Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pennsylvania

Cuomo Puts First Things First: Re-election

The technologies of “fracking,” and horizontal drilling are rapidly transforming the world’s energy situation. These technologies make it possible to tap into vast deposits of both natural gas and oil in shale layers around the world. The United States is particularly rich in such deposits. American domestic energy production has been rising rapidly (and imports falling commensurately), while our carbon emissions have been falling to the lowest level since 1992, because natural gas is increasingly replacing coal as a fuel in electric generating plants.

And since energy is one of the most important of economic inputs, it is transforming the world’s geopolitics as well, much to the benefit of the United States and many of its allies (such as Canada and Australia) and much to the detriment of such countries as Russia, the Gulf States of the Middle East, and Venezuela.

Naturally, the environmental movement is outraged at these developments.

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The technologies of “fracking,” and horizontal drilling are rapidly transforming the world’s energy situation. These technologies make it possible to tap into vast deposits of both natural gas and oil in shale layers around the world. The United States is particularly rich in such deposits. American domestic energy production has been rising rapidly (and imports falling commensurately), while our carbon emissions have been falling to the lowest level since 1992, because natural gas is increasingly replacing coal as a fuel in electric generating plants.

And since energy is one of the most important of economic inputs, it is transforming the world’s geopolitics as well, much to the benefit of the United States and many of its allies (such as Canada and Australia) and much to the detriment of such countries as Russia, the Gulf States of the Middle East, and Venezuela.

Naturally, the environmental movement is outraged at these developments.

This misnamed movement (it’s actually an anti-commerce movement with more than a tinge of misanthropy about it) is populated almost entirely by members of the upper middle class with comfortable six- and seven-figure incomes. They don’t care what energy costs because even if the costs doubled, it would have no impact whatever on their own standard of living. Their consumption of Chablis and Brie would not have to be cut back.

The environmental movement has disproportionate influence on Democratic politics and if you’d like a perfect example of that, just consider Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.

The Marcellus shale is a vast geologic layer underlying much of upstate New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Ohio. It is enormously rich in natural gas that can be accessed with the new technology. Pennsylvania has been exploiting this unexpected bounty with enthusiasm (Power Line has a neat little interactive map showing this). And that has had enormously positive effects on Pennsylvania’s economy and its government’s tax revenues.

The area of New York State underlain by the Marcellus shale has been in an economic depression for decades as its once booming industrial cities, such as Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, have seen industry flee to areas with better weather, right-to-work laws, and fewer regulations. You would think that the economic possibilities of the Marcellus shale being demonstrated so visibly in the state immediately to the south would cause New York to move quickly to bring increased jobs and mineral royalties to western New York and greatly increased tax revenue to the entire state.

You’d be wrong. The environmentalists are in full Chicken-Little mode (ground-water contamination! fuel spills! greenhouse gases! children refusing to eat their vegetables!) and Governor Cuomo pathetically cowers before them. He (and his predecessor) have been dragging their feet in the time-honored way of politicians, ordering study after study and postponing decisions until the studies are in and evaluated. If the study doesn’t produce the data they want, the study is suppressed. Only when a report was “obtained by the New York Times from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret,” did the people of New York State get to learn that the state Health Department regards gas drilling to be safe.

Of course, Pennsylvania has been an ongoing experiment for the last six years and more as to the safety of gas drilling. If there have been any disasters in the Keystone State with regard to the drilling, recovery, and transportation of gas from the Marcellus shale, it has gone unreported.

The reason Governor Cuomo has, effectively, told upstate New York to drop dead, is, of course, that Democrats running statewide for office win downstate, in New York City and its suburbs. Upstate is Republican country.

So Governor Cuomo is simply being concerned with what is most important to Governor Cuomo: his re-election. The welfare and prosperity of the State of New York come a long way second.

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Some State Polls Point to Romney Upset

As I wrote last night, liberal analysts are right when they point out that the preponderance of state polls have greatly strengthened President Obama’s hopes for re-election. But a couple of the latest ones published this morning contradict that conviction, which caused New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to claim only stupid people think the election is not a cinch for Obama. One Democratic-leaning pollster has Romney ahead by one point in supposedly deep-blue Michigan, while a new Pennsylvania poll shows the race there deadlocked.

These may be outliers, but even a Nobel laureate (and, as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to say, “former Enron advisor”) like Krugman is smart enough to understand that if Romney wins Pennsylvania and Michigan, Obama has virtually no chance to get to 270 electoral votes. The point here is that while we are all rightly focused on who will win Ohio, the president’s hold on a number of states that were thought to be likely Democrat wins is far from secure. What’s happened in the last month since the Denver debate turned the race around is not just a surge of Republican strength in the South and the West but a surprising comeback for the GOP in the rust belt and the Midwest.

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As I wrote last night, liberal analysts are right when they point out that the preponderance of state polls have greatly strengthened President Obama’s hopes for re-election. But a couple of the latest ones published this morning contradict that conviction, which caused New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to claim only stupid people think the election is not a cinch for Obama. One Democratic-leaning pollster has Romney ahead by one point in supposedly deep-blue Michigan, while a new Pennsylvania poll shows the race there deadlocked.

These may be outliers, but even a Nobel laureate (and, as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to say, “former Enron advisor”) like Krugman is smart enough to understand that if Romney wins Pennsylvania and Michigan, Obama has virtually no chance to get to 270 electoral votes. The point here is that while we are all rightly focused on who will win Ohio, the president’s hold on a number of states that were thought to be likely Democrat wins is far from secure. What’s happened in the last month since the Denver debate turned the race around is not just a surge of Republican strength in the South and the West but a surprising comeback for the GOP in the rust belt and the Midwest.

The Michigan poll is from the Democratic firm of Baydoun/Foster sponsored by WJBK Fox Channel 2 in Detroit, and has a sample that has a nine percent edge for the Democrats in terms of partisan identification. More tellingly, it is a fairly large number of respondents for a state poll — 1,913 likely voters — and a relatively low margin of error at 2.24 percent. Yet shockingly it shows Romney up by more than half a percentage point: 46.86 percent to 46.24 percent.

It should be specified that most other Michigan polls are still showing the president with a lead there. Another Democratic pollster, Public Policy Polling, has Obama up 52-46 percent in their latest poll. Just to confuse things, that poll has a smaller Democratic edge in partisan identification at only six percent but it is also the product of a much smaller sample — only 700 likely voters — and therefore has a margin of error that is nearly double that of the Baydoun/Foster poll.

In Pennsylvania, a Susquehanna poll sponsored by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review shows the race in Pennsylvania a virtual tie. Indeed the poll’s sample of 800 likely voters showed 378 say they would vote for Romney and 372 for Obama. Again, Susquehanna is a bit of an outlier in that it has shown more strength for Romney throughout the campaign than other polls. The Real Clear Politics average of polls for Pennsylvania still shows the president up by more than four points. But it should also be pointed that a clear difference between Susquehanna and the others is the same one that has been stirring discussion about virtually all the presidential polls on both the state and the national level: partisan identification. Susquehanna (whose sample is larger than that of the other Pennsylvania polls) shows a six-percentage point advantage for the Democrats. By contrast, two other polls that show Obama ahead in the state, PPP and Franklin & Marshall, had samples with 10 and nine point edges for the Democrats.

Those numbers make the contradictions between these polls more explicable. It can’t be said often enough that turnout is the key to this election. Those polls that are assuming a large advantage for the Democrats are pointing toward an Obama win. Those that are not are favorable to Romney. It’s as simple as that. If the Obama campaign machine can manufacture a replica of the 2008 electorate, the polls and the analysts predicting and Obama win will be vindicated. If not, then Romney may be on his way to victory and Krugman will be the one sitting in the corner wearing the dunce cap.

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Mitt’s PA Foray No Repeat of McCain Fiasco

Democrats are hoping that the Romney campaign’s decision to invest both time and money in Pennsylvania the last weekend before the election is a sign that the GOP is doomed. Memories of John McCain swooping into the Keystone State four years ago in a futile attempt to gain ground in a state that he would lose by better than 10 percentage points encourages Democrats who believe Romney is making the same mistake. But that was then, and this is now.

Though Romney must still be considered a heavy underdog in Pennsylvania, there’s little doubt that the race has tightened and that a Democratic victory there is no longer a foregone conclusion. Moreover, the Obama camp’s assumption that Romney’s move is rooted in a desperate attempt to craft an Electoral College majority without Ohio may also be dead wrong. Far from conceding the key tossup states to Obama, Romney may be sensing an opportunity to win states few thought he had a chance to take only a few weeks ago.

