Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ramallah

Run Away! From Direct Negotiations, That Is

In case it wasn’t obvious already, the Palestinians are frantic as they furiously throw out preconditions in hope of avoiding the dreaded direct negotiations. This report explains:

Direct talks will not be resumed with Israel until progress is made during US-brokered proximity talks on the issues of borders and security, President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday evening. “We hope to make progress that will enable us to launch serious negotiations leading to a two-state solution before it is too late,” Abbas said during a celebration at the the Cultural Palace in Ramallah, marking the Prophet Mohammad’s Night Journey. …

“We chose to start with borders and security. We proposed our vision and said that if progress can be made, we move to direct negotiations. However, if there will be no progress on these two issues, these negotiations will be a waste of time,” Abbas said.

I think that means: “Unless Obama delivers everything we want in proximity talks, we’re not showing up for negotiations, which are really only a formality.” This was the problem from the get-go, which Obama and his brain trust tried to ignore by allowing the Palestinians to avoid face-to-face negotiations. Obama is in a bind now — he’s said publicly that the Palestinians need to move to direct talks, but the Palestinians have no such intention. Despite Obama’s grand intentions and his narcissistic assumption that he, unlike every president who preceded him, could bring about peace in the Middle East, he now stands on the brink of failure on a foreign-policy objective that he elevated to the top tier of his concerns. Having given it such prominence, the collapse of his Middle East policy will be all the more damaging to his already shrinking stature.

In case it wasn’t obvious already, the Palestinians are frantic as they furiously throw out preconditions in hope of avoiding the dreaded direct negotiations. This report explains:

Direct talks will not be resumed with Israel until progress is made during US-brokered proximity talks on the issues of borders and security, President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday evening. “We hope to make progress that will enable us to launch serious negotiations leading to a two-state solution before it is too late,” Abbas said during a celebration at the the Cultural Palace in Ramallah, marking the Prophet Mohammad’s Night Journey. …

“We chose to start with borders and security. We proposed our vision and said that if progress can be made, we move to direct negotiations. However, if there will be no progress on these two issues, these negotiations will be a waste of time,” Abbas said.

I think that means: “Unless Obama delivers everything we want in proximity talks, we’re not showing up for negotiations, which are really only a formality.” This was the problem from the get-go, which Obama and his brain trust tried to ignore by allowing the Palestinians to avoid face-to-face negotiations. Obama is in a bind now — he’s said publicly that the Palestinians need to move to direct talks, but the Palestinians have no such intention. Despite Obama’s grand intentions and his narcissistic assumption that he, unlike every president who preceded him, could bring about peace in the Middle East, he now stands on the brink of failure on a foreign-policy objective that he elevated to the top tier of his concerns. Having given it such prominence, the collapse of his Middle East policy will be all the more damaging to his already shrinking stature.

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New Poll Shatters Myths on Gaza Blockade and Settlement Freeze

A new poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shatters several myths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza in general, and its botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in particular, has only strengthened Hamas.

The poll, conducted between June 10 and 13, found that “despite the events associated with the Free Gaza flotilla and the Israeli attack on it,” there was “a significant improvement in the status of Salam Fayyad and his government.” If elections were held today, 45% of Palestinians would vote for Fatah and 26% for Hamas, compared with 42% and 28%, respectively, in March. Most interestingly, Fatah trounces Hamas among Gazans: 49% to 32%. Fayyad, who had zero political support when he took office three years ago, would now edge out Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a presidential matchup, 36% to 32%. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would rout Haniyeh, 54% to 39%; that is up from 50% to 40% in March.

Why the upsurge? Because the blockade is working: “Only 9% say conditions in the Gaza Strip today are good or very good while 35% say conditions in the West Bank are good or very good.” Moreover, while 62% of Gazans and 60% of West Bankers “feel that their personal safety and security and that of their family are assured,” the Gaza figure is down from 70% in March, while the West Bank figure is up from 55%. Strong majorities in the West Bank say the economy, health care, education, and law enforcement have improved since Fayyad became prime minister.

Myth No. 2: Palestinians’ prime concern is ending Israeli settlement construction. In fact, the poll found a huge majority, 60% to 38%, opposing a ban on Palestinians working in the settlements; in the West Bank, where the settlements actually are, support dropped to 34% percent. And since Palestinians work in the settlements almost exclusively in construction, the obvious implication is that they prefer construction to continue, so that they can have jobs.

Why? Because most Palestinians’ actual prime concern is supporting their families (something that really shouldn’t surprise those liberals who believe all people want the same things), and the settlements are a major employer. It will be years before the Palestinian economy is capable of providing an alternative. Thus by demanding a freeze on settlement construction now, Barack Obama and his European counterparts are merely generating massive Palestinian unemployment. It turns out that Palestinians would rather they didn’t.

Myth No. 3: Israel’s war on Gaza last year was counterproductive. Actually, 57% of Palestinians now support efforts by Hamas to prevent rocket launches at Israeli towns, while only 38% oppose them. In June 2008, six months before the war began, the opposite was true: 57% of Palestinians favored rocket attacks on Israel. In short, the war achieved exactly what it was meant to achieve: discouraging rocket fire.

But here’s one thing that really is counterproductive: Western governments making policy based on what they want to believe rather than on the facts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

A new poll by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research shatters several myths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first is that Israel’s blockade of Gaza in general, and its botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in particular, has only strengthened Hamas.

The poll, conducted between June 10 and 13, found that “despite the events associated with the Free Gaza flotilla and the Israeli attack on it,” there was “a significant improvement in the status of Salam Fayyad and his government.” If elections were held today, 45% of Palestinians would vote for Fatah and 26% for Hamas, compared with 42% and 28%, respectively, in March. Most interestingly, Fatah trounces Hamas among Gazans: 49% to 32%. Fayyad, who had zero political support when he took office three years ago, would now edge out Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a presidential matchup, 36% to 32%. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would rout Haniyeh, 54% to 39%; that is up from 50% to 40% in March.

Why the upsurge? Because the blockade is working: “Only 9% say conditions in the Gaza Strip today are good or very good while 35% say conditions in the West Bank are good or very good.” Moreover, while 62% of Gazans and 60% of West Bankers “feel that their personal safety and security and that of their family are assured,” the Gaza figure is down from 70% in March, while the West Bank figure is up from 55%. Strong majorities in the West Bank say the economy, health care, education, and law enforcement have improved since Fayyad became prime minister.

Myth No. 2: Palestinians’ prime concern is ending Israeli settlement construction. In fact, the poll found a huge majority, 60% to 38%, opposing a ban on Palestinians working in the settlements; in the West Bank, where the settlements actually are, support dropped to 34% percent. And since Palestinians work in the settlements almost exclusively in construction, the obvious implication is that they prefer construction to continue, so that they can have jobs.

Why? Because most Palestinians’ actual prime concern is supporting their families (something that really shouldn’t surprise those liberals who believe all people want the same things), and the settlements are a major employer. It will be years before the Palestinian economy is capable of providing an alternative. Thus by demanding a freeze on settlement construction now, Barack Obama and his European counterparts are merely generating massive Palestinian unemployment. It turns out that Palestinians would rather they didn’t.

Myth No. 3: Israel’s war on Gaza last year was counterproductive. Actually, 57% of Palestinians now support efforts by Hamas to prevent rocket launches at Israeli towns, while only 38% oppose them. In June 2008, six months before the war began, the opposite was true: 57% of Palestinians favored rocket attacks on Israel. In short, the war achieved exactly what it was meant to achieve: discouraging rocket fire.

But here’s one thing that really is counterproductive: Western governments making policy based on what they want to believe rather than on the facts. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

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Why Don’t They Talk About Ramallah?

A friend writes:

You might not have time to read the Travel section of the Sunday Times, but the story on page 13 of Sunday’s edition highlights a problem for the Palestinian Authority. The article makes clear that Ramallah, the PA’s effective capital, is a hip town with all kinds of exciting nightlife and restaurant choices. Hmm. Hardly squares with the beleaguered, impoverished, starving, besieged Palestinian-refugee narrative the Western media have been feeding us.

Salaam Fayyad, the PA prime minister, wants to encourage private-equity investments, but to do that you have to let investors know that there will be a return on capital. Suicide bombers and private equity don’t mix, whereas a dynamic social, cultural, economic climate do. So, who wins? The foreign-aid class represented by the UN or the economic-development group represented by Fayyad?  Fayyad wants to show the reality of a booming economy, while President Abbas (Fayyad’s boss, in principle) and Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator (whatever that means, given that there are no negotiations), want to show the Palestinians as beaten down by circumstances and beaten up by brutal Israeli troops.

Not mentioned in the Travel section Ramallah story or in Thomas Friedman’s column in the same Sunday paper on West Bank economic development is the name Benjamin Netanyahu. Not that the New York Times is about to give Bibi credit for anything, but the fact is Bibi campaigned for office in January 2009 on two main planks: addressing the Iranian threat and rebuilding the West Bank economy. It was Bibi who ordered more than 200 roadblocks/checkpoints to be removed, and it is Bibi who meets weekly with Palestinian and Israeli economic-development experts to see what red tape he can cut through to help the Palestinian Authority aid the rapid economic growth of the West Bank.

Give all of the credit to Fayyad, but his silent partner in all of this growth and relaxation of security is Bibi. Even Fayyad has said this to visiting American groups.

Both Fayyad and Bibi believe that the growth of a vibrant economy will lead to the development of better security for both sides, the creation of civil society, and the institutions needed to survive Fayyad. And both believe that ultimately the people of Gaza will be asked to choose: Do you want Hamas, Islam, and poverty with the hope of a world without Israel some day, or do you want a quality of life, free movement, and a political entity that has Israel as a partner?

A friend writes:

You might not have time to read the Travel section of the Sunday Times, but the story on page 13 of Sunday’s edition highlights a problem for the Palestinian Authority. The article makes clear that Ramallah, the PA’s effective capital, is a hip town with all kinds of exciting nightlife and restaurant choices. Hmm. Hardly squares with the beleaguered, impoverished, starving, besieged Palestinian-refugee narrative the Western media have been feeding us.

Salaam Fayyad, the PA prime minister, wants to encourage private-equity investments, but to do that you have to let investors know that there will be a return on capital. Suicide bombers and private equity don’t mix, whereas a dynamic social, cultural, economic climate do. So, who wins? The foreign-aid class represented by the UN or the economic-development group represented by Fayyad?  Fayyad wants to show the reality of a booming economy, while President Abbas (Fayyad’s boss, in principle) and Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator (whatever that means, given that there are no negotiations), want to show the Palestinians as beaten down by circumstances and beaten up by brutal Israeli troops.

