Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rabin

Barak Pulls a Sharon

As Evelyn has noted, and in a move that surprised nobody except members of his own party, Ehud Barak today took a page from Ariel Sharon’s playbook, splitting from the ideologically founded movement he was leading to create a new centrist political party. Along with four other Labor members, the new party — it still doesn’t have a name — will remain committed to the current government, while in all likelihood the remaining members of Labor will, sooner or later, leave the coalition.

Before we dismiss the new party as yet another soon-forgotten splinter in Israeli politics, it’s worth considering the electoral reality Ehud Barak currently faces. When Sharon broke from Likud in 2005, he founded Kadima as a new centrist faction that would approve the disengagement from Gaza. Although he was joined by a few Labor icons like Shimon Peres and Chaim Ramon, many people saw in Kadima an incoherent collection of mostly moderate right-wingers and a few from the left. After Sharon’s stroke-induced departure from politics in early 2006, most people thought the party wouldn’t survive the next election.

They were wrong. Two leaders later, Kadima’s 28 seats is the largest single faction in the Knesset. This despite having few ranking members with serious governing experience, and despite the disgrace of its second leader, Ehud Olmert, and its finance minister, Avraham Hirschson, on corruption charges.

Why has Kadima survived? The answer should give pause to those who think Ehud Barak is on his last legs as an Israeli politician. For despite being essentially a Likud spin-off, Kadima has survived on the strength of a fairly large base of voters who traditionally saw themselves on the left — not the peace-process left of Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, but rather the enlightened, heavily Ashkenazic, traditionally social-leaning yet nationalist left of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. These are the voters who turned to Kadima in droves after the intifada made security more pressing, and more plausible, than peace — people who could never vote Likud for cultural reasons, even if they embraced most of its principles.

Nobody stands to lose more votes to Barak’s new party than Kadima. For if disaffected Laborites turned to Kadima as the closest expression of their political will, they may find a far more congenial home in the new party. As former IDF chief of staff and current defense minister, Barak suddenly embodies the pro-security, classic-Labor stance that neither the more dovish, pro-business, still-in-Labor types nor Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, can hope to offer. To emphasize this, he’s taken with him a top former IDF general, Matan Vilnai. And he’s declared that his party “will follow David Ben-Gurion’s legacy.”

Much of how this turns out depends on the kind of people Barak can pull together around himself before the next election. If former-Labor people in Kadima start defecting to his new party, Israeli politics may see a major shift on the center-left. Barak’s personality has historically made it hard to keep the loyalty of those around him. But the field is open for him. Stay tuned.

As Evelyn has noted, and in a move that surprised nobody except members of his own party, Ehud Barak today took a page from Ariel Sharon’s playbook, splitting from the ideologically founded movement he was leading to create a new centrist political party. Along with four other Labor members, the new party — it still doesn’t have a name — will remain committed to the current government, while in all likelihood the remaining members of Labor will, sooner or later, leave the coalition.

Before we dismiss the new party as yet another soon-forgotten splinter in Israeli politics, it’s worth considering the electoral reality Ehud Barak currently faces. When Sharon broke from Likud in 2005, he founded Kadima as a new centrist faction that would approve the disengagement from Gaza. Although he was joined by a few Labor icons like Shimon Peres and Chaim Ramon, many people saw in Kadima an incoherent collection of mostly moderate right-wingers and a few from the left. After Sharon’s stroke-induced departure from politics in early 2006, most people thought the party wouldn’t survive the next election.

They were wrong. Two leaders later, Kadima’s 28 seats is the largest single faction in the Knesset. This despite having few ranking members with serious governing experience, and despite the disgrace of its second leader, Ehud Olmert, and its finance minister, Avraham Hirschson, on corruption charges.

Why has Kadima survived? The answer should give pause to those who think Ehud Barak is on his last legs as an Israeli politician. For despite being essentially a Likud spin-off, Kadima has survived on the strength of a fairly large base of voters who traditionally saw themselves on the left — not the peace-process left of Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, but rather the enlightened, heavily Ashkenazic, traditionally social-leaning yet nationalist left of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. These are the voters who turned to Kadima in droves after the intifada made security more pressing, and more plausible, than peace — people who could never vote Likud for cultural reasons, even if they embraced most of its principles.

Nobody stands to lose more votes to Barak’s new party than Kadima. For if disaffected Laborites turned to Kadima as the closest expression of their political will, they may find a far more congenial home in the new party. As former IDF chief of staff and current defense minister, Barak suddenly embodies the pro-security, classic-Labor stance that neither the more dovish, pro-business, still-in-Labor types nor Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, can hope to offer. To emphasize this, he’s taken with him a top former IDF general, Matan Vilnai. And he’s declared that his party “will follow David Ben-Gurion’s legacy.”

Much of how this turns out depends on the kind of people Barak can pull together around himself before the next election. If former-Labor people in Kadima start defecting to his new party, Israeli politics may see a major shift on the center-left. Barak’s personality has historically made it hard to keep the loyalty of those around him. But the field is open for him. Stay tuned.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Get ready for the next big idea in the non-peace, non-direct talks. “Why must Gazans carry their sons on their shoulders to their convocations of sanguinity, when they could be walking side-by-side with them, sharing space adequate for the lobbing of rocks and grenades and the aiming of RPGs? I say declare them a state, and don’t bother stopping at the tiny sliver of land that comprises Israel.” Read the whole thing to find out just what kind of state it should be.

Get ready for a slug-fest. Actually, Josh Block may already have scored a knockout. “The average, minuscule amount of support Jstreet claims to pass to their endorsees will again and again be offset by the grief and cost even the most pro-Israel candidates expose themselves to by associating with a group proven to be as duplicitous, deceitful and outright dishonest they have been exposed to be.”

Get ready for her to spend more time with her family. “Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, a co-chairman of the Blue Dogs, told POLITICO on Thursday that Pelosi should not be a candidate for minority leader—a sign that other Blue Dogs are ready to pounce if Pelosi doesn’t voluntarily cede her power.”

Get ready for William Galston to be ignored by the Dems. Again. He tries to tell them: “It’s the ideology, stupid. … Unless the long-term decline of moderates and rise of conservatives is reversed during the next two years, the ideological balance of the electorate in 2012 could look a lot like it did this year.” Do you think if Obama leaves the scene, the trend will abate? Just asking.