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Democrats are hoping that the Romney campaign’s decision to invest both time and money in Pennsylvania the last weekend before the election is a sign that the GOP is doomed. Memories of John McCain swooping into the Keystone State four years ago in a futile attempt to gain ground in a state that he would lose by better than 10 percentage points encourages Democrats who believe Romney is making the same mistake. But that was then, and this is now.

Though Romney must still be considered a heavy underdog in Pennsylvania, there’s little doubt that the race has tightened and that a Democratic victory there is no longer a foregone conclusion. Moreover, the Obama camp’s assumption that Romney’s move is rooted in a desperate attempt to craft an Electoral College majority without Ohio may also be dead wrong. Far from conceding the key tossup states to Obama, Romney may be sensing an opportunity to win states few thought he had a chance to take only a few weeks ago.

Conflicting poll numbers in the battleground states have made this one of the most confusing elections in memory. If you believe polls with samples that are disproportionately Democratic then the president seems likely to take Ohio as well as Virginia, virtually closing off any path to 270 Electoral College votes for Romney. But the Romney campaign thinks these numbers are off, since they see little likelihood that the Democrats can conjure up a turnout that will match or even exceed their 2008 hope and change wave that swept Obama into the White House. If, as the Republicans believe, the enthusiastic GOP turnout effort will match that of a Democratic campaign that can’t recapture the spirit of Obama’s first presidential run, Romney is a cinch to win Virginia and has a better-than-even chance in Ohio.

Far from the panic and desperation that characterized the last days of the McCain campaign, the Romney effort right now seems confident not only of winning their share of the tossups but of stealing some blue states on Tuesday. That shone through even in a New York Times story published this morning that reported the shift to the GOP:

But there is a tangible sense — seen in Romney yard signs on the expansive lawns of homes in the well-heeled suburbs, and heard in the excited voices of Republican mothers who make phone calls to voters in their spare time — that the race is tilting toward Mr. Romney.

If ever there were a place where a last-ditch torrent of money could move the needle, this is it. For the last couple of months, there has been a void of presidential ads in Pennsylvania. So when Republican strategists looked for places where their money could go the furthest, they set their sights here, reasoning that a dollar spent in Erie or Altoona would have a greater impact than in a place like Las Vegas or Cleveland, where political commercials have clogged the airwaves.

Despite their bravado, Democrats know Romney is making inroads among women and Jewish voters. Those are demographic groups that fueled Obama’s landslide in Pennsylvania four years ago but which now are deserting him.

Democrats may want to believe that they have Ohio in the bag and that they are in no danger of losing Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, another state where polls show Romney seems to have a real chance. But the decision to have both Romney and runningmate Paul Ryan visit Pennsylvania this weekend seems rooted more in confidence than in a forlorn “Hail Mary” pass to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Republicans may be mistaken in thinking they have any sort of chance in Pennsylvania because of the strength of the Democratic machine in Philadelphia and its still potent ability to manufacture majorities that can outweigh what happens elsewhere in the state. But there is no doubt that state, as well as several others that the Obama campaign had hoped to have wrapped up this late in the game, are still very much in play.

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Romney Campaign Buys Ad Time in Pennsylvania

The race in Pennsylvania continues to tighten, with ABC News switching the state from solid Obama to lean-Obama in its electoral map. Both campaigns are pivoting back to the state, and Politico reports that the Romney campaign is reserving ad space, on the heels of a $2 million ad buy by pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future and a $600,000 American Crossroads purchase.

Romney’s ad, a $150,000 buy from Nov. 5-6, hits Obama hard on coal

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The race in Pennsylvania continues to tighten, with ABC News switching the state from solid Obama to lean-Obama in its electoral map. Both campaigns are pivoting back to the state, and Politico reports that the Romney campaign is reserving ad space, on the heels of a $2 million ad buy by pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future and a $600,000 American Crossroads purchase.

Romney’s ad, a $150,000 buy from Nov. 5-6, hits Obama hard on coal

ABC notes the campaigns have hit the saturation point on ad buys in Ohio and Virginia, and Pennsylvania is one of the few states where more ad spending can matter. Still, the fact that the Obama campaign is funneling resources there in the final days is telling, considering the state was supposed to be a safe one for them.

The Romney campaign released a memo today emphasizing its efforts in Pennsylvania:

Pennsylvania presents a unique opportunity for the Romney campaign.  Over the past few years we have seen Pennsylvania voting for a Republican senator and a Republican governor, and Republicans win control of the State House in addition to the State Senate. The western part of the Keystone State has become more conservative (and President Obama’s war on coal is very unpopular there), and Mitt Romney is more competitive in the voter-rich Philadelphia suburbs than any Republican nominee since 1988. This makes Pennsylvania a natural next step as we expand the playing field.

The Romney campaign is expanding the field while the Obama campaign is just trying to hamper its losses. Obama still has a clear lead in the Pennsylvania polls, 4.7 percent in the RCP average, but that’s down from an 8-to-9-point lead in September. And that was without a major ad blitz. Romney may not be able to close that gap in a week, but he can make the Obama campaign divert money to the state that it otherwise would have been spending elsewhere.

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Romney’s Blue State Trap

Republicans should be happy about the latest polls coming out of Pennsylvania. Two of the three polls conducted there in the last few days show President Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney down to four points while another run by the Democratic-leading PPP firm has him up by seven points. This is quite a turnaround for a state where Obama has led by large margins for most of the year. The same might also be said for Michigan where Romney has narrowed a once large deficit in some recent polls. Both are important states the loss of which could be potentially fatal to the Democrats’ hopes of re-electing President Obama. But Romney would be well advised not to expend much effort trying to exploit this potential weakness in the president’s Electoral College lineup.

No Republican has won either state since the 1980s which means that if Obama is looking weak in places where he had double digit margins of victory in 2008 it stands to reason that it might be wise for his campaign to double down on their investment there so as to make the Democrats expend funds in areas that they thought were already in the bag. That would be a mistake. Though the president’s support in both states is far softer than anyone imagined a few months ago, converting them from blue to red would involve far more effort that the prize would justify and still fall short.

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Republicans should be happy about the latest polls coming out of Pennsylvania. Two of the three polls conducted there in the last few days show President Obama’s lead over Mitt Romney down to four points while another run by the Democratic-leading PPP firm has him up by seven points. This is quite a turnaround for a state where Obama has led by large margins for most of the year. The same might also be said for Michigan where Romney has narrowed a once large deficit in some recent polls. Both are important states the loss of which could be potentially fatal to the Democrats’ hopes of re-electing President Obama. But Romney would be well advised not to expend much effort trying to exploit this potential weakness in the president’s Electoral College lineup.

No Republican has won either state since the 1980s which means that if Obama is looking weak in places where he had double digit margins of victory in 2008 it stands to reason that it might be wise for his campaign to double down on their investment there so as to make the Democrats expend funds in areas that they thought were already in the bag. That would be a mistake. Though the president’s support in both states is far softer than anyone imagined a few months ago, converting them from blue to red would involve far more effort that the prize would justify and still fall short.

Despite the bad polling numbers, Obama still has overwhelming advantages in both Pennsylvania and Michigan. Unions and still potent Democratic organizations in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit have the ability to generate high turnouts that are likely to offset any losses in other parts of these states no matter how much Romney spends there. Were the Republicans to switch gears and divert resources there from other more winnable and arguably more crucial Electoral College targets it would materially lower Romney’s chances of victory.

The key to Republican victory remains those toss-ups where they have at worst an even chance of winning such as Florida, Virginia and Ohio. Pennsylvania is an inviting GOP target made even more tempting by poll results that illustrate Obama’s weakness. But the Romney campaign is wise to relegate it to a lower priority. Their good polling numbers are fool’s gold best ignored.

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Big Trouble Looms for Dems in PA

Democrats have long pooh-poohed the idea that President Obama was in any trouble in Pennsylvania this year. The president romped in Pennsylvania four years ago, and the Democrats’ registration advantage seemed likely to offset any problems that might arise from a new voter ID law that (at least before a judge prevented its enforcement this year) threatened to make it a little more difficult for the party’s Philadelphia machine to observe a time-honored city tradition and cook the results. But it’s starting to look as if their confidence was misplaced. Despite the fact that the most recent state polls there were published last week, before the first presidential debate that has altered the dynamic of the race in Mitt Romney’s favor, both Siena and Susquehanna showed the president holding only a slim lead of either two or three points. That sets up Keystone Democrats for a rude awakening the next time the state is polled, though they got a foretaste of what that might mean with the publication of the latest poll in the state’s U.S. Senate race.