Not mentioned in the Travel section Ramallah story or in Thomas Friedman’s column in the same Sunday paper on West Bank economic development is the name Benjamin Netanyahu. Not that the New York Times is about to give Bibi credit for anything, but the fact is Bibi campaigned for office in January 2009 on two main planks: addressing the Iranian threat and rebuilding the West Bank economy. It was Bibi who ordered more than 200 roadblocks/checkpoints to be removed, and it is Bibi who meets weekly with Palestinian and Israeli economic-development experts to see what red tape he can cut through to help the Palestinian Authority aid the rapid economic growth of the West Bank.

Give all of the credit to Fayyad, but his silent partner in all of this growth and relaxation of security is Bibi. Even Fayyad has said this to visiting American groups.

Both Fayyad and Bibi believe that the growth of a vibrant economy will lead to the development of better security for both sides, the creation of civil society, and the institutions needed to survive Fayyad. And both believe that ultimately the people of Gaza will be asked to choose: Do you want Hamas, Islam, and poverty with the hope of a world without Israel some day, or do you want a quality of life, free movement, and a political entity that has Israel as a partner?

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Peace Process “Starts”?

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

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What Do the Obami Believe? What Should We?

Each day sees another member of the administration seeking to mollify critics of its Israel policy. The latest is Dan Shapiro. No, no, the Obama administration really doesn’t think Israel’s failure to reach a deal with the Palestinians causes the deaths of Americans. No, no, they really understand Iran is not going to care even if there is a peace deal. And sure, sure, the Obami won’t be imposing a peace deal. This report recounts the spin offensive:

“We do not believe that resolving this conflict will bring an end to all conflicts in the Middle East,” Dan Shapiro, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told an Anti-Defamation League conference. “We do not believe it would cause Iran to end its unacceptable pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro also emphasized, to applause from the audience, that “we do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” …

Shapiro explained that the US thinks that “depriving Iran of a conflict it can exploit by arming their terrorist proxies is very much in our national interests,” and that images broadcasting Palestinian state-building rather than suffering “would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of an evocative propaganda tool.”

Shapiro is himself returning to the region this week as the sides are set to begin proximity talks.

He noted that the US sees direct talks as the only effective means of ultimately resolving the conflict.

“A solution cannot be imposed on the parties from the outside. Peace can only come from direct talks,” he said.

Do we believe him — or more precisely, believe he represents the president’s views? Shapiro’s spiel certainly is what the Jewish audiences want to hear, but it bears little resemblance to what the administration has been saying and doing (and leaking) since March. And in fact, Shapiro hints that there is a certain amount of wordplay at work when it comes to what it means to “impose” a deal: “There could be times and contexts in which US ideas can be useful, and when appropriate we are prepared to share them.”

Hmm. What does that mean? One supposes it means this:

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He  also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

In other words, it’s time to strong-arm the Jewish state with the threat of “blame” — and perhaps some abstentions at the UN — if the Obami’s latest threat is to be believed. The Palestinians need not come to the table, because Mitchell will do their work for them. It is noteworthy that even if done without the intention of exerting extreme pressure on the Jewish state, excessive American intervention in the talks is likely counterproductive. For this reason, the Bush administration eschewed bridging proposals. As a knowledgeable source says, “We truly believed they must negotiate themselves. All our presence did and does is slow things down because both sides play to us rather than seriously addressing each other.”

And if proximity talks fail to bring about a deal, we hear:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

So what then to make of Shapiro’s fine words to the ADL? A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. And if we have learned anything, it is to ignore what the Obami say (a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable”) and watch what they do (delay and work for carve-outs for Russia and China in congressional petroleum sanctions).

Each day sees another member of the administration seeking to mollify critics of its Israel policy. The latest is Dan Shapiro. No, no, the Obama administration really doesn’t think Israel’s failure to reach a deal with the Palestinians causes the deaths of Americans. No, no, they really understand Iran is not going to care even if there is a peace deal. And sure, sure, the Obami won’t be imposing a peace deal. This report recounts the spin offensive:

“We do not believe that resolving this conflict will bring an end to all conflicts in the Middle East,” Dan Shapiro, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told an Anti-Defamation League conference. “We do not believe it would cause Iran to end its unacceptable pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro also emphasized, to applause from the audience, that “we do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” …

Shapiro explained that the US thinks that “depriving Iran of a conflict it can exploit by arming their terrorist proxies is very much in our national interests,” and that images broadcasting Palestinian state-building rather than suffering “would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of an evocative propaganda tool.”

Shapiro is himself returning to the region this week as the sides are set to begin proximity talks.

He noted that the US sees direct talks as the only effective means of ultimately resolving the conflict.

“A solution cannot be imposed on the parties from the outside. Peace can only come from direct talks,” he said.

Do we believe him — or more precisely, believe he represents the president’s views? Shapiro’s spiel certainly is what the Jewish audiences want to hear, but it bears little resemblance to what the administration has been saying and doing (and leaking) since March. And in fact, Shapiro hints that there is a certain amount of wordplay at work when it comes to what it means to “impose” a deal: “There could be times and contexts in which US ideas can be useful, and when appropriate we are prepared to share them.”

Hmm. What does that mean? One supposes it means this:

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He  also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

In other words, it’s time to strong-arm the Jewish state with the threat of “blame” — and perhaps some abstentions at the UN — if the Obami’s latest threat is to be believed. The Palestinians need not come to the table, because Mitchell will do their work for them. It is noteworthy that even if done without the intention of exerting extreme pressure on the Jewish state, excessive American intervention in the talks is likely counterproductive. For this reason, the Bush administration eschewed bridging proposals. As a knowledgeable source says, “We truly believed they must negotiate themselves. All our presence did and does is slow things down because both sides play to us rather than seriously addressing each other.”

And if proximity talks fail to bring about a deal, we hear:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

So what then to make of Shapiro’s fine words to the ADL? A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. And if we have learned anything, it is to ignore what the Obami say (a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable”) and watch what they do (delay and work for carve-outs for Russia and China in congressional petroleum sanctions).

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Jackie Mason He’s Not

A “Taliban militant and Jewish merchant in the desert” joke is pretty much bound to be an accident waiting to happen. For one thing, you’d have to cut fingers off to count the number of Jewish merchants doing business in the Afghan desert. It’s taking the long way around the barn to put one in a Taliban joke: a red flag that the surreally out-of-place Jewish merchant is the real punch line.

But the sin against humor wouldn’t be so much of one against fellowship if the joke didn’t invoke a set of hackneyed, politically freighted stereotypes and then pick one of them as the laugh line. Seriously: a sneaky Jewish merchant withholding water from a desperate Muslim jihadist? What is this, a stand-up club in Ramallah?

It’s a rare joke that can survive being set up on the lines of an editorial posture. Ronald Reagan was a master of such humor, but one key to his success was staying a long way away from stereotypes about any ethnic group but his own. He disclosed as much in an informal moment on St. Patrick’s Day in 1988, when his staff set up an impromptu visit to a popular pub in Alexandria. “You have to understand that for a man in my position, I’m a little leery about ethnic jokes,” he told the pub crowd on that occasion. “The only ones I can tell are Irish.” Reportedly, he then proceeded to bring the house down with the Irish jokes — which, as someone of largely Irish heritage, I can affirm typically feature such topics as drunkenness, maudlin self-expression, indebtedness, and incarceration.

But you can tell jokes on yourself that come off as you-bashing when told by others. That’s a fact of life that is pointless for the amateur humorist to resist. It may be, moreover, that officials at all levels of authority in the U.S. should just steer clear of Taliban jokes anyway. The Jones joke reminded me immediately of another encounter between American officialdom and Taliban humor, back in 2002. The outcome of that one was a policy aboard Greyhound buses banning all Taliban jokes while a bus was in motion. As a Greyhound spokeswoman explained at the time, very possibly with a straight face:

There is a time and a place for everything, including Taliban jokes. However, the time for telling Taliban jokes is when the bus is safely parked at the station, not when it is full of passengers and rolling down the highway.

Words to live by.

A “Taliban militant and Jewish merchant in the desert” joke is pretty much bound to be an accident waiting to happen. For one thing, you’d have to cut fingers off to count the number of Jewish merchants doing business in the Afghan desert. It’s taking the long way around the barn to put one in a Taliban joke: a red flag that the surreally out-of-place Jewish merchant is the real punch line.

But the sin against humor wouldn’t be so much of one against fellowship if the joke didn’t invoke a set of hackneyed, politically freighted stereotypes and then pick one of them as the laugh line. Seriously: a sneaky Jewish merchant withholding water from a desperate Muslim jihadist? What is this, a stand-up club in Ramallah?

It’s a rare joke that can survive being set up on the lines of an editorial posture. Ronald Reagan was a master of such humor, but one key to his success was staying a long way away from stereotypes about any ethnic group but his own. He disclosed as much in an informal moment on St. Patrick’s Day in 1988, when his staff set up an impromptu visit to a popular pub in Alexandria. “You have to understand that for a man in my position, I’m a little leery about ethnic jokes,” he told the pub crowd on that occasion. “The only ones I can tell are Irish.” Reportedly, he then proceeded to bring the house down with the Irish jokes — which, as someone of largely Irish heritage, I can affirm typically feature such topics as drunkenness, maudlin self-expression, indebtedness, and incarceration.

But you can tell jokes on yourself that come off as you-bashing when told by others. That’s a fact of life that is pointless for the amateur humorist to resist. It may be, moreover, that officials at all levels of authority in the U.S. should just steer clear of Taliban jokes anyway. The Jones joke reminded me immediately of another encounter between American officialdom and Taliban humor, back in 2002. The outcome of that one was a policy aboard Greyhound buses banning all Taliban jokes while a bus was in motion. As a Greyhound spokeswoman explained at the time, very possibly with a straight face:

There is a time and a place for everything, including Taliban jokes. However, the time for telling Taliban jokes is when the bus is safely parked at the station, not when it is full of passengers and rolling down the highway.

Words to live by.

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How Do You Impose Peace?

This report explains the latest Palestinian celebration of terrorism:

The future Palestinian Authority presidential compound will be built along a street named for an infamous Hamas arch-terrorist, Channel 10 reported on Wednesday.

The Ramallah street was named for notorious Hamas suicide bomb mastermind Yihyeh Ayyash, also known as the “engineer,” who was the architect of multiple attacks, including a 1994 bombing of a Tel Aviv bus, which killed 20 people, and injured dozens.

Ayyash was killed in 1996 in what was most likely an Israeli assassination, after his cell phone exploded in his Beit Lahia home, in the Gaza Strip.