Get ready for the Beagle Blogger to freak out, again. “Gay men, lesbians and bisexuals who self-identified to exit pollsters made up 3 percent of those casting ballots in House races on Tuesday, and 31 percent of them voted Republican. By itself, that number is amazing, especially when you consider that way too many people think being gay and voting Democratic are one in the same. But that percentage is ominous news for a White House viewed with suspicion by many gay men and lesbians, because that’s four percentage points higher than the change election of 2008.” First the Jews, now the gays. Only Obama could alienate them from the Democratic Party.

Get ready for more of this transparent slamming of the current Israeli government. “Fifteen years after the Israeli prime minister’s assassination, Israel needs his guiding spirit more than ever.” Why don’t these sorts ever lament the absence of a Palestinian Sadat? And do we imagine Yitzhak Rabin would have carved up his country without recognition of the Jewish state? The only prime ministers the Middle East establishment fancies are the dead ones.

Get ready for some major George W. Bush nostalgia on the right. “When then-President George W. Bush was asked to approve a tough interrogation technique known as waterboarding on September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he wasted little time in deciding. ‘Damn right,’ he said. … In his memoir, ‘Decision Points,’ Bush strongly defends the use of waterboarding as critical to his efforts to prevent a repeat of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. He says waterboarding was limited to three detainees and led to intelligence breakthroughs that thwarted attacks.”

Get ready for the next big idea in the non-peace, non-direct talks. “Why must Gazans carry their sons on their shoulders to their convocations of sanguinity, when they could be walking side-by-side with them, sharing space adequate for the lobbing of rocks and grenades and the aiming of RPGs? I say declare them a state, and don’t bother stopping at the tiny sliver of land that comprises Israel.” Read the whole thing to find out just what kind of state it should be.

Get ready for a slug-fest. Actually, Josh Block may already have scored a knockout. “The average, minuscule amount of support Jstreet claims to pass to their endorsees will again and again be offset by the grief and cost even the most pro-Israel candidates expose themselves to by associating with a group proven to be as duplicitous, deceitful and outright dishonest they have been exposed to be.”

Get ready for her to spend more time with her family. “Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, a co-chairman of the Blue Dogs, told POLITICO on Thursday that Pelosi should not be a candidate for minority leader—a sign that other Blue Dogs are ready to pounce if Pelosi doesn’t voluntarily cede her power.”

Get ready for William Galston to be ignored by the Dems. Again. He tries to tell them: “It’s the ideology, stupid. … Unless the long-term decline of moderates and rise of conservatives is reversed during the next two years, the ideological balance of the electorate in 2012 could look a lot like it did this year.” Do you think if Obama leaves the scene, the trend will abate? Just asking.

Get ready for the Beagle Blogger to freak out, again. “Gay men, lesbians and bisexuals who self-identified to exit pollsters made up 3 percent of those casting ballots in House races on Tuesday, and 31 percent of them voted Republican. By itself, that number is amazing, especially when you consider that way too many people think being gay and voting Democratic are one in the same. But that percentage is ominous news for a White House viewed with suspicion by many gay men and lesbians, because that’s four percentage points higher than the change election of 2008.” First the Jews, now the gays. Only Obama could alienate them from the Democratic Party.

Get ready for more of this transparent slamming of the current Israeli government. “Fifteen years after the Israeli prime minister’s assassination, Israel needs his guiding spirit more than ever.” Why don’t these sorts ever lament the absence of a Palestinian Sadat? And do we imagine Yitzhak Rabin would have carved up his country without recognition of the Jewish state? The only prime ministers the Middle East establishment fancies are the dead ones.

Get ready for some major George W. Bush nostalgia on the right. “When then-President George W. Bush was asked to approve a tough interrogation technique known as waterboarding on September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he wasted little time in deciding. ‘Damn right,’ he said. … In his memoir, ‘Decision Points,’ Bush strongly defends the use of waterboarding as critical to his efforts to prevent a repeat of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. He says waterboarding was limited to three detainees and led to intelligence breakthroughs that thwarted attacks.”

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Peace Process Progress Report

One week into the new peace process and the results so far: four Israeli civilians murdered (Yitzhak and Talya Ames, parents of six children, expecting their seventh; Kochava Even Chaim, a married teacher and mother whose husband was on the first-aid team that arrived to find that his wife was one of the victims; Avishai Shindler, a newly married 24-year-old); Talaya’s baby, a month from being born; seven new orphans, a new widow and widower; and their community (Beit Hagai, a small settlement of 95 families, formed 25 years ago near the biblical city of Hebron) without recourse.

A second attack occurred a day later, with two wounded, one seriously.

Yitzhak Rabin used to say that Israel would fight terrorism as if there were no peace process — and conduct the peace process as if there were no terrorism. Several peace processes later, only the latter part of that aphorism remains in effect. The first part has become a casualty of the peace process.

Israel cannot fight terrorism as if there were no peace process, because fighting terrorism would jeopardize the peace process. The peace process cannot progress as long as terrorism exists, but terrorism is safe from response as long as the peace process is in progress. Since the process is so important, any retaliation would by definition be disproportionate.

So it will not happen – even though the perpetrator is known, proudly claims responsibility, and promises to do it again. The peace process, which causes the deaths for which there cannot be any response other than to continue the peace process, will continue.

In other peace process news, the speeches in Washington last week were excellent.

One week into the new peace process and the results so far: four Israeli civilians murdered (Yitzhak and Talya Ames, parents of six children, expecting their seventh; Kochava Even Chaim, a married teacher and mother whose husband was on the first-aid team that arrived to find that his wife was one of the victims; Avishai Shindler, a newly married 24-year-old); Talaya’s baby, a month from being born; seven new orphans, a new widow and widower; and their community (Beit Hagai, a small settlement of 95 families, formed 25 years ago near the biblical city of Hebron) without recourse.

A second attack occurred a day later, with two wounded, one seriously.

Yitzhak Rabin used to say that Israel would fight terrorism as if there were no peace process — and conduct the peace process as if there were no terrorism. Several peace processes later, only the latter part of that aphorism remains in effect. The first part has become a casualty of the peace process.

Israel cannot fight terrorism as if there were no peace process, because fighting terrorism would jeopardize the peace process. The peace process cannot progress as long as terrorism exists, but terrorism is safe from response as long as the peace process is in progress. Since the process is so important, any retaliation would by definition be disproportionate.

So it will not happen – even though the perpetrator is known, proudly claims responsibility, and promises to do it again. The peace process, which causes the deaths for which there cannot be any response other than to continue the peace process, will continue.

In other peace process news, the speeches in Washington last week were excellent.