A Susquehanna poll published today shows incumbent Democrat Bob Casey just two points ahead of Republican Tom Smith. Casey is a popular, though lackluster, incumbent whose father (a longtime governor) is still remembered with affection, and no one believed he was in any danger of losing this year. That was certainly the case when the best the GOP could do to oppose him was Tom Smith, a Tea Party stalwart with little name recognition. The point here is that if Tom Smith is that close to Casey, the Democrat ticket in Pennsylvania may be far weaker than pundits, who have been painting the state dark blue in electoral map for months, thought. If Obama must fight hard for Pennsylvania — which has just been shifted into the tossup column by Real Clear Politics — his campaign has made a terrible miscalculation.

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Democrats have long pooh-poohed the idea that President Obama was in any trouble in Pennsylvania this year. The president romped in Pennsylvania four years ago, and the Democrats’ registration advantage seemed likely to offset any problems that might arise from a new voter ID law that (at least before a judge prevented its enforcement this year) threatened to make it a little more difficult for the party’s Philadelphia machine to observe a time-honored city tradition and cook the results. But it’s starting to look as if their confidence was misplaced. Despite the fact that the most recent state polls there were published last week, before the first presidential debate that has altered the dynamic of the race in Mitt Romney’s favor, both Siena and Susquehanna showed the president holding only a slim lead of either two or three points. That sets up Keystone Democrats for a rude awakening the next time the state is polled, though they got a foretaste of what that might mean with the publication of the latest poll in the state’s U.S. Senate race.

A Susquehanna poll published today shows incumbent Democrat Bob Casey just two points ahead of Republican Tom Smith. Casey is a popular, though lackluster, incumbent whose father (a longtime governor) is still remembered with affection, and no one believed he was in any danger of losing this year. That was certainly the case when the best the GOP could do to oppose him was Tom Smith, a Tea Party stalwart with little name recognition. The point here is that if Tom Smith is that close to Casey, the Democrat ticket in Pennsylvania may be far weaker than pundits, who have been painting the state dark blue in electoral map for months, thought. If Obama must fight hard for Pennsylvania — which has just been shifted into the tossup column by Real Clear Politics — his campaign has made a terrible miscalculation.

The closeness of the Senate race is due in large measure to Casey’s incompetence as a candidate. He won in 2006 almost by default against a deeply unpopular Rick Santorum, and got away with running what was widely considered a stealth campaign in which the nominally pro-life and pro-gun Democrat sought to avoid being pinned down on any issues. He’s trying the same trick this year, but in the absence of a highly visible opponent like Santorum, it isn’t playing as well. However, even Casey, who has one of the lowest profiles of any statewide political figure but very high name recognition, still ought to be having an easy time winning a second term against Smith. That Casey couldn’t maintain the double-digit lead he had over Smith most of the year is telling not only about his own problems but what it says about the weakness of the Democrat ticket.

The smart money will probably still be betting on Obama and Casey winning in November, but the news here is that they are going to have fight hard to do so. Republicans had hoped to make the president play defense in a state that was thought to not really be in play, and it appears they have succeeded in that quest. A determined Republican challenge in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania doesn’t mean the Democrats can’t also fight hard in swing states such as Florida and Virginia that Romney must have if he is to win, but it makes it harder for them.

But that’s putting these results in what must be seen as the most positive light for Democrats. The nightmare scenario for Obama is that not only has Pennsylvania reverted to its pre-2008 status as a competitive if blue-leaning state, but that it is genuinely in play. Even scarier for them is the prospect of a spiraling Obama dragging Casey down with him. A few more polls like this and such an outcome will no longer be viewed as a GOP fantasy.

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Democrat Ploy Fails as PA Voter ID Upheld

Democrats who have been leading a campaign against voter ID laws had their sights set on Pennsylvania, where they felt they had a good chance to have legislation passed last year thrown out by the courts. Liberal activists held rallies in Philadelphia and have been asserting that the bill approved by the Republican-controlled legislature is nothing more than a recycled “Jim Crow” law. But the attempt to trash the Keystone State’s voter ID requirement failed today when a Commonwealth Court judge in the state capital threw out the challenge. Judge Robert E. Simpson, Jr. issued a 70-page decision this morning in Harrisburg that stated the plaintiffs failed to prove their case that asking voters to identify themselves with a government-issued photo card would mean disenfranchisement and therefore denied an injunction that would have meant the law could not be enforced this year.

Simpson ruled that the voter ID opponents had not established that “disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable” and also made clear that trashing the law less than 90 days from the election would throw a monkey wrench into the state’s election system. While he expressed sympathy with those who said they would be prevented from voting, the voter ID law was constitutional. The decision creates a problem for state Democrats who have been counting on the courts to strike down the law and therefore absolve them from the task of seeing that their voters are legally registered and have proper identification when they go to the polls in November. Though liberals around the country have accused Pennsylvania Republicans of trying to steal the presidential election via the voter ID law, the law’s survival now puts the onus on the Democrats to mobilize their base without resorting to any of the tricks that helped the GOP pass the bill in the first place.

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Democrats who have been leading a campaign against voter ID laws had their sights set on Pennsylvania, where they felt they had a good chance to have legislation passed last year thrown out by the courts. Liberal activists held rallies in Philadelphia and have been asserting that the bill approved by the Republican-controlled legislature is nothing more than a recycled “Jim Crow” law. But the attempt to trash the Keystone State’s voter ID requirement failed today when a Commonwealth Court judge in the state capital threw out the challenge. Judge Robert E. Simpson, Jr. issued a 70-page decision this morning in Harrisburg that stated the plaintiffs failed to prove their case that asking voters to identify themselves with a government-issued photo card would mean disenfranchisement and therefore denied an injunction that would have meant the law could not be enforced this year.

Simpson ruled that the voter ID opponents had not established that “disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable” and also made clear that trashing the law less than 90 days from the election would throw a monkey wrench into the state’s election system. While he expressed sympathy with those who said they would be prevented from voting, the voter ID law was constitutional. The decision creates a problem for state Democrats who have been counting on the courts to strike down the law and therefore absolve them from the task of seeing that their voters are legally registered and have proper identification when they go to the polls in November. Though liberals around the country have accused Pennsylvania Republicans of trying to steal the presidential election via the voter ID law, the law’s survival now puts the onus on the Democrats to mobilize their base without resorting to any of the tricks that helped the GOP pass the bill in the first place.

Mike Turzai, the Republican Majority Leader of the state’s House of Representatives, was lambasted for saying that the law would ensure that Mitt Romney would win in Pennsylvania this fall. This was taken as an indication that the GOP’s goal was voter suppression. But though the national media continues to insist that there is no such thing as voter fraud, voter ID was passed in Pennsylvania because of a widespread belief that cheating was merely business as usual in Philadelphia. The state’s largest city routinely produces big majorities for the Democrats but the fact that some election districts in the city have been known to produce result that tallied more than 100 percent of the number of registered voters fostered suspicions about how such a feat could be achieved without fraud.

The plaintiffs thought the story of 93-year-old Vivian Applewhite would sway the judge, but it didn’t work. Applewhite, who marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr., is a sympathetic figure. She doesn’t have a drivers’ license and says the state has lost her birth certificate and therefore wasn’t able to get the free ID card Pennsylvania is offering non-drivers. But the state can find ways to accommodate her and other exceptional cases without trashing a law that most voters believe is mere common sense. As I wrote yesterday, it was no surprise to learn via a Washington Post poll that nearly three-quarters of Americans support voter ID laws.

The answer to worries about voter turnout is for the parties and the state to increase efforts to register voters. The “Jim Crow” canard is based on the false assumption that minorities aren’t up to dealing with the same burden of registering and obtaining an identification card as well as everyone else. The court rightly said this assertion is unproved and that the NAACP and other plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail in a full trial. The Supreme Court has already ruled that asking voters to prove their identity is both reasonable and constitutional. There were no grounds for Simpson to tell the state to return to a situation where anyone can simply show up and vote without being able to prove their identity or even their citizenship.

