Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ramallah

RE: Egypt Needs Liberalism

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself. Read More

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself.

These are the wages of making peace with governments while allowing normalization between societies to atrophy. Israel let its partners in peace purchase domestic tranquility by demonizing the Jewish state in terms that often crossed the line into outright bigotry, and so now that its partners in peace are collapsing — Cairo, Palileaks, etc. — we’re in a situation where serious people are talking about a return to cyclical nation-state war-fighting.

If a defensible land-for-peace framework returns — and that’s a real question — normalization will have to become more than a pro forma addendum to treaties. Above and beyond normalization being good in itself, an end to incitement will force regimes to undertake badly needed liberal reforms. If they don’t have the Jewish state to demonize for their problems, they might need to address those problems, and something approaching liberal democracy might begin to take shape.

But instead, our best foreign-policy minds are engaged in white-washing the Muslim Brotherhood into an organization with which we can do business. That’s not true and it’s never been true, but let’s pretend it is.

In that case, it would still be a disastrous decision, since it repeats the same stability-oriented mistakes of the old see-no-evil approach. Under autocracies, anti-Israel incitement suffocated liberal institutions indirectly, by channeling dissent into hatred of Israelis and Jews. A Muslim Brotherhood government would suffocate liberal institutions more directly, insofar as the party would make good on its promises to exclude gender and religious minorities from the highest echelons of Egyptian life.

If the instability in Egypt shows us that there’s a difference between democratic niceties and actual liberal democracy — and it does — then the question becomes one of how to create the conditions for liberal democracy. Viewed through that lens, there’s no real difference between engaging Mubarak and engaging the Muslim Brotherhood. Both are out to undermine the institutions and practices that are preconditions for genuine peace in the Middle East.

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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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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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So How’s the Bribe-a-Thon Going?

The Obama team keeps insisting that the “problem” in the non-direct, non-peace talks (it has been two months since the last talks, and no one but the Obama administration seems all that concerned) is Israel settlements and hence has been pursuing a policy first of threats and now of bribes to induce Israel to stop building homes for Jews. But, alas, reality intrudes, and it is obvious to all but the Obami that the problem is much more fundamental. This report explains:

The Fatah Revolutionary Council concluded its fifth convention in Ramallah over the weekend by declaring its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The council also urged the Palestinian Authority leadership to work toward foiling a new Israeli law requiring a referendum before any withdrawal from Jerusalem and the Golan Heights that has not been passed by two thirds of the Knesset. …

“The council affirms its rejection of the so-called Jewish state or any other formula that could achieve this goal,” said a statement issued by the council.
“The council also renews its refusal for the establishment of any racist state based on religion in accordance with international law and human rights conventions.”

The council made its statement as Israel awaits a document from the US which would set out an incentives package in exchange for a 90-day freeze on new settlement construction based on the terms of the 10- month moratorium on such activity which expired on September 26.

You can understand why the Israelis might regard a 90-day freeze as irrelevant. An Israeli official comments: “I would ask the Palestinians the following question: If the Jewish state is fundamentally illegitimate in your eyes, what sort of peace are you offering us? It is clear that their refusal to recognize the Jewish state’s legitimacy is the true obstacle to peace and reconciliation.” If that is so, why indulge the Obama team in its misguided scheme — and why suggest that U.S. vetoes of anti-Israel UN resolutions are now a matter of negotiation?

It is curious indeed that the Obama team has yet to produce the written confirmation of the proposed settlement-freeze deal. Should be an easy thing to do, no? Perhaps the deal is not the deal. In any event, the problem is not too many settlements; it is, as it has been for 60 years, too little desire for peace by the Palestinians.

The Obama team keeps insisting that the “problem” in the non-direct, non-peace talks (it has been two months since the last talks, and no one but the Obama administration seems all that concerned) is Israel settlements and hence has been pursuing a policy first of threats and now of bribes to induce Israel to stop building homes for Jews. But, alas, reality intrudes, and it is obvious to all but the Obami that the problem is much more fundamental. This report explains:

The Fatah Revolutionary Council concluded its fifth convention in Ramallah over the weekend by declaring its refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The council also urged the Palestinian Authority leadership to work toward foiling a new Israeli law requiring a referendum before any withdrawal from Jerusalem and the Golan Heights that has not been passed by two thirds of the Knesset. …

“The council affirms its rejection of the so-called Jewish state or any other formula that could achieve this goal,” said a statement issued by the council.
“The council also renews its refusal for the establishment of any racist state based on religion in accordance with international law and human rights conventions.”

The council made its statement as Israel awaits a document from the US which would set out an incentives package in exchange for a 90-day freeze on new settlement construction based on the terms of the 10- month moratorium on such activity which expired on September 26.

You can understand why the Israelis might regard a 90-day freeze as irrelevant. An Israeli official comments: “I would ask the Palestinians the following question: If the Jewish state is fundamentally illegitimate in your eyes, what sort of peace are you offering us? It is clear that their refusal to recognize the Jewish state’s legitimacy is the true obstacle to peace and reconciliation.” If that is so, why indulge the Obama team in its misguided scheme — and why suggest that U.S. vetoes of anti-Israel UN resolutions are now a matter of negotiation?

It is curious indeed that the Obama team has yet to produce the written confirmation of the proposed settlement-freeze deal. Should be an easy thing to do, no? Perhaps the deal is not the deal. In any event, the problem is not too many settlements; it is, as it has been for 60 years, too little desire for peace by the Palestinians.

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Tied Up in Knots — Again

It’s a game of chicken. Bibi has agreed to present to his cabinet the Obami’s harebrained scheme to restart the non-peace talks if he can get it in writing. Why is that so hard? Perhaps the deal isn’t the deal, or the administration is placing conditions upon conditions. Meanwhile, the PA seems nervous that talks might start, so they roll out their best rejectionist tactics:

Israeli officials accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of looking for excuses not to negotiate, after Abbas said Thursday he would return to the negotiations if Israel declared a complete settlement freeze for a defined period of time during which the border issue would be resolved. Abbas reportedly made those comments during a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah.

One Israeli official said that Abbas was “making sure he is high up on the tree. It is a pity he is entrenching himself in his pre-conditions, and we don’t understand the logic. It is almost as if he is searching for excuses not to negotiate.”

It seems that the Obami have gotten a bit tangled up in the specifics of what the 90 days of negotiations would actual be about:

While the Palestinians want the border issue to be the focus of the start of the talks, arguing that once the borders were set it would be clear where Israel could and could not build, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s position is that border issues could not be divorced from other core issues such as security arrangements and Israel’s demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, something that would be tantamount to their accepting the principle that the descendents of Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return to pre-1967 Israel.

Netanyahu is also apparently unwilling to pledge to wrap up an agreement on borders during the time when there is a settlement freeze. And the US, for its part, is reportedly unwilling to commit in writing that this would be the last settlement freeze it would ask for, apparently wanting to keep open the option of another freeze if the border issue was not wrapped up during one 90-day freeze.

Whoa! Wasn’t part of the deal that the Obami would never, ever, cross their hearts, ask for another freeze? If there is a method to this chaotic bribe-a-thon, it’s not yet apparent. Unlike the Bush team, which actually had the parties talking to each other, this crew can only bicker about what it is that they offered Israel in order to induce the PA to return to the table. If there has been a less competent Middle East negotiating team, I can’t recall it.

It’s a game of chicken. Bibi has agreed to present to his cabinet the Obami’s harebrained scheme to restart the non-peace talks if he can get it in writing. Why is that so hard? Perhaps the deal isn’t the deal, or the administration is placing conditions upon conditions. Meanwhile, the PA seems nervous that talks might start, so they roll out their best rejectionist tactics:

Israeli officials accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of looking for excuses not to negotiate, after Abbas said Thursday he would return to the negotiations if Israel declared a complete settlement freeze for a defined period of time during which the border issue would be resolved. Abbas reportedly made those comments during a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah.

One Israeli official said that Abbas was “making sure he is high up on the tree. It is a pity he is entrenching himself in his pre-conditions, and we don’t understand the logic. It is almost as if he is searching for excuses not to negotiate.”

It seems that the Obami have gotten a bit tangled up in the specifics of what the 90 days of negotiations would actual be about:

While the Palestinians want the border issue to be the focus of the start of the talks, arguing that once the borders were set it would be clear where Israel could and could not build, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s position is that border issues could not be divorced from other core issues such as security arrangements and Israel’s demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, something that would be tantamount to their accepting the principle that the descendents of Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return to pre-1967 Israel.

Netanyahu is also apparently unwilling to pledge to wrap up an agreement on borders during the time when there is a settlement freeze. And the US, for its part, is reportedly unwilling to commit in writing that this would be the last settlement freeze it would ask for, apparently wanting to keep open the option of another freeze if the border issue was not wrapped up during one 90-day freeze.

Whoa! Wasn’t part of the deal that the Obami would never, ever, cross their hearts, ask for another freeze? If there is a method to this chaotic bribe-a-thon, it’s not yet apparent. Unlike the Bush team, which actually had the parties talking to each other, this crew can only bicker about what it is that they offered Israel in order to induce the PA to return to the table. If there has been a less competent Middle East negotiating team, I can’t recall it.

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When Washington Has Amnesia, Israelis and Palestinians Pay the Price

My last two posts (here and here) discussed why no peace deal is likely to emerge from Barack Obama’s drive to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But if this drive merely proves futile, the entire region will breathe a sigh of relief. The fear among those outside the White House/State Department cocoon is that it will produce a bloodbath.

Two notable signs of this fear are the latest poll by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre and Maplecroft’s new Terrorism Risk Index.

