Commentary Magazine


Topic: Saeb Erekat

Fake Photos and Foreign Media

You have to appreciate the irony. The Palestinians — who have made photo propaganda and falsification a central part of their anti-Israel efforts — are now caught up in such a gambit by another liberation-style group. The context is the ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which opposes a Moroccan plan for autonomy for the West Sahara and prefers to fan the flames of conflict and perpetuate the misery of those warehoused in camps in Algeria. The latest incident is detailed in this account:

At a news conference, Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui played a video which he said showed “a man armed with a knife slitting the throat of two members of the security forces, the first in the camp and the second in Laayoune”, the Western Sahara’s main town.

These were “barbarous acts”, said Cherkaoui. The video was shot by Moroccan police.

The raid on the camp near Laayoune housing thousands of Sahrawis, who moved there to protest against their living conditions, was carried out on November 8, a few hours before a new round of talks between the Polisario, the main Western Sahara rebel group, and the Moroccan government started near New York.

Morocco has said that 12 people died in clashes between protesters and the police, including 10 members of the security forces.

But the pro-independence Polisario said dozens of people died and more than 4,500 were wounded in the violence.

Cherkaoui said some Sahrawi protesters, whom he described as criminal gangs, “deliberately killed members of the security forces, used knives, molotov cocktails and gas canisters” to start fires.

The police raid “was deliberately peaceful, no shots were fired and no deaths were reported from among the camp population and from Laayoune”, said Cherkaoui.

Well, the Polisario Front felt compelled to embellish and distort the incident. The group bandied about photos of wounded children — a sure-fire attention getter with the Western media, as the Palestinians have proven time and again. However the children weren’t from the Western Sahara but instead from Gaza (perhaps a few of the human shields used by Hamas?).  This report explains:

Spanish news agency EFE said Friday it had sent a photo supposedly of injured infants in Western Sahara which turned out to be a four-year-old image of children hurt in Gaza. The photo, purchased from a web site which made the original error, was published in major daily newspapers including the leading daily El Pais, and the centre-right daily El Mundo.

It showed infants with their heads wrapped in bandages being treated in hospital. In El Pais, the photo carried the caption: “Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune,” the capital of the Western Sahara.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is now incensed by such disinformation.

The lesson here is one for respectable media outlets: be wary of accepting at face value reports or photographic “evidence” from groups whose journalistic bona fides are in question and whose motives are suspect. And that’s a lesson that is equally applicable in the Western Sahara and in Gaza.

You have to appreciate the irony. The Palestinians — who have made photo propaganda and falsification a central part of their anti-Israel efforts — are now caught up in such a gambit by another liberation-style group. The context is the ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which opposes a Moroccan plan for autonomy for the West Sahara and prefers to fan the flames of conflict and perpetuate the misery of those warehoused in camps in Algeria. The latest incident is detailed in this account:

At a news conference, Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui played a video which he said showed “a man armed with a knife slitting the throat of two members of the security forces, the first in the camp and the second in Laayoune”, the Western Sahara’s main town.

These were “barbarous acts”, said Cherkaoui. The video was shot by Moroccan police.

The raid on the camp near Laayoune housing thousands of Sahrawis, who moved there to protest against their living conditions, was carried out on November 8, a few hours before a new round of talks between the Polisario, the main Western Sahara rebel group, and the Moroccan government started near New York.

Morocco has said that 12 people died in clashes between protesters and the police, including 10 members of the security forces.

But the pro-independence Polisario said dozens of people died and more than 4,500 were wounded in the violence.

Cherkaoui said some Sahrawi protesters, whom he described as criminal gangs, “deliberately killed members of the security forces, used knives, molotov cocktails and gas canisters” to start fires.

The police raid “was deliberately peaceful, no shots were fired and no deaths were reported from among the camp population and from Laayoune”, said Cherkaoui.

Well, the Polisario Front felt compelled to embellish and distort the incident. The group bandied about photos of wounded children — a sure-fire attention getter with the Western media, as the Palestinians have proven time and again. However the children weren’t from the Western Sahara but instead from Gaza (perhaps a few of the human shields used by Hamas?).  This report explains:

Spanish news agency EFE said Friday it had sent a photo supposedly of injured infants in Western Sahara which turned out to be a four-year-old image of children hurt in Gaza. The photo, purchased from a web site which made the original error, was published in major daily newspapers including the leading daily El Pais, and the centre-right daily El Mundo.

It showed infants with their heads wrapped in bandages being treated in hospital. In El Pais, the photo carried the caption: “Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune,” the capital of the Western Sahara.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is now incensed by such disinformation.