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Israel’s Right Discovers Political Sanity

Anyone familiar with Israeli politics knows that the Israeli right’s worst enemy is itself. Small right-of-center factions toppled both Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud-led government in 1992 and Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government in 1999; those decisions led, respectively, to Yitzhak Rabin’s election and the Oslo Accords, and to Ehud Barak’s election and the second intifada.

Moreover, it was rightist voters who ensured Rabin’s victory by wasting thousands of votes on splinter parties that failed to enter the Knesset. Had all those votes gone to the main center-right party, Likud, Shamir would have formed the next government and not Rabin. Yet instead of learning the lesson, rightists continued wasting thousands of votes on unelectable splinter parties in subsequent elections.

So it was encouraging to read the following notice in a local newsletter (Hebrew only) published by the West Bank settlement of Eli: “After much thought, it has been decided by the [Givat Hayovel neighborhood] committee, the town council and rabbis, with backing from senior officials involved in the matter, to register people for Likud. Likud is the ruling party, and that is where we need to have an influence. … Joining Likud is the most effective way of influencing ministers and Knesset members to work with us on both the court case and other matters of importance to the town.”

Granted, Eli is only one settlement, and its decision stems from a very specific problem: the aforementioned court case, in which Peace Now is seeking a court order to raze Givat Hayovel on the grounds that it was built illegally. Eli contends that the neighborhood, built with massive government support, was always slated for legalization and needs only the final government permits — hence its quest for lobbying clout.

Nevertheless, this is a revolution. During Likud’s last membership drive, in 2008, a party activist who canvassed Eli and other settlements using this very same argument told me despairingly that most people didn’t get it. Now it is being promoted by the town’s entire political and religious leadership.

Moreover, many other settlements face similar problems with permits. So if Eli has reached this conclusion, it’s likely that other settlements are or will be doing the same.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of splinter voting, since joining Likud doesn’t oblige one to vote for it. Yet large-scale party membership carries its own dynamic: if those rightists who previously shunned Likud instead start working from within it, the party will presumably become more responsive to their needs, thus encouraging more of them to vote for it.

That in turn could promote more effective government. Israel’s current governing coalition comprises six different parties, with Likud commanding barely a third of its seats, and these parties’ disagreements have led to paralysis on many issues. A government composed of a larger Likud with fewer coalition partners would presumably find it easier to push through vital domestic initiatives.

That still remains a distant dream. But the first step is for rightists to understand that they need to work from within Likud rather than outside it. And it seems that is finally starting to happen.

Anyone familiar with Israeli politics knows that the Israeli right’s worst enemy is itself. Small right-of-center factions toppled both Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud-led government in 1992 and Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government in 1999; those decisions led, respectively, to Yitzhak Rabin’s election and the Oslo Accords, and to Ehud Barak’s election and the second intifada.

Moreover, it was rightist voters who ensured Rabin’s victory by wasting thousands of votes on splinter parties that failed to enter the Knesset. Had all those votes gone to the main center-right party, Likud, Shamir would have formed the next government and not Rabin. Yet instead of learning the lesson, rightists continued wasting thousands of votes on unelectable splinter parties in subsequent elections.

So it was encouraging to read the following notice in a local newsletter (Hebrew only) published by the West Bank settlement of Eli: “After much thought, it has been decided by the [Givat Hayovel neighborhood] committee, the town council and rabbis, with backing from senior officials involved in the matter, to register people for Likud. Likud is the ruling party, and that is where we need to have an influence. … Joining Likud is the most effective way of influencing ministers and Knesset members to work with us on both the court case and other matters of importance to the town.”

Granted, Eli is only one settlement, and its decision stems from a very specific problem: the aforementioned court case, in which Peace Now is seeking a court order to raze Givat Hayovel on the grounds that it was built illegally. Eli contends that the neighborhood, built with massive government support, was always slated for legalization and needs only the final government permits — hence its quest for lobbying clout.

Nevertheless, this is a revolution. During Likud’s last membership drive, in 2008, a party activist who canvassed Eli and other settlements using this very same argument told me despairingly that most people didn’t get it. Now it is being promoted by the town’s entire political and religious leadership.

Moreover, many other settlements face similar problems with permits. So if Eli has reached this conclusion, it’s likely that other settlements are or will be doing the same.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of splinter voting, since joining Likud doesn’t oblige one to vote for it. Yet large-scale party membership carries its own dynamic: if those rightists who previously shunned Likud instead start working from within it, the party will presumably become more responsive to their needs, thus encouraging more of them to vote for it.

That in turn could promote more effective government. Israel’s current governing coalition comprises six different parties, with Likud commanding barely a third of its seats, and these parties’ disagreements have led to paralysis on many issues. A government composed of a larger Likud with fewer coalition partners would presumably find it easier to push through vital domestic initiatives.

That still remains a distant dream. But the first step is for rightists to understand that they need to work from within Likud rather than outside it. And it seems that is finally starting to happen.

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Oren Responds to the Obami’s Temper Tantrum

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren is compelled to put the best possible face on U.S.-Israeli relations. So he tells Candy Crowely on State of the Union that the state of U.S.-Israeli relations is “great.” Well, such is the burden a diplomat must bear. But Oren was also candid and unequivocal in his reiteration of Israel’s position on Jerusalem:

Israel has a policy that goes back to 1967. This is not the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the policy of Golda Meir. It’s the policy of Yitzhak Rabin, that is, that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. Under Israeli law, it has the same status as Tel Aviv.  And our policy is that every Arab, every Jew has a right to build anywhere in the city legally as they — an Arab and Jew would have a right to build legally anywhere in a city in the United States, including in this city, in Washington, D.C. That’s our policy. The policy is not going to change.

And he swatted away the argument that Israel had somehow imperiled the “peace process” by continuing to allow building in the nation’s capital, as every previous government had permitted:

We understand that — we understand that we have negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, a piece treaty with Jordan. There has been 16 years of negotiations with the Palestinians, including two cases where Israeli prime ministers put complete peace plans on the table, including Jerusalem. And throughout that entire period of peace-making, Israel’s policy on Jerusalem remained unchanged.

We feel that now we should proceed directly to peace negotiations without a change in policy. We understand that Jerusalem will be one of the core issues discussed in those peace negotiations, but the main issue is to get the peace negotiations started. We are waiting for the Palestinians to join us at the table. So far, they have not done so.