This means that instead of raising bogus claims of racism, Pennsylvania Democrats will have to attempt the more difficult job of seeing that their supporters are registered. It may well be that Turzai’s optimism about the Republicans chances of taking the state in November was unfounded. But if the Democrats win this time, they will have to do it by playing by the rules.

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Race Tightens in Pennsylvania

President Obama is jetting to Pennsylvania for several fundraising events today, but his failure to open a wide lead over Mitt Romney in the state is a troubling sign for his campaign. Pennsylvania is a must-win for Obama, and today’s Quinnipiac poll finds him falling short of the 50 percent mark, with just a 6-point lead (h/t HotAir):

With strong support from women and independent voters, President Barack Obama leads Gov. Mitt Romney 46 – 40 among Pennsylvania voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Romney would do a better job on the economy, voters say 49 – 41 percent.

The matchup compares to a 47 – 39 percent Obama lead in a May 3 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University.

In today’s survey, women back President Obama 51 – 36 percent, while men tip to Romney 44 – 40 percent. Obama leads 83 – 10 percent among Democrats and 43 – 35 percent among independent voters, while Republican voters back Romney 80 – 7 percent.

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President Obama is jetting to Pennsylvania for several fundraising events today, but his failure to open a wide lead over Mitt Romney in the state is a troubling sign for his campaign. Pennsylvania is a must-win for Obama, and today’s Quinnipiac poll finds him falling short of the 50 percent mark, with just a 6-point lead (h/t HotAir):

With strong support from women and independent voters, President Barack Obama leads Gov. Mitt Romney 46 – 40 among Pennsylvania voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Romney would do a better job on the economy, voters say 49 – 41 percent.

The matchup compares to a 47 – 39 percent Obama lead in a May 3 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University.

In today’s survey, women back President Obama 51 – 36 percent, while men tip to Romney 44 – 40 percent. Obama leads 83 – 10 percent among Democrats and 43 – 35 percent among independent voters, while Republican voters back Romney 80 – 7 percent.

At HotAir, Ed Morrissey writes that this poll appears to be the latest in a trend:

What’s interesting about this result is its consistency with the entire Q-poll series. In five polls taken since last December, Obama hasn’t led Romney by more than eight points — which happened in the previous poll, as noted above. One of the two polls taken in March had the same exact outcome as today’s, while the other showed Obama only three points up on Romney. While the entire series could be an outlier, this particular result and the relative position of Romney to Obama in this poll is no outlier within the series.

The Romney campaign might be feeling optimistic, too, as he’s penciling in Pennsylvania on his upcoming bus tour. Romney has a lot to overcome in the state, even if he begins campaigning seriously there. But it’s not a place Obama expected to have to fight particularly hard in. No wonder the president has been fundraising so frantically recently — it looks like he’ll have to pour more money than expected into states that were once considered fairly safe for him, including Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

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Democrats Criticize Rand Paul’s Call to Cut Aid to Israel

JTA is reporting that seven Democratic senators sent a letter to top GOP senators yesterday, calling on the Republicans to repudiate Sen. Rand Paul’s comments about cutting foreign aid to Israel:

“At a time when U.S. foreign aid is being utilized to strengthen our partnerships around the world, particularly in the Middle East where our relationships are more important than ever, we urge you to commit to maintain full foreign aid funding to Israel,” the letter said. …

Signatories to Tuesday’s letter include Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)., Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

It’s always great to watch Republicans and Democrats in Congress fight over which side is more pro-Israel, because the winner of that argument is always Israel. However, there was one not-so-small accuracy problem with the letter — it implied that there’s been recent interest among Republicans for Paul’s plan. And that’s simply not true.

The opening of the note reads: “We write in light of recent statements that demonstrate the intent of certain Senators to eliminate foreign aid funding to the nation of Israel.” But as Ron Kampeas notes at JTA, Paul has been the only Senate Republican to recently support such a proposal. So obviously, the likelihood that Congress will actually vote to cut aid to Israel is pretty low, and Democrats are simply using Paul’s position to issue a partisan attack on the Republican Party as a whole.

JTA is reporting that seven Democratic senators sent a letter to top GOP senators yesterday, calling on the Republicans to repudiate Sen. Rand Paul’s comments about cutting foreign aid to Israel:

“At a time when U.S. foreign aid is being utilized to strengthen our partnerships around the world, particularly in the Middle East where our relationships are more important than ever, we urge you to commit to maintain full foreign aid funding to Israel,” the letter said. …

Signatories to Tuesday’s letter include Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)., Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

It’s always great to watch Republicans and Democrats in Congress fight over which side is more pro-Israel, because the winner of that argument is always Israel. However, there was one not-so-small accuracy problem with the letter — it implied that there’s been recent interest among Republicans for Paul’s plan. And that’s simply not true.

The opening of the note reads: “We write in light of recent statements that demonstrate the intent of certain Senators to eliminate foreign aid funding to the nation of Israel.” But as Ron Kampeas notes at JTA, Paul has been the only Senate Republican to recently support such a proposal. So obviously, the likelihood that Congress will actually vote to cut aid to Israel is pretty low, and Democrats are simply using Paul’s position to issue a partisan attack on the Republican Party as a whole.

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Palestinian DNA Won’t Accept Equality with Jews?

More documents detailing Palestinian negotiating stands with Israel were released last night by Al Jazeera, providing observers with more information about the negotiations that took place from 2007 to 2009 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The latest bunch show that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was realistic enough to understand that the notion of Israel’s accepting a million descendants of the original 1948 refugees was a non-starter.

The idea that Abbas was giving up on the Palestinian dream of swamping Israel with Palestinian Arabs is widely seen as a disgrace among his own people, as well as with their European cheerleaders at places such as the Guardian newspaper, which has also played a role in revealing the documents. Some critics of Israel are claiming that the PA’s willingness to acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of Jews were never going to be turned out of their homes in Jerusalem as part of a peace deal shows that Abbas was a true peace partner. But the furor over these documents reveals anew the insurmountable obstacles to an agreement that are created by Palestinian public opinion. The problem is that anything that smacks of recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state (something that even these documents show the PA was never willing to admit) is considered anathema to the Palestinian street, not to mention that the Guardian seems to be as appalled by Abbas’s willingness to dicker over Jerusalem and refugees as Hamas has been. That is why, despite all the excruciating negotiations that took place with the Olmert/Livni government, which offered the PA a state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, Abbas’s answer was still no.

Even amid all these supposed signs of moderation on the part of the PA, a glimpse of the extreme nature of Palestinian political culture still shines through. For example, during one session involving then Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, the two explored the possibility that Israelis living in the Jerusalem suburb Ma’ale Adumim might be allowed to stay there if it became part of a Palestinian state. When Livni asked Erekat how she could provide Israelis “living in Palestine with security,” his reply was telling: “Can you imagine that I have changed my DNA and accepted a situation in which Jews become citizens having the rights that I and my wife have,” asked Erekat. “Can you imagine that this will happen one day?”

The Israelis present had no such illusions, and it soon became clear that any Jews living in Palestinian territory after a proposed peace would wind up like the greenhouses of Gaza that were left behind when Israel evacuated that territory in 2005. They would have to flee since, unlike Arabs living in the State of Israel, who enjoy equal rights as citizens, such persons wouldn’t last a day. This should provide an explanation to anyone wishing to understand why the majority of Israelis appear to have given up on the idea of a real peace with the Palestinians. Under such circumstances and with such peace partners, what hope is there for peaceful coexistence in the foreseeable future?

More documents detailing Palestinian negotiating stands with Israel were released last night by Al Jazeera, providing observers with more information about the negotiations that took place from 2007 to 2009 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The latest bunch show that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was realistic enough to understand that the notion of Israel’s accepting a million descendants of the original 1948 refugees was a non-starter.

The idea that Abbas was giving up on the Palestinian dream of swamping Israel with Palestinian Arabs is widely seen as a disgrace among his own people, as well as with their European cheerleaders at places such as the Guardian newspaper, which has also played a role in revealing the documents. Some critics of Israel are claiming that the PA’s willingness to acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of Jews were never going to be turned out of their homes in Jerusalem as part of a peace deal shows that Abbas was a true peace partner. But the furor over these documents reveals anew the insurmountable obstacles to an agreement that are created by Palestinian public opinion. The problem is that anything that smacks of recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state (something that even these documents show the PA was never willing to admit) is considered anathema to the Palestinian street, not to mention that the Guardian seems to be as appalled by Abbas’s willingness to dicker over Jerusalem and refugees as Hamas has been. That is why, despite all the excruciating negotiations that took place with the Olmert/Livni government, which offered the PA a state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, Abbas’s answer was still no.