Last time, the Palestinians pulled this – naming a square in Ramallah for terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi, who killed 38 Israelis — Hillary Clinton tried to pass it off as the doing of Hamas, despite ample evidence that the PA joined in the festivities. It’s going to be even harder for the Obami to make excuses for the PA this time:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement in response to the naming, saying it was an “outrageous glorification of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority.”

“Right next to a Presidential compound in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority has named a street after a terrorist who murdered hundreds of innocent Israeli men, women and children,” the statement said, adding that “the world must forcefully condemn this official Palestinian incitement for terrorism and against peace.”

So does the Obama team manage to get out a simple declaratory sentence this time — “We condemn this behavior,” for example? But more important, given this is the behavior and mentality of the PA — the supposedly reasonable Palestinian party to negotiations — how do the Obami intend to impose a peace deal? If one party is still caught in the grip of the cult of death, what reason is there to suppose that it is prepared to sign and then live up to an agreement by which they disarm and renounce terrorism?

At the AIPAC conference, Tony Blair laid out the challenge:

Until the year 2000, and with the heroic attempts of President Clinton, we attempted to achieve an agreement first and then shape reality around it. But it was not to be. After that came the Intifada. Thousands died. Then came the withdrawal from Gaza. Israel got out. It took 7000 settlers with it. In Israeli eyes, it received violence and terror in return.

The occupation deepened. Gaza was isolated. Faith in peace collapsed.

Ten years on, that faith has to be restored.

It can’t be done in a summit.

It has to be done patiently, and over time on the ground.

It can’t only be negotiated top-down.

It has also to be built bottom up.

Peace now will not come simply through an agreement negotiated; it must come through a reality created and sustained.

It means building institutions of Palestinian Government: not just well equipped, loyal security forces, but civil police, courts, prisons, prosecutors, the whole infrastructure of the rule of law.

It means treating those who commit acts of terror not only as enemies of Israel but enemies of Palestine.

Obviously, we are not remotely at that juncture – a point utterly lost or ignored by the Obami. So they imagine a pristine paper agreement will create peace — a  notion so divorced from experience and so blind to the realities occurring daily that one is tempted to conclude, “They can’t be serious!”  Blair got it when he declared: “The mentality has to move from resistance to governance. There can be no ambiguity, no wavering, no half heart towards terrorism. It is totally and completely without justification and we will never compromise in our opposition to it or those that practice it.” The Obami don’t.

It therefore follows that the Obami’s indifference to that fundamental requirement for peace disqualifies them as competent interlocutors. They are neither “honest” nor “brokering” — they have become henchmen for the Palestinians who await deliverance of the Jewish state — or what remains of it — without need to root out and renounce violence, without cultivation of the Palestinian institutions that can sustain peace. Israel and its supporters should be clear: there is no role for this administration in any peace process — they are, in fact merely, establishing incentives for violence and Palestinian rejectionism.

This report explains the latest Palestinian celebration of terrorism:

The future Palestinian Authority presidential compound will be built along a street named for an infamous Hamas arch-terrorist, Channel 10 reported on Wednesday.

The Ramallah street was named for notorious Hamas suicide bomb mastermind Yihyeh Ayyash, also known as the “engineer,” who was the architect of multiple attacks, including a 1994 bombing of a Tel Aviv bus, which killed 20 people, and injured dozens.

Ayyash was killed in 1996 in what was most likely an Israeli assassination, after his cell phone exploded in his Beit Lahia home, in the Gaza Strip.

Last time, the Palestinians pulled this – naming a square in Ramallah for terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi, who killed 38 Israelis — Hillary Clinton tried to pass it off as the doing of Hamas, despite ample evidence that the PA joined in the festivities. It’s going to be even harder for the Obami to make excuses for the PA this time:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement in response to the naming, saying it was an “outrageous glorification of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority.”

“Right next to a Presidential compound in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority has named a street after a terrorist who murdered hundreds of innocent Israeli men, women and children,” the statement said, adding that “the world must forcefully condemn this official Palestinian incitement for terrorism and against peace.”

So does the Obama team manage to get out a simple declaratory sentence this time — “We condemn this behavior,” for example? But more important, given this is the behavior and mentality of the PA — the supposedly reasonable Palestinian party to negotiations — how do the Obami intend to impose a peace deal? If one party is still caught in the grip of the cult of death, what reason is there to suppose that it is prepared to sign and then live up to an agreement by which they disarm and renounce terrorism?

At the AIPAC conference, Tony Blair laid out the challenge:

Until the year 2000, and with the heroic attempts of President Clinton, we attempted to achieve an agreement first and then shape reality around it. But it was not to be. After that came the Intifada. Thousands died. Then came the withdrawal from Gaza. Israel got out. It took 7000 settlers with it. In Israeli eyes, it received violence and terror in return.

The occupation deepened. Gaza was isolated. Faith in peace collapsed.

Ten years on, that faith has to be restored.

It can’t be done in a summit.

It has to be done patiently, and over time on the ground.

It can’t only be negotiated top-down.

It has also to be built bottom up.

Peace now will not come simply through an agreement negotiated; it must come through a reality created and sustained.

It means building institutions of Palestinian Government: not just well equipped, loyal security forces, but civil police, courts, prisons, prosecutors, the whole infrastructure of the rule of law.

It means treating those who commit acts of terror not only as enemies of Israel but enemies of Palestine.

Obviously, we are not remotely at that juncture – a point utterly lost or ignored by the Obami. So they imagine a pristine paper agreement will create peace — a  notion so divorced from experience and so blind to the realities occurring daily that one is tempted to conclude, “They can’t be serious!”  Blair got it when he declared: “The mentality has to move from resistance to governance. There can be no ambiguity, no wavering, no half heart towards terrorism. It is totally and completely without justification and we will never compromise in our opposition to it or those that practice it.” The Obami don’t.

It therefore follows that the Obami’s indifference to that fundamental requirement for peace disqualifies them as competent interlocutors. They are neither “honest” nor “brokering” — they have become henchmen for the Palestinians who await deliverance of the Jewish state — or what remains of it — without need to root out and renounce violence, without cultivation of the Palestinian institutions that can sustain peace. Israel and its supporters should be clear: there is no role for this administration in any peace process — they are, in fact merely, establishing incentives for violence and Palestinian rejectionism.

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What Did You Do?

As Jonathan has noted, we don’t know exactly how shabby the Obami’s behavior toward Bibi Netanyahu was. It is cause for alarm if it was remotely like this:

After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.

“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.

But even if lacking the abject rudeness, both the projected air of chilliness and the ensuing deadlines that we have learned have been imposed on the Israeli government are enough to confirm that the relationship between the two countries is anything but “rock solid,” as Hillary Clinton claimed during her AIPAC speech. This report suggests, at the very least, that the Obami are sticking with their modus operandi — preconditions and ultimatums for the Israelis, and water-carrying for the Palestinians:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will convene his senior ministers on Friday to discuss the demands made by US President Barack Obama and his overall trip to Washington – a trip that, because of negative atmospherics and amid a paucity of hard information, has been widely characterized as among the most difficult in recent memory.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office continued to throw a blackout on the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, as well as give only very sketchy information about the commitments that the US is demanding of Israel as a precursor to starting the proximity talks with the Palestinians. The US, according to officials, wants these commitments by Saturday so it can take them to the Arab League meeting in Libya and receive that organization’s backing for starting proximity talks. …

According to various Israeli sources, the Obama administration is asking for Israel to commit to some type of limitation on building in east Jerusalem; to show a willingness to deal with the so-called core issues of borders, refugee and Jerusalem already in the indirect talks; and to agree to a number of confidence building measures, including the release of hundreds of Fatah prisoners.

There were also reports, not confirmed, that the administration had asked for a commitment to extend the moratorium on housing starts in the West Bank settlements beyond the 10-months originally declared.

Netanyahu reportedly wanted to know where the “reciprocity” was and why he was the one making all the concessions. (“Netanyahu, according to senior officials, said that while the US held him responsible for the timing of the announcement to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, rather than holding Interior Minister Eli Yishai responsible, Abbas was not held responsible when it came to the PA — which recently presided over the naming of a square in Ramallah for the terrorist responsible for the Coastal Road massacre.”) Well, had the Obami been honest, they would have said that they can’t get the Palestinians to agree to anything, so they’ve decided to squeeze the Israelis — even though this seems only to increase the Palestinians’ demands for even more concessions. But, no, I don’t suppose the White House bullies were that candid.

All this makes clear just how disingenuous was Clinton’s entire appeal to AIPAC this week. She protested that it was Israel creating the daylight by announcing a routine housing permit. She pleaded that the fuss was needed to restore the administration’s credibility as an honest broker in the peace process. (Or was it to enhance its credibility to Iran? It’s hard to keep the excuses straight.) She assured the crowd that Israel’s security was paramount to the U.S. Then she declared that of course, of course an Iranian nuclear-weapons program was “unacceptable.” It all seems patently absurd as events continue to unfold.

It is not that the Obami fear daylight between the U.S. and Israel; it is that they flaunt it. It is not credibility as an honest broker that the Obami are establishing but rather fidelity to the Palestinian negotiating stance. And after all this, and the revelation that the proposed sanctions will be pinpricks at best, would any reasonable Israeli leader believe this administration will do everything (or even anything too strenuous) to remove the existential threat to the Jewish state?

The low point in the history of U.S.-Israel relations has come about not because of a housing permit but because we have a president fundamentally uninterested in retaining the robust, close relationship between the two countries that other administrations of both parties have cultivated. The Obami set out to separate the U.S. from Israel, to pressure and cajole the Jewish state, and to remake the U.S. into an eager suitor to the Muslim World. In the process, anti-Israel delegitimizing efforts have been unleashed as Israel’s enemies (and our own allies) sense that we have downgraded the relationship with the Jewish state, the Israeli public has come to distrust the administration, the American Jewish electorate is somewhere between stunned and horrified, and Israel is less secure and more isolated than ever before.

If mainstream Jewish organizations are serious about their stated mission, it is incumbent upon them to protest this state of affairs clearly and loudly and make their support for this president and his congressional enablers conditional, based on a change of policy in regard to Israel. Otherwise, they are enabling a potentially fatal assault on the security of the Jewish state. Silence is acquiescence; meekness is shameful. A generation from now, Jews will be asking those who led key American Jewish organizations, what did you do to protect Israel? What did you do to protest the creep toward a “containment” policy for a nuclear-armed Iran? They better have a good answer.