The lesson here is one for respectable media outlets: be wary of accepting at face value reports or photographic “evidence” from groups whose journalistic bona fides are in question and whose motives are suspect. And that’s a lesson that is equally applicable in the Western Sahara and in Gaza.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

“Soul-searching” at the White House? Not so much. “‘There isn’t going to be a reset button. That’s not their style,’ said a Democratic strategist who works with the White House on several issues. ‘They don’t like pivots, and they also believe they’re right.'”

Nancy Pelosi is the right leader to show the country that the Dems “get it”? Not so much, according to Heath Shuler: “Shuler believes that his party didn’t get the message on Election Day when voters kicked Democrats out of majority control of the House if his caucus keeps Pelosi at the top of their leadership team. ‘I hope that with so many members that we need to go in a different direction, that we have to be able to recruit or get back those members of Congress that lost, and I just don’t see that path happening if she’s at the top of the Democrats,’ Shuler said.” He says he’ll run against Pelosi, but maybe he’s in the wrong party.

Would Russ Feingold be a formidable primary challenger to Barack Obama? Not so much, says Mara Liasson: “There’d have to be a real anti-war movement in the country for Russ Feingold to try to capture and lead. But there’s not even that.”

Have the Obami learned anything about their Middle East policy failures? Not so much. The U.S. is goading Bibi to offer a 90-day freeze (why should this freeze produce a different result than the last one?), but the PA is already grousing. “Earlier on Sunday, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed strong reservations about the U.S. proposal, because it would only apply to the West Bank and not east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.”

Is Obama still the media’s darling? Not so much. “The Democratic president left for Asia just three days after his party suffered big defeats in mid-term elections at the hands of voters worried over the sputtering U.S. economy and unemployment stuck near 10 percent for more than a year. The trip was intended to counteract that frustration with a stress on opening new markets for American goods and improving the jobs picture, so the timing was especially tough. ‘The coverage has been quite negative. The dominant narrative is an embattled president representing a weakened nation,’ said William Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. ‘All in all, not the kind of trip a president who has just suffered an electoral rebuff needs,’ he said.”

So the Obama team is going to be more transparent and connect more successfully with the American people? Not so much. “From the administration’s stance on a presidential commission’s controversial recommendations for Social Security and Medicare cuts, to Republican demands that Obama veto any bills containing earmarks, Axelrod offered few specifics on administration plans during interviews on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘Fox News Sunday.'” So why bother going on? It’s hard to solve the alleged “communication” problem if you don’t have anything to communicate.

Iran wants to negotiate about its nuclear program? Not so much. “They have yet to agree on venue, a length for the talks or even the subject. Iran says it is willing to talk about everything but its uranium enrichment program; the other countries – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – want to talk mostly about the entire nuclear program.”

“Soul-searching” at the White House? Not so much. “‘There isn’t going to be a reset button. That’s not their style,’ said a Democratic strategist who works with the White House on several issues. ‘They don’t like pivots, and they also believe they’re right.'”

Nancy Pelosi is the right leader to show the country that the Dems “get it”? Not so much, according to Heath Shuler: “Shuler believes that his party didn’t get the message on Election Day when voters kicked Democrats out of majority control of the House if his caucus keeps Pelosi at the top of their leadership team. ‘I hope that with so many members that we need to go in a different direction, that we have to be able to recruit or get back those members of Congress that lost, and I just don’t see that path happening if she’s at the top of the Democrats,’ Shuler said.” He says he’ll run against Pelosi, but maybe he’s in the wrong party.

Would Russ Feingold be a formidable primary challenger to Barack Obama? Not so much, says Mara Liasson: “There’d have to be a real anti-war movement in the country for Russ Feingold to try to capture and lead. But there’s not even that.”

Have the Obami learned anything about their Middle East policy failures? Not so much. The U.S. is goading Bibi to offer a 90-day freeze (why should this freeze produce a different result than the last one?), but the PA is already grousing. “Earlier on Sunday, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed strong reservations about the U.S. proposal, because it would only apply to the West Bank and not east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.”

Is Obama still the media’s darling? Not so much. “The Democratic president left for Asia just three days after his party suffered big defeats in mid-term elections at the hands of voters worried over the sputtering U.S. economy and unemployment stuck near 10 percent for more than a year. The trip was intended to counteract that frustration with a stress on opening new markets for American goods and improving the jobs picture, so the timing was especially tough. ‘The coverage has been quite negative. The dominant narrative is an embattled president representing a weakened nation,’ said William Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. ‘All in all, not the kind of trip a president who has just suffered an electoral rebuff needs,’ he said.”