As I noted yesterday, a plurality of Palestinians, 22.4 percent, rated the economy as their top concern in the poll. But among Gazans — whose economy, we are relentlessly told, is being strangled by Israel — the economy actually ranked only fourth. Their top priority, by a 29.8 percent plurality, was Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.

In the much larger West Bank, however, 27.6 percent put the economy first. And that, at first glance, seems bizarre, because the West Bank economy is booming: it grew by 8.5 percent last year and 9 percent in the first half of 2010. International aid is also soaring: just last week, the U.S. announced another $150 million. Yet fully 49.2 percent of West Bankers expected the economy to deteriorate in the coming year, while only 38.5 percent foresaw improvement.

The poll didn’t give reasons for this gloomy forecast, but there’s one obvious explanation: Obama’s peace push. First, if he does force Israel to freeze settlement construction again, thousands of Palestinian construction workers will lose their jobs. This concern was evident in JMCC’s June poll, in which 60 percent of Palestinians opposed their own government’s proposed ban on working in settlements.

More important, however, Palestinians remember exactly what happened the last time an American president forced an unwilling Palestinian leader into final-status talks that were certain to fail: the talks collapsed, and two months later, the second intifada erupted. And another intifada would destroy the West Bank economy: investments would dry up, while all the trade-hampering checkpoints the Netanyahu government has removed would reappear.

At first glance, Maplecroft’s new TRI seems equally bizarre. Israel’s ranking moved from 17 in February to 14 this month, making it one of 16 countries the consultancy deems at “extreme risk” of terrorism. But the rankings are based on data from June 2009-June 2010, plus a “historical component” covering 2007-2009. And throughout these years, terrorism in Israel was virtually nonexistent.

Indeed, the U.S. has suffered as many attacks as Israel this year, and those attacks involved a much greater chance of mass casualties — another factor Maplecroft considers. Yet America ranked only 33.

So why did Israel, during a period of almost total calm, suddenly soar in Maplecroft’s rankings? The individual country reports are subscription-only, but it’s not hard to guess. The index is meant to be “forward-looking.” And Maplecroft’s experts, too, undoubtedly remember what happened last time an American president dragged an unwilling Palestinian leader into fruitless final-status talks.

Indeed, it seems the only people who don’t remember are that president’s wife, now secretary of state, and her boss in the White House. Unfortunately, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are liable to pay the price of their amnesia.

My last two posts (here and here) discussed why no peace deal is likely to emerge from Barack Obama’s drive to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But if this drive merely proves futile, the entire region will breathe a sigh of relief. The fear among those outside the White House/State Department cocoon is that it will produce a bloodbath.

Two notable signs of this fear are the latest poll by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre and Maplecroft’s new Terrorism Risk Index.

As I noted yesterday, a plurality of Palestinians, 22.4 percent, rated the economy as their top concern in the poll. But among Gazans — whose economy, we are relentlessly told, is being strangled by Israel — the economy actually ranked only fourth. Their top priority, by a 29.8 percent plurality, was Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.

In the much larger West Bank, however, 27.6 percent put the economy first. And that, at first glance, seems bizarre, because the West Bank economy is booming: it grew by 8.5 percent last year and 9 percent in the first half of 2010. International aid is also soaring: just last week, the U.S. announced another $150 million. Yet fully 49.2 percent of West Bankers expected the economy to deteriorate in the coming year, while only 38.5 percent foresaw improvement.

The poll didn’t give reasons for this gloomy forecast, but there’s one obvious explanation: Obama’s peace push. First, if he does force Israel to freeze settlement construction again, thousands of Palestinian construction workers will lose their jobs. This concern was evident in JMCC’s June poll, in which 60 percent of Palestinians opposed their own government’s proposed ban on working in settlements.

More important, however, Palestinians remember exactly what happened the last time an American president forced an unwilling Palestinian leader into final-status talks that were certain to fail: the talks collapsed, and two months later, the second intifada erupted. And another intifada would destroy the West Bank economy: investments would dry up, while all the trade-hampering checkpoints the Netanyahu government has removed would reappear.

At first glance, Maplecroft’s new TRI seems equally bizarre. Israel’s ranking moved from 17 in February to 14 this month, making it one of 16 countries the consultancy deems at “extreme risk” of terrorism. But the rankings are based on data from June 2009-June 2010, plus a “historical component” covering 2007-2009. And throughout these years, terrorism in Israel was virtually nonexistent.

Indeed, the U.S. has suffered as many attacks as Israel this year, and those attacks involved a much greater chance of mass casualties — another factor Maplecroft considers. Yet America ranked only 33.

So why did Israel, during a period of almost total calm, suddenly soar in Maplecroft’s rankings? The individual country reports are subscription-only, but it’s not hard to guess. The index is meant to be “forward-looking.” And Maplecroft’s experts, too, undoubtedly remember what happened last time an American president dragged an unwilling Palestinian leader into fruitless final-status talks.

Indeed, it seems the only people who don’t remember are that president’s wife, now secretary of state, and her boss in the White House. Unfortunately, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are liable to pay the price of their amnesia.

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Ending “the Occupation” Is Not a Palestinian Priority

In yesterday’s post, I explained why a settlement freeze decreases Palestinian motivation to make a deal by ensuring that foot-dragging entails no price. But conventional wisdom on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would counter that this argument has an obvious flaw. Surely, its advocates would retort, Palestinians already have the strongest of all possible motivations to sign a deal quickly — their burning desire to end the hated occupation?

In fact, no. As a new poll by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre reveals, the occupation is nowhere near the top of ordinary Palestinians’ priority list — and neither are the settlements or Jerusalem.

The number-one concern for ordinary Palestinians is the economy, cited by a plurality of 22.4 percent. In second place is Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, at 18 percent. The hated occupation was relegated to third place, with 15.5 percent, followed by “the siege on Gaza” (9.4 percent). The settlements and Jerusalem trailed far behind, at 6.6 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

This means that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no incentive to make any kind of deal because ordinary Palestinians don’t care enough about ending “the occupation” to make them willing to swallow the concessions a deal will entail.

A 2001 poll found that a whopping 80 percent of Palestinians believe “the rights and needs of the Palestinian people” cannot be met as long as Israel exists, regardless of its borders. An agreement would thus require them to accept that their “rights and needs” will not be perfectly met. It would spell the end of long-cherished dreams like “returning” the refugees and their descendants to Israel, or otherwise turning back the clock.

But giving up a cherished dream is hard. Most people will do it only in exchange for a major improvement in reality. And if settlements and the occupation are not actually oppressive enough to rate as burning issues for ordinary Palestinians, a deal cannot produce the massive improvement in reality that would compensate for abandoning their dreams.

Moreover, a people that views Hamas-Fatah reconciliation as more important than ending the occupation is clearly not interested in a deal; given Hamas’s commitment to “armed struggle” and Israel’s ultimate eradication, reconciliation can only take place on terms that would preclude any agreement.

Abbas already appears to have made his choice. Even as he has adamantly refused to negotiate with Israel for the last two years, his Fatah party has been engaged in ongoing talks with Hamas. And at a meeting with Fatah leaders in Ramallah on Monday, he told them reconciliation with Hamas was “at the top of the PA’s agenda.”

Under intense pressure from Washington, he may nevertheless agree to go through the motions of talking with Israel. But anyone who expects a deal to emerge from these talks is deluding himself.

In yesterday’s post, I explained why a settlement freeze decreases Palestinian motivation to make a deal by ensuring that foot-dragging entails no price. But conventional wisdom on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would counter that this argument has an obvious flaw. Surely, its advocates would retort, Palestinians already have the strongest of all possible motivations to sign a deal quickly — their burning desire to end the hated occupation?

In fact, no. As a new poll by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre reveals, the occupation is nowhere near the top of ordinary Palestinians’ priority list — and neither are the settlements or Jerusalem.

The number-one concern for ordinary Palestinians is the economy, cited by a plurality of 22.4 percent. In second place is Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, at 18 percent. The hated occupation was relegated to third place, with 15.5 percent, followed by “the siege on Gaza” (9.4 percent). The settlements and Jerusalem trailed far behind, at 6.6 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

This means that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no incentive to make any kind of deal because ordinary Palestinians don’t care enough about ending “the occupation” to make them willing to swallow the concessions a deal will entail.

A 2001 poll found that a whopping 80 percent of Palestinians believe “the rights and needs of the Palestinian people” cannot be met as long as Israel exists, regardless of its borders. An agreement would thus require them to accept that their “rights and needs” will not be perfectly met. It would spell the end of long-cherished dreams like “returning” the refugees and their descendants to Israel, or otherwise turning back the clock.

But giving up a cherished dream is hard. Most people will do it only in exchange for a major improvement in reality. And if settlements and the occupation are not actually oppressive enough to rate as burning issues for ordinary Palestinians, a deal cannot produce the massive improvement in reality that would compensate for abandoning their dreams.

Moreover, a people that views Hamas-Fatah reconciliation as more important than ending the occupation is clearly not interested in a deal; given Hamas’s commitment to “armed struggle” and Israel’s ultimate eradication, reconciliation can only take place on terms that would preclude any agreement.

Abbas already appears to have made his choice. Even as he has adamantly refused to negotiate with Israel for the last two years, his Fatah party has been engaged in ongoing talks with Hamas. And at a meeting with Fatah leaders in Ramallah on Monday, he told them reconciliation with Hamas was “at the top of the PA’s agenda.”

Under intense pressure from Washington, he may nevertheless agree to go through the motions of talking with Israel. But anyone who expects a deal to emerge from these talks is deluding himself.

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Obama’s Middle East Policy vs. Reality

While the frantic bribe-athon by the Obama administration continues to try reimposing the settlement moratorium, building has already resumed, according to this report:

Bulldozers have been working furiously on the construction of 350 new housing units in various settlements.