The Obami-staged fuss over building in Jerusalem was for naught, it seems. The Obami picked the wrong fight with the wrong prime minister. The Netanyahu administration is not about to be bullied; the Palestinians have only been encouraged to dig in their heels and throw stones; and the rest of the Arab world nervously eyes the U.S. as a fickle ally. Meanwhile the real threat to peace and security — the mullahs’ nuclear program — proceeds unchecked.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren is compelled to put the best possible face on U.S.-Israeli relations. So he tells Candy Crowely on State of the Union that the state of U.S.-Israeli relations is “great.” Well, such is the burden a diplomat must bear. But Oren was also candid and unequivocal in his reiteration of Israel’s position on Jerusalem:

Israel has a policy that goes back to 1967. This is not the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the policy of Golda Meir. It’s the policy of Yitzhak Rabin, that is, that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. Under Israeli law, it has the same status as Tel Aviv.  And our policy is that every Arab, every Jew has a right to build anywhere in the city legally as they — an Arab and Jew would have a right to build legally anywhere in a city in the United States, including in this city, in Washington, D.C. That’s our policy. The policy is not going to change.

And he swatted away the argument that Israel had somehow imperiled the “peace process” by continuing to allow building in the nation’s capital, as every previous government had permitted:

We understand that — we understand that we have negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, a piece treaty with Jordan. There has been 16 years of negotiations with the Palestinians, including two cases where Israeli prime ministers put complete peace plans on the table, including Jerusalem. And throughout that entire period of peace-making, Israel’s policy on Jerusalem remained unchanged.

We feel that now we should proceed directly to peace negotiations without a change in policy. We understand that Jerusalem will be one of the core issues discussed in those peace negotiations, but the main issue is to get the peace negotiations started. We are waiting for the Palestinians to join us at the table. So far, they have not done so.

The Obami-staged fuss over building in Jerusalem was for naught, it seems. The Obami picked the wrong fight with the wrong prime minister. The Netanyahu administration is not about to be bullied; the Palestinians have only been encouraged to dig in their heels and throw stones; and the rest of the Arab world nervously eyes the U.S. as a fickle ally. Meanwhile the real threat to peace and security — the mullahs’ nuclear program — proceeds unchecked.

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Bibi Responds

Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC last night was in a very real way a refutation of the Obama policies and rhetoric. While thanking the Obama administration for its aid and opposition to the Goldstone Report and reaffirming the bonds and common foes of the two nations, Netanyahu’s messages were unmistakable: take care of Iran or Israel will act, and we are not to be bullied on Jerusalem. But he said it much more elegantly than that.

On Iran, he reminded the audience (as he often does) that the Jewish people know a thing or two about genocide. He declared:

The greatest threat to any living organism or nation is not to recognize danger in time. Seventy-five years ago, the leading powers in the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of history’s greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own people. The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.

Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large. A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists and might even be tempted to use them itself. Our world would never be the same. Iran’s brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world. Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves. [long ovation]

To the Obami, then, the message is — engage or sanction Iran, but in the end Israel will do what it has to. Now let’s not kid ourselves. There are multiple reasons why it is preferable and right for the U.S. to act militarily if it comes to that, but Netanyahu is laying down the marker. The U.S. has said it’s unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons? It had better mean it.

As for Jerusalem, first he asserted that the effort to characterize “the Jews as foreign colonialists in their own homeland is one of the great lies of modern times.” So he played the archaeology card:

In my office, I have on display a signet ring that was loaned to me by Israel’s Department of Antiquities. The ring was found next to the Western wall, but it dates back some 2,800 years ago, two hundred years after Kind David turned Jerusalem into our capital city. The ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and inscribed on it in Hebrew is his name: Netanyahu. His name was Netanyahu Ben-Yoash. My first name, Benjamin, dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin, the son of Jacob. One of Benjamin’s brothers was named Shimon, which also happens to be the first name of my good friend, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Benjamin, Shimon and their ten brothers roamed the hills of Judea.

So much for the Obama Cairo version of history, which premises, as the Palestinians are also wont to do, Israel’s legitimacy on the Holocaust. And what does this mean for Israel’s bargaining position and current conduct?

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital. [longest applause of the speech] In Jerusalem [interrupted by applause], my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows [departing from the prepared text and for emphasis he adds -- the Europeans, the Americans, the Palestinians and certainly the Israelis all know] that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

That’s the response to the Obama assault on the Jerusalem housing project and the answer to Clinton’s pernicious suggestion yesterday that building in the eternal capital prejudices the “peace process.”

Now, the speech was more than a response to the Obami’s dawdling on Iran or its hissy fit over Ramat Shlomo. Netanyahu also reminded the crowd of the peril to both Israel’s legitimacy and security:

If you want to understand Israel’s security predicament, imagine the entire United States compressed to the size of New Jersey. Next, put on New Jersey’s northern border an Iranian terror proxy called Hezbollah which fires 6,000 rockets into that small state. Then imagine that this terror proxy has amassed 60,000 more missiles to fire at you. Now imagine on New Jersey’s southern border another Iranian terror proxy called Hamas. It too fires 6,000 rockets into your territory while smuggling ever more lethal weapons into its territory. Do you think you would feel a little bit vulnerable? Do you think you would expect some understanding from the international community when you defend yourselves?

And he reiterated that Israel, but not the Palestinians, has taken risks for peace and is willing to engage in direct talks. He certainly made the convincing case that his government — in its West Bank settlement freeze, lifting of blockades, and invitation for direct negotiations — has done much, while the Palestinians have offered nothing in return. (“It cannot be a one-way street in which only Israel makes concessions.”)

But the speech, I think, will be most remembered for the bold refutation of what has passed as the Obami Middle East policy. One question remains: how will the U.S.-Israel relationship weather the Obama administration, given the differences in outlook and approach? That’s far from clear.

Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC last night was in a very real way a refutation of the Obama policies and rhetoric. While thanking the Obama administration for its aid and opposition to the Goldstone Report and reaffirming the bonds and common foes of the two nations, Netanyahu’s messages were unmistakable: take care of Iran or Israel will act, and we are not to be bullied on Jerusalem. But he said it much more elegantly than that.

On Iran, he reminded the audience (as he often does) that the Jewish people know a thing or two about genocide. He declared:

The greatest threat to any living organism or nation is not to recognize danger in time. Seventy-five years ago, the leading powers in the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of history’s greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own people. The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.

Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large. A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists and might even be tempted to use them itself. Our world would never be the same. Iran’s brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world. Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to defend ourselves. [long ovation]

To the Obami, then, the message is — engage or sanction Iran, but in the end Israel will do what it has to. Now let’s not kid ourselves. There are multiple reasons why it is preferable and right for the U.S. to act militarily if it comes to that, but Netanyahu is laying down the marker. The U.S. has said it’s unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons? It had better mean it.