So the Obama team is going to be more transparent and connect more successfully with the American people? Not so much. “From the administration’s stance on a presidential commission’s controversial recommendations for Social Security and Medicare cuts, to Republican demands that Obama veto any bills containing earmarks, Axelrod offered few specifics on administration plans during interviews on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘Fox News Sunday.'” So why bother going on? It’s hard to solve the alleged “communication” problem if you don’t have anything to communicate.

Iran wants to negotiate about its nuclear program? Not so much. “They have yet to agree on venue, a length for the talks or even the subject. Iran says it is willing to talk about everything but its uranium enrichment program; the other countries – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – want to talk mostly about the entire nuclear program.”

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“Never Helpful”

That’s how Obama described Israel’s continued building in its own capital. As Jonathan observed, while reaching out to Muslims in Indonesia, Obama scolded Israel, which, darn it, isn’t listening to him – again:

US President Barack Obama criticized Israel on Tuesday at a news conference in Indonesia, following Monday’s announcement that that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 homes in east Jerusalem.

“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” Obama said during a visit to Jakarta.

What is never helpful is Obama’s approach to the Middle East, which has elevated and maintained settlements as the end-all and be-all of negotiation. Unlike every other administration that managed to avoid escalating the issue, Obama insists on exacerbating it. The inevitable Palestinian intransigence and European heckling followed:

Also on Tuesday, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to counter Israel’s latest construction plans by recognizing a Palestinian state.

“Israeli unilateralism is a call for immediate international recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added her comments on the issue, saying she is “extremely concerned by the announcement by Israel of a plan for the construction  of 1,300 new housing units in east Jerusalem,” in a statement.

“This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed,” the statement read.

Who can be surprised? Neither the Palestinians nor the Israel-bashers around the world can be less obsessed over settlements than the president. So non-direct non-talks remain the order of the day while the UN prepares to dismantle Israel. (Sort of like if the League of Nations had extracted the Sudetenland from another small democracy.)

Let’s see how Congress and pro-Israel groups react to yet another round of decidedly un-smart Obama diplomacy. His political aura has faded at home, so those who have bristled at the Obama assault on Israel but have bitten their tongues might think about speaking up. Preferably before the UN starts redrawing Israel’s boundaries.

That’s how Obama described Israel’s continued building in its own capital. As Jonathan observed, while reaching out to Muslims in Indonesia, Obama scolded Israel, which, darn it, isn’t listening to him – again:

US President Barack Obama criticized Israel on Tuesday at a news conference in Indonesia, following Monday’s announcement that that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 homes in east Jerusalem.

“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” Obama said during a visit to Jakarta.

What is never helpful is Obama’s approach to the Middle East, which has elevated and maintained settlements as the end-all and be-all of negotiation. Unlike every other administration that managed to avoid escalating the issue, Obama insists on exacerbating it. The inevitable Palestinian intransigence and European heckling followed:

Also on Tuesday, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to counter Israel’s latest construction plans by recognizing a Palestinian state.

“Israeli unilateralism is a call for immediate international recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added her comments on the issue, saying she is “extremely concerned by the announcement by Israel of a plan for the construction  of 1,300 new housing units in east Jerusalem,” in a statement.

“This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed,” the statement read.

Who can be surprised? Neither the Palestinians nor the Israel-bashers around the world can be less obsessed over settlements than the president. So non-direct non-talks remain the order of the day while the UN prepares to dismantle Israel. (Sort of like if the League of Nations had extracted the Sudetenland from another small democracy.)

Let’s see how Congress and pro-Israel groups react to yet another round of decidedly un-smart Obama diplomacy. His political aura has faded at home, so those who have bristled at the Obama assault on Israel but have bitten their tongues might think about speaking up. Preferably before the UN starts redrawing Israel’s boundaries.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

J Street throws in the towel, conceding that co-founder Daniel Levy said, “I believe that where Jewish history was in 1948 excused, for me — it was good enough for me — an act that was wrong.” The Soros Street gang even provides video.

The PA throws the offer of a settlement freeze back in Bibi’s face. “Senior Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat on Monday stated that the Palestinian Authority unreservedly rejected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s offer of a renewed building freeze in the West Bank in exchange for PA recognition of Israel as the Jewish national home.” I guess it’s not all about the settlements.

Voters are ready to throw out the Dems and with them, the Obama agenda. In every policy area listed (including the economy, spending, ethics, immigration, health care, and terrorism), at least 50 percent of voters think the Democrats’ policies are taking us in the wrong direction.

And more and more voters want to throw them out every day. The GOP hits a high in the RCP generic congressional polling, with an 8.2 point advantage.