As Jonathan has noted, we don’t know exactly how shabby the Obami’s behavior toward Bibi Netanyahu was. It is cause for alarm if it was remotely like this:

After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.

“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.

But even if lacking the abject rudeness, both the projected air of chilliness and the ensuing deadlines that we have learned have been imposed on the Israeli government are enough to confirm that the relationship between the two countries is anything but “rock solid,” as Hillary Clinton claimed during her AIPAC speech. This report suggests, at the very least, that the Obami are sticking with their modus operandi — preconditions and ultimatums for the Israelis, and water-carrying for the Palestinians:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will convene his senior ministers on Friday to discuss the demands made by US President Barack Obama and his overall trip to Washington – a trip that, because of negative atmospherics and amid a paucity of hard information, has been widely characterized as among the most difficult in recent memory.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office continued to throw a blackout on the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, as well as give only very sketchy information about the commitments that the US is demanding of Israel as a precursor to starting the proximity talks with the Palestinians. The US, according to officials, wants these commitments by Saturday so it can take them to the Arab League meeting in Libya and receive that organization’s backing for starting proximity talks. …

According to various Israeli sources, the Obama administration is asking for Israel to commit to some type of limitation on building in east Jerusalem; to show a willingness to deal with the so-called core issues of borders, refugee and Jerusalem already in the indirect talks; and to agree to a number of confidence building measures, including the release of hundreds of Fatah prisoners.

There were also reports, not confirmed, that the administration had asked for a commitment to extend the moratorium on housing starts in the West Bank settlements beyond the 10-months originally declared.

Netanyahu reportedly wanted to know where the “reciprocity” was and why he was the one making all the concessions. (“Netanyahu, according to senior officials, said that while the US held him responsible for the timing of the announcement to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, rather than holding Interior Minister Eli Yishai responsible, Abbas was not held responsible when it came to the PA — which recently presided over the naming of a square in Ramallah for the terrorist responsible for the Coastal Road massacre.”) Well, had the Obami been honest, they would have said that they can’t get the Palestinians to agree to anything, so they’ve decided to squeeze the Israelis — even though this seems only to increase the Palestinians’ demands for even more concessions. But, no, I don’t suppose the White House bullies were that candid.

All this makes clear just how disingenuous was Clinton’s entire appeal to AIPAC this week. She protested that it was Israel creating the daylight by announcing a routine housing permit. She pleaded that the fuss was needed to restore the administration’s credibility as an honest broker in the peace process. (Or was it to enhance its credibility to Iran? It’s hard to keep the excuses straight.) She assured the crowd that Israel’s security was paramount to the U.S. Then she declared that of course, of course an Iranian nuclear-weapons program was “unacceptable.” It all seems patently absurd as events continue to unfold.

It is not that the Obami fear daylight between the U.S. and Israel; it is that they flaunt it. It is not credibility as an honest broker that the Obami are establishing but rather fidelity to the Palestinian negotiating stance. And after all this, and the revelation that the proposed sanctions will be pinpricks at best, would any reasonable Israeli leader believe this administration will do everything (or even anything too strenuous) to remove the existential threat to the Jewish state?

The low point in the history of U.S.-Israel relations has come about not because of a housing permit but because we have a president fundamentally uninterested in retaining the robust, close relationship between the two countries that other administrations of both parties have cultivated. The Obami set out to separate the U.S. from Israel, to pressure and cajole the Jewish state, and to remake the U.S. into an eager suitor to the Muslim World. In the process, anti-Israel delegitimizing efforts have been unleashed as Israel’s enemies (and our own allies) sense that we have downgraded the relationship with the Jewish state, the Israeli public has come to distrust the administration, the American Jewish electorate is somewhere between stunned and horrified, and Israel is less secure and more isolated than ever before.

If mainstream Jewish organizations are serious about their stated mission, it is incumbent upon them to protest this state of affairs clearly and loudly and make their support for this president and his congressional enablers conditional, based on a change of policy in regard to Israel. Otherwise, they are enabling a potentially fatal assault on the security of the Jewish state. Silence is acquiescence; meekness is shameful. A generation from now, Jews will be asking those who led key American Jewish organizations, what did you do to protect Israel? What did you do to protest the creep toward a “containment” policy for a nuclear-armed Iran? They better have a good answer.

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Clinton Plays Defense for Abbas?

I pointed out that during the AIPAC conference, Hillary Clinton suggested that the naming of a square after the notorious terrorist Dalal Mughrabi was the work of a “Hamas-controlled municipality” despite ample evidence of the involvement of Fatah. Now Palestinian Media Watch has taken up the issue, explaining:

Palestinian Media Watch has documented the continuous Mughrabi veneration by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in recent years, both in connection to the square near Ramallah on the West Bank and in many other contexts. The following are 15 examples of the glorification of this one particular terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi. Five by Abbas himself, five by the Palestinian Authority or its leaders, and five by Fatah or its leaders.

You can read the list for yourself. Certainly the State Department knows of these incidents as well, yet Clinton singled out the “Hamas-controlled municipality” without tying Abbas or the PA to the incident.

So we come back to the eternal Obama inquiry: sloppy/incompetent or deceptive? Either way, as Palestinian Media Watch aptly puts it, when the U.S. fails to accurately pin “terror glorification” on Abbas and the PA, “the message to the Palestinian leadership is that it can continue with its incitement to hatred and violence without consequences.” And that is precisely the objection that Bibi and many have raised this week, namely that the Obami seem to afford every nicety, evasion, and excuse on behalf of the Palestinians, while clubbing Israel in public. Surely the message, then, to friends and foes well beyond the Middle East is clear: it’s no picnic being a “friend” of the U.S.

I pointed out that during the AIPAC conference, Hillary Clinton suggested that the naming of a square after the notorious terrorist Dalal Mughrabi was the work of a “Hamas-controlled municipality” despite ample evidence of the involvement of Fatah. Now Palestinian Media Watch has taken up the issue, explaining:

Palestinian Media Watch has documented the continuous Mughrabi veneration by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in recent years, both in connection to the square near Ramallah on the West Bank and in many other contexts. The following are 15 examples of the glorification of this one particular terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi. Five by Abbas himself, five by the Palestinian Authority or its leaders, and five by Fatah or its leaders.

You can read the list for yourself. Certainly the State Department knows of these incidents as well, yet Clinton singled out the “Hamas-controlled municipality” without tying Abbas or the PA to the incident.

So we come back to the eternal Obama inquiry: sloppy/incompetent or deceptive? Either way, as Palestinian Media Watch aptly puts it, when the U.S. fails to accurately pin “terror glorification” on Abbas and the PA, “the message to the Palestinian leadership is that it can continue with its incitement to hatred and violence without consequences.” And that is precisely the objection that Bibi and many have raised this week, namely that the Obami seem to afford every nicety, evasion, and excuse on behalf of the Palestinians, while clubbing Israel in public. Surely the message, then, to friends and foes well beyond the Middle East is clear: it’s no picnic being a “friend” of the U.S.

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You Want Moral Clarity?

Via our friends at the Weekly Standard comes a letter to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer from Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, who argues against the notion that the housing announcement (“an administrative error made by a low-level bureaucrat, and for which Prime Minister Netanyahu has now apologized no less than four times”) was some great insult or affront to Obama. The rabbi recounts:

Why was Assad’s meeting with Ahmadinejad the day after the US announced that we were sending an ambassador to Syria ignored by the State Department and not deemed to be an “insult and affront” to the United States?

Why is Palestinian Authority incitement of rioters in Jerusalem and elsewhere not condemned by this administration and not an “insult and affront” to the United States and the Vice President?

Why is the naming of the main public square in Ramallah by Abbas in honor of Fatah terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, murderer of 38 Israelis – 13 of them little kids not an impediment to the peace process and not an insult and affront to the US and Israel????

Not to mention – why does this administration insist on viewing construction in a vacant piece of land, adjacent to existing housing seen as thwarting the two state solution?

The answer is that Obama seeks to ingratiate himself with the thug-ocracies and put the screws on Israel. The answer is that Obama views Israeli actions not in the best possible light, as one would expect a valued friend to do, but in the worst possible light. And the answer is that neither Obama nor his administration can think through the implications of their actions (Will acquiescence work with Syria? Will bullying win over the Israelis?) or appreciate the moral distinction between a democratic friend and a rogue state. They are both morally obtuse and politically (domestically and internationally) tone-deaf.

If there is a silver lining in all this, it is that a number of groups and individuals have been compelled to restate the case for the U.S.-Israel relationship, review the past history of Palestinian rejectionism, and clarify some basic facts (for example, what’s a “settlement?”). It’s a beneficial development to the extent that the mainstream media have been obliged to recount some of these arguments. And to the extent that this controversy has made it crystal clear to the Obami how little stomach there is in America for Israel-bashing, this is helpful. But these are small consolations indeed. All in all, we’d prefer an enthusiastically pro-Israel president whose moral instincts are as sharp as Rabbi Weinblatt’s. Well, that’s perhaps too much to ask for.

Via our friends at the Weekly Standard comes a letter to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer from Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, who argues against the notion that the housing announcement (“an administrative error made by a low-level bureaucrat, and for which Prime Minister Netanyahu has now apologized no less than four times”) was some great insult or affront to Obama. The rabbi recounts:

Why was Assad’s meeting with Ahmadinejad the day after the US announced that we were sending an ambassador to Syria ignored by the State Department and not deemed to be an “insult and affront” to the United States?

Why is Palestinian Authority incitement of rioters in Jerusalem and elsewhere not condemned by this administration and not an “insult and affront” to the United States and the Vice President?

Why is the naming of the main public square in Ramallah by Abbas in honor of Fatah terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, murderer of 38 Israelis – 13 of them little kids not an impediment to the peace process and not an insult and affront to the US and Israel????

Not to mention – why does this administration insist on viewing construction in a vacant piece of land, adjacent to existing housing seen as thwarting the two state solution?

The answer is that Obama seeks to ingratiate himself with the thug-ocracies and put the screws on Israel. The answer is that Obama views Israeli actions not in the best possible light, as one would expect a valued friend to do, but in the worst possible light. And the answer is that neither Obama nor his administration can think through the implications of their actions (Will acquiescence work with Syria? Will bullying win over the Israelis?) or appreciate the moral distinction between a democratic friend and a rogue state. They are both morally obtuse and politically (domestically and internationally) tone-deaf.