As for Jerusalem, first he asserted that the effort to characterize “the Jews as foreign colonialists in their own homeland is one of the great lies of modern times.” So he played the archaeology card:

In my office, I have on display a signet ring that was loaned to me by Israel’s Department of Antiquities. The ring was found next to the Western wall, but it dates back some 2,800 years ago, two hundred years after Kind David turned Jerusalem into our capital city. The ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and inscribed on it in Hebrew is his name: Netanyahu. His name was Netanyahu Ben-Yoash. My first name, Benjamin, dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin, the son of Jacob. One of Benjamin’s brothers was named Shimon, which also happens to be the first name of my good friend, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Benjamin, Shimon and their ten brothers roamed the hills of Judea.

So much for the Obama Cairo version of history, which premises, as the Palestinians are also wont to do, Israel’s legitimacy on the Holocaust. And what does this mean for Israel’s bargaining position and current conduct?

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital. [longest applause of the speech] In Jerusalem [interrupted by applause], my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows [departing from the prepared text and for emphasis he adds -- the Europeans, the Americans, the Palestinians and certainly the Israelis all know] that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

That’s the response to the Obama assault on the Jerusalem housing project and the answer to Clinton’s pernicious suggestion yesterday that building in the eternal capital prejudices the “peace process.”

Now, the speech was more than a response to the Obami’s dawdling on Iran or its hissy fit over Ramat Shlomo. Netanyahu also reminded the crowd of the peril to both Israel’s legitimacy and security:

If you want to understand Israel’s security predicament, imagine the entire United States compressed to the size of New Jersey. Next, put on New Jersey’s northern border an Iranian terror proxy called Hezbollah which fires 6,000 rockets into that small state. Then imagine that this terror proxy has amassed 60,000 more missiles to fire at you. Now imagine on New Jersey’s southern border another Iranian terror proxy called Hamas. It too fires 6,000 rockets into your territory while smuggling ever more lethal weapons into its territory. Do you think you would feel a little bit vulnerable? Do you think you would expect some understanding from the international community when you defend yourselves?

And he reiterated that Israel, but not the Palestinians, has taken risks for peace and is willing to engage in direct talks. He certainly made the convincing case that his government — in its West Bank settlement freeze, lifting of blockades, and invitation for direct negotiations — has done much, while the Palestinians have offered nothing in return. (“It cannot be a one-way street in which only Israel makes concessions.”)

But the speech, I think, will be most remembered for the bold refutation of what has passed as the Obami Middle East policy. One question remains: how will the U.S.-Israel relationship weather the Obama administration, given the differences in outlook and approach? That’s far from clear.

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Oren Explains, We Translate

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times to cool temperatures and to remind the Obama administration of where we stand. His language is diplomatic; his message, blunt. We’ll attempt to translate.

First, the explanation as to what occurred:

[A] mid-level official in the Interior Ministry announced an interim planning phase in the expansion of Ramat Shlomo, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood. While this discord was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations; nor did I ever say that it was, contrary to some reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire during a vice presidential visit to highlight longstanding differences between the United States and Israel on building on the other side of the 1949 armistice line that once divided Jerusalem. The prime minister repeatedly apologized for the timing of the announcement and pledged to prevent such embarrassing incidents from recurring. In reply, the Obama administration asked Israel to reaffirm its commitment to the peace process and to its bilateral relations with the United States. Israel is dedicated to both.

Undiplomatic translation: I’m not bringing up, as many news outlets reported, that Hillary Clinton is demanding a reversal of the housing announcement and some other, unnamed concessions. Because that’s not going to happen.

Then Oren sets out to put the dispute in context and disabuse Obama and other feckless lawmakers and analysts of the notion that the recent move was extraordinary. “That [Jerusalem] policy is not Mr. Netanyahu’s alone but was also that of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir — in fact of every Israeli government going back to the city’s reunification in 1967. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city.”

Undiplomatic translation: This is not unknown to the Obami, of course. They may be dim, but someone there knows this was nothing out of the ordinary and in keeping with Israeli policy and conduct for decades.

And as for Ramat Shlomo and other similar neighborhoods, Oren argues, “though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city’s Jewish population. Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis across the political spectrum are opposed to restrictions on building in these neighborhoods, and even more opposed to the idea of uprooting hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.”

Undiplomatic translation: And this, Mr. Obama, is what you choose to have a fight over?

None of this, Oren reminds us, is a barrier to negotiating final-status issues in face-to-face negotiations, something the Palestinians have rejected.

Oren then delivers the real message to the Obami:

To achieve peace, Israel is asked to take monumental risks, including sacrificing land next to our major industrial areas and cities. Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods.

Though Israel will always ultimately rely on the courage of its own defense forces, America’s commitment to Israel’s security is essential to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace. Similarly, American-Israeli cooperation is vital to meeting the direst challenge facing both countries and the entire world: denying nuclear weapons to Iran.

The undiplomatic translation: This is no way to gain our cooperation.

Oren concludes by reciting Joe Biden’s words back to him — as if to remind his American allies that their actions conflict with their stated objectives. (“During his visit, Vice President Biden declared that support for Israel is ‘a fundamental national self-interest on the part of the United States’ and that America ‘has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel.’”)

Undiplomatic translation: So perhaps America should start acting like a devoted ally?

It is not every day that the Israeli ambassador has the opportunity, with a worldwide audience primed to listen, to restate the historical and geographic facts — which sadly don’t always make it into mainstream reporting. If there are sane voices within the administration, they will read this carefully, take Oren’s words to heart, and take up his suggestion: start to behave as if this relationship is the most important in the region and with some understanding of the events leading up to this point. Are the Obami up to it? Stay tuned, but I have my doubts.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times to cool temperatures and to remind the Obama administration of where we stand. His language is diplomatic; his message, blunt. We’ll attempt to translate.

First, the explanation as to what occurred:

[A] mid-level official in the Interior Ministry announced an interim planning phase in the expansion of Ramat Shlomo, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood. While this discord was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations; nor did I ever say that it was, contrary to some reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire during a vice presidential visit to highlight longstanding differences between the United States and Israel on building on the other side of the 1949 armistice line that once divided Jerusalem. The prime minister repeatedly apologized for the timing of the announcement and pledged to prevent such embarrassing incidents from recurring. In reply, the Obama administration asked Israel to reaffirm its commitment to the peace process and to its bilateral relations with the United States. Israel is dedicated to both.