Maybe it’s time for the Dems to throw a Hail Mary: “Democratic concerns about the House playing field broadening to record levels appear to only be getting worse as reports that Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) are vulnerable surfaced over the weekend. … The fact that the White House is focused on an inside-baseball campaign finance issue [its unsupported allegation that the Chamber of Commerce collects overseas money for campaign donations], instead of the economy shows how bad the political environment is for Democrats this year.”

Attacking mythical foreign donors isn’t working, so Obama throws this into the mix: “President Obama on Monday called for a ‘fundamental overhaul’ to the nation’s infrastructure that involves a $50 billion investment in roads, bridges, railways and electric grids he says are ‘woefully’ inadequate.” Excuse me, but wasn’t this what the stimulus was going to be used for? We’ve spent under Bush and Obama a couple of trillion, and we still need to spend more because that amount didn’t cover things we absolutely need? You can see why voters are infuriated.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) throws out a few arguments in favor of ObamaCare’s constitutionality. None of them fly. She turns heel. I sometimes get the idea that liberals are unaccustomed and unprepared to have their deeply held, unsubstantiated beliefs challenged.

J Street throws in the towel, conceding that co-founder Daniel Levy said, “I believe that where Jewish history was in 1948 excused, for me — it was good enough for me — an act that was wrong.” The Soros Street gang even provides video.

The PA throws the offer of a settlement freeze back in Bibi’s face. “Senior Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat on Monday stated that the Palestinian Authority unreservedly rejected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s offer of a renewed building freeze in the West Bank in exchange for PA recognition of Israel as the Jewish national home.” I guess it’s not all about the settlements.

Voters are ready to throw out the Dems and with them, the Obama agenda. In every policy area listed (including the economy, spending, ethics, immigration, health care, and terrorism), at least 50 percent of voters think the Democrats’ policies are taking us in the wrong direction.

And more and more voters want to throw them out every day. The GOP hits a high in the RCP generic congressional polling, with an 8.2 point advantage.

Maybe it’s time for the Dems to throw a Hail Mary: “Democratic concerns about the House playing field broadening to record levels appear to only be getting worse as reports that Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) are vulnerable surfaced over the weekend. … The fact that the White House is focused on an inside-baseball campaign finance issue [its unsupported allegation that the Chamber of Commerce collects overseas money for campaign donations], instead of the economy shows how bad the political environment is for Democrats this year.”

Attacking mythical foreign donors isn’t working, so Obama throws this into the mix: “President Obama on Monday called for a ‘fundamental overhaul’ to the nation’s infrastructure that involves a $50 billion investment in roads, bridges, railways and electric grids he says are ‘woefully’ inadequate.” Excuse me, but wasn’t this what the stimulus was going to be used for? We’ve spent under Bush and Obama a couple of trillion, and we still need to spend more because that amount didn’t cover things we absolutely need? You can see why voters are infuriated.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) throws out a few arguments in favor of ObamaCare’s constitutionality. None of them fly. She turns heel. I sometimes get the idea that liberals are unaccustomed and unprepared to have their deeply held, unsubstantiated beliefs challenged.

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Palestinians Freak — No Direct Talks!

This makes it clear just how petrified by the prospect of direct negotiations the Palestinians are:

The Palestinian Authority has added new conditions for resuming direct talks with Israel, presenting new demands that in effect preclude negotiations.

The stipulations stated to the BBC by PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat reflect a previously stated strategy of waiting “a year or two” for the United Nations to recognize it as a new Arab country instead of trying to reach a compromise agreement with Israel. …

Erekat told the BBC that in order for direct talks to resume, Israel also must accept former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal as a starting point. Olmert has said that the PA never replied to his offer, which accepted most of the PA’s demands on Jerusalem but did not satisfy its insistence that Israel allow the immigration of millions of foreign Arabs claiming ancestry in the country.

You almost get the idea that the PA has neither the will nor the ability to make a deal and has been banking on Obama to deliver Israel (or what would be left of it ) on a platter. If Obama had not carried water for the Palestinians for a year and a half, would they take a different position? Maybe. But if you are desperate to conceal that you have no authority to make a deal and no ability to curtail terrorism, you’ll always come up with some excuse to avoid showing up for serious negotiations. Rather than encourage this nonsense with “confidence building” measures, it would be a good idea for Bibi (especially now that Obama is in kiss-and-make-up mode) to end the proximity talks. If the Palestinians decide it’s time to make a deal, I’m sure Bibi will take their call.

This makes it clear just how petrified by the prospect of direct negotiations the Palestinians are:

The Palestinian Authority has added new conditions for resuming direct talks with Israel, presenting new demands that in effect preclude negotiations.

