of themselves, the strategies have always failed, the Arabs still refuse to accept Israel, administration after administration. One of the most common comments I’ve heard journalists make here today is the remark that they’ve all been there, done that when it comes to peace conferences. (Some of these guys are at the half-dozen mark.)

I think that the real significance of the conference, though, has little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The significance of Annapolis is in what it has revealed about the thinking of the Bush administration, and how it sees itself in the region today. This observation is borne out, I think, in the fact that so much of the criticism of Annapolis, especially from conservatives, has involved an airing of the feeling that the Bush administration has grotesquely betrayed the basic principles to which it committed itself in the war on terror—viz the writings of Andy McCarthy, Bret Stephens, Ralph Peters, David Frum, some guy named John Podhoretz, etc.

Annapolis is really about the Bush administration, not the peace process. It has been Condi’s pet project; she has shuttled to Israel and the Palestinian territories on a monthly basis for almost a year; she has been permitted by President Bush to prioritize a quixotic diplomatic endeavor over and above other crises that by any sensible measure are of far greater concern for the United States—Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria and Hizballah, and Pakistan, to name a few. If Condi’s pursuit of the peace process is due to a belief that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible and will unlock the forces of moderation and conviviality in the Middle East, then, well, she is simply a fool. If it is because she wishes to add this most elusive accomplishment to her legacy, then she is a narcissist. There is a more legitimate question about the extent to which American leadership in the peace process will earn us favorable treatment from European and Arab states in dealing with Iran, but I am skeptical of that line of thinking—a matter for another post.

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John, those are good points, and I’m largely in agreement with you on the interplay among Israel, America, and the Palestinians. It’s true—there’s going to be a time when the rubber meets the road, when all of the Annapolis rhetoric is tested against the situation on the ground. The same dynamic has controlled the entirety of the post-Gulf war history of peace processing—the ideas are old, the speeches are hackneyed plagiarisms of themselves, the strategies have always failed, the Arabs still refuse to accept Israel, administration after administration. One of the most common comments I’ve heard journalists make here today is the remark that they’ve all been there, done that when it comes to peace conferences. (Some of these guys are at the half-dozen mark.)

I think that the real significance of the conference, though, has little to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The significance of Annapolis is in what it has revealed about the thinking of the Bush administration, and how it sees itself in the region today. This observation is borne out, I think, in the fact that so much of the criticism of Annapolis, especially from conservatives, has involved an airing of the feeling that the Bush administration has grotesquely betrayed the basic principles to which it committed itself in the war on terror—viz the writings of Andy McCarthy, Bret Stephens, Ralph Peters, David Frum, some guy named John Podhoretz, etc.

Annapolis is really about the Bush administration, not the peace process. It has been Condi’s pet project; she has shuttled to Israel and the Palestinian territories on a monthly basis for almost a year; she has been permitted by President Bush to prioritize a quixotic diplomatic endeavor over and above other crises that by any sensible measure are of far greater concern for the United States—Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria and Hizballah, and Pakistan, to name a few. If Condi’s pursuit of the peace process is due to a belief that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible and will unlock the forces of moderation and conviviality in the Middle East, then, well, she is simply a fool. If it is because she wishes to add this most elusive accomplishment to her legacy, then she is a narcissist. There is a more legitimate question about the extent to which American leadership in the peace process will earn us favorable treatment from European and Arab states in dealing with Iran, but I am skeptical of that line of thinking—a matter for another post.

There is an overall sense that with Annapolis, the administration is conceding the range of false premises on both the region and the conflict, premises that in earlier years the administration itself rejected—the myth of the conflict’s centrality to the Middle East; the myth of linkage, in which peripheral Arab grievances are tethered to Palestinian grievances (hence the invitation to Syria); the push to “engage” with the region’s worst offenders, so long as they are part of the grievance-with-Israel coalition; and overall the assent to the idea that the Arab states are interested in supporting a resolution to the conflict that does not involve Israel’s destruction, or at least its grave enfeeblement. The administration prostrated itself to the Saudis to win their attendance, and the Saudis repaid the favor, in the days before the conference, by releasing 1,500 al Qaeda prisoners and publicly putting the entire onus for resolving the conflict on Israel, and on rigidly Saudi terms. Bush, Rice, and their people have either genuinely bought into all of this rubbish, or they don’t mind appearing as if they have done so, thinking that such a public abnegation will put them in the good graces of Europe and the Arab world.