As the end of the freeze approached, the settlements have made great efforts to launch a massive building campaign in response. The Yesha Council has expressed satisfaction at the large amount of construction that has taken place so far.

But there is more:

A long queue of Palestinian laborers lined up Tuesday at the entrance to the settlement of Talmon, west of Ramallah. The vehicles with white license plates parked at the side of the road, and Palestinian workers exited the vehicles.

The workers waited for the security officer to check their identity cards before entering the various construction sites spread out over the settlement that have sprung up since the end of the building freeze.

So in the real world, Palestinians get jobs and Israelis get homes. From the vague description in the report, it seems as though building, to borrow a phrase, is “up” and “in” and not “out.” (The footprint of existing settlements is not being expanded from what we can glean from this report.) My, might that be a way of proceeding from here on out? It took over 18 months for the Obami to get the parties back to direct negotiations, albeit momentarily. Perhaps after another few months they can finally go back to the 2004 Bush-Sharon understanding on settlements. That might be “smart” diplomacy.

Meanwhile, some of my colleagues are debating whether Bill Clinton is offering a sly parody of the Obami’s “linkage” fetish:

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said Tuesday that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would take away much of the motivation for terrorism around the world.

He described the long-running conflict as the key problem in the region and said resolving it would have a knock on effect that could result in Syria ending its support for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Iran turning back its controversial nuclear program.

No, I think he’s serious and the president shares the notion that if Abbas signs a piece of paper, all sorts of wonderful things will transpire. The idea that the cessation of terror and the defanging of the Iranian regime are preconditions for peace is alien to their thinking. But the upside-down view of the Middle East does explain why the non-peace talks are in disarray, the Iranian regime is gaining allies, and the Israelis will have to fend for themselves when it comes to the Iranian nuclear threat. Unfortunately, there is no adult supervision of the Obama foreign policy.

While the frantic bribe-athon by the Obama administration continues to try reimposing the settlement moratorium, building has already resumed, according to this report:

Bulldozers have been working furiously on the construction of 350 new housing units in various settlements.

As the end of the freeze approached, the settlements have made great efforts to launch a massive building campaign in response. The Yesha Council has expressed satisfaction at the large amount of construction that has taken place so far.

But there is more:

A long queue of Palestinian laborers lined up Tuesday at the entrance to the settlement of Talmon, west of Ramallah. The vehicles with white license plates parked at the side of the road, and Palestinian workers exited the vehicles.

The workers waited for the security officer to check their identity cards before entering the various construction sites spread out over the settlement that have sprung up since the end of the building freeze.

So in the real world, Palestinians get jobs and Israelis get homes. From the vague description in the report, it seems as though building, to borrow a phrase, is “up” and “in” and not “out.” (The footprint of existing settlements is not being expanded from what we can glean from this report.) My, might that be a way of proceeding from here on out? It took over 18 months for the Obami to get the parties back to direct negotiations, albeit momentarily. Perhaps after another few months they can finally go back to the 2004 Bush-Sharon understanding on settlements. That might be “smart” diplomacy.

Meanwhile, some of my colleagues are debating whether Bill Clinton is offering a sly parody of the Obami’s “linkage” fetish:

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said Tuesday that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would take away much of the motivation for terrorism around the world.

He described the long-running conflict as the key problem in the region and said resolving it would have a knock on effect that could result in Syria ending its support for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Iran turning back its controversial nuclear program.

No, I think he’s serious and the president shares the notion that if Abbas signs a piece of paper, all sorts of wonderful things will transpire. The idea that the cessation of terror and the defanging of the Iranian regime are preconditions for peace is alien to their thinking. But the upside-down view of the Middle East does explain why the non-peace talks are in disarray, the Iranian regime is gaining allies, and the Israelis will have to fend for themselves when it comes to the Iranian nuclear threat. Unfortunately, there is no adult supervision of the Obama foreign policy.

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How Anti-Israel Groups Undermine Their Own Credibility

Liberal American Jews are often appalled by allegations of Israeli “war crimes” against Palestinians — and equally appalled by Israelis’ apparent indifference to these allegations. What is wrong with their Israeli brethren, these well-meaning Jews wonder, that they seemingly countenance such heinous acts?

Haaretz’s woman in Ramallah, Amira Hass, unintentionally provides the answer in her citation today of the following testimony collected by Breaking the Silence, a group formed to allow ex-soldiers to “break their silence” about Israeli “war crimes”:

And there is another soldier who suddenly understood, during Operation Defensive Shield, that “the tank is a crazy source of fire. You’re moving around in (a populated area ) with all these refugee villages around and all these clumsy weapons, and you fire in a place like that. To fire with a cannon inside a neighborhood … I felt bad.

“Defensive Shield is a complicated and hysterical story … they constantly spoke in terms of war. It took me two or three months to understand … that I hadn’t returned from a war. I was in some campaign … that was worthless in many senses.

“And all the time there was that terminology of shoot in every direction, at anything that moves, and all the time the word war was repeated. … To this day, I go around with the feeling that someone from the outside orchestrated the atmosphere.”

Two ostensible facts about Defensive Shield, Israel’s April 2002 incursion into the West Bank, emerge from this testimony: soldiers opened fire indiscriminately, and the operation was militarily unjustifiable to begin with — downright “worthless.” Yet both are demonstrably false.

First, Palestinian allegations of an Israeli-perpetrated “massacre” in Jenin during the operation sparked intensive investigations. Yet even the UN — not an organization known for its pro-Israel bias — concluded that the death toll in Jenin was exactly 52 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers, while Human Rights Watch (another organization not known for pro-Israel bias) concluded that only 22 of those Palestinians were civilians.

Given the difficulty of fighting in a crowded urban environment where combatants and noncombatants are intermingled, and where combatants don’t even wear uniforms (making them harder to distinguish from civilians), this is an extraordinarily low civilian casualty rate, one no other Western army involved in urban warfare has matched. Thus, far from constituting indiscriminate fire, Defensive Shield exemplified the most discriminating fire imaginable.

Second, far from being “worthless,” this was one of the most successful operations in Israel’s history. The number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terror — which peaked at 449 in the intifada’s second year (September 2001–September 2002), including 134 in March 2002 alone — fell by about 50 percent a year in each of the next several years. And the main reason was Defensive Shield, launched in response to that deadly March 2002.

Allegations are rarely so easily disprovable; most pit one person or group’s word against another, with no way to know who’s right. But when organizations like Breaking the Silence treat even such patently false allegations as credible indictments, most Israelis find it hard to give their other claims any credence.

Liberal American Jews are often appalled by allegations of Israeli “war crimes” against Palestinians — and equally appalled by Israelis’ apparent indifference to these allegations. What is wrong with their Israeli brethren, these well-meaning Jews wonder, that they seemingly countenance such heinous acts?

Haaretz’s woman in Ramallah, Amira Hass, unintentionally provides the answer in her citation today of the following testimony collected by Breaking the Silence, a group formed to allow ex-soldiers to “break their silence” about Israeli “war crimes”:

And there is another soldier who suddenly understood, during Operation Defensive Shield, that “the tank is a crazy source of fire. You’re moving around in (a populated area ) with all these refugee villages around and all these clumsy weapons, and you fire in a place like that. To fire with a cannon inside a neighborhood … I felt bad.

“Defensive Shield is a complicated and hysterical story … they constantly spoke in terms of war. It took me two or three months to understand … that I hadn’t returned from a war. I was in some campaign … that was worthless in many senses.

“And all the time there was that terminology of shoot in every direction, at anything that moves, and all the time the word war was repeated. … To this day, I go around with the feeling that someone from the outside orchestrated the atmosphere.”

Two ostensible facts about Defensive Shield, Israel’s April 2002 incursion into the West Bank, emerge from this testimony: soldiers opened fire indiscriminately, and the operation was militarily unjustifiable to begin with — downright “worthless.” Yet both are demonstrably false.

First, Palestinian allegations of an Israeli-perpetrated “massacre” in Jenin during the operation sparked intensive investigations. Yet even the UN — not an organization known for its pro-Israel bias — concluded that the death toll in Jenin was exactly 52 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers, while Human Rights Watch (another organization not known for pro-Israel bias) concluded that only 22 of those Palestinians were civilians.

Given the difficulty of fighting in a crowded urban environment where combatants and noncombatants are intermingled, and where combatants don’t even wear uniforms (making them harder to distinguish from civilians), this is an extraordinarily low civilian casualty rate, one no other Western army involved in urban warfare has matched. Thus, far from constituting indiscriminate fire, Defensive Shield exemplified the most discriminating fire imaginable.

Second, far from being “worthless,” this was one of the most successful operations in Israel’s history. The number of Israelis killed by Palestinian terror — which peaked at 449 in the intifada’s second year (September 2001–September 2002), including 134 in March 2002 alone — fell by about 50 percent a year in each of the next several years. And the main reason was Defensive Shield, launched in response to that deadly March 2002.

Allegations are rarely so easily disprovable; most pit one person or group’s word against another, with no way to know who’s right. But when organizations like Breaking the Silence treat even such patently false allegations as credible indictments, most Israelis find it hard to give their other claims any credence.

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Why Mahmoud Abbas Cannot Make Peace

Once in a while, I “meet” someone online, on blogs and in comment sections, who thinks the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks might end the conflict, but I don’t think I know anyone in person who lives in the Middle East who believes this. Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh summed up the consensus view a few days ago. “The peace process is going nowhere,” he wrote, “and everyone is just pretending.”

Nations make peace with their enemies, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — also known as Abu Mazen — is not really Israel’s enemy. He’s hardly a friend or an ally, but the Israeli army and Abbas’s security forces have a better and more professional working relationship with each other right now than they ever have. Even Israel’s hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, doesn’t think of Abbas as the leader of the enemy camp. “I repeat,” he said a few weeks ago, “Abu Mazen will not fight us.”