If there is a silver lining in all this, it is that a number of groups and individuals have been compelled to restate the case for the U.S.-Israel relationship, review the past history of Palestinian rejectionism, and clarify some basic facts (for example, what’s a “settlement?”). It’s a beneficial development to the extent that the mainstream media have been obliged to recount some of these arguments. And to the extent that this controversy has made it crystal clear to the Obami how little stomach there is in America for Israel-bashing, this is helpful. But these are small consolations indeed. All in all, we’d prefer an enthusiastically pro-Israel president whose moral instincts are as sharp as Rabbi Weinblatt’s. Well, that’s perhaps too much to ask for.

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Obama Isolated

More and more Democrats are stepping forward to slap down the Obami. Among the more terse was from Rep. Anthony Weiner: “The appropriate response was a shake of the head — not a temper tantrum. Israel is a sovereign nation and an ally, not a punching bag. Enough already.” Among the more eloquent was Rep. Eliot Engel from the House floor:

We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.

The relationship remains rock solid. The Obama administration and the administration of Prime Minister Netanyahu have been cooperating on a number of things: containing Iran, the Goldstone Report, and making sure that Israel retains its qualitative military edge in the region. And there has been good cooperation between our two administrations, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu administration. But to seem to question the very nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to put it in personal terms in a very public way will not contribute to peace in the Middle East. Rather, it’s the contrary. It will cause the Palestinians to dig in their heels, thinking that the Americans can just deliver the Israelis.

Last year, when there was public pressure being put on Israel not to expand settlements, there was no simultaneous public pressure being put on the Palestinians, and we saw that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just sat back, didn’t make any concessions, didn’t say that he would do anything positively to further peace talks, and just thought that the United States would wring concessions out of Israel.

The fact of the matter is that the Israelis have been welcoming peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israelis have said they would sit down and have face-to-face talks for peace with the Palestinians. That’s what you do when you have peace. Instead, the Palestinians have refused to sit with the Israelis, and Senator Mitchell is proposing to shuttle back and forth between the Palestinian side and the Israeli side to have negotiations, but not direct negotiations.

We need to be careful. If we criticize Israel for doing what we think was wrong, then we need to also criticize the Palestinians when they do things wrong. Just recently, the Palestinians named a square in Ramallah for a terrorist who killed 30-some-odd Israelis. I didn’t hear any criticism of the Palestinian side. When the Palestinians dig in their heels and say they won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state, I didn’t hear any criticism of Palestinians.

Let me say that harsh words are never a replacement for working together, but I think that harsh words can sometimes make us understand that only by working together can we confront the things that we both know need to be confronted–the scourge of terrorism, the thing that all nations understand emanates in the Middle East from radical forces, and those are the kinds of fights that Israel has every single day fighting terrorism. We learned about terrorism on this soil on 9/11. Israel has to deal with it every day.

So all I am saying, Madam Speaker, is that we need to not only reaffirm the strength of our ties between our two countries, but we also need to understand that in a relationship between friends, as in family, there will be some disagreements. We need to be careful about how we voice those disagreements in public.

Let’s put it another way: not a single Republican or Democratic official has come forward to defend the administration. J Street cheers them on, as one can imagine from the never-enough-venom-directed-to-Israel lobby. The National Jewish Democratic Council is hiding under the bed. But actual elected leaders? Not one of them. On this the administration is totally isolated.

More and more Democrats are stepping forward to slap down the Obami. Among the more terse was from Rep. Anthony Weiner: “The appropriate response was a shake of the head — not a temper tantrum. Israel is a sovereign nation and an ally, not a punching bag. Enough already.” Among the more eloquent was Rep. Eliot Engel from the House floor:

We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.

The relationship remains rock solid. The Obama administration and the administration of Prime Minister Netanyahu have been cooperating on a number of things: containing Iran, the Goldstone Report, and making sure that Israel retains its qualitative military edge in the region. And there has been good cooperation between our two administrations, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu administration. But to seem to question the very nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to put it in personal terms in a very public way will not contribute to peace in the Middle East. Rather, it’s the contrary. It will cause the Palestinians to dig in their heels, thinking that the Americans can just deliver the Israelis.

Last year, when there was public pressure being put on Israel not to expand settlements, there was no simultaneous public pressure being put on the Palestinians, and we saw that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just sat back, didn’t make any concessions, didn’t say that he would do anything positively to further peace talks, and just thought that the United States would wring concessions out of Israel.

The fact of the matter is that the Israelis have been welcoming peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israelis have said they would sit down and have face-to-face talks for peace with the Palestinians. That’s what you do when you have peace. Instead, the Palestinians have refused to sit with the Israelis, and Senator Mitchell is proposing to shuttle back and forth between the Palestinian side and the Israeli side to have negotiations, but not direct negotiations.

We need to be careful. If we criticize Israel for doing what we think was wrong, then we need to also criticize the Palestinians when they do things wrong. Just recently, the Palestinians named a square in Ramallah for a terrorist who killed 30-some-odd Israelis. I didn’t hear any criticism of the Palestinian side. When the Palestinians dig in their heels and say they won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state, I didn’t hear any criticism of Palestinians.

Let me say that harsh words are never a replacement for working together, but I think that harsh words can sometimes make us understand that only by working together can we confront the things that we both know need to be confronted–the scourge of terrorism, the thing that all nations understand emanates in the Middle East from radical forces, and those are the kinds of fights that Israel has every single day fighting terrorism. We learned about terrorism on this soil on 9/11. Israel has to deal with it every day.

So all I am saying, Madam Speaker, is that we need to not only reaffirm the strength of our ties between our two countries, but we also need to understand that in a relationship between friends, as in family, there will be some disagreements. We need to be careful about how we voice those disagreements in public.

Let’s put it another way: not a single Republican or Democratic official has come forward to defend the administration. J Street cheers them on, as one can imagine from the never-enough-venom-directed-to-Israel lobby. The National Jewish Democratic Council is hiding under the bed. But actual elected leaders? Not one of them. On this the administration is totally isolated.

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Obama’s Appalling Double Standards

The Obama-Israel showdown is an example of high hypocrisy, double standards, and political stupidity, all on display for a global audience.

As Barry Rubin reminds us:

For more than four months the U.S. government has been celebrating Israel agreeing to stop construction on settlements in the West Bank while continuing building in east Jerusalem as a great step forward and Israeli concession deserving a reward. Suddenly, all of this is forgotten to say that Israel building in east Jerusalem is some kind of terrible deed which deserves punishment.

Israelis are used to this pattern: give a big concession and a few months later that step is forgotten as Israel is portrayed as intransigent and more concessions are demanded with nothing in return.

The administration is using an instance of bad timing to revisit the terms of the settlement freeze in order to accomplish what was impossible before — a freeze in Jewish construction in Obama-disapproved parts of Jerusalem. Robert Gibbs said this morning on Fox News that “condemning” such construction “is, and has been, the policy of the United States.”

Never mind that even the PA has already agreed that these neighborhoods, such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, will remain part of Israel in any settlement. Chris Wallace should have asked Gibbs how he reconciles such a statement, and the administration’s behavior over the past week, with the U.S. endorsement of the settlement freeze four months ago that explicitly exempted Jerusalem. In fact, it might make sense for the Israelis to ask for such a clarification. It’s obvious that Obama is trying to change the terms of the agreement by bullying and unilateralism, not by negotiation.

And it is important to note that the kind of rhetoric and outrage we are witnessing on Israel has never been employed by the administration against Syria, Iran, Hamas, North Korea, or any of America’s actual enemies. Regarding “announcements about expanding settlements,” a “senior Obama administration official” told Reuters that “the Israelis know the only way to stay on the positive side of the ledger — internationally and with us — is to not have them recurring.”

Strong stuff! Yet when the administration’s effort to warm ties with Syria over the past month were greeted with a trilateral meeting of terrorists in Damascus — Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, and Assad — including heated public denouncements of America and pledges to destroy Israel, the administration was silent. No response.

Maybe this is because the administration is focusing on the peace process and treating Syria and Iran as back-burner problems not worthy of U.S. outrage? No, that doesn’t make sense. If this were true, the administration would have criticized the Palestinians for their far greater obstructions to the peace process. As Rubin points out:

Even though the Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate for 14 months; made President Brack Obama look very foolish after destroying his publicly announced September plan to have negotiations in two months; broke its promise not to sponsor the Goldstone report in the UN; and rejected direct negotiations after months of pleading by the Obama White House, not a single word of criticism has ever been offered by any administration official regarding the PA’s continuous and very public sabotage of peace process efforts.

And as Tom Gross points out, the moment Joe Biden departed the West Bank, the PA held a ceremony to name the town square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of the infamous Coastal Road Massacre and among the most successful terrorists in Palestinian history. This, too, goes unmentioned by the Obama administration. Palestinian celebrations of mass-murderers are not a hindrance to the peace process, but building apartments in Jewish neighborhoods is. Why doesn’t one of the intrepid Sunday morning hosts ask an administration official why this is?

We have reached a strange new chapter in American diplomacy in which our greatest outrage and our greatest denunciations are reserved for our allies. Maybe that’s not quite right: they’re reserved for one of our allies.

The Obama-Israel showdown is an example of high hypocrisy, double standards, and political stupidity, all on display for a global audience.

As Barry Rubin reminds us:

For more than four months the U.S. government has been celebrating Israel agreeing to stop construction on settlements in the West Bank while continuing building in east Jerusalem as a great step forward and Israeli concession deserving a reward. Suddenly, all of this is forgotten to say that Israel building in east Jerusalem is some kind of terrible deed which deserves punishment.

Israelis are used to this pattern: give a big concession and a few months later that step is forgotten as Israel is portrayed as intransigent and more concessions are demanded with nothing in return.

The administration is using an instance of bad timing to revisit the terms of the settlement freeze in order to accomplish what was impossible before — a freeze in Jewish construction in Obama-disapproved parts of Jerusalem. Robert Gibbs said this morning on Fox News that “condemning” such construction “is, and has been, the policy of the United States.”

Never mind that even the PA has already agreed that these neighborhoods, such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo, will remain part of Israel in any settlement. Chris Wallace should have asked Gibbs how he reconciles such a statement, and the administration’s behavior over the past week, with the U.S. endorsement of the settlement freeze four months ago that explicitly exempted Jerusalem. In fact, it might make sense for the Israelis to ask for such a clarification. It’s obvious that Obama is trying to change the terms of the agreement by bullying and unilateralism, not by negotiation.

And it is important to note that the kind of rhetoric and outrage we are witnessing on Israel has never been employed by the administration against Syria, Iran, Hamas, North Korea, or any of America’s actual enemies. Regarding “announcements about expanding settlements,” a “senior Obama administration official” told Reuters that “the Israelis know the only way to stay on the positive side of the ledger — internationally and with us — is to not have them recurring.”