Undiplomatic translation: I’m not bringing up, as many news outlets reported, that Hillary Clinton is demanding a reversal of the housing announcement and some other, unnamed concessions. Because that’s not going to happen.

Then Oren sets out to put the dispute in context and disabuse Obama and other feckless lawmakers and analysts of the notion that the recent move was extraordinary. “That [Jerusalem] policy is not Mr. Netanyahu’s alone but was also that of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir — in fact of every Israeli government going back to the city’s reunification in 1967. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city.”

Undiplomatic translation: This is not unknown to the Obami, of course. They may be dim, but someone there knows this was nothing out of the ordinary and in keeping with Israeli policy and conduct for decades.

And as for Ramat Shlomo and other similar neighborhoods, Oren argues, “though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city’s Jewish population. Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis across the political spectrum are opposed to restrictions on building in these neighborhoods, and even more opposed to the idea of uprooting hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.”

Undiplomatic translation: And this, Mr. Obama, is what you choose to have a fight over?

None of this, Oren reminds us, is a barrier to negotiating final-status issues in face-to-face negotiations, something the Palestinians have rejected.

Oren then delivers the real message to the Obami:

To achieve peace, Israel is asked to take monumental risks, including sacrificing land next to our major industrial areas and cities. Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods.

Though Israel will always ultimately rely on the courage of its own defense forces, America’s commitment to Israel’s security is essential to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace. Similarly, American-Israeli cooperation is vital to meeting the direst challenge facing both countries and the entire world: denying nuclear weapons to Iran.

The undiplomatic translation: This is no way to gain our cooperation.

Oren concludes by reciting Joe Biden’s words back to him — as if to remind his American allies that their actions conflict with their stated objectives. (“During his visit, Vice President Biden declared that support for Israel is ‘a fundamental national self-interest on the part of the United States’ and that America ‘has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel.’”)

Undiplomatic translation: So perhaps America should start acting like a devoted ally?

It is not every day that the Israeli ambassador has the opportunity, with a worldwide audience primed to listen, to restate the historical and geographic facts — which sadly don’t always make it into mainstream reporting. If there are sane voices within the administration, they will read this carefully, take Oren’s words to heart, and take up his suggestion: start to behave as if this relationship is the most important in the region and with some understanding of the events leading up to this point. Are the Obami up to it? Stay tuned, but I have my doubts.

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Calling a Crime a Crime

It’s a measure of how badly the “peace process” has warped Israel’s language of values that the most intelligent response to Friday’s torching of a mosque near Nablus, allegedly by extremist settlers, came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Its secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, correctly identified the crime as “blatant aggression against the sanctity of sacred places.”

That’s more than Israeli politicians seemed capable of doing. Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak, for instance, sounded as if the real crime were the potential damage to the peace process. “This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government’s efforts to advance the political process,” he declared. Similarly, opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned it as a “despicable act of provocation” — as if the crime were the response it might provoke.

If the perpetrators were settlers, they probably did intend to undermine the peace process by provoking a violent Palestinian response. But that’s not what made their act criminal. The crime isn’t the impact on the peace process; it’s the wanton destruction of a house of worship.

This perversion of language began when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres deemed the suicide bombings that followed the 1993 Oslo Accord “crimes against the peace process” and the victims, “sacrifices for peace.” For them, this was a political necessity: If Oslo were seen as producing more anti-Israel terror rather than less, Israelis would turn against Oslo — and its sponsors. Hence they had to paint the attacks not as the same old anti-Israel terror, but as a new form of terror, aimed equally at Israel and its Palestinian partner — i.e., at the peace process itself.

This recasting of the crime led inevitably to the next perversion: the frequent labeling of settlers by leftist politicians and journalists as Israel’s equivalent of Hamas. If Hamas’s crime is mass murder, this comparison is clearly false: Blowing up buses and cafes is not a standard practice of settlers. But if the real crime is opposition to the “peace process,” the comparison becomes plausible: Settlers were trying to stop Oslo. The only difference was their choice of tactics: demonstrations and lobbying rather than violence.

And that is precisely what makes this new language, and the value system it embodies, so warped. If the crime is what you oppose rather than how you choose to oppose it, there is no difference between a peaceful protest and blowing up a bus. So why shouldn’t settler extremists torch a mosque, if they deem that a more effective means of “harming … the political process”? Their very opposition to the process makes them criminals regardless of what tactics they use.

Clearly, most Israelis think no such thing. But language does shape thought. So if they don’t want to raise a generation that indeed sees no difference between peaceful and violent tactics, Israelis need to realign their language with their values. That starts with saying clearly that the crime is torching the mosque — not its impact on the peace process.

It’s a measure of how badly the “peace process” has warped Israel’s language of values that the most intelligent response to Friday’s torching of a mosque near Nablus, allegedly by extremist settlers, came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Its secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, correctly identified the crime as “blatant aggression against the sanctity of sacred places.”

That’s more than Israeli politicians seemed capable of doing. Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak, for instance, sounded as if the real crime were the potential damage to the peace process. “This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government’s efforts to advance the political process,” he declared. Similarly, opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned it as a “despicable act of provocation” — as if the crime were the response it might provoke.

If the perpetrators were settlers, they probably did intend to undermine the peace process by provoking a violent Palestinian response. But that’s not what made their act criminal. The crime isn’t the impact on the peace process; it’s the wanton destruction of a house of worship.

This perversion of language began when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres deemed the suicide bombings that followed the 1993 Oslo Accord “crimes against the peace process” and the victims, “sacrifices for peace.” For them, this was a political necessity: If Oslo were seen as producing more anti-Israel terror rather than less, Israelis would turn against Oslo — and its sponsors. Hence they had to paint the attacks not as the same old anti-Israel terror, but as a new form of terror, aimed equally at Israel and its Palestinian partner — i.e., at the peace process itself.

This recasting of the crime led inevitably to the next perversion: the frequent labeling of settlers by leftist politicians and journalists as Israel’s equivalent of Hamas. If Hamas’s crime is mass murder, this comparison is clearly false: Blowing up buses and cafes is not a standard practice of settlers. But if the real crime is opposition to the “peace process,” the comparison becomes plausible: Settlers were trying to stop Oslo. The only difference was their choice of tactics: demonstrations and lobbying rather than violence.