Even amid all these supposed signs of moderation on the part of the PA, a glimpse of the extreme nature of Palestinian political culture still shines through. For example, during one session involving then Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, the two explored the possibility that Israelis living in the Jerusalem suburb Ma’ale Adumim might be allowed to stay there if it became part of a Palestinian state. When Livni asked Erekat how she could provide Israelis “living in Palestine with security,” his reply was telling: “Can you imagine that I have changed my DNA and accepted a situation in which Jews become citizens having the rights that I and my wife have,” asked Erekat. “Can you imagine that this will happen one day?”

The Israelis present had no such illusions, and it soon became clear that any Jews living in Palestinian territory after a proposed peace would wind up like the greenhouses of Gaza that were left behind when Israel evacuated that territory in 2005. They would have to flee since, unlike Arabs living in the State of Israel, who enjoy equal rights as citizens, such persons wouldn’t last a day. This should provide an explanation to anyone wishing to understand why the majority of Israelis appear to have given up on the idea of a real peace with the Palestinians. Under such circumstances and with such peace partners, what hope is there for peaceful coexistence in the foreseeable future?

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How the Guardian Helped Kill the Peace Process

As Alana noted yesterday, the extent of Palestinian concessions during peace talks, once made public, has seriously damaged PA leaders — and the State Department has weighed, noting that things are now going to be even harder than they were already.

The immediate fallout from the leaks should raise a number of important questions for the Guardian, but judging by the way it is spinning the story, it is hard to believe introspection is coming.

First, the Guardian appears shocked and angered by the extent of Palestinian concessions on settlements and yet blames Israel for the subsequent impasse on account of … settlements!

As Noah pointed out, if the main cause for lack of progress in the past 24 months was Palestinian insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze, one that included Jerusalem, as a precondition for talks — and this, thanks to U.S. backing — the papers reveal that it was merely a cynical pretext for the Palestinians’ not resuming talks once Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu took power. Otherwise, why make a sacred cow of something they had already conceded before? The answer may be that the Palestinians neither accepted nor rejected the Olmert offer but, rather, regarded it as still on the table, allowing them time to see if Olmert was going to survive politically. With Olmert (and Livni) out and Obama in, then, the Palestinians may have concluded that a better deal could be had with a more sympathetic U.S. administration in place. This is consistent with Palestinian behavior historically and a tried-and-tested recipe for disaster for their aspirations.

In his Guardian op-ed on the leaks, Jonathan Freedland wrote that:

Surely international opinion will see concrete proof of how far the Palestinians have been willing to go, ready to move up to and beyond their “red lines,” conceding ground that would once have been unthinkable — none more so than on Jerusalem. In the blame game that has long attended Middle East diplomacy, this could see a shift in the Palestinians’ favour. The effect of these papers on Israel will be the reverse.

What Freedland is telling us is not what might happen but rather what he ardently wishes would happen. He may be right, of course — but it is not like Israel was basking in the light of international favor before the leaks!

So in effect, the Guardian is saying, Thank heaven Israel will be forced to give back what the Palestinians conceded — that will surely lead to a more equitable result! (Though the Guardian also concedes that the chances for a deal are now dead in the water, thanks to their leak!)

Second, the fallout caused by the Guardian leak is that, in the short term, Palestinian negotiators will have to heed the calls of the street and be much less amenable to compromise than was demonstrated in the leaked papers. Why is it that private virtue and public vice deserve praise? Read More

As Alana noted yesterday, the extent of Palestinian concessions during peace talks, once made public, has seriously damaged PA leaders — and the State Department has weighed, noting that things are now going to be even harder than they were already.

The immediate fallout from the leaks should raise a number of important questions for the Guardian, but judging by the way it is spinning the story, it is hard to believe introspection is coming.

First, the Guardian appears shocked and angered by the extent of Palestinian concessions on settlements and yet blames Israel for the subsequent impasse on account of … settlements!

As Noah pointed out, if the main cause for lack of progress in the past 24 months was Palestinian insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze, one that included Jerusalem, as a precondition for talks — and this, thanks to U.S. backing — the papers reveal that it was merely a cynical pretext for the Palestinians’ not resuming talks once Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu took power. Otherwise, why make a sacred cow of something they had already conceded before? The answer may be that the Palestinians neither accepted nor rejected the Olmert offer but, rather, regarded it as still on the table, allowing them time to see if Olmert was going to survive politically. With Olmert (and Livni) out and Obama in, then, the Palestinians may have concluded that a better deal could be had with a more sympathetic U.S. administration in place. This is consistent with Palestinian behavior historically and a tried-and-tested recipe for disaster for their aspirations.

In his Guardian op-ed on the leaks, Jonathan Freedland wrote that:

Surely international opinion will see concrete proof of how far the Palestinians have been willing to go, ready to move up to and beyond their “red lines,” conceding ground that would once have been unthinkable — none more so than on Jerusalem. In the blame game that has long attended Middle East diplomacy, this could see a shift in the Palestinians’ favour. The effect of these papers on Israel will be the reverse.

What Freedland is telling us is not what might happen but rather what he ardently wishes would happen. He may be right, of course — but it is not like Israel was basking in the light of international favor before the leaks!

So in effect, the Guardian is saying, Thank heaven Israel will be forced to give back what the Palestinians conceded — that will surely lead to a more equitable result! (Though the Guardian also concedes that the chances for a deal are now dead in the water, thanks to their leak!)

Second, the fallout caused by the Guardian leak is that, in the short term, Palestinian negotiators will have to heed the calls of the street and be much less amenable to compromise than was demonstrated in the leaked papers. Why is it that private virtue and public vice deserve praise?

Again: in the established tradition of Arab leadership, privately held views can never be aired in public, because the public cannot take the truth. This is what the leaks show: Palestinian leaders — much like their Arab counterparts and their Palestinian predecessors — are prisoners of their own past lies and public rhetoric. What they might have agreed to in private has exploded in their faces once made public.

How then can one expect these talks to have ever come to fruition? Surely had the Palestinians and the Israelis signed such a deal, the reaction would have been the same — a rejection of the deal and the questioning the PA leadership’s legitimacy, as the Guardian has indeed done on Sunday.

The Guardian has then chosen to leak the papers with a goal – to discredit Israel and the Palestinian leadership at the same time, to peddle its own rejectionist agenda. And what exactly is this agenda? Today’s commentary on the leaks, titled, tellingly, “Papers reveal how Palestinian leaders gave up fight over refugees” by Seumus Milne and Ian Black, is worth quoting:

The documents have already become the focus of controversy among Israelis and Palestinians, revealing the scale of official Palestinian concessions rejected by Israel, but also throwing light on the huge imbalance of power in a peace process widely seen to have run into the sand.

Milne is an anti-imperialist firebrand, who has applauded “the resistance” against the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, trivialized the scale of Stalinist atrocities, repeatedly shilled for Hamas, and staunchly defended unrealistic Palestinian claims on refugees. In short, he’d be probably kicked out of the Nation for being too left-wing; but at the Guardian, he is the mainstream.

To him, the leaks are a wonderful opportunity to berate what appear to be much-needed Palestinian concessions for a viable agreement as a surrender to Israel and a betrayal of Palestinian rights.

The Guardian hates the revelations in these papers not because they supposedly show that Palestinian leaders were ready to make the necessary concessions for peace and that Israel was intransigent, but because it hates the fact that Palestinians must make any concessions if peace is ever to be achieved. That is why the real story behind the leaks is not the papers themselves but the Guardian’s agenda for leaking them.

The sanctimony of its articles since last weekend shows a contempt for the kinds of concessions that everyone knows are the necessary preconditions for a deal. Milne is flummoxed by the fact that the Palestinians would renounce the refugees’ claim to a right of return; his colleagues are fuming because Israeli settlements would be allowed to survive under Israeli sovereignty; the lead editorial on Sunday decried Hamas’s exclusion from negotiations; and they lament “the huge imbalance of power” between Israel and the Palestinians — something they wish would change in favor of the Palestinians so that it would be Israel, not the PA, that would have to concede.