Israel’s enemy is the Resistance Bloc consisting of Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. No one from that bloc is participating in peace talks. Even if Abbas signed a treaty with Israel — a most unlikely event while Hamas holds a gun to his head and even he refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — it would only mean the war between Israel and Abbas was over. But that war is effectively, though perhaps just temporarily, over already. Not much would actually change. The Arab-Israeli conflict would rage on, as would the Islamist-Israeli conflict. Not even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would end if Abbas signed a treaty. He couldn’t enforce it.

“By being forced out of the Gaza Strip,” Toameh wrote, “Abbas lost direct control over some 1.5 million Palestinians, roughly half the Palestinians living in the Palestinian territories. … So if Abbas cannot go to the Gaza Strip and has limited control over the West Bank, where is he supposed to implement a peace agreement? In downtown Ramallah? In Tel Aviv?”

The only reason he retains even limited authority is because he extended his expired term in office and is propped up by Israel. He has no authority whatsoever in Gaza and lacks even influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

If the Iran-led Resistance Bloc was wounded or crumbling, if it was under irresistible pressure from within and without to reform or die, a deal might be possible and would be worth exploring. But that’s not what’s happening. None of the bloc’s leaders will even start peace talks, let alone finish them, while they’re rising in power and have no need to change.

Just a few years ago, Hamas was but one force among several in Gaza, but today it rules with a totalitarian fist. Syria and Hezbollah have seized de facto control over Lebanon, despite Hezbollah’s poor performance in the recent election, while Iran is nearing the threshold of becoming a nuclear-armed regional superpower.

If Abbas had the authority of the Jordanian and Egyptian governments, he might be able to force a cold peace on his people, but he doesn’t. The Resistance Bloc has successfully embedded itself in the Palestinian population and rules roughly half of it. Hamas would simply ignore any treaty Abbas might sign and continue its war against Israel, just as Hezbollah does whatever it wants up north in Lebanon. Abbas can’t put a stop even to his own part of this region-wide conflict any more than Saad Hariri in Beirut can end his.

Once in a while, I “meet” someone online, on blogs and in comment sections, who thinks the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks might end the conflict, but I don’t think I know anyone in person who lives in the Middle East who believes this. Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh summed up the consensus view a few days ago. “The peace process is going nowhere,” he wrote, “and everyone is just pretending.”

Nations make peace with their enemies, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — also known as Abu Mazen — is not really Israel’s enemy. He’s hardly a friend or an ally, but the Israeli army and Abbas’s security forces have a better and more professional working relationship with each other right now than they ever have. Even Israel’s hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, doesn’t think of Abbas as the leader of the enemy camp. “I repeat,” he said a few weeks ago, “Abu Mazen will not fight us.”

Israel’s enemy is the Resistance Bloc consisting of Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. No one from that bloc is participating in peace talks. Even if Abbas signed a treaty with Israel — a most unlikely event while Hamas holds a gun to his head and even he refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state — it would only mean the war between Israel and Abbas was over. But that war is effectively, though perhaps just temporarily, over already. Not much would actually change. The Arab-Israeli conflict would rage on, as would the Islamist-Israeli conflict. Not even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would end if Abbas signed a treaty. He couldn’t enforce it.

“By being forced out of the Gaza Strip,” Toameh wrote, “Abbas lost direct control over some 1.5 million Palestinians, roughly half the Palestinians living in the Palestinian territories. … So if Abbas cannot go to the Gaza Strip and has limited control over the West Bank, where is he supposed to implement a peace agreement? In downtown Ramallah? In Tel Aviv?”

The only reason he retains even limited authority is because he extended his expired term in office and is propped up by Israel. He has no authority whatsoever in Gaza and lacks even influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran.

If the Iran-led Resistance Bloc was wounded or crumbling, if it was under irresistible pressure from within and without to reform or die, a deal might be possible and would be worth exploring. But that’s not what’s happening. None of the bloc’s leaders will even start peace talks, let alone finish them, while they’re rising in power and have no need to change.

Just a few years ago, Hamas was but one force among several in Gaza, but today it rules with a totalitarian fist. Syria and Hezbollah have seized de facto control over Lebanon, despite Hezbollah’s poor performance in the recent election, while Iran is nearing the threshold of becoming a nuclear-armed regional superpower.

If Abbas had the authority of the Jordanian and Egyptian governments, he might be able to force a cold peace on his people, but he doesn’t. The Resistance Bloc has successfully embedded itself in the Palestinian population and rules roughly half of it. Hamas would simply ignore any treaty Abbas might sign and continue its war against Israel, just as Hezbollah does whatever it wants up north in Lebanon. Abbas can’t put a stop even to his own part of this region-wide conflict any more than Saad Hariri in Beirut can end his.

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Washington’s West Bank Pyromania

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a stunning admission last week that has garnered far too little attention. After a de rigueur assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian “status quo is unsustainable,” she added, “That doesn’t mean it can’t be sustained for a year, or a decade, or two or three.”

But if so, why the rush to solve the conflict now, when all signs indicate that a deal is unachievable and another round of failed talks could greatly worsen the situation?

One could simply say she’s wrong; the status quo is intolerable for suffering Palestinians. But the facts are on her side.

First, the territories are experiencing unprecedented economic growth. The World Bank reported last week that the West Bank economy grew 9 percent in the first half of this year, while Gaza (you remember — that giant Israeli prison locked in hopeless poverty and misery?) grew an incredible 16 percent. For the West Bank, this represents a second year of strong growth; last year’s was 8.5 percent.

The World Bank hastened to declare that we should never mind the facts; growth under occupation is unsustainable. And growth in Gaza (which isn’t occupied) might well be: it was artificially boosted by reconstruction after last year’s war and the abrupt easing of Israel’s blockade in May. But the West Bank’s two-year surge shows that economic reforms like those instituted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, coupled with a sharp drop in terror that has let Israel greatly ease its restrictions on Palestinian movement, make long-term growth quite feasible.

Second, West Bankers have evidently learned a lesson from the second intifada: support for terror there is very low, making a resurgence that would upset the current calm unlikely. Indeed, during a visit this month to the Balata refugee camp, once “a hotbed of extremism,” a Haaretz reporter “was hard-pressed to find any passersby who were willing to express support for it.” As resident Imad Hassan explained, “What good did this [terror] do us?”

By contrast, the current calm is doing West Bankers a lot of good, and they’re clearly savoring it. As Haaretz reported following a Ramadan visit to Ramallah last month:

The one phrase not on the lips of local shoppers in their conversations with this Israeli reporter on Wednesday was “the occupation” — unlike during prior visits, when the occupation and the conflict with the Jews were regularly raised. These days, the hot topic is business. Peace negotiations, and even the Gaza Strip, are irrelevant.

In short, West Bankers, too, consider the status quo tolerable; they’re more concerned with business than “the occupation.”

One thing, however, could yet disrupt this status quo: as several CONTENTIONS contributors have noted, negotiations that collapse amid mutual recriminations have triggered violent explosions in the past, and could well do so again.

So to try to achieve an agreement that overwhelming majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians believe is currently unachievable, the Obama administration is risking the violent implosion of a status quo that it admits is sustainable for decades. That isn’t “smart diplomacy”; it’s the irresponsibility of a pyromaniac near a barrel of gunpowder.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a stunning admission last week that has garnered far too little attention. After a de rigueur assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian “status quo is unsustainable,” she added, “That doesn’t mean it can’t be sustained for a year, or a decade, or two or three.”

But if so, why the rush to solve the conflict now, when all signs indicate that a deal is unachievable and another round of failed talks could greatly worsen the situation?

One could simply say she’s wrong; the status quo is intolerable for suffering Palestinians. But the facts are on her side.

First, the territories are experiencing unprecedented economic growth. The World Bank reported last week that the West Bank economy grew 9 percent in the first half of this year, while Gaza (you remember — that giant Israeli prison locked in hopeless poverty and misery?) grew an incredible 16 percent. For the West Bank, this represents a second year of strong growth; last year’s was 8.5 percent.

The World Bank hastened to declare that we should never mind the facts; growth under occupation is unsustainable. And growth in Gaza (which isn’t occupied) might well be: it was artificially boosted by reconstruction after last year’s war and the abrupt easing of Israel’s blockade in May. But the West Bank’s two-year surge shows that economic reforms like those instituted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, coupled with a sharp drop in terror that has let Israel greatly ease its restrictions on Palestinian movement, make long-term growth quite feasible.

Second, West Bankers have evidently learned a lesson from the second intifada: support for terror there is very low, making a resurgence that would upset the current calm unlikely. Indeed, during a visit this month to the Balata refugee camp, once “a hotbed of extremism,” a Haaretz reporter “was hard-pressed to find any passersby who were willing to express support for it.” As resident Imad Hassan explained, “What good did this [terror] do us?”

By contrast, the current calm is doing West Bankers a lot of good, and they’re clearly savoring it. As Haaretz reported following a Ramadan visit to Ramallah last month:

The one phrase not on the lips of local shoppers in their conversations with this Israeli reporter on Wednesday was “the occupation” — unlike during prior visits, when the occupation and the conflict with the Jews were regularly raised. These days, the hot topic is business. Peace negotiations, and even the Gaza Strip, are irrelevant.

In short, West Bankers, too, consider the status quo tolerable; they’re more concerned with business than “the occupation.”

One thing, however, could yet disrupt this status quo: as several CONTENTIONS contributors have noted, negotiations that collapse amid mutual recriminations have triggered violent explosions in the past, and could well do so again.