And that is precisely what makes this new language, and the value system it embodies, so warped. If the crime is what you oppose rather than how you choose to oppose it, there is no difference between a peaceful protest and blowing up a bus. So why shouldn’t settler extremists torch a mosque, if they deem that a more effective means of “harming … the political process”? Their very opposition to the process makes them criminals regardless of what tactics they use.

Clearly, most Israelis think no such thing. But language does shape thought. So if they don’t want to raise a generation that indeed sees no difference between peaceful and violent tactics, Israelis need to realign their language with their values. That starts with saying clearly that the crime is torching the mosque — not its impact on the peace process.

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Why the New Israeli Spy Case Now?

After the arrest and conviction of Jonathan Pollard in 1986, it became an article of faith within the FBI and some other portions of the U.S. intelligence community, that Pollard was not acting alone and that Israel had other spies operating in the U.S.. The hunt for the second Pollard has continued ever since. Has it finally hit pay-dirt? Is Ben-Ami Kadish, a former mechanical engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, charged yesterday with passing dozens of secret documents to Israel in the 1980′s, a vindication of the spy hunters?

One interesting mystery concerns the timing of this episode. When Pollard was arrested, Israel publicly claimed that Pollard was its only U.S. spy. But according to Haaretz, in 2004 Israel reversed course and told the U.S. that there was a second agent. But it would be very strange if Israel did that without identifying the agent in question to the U.S. And if it did identify him, why did the U.S. wait four years until they pounced?

Already various explanations are being put forward to explain the timing. Eitan Haber, an assistant to the late Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s defense minister at the time Pollard was arrested, thinks the Kadish case is a way to assure that President Bush will not pardon Pollard at the end of his term. But this seems far-fetched. Especially since there is no indication that Bush is planning to pardon Pollard in the first place.

Other Israelis are speculating that the arrest is timed to tarnish Israel’s celebration next month of its 60th anniversary, which Bush is scheduled to attend. This also seems far-fetched. Kadish’s activities allegedly took placed in the 1980′s and his arrest not likely to do any sort of serious damage to U.S.-Israeli relations today.

Another possibility is that there is a link to the AIPAC case, in which two members of the pro-Israel lobbying organization have been charged with providing classified information to Israel. The trial had been scheduled for the end of this month, until it was delayed once again. Lately prosecutors in the AIPAC have experienced setback after setback, and are even appealing some of the judge’s rulings against them to a higher court. Does the timing of the Kadish arrest have anything to do with the possible impending collapse of the AIPAC case? This seems slightly more plausible, but also far-fetched. What exactly would be the point of such a maneuver?

“One would be a fool to believe that the timing is a coincidence,’ Haber told Haaretz. Thus far, however, I haven’t seen anything to suggest it is more than a coincidence.

Count me a fool.

After the arrest and conviction of Jonathan Pollard in 1986, it became an article of faith within the FBI and some other portions of the U.S. intelligence community, that Pollard was not acting alone and that Israel had other spies operating in the U.S.. The hunt for the second Pollard has continued ever since. Has it finally hit pay-dirt? Is Ben-Ami Kadish, a former mechanical engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, charged yesterday with passing dozens of secret documents to Israel in the 1980′s, a vindication of the spy hunters?

One interesting mystery concerns the timing of this episode. When Pollard was arrested, Israel publicly claimed that Pollard was its only U.S. spy. But according to Haaretz, in 2004 Israel reversed course and told the U.S. that there was a second agent. But it would be very strange if Israel did that without identifying the agent in question to the U.S. And if it did identify him, why did the U.S. wait four years until they pounced?

Already various explanations are being put forward to explain the timing. Eitan Haber, an assistant to the late Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s defense minister at the time Pollard was arrested, thinks the Kadish case is a way to assure that President Bush will not pardon Pollard at the end of his term. But this seems far-fetched. Especially since there is no indication that Bush is planning to pardon Pollard in the first place.

Other Israelis are speculating that the arrest is timed to tarnish Israel’s celebration next month of its 60th anniversary, which Bush is scheduled to attend. This also seems far-fetched. Kadish’s activities allegedly took placed in the 1980′s and his arrest not likely to do any sort of serious damage to U.S.-Israeli relations today.

Another possibility is that there is a link to the AIPAC case, in which two members of the pro-Israel lobbying organization have been charged with providing classified information to Israel. The trial had been scheduled for the end of this month, until it was delayed once again. Lately prosecutors in the AIPAC have experienced setback after setback, and are even appealing some of the judge’s rulings against them to a higher court. Does the timing of the Kadish arrest have anything to do with the possible impending collapse of the AIPAC case? This seems slightly more plausible, but also far-fetched. What exactly would be the point of such a maneuver?

“One would be a fool to believe that the timing is a coincidence,’ Haber told Haaretz. Thus far, however, I haven’t seen anything to suggest it is more than a coincidence.

Count me a fool.

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Handshakes with the Enemy

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

Abe already blogged about this, but I wanted to follow up on Diana West’s fretting in the Washington Times about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Iraq, where he was supposedly given a warm reception by the Baghdad government. “[O]ur Iraqi allies have welcomed our Iranian enemies right into it.” Not so fast. Iraq and Iran are two Shia-majority countries. They share a long border and a terrible history, as Abe pointed out. They should be expected to have relations of some kind, and the more civil the better considering the depth of hatred Iranian Persians and Iraqi Arabs have for each other. Another full-blown war between Iraq and Iran is in the interests of no one.

In any case, a meeting, a few agreements, and a photo op don’t make these two countries an axis. Iran supports insurgents that for years have been trying to destroy the Baghdad government using terrorism, guerilla warfare, assassination, and sabotage. Who can seriously believe after all this–not to mention the centuries of conflict that preceded it–that the two governments actually like each other? Baghdad may formally welcome Ahmadinejad, but certainly not his proxy armies.

But let’s put that aside for the sake or argument and assume Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may be a quiet Iranian sympathizer. What about Iraq’s president?

“Mr. Ahmadinejad was greeted with multiple kisses from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani,” West notes before saying “Blech.” Talabani is not only Iraq’s president. He is also the political leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the staunchly secular leftist political party with its home base in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya. The PUK provides funds and materials to at least two exiled Kurdish Iranian political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan whose explicit goal is the destruction of the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran. Each of these parties has their own private army. One crossed into Iran recently and fought the regime in the streets during an uprising in the city of Mahabad. The idea that the secular, leftist, and Kurdish Jalal Talabani supports the theocratic, rightist, and Persian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while at the same time funding and supplying revolutionaries who cross the border, doesn’t make sense.