The peace process may have been moribund, but surely, after this weekend’s leak, it is dead. The Guardian has just given it the coup de grace and is now busy taking credit for it.

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Who’s Behind the Palestinian Papers?

As Noah and others have written, nearly all the supposed revelations in the Palestinian Papers were already public knowledge before yesterday. And while the media has unsurprisingly spun the story to make Israel look as bad as possible, the political fallout for the Israelis will be minimal.

In fact, as Noah pointed out, if the papers make any Israeli lawmaker look bad, it’s the current opposition party leader, Tzipi Livni. So if the point of the leak was to harm the Netanyahu administration, then this was a pretty brainless way to go about it.

One other possibility is that the papers were meant to undermine the peace process. But that would have been a failed strategy as well. The negotiations can’t get much deader than they are right now, so releasing the papers to that end is simply unnecessary.

The ones who have been most damaged by the papers so far are PA officials, who are perceived by hardliners in the West Bank as being too soft during negotiations. PA leaders have been extremely defensive about the leak today, claiming that the documents were doctored and that their statements were intentionally mischaracterized.

The Guardian noted the political consequences for the PA in an article yesterday, and pointed out that the leak could benefit Hamas:

Some Fatah leaders are likely to accuse al-Jazeera of having an anti-PA agenda by publishing the leaked documents, which they believe will benefit their Hamas rivals, backed by Iran — as shown in critical comments about the TV station in the documents themselves.

Al Jazeera, the news outlet the documents were released to, is also known to have a bias against the PA. So it seems reasonable that whoever released the papers may have been aiming to embarrass the current West Bank leadership. The question is who?

Hamas officials or sympathizers are one possibility. But there isn’t a strong likelihood that anyone like that would have had access to these government documents.

It’s also possible that the leak could have come from a current or former PA official who has an ax to grind with the present leadership. And while there are many possibilities, one name has been mentioned as a potential leaker: Muhammad Dahlan. Once an extremely powerful Fatah leader, Dahlan has undergone a steep fall from grace over the past few months. After clashing with President Mahmoud Abbas, Dahlan has been exiled from the Fatah movement, stripped of his government position, and is currently being investigated for allegedly plotting to overthrow Abbas.

It’s likely that Dahlan would have access to the types of documents that were released. And he certainly has a reason to want to weaken the current Fatah leadership.

Of course, there’s no serious evidence linking Dahlan to the leak. And there are undoubtedly many others in the PA government and elsewhere who would also have a motive to release the documents. But one thing seems to be obvious, based on the evidence so far. Despite the media spin, the Israelis were not the intended target.

As Noah and others have written, nearly all the supposed revelations in the Palestinian Papers were already public knowledge before yesterday. And while the media has unsurprisingly spun the story to make Israel look as bad as possible, the political fallout for the Israelis will be minimal.

In fact, as Noah pointed out, if the papers make any Israeli lawmaker look bad, it’s the current opposition party leader, Tzipi Livni. So if the point of the leak was to harm the Netanyahu administration, then this was a pretty brainless way to go about it.

One other possibility is that the papers were meant to undermine the peace process. But that would have been a failed strategy as well. The negotiations can’t get much deader than they are right now, so releasing the papers to that end is simply unnecessary.

The ones who have been most damaged by the papers so far are PA officials, who are perceived by hardliners in the West Bank as being too soft during negotiations. PA leaders have been extremely defensive about the leak today, claiming that the documents were doctored and that their statements were intentionally mischaracterized.

The Guardian noted the political consequences for the PA in an article yesterday, and pointed out that the leak could benefit Hamas:

Some Fatah leaders are likely to accuse al-Jazeera of having an anti-PA agenda by publishing the leaked documents, which they believe will benefit their Hamas rivals, backed by Iran — as shown in critical comments about the TV station in the documents themselves.

Al Jazeera, the news outlet the documents were released to, is also known to have a bias against the PA. So it seems reasonable that whoever released the papers may have been aiming to embarrass the current West Bank leadership. The question is who?

Hamas officials or sympathizers are one possibility. But there isn’t a strong likelihood that anyone like that would have had access to these government documents.

It’s also possible that the leak could have come from a current or former PA official who has an ax to grind with the present leadership. And while there are many possibilities, one name has been mentioned as a potential leaker: Muhammad Dahlan. Once an extremely powerful Fatah leader, Dahlan has undergone a steep fall from grace over the past few months. After clashing with President Mahmoud Abbas, Dahlan has been exiled from the Fatah movement, stripped of his government position, and is currently being investigated for allegedly plotting to overthrow Abbas.

It’s likely that Dahlan would have access to the types of documents that were released. And he certainly has a reason to want to weaken the current Fatah leadership.

Of course, there’s no serious evidence linking Dahlan to the leak. And there are undoubtedly many others in the PA government and elsewhere who would also have a motive to release the documents. But one thing seems to be obvious, based on the evidence so far. Despite the media spin, the Israelis were not the intended target.

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The Unintended Consequences of a Unilateral Declaration of Statehood for Palestine

Anyone taking seriously the Palestinians’ current diplomatic offensive against Israel — by way of a UN resolution on settlements and international recognition of Palestine as an independent state — should think again. In a must-read piece in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha offer a unique insight into Palestinian thinking. Their bottom line:

“In the hope of alarming Israelis, some Palestinians toy with options they haven’t seriously considered, don’t believe in, or cannot implement. … It’s a curious list: unilaterally declaring statehood, obtaining UN recognition, dissolving the PA, or walking away from the idea of negotiated partition altogether and calling for a single, binational state. Not one of these ideas has been well thought out, debated, or genuinely considered as a strategic choice, which, of course, is not their point. They are essentially attempts to show that Palestinians have alternatives to negotiation with Israel even as the proposals’ lack of seriousness demonstrably establishes that they currently have none.”

Palestinian diplomats quietly explain that even if the PA eventually declares independence unilaterally, it does not aspire to go beyond the rhetoric of the declaration and the whirlwind of diplomatic recognition they anticipate will follow. They think such a step might put them in a better position to negotiate with Israel on the outstanding issues that remain unsolved without realizing that such a dramatic step — taken from Ramallah by the PA rather than from Algiers by the PLO as happened 23 years ago — may trigger far worse consequences this time.

Israel might take unilateral actions to respond, which would expose the inadequacy of Palestinian proclamations and further reduce for the future the space available for a Palestinian sovereign entity. Israel could easily show the hollowness of such a declaration by challenging the PA to establish sovereignty for real — and Palestinians have no intentions, let alone a plan, to even begin doing so at border crossings, checkpoints, on the airwaves, in their airspace, on their shores, and in many other areas where independence may be affirmed (controversially, one may add, in the absence of agreement with Israel) by the exercise of sovereign attributes. Read More

Anyone taking seriously the Palestinians’ current diplomatic offensive against Israel — by way of a UN resolution on settlements and international recognition of Palestine as an independent state — should think again. In a must-read piece in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha offer a unique insight into Palestinian thinking. Their bottom line:

“In the hope of alarming Israelis, some Palestinians toy with options they haven’t seriously considered, don’t believe in, or cannot implement. … It’s a curious list: unilaterally declaring statehood, obtaining UN recognition, dissolving the PA, or walking away from the idea of negotiated partition altogether and calling for a single, binational state. Not one of these ideas has been well thought out, debated, or genuinely considered as a strategic choice, which, of course, is not their point. They are essentially attempts to show that Palestinians have alternatives to negotiation with Israel even as the proposals’ lack of seriousness demonstrably establishes that they currently have none.”

Palestinian diplomats quietly explain that even if the PA eventually declares independence unilaterally, it does not aspire to go beyond the rhetoric of the declaration and the whirlwind of diplomatic recognition they anticipate will follow. They think such a step might put them in a better position to negotiate with Israel on the outstanding issues that remain unsolved without realizing that such a dramatic step — taken from Ramallah by the PA rather than from Algiers by the PLO as happened 23 years ago — may trigger far worse consequences this time.

Israel might take unilateral actions to respond, which would expose the inadequacy of Palestinian proclamations and further reduce for the future the space available for a Palestinian sovereign entity. Israel could easily show the hollowness of such a declaration by challenging the PA to establish sovereignty for real — and Palestinians have no intentions, let alone a plan, to even begin doing so at border crossings, checkpoints, on the airwaves, in their airspace, on their shores, and in many other areas where independence may be affirmed (controversially, one may add, in the absence of agreement with Israel) by the exercise of sovereign attributes.