Strong stuff! Yet when the administration’s effort to warm ties with Syria over the past month were greeted with a trilateral meeting of terrorists in Damascus — Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, and Assad — including heated public denouncements of America and pledges to destroy Israel, the administration was silent. No response.

Maybe this is because the administration is focusing on the peace process and treating Syria and Iran as back-burner problems not worthy of U.S. outrage? No, that doesn’t make sense. If this were true, the administration would have criticized the Palestinians for their far greater obstructions to the peace process. As Rubin points out:

Even though the Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate for 14 months; made President Brack Obama look very foolish after destroying his publicly announced September plan to have negotiations in two months; broke its promise not to sponsor the Goldstone report in the UN; and rejected direct negotiations after months of pleading by the Obama White House, not a single word of criticism has ever been offered by any administration official regarding the PA’s continuous and very public sabotage of peace process efforts.

And as Tom Gross points out, the moment Joe Biden departed the West Bank, the PA held a ceremony to name the town square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, one of the perpetrators of the infamous Coastal Road Massacre and among the most successful terrorists in Palestinian history. This, too, goes unmentioned by the Obama administration. Palestinian celebrations of mass-murderers are not a hindrance to the peace process, but building apartments in Jewish neighborhoods is. Why doesn’t one of the intrepid Sunday morning hosts ask an administration official why this is?

We have reached a strange new chapter in American diplomacy in which our greatest outrage and our greatest denunciations are reserved for our allies. Maybe that’s not quite right: they’re reserved for one of our allies.

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Mideast Peace Gap: A Tale of Two Murderers

The dustup over the badly timed announcement of the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem this week has rightly provoked comment about the competence of the Netanyahu government. But for all the talk about the Palestinians’ being so offended by the idea of Jews living in East Jerusalem that they wouldn’t talk peace, it bears repeating that there is no indication that Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority it controls are willing to actually sign a peace agreement with Israel no matter what the terms of such a deal might be. Palestinian political culture remains anchored in an extremist interpretation of their national identity, which views the Jewish state as inherently illegitimate and all violence against it and its citizens as laudatory.

This was graphically illustrated yesterday in Ramallah, when Fatah’s youth division gathered to dedicate a square in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, the Fatah operative that led the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, a terrorist attack that took the lives of 37 Israelis and one American. As David noted earlier this morning, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Palestinian Authority was postponing the event that was timed to honor the 30th anniversary of this case of mass murder for “technical reasons” that may have more to do with a desire to put it off until media coverage abates (i.e., after Vice President Biden has left the country). Yet the New York Times account published today makes it clear that followers and officials of Abbas’s Fatah were by no means embarrassed by their connection with the most notorious terrorist attack in Israel’s history.

The story was in the best tradition of the fallacy about one man’s terrorist being another’s “freedom fighter.” The Times headline reflected this moral ambivalence: “Palestinians Honor Figure Reviled in Israel as a Terrorist.” For Palestinians quoted in the piece, including Fatah officials, Mughrabi was a heroine who was “every Palestinian girl,” rather than a heartless killer who helped mow down 38 human beings, including 13 children, before being killed herself by Israeli forces. As for this being an isolated incident, as Palestinian Media Watch has reported, the drumbeat of incitement against Israel and the glorification of violence against Jews is unceasing. Indeed, as even the Times notes, “the Palestinians also named two girls’ high schools, a computer center, a soccer championship and two summer camps for Ms. Mughrabi in the last two years.”

But those seeking moral equivalence between the two sides are largely undaunted. At the Times news blog, the Lede, Robert Mackey, who on Wednesday erroneously referred to East Jerusalem as “traditionally Arab,” wrote on Thursday that there are Jews who are extremists as well. He posted a video on the Times site purporting to be a Purim celebration by a few Jews living in a house in East Jerusalem. The “boisterous celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim by Israelis living in a home in East Jerusalem … appeared to be a calculated affront to their new Arab neighbors.”

That leads us to ask the Lede blogger whether he would sympathize with complaints by Jews should they witness “a boisterous celebration” of a Muslim holiday anywhere in Israel, where Arabs and Christians, as well as Jews, are free to practice their religions.

It is true that the video did include a bit where one man sang a song in praise of Baruch Goldstein, the mad Israeli who murdered 29 Muslims in Hebron on Purim in 1994. That is offensive. But for those who see this as the equivalent of Arab incitement, it is worth pointing out that this is just one Jewish extremist. No one could credibly assert that the Israeli government or the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people share his views. In fact, such despicable beliefs are completely marginal in Israel. But while Baruch Goldstein is a hero only to a tiny fragment of a percentage of Israelis, Dalal Mughrabi is a heroine to virtually all Palestinians. Rather than an illustration of how both sides are mired in mutual hate, the reaction of the Israeli and Palestinian publics to these two names actually shows how different the two cultures are at this point in time.

Indeed, true peace will only be possible when Palestinians think of Mughrabi the same way most Israelis view Goldstein.

The dustup over the badly timed announcement of the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem this week has rightly provoked comment about the competence of the Netanyahu government. But for all the talk about the Palestinians’ being so offended by the idea of Jews living in East Jerusalem that they wouldn’t talk peace, it bears repeating that there is no indication that Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority it controls are willing to actually sign a peace agreement with Israel no matter what the terms of such a deal might be. Palestinian political culture remains anchored in an extremist interpretation of their national identity, which views the Jewish state as inherently illegitimate and all violence against it and its citizens as laudatory.

This was graphically illustrated yesterday in Ramallah, when Fatah’s youth division gathered to dedicate a square in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, the Fatah operative that led the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, a terrorist attack that took the lives of 37 Israelis and one American. As David noted earlier this morning, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Palestinian Authority was postponing the event that was timed to honor the 30th anniversary of this case of mass murder for “technical reasons” that may have more to do with a desire to put it off until media coverage abates (i.e., after Vice President Biden has left the country). Yet the New York Times account published today makes it clear that followers and officials of Abbas’s Fatah were by no means embarrassed by their connection with the most notorious terrorist attack in Israel’s history.

The story was in the best tradition of the fallacy about one man’s terrorist being another’s “freedom fighter.” The Times headline reflected this moral ambivalence: “Palestinians Honor Figure Reviled in Israel as a Terrorist.” For Palestinians quoted in the piece, including Fatah officials, Mughrabi was a heroine who was “every Palestinian girl,” rather than a heartless killer who helped mow down 38 human beings, including 13 children, before being killed herself by Israeli forces. As for this being an isolated incident, as Palestinian Media Watch has reported, the drumbeat of incitement against Israel and the glorification of violence against Jews is unceasing. Indeed, as even the Times notes, “the Palestinians also named two girls’ high schools, a computer center, a soccer championship and two summer camps for Ms. Mughrabi in the last two years.”

But those seeking moral equivalence between the two sides are largely undaunted. At the Times news blog, the Lede, Robert Mackey, who on Wednesday erroneously referred to East Jerusalem as “traditionally Arab,” wrote on Thursday that there are Jews who are extremists as well. He posted a video on the Times site purporting to be a Purim celebration by a few Jews living in a house in East Jerusalem. The “boisterous celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim by Israelis living in a home in East Jerusalem … appeared to be a calculated affront to their new Arab neighbors.”

That leads us to ask the Lede blogger whether he would sympathize with complaints by Jews should they witness “a boisterous celebration” of a Muslim holiday anywhere in Israel, where Arabs and Christians, as well as Jews, are free to practice their religions.

It is true that the video did include a bit where one man sang a song in praise of Baruch Goldstein, the mad Israeli who murdered 29 Muslims in Hebron on Purim in 1994. That is offensive. But for those who see this as the equivalent of Arab incitement, it is worth pointing out that this is just one Jewish extremist. No one could credibly assert that the Israeli government or the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people share his views. In fact, such despicable beliefs are completely marginal in Israel. But while Baruch Goldstein is a hero only to a tiny fragment of a percentage of Israelis, Dalal Mughrabi is a heroine to virtually all Palestinians. Rather than an illustration of how both sides are mired in mutual hate, the reaction of the Israeli and Palestinian publics to these two names actually shows how different the two cultures are at this point in time.

Indeed, true peace will only be possible when Palestinians think of Mughrabi the same way most Israelis view Goldstein.

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Remembering Dalal Mughrabi

The Palestinian Authority just pushed off plans to honor Dalal Mughrabi by renaming a square just outside Ramallah after her. Her claim to fame? In 1978 she headed up one of the most horrific acts of terror every undertaken in the name of Palestine. In the attack, she and 11 others under her command landed on a beach north of Tel Aviv and started shooting and hurling grenades at passing cars and buses on the highway. They then hijacked a bus. Anyone who tried to escape was gunned down. Thirty-eight Israelis, including 13 children, were killed in the Coastal Road Massacre. Another 71 were wounded. In response, Israel launched an assault on southern Lebanon, where her Fatah bosses were based.

We don’t know why the PA has delayed the renaming of the square, but they insist that it’s not because, say, she might not put the Palestinians in the best light. On the contrary, reports the Jerusalem Post:

Adnan Dumairi, a senior PA security official, said that the ceremony had been delayed for “technical reasons.” He denied that the decision was the result of Israeli and American pressure. … “No one in the world can prevent the Palestinians from being proud of their history and heritage,” Dumairi said. “This history and heritage is part of our life.” He said that “had it not been for the blood and sacrifices of martyrs like Mughrabi, the Palestinians would not have been able to reach peace agreements and other achievements.”

And so, while Vice President Biden was busy “condemning” Israel for building housing units in its capital, the Palestinians were bogged down on when to best lionize their martyrs. But make no mistake: the Palestinians are proud of their achievements, just as the Israelis are of theirs.

The Palestinian Authority just pushed off plans to honor Dalal Mughrabi by renaming a square just outside Ramallah after her. Her claim to fame? In 1978 she headed up one of the most horrific acts of terror every undertaken in the name of Palestine. In the attack, she and 11 others under her command landed on a beach north of Tel Aviv and started shooting and hurling grenades at passing cars and buses on the highway. They then hijacked a bus. Anyone who tried to escape was gunned down. Thirty-eight Israelis, including 13 children, were killed in the Coastal Road Massacre. Another 71 were wounded. In response, Israel launched an assault on southern Lebanon, where her Fatah bosses were based.