If you want to know the truth, pay close attention to what Middle Easterners do, not what they say. At least some elements in each of these governments hope to remove the other from power by force. Their making nice in front of the cameras is no more meaningful than Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat shaking Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s hand on the White House lawn.

Middle Eastern leaders go through the motions of being nice to each other all the time when what they’d really like to do is pull out a dagger. Last May, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the international tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is not directed at “sister Syria.” Of course he doesn’t believe that, but that’s diplomacy for you. Almost everyone in Lebanon knows the Syrian regime was complicit in Hariri’s murder, as well as the murders that have picked off Siniora’s allies in parliament and the media one by one ever since.

I rented an apartment just around the corner from Siniora’s residence in Beirut, and I couldn’t walk anywhere near his house while using my cell phone. The signals are jammed. Cell phones can detonate car bombs. Siniora knows very well that he might be next and doesn’t think of Syria as anything like a brother or sister–at least not while the murderous Assad regime is in power.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman tells the story of Christian militia leader Camille Chamoun receiving flowers from his arch enemy Yasser Arafat while he was laid up in the hospital. During this time they both hoped to kill each other. “These two men,” Friedman wrote, “had sent so many young men to die in defense of their own personal power and status, and now they were sending bouquets. That was Beirut.”

It is not just Beirut. It is the whole Middle East where smoke, mirrors, and false friendships are normal.

Diana West correctly notes that some Middle Eastern leaders claim to be American allies while fomenting jihad. Well, yes. Of course. They do the same thing to each other.

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Peres’s Poodle

I am always impressed by the particular fondness for critiquing the New York Times shared by writers on contentions. Without judging one way or another, from my perch here in Jerusalem all I can say is: If you think that’s bad, you should read Haaretz. Today there’s an editorial offering a fawning political eulogy for Yossi Beilin, the last remaining luminary of the Israeli far Left, whom Yitzhak Rabin famously called “Peres’s Poodle.” Beilin has just declared he is out of the race for leadership of Meretz, Israel’s peace party. According to a recent poll for the daily Yediot Aharonot, the peace camp in Israel has been so devastated by the sobering conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizballah of the last few years, that if an election were held today, Meretz would receive five seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset—half its strength from the heady early ’90’s. (More broadly, parties on the Left are expecting a drubbing, with the Likud the current heavy favorite. Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, too, is in freefall, with the poll giving them just twelve seats, as opposed to their current 29.)

But Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, reveals the extent of its disconnect with the Israeli public when it calls Beilin a “brave” leader who “managed to carry away the center of the political map and get it to adopt his political path.” Meretz now has, the editorial concludes, “an important role to play in setting the public agenda and in fighting for values which tend to be easily neglected because of a too-heavy security agenda.” Read the whole thing here.

I am always impressed by the particular fondness for critiquing the New York Times shared by writers on contentions. Without judging one way or another, from my perch here in Jerusalem all I can say is: If you think that’s bad, you should read Haaretz. Today there’s an editorial offering a fawning political eulogy for Yossi Beilin, the last remaining luminary of the Israeli far Left, whom Yitzhak Rabin famously called “Peres’s Poodle.” Beilin has just declared he is out of the race for leadership of Meretz, Israel’s peace party. According to a recent poll for the daily Yediot Aharonot, the peace camp in Israel has been so devastated by the sobering conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizballah of the last few years, that if an election were held today, Meretz would receive five seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset—half its strength from the heady early ’90’s. (More broadly, parties on the Left are expecting a drubbing, with the Likud the current heavy favorite. Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, too, is in freefall, with the poll giving them just twelve seats, as opposed to their current 29.)

But Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, reveals the extent of its disconnect with the Israeli public when it calls Beilin a “brave” leader who “managed to carry away the center of the political map and get it to adopt his political path.” Meretz now has, the editorial concludes, “an important role to play in setting the public agenda and in fighting for values which tend to be easily neglected because of a too-heavy security agenda.” Read the whole thing here.

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A Country on Hold

Here’s how Nahum Barnea, perhaps Israel’s most prominent columnist, anticipated the release yesterday afternoon of the long-awaited Winograd Committee report on the 2006 war in Lebanon:

We experienced a failed war during the past summer. It was Israel’s most exposed war. We knew in real time almost everything that was said in the cabinet and in the corridors of the General Headquarters; we knew about the mishaps and the foul-ups, about the army’s helplessness at the frontlines and the collapse of the home front.

It wasn’t the hunger for answers that led to the establishment of the Winograd Commission; it was the need for punishment.

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Here’s how Nahum Barnea, perhaps Israel’s most prominent columnist, anticipated the release yesterday afternoon of the long-awaited Winograd Committee report on the 2006 war in Lebanon:

We experienced a failed war during the past summer. It was Israel’s most exposed war. We knew in real time almost everything that was said in the cabinet and in the corridors of the General Headquarters; we knew about the mishaps and the foul-ups, about the army’s helplessness at the frontlines and the collapse of the home front.

It wasn’t the hunger for answers that led to the establishment of the Winograd Commission; it was the need for punishment.

What is curious about this need, which is palpable, is how restrained its manifestations have been.

Olmert’s 3-percent popularity rating is within the pollsters’ margin of error—or as some have suggested, within the realm of the fat content of cottage cheese. Yet there have not been the mass rallies and media clamor that have brought down previous governments. A strange sense of passivity and resignation has set in. For months, Israel has felt like a country on hold.

On Thursday, a rally criticizing the Olmert government is scheduled in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 just after speaking to a large pro-government demonstration. The big question: whether this rally will be large enough—somewhere significantly over 100,000 people—to end our national sleepwalk, or will be small enough to brush off.

If the rally is a bust, it will be because, as much as the public wants to be rid of Olmert, it is not happy about the likely alternatives to him. Polls show that former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was run out of office in 1999 in a seemingly career-ending defeat, is poised for a comeback. But the rump Likud party he heads now holds only about one-tenth of the Knesset’s seats. So the public, having become disillusioned with three major paradigms in rapid succession—”Greater Israel,” Oslo, and Sharon’s unilateralism—may see no better alternative even to a government it deems to have failed.

One can only hope that Israel’s next leader, whoever it is, is able to exceed the public’s low expectations. One can also draw comfort from the fact that the same war that discredited Israel’s political and military leadership also demonstrated the resilience of the Israeli people under fire, and the courage and motivation of the country’s soldiers. For its part, the IDF already has new leadership and is busy learning the lessons of the last war. In its ranks, readiness is the new watchword of the day.

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