The stipulations stated to the BBC by PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat reflect a previously stated strategy of waiting “a year or two” for the United Nations to recognize it as a new Arab country instead of trying to reach a compromise agreement with Israel. …

Erekat told the BBC that in order for direct talks to resume, Israel also must accept former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal as a starting point. Olmert has said that the PA never replied to his offer, which accepted most of the PA’s demands on Jerusalem but did not satisfy its insistence that Israel allow the immigration of millions of foreign Arabs claiming ancestry in the country.

You almost get the idea that the PA has neither the will nor the ability to make a deal and has been banking on Obama to deliver Israel (or what would be left of it ) on a platter. If Obama had not carried water for the Palestinians for a year and a half, would they take a different position? Maybe. But if you are desperate to conceal that you have no authority to make a deal and no ability to curtail terrorism, you’ll always come up with some excuse to avoid showing up for serious negotiations. Rather than encourage this nonsense with “confidence building” measures, it would be a good idea for Bibi (especially now that Obama is in kiss-and-make-up mode) to end the proximity talks. If the Palestinians decide it’s time to make a deal, I’m sure Bibi will take their call.

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Quick Reaction to the Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

With all the normal caveats — we don’t know what was said in private, etc. — there are a few takeaways from the just-concluded news conference.

1. It was noteworthy that Obama explicitly affirmed in his opening remarks that Israel and the United States share “national security interests [and] our strategic interests.” One of the worst aspects of the recent drama was the inference by administration officials that Israeli and U.S. strategic interests were diverging or even in conflict. It wasn’t very long ago that President Obama was saying that the Israeli-Arab conflict is costing American “blood and treasure.” For now, at least, the administration is avoiding such rhetoric and instead emphasizing the traditional features of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

2. At least publicly, Obama appears to be trying to put the nuclear non-proliferation treaty controversy to bed. As reported a long time ago by Eli Lake, and then finally over the weekend (finally) by the New York Times, the administration has been following what could be called a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Israeli nukes. After apparently promising the Israelis he would not do so, Obama recently endorsed the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, raising the prospect — it’s a little mind-blowing to think about it — that Israel’s nukes, rather than the Iranian nuclear program, would become a focal point of international attention. Today, Obama said the following in an obvious attempt to repair the damage and reassure the Israelis:

I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues [of Israel and the NPT]. … We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region…the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

The test will be what the administration does about all of this when its nuclear conference takes place.

3. Regarding the peace process: for starters, Obama endorsed Netanyahu as a partner for peace (yes, the president has set a very low standard): “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace, I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. … I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.” More important, he endorsed the commencement of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks before the settlement freeze expires in September. This is not a small issue. The Israelis want to move beyond proximity talks for several reasons, primarily because proximity talks prevent the Palestinians’ bluff from being called. So long as the administration plays the role of mediator, the peace process remains focused on settlements and Israel rather than Palestinian intransigence, incitement, etc.

There is no expectation that the Palestinians are prepared to make the big moves that would allow something like a two-state solution to happen; in fact, the Palestinians aren’t even prepared to make the small ones. Over the weekend, it was leaked to an Israeli paper that Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that Israel should maintain control over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The next day, Saeb Erekat announced that nothing of the sort had been offered. To anyone who follows the “peace process,” this is a familiar Palestinian dance.

And it is a dance that the proximity talks keep hidden. Move to direct talks, and the Palestinian position — rejectionism, inflexibility, political fractiousness, and paralysis — will come into stark relief. The fact that Obama endorsed moving to direct talks this summer should make Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad very nervous.

4. There was no mention of the Turkish demand that Obama ask Israel to apologize over the flotilla ambush. Presumably, Obama was wise enough to realize that this is something he should just stay out of.

5. All of this is smart politics for Obama. His hostility toward Israel over the past year and a half earned him nothing and alienated many of his Jewish and pro-Israel supporters. Obviously Obama would like this entire issue to move to the back burner in the run-up to the midterms.

With all the normal caveats — we don’t know what was said in private, etc. — there are a few takeaways from the just-concluded news conference.

1. It was noteworthy that Obama explicitly affirmed in his opening remarks that Israel and the United States share “national security interests [and] our strategic interests.” One of the worst aspects of the recent drama was the inference by administration officials that Israeli and U.S. strategic interests were diverging or even in conflict. It wasn’t very long ago that President Obama was saying that the Israeli-Arab conflict is costing American “blood and treasure.” For now, at least, the administration is avoiding such rhetoric and instead emphasizing the traditional features of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

2. At least publicly, Obama appears to be trying to put the nuclear non-proliferation treaty controversy to bed. As reported a long time ago by Eli Lake, and then finally over the weekend (finally) by the New York Times, the administration has been following what could be called a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Israeli nukes. After apparently promising the Israelis he would not do so, Obama recently endorsed the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, raising the prospect — it’s a little mind-blowing to think about it — that Israel’s nukes, rather than the Iranian nuclear program, would become a focal point of international attention. Today, Obama said the following in an obvious attempt to repair the damage and reassure the Israelis:

I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues [of Israel and the NPT]. … We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region…the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

The test will be what the administration does about all of this when its nuclear conference takes place.