So to try to achieve an agreement that overwhelming majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians believe is currently unachievable, the Obama administration is risking the violent implosion of a status quo that it admits is sustainable for decades. That isn’t “smart diplomacy”; it’s the irresponsibility of a pyromaniac near a barrel of gunpowder.

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Mideast Game of Chicken Continues

The news today out of Ramallah is that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is saying that he will continue to participate in the peace talks that have been orchestrated by the Obama administration. Though the Palestinians have been threatening to walk out if Israel doesn’t extend a freeze on all settlement-building in the West Bank, it appears that the parties are trying to weasel their way out of this impasse.

While the continued talking will, no doubt, be heralded by the Americans as proof that the talks have a good chance of succeeding and that their goal of a Palestinian state and genuine peace within a year will be achieved, realists know that it means nothing of the kind. All that the continued talking means is that the game of chicken being played by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t over.

Like the daredevil teenagers in Rebel Without a Cause, the two leaders are competing to see which one of them will jump out of their cars first before their vehicles fly off the cliff. Both know there isn’t much hope for actual peace. Netanyahu is aware of the fact that if the Palestinians ever actually accepted a state in almost all the West Bank with a share of Jerusalem in exchange for a complete end to the conflict with no right of return for refugees, the Israeli people would almost certainly demand that this offer — whether it was wise policy or not — be accepted. But he also knows that Abbas cannot possibly accept this deal, for the same reasons he rejected such an offer in 2008, when Ehud Olmert put it on the table in the wake of the 2007 Annapolis Summit, not to mention Yasir Arafat’s similar refusal of such a deal at Camp David in 2000: the rejectionist culture of Palestinian politics and Hamas won’t allow it.

But since he doesn’t want to say no to Barack Obama, Netanyahu must play along and try to avoid being put in the position of spiking the talks when he knows that, sooner or later, Abbas will have to bail out to save his skin. Similarly, Abbas — who is dependent on support from the West as well as Israel for his survival — is hoping that Netanyahu can be maneuvered into a position of blame for the failure to make “progress” rather than have his own impotence highlighted.

The peculiar thing about this game of chicken is that each leader’s domestic opposition is acting as if the official optimism about the possibility of peace emanating from the two camps is proof that a deal is about to be signed. Yet the majority of Palestinians and Israelis seem to be taking all this in their stride, and their indifference demonstrates that they understand that what is going on is an elaborate farce being staged for the benefit of Obama and Hillary Clinton rather constituting a genuine chance for peace. But both Hamas and Israeli right-wingers, who are respectively fulminating against Abbas and Netanyahu, as if the two were on the verge of a pact, are, along with the White House, the State Department, and most of the mainstream media, the only ones who don’t get it.

The news today out of Ramallah is that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is saying that he will continue to participate in the peace talks that have been orchestrated by the Obama administration. Though the Palestinians have been threatening to walk out if Israel doesn’t extend a freeze on all settlement-building in the West Bank, it appears that the parties are trying to weasel their way out of this impasse.

While the continued talking will, no doubt, be heralded by the Americans as proof that the talks have a good chance of succeeding and that their goal of a Palestinian state and genuine peace within a year will be achieved, realists know that it means nothing of the kind. All that the continued talking means is that the game of chicken being played by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t over.

Like the daredevil teenagers in Rebel Without a Cause, the two leaders are competing to see which one of them will jump out of their cars first before their vehicles fly off the cliff. Both know there isn’t much hope for actual peace. Netanyahu is aware of the fact that if the Palestinians ever actually accepted a state in almost all the West Bank with a share of Jerusalem in exchange for a complete end to the conflict with no right of return for refugees, the Israeli people would almost certainly demand that this offer — whether it was wise policy or not — be accepted. But he also knows that Abbas cannot possibly accept this deal, for the same reasons he rejected such an offer in 2008, when Ehud Olmert put it on the table in the wake of the 2007 Annapolis Summit, not to mention Yasir Arafat’s similar refusal of such a deal at Camp David in 2000: the rejectionist culture of Palestinian politics and Hamas won’t allow it.

But since he doesn’t want to say no to Barack Obama, Netanyahu must play along and try to avoid being put in the position of spiking the talks when he knows that, sooner or later, Abbas will have to bail out to save his skin. Similarly, Abbas — who is dependent on support from the West as well as Israel for his survival — is hoping that Netanyahu can be maneuvered into a position of blame for the failure to make “progress” rather than have his own impotence highlighted.

The peculiar thing about this game of chicken is that each leader’s domestic opposition is acting as if the official optimism about the possibility of peace emanating from the two camps is proof that a deal is about to be signed. Yet the majority of Palestinians and Israelis seem to be taking all this in their stride, and their indifference demonstrates that they understand that what is going on is an elaborate farce being staged for the benefit of Obama and Hillary Clinton rather constituting a genuine chance for peace. But both Hamas and Israeli right-wingers, who are respectively fulminating against Abbas and Netanyahu, as if the two were on the verge of a pact, are, along with the White House, the State Department, and most of the mainstream media, the only ones who don’t get it.

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Are We There Yet?

Shocking as it may seem to those who actually bought into George Mitchell’s, Hillary Clinton’s, and the president’s cheery pronouncements, it may be that the peace talks are essentially done. The Washington Post reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday wrapped up three days of intense Middle East diplomacy that produced good atmospherics but no sign that an impasse over Israeli settlement construction has been resolved.

“We all know that there is no alternative to peace other than negotiating peace so we have no alternative but to continue peace efforts,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said before meeting with the chief U.S. diplomat in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
But Abbas gave little indication that he was willing to keep talks going after a partial moratorium on Israeli settlement construction expires Sept. 30.

No one does double-talk like the PA, right?

In any case, it seems the expectations are low that we’re going to have more talks after this month:

On Wednesday evening, Netanyahu told Abbas during talks at his residence in Jerusalem that the moratorium would not be extended, Israeli media reported. The prime minister’s office repeated that position in a statement Thursday.

But Netanyahu has indicated that some restrictions on construction will be applied, and U.S. officials are hoping that the momentum of the past few days will convince the Palestinians to keep talking, even if the settlement freeze is not extended in full. …

But Mitchell refused to say whether the United States was confident the Palestinians would keep talking after the end of the month. “That subject was discussed this evening. We continue in our efforts to make progress in that regard and believe that we are doing so,” he said.

In a word: unlikely.

Will the Obami throw a hissy fit a month and a half before the midterm elections if Israel sticks to its position — i.e., offer some compromise but not an official extension of the settlement freeze? We’ll see. That might only serve to emphasize Obama’s impotence.

If we’re lucky, the talks will go on “hiatus” so “important work can be done at staff levels.” Let’s hope some face-saver like that can be worked out. The most likely alternative, however, is another intifada.

Shocking as it may seem to those who actually bought into George Mitchell’s, Hillary Clinton’s, and the president’s cheery pronouncements, it may be that the peace talks are essentially done. The Washington Post reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday wrapped up three days of intense Middle East diplomacy that produced good atmospherics but no sign that an impasse over Israeli settlement construction has been resolved.

“We all know that there is no alternative to peace other than negotiating peace so we have no alternative but to continue peace efforts,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said before meeting with the chief U.S. diplomat in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
But Abbas gave little indication that he was willing to keep talks going after a partial moratorium on Israeli settlement construction expires Sept. 30.

No one does double-talk like the PA, right?

In any case, it seems the expectations are low that we’re going to have more talks after this month:

On Wednesday evening, Netanyahu told Abbas during talks at his residence in Jerusalem that the moratorium would not be extended, Israeli media reported. The prime minister’s office repeated that position in a statement Thursday.

But Netanyahu has indicated that some restrictions on construction will be applied, and U.S. officials are hoping that the momentum of the past few days will convince the Palestinians to keep talking, even if the settlement freeze is not extended in full. …

But Mitchell refused to say whether the United States was confident the Palestinians would keep talking after the end of the month. “That subject was discussed this evening. We continue in our efforts to make progress in that regard and believe that we are doing so,” he said.

In a word: unlikely.

Will the Obami throw a hissy fit a month and a half before the midterm elections if Israel sticks to its position — i.e., offer some compromise but not an official extension of the settlement freeze? We’ll see. That might only serve to emphasize Obama’s impotence.

If we’re lucky, the talks will go on “hiatus” so “important work can be done at staff levels.” Let’s hope some face-saver like that can be worked out. The most likely alternative, however, is another intifada.

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Will’s Formula for Peace: Stop the Process

George Will has been on a roll, writing one blockbuster column after another on Israel and what he correctly dubs the “mirage” that passes for a “peace process.” He gives some context:

Since 1967, faced with unrelenting Palestinian irredentism, Israel has been weaving the West Bank into a common fabric with the coastal plain, the nation’s economic and population center of gravity. Withdrawal from the West Bank would bring Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport within range of short-range rockets fired by persons overlooking the runways. So, the feasibility of such a withdrawal depends on how much has changed since 1974, when Yasser Arafat received a standing ovation at the United Nations when he said Israel had no right to exist.

Thirty-six years later, Israelis can watch West Bank Palestinian television incessantly inculcating anti-Semitism and denial of Israel’s right to exist. Across the fence that has substantially reduced terrorism from the West Bank, Israelis see Ramallah, where Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, lives and where a square was recently named in honor of Dalal Mughrabi. In 1978, she, together with 11 other terrorists, hijacked an Israeli bus and massacred 37 Israelis and one American. Cigarette lighters sold on the West Bank show, when lit, the World Trade Center burning.