We don’t know why the PA has delayed the renaming of the square, but they insist that it’s not because, say, she might not put the Palestinians in the best light. On the contrary, reports the Jerusalem Post:

Adnan Dumairi, a senior PA security official, said that the ceremony had been delayed for “technical reasons.” He denied that the decision was the result of Israeli and American pressure. … “No one in the world can prevent the Palestinians from being proud of their history and heritage,” Dumairi said. “This history and heritage is part of our life.” He said that “had it not been for the blood and sacrifices of martyrs like Mughrabi, the Palestinians would not have been able to reach peace agreements and other achievements.”

And so, while Vice President Biden was busy “condemning” Israel for building housing units in its capital, the Palestinians were bogged down on when to best lionize their martyrs. But make no mistake: the Palestinians are proud of their achievements, just as the Israelis are of theirs.

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Peace Plans and Palestinian Politics

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

Writing in the widely circulated Israeli newspaper Yisrael Hayom (“Israel Today”), Israeli journalist Dan Margalit reviews the prospects for the new peace process. The article is in Hebrew, but is summarized by the Israel Foreign Ministry:

The author recalls that in 2000, at Camp David, “Ehud Barak agreed to discuss the division of Jerusalem and the Palestinians fled the negotiations,” and adds that “In 2009, Ehud Olmert even offered to soften on the principle against ‘the right of return’ and again they fled.” The paper speculates that “In the current round, Israel is in a more complex position. Benjamin Netanyahu cannot offer Abu Mazen what came up in Ehud Olmert’s plan and if Ramallah rejected the previous move, what will it accept now?” The author notes that the Palestinians will, apparently, proffer a plan of their own in the hope that an Israeli rejection will draw the Obama administration to their side.

Presenting a plan they know Israel will not accept — to generate a condemnation of Israel for not accepting it – would be, in the weird world of the peace process, a step forward: at least the Palestinians would be proffering a plan. The last three times Israel offered the Palestinians a state – at Camp David, in the Clinton Parameters, and in the Olmert offer – the Palestinians rejected the offer without making a counterproposal.

If the process plays out as Margalit predicts, here is one way to determine the seriousness of the Palestinians’ plan: will they release it to their public before July 17? July 17 is the date set for local elections in the West Bank – coincidentally (or maybe not) a week after the four-month period the Palestinians have set for the new indirect talks. In an analysis for Ynet News, Alex Fishman discusses how that election relates to the peace process:

Abbas and Fayyad are aspiring to win at least 50% of the vote this time around. With such support, they would be able to move on to negotiations with Israel with the legitimacy of the Palestinian public, and not only with the backwind provided by moderate members of the Arab League. This would be a real source of power, not a bogus one. Hamas has already announced that it will not take part in the elections. The PA will go to elections even without it.

It will be a real source of power, however, and not a bogus one, only if the Palestinian public knows what it is voting for — and only if the plan, itself, addresses the criteria set forth in the 2004 Bush letter to Israel: a Jewish state with defensible borders encompassing the major Jewish population centers in the West Bank (which are necessary for such borders). But the chances of Abbas and Fayyad proposing such a plan in the indirect talks, or discussing it with the Palestinian public before an election, are slight. In Fishman’s words:

[T]he PA cannot show up at the July 17 elections with a record of concessions on the national front. The opposite is true. It has a clear interest in creating a crisis in order to prompt a warm public embrace and reach the elections with an image of national strength, clear of any indication of “collaboration.”

After the death of Yasser Arafat, it was thought that Palestinian democracy would lead to peace. But the 2006 election resulted in a victory for Hamas; the PA president’s term expired more than a year ago with no new presidential election in sight; PA leaders are afraid to make concessions in the peace process lest they lose even uncontested local elections. The tragedy of Palestinian politics is that the Palestinian electorate will not vote for anyone willing to make the concessions necessary to get them a state — in part because they lack leaders who will tell their public that painful compromises are necessary to achieve one.

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Palestinians See Netanyahu as a “Man of His Word”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying hard to blame Israel for the absence of peace talks, with predictable support from Europe: addressing the European Parliament last week, brand-new EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton parroted PA criticisms of Israel wholesale, not even hinting at any Palestinian responsibility for the impasse. But Washington has yet to weigh in. Before doing so, it should consider the following astounding report:

“This is the place to note that, surprisingly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is widely perceived in the West Bank as a man of his word,” Haaretz’s Palestinian affairs reporter wrote, commenting on Abbas supporters’ claim that Netanyahu’s actions are mere “maneuvers” aimed at avoiding final-status talks. “In the period of [his predecessors] Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and [Ehud] Barak there may have been peace talks, but the number of checkpoints reached a new high every week and chaos reigned in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu, in contrast, has kept his promise to remove checkpoints and otherwise facilitate Palestinian economic development — and it’s working. As the Jerusalem Post noted yesterday:

Only 14 major IDF security checkpoints remain inside the West Bank, easing the commute between Palestinian population centers. Unemployment is down to 18 percent (compared to over 40% in Gaza). The local stock market is on an upswing; likewise foreign investment.

A new mall has opened in Nablus. The cornerstone of a new neighborhood in Jenin was laid by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Plans for a new suburb in the hills of Ramallah for middle-class Palestinians are advancing. A Bethlehem industrial zone is in the works. …

People are buying more cars. Bethlehem alone hosted a million tourists last year. West Bank imports and exports have exceeded $4.3 billion this year.

Indeed, the Haaretz report quoted a Palestinian journalist who termed the situation in the West Bank “not only better than in the past, but ‘terrific.’ ”

Netanyahu seems equally determined to keep his word on the settlement freeze, judging by a document leaked by an Israeli army source to settlers, and thence to Haaretz. The army has clearly been ordered to treat the freeze like a military operation.

For instance, the document states, “all agencies will be used” to detect violations of the freeze, “including the intelligence branch of the [Central] Command, the Shin Bet [intelligence agency] and regular troops.” And any illegal construction will be destroyed in blitzkrieg operations in which “tactical surprise” will be achieved “by blocking off the area with large forces so as to paralyze” resistance.

One might question the wisdom of a full-throttle military operation against one’s own citizens, but it certainly indicates determination on Netanyahu’s part to keep his word.

So might Netanyahu be equally sincere in claiming that he truly wants to reach an agreement with Abbas? If “agreement” is defined as complete capitulation to Abbas’s demands, no. But a deal produced by genuine negotiations, in which both sides make concessions? There’s only one way to find out. And it isn’t by letting Abbas demand ever more upfront concessions just to get him to the table.

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Building Peace by Ending Endism

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

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

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

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

And it’s not just Nablus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s not just Nablus:

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

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

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

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

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Fuel Wars and Media Wars

Hamas has lost — often badly — in every military theater it has fought in. Its suicide bombings have been thwarted by fences and walls, its rocket attacks, while a serious problem, do not cause many casualties and whenever Katyushas have been employed Hamas has suffered a stinging response from the IDF. So Hamas is now concentrating its efforts on fighting in the only theater in which it still enjoys superiority over Israel — in the media. Almost everything the terror group does today is oriented toward winning media coverage that condemns Israel and apologizes for Hamas.

Check out Khaled Abu Toameh’s report in today’s Jerusalem Post if you had any doubts. Hamas is now fanatically trying to cause fuel shortages in the Gaza Strip, so that a litany of horrors can be blamed on Israel — hospital closures, blackouts, sewage overflows, pestilence, boils, locusts, everything.

Eyewitnesses in Gaza City said that at least on four occasions over the past few weeks, Hamas militiamen confiscated trucks loaded with fuel shortly as they were on their way from Nahal Oz to the city.

They added that the fuel supplies were taken to Hamas-controlled security installations throughout the city.

“Hamas is taking the fuel for it the vehicles of is leaders and security forces,” the eyewitnesses said. “Because of Hamas’s actions, some hospitals have been forced to stop the work of ambulances and generators.”

PA officials in Ramallah said Hamas’s measures were aimed at creating a crisis in the Gaza Strip with the hope that the international community would intervene and force Israel to reopen the border crossings.

“As far as we know, there is enough fuel reaching the Gaza Strip,” the officials said. “But Hamas’s measures are aimed at creating a crisis. Hamas is either stealing or blocking most of the fuel supplies.”

Hamas has also been exerting pressure on the Gaza Petrol Station Owners Association to close down their businesses so as to aggravate the crisis. Some of the station owners and workers said they were afraid to return to work after receiving death threats from Hamas militiamen and ordinary residents desperate to purchase gas and diesel for their vehicles.

Over the winter, Hamas rode high on a crescendo of international sympathy for Gaza and outrage at Israel when it convinced the world that Israel had caused a blackout of the Strip. Its conduits for doing so were the international press corps and international human rights and aid organizations, all of which (to varying degrees) are deeply invested in advancing the narrative of Palestinian victimhood and Israeli cruelty.

Is there any doubt today that the most important battlefield in this conflict is not in Gaza or Sderot, but in newspaper articles and television broadcasts?

Hamas has lost — often badly — in every military theater it has fought in. Its suicide bombings have been thwarted by fences and walls, its rocket attacks, while a serious problem, do not cause many casualties and whenever Katyushas have been employed Hamas has suffered a stinging response from the IDF. So Hamas is now concentrating its efforts on fighting in the only theater in which it still enjoys superiority over Israel — in the media. Almost everything the terror group does today is oriented toward winning media coverage that condemns Israel and apologizes for Hamas.

Check out Khaled Abu Toameh’s report in today’s Jerusalem Post if you had any doubts. Hamas is now fanatically trying to cause fuel shortages in the Gaza Strip, so that a litany of horrors can be blamed on Israel — hospital closures, blackouts, sewage overflows, pestilence, boils, locusts, everything.

Eyewitnesses in Gaza City said that at least on four occasions over the past few weeks, Hamas militiamen confiscated trucks loaded with fuel shortly as they were on their way from Nahal Oz to the city.

They added that the fuel supplies were taken to Hamas-controlled security installations throughout the city.

“Hamas is taking the fuel for it the vehicles of is leaders and security forces,” the eyewitnesses said. “Because of Hamas’s actions, some hospitals have been forced to stop the work of ambulances and generators.”

PA officials in Ramallah said Hamas’s measures were aimed at creating a crisis in the Gaza Strip with the hope that the international community would intervene and force Israel to reopen the border crossings.

“As far as we know, there is enough fuel reaching the Gaza Strip,” the officials said. “But Hamas’s measures are aimed at creating a crisis. Hamas is either stealing or blocking most of the fuel supplies.”

Hamas has also been exerting pressure on the Gaza Petrol Station Owners Association to close down their businesses so as to aggravate the crisis. Some of the station owners and workers said they were afraid to return to work after receiving death threats from Hamas militiamen and ordinary residents desperate to purchase gas and diesel for their vehicles.