3. Regarding the peace process: for starters, Obama endorsed Netanyahu as a partner for peace (yes, the president has set a very low standard): “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace, I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. … I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.” More important, he endorsed the commencement of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks before the settlement freeze expires in September. This is not a small issue. The Israelis want to move beyond proximity talks for several reasons, primarily because proximity talks prevent the Palestinians’ bluff from being called. So long as the administration plays the role of mediator, the peace process remains focused on settlements and Israel rather than Palestinian intransigence, incitement, etc.

There is no expectation that the Palestinians are prepared to make the big moves that would allow something like a two-state solution to happen; in fact, the Palestinians aren’t even prepared to make the small ones. Over the weekend, it was leaked to an Israeli paper that Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that Israel should maintain control over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The next day, Saeb Erekat announced that nothing of the sort had been offered. To anyone who follows the “peace process,” this is a familiar Palestinian dance.

And it is a dance that the proximity talks keep hidden. Move to direct talks, and the Palestinian position — rejectionism, inflexibility, political fractiousness, and paralysis — will come into stark relief. The fact that Obama endorsed moving to direct talks this summer should make Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad very nervous.

4. There was no mention of the Turkish demand that Obama ask Israel to apologize over the flotilla ambush. Presumably, Obama was wise enough to realize that this is something he should just stay out of.

5. All of this is smart politics for Obama. His hostility toward Israel over the past year and a half earned him nothing and alienated many of his Jewish and pro-Israel supporters. Obviously Obama would like this entire issue to move to the back burner in the run-up to the midterms.

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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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Flotilla Fiasco (UPDATED)

The details of what happened on the boat leading the flotilla trying to enter the Gaza Strip are still coming to light. CNN in the U.S. is speaking about “conflicting accounts,” though the videos it keeps playing seem to vindicate the Israeli side. (You see an Israeli soldier dropping into the deck, and then you seem him getting attacked. There is no indication that the IDF soldier had opened fire. The same video appears on an Israeli website here.) And yet, none of this has prevented worldwide international condemnation, including the hauling in of Israeli ambassadors in Sweden, Spain, and Turkey. And the grim results seem very clear: between nine and 15 people on board killed, and at least two Israeli soldiers in critical condition with stab and gunshot wounds.

Veteran Israel journalist Ron Ben-Yishai at YNet describes IDF soldiers who were ill-prepared for having to disperse a violent response. “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” the soldiers yelled to each other as they were attacked, picked off one by one as they landed on the deck, still believing they were dealing with innocent ideologues rather than orchestrated violence. “Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one,” Ben-Yishai reports, “yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly.” Later on, caches were found on board containing more weapons. What’s clear is that these people were prepared for a fight — peace activists, indeed.

But beyond the question of what happened on the boat, and the more serious questions of the evolving nature of pro-Palestinian activism and the IDF’s apparent failure to prepare for a violent response, the event is also an important test case for how Israel is doing at adapting itself to the new rapid-information media world. The answer: so-so. On one hand, it’s clear that the Israelis, and especially the IDF, have made major advances in internalizing the message that the media battle is a crucial and — more often than not — decisive element in modern warfare. They released videos that would have remained classified not too long ago; they cleared a commando who took part in the raid to interview with the Associated Press and CNN; and they have emphatically made the case that the people on board planned to use force in advance. All these facts suggest a sea change in the way the IDF deals with the media, one that we already saw in the last Gaza war with the creation, for example, of a YouTube channel for the IDF. The result has been that, at least here in the United States, television coverage has been somewhat balanced.

At the same time, Israel is still far behind the Palestinians in real-time rapid response and pre-event preparedness.

I spoke this morning with a senior producer for one of the major network news divisions in the United States. “This morning, I received a well-phrased press release from the office of [PA spokesman] Saeb Erekat,” he told me. “I got it at 4:36 a.m. It was obviously prepared in advance. Now it’s 11 a.m., and I still have got nothing from the Israeli government.” Predictably, that news release, which was sent out to key journalists around the Western world, was full of half-truths (like the assertion that the passengers on the ship were “unarmed civilian activists” who were “savagely attacked” by the IDF), but the point is that for all of Israel’s rapid response, it was wildly outmaneuvered by the Palestinian media commandos. As CNN pointed out, the pro-Palestinian activists were live-streaming the event and sending messages via Twitter throughout. “Despite everything they’ve been through,” he continued, “the Israelis seem to have been taken utterly by surprise. It’s always react, react, react — never proactive.”