But undaunted by reality, Obama’s self-grandiosity — and frenzy to deflect attention from his failure to devise an effective Iran policy — once again comes to the fore. Substituting bumper-sticker sloganeering for careful analysis, the president demands not just talks “but ‘comprehensive’ solutions to problems, [which] may yet make matters worse by presenting its own plan for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Barack Obama insists that it is ‘costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure,’ although he does not say how.”

The left (the rest of the left, for Obama is very much their man in this regard) is infatuated with negotiations because the hope springs eternal that Israel can be bludgeoned into submission or ostracized if it resists. That also explains why Gen. David Petraeus’s ill-chosen words, which Will recites — “Israeli-Palestinian tensions ‘have an enormous effect on the strategic context'” — have been adopted as watchwords on the left. You see, if Israel is a national security liability, rather than an asset, the pummeling is not only justified but essential. (It is also nonsensical, as Will points out: “As though, were the tensions to subside, the hard men managing Iran’s decades-long drive for nuclear weapons would then say, ‘Oh, well, in that case, let’s call the whole thing off.'”)

Will gets to the nub of the matter: “The biggest threat to peace might be the peace process — or, more precisely, the illusion that there is one. The mirage becomes the reason for maintaining its imaginary ‘momentum’ by extorting concessions from Israel, the only party susceptible to U.S. pressure.”

In this regard, the Israeli government, by mouthing the same platitudinous phrases and offering a moratorium before partaking in another peace-process charade, has done itself no favors. The calculation, no doubt, is born out of necessity: the desire to avoid irreparable injury to the already bruised relationship with the U.S. requires complicity in the peace-process scam.

OK, so the Israeli government believes there is no alternative, but what has been the excuse for pro-Israel (the real pro-Israel ones, I mean) American Jewish groups? Why are they fixated, obsessed, and distracted by the non-peace process while the Iran nuclear program marches apace? Force of habit, perhaps. It is what they have been doing since Oslo (and before that); they have no other script. They also are, as we’ve much discussed, in the business of trying to get along as best they can with those in power. If those in power are determined to process the peace, then, by gosh, they are too. But even their ardor has cooled, and the lowering of expectations has become obvious. Sometimes one simply can’t keep up the pretense.

It would be a refreshing and important development if American Jewish leaders adopted Will’s approach: utter candor. The peace process is destructive, masks continued bad behavior by the Palestinians, and promotes animosity between the U.S. and Israel. Let’s get on with what matters: Iran. It would be bracing, brave, and clarifying. That it is also inconceivable tells you much about the state of mainstream American Jewish organizations and why so many of them teeter on the verge of irrelevance.

George Will has been on a roll, writing one blockbuster column after another on Israel and what he correctly dubs the “mirage” that passes for a “peace process.” He gives some context:

Since 1967, faced with unrelenting Palestinian irredentism, Israel has been weaving the West Bank into a common fabric with the coastal plain, the nation’s economic and population center of gravity. Withdrawal from the West Bank would bring Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport within range of short-range rockets fired by persons overlooking the runways. So, the feasibility of such a withdrawal depends on how much has changed since 1974, when Yasser Arafat received a standing ovation at the United Nations when he said Israel had no right to exist.

Thirty-six years later, Israelis can watch West Bank Palestinian television incessantly inculcating anti-Semitism and denial of Israel’s right to exist. Across the fence that has substantially reduced terrorism from the West Bank, Israelis see Ramallah, where Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, lives and where a square was recently named in honor of Dalal Mughrabi. In 1978, she, together with 11 other terrorists, hijacked an Israeli bus and massacred 37 Israelis and one American. Cigarette lighters sold on the West Bank show, when lit, the World Trade Center burning.

But undaunted by reality, Obama’s self-grandiosity — and frenzy to deflect attention from his failure to devise an effective Iran policy — once again comes to the fore. Substituting bumper-sticker sloganeering for careful analysis, the president demands not just talks “but ‘comprehensive’ solutions to problems, [which] may yet make matters worse by presenting its own plan for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Barack Obama insists that it is ‘costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure,’ although he does not say how.”

The left (the rest of the left, for Obama is very much their man in this regard) is infatuated with negotiations because the hope springs eternal that Israel can be bludgeoned into submission or ostracized if it resists. That also explains why Gen. David Petraeus’s ill-chosen words, which Will recites — “Israeli-Palestinian tensions ‘have an enormous effect on the strategic context'” — have been adopted as watchwords on the left. You see, if Israel is a national security liability, rather than an asset, the pummeling is not only justified but essential. (It is also nonsensical, as Will points out: “As though, were the tensions to subside, the hard men managing Iran’s decades-long drive for nuclear weapons would then say, ‘Oh, well, in that case, let’s call the whole thing off.'”)

Will gets to the nub of the matter: “The biggest threat to peace might be the peace process — or, more precisely, the illusion that there is one. The mirage becomes the reason for maintaining its imaginary ‘momentum’ by extorting concessions from Israel, the only party susceptible to U.S. pressure.”

In this regard, the Israeli government, by mouthing the same platitudinous phrases and offering a moratorium before partaking in another peace-process charade, has done itself no favors. The calculation, no doubt, is born out of necessity: the desire to avoid irreparable injury to the already bruised relationship with the U.S. requires complicity in the peace-process scam.

OK, so the Israeli government believes there is no alternative, but what has been the excuse for pro-Israel (the real pro-Israel ones, I mean) American Jewish groups? Why are they fixated, obsessed, and distracted by the non-peace process while the Iran nuclear program marches apace? Force of habit, perhaps. It is what they have been doing since Oslo (and before that); they have no other script. They also are, as we’ve much discussed, in the business of trying to get along as best they can with those in power. If those in power are determined to process the peace, then, by gosh, they are too. But even their ardor has cooled, and the lowering of expectations has become obvious. Sometimes one simply can’t keep up the pretense.

It would be a refreshing and important development if American Jewish leaders adopted Will’s approach: utter candor. The peace process is destructive, masks continued bad behavior by the Palestinians, and promotes animosity between the U.S. and Israel. Let’s get on with what matters: Iran. It would be bracing, brave, and clarifying. That it is also inconceivable tells you much about the state of mainstream American Jewish organizations and why so many of them teeter on the verge of irrelevance.

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Failure Would Be Refreshing

We are about to begin — if it doesn’t end before it starts — another round of the endless talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The sense of  unreality pervades; all but the most obtuse observers understand this charade is futile. Mahmoud Abbas threatens to break off talks if Israel doesn’t extend a settlement ban which it has said it won’t extend. The notion that Abbas is ready to surrender those things that he must surrender to obtain a state and make a binding peace deal is laughable. As one of the canniest observers remarks, a Palestinian state becomes reality only if:

… its citizens can renounce once and for all the creeping Islamism that would sooner see them suffering the miseries and oppression of twelfth-century religious and cultural practice than thriving in a modern society; if they can cast off at last the self-strangling mythology of their own victimhood;  and if they can shed their century-old yearning to set the blood of their Jewish neighbors flowing in the streets. And if, that is, those same despised Jewish neighbors can succeed in destroying the Iranian bomb that threatens the potential state, Palestine—whose capital will be Ramallah—no less than the Jewish state, Israel—whose eternal and undivided capital is Jerusalem—which in the meantime the “Palestinians” have erased from their maps and the schoolbooks of their children.

(Read the whole thing for the compelling argument as to why Ramallah, not Jerusalem, is becoming the “defacto capital” for the future Palestinian state.)

The talks, as I have argued, are a thin reed holding together Obama’s dwindling credibility. It is not a good thing for an American president to be utterly discredited and embarrassed, to have a top foreign-policy goal shattered. But perhaps it is a needed wake-up call — for the administration, for the Palestinians, and for those who have, for too long, been obsessed with dragging those not ready to negotiate to the negotiating table. Admitting failure is the first step to a more realistic approach to the Middle East and to refocusing ourselves on the only issue that matters, the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran.

We are about to begin — if it doesn’t end before it starts — another round of the endless talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The sense of  unreality pervades; all but the most obtuse observers understand this charade is futile. Mahmoud Abbas threatens to break off talks if Israel doesn’t extend a settlement ban which it has said it won’t extend. The notion that Abbas is ready to surrender those things that he must surrender to obtain a state and make a binding peace deal is laughable. As one of the canniest observers remarks, a Palestinian state becomes reality only if:

… its citizens can renounce once and for all the creeping Islamism that would sooner see them suffering the miseries and oppression of twelfth-century religious and cultural practice than thriving in a modern society; if they can cast off at last the self-strangling mythology of their own victimhood;  and if they can shed their century-old yearning to set the blood of their Jewish neighbors flowing in the streets. And if, that is, those same despised Jewish neighbors can succeed in destroying the Iranian bomb that threatens the potential state, Palestine—whose capital will be Ramallah—no less than the Jewish state, Israel—whose eternal and undivided capital is Jerusalem—which in the meantime the “Palestinians” have erased from their maps and the schoolbooks of their children.

(Read the whole thing for the compelling argument as to why Ramallah, not Jerusalem, is becoming the “defacto capital” for the future Palestinian state.)

The talks, as I have argued, are a thin reed holding together Obama’s dwindling credibility. It is not a good thing for an American president to be utterly discredited and embarrassed, to have a top foreign-policy goal shattered. But perhaps it is a needed wake-up call — for the administration, for the Palestinians, and for those who have, for too long, been obsessed with dragging those not ready to negotiate to the negotiating table. Admitting failure is the first step to a more realistic approach to the Middle East and to refocusing ourselves on the only issue that matters, the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran.