Either way, I think it’s been a far worse day for America than it has been for Israel.

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Processing Peace

There is a cynical, realpolitik justification for the Annapolis “peace conference.” Some will claim that, even if the odds of success are negligible, it is important to go through the motions to provide cover to moderate Arab states so that they can assuage the supposed anger among their populace about the lack of attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli “issue.” It is this anger, some will claim, that is a leading force behind terrorist recruitment. If the U.S. shows that it is applying serious pressure on Israel for “peace,” then, so the argument goes, Arab states will reciprocate by helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.

That position has never made much sense to me. Are Islamic radicals attacking Pakistani government troops in the Northwest Frontier Province because they’re upset about the “nakba” (catastrophe), as Arabs label the creation of Israel?

To the extent that Israel plays into Muslim anger, it isn’t because of the lack of a Palestinian-Israeli accord; it’s because of the existence of the state of Israel, period. Even more than 60 years later, a lot of Muslims still have not reconciled themselves to the “Zionist occupation” of any portion of “Palestine.” Some kind of compromise solution, even if it could be reached by the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectual leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would hardly satisfy the radicals, who in turn would be sure to stir up the masses. It would just lead them to label Abbas, as so many already do, another “Zionist-crusader” stooge.

But of course the odds of even Abbas and Olmert—widely seen as moderates in their respective polities—reaching an accord anytime soon are slim to none. And there is a price to be paid for failure, as Bret Stephens makes clear today in his Wall Street Journal column. He notes that Abbas “fears Palestinians would ‘turn to Hamas after they see that Annapolis did not give them anything,’ according to an unnamed Palestinian official quoted in the Jerusalem Post.” Moreover, Stephens writes, “Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a political dove, predicts not only that Annapolis will fail, but that its failure will ‘weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas, and cause violence.’”

When even the longtime advocates of negotiation fret that the upcoming negotiations will be counterproductive, perhaps the Bush administration should rethink its newfound enthusiasm for peace processing.

There is a cynical, realpolitik justification for the Annapolis “peace conference.” Some will claim that, even if the odds of success are negligible, it is important to go through the motions to provide cover to moderate Arab states so that they can assuage the supposed anger among their populace about the lack of attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli “issue.” It is this anger, some will claim, that is a leading force behind terrorist recruitment. If the U.S. shows that it is applying serious pressure on Israel for “peace,” then, so the argument goes, Arab states will reciprocate by helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.

That position has never made much sense to me. Are Islamic radicals attacking Pakistani government troops in the Northwest Frontier Province because they’re upset about the “nakba” (catastrophe), as Arabs label the creation of Israel?

To the extent that Israel plays into Muslim anger, it isn’t because of the lack of a Palestinian-Israeli accord; it’s because of the existence of the state of Israel, period. Even more than 60 years later, a lot of Muslims still have not reconciled themselves to the “Zionist occupation” of any portion of “Palestine.” Some kind of compromise solution, even if it could be reached by the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectual leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would hardly satisfy the radicals, who in turn would be sure to stir up the masses. It would just lead them to label Abbas, as so many already do, another “Zionist-crusader” stooge.

But of course the odds of even Abbas and Olmert—widely seen as moderates in their respective polities—reaching an accord anytime soon are slim to none. And there is a price to be paid for failure, as Bret Stephens makes clear today in his Wall Street Journal column. He notes that Abbas “fears Palestinians would ‘turn to Hamas after they see that Annapolis did not give them anything,’ according to an unnamed Palestinian official quoted in the Jerusalem Post.” Moreover, Stephens writes, “Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a political dove, predicts not only that Annapolis will fail, but that its failure will ‘weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas, and cause violence.’”

When even the longtime advocates of negotiation fret that the upcoming negotiations will be counterproductive, perhaps the Bush administration should rethink its newfound enthusiasm for peace processing.

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