The Arab world — already under pressure on account of developments in Tunisia and uncertain succession challenges from Egypt to Saudi Arabia — might only act in so far as their actions will safeguard the regimes. As usual, their support will be rhetorical — with some diplomatic backing here and there — but hardly decisive. There may be some pledges of cash; whether the money comes is a different, and altogether sadly familiar, story.

Meanwhile, rejectionists in Gaza, Damascus, and Tehran will probably see this development as an opportunity — to wreak havoc, to fan the flames of conflict, to corner the PA for its acquiescence to Israel, and to establish themselves once and for all as the authentic standard bearers of the Palestinian cause.

Clearly, then, the only way forward seems to be the old one and the one that Palestinians currently avoid — direct negotiations with Israel to solve all outstanding issues. Instead, the PA and its diplomatic apparatus pursues the beaten path of failure — change the international balance in your favor so as to weaken your opponent’s negotiating ability, in the hope that this strategy will obviate the need for direct talks. Hence the quest for a UN resolution on settlements — to get the UN, not direct negotiations, to solve borders and territory.

Palestinians are woefully unprepared to handle both the likely consequences of a unilateral declaration and the Israeli response — not to mention the practical implications of independence. They also fail to see that all the successful diplomacy in the world will not undo what history did since 1947 to their ambitions.

What they want, in other words, is sovereignty without responsibility — a goal that reveals their game.

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley may not see it this way, of course, but their exposure of how hollow and unserious the current PA strategy is does a great service to those who are considering support for either Palestinian unilateral independence or, for that matter, the current Palestinian effort to get the UN Security Council to condemn settlements.

Settlements will not go away with a UN resolution. Palestine will not be independent just because its president said so and many heads of state around the world upgraded Palestinian missions to embassy status in La Paz, Santiago, or even Moscow.

Only direct talks will achieve this — with a full appreciation that history cannot be undone, no matter how unfair it may look to you.

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Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen Slams PLO-Flag Decision

It’s so refreshing — and sadly rare — when a politician comes out and just says the honest truth. Today Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, issued some much-needed real talk on the Palestinian Authority’s decision to raise the PLO flag outside its Washington diplomatic mission today. From her press release:

“Raising this flag in DC is part of the Palestinian leadership’s scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state.

“The Palestinian leadership’s ongoing drive to win recognition from foreign governments, and its latest push to condemn Israel at the UN, is part of the same strategy aimed at extracting concessions without being required to meet international commitments.

“I remain deeply disappointed that the Palestinian leadership continues to reject the opportunity to negotiate directly and in good faith with the Israeli government to resolve all outstanding issues and achieve security and peace. Instead, Palestinian leaders reject negotiations, they make excuses, and they seek shortcuts to statehood.”

This could not have been said better. The PA’s attempts to win statehood recognition prematurely doesn’t just hurt Israel — it harms the entire peace process. These tactics allow the Palestinian leadership to delay negotiations, which will only end up impeding the creation of a Palestinian state.

But Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t stop at calling out the Palestinian leadership. She also tears into the Obama administration, which has facilitated the PA’s destructive strategy:

“The U.S. has reinforced Ramallah’s rejectionism through economic and political support, including support for the PLO office in Washington, instead of requiring that they meet all conditions in U.S. law. Governments worldwide will interpret such actions as tacit U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state. These actions send precisely the wrong message to foreign governments.

“It’s long past time to change course, uphold our own laws by holding Ramallah accountable for its commitments, and encourage other responsible nations to do likewise.”

This is a key point. By allowing the PLO flag to be raised outside the Washington office, the Obama administration is sending an international message of implicit support for the PA’s strides toward unilateral statehood. And more than that, it’s seen as a pointed snub at Israel, giving both the PA and the Israeli governments an additional reason to avoid negotiations.

It’s so refreshing — and sadly rare — when a politician comes out and just says the honest truth. Today Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, issued some much-needed real talk on the Palestinian Authority’s decision to raise the PLO flag outside its Washington diplomatic mission today. From her press release:

“Raising this flag in DC is part of the Palestinian leadership’s scheme to manipulate international acceptance and diplomatic recognition of a yet-to-be-created Palestinian state while refusing to directly negotiate with Israel or accept the existence of Israel as a democratic, Jewish state.

“The Palestinian leadership’s ongoing drive to win recognition from foreign governments, and its latest push to condemn Israel at the UN, is part of the same strategy aimed at extracting concessions without being required to meet international commitments.

“I remain deeply disappointed that the Palestinian leadership continues to reject the opportunity to negotiate directly and in good faith with the Israeli government to resolve all outstanding issues and achieve security and peace. Instead, Palestinian leaders reject negotiations, they make excuses, and they seek shortcuts to statehood.”

This could not have been said better. The PA’s attempts to win statehood recognition prematurely doesn’t just hurt Israel — it harms the entire peace process. These tactics allow the Palestinian leadership to delay negotiations, which will only end up impeding the creation of a Palestinian state.

But Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t stop at calling out the Palestinian leadership. She also tears into the Obama administration, which has facilitated the PA’s destructive strategy:

“The U.S. has reinforced Ramallah’s rejectionism through economic and political support, including support for the PLO office in Washington, instead of requiring that they meet all conditions in U.S. law. Governments worldwide will interpret such actions as tacit U.S. recognition of a Palestinian state. These actions send precisely the wrong message to foreign governments.

“It’s long past time to change course, uphold our own laws by holding Ramallah accountable for its commitments, and encourage other responsible nations to do likewise.”

This is a key point. By allowing the PLO flag to be raised outside the Washington office, the Obama administration is sending an international message of implicit support for the PA’s strides toward unilateral statehood. And more than that, it’s seen as a pointed snub at Israel, giving both the PA and the Israeli governments an additional reason to avoid negotiations.

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At the UN, NGOs Blame Israel for Plight of Palestinian Women

Today a UN committee looked into whether Israel was complying with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). And, of course, human rights groups came out in full force to blame discrimination against Palestinian women on Israel — including the poor quality of girls’ education, domestic violence, and early marriage.

According to an NGO Monitor press release this morning, left-wing human rights groups like Badil, Al Haq, and the Defense for Children International “submitted a statement to the Committee prior to the review, regarding women’s rights in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. In addition, Badil prepared a supplement to the original submission. Many of their claims reflect the de-legitimization campaigns involving NGOs.”

Any rational and honest observer can see that it’s absurd to hold Israel accountable for women’s rights violations that are rampant throughout the entire Muslim world — the same violations that can be seen in every country and territory surrounding Israel.

But in addition to faulting Israel for problems that it clearly has little control over, human rights groups ignored even more troubling examples of female mistreatment that are widespread in the Palestinian territories:

The submission omits crucial women’s rights abuses, failing to address domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or murders termed “honor killings,” which in 1999 comprised more than two-thirds of all murders in Gaza and the West Bank, according to UNICEF. NGO Monitor also notes that WCLAC has received funding from the European Union, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Spain, Belgium and Ireland, along with other individual European governments.  OxfamNOVIB (Netherlands), George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and DanChurchAid (budgeted by the Danish government) also have provided funding.

“We again see foreign European funding to NGOs contribute to the demonization of Israel in the international arena, instead of addressing real human rights abuses.” Steinberg adds. “In this text, these NGOs place their political agenda ahead of goals to protect women. The submission fails to address the repressive Hamas regime in Gaza, which conducts female genital mutilation, forbids women to walk on the beach alone or smoke in public, and forces female lawyers to wear a hijab in court.  This NGO submission also omits the issues of polygamy and sexual assaults on peace activists that occur in the PA. These critical issues are not addressed because they are outside the NGO narrative that obsessively focuses on demonizing Israel.”

This is just another illustration of how problematic these European-funded NGOs have become in Israel. Of course, the Knesset’s recent creation of an investigatory committee into NGO funding is probably not the best way to deal with the situation — but it’s easy to see why the government was pushed in that direction. Israel simply must do something to combat the false narratives of politicized human rights groups, which are growing more outlandish every the day. But as a democratic country that has an interest in protecting free speech, it really has to be very cautious about how it handles this.

Today a UN committee looked into whether Israel was complying with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). And, of course, human rights groups came out in full force to blame discrimination against Palestinian women on Israel — including the poor quality of girls’ education, domestic violence, and early marriage.