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Israel’s Gaza Policy Boosts Hamas’s Popularity? Doesn’t Look Like It

Radical leftists worldwide enthusiastically support Hamas, which has the cardinal virtue of being virulently anti-Israel. It’s a pity they never asked Gaza Strip residents, who actually have to live under Hamas rule. But one of Israel’s leading pro-Palestinian journalists, Amira Hass of Haaretz, gave these residents a voice this week:

“I wish these pictures reached leftists abroad,” my friend said to herself Tuesday as she watched Hamas police use rifle butts and clubs to beat her friends — activists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Although my friend has never been a fan of the Fatah government in the West Bank, she is outraged by the romanticization of Hamas rule by foreign activists.

Ironically, the PFLP agrees with Hamas about most key issues: “opposition to the Oslo Accords, glorification of the armed struggle and opposition to direct negotiations with Israel.” The protest wasn’t over anything political, but over the chronic power outages — more than eight hours a day, every day, for months — caused by the Hamas and Fatah governments’ ongoing spat over who should pay for Gaza’s power plant’s fuel after the European Union stopped footing the bill last November. Since both sides refuse to pay, the amount of fuel entering the Strip has steadily declined; in the first week of August, it amounted to only 23 percent of what is needed to run the plant at full capacity.

Hamas initially tried to prevent the protest — though under Palestinian law, demonstrations don’t need a license. When that failed, “hundreds of police with clubs and rifles” dispersed the demonstrators “very violently.” Many demonstrators were wounded and needed medical attention; others “were detained for some time.”

Most likely, overseas leftists won’t see these pictures, since Hamas kept photojournalists from taking any. But Hass’s word pictures are vivid enough.

The punch line, however, is her own commentary. Hass cannot be suspected of pro-Israel sympathies; she lived for years in both Gaza and Ramallah, and her tireless media crusade for the Palestinian cause has won her numerous journalism awards overseas. But after noting that Hamas routinely suppresses unauthorized gatherings — even a party organized by the Khan Yunis refugee committee for students who passed their matriculation exams — she concluded:

[T]he shamelessly brutal suppression of the [PFLP] protest shows just how scared the Gaza government is. … If Hamas felt it still had public support, it wouldn’t need to suppress any activity that it didn’t initiate or finds unflattering.

Of course, it’s not just radical leftists who won’t like that conclusion; it’s the entire Western foreign-policy and media establishment — which unanimously asserts that Hamas’s popularity is steadily increasing, thanks to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Granted, the Palestinians’ own polling data refute that idea, as I noted here in June, but why let facts interfere with a good anti-Israel theory?

Which is why Hass’s unarguable point — that popular governments don’t need to suppress demonstrations — will doubtless also be universally ignored. And that’s an even greater pity, because a little more attention to facts would greatly improve Western policy in the Middle East.

Radical leftists worldwide enthusiastically support Hamas, which has the cardinal virtue of being virulently anti-Israel. It’s a pity they never asked Gaza Strip residents, who actually have to live under Hamas rule. But one of Israel’s leading pro-Palestinian journalists, Amira Hass of Haaretz, gave these residents a voice this week:

“I wish these pictures reached leftists abroad,” my friend said to herself Tuesday as she watched Hamas police use rifle butts and clubs to beat her friends — activists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Although my friend has never been a fan of the Fatah government in the West Bank, she is outraged by the romanticization of Hamas rule by foreign activists.

Ironically, the PFLP agrees with Hamas about most key issues: “opposition to the Oslo Accords, glorification of the armed struggle and opposition to direct negotiations with Israel.” The protest wasn’t over anything political, but over the chronic power outages — more than eight hours a day, every day, for months — caused by the Hamas and Fatah governments’ ongoing spat over who should pay for Gaza’s power plant’s fuel after the European Union stopped footing the bill last November. Since both sides refuse to pay, the amount of fuel entering the Strip has steadily declined; in the first week of August, it amounted to only 23 percent of what is needed to run the plant at full capacity.

Hamas initially tried to prevent the protest — though under Palestinian law, demonstrations don’t need a license. When that failed, “hundreds of police with clubs and rifles” dispersed the demonstrators “very violently.” Many demonstrators were wounded and needed medical attention; others “were detained for some time.”

Most likely, overseas leftists won’t see these pictures, since Hamas kept photojournalists from taking any. But Hass’s word pictures are vivid enough.

The punch line, however, is her own commentary. Hass cannot be suspected of pro-Israel sympathies; she lived for years in both Gaza and Ramallah, and her tireless media crusade for the Palestinian cause has won her numerous journalism awards overseas. But after noting that Hamas routinely suppresses unauthorized gatherings — even a party organized by the Khan Yunis refugee committee for students who passed their matriculation exams — she concluded:

[T]he shamelessly brutal suppression of the [PFLP] protest shows just how scared the Gaza government is. … If Hamas felt it still had public support, it wouldn’t need to suppress any activity that it didn’t initiate or finds unflattering.

Of course, it’s not just radical leftists who won’t like that conclusion; it’s the entire Western foreign-policy and media establishment — which unanimously asserts that Hamas’s popularity is steadily increasing, thanks to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Granted, the Palestinians’ own polling data refute that idea, as I noted here in June, but why let facts interfere with a good anti-Israel theory?

Which is why Hass’s unarguable point — that popular governments don’t need to suppress demonstrations — will doubtless also be universally ignored. And that’s an even greater pity, because a little more attention to facts would greatly improve Western policy in the Middle East.

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Rival Palestinian Governments Abusing Their Own People — Again

Israel is constantly accused of turning Gaza into “one big prison” — and never mind the fact that Egypt, which also borders Gaza, sharply restricts the number of Palestinians allowed to transit its territory, too. But a stunning report by Haaretz’s Amira Hass, who identifies so profoundly with the Palestinian cause that she spent years living in both Gaza and Ramallah, reveals another factor: even Gazans who do receive permission to leave, whether via Egypt or Israel, sometimes can’t do so, because the two feuding Palestinian governments have denied them passports.

Sometimes, Gaza’s Hamas-led government confiscates existing passports because the holders belong to Fatah. Sometimes, the West Bank’s Fatah-led government (which owns the blank passport books) refuses to issue passports to applicants affiliated with Hamas. And sometimes, the Ramallah government even denies passports to Fatah members, because they allegedly have ties to Hamas.

Thus Fiza Za’anin, a Hamas-affiliated midwife who won a UN award for her work, received Israel’s permission both to attend a course in East Jerusalem and to transit its territory en route to the prize ceremony in the U.S. But she couldn’t do either, because the Ramallah government denied her a passport. Needless to say, international human rights groups haven’t trumpeted her case.

Hass’s report recalls the Fatah-Hamas dispute that shut down a major Gazan power plant last month, because both parties insisted the other pay for the fuel.

At full capacity, the plant would increase Gaza’s power supply by 50 percent over and above what Israel supplies. Instead, it was shut down completely, leaving parts of Gaza with only eight hours a day of power — all because Hamas and Fatah would rather “argue over a few million dollars a month” than improve Gazans’ lives, as Haaretz Palestinian affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff correctly observed. But “because Israel is not involved in this affair,” he noted, “the United Nations has not held an emergency session to discuss the matter, the (non-Palestinian) Human Rights organizations will overlook it,” and it “will probably not receive much coverage by the international media.”

And then there’s that new mall in Gaza. As the Jerusalem Post’s Liat Collins perceptively noted, a two-story, 9,700-square-foot shopping mall must have required huge amounts of cement and metal — all presumably smuggled through tunnels from Egypt, since Israel wasn’t allowing building materials across its border. And Hamas controls the smuggling tunnels.

But according to Hamas, thousands of Gazans whose houses were destroyed in its war with Israel 18 months ago remain homeless. So what kind of government would allocate scarce construction material to a mall instead of homes for its people? Clearly, one that doesn’t care about their suffering — and indeed, actually prefers perpetuating it, to fan anti-Israel sentiment. And the world, naturally, plays along.

If Hamas and Fatah both spent less time and effort on anti-Israel incitement and more on improving their people’s lives, Palestinians would be much better off. But that would require them to actually care more about their people’s welfare than they do about undermining Israel. And despite the world’s willful refusal to believe it, neither faction ever has.

Israel is constantly accused of turning Gaza into “one big prison” — and never mind the fact that Egypt, which also borders Gaza, sharply restricts the number of Palestinians allowed to transit its territory, too. But a stunning report by Haaretz’s Amira Hass, who identifies so profoundly with the Palestinian cause that she spent years living in both Gaza and Ramallah, reveals another factor: even Gazans who do receive permission to leave, whether via Egypt or Israel, sometimes can’t do so, because the two feuding Palestinian governments have denied them passports.

Sometimes, Gaza’s Hamas-led government confiscates existing passports because the holders belong to Fatah. Sometimes, the West Bank’s Fatah-led government (which owns the blank passport books) refuses to issue passports to applicants affiliated with Hamas. And sometimes, the Ramallah government even denies passports to Fatah members, because they allegedly have ties to Hamas.

Thus Fiza Za’anin, a Hamas-affiliated midwife who won a UN award for her work, received Israel’s permission both to attend a course in East Jerusalem and to transit its territory en route to the prize ceremony in the U.S. But she couldn’t do either, because the Ramallah government denied her a passport. Needless to say, international human rights groups haven’t trumpeted her case.

Hass’s report recalls the Fatah-Hamas dispute that shut down a major Gazan power plant last month, because both parties insisted the other pay for the fuel.

At full capacity, the plant would increase Gaza’s power supply by 50 percent over and above what Israel supplies. Instead, it was shut down completely, leaving parts of Gaza with only eight hours a day of power — all because Hamas and Fatah would rather “argue over a few million dollars a month” than improve Gazans’ lives, as Haaretz Palestinian affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff correctly observed. But “because Israel is not involved in this affair,” he noted, “the United Nations has not held an emergency session to discuss the matter, the (non-Palestinian) Human Rights organizations will overlook it,” and it “will probably not receive much coverage by the international media.”