Over the winter, Hamas rode high on a crescendo of international sympathy for Gaza and outrage at Israel when it convinced the world that Israel had caused a blackout of the Strip. Its conduits for doing so were the international press corps and international human rights and aid organizations, all of which (to varying degrees) are deeply invested in advancing the narrative of Palestinian victimhood and Israeli cruelty.

Is there any doubt today that the most important battlefield in this conflict is not in Gaza or Sderot, but in newspaper articles and television broadcasts?

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The Wrong Concessions

President Bush is again “optimistic” that Israeli-Palestinian peace can be finalized during the remaining months of his presidency. For Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, this can only mean one thing: more photo-ops with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with massive frequent-flyer miles accumulating in the process. But yesterday, Rice finally complemented her shuttling with diplomatic results, winning a set of concessions from Israel that are intended to ease Palestinian livelihoods and create conditions that are ripe for peace.

I’m dubious regarding the potential for economic progress to translate into Palestinian support for the peace process-particularly in the short timeframe with which the Bush administration is working. That said, insofar as the goal is to improve the West Bank economy, many of the measures to which Israel agreed are sensible, if not long overdue. These include the decision to raise the number of Palestinian businessmen permitted into Israel to 1,500; issuing 5,000 additional work permits for Palestinian laborers; building new housing for Palestinians in 25 villages; and supporting large-scale economic development programs.

But the most essential concessions to which Israel agreed make little sense. These include decisions to dismantle one permanent roadblock and remove fifty travel barriers around Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqiliya, and Ramallah. Israel has long maintained that these checkpoints critically bolster its security, stemming the flow of terrorists and weapons among the West Bank’s most contentious cities. Yet in agreeing to dissemble these barriers on account of political considerations, Israel is discrediting its own claims regarding the security-relevance of its West Bank policies. Moreover, on account of its decreased ability to monitor movement within the West Bank in the absence of a reliable Palestinian security force, Israel may face a decline in security.

Make no mistake: a further decline in Israeli security would be the final nail in the Annapolis coffin-a disaster for the Bush administration. Indeed, if the Annapolis “process” aims for the realization of a two-state solution-a long-held U.S. interest-anything that might validate the occupation as necessary for Israeli security should be immediately removed from the table. It is for this reason that I have viewed the cessation of Israeli settlement activity as a more reasonable Israeli concession for the Bush administration to demand: halting construction would have no negative security consequences for Israel, and would represent clear progress towards drawing the line in the sand that Israeli-Palestinian peace will require.

In this vein, Israel’s agreement to connect Palestinian villages to its power grid is downright regressive. Again, if the goal remains a two-state solution-in which Palestine is an autonomous entity-why would Rice press for the Palestinians to become more reliant on Israel for their needs? Indeed, if Israel’s recent experience in Gaza should teach policymakers anything, it’s that territorial concessions must aim to absolve Israel of responsibility for those territories entirely.

In short, once again, Rice has failed to meet U.S. policy objectives with narrowly tailored policies. For this reason, the Annapolis “process” remains a hopeless exercise, in which optimism trumps reality.

President Bush is again “optimistic” that Israeli-Palestinian peace can be finalized during the remaining months of his presidency. For Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, this can only mean one thing: more photo-ops with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with massive frequent-flyer miles accumulating in the process. But yesterday, Rice finally complemented her shuttling with diplomatic results, winning a set of concessions from Israel that are intended to ease Palestinian livelihoods and create conditions that are ripe for peace.

I’m dubious regarding the potential for economic progress to translate into Palestinian support for the peace process-particularly in the short timeframe with which the Bush administration is working. That said, insofar as the goal is to improve the West Bank economy, many of the measures to which Israel agreed are sensible, if not long overdue. These include the decision to raise the number of Palestinian businessmen permitted into Israel to 1,500; issuing 5,000 additional work permits for Palestinian laborers; building new housing for Palestinians in 25 villages; and supporting large-scale economic development programs.

But the most essential concessions to which Israel agreed make little sense. These include decisions to dismantle one permanent roadblock and remove fifty travel barriers around Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqiliya, and Ramallah. Israel has long maintained that these checkpoints critically bolster its security, stemming the flow of terrorists and weapons among the West Bank’s most contentious cities. Yet in agreeing to dissemble these barriers on account of political considerations, Israel is discrediting its own claims regarding the security-relevance of its West Bank policies. Moreover, on account of its decreased ability to monitor movement within the West Bank in the absence of a reliable Palestinian security force, Israel may face a decline in security.

Make no mistake: a further decline in Israeli security would be the final nail in the Annapolis coffin-a disaster for the Bush administration. Indeed, if the Annapolis “process” aims for the realization of a two-state solution-a long-held U.S. interest-anything that might validate the occupation as necessary for Israeli security should be immediately removed from the table. It is for this reason that I have viewed the cessation of Israeli settlement activity as a more reasonable Israeli concession for the Bush administration to demand: halting construction would have no negative security consequences for Israel, and would represent clear progress towards drawing the line in the sand that Israeli-Palestinian peace will require.

In this vein, Israel’s agreement to connect Palestinian villages to its power grid is downright regressive. Again, if the goal remains a two-state solution-in which Palestine is an autonomous entity-why would Rice press for the Palestinians to become more reliant on Israel for their needs? Indeed, if Israel’s recent experience in Gaza should teach policymakers anything, it’s that territorial concessions must aim to absolve Israel of responsibility for those territories entirely.

In short, once again, Rice has failed to meet U.S. policy objectives with narrowly tailored policies. For this reason, the Annapolis “process” remains a hopeless exercise, in which optimism trumps reality.

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Abbas’s Failed Strategy Returns

In the Palestinian political arena, “national unity” is a critical catchphrase, evoking the illusion of collective strength against Israeli occupation. Of course, the reality—which Monty Python beautifully satirized—is that Palestinian politics have been historically fragmented, with the current Hamas-Fatah standoff the most dangerous, deeply divided incarnation yet.

But don’t tell that to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who apparently believes that “national unity” remains within reach. Speaking at an Arab League conference yesterday in Cairo, Abbas called for a new round of elections, declaring, “We are ready to immediately take this step to restore national cohesion.” According to his strategy, elections will provide the “democratic solution” for restoring political legitimacy in the Palestinian territories, and thus provide an opportunity for pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace along the lines of the “Arab Initiative.”

Yet this strategy has been tried before—and has created immense peril for the Palestinians, as well as Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects. When Abbas won the January 2005 presidential elections with 62.5% of the vote, Hamas—which had boycotted the elections—was at the nadir of its power, with two of its top leaders recently assassinated and Israeli counterterrorism effectively curtailing its capabilities. But rather than using Hamas’ weakness as a pretext for disarmament, Abbas insisted on Hamas’ incorporation through their participation in the January 2006 parliamentary elections, arguing, “by engaging them to solve problems politically, there will be no need to resolve to military conflict.” Naturally, Abbas believed that Hamas would lose, and that the popular repudiation of Hamas’ extremism would force it to moderate. Of course, this didn’t quite pan out: Hamas won, and later used the popular affirmation of its extremism to seize control of Gaza.

Given these realities, it is hard to fathom why Abbas believes that this strategy will work now. Perhaps the pro-Fatah love-fest that greeted Abbas in Cairo—including the Arab League’s announcement that it would establish the Yasser Arafat Foundation in Ramallah—skewed Abbas’ perceptions. Indeed, Fatah will be working at a significant disadvantage if Palestinians return to the polls anytime soon—particularly in Gaza, where the PA-funded al-Ayyam has been banned for the past sixteen days after it published a cartoon mocking Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Moreover, the prospect of early presidential elections seems particularly inviting of increasing Hamas’ power. After all, Abbas cannot point to any concrete successes in his three-plus years as PA president, while failures abound.

In turn, the likely consequence of early Palestinian elections would be the ultimate achievement of “national unity,” with Hamas likely reclaiming the parliament and winning the presidency. The Bush administration—which has long supported Abbas after judiciously boycotting Arafat—should ask Abbas whether this is the unity he has in mind, warning him that a PA unambiguously dominated by Hamas would jeopardize U.S. support for Palestinian statehood for years to come.

In the Palestinian political arena, “national unity” is a critical catchphrase, evoking the illusion of collective strength against Israeli occupation. Of course, the reality—which Monty Python beautifully satirized—is that Palestinian politics have been historically fragmented, with the current Hamas-Fatah standoff the most dangerous, deeply divided incarnation yet.

But don’t tell that to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who apparently believes that “national unity” remains within reach. Speaking at an Arab League conference yesterday in Cairo, Abbas called for a new round of elections, declaring, “We are ready to immediately take this step to restore national cohesion.” According to his strategy, elections will provide the “democratic solution” for restoring political legitimacy in the Palestinian territories, and thus provide an opportunity for pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace along the lines of the “Arab Initiative.”

Yet this strategy has been tried before—and has created immense peril for the Palestinians, as well as Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects. When Abbas won the January 2005 presidential elections with 62.5% of the vote, Hamas—which had boycotted the elections—was at the nadir of its power, with two of its top leaders recently assassinated and Israeli counterterrorism effectively curtailing its capabilities. But rather than using Hamas’ weakness as a pretext for disarmament, Abbas insisted on Hamas’ incorporation through their participation in the January 2006 parliamentary elections, arguing, “by engaging them to solve problems politically, there will be no need to resolve to military conflict.” Naturally, Abbas believed that Hamas would lose, and that the popular repudiation of Hamas’ extremism would force it to moderate. Of course, this didn’t quite pan out: Hamas won, and later used the popular affirmation of its extremism to seize control of Gaza.

Given these realities, it is hard to fathom why Abbas believes that this strategy will work now. Perhaps the pro-Fatah love-fest that greeted Abbas in Cairo—including the Arab League’s announcement that it would establish the Yasser Arafat Foundation in Ramallah—skewed Abbas’ perceptions. Indeed, Fatah will be working at a significant disadvantage if Palestinians return to the polls anytime soon—particularly in Gaza, where the PA-funded al-Ayyam has been banned for the past sixteen days after it published a cartoon mocking Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Moreover, the prospect of early presidential elections seems particularly inviting of increasing Hamas’ power. After all, Abbas cannot point to any concrete successes in his three-plus years as PA president, while failures abound.

In turn, the likely consequence of early Palestinian elections would be the ultimate achievement of “national unity,” with Hamas likely reclaiming the parliament and winning the presidency. The Bush administration—which has long supported Abbas after judiciously boycotting Arafat—should ask Abbas whether this is the unity he has in mind, warning him that a PA unambiguously dominated by Hamas would jeopardize U.S. support for Palestinian statehood for years to come.

Read Less




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