UPDATE: A good friend of mine is a nurse who was on duty in the emergency room at a Jerusalem hospital when some of the injured “activists” were brought in. She tells me that many of them are wearing camouflage. “Not sure they were official Turkish army clothes,” she says, “but they weren’t civilian dress, that’s for sure.”

The details of what happened on the boat leading the flotilla trying to enter the Gaza Strip are still coming to light. CNN in the U.S. is speaking about “conflicting accounts,” though the videos it keeps playing seem to vindicate the Israeli side. (You see an Israeli soldier dropping into the deck, and then you seem him getting attacked. There is no indication that the IDF soldier had opened fire. The same video appears on an Israeli website here.) And yet, none of this has prevented worldwide international condemnation, including the hauling in of Israeli ambassadors in Sweden, Spain, and Turkey. And the grim results seem very clear: between nine and 15 people on board killed, and at least two Israeli soldiers in critical condition with stab and gunshot wounds.

Veteran Israel journalist Ron Ben-Yishai at YNet describes IDF soldiers who were ill-prepared for having to disperse a violent response. “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” the soldiers yelled to each other as they were attacked, picked off one by one as they landed on the deck, still believing they were dealing with innocent ideologues rather than orchestrated violence. “Navy commandoes slid down to the vessel one by one,” Ben-Yishai reports, “yet then the unexpected occurred: The passengers that awaited them on the deck pulled out bats, clubs, and slingshots with glass marbles, assaulting each soldier as he disembarked. The fighters were nabbed one by one and were beaten up badly.” Later on, caches were found on board containing more weapons. What’s clear is that these people were prepared for a fight — peace activists, indeed.

But beyond the question of what happened on the boat, and the more serious questions of the evolving nature of pro-Palestinian activism and the IDF’s apparent failure to prepare for a violent response, the event is also an important test case for how Israel is doing at adapting itself to the new rapid-information media world. The answer: so-so. On one hand, it’s clear that the Israelis, and especially the IDF, have made major advances in internalizing the message that the media battle is a crucial and — more often than not — decisive element in modern warfare. They released videos that would have remained classified not too long ago; they cleared a commando who took part in the raid to interview with the Associated Press and CNN; and they have emphatically made the case that the people on board planned to use force in advance. All these facts suggest a sea change in the way the IDF deals with the media, one that we already saw in the last Gaza war with the creation, for example, of a YouTube channel for the IDF. The result has been that, at least here in the United States, television coverage has been somewhat balanced.

At the same time, Israel is still far behind the Palestinians in real-time rapid response and pre-event preparedness.

I spoke this morning with a senior producer for one of the major network news divisions in the United States. “This morning, I received a well-phrased press release from the office of [PA spokesman] Saeb Erekat,” he told me. “I got it at 4:36 a.m. It was obviously prepared in advance. Now it’s 11 a.m., and I still have got nothing from the Israeli government.” Predictably, that news release, which was sent out to key journalists around the Western world, was full of half-truths (like the assertion that the passengers on the ship were “unarmed civilian activists” who were “savagely attacked” by the IDF), but the point is that for all of Israel’s rapid response, it was wildly outmaneuvered by the Palestinian media commandos. As CNN pointed out, the pro-Palestinian activists were live-streaming the event and sending messages via Twitter throughout. “Despite everything they’ve been through,” he continued, “the Israelis seem to have been taken utterly by surprise. It’s always react, react, react — never proactive.”

UPDATE: A good friend of mine is a nurse who was on duty in the emergency room at a Jerusalem hospital when some of the injured “activists” were brought in. She tells me that many of them are wearing camouflage. “Not sure they were official Turkish army clothes,” she says, “but they weren’t civilian dress, that’s for sure.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

From the Jerusalem Day festivities: “Heckled by a lawmaker from Israel’s Arab minority, Netanyahu offered a lesson in comparative religion from the lectern. ‘Because you asked: Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and none of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran. But in an expanded interpretation of the Koran from the 12th century, one passage is said to refer to Jerusalem,’ he said. Responding to Netanyahu’s citations, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: ‘I find it very distasteful, this use of religion to incite hatred and fear. East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian town, and East Jerusalem cannot continue to be occupied if there is to be peace.'” Really, only Muslims are allowed to assert a religious claim to Jerusalem, you see.