According to an NGO Monitor press release this morning, left-wing human rights groups like Badil, Al Haq, and the Defense for Children International “submitted a statement to the Committee prior to the review, regarding women’s rights in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. In addition, Badil prepared a supplement to the original submission. Many of their claims reflect the de-legitimization campaigns involving NGOs.”

Any rational and honest observer can see that it’s absurd to hold Israel accountable for women’s rights violations that are rampant throughout the entire Muslim world — the same violations that can be seen in every country and territory surrounding Israel.

But in addition to faulting Israel for problems that it clearly has little control over, human rights groups ignored even more troubling examples of female mistreatment that are widespread in the Palestinian territories:

The submission omits crucial women’s rights abuses, failing to address domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or murders termed “honor killings,” which in 1999 comprised more than two-thirds of all murders in Gaza and the West Bank, according to UNICEF. NGO Monitor also notes that WCLAC has received funding from the European Union, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Spain, Belgium and Ireland, along with other individual European governments.  OxfamNOVIB (Netherlands), George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and DanChurchAid (budgeted by the Danish government) also have provided funding.

“We again see foreign European funding to NGOs contribute to the demonization of Israel in the international arena, instead of addressing real human rights abuses.” Steinberg adds. “In this text, these NGOs place their political agenda ahead of goals to protect women. The submission fails to address the repressive Hamas regime in Gaza, which conducts female genital mutilation, forbids women to walk on the beach alone or smoke in public, and forces female lawyers to wear a hijab in court.  This NGO submission also omits the issues of polygamy and sexual assaults on peace activists that occur in the PA. These critical issues are not addressed because they are outside the NGO narrative that obsessively focuses on demonizing Israel.”

This is just another illustration of how problematic these European-funded NGOs have become in Israel. Of course, the Knesset’s recent creation of an investigatory committee into NGO funding is probably not the best way to deal with the situation — but it’s easy to see why the government was pushed in that direction. Israel simply must do something to combat the false narratives of politicized human rights groups, which are growing more outlandish every the day. But as a democratic country that has an interest in protecting free speech, it really has to be very cautious about how it handles this.

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Morning Commentary

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

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Why Did Barack Obama Endorse Dog-Killing QB?

The New York Times’ pro football blog informed us today that reporter Peter King told a national audience on NBC’s “Football Night in America” yesterday that President Barack Obama recently called Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to congratulate him on hiring convicted dog killer Michael Vick. Apparently Obama thinks that Lurie did the right thing by offering Vick a second chance in spite of the heinous nature of his crimes.

Given the intense controversy over Vick’s crimes, punishment, and apparent redemption of a sort this season, as he has led the Eagles to victories with a performance that has made him a legitimate contender for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, you might think Obama would have been wise to stay out of this fight. After all, a great many Americans love their pets and many will never forgive or forget Vick’s abominable and heartless behavior as a promoter of dog fighting.

But there is, apparently, another angle to this story that may explain Obama’s willingness to step into a nasty controversy that you might think would do him little good. As the Times’ notes, some writers have been asserting that Vick has been treated unfairly both on the field and off it since they think he is a victim of prejudice against African-Americans who have served time in prison. It’s hard to fathom how an understandable revulsion against a person who personally tortured and killed dogs can be twisted into being a form of racism. But in a liberal media culture where even the most villainous behavior can be rationalized by turning it into an issue of race, I suppose it was inevitable that Vick, rather than the dogs he murdered, would become the victim of the story. Nor should it be any surprise that someone like President Obama, whose leftist sensibilities are always on display, would embrace that dubious narrative.

Nor is it likely that Obama will suffer for endorsing Vick. While there are some animal-rights or pet-lover votes that might be affected by this bizarre presidential endorsement, they are probably outnumbered by those pro football fans who are impatient with any attempt to inject moral issues into the discussion of their favorite sport. It should also be remembered that there are probably a lot more votes in the battleground state of Pennsylvania to be won by pandering to Eagles fans than there are by catering to the feelings of animal-rights activists.

The New York Times’ pro football blog informed us today that reporter Peter King told a national audience on NBC’s “Football Night in America” yesterday that President Barack Obama recently called Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to congratulate him on hiring convicted dog killer Michael Vick. Apparently Obama thinks that Lurie did the right thing by offering Vick a second chance in spite of the heinous nature of his crimes.

Given the intense controversy over Vick’s crimes, punishment, and apparent redemption of a sort this season, as he has led the Eagles to victories with a performance that has made him a legitimate contender for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, you might think Obama would have been wise to stay out of this fight. After all, a great many Americans love their pets and many will never forgive or forget Vick’s abominable and heartless behavior as a promoter of dog fighting.

But there is, apparently, another angle to this story that may explain Obama’s willingness to step into a nasty controversy that you might think would do him little good. As the Times’ notes, some writers have been asserting that Vick has been treated unfairly both on the field and off it since they think he is a victim of prejudice against African-Americans who have served time in prison. It’s hard to fathom how an understandable revulsion against a person who personally tortured and killed dogs can be twisted into being a form of racism. But in a liberal media culture where even the most villainous behavior can be rationalized by turning it into an issue of race, I suppose it was inevitable that Vick, rather than the dogs he murdered, would become the victim of the story. Nor should it be any surprise that someone like President Obama, whose leftist sensibilities are always on display, would embrace that dubious narrative.

Nor is it likely that Obama will suffer for endorsing Vick. While there are some animal-rights or pet-lover votes that might be affected by this bizarre presidential endorsement, they are probably outnumbered by those pro football fans who are impatient with any attempt to inject moral issues into the discussion of their favorite sport. It should also be remembered that there are probably a lot more votes in the battleground state of Pennsylvania to be won by pandering to Eagles fans than there are by catering to the feelings of animal-rights activists.

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Reapportionment Means Obama Just Lost Six Electoral Votes

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election so handily that losing a few electoral votes from his 365 to 173 margin of victory wouldn’t have made much of a difference. But there is every indication that the public’s repudiation of Obama’s policies at the polls this past November shows he will not have as easy a time of it in 2012. And now that the results of the reapportionment based on the 2010 census have been announced, Obama’s re-election just got a bit more difficult.

The new totals for each state’s representation in the House of Representatives will also change the number of electoral votes they can cast for president. So if we tally up the states’ new electoral votes based on the 2008 election, it shows that states that voted for Obama lost a net total of six votes, and those that backed McCain gained the same number. If you look back to the election before that, in which George W. Bush beat John Kerry, although some Blue States in 2008 were Red in 2004, the new electoral vote totals shows the same difference, a net gain of six for Bush states and a net loss of six for those that went for Kerry.

The big winners in the reapportionment are Texas, with four more seats, and Florida, with two. Washington, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona all gained one. The biggest losers are New York and Ohio, which each lost two seats. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania all lost one.

Of course, there is no telling how these states will vote in 2012; but however you slice it, the hill may have just gotten a little steeper for Obama in his quest for re-election.

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Fake Palestinian Diplomacy No Substitute for Actual Negotiations

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

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The “Palestinian” Campaign

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response. Read More

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response.

The 2011 plan is the one to keep an eye on. It has momentum and increasing buy-in, as demonstrated by the flurry of statehood recognitions from Latin America this month. U.S. mainstream media have not generally been presenting a coherent picture to American readers, but from a broader perspective, there is a confluence of events separate from the official peace process. It already appears, from the regional jockeying for Lebanon and the trend of Saudi activity, that nations in the Middle East are trying to position themselves for a decisive shift in the Israel-Palestine dynamic. Now, in a significant “informational” move, Russia’s ITAR-TASS is playing up the discussions of 2011 statehood from the meeting this past weekend of a Russian-government delegation with Salam Fayyad in Israel.

It may be too early to call the official peace process irrelevant or pronounce it dead. But the interest in it from the Palestinian Arabs and other parties in the Middle East is increasingly perfunctory (or cynical). It is becoming clear that there is more than recalcitrance on the Palestinian side; there is an alternative plan, which is being actively promoted. A central virtue of this plan for Fayyadists is that it can work by either of two methods: presenting Israel with a UN-backed fait accompli or alarming Israel into cutting a deal from fear that an imposed resolution would be worse.

John Bolton is right. Everything about this depends on what the U.S. does. America can either avert the 2011 plan’s momentum now or face a crisis decision crafted for us by others sometime next year. Being maneuvered into a UN veto that could set off bombings and riots across the Eastern Hemisphere — and very possibly North America as well — should not be our first choice.

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