And then there’s that new mall in Gaza. As the Jerusalem Post’s Liat Collins perceptively noted, a two-story, 9,700-square-foot shopping mall must have required huge amounts of cement and metal — all presumably smuggled through tunnels from Egypt, since Israel wasn’t allowing building materials across its border. And Hamas controls the smuggling tunnels.

But according to Hamas, thousands of Gazans whose houses were destroyed in its war with Israel 18 months ago remain homeless. So what kind of government would allocate scarce construction material to a mall instead of homes for its people? Clearly, one that doesn’t care about their suffering — and indeed, actually prefers perpetuating it, to fan anti-Israel sentiment. And the world, naturally, plays along.

If Hamas and Fatah both spent less time and effort on anti-Israel incitement and more on improving their people’s lives, Palestinians would be much better off. But that would require them to actually care more about their people’s welfare than they do about undermining Israel. And despite the world’s willful refusal to believe it, neither faction ever has.

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Re: Palestinian Democracy Requires Palestinian Democrats

Jonathan, you are undoubtedly correct that the current culture of Palestinian politics makes a peaceful Palestinian state highly unlikely. In the last 10 years, the peace-partner Palestinians have rejected three formal offers of a state – each of them on all of Gaza and substantially all of the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem. Call them the “Three Noes” – and it is not clear what part of them remains to be understood. A society without a single leader ready to endorse a two-state solution, if it requires recognition of a Jewish state with defensible borders, is not ready to live side by side in peace.

You are correct that more than elections are required for a democratic state, but the inability of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill even the most elementary requirement of such a state is nevertheless noteworthy. The PA has managed only one presidential election in the last 14 years – in 2005, two months after Yasser Arafat’s death, in which the winner (Arafat’s second-in-command) ran essentially unopposed. The 2006 legislative election was won by Hamas — the terrorist group the PA committed in 2003 to dismantle immediately as part of the Roadmap. In 2009, the PA postponed the scheduled presidential election for a year – and then called it off altogether. This month’s local elections, already boycotted by Hamas, were called off because Fatah said it needed first to resolve which party members would run; in other words, before they could hold an election, they first needed to decide who would win it.

Reuters reported yesterday that the nominal Palestinian president, about to begin the 68th month of his 48-month term, criticized the latest electoral cancellation:

“If what happened is allowed to pass, I tell you that this movement must say goodbye,” [an official who attended the Fatah meeting] quoted Abbas as saying, in remarks which were omitted from a broadcast version of the speech. …

“Even with competition, we managed to fail,” said Abbas, who had been on an official visit to Washington at the time of the cancellation. He expressed anger at being woken up early so he could order his cabinet in Ramallah to postpone the vote.

It is a nearly perfect picture of the peace process: the unelected Palestinian president, at the White House to discuss a peace agreement he has no power to implement (even assuming there is one he would actually sign), cranky at being woken up early to cancel elections once again.

A recent poll shows increasing popularity of Hamas in the West Bank, and a Palestinian analyst reports that it “will be difficult if not impossible to hold any other legislative or presidential elections in the foreseeable future.”  When you cannot even schedule an election, you are not ready for a state.

Jonathan, you are undoubtedly correct that the current culture of Palestinian politics makes a peaceful Palestinian state highly unlikely. In the last 10 years, the peace-partner Palestinians have rejected three formal offers of a state – each of them on all of Gaza and substantially all of the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem. Call them the “Three Noes” – and it is not clear what part of them remains to be understood. A society without a single leader ready to endorse a two-state solution, if it requires recognition of a Jewish state with defensible borders, is not ready to live side by side in peace.

You are correct that more than elections are required for a democratic state, but the inability of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill even the most elementary requirement of such a state is nevertheless noteworthy. The PA has managed only one presidential election in the last 14 years – in 2005, two months after Yasser Arafat’s death, in which the winner (Arafat’s second-in-command) ran essentially unopposed. The 2006 legislative election was won by Hamas — the terrorist group the PA committed in 2003 to dismantle immediately as part of the Roadmap. In 2009, the PA postponed the scheduled presidential election for a year – and then called it off altogether. This month’s local elections, already boycotted by Hamas, were called off because Fatah said it needed first to resolve which party members would run; in other words, before they could hold an election, they first needed to decide who would win it.

Reuters reported yesterday that the nominal Palestinian president, about to begin the 68th month of his 48-month term, criticized the latest electoral cancellation:

“If what happened is allowed to pass, I tell you that this movement must say goodbye,” [an official who attended the Fatah meeting] quoted Abbas as saying, in remarks which were omitted from a broadcast version of the speech. …

“Even with competition, we managed to fail,” said Abbas, who had been on an official visit to Washington at the time of the cancellation. He expressed anger at being woken up early so he could order his cabinet in Ramallah to postpone the vote.

It is a nearly perfect picture of the peace process: the unelected Palestinian president, at the White House to discuss a peace agreement he has no power to implement (even assuming there is one he would actually sign), cranky at being woken up early to cancel elections once again.

A recent poll shows increasing popularity of Hamas in the West Bank, and a Palestinian analyst reports that it “will be difficult if not impossible to hold any other legislative or presidential elections in the foreseeable future.”  When you cannot even schedule an election, you are not ready for a state.

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Abbas Miffed at Obama

Mahmoud Abbas is grousing that Obama is being “unclear” with him on future peace talks. That’s rich. The man who has a hundred and one excuses for avoiding direct talks and who says he’s not inciting violence (What — the square named after a murderer? A heartfelt eulogy for the mastermind of the 1972 massacre of the Israeli Olympic athletes? Oh that?) now does not appreciate getting imprecise answers. This report explains:

Abbas was speaking during a closed meeting of members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah.

Abbas was quoted by some Fatah operatives as saying that Egypt and Jordan supported the PA’s refusal to move to direct talks unless progress is first achieved on the issues of security and the future borders of a Palestinian state.

“We can’t go to direct negotiations like blind people,” Abbas was quoted as saying.

“We can’t enter direct negotiations without clarity.”

Abbas complained that Obama recently sent him an oral message urging him to launch direct negotiations with Israel unconditionally.

According to the PA president, Obama’s message was “unclear and ambiguous.”

Abbas was quoted as saying: “With all due respect to the American president, his message was not clear. We want to clear answers to questions we presented to the Americans, especially regarding security, borders and the status of Jerusalem. We continue to insist that any negotiations with Israel be based on recognition of 1967 as the future borders of the Palestinian state.”

Abbas said that the US administration has also failed to give the Palestinians a clear answer with regard to Israel’s policy of settlement construction.

Upon closer examination, it is not “clarity” he is seeking but rather Israel on a platter, served up by Obama. He wants the terms set — “clear” — before he arrives for the signing ceremony. He doesn’t like being told, after 18 months of evading and dodging Bibi’s offer of direct negotiations, that he needs to get in the room with the representatives of the state he will be expected to recognize.

This is one more snub, of course, of Obama, who gave Abbas a nice Oval Office visit and pledged to move the parties to direct negotiations. After a year of suck-uppery to the Palestinians and trying everything he could think of to make Israel cough up more and more concessions, the president’s “peace process” is nowhere. It turns out that the Palestinians really don’t want to make a deal. Who knew? Well, apparently everyone but the White House and the liberal punditocracy. In the meantime, damage has been done to the U.S.-Israeli relationship, the delegitimizers in international bodies have grown more confident, and Iran inches ever closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Really, losing his Palestinian fan club is the least of Obama’s failures.

Mahmoud Abbas is grousing that Obama is being “unclear” with him on future peace talks. That’s rich. The man who has a hundred and one excuses for avoiding direct talks and who says he’s not inciting violence (What — the square named after a murderer? A heartfelt eulogy for the mastermind of the 1972 massacre of the Israeli Olympic athletes? Oh that?) now does not appreciate getting imprecise answers. This report explains:

Abbas was speaking during a closed meeting of members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah.

Abbas was quoted by some Fatah operatives as saying that Egypt and Jordan supported the PA’s refusal to move to direct talks unless progress is first achieved on the issues of security and the future borders of a Palestinian state.

“We can’t go to direct negotiations like blind people,” Abbas was quoted as saying.

“We can’t enter direct negotiations without clarity.”

Abbas complained that Obama recently sent him an oral message urging him to launch direct negotiations with Israel unconditionally.

According to the PA president, Obama’s message was “unclear and ambiguous.”

Abbas was quoted as saying: “With all due respect to the American president, his message was not clear. We want to clear answers to questions we presented to the Americans, especially regarding security, borders and the status of Jerusalem. We continue to insist that any negotiations with Israel be based on recognition of 1967 as the future borders of the Palestinian state.”

Abbas said that the US administration has also failed to give the Palestinians a clear answer with regard to Israel’s policy of settlement construction.

Upon closer examination, it is not “clarity” he is seeking but rather Israel on a platter, served up by Obama. He wants the terms set — “clear” — before he arrives for the signing ceremony. He doesn’t like being told, after 18 months of evading and dodging Bibi’s offer of direct negotiations, that he needs to get in the room with the representatives of the state he will be expected to recognize.

This is one more snub, of course, of Obama, who gave Abbas a nice Oval Office visit and pledged to move the parties to direct negotiations. After a year of suck-uppery to the Palestinians and trying everything he could think of to make Israel cough up more and more concessions, the president’s “peace process” is nowhere. It turns out that the Palestinians really don’t want to make a deal. Who knew? Well, apparently everyone but the White House and the liberal punditocracy. In the meantime, damage has been done to the U.S.-Israeli relationship, the delegitimizers in international bodies have grown more confident, and Iran inches ever closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Really, losing his Palestinian fan club is the least of Obama’s failures.

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