Sen. Pat Leahy has figured out Elena Kagan’s biggest liability: “During their 40-minute meeting in his office, Leahy said he spoke with Kagan about her decision that military officials could not use the campus’ main recruitment office because doing so would violate the school’s anti-discrimination policy — given the military’s prohibition against the service of openly gay men and women. Speaking to reporters afterward, Leahy downplayed the controversy.”

Perhaps the donors should sue to get their money back: “Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced today that he will not refund donations he received from Republican voters before he left the GOP in his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. … The announcement contradicts statements the Crist campaign has made to several newspapers, including the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times. In both publications, the campaign said it would issue ‘pro-rated refunds’ because Crist had already spent some of the money.”

More evidence of a wave election: “Republicans have solidified support among voters who had drifted from the party in recent elections, putting the GOP in position for a strong comeback in November’s elections, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The findings suggest that public opinion has hardened in advance of the 2010 elections, making it harder for Democrats to translate their legislative successes or a tentatively improving U.S. economy into gains among voters. Republicans have reassembled their coalition by reconnecting with independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters—all of whom had moved away from the party in the 2006 elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Those voter groups now favor GOP control of Congress.” All it took was less than two years of one-party Democratic rule.

Oh good grief: “The Jewish chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee urged colleagues to reassess negative impressions of the Obama administration’s U.N. outreach. ‘I wanted to bring to your attention two recent hard-fought victories by the United States at these institutions, which highlight how sustained engagement with international organizations by the Obama Administration has reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel,’ [Howard] Berman said in a May 11 letter sent to every member of the House. ‘By actively using our voice and vote in organizations such as the UNHRC and UNESCO, we are better able to support Israel — and achieve other important goals — in the international community.'” Is he mad?

Republicans have the lead in generic congressional poll in latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey. And Obama is tied with a generic Republican in the 2012 race. Of course, generic candidates don’t actually run, which is what makes politics interesting.

Jeffrey Goldberg on Robert Wright: “Yep, I’m guilty of believing that jihadist ideology is at the root of Islamist terrorism. Bob got me good this time.” Really, foreclosures and mental illness are the root of the problem.

The left rides to the defense of Richard Goldstone. No surprise there.

From the Jerusalem Day festivities: “Heckled by a lawmaker from Israel’s Arab minority, Netanyahu offered a lesson in comparative religion from the lectern. ‘Because you asked: Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and none of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran. But in an expanded interpretation of the Koran from the 12th century, one passage is said to refer to Jerusalem,’ he said. Responding to Netanyahu’s citations, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said: ‘I find it very distasteful, this use of religion to incite hatred and fear. East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian town, and East Jerusalem cannot continue to be occupied if there is to be peace.'” Really, only Muslims are allowed to assert a religious claim to Jerusalem, you see.

Sen. Pat Leahy has figured out Elena Kagan’s biggest liability: “During their 40-minute meeting in his office, Leahy said he spoke with Kagan about her decision that military officials could not use the campus’ main recruitment office because doing so would violate the school’s anti-discrimination policy — given the military’s prohibition against the service of openly gay men and women. Speaking to reporters afterward, Leahy downplayed the controversy.”

Perhaps the donors should sue to get their money back: “Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced today that he will not refund donations he received from Republican voters before he left the GOP in his bid for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. … The announcement contradicts statements the Crist campaign has made to several newspapers, including the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times. In both publications, the campaign said it would issue ‘pro-rated refunds’ because Crist had already spent some of the money.”

More evidence of a wave election: “Republicans have solidified support among voters who had drifted from the party in recent elections, putting the GOP in position for a strong comeback in November’s elections, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. The findings suggest that public opinion has hardened in advance of the 2010 elections, making it harder for Democrats to translate their legislative successes or a tentatively improving U.S. economy into gains among voters. Republicans have reassembled their coalition by reconnecting with independents, seniors, blue-collar voters, suburban women and small town and rural voters—all of whom had moved away from the party in the 2006 elections, in which Republicans lost control of the House. Those voter groups now favor GOP control of Congress.” All it took was less than two years of one-party Democratic rule.

Oh good grief: “The Jewish chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee urged colleagues to reassess negative impressions of the Obama administration’s U.N. outreach. ‘I wanted to bring to your attention two recent hard-fought victories by the United States at these institutions, which highlight how sustained engagement with international organizations by the Obama Administration has reaped important dividends for both the U.S. and Israel,’ [Howard] Berman said in a May 11 letter sent to every member of the House. ‘By actively using our voice and vote in organizations such as the UNHRC and UNESCO, we are better able to support Israel — and achieve other important goals — in the international community.'” Is he mad?

Republicans have the lead in generic congressional poll in latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey. And Obama is tied with a generic Republican in the 2012 race. Of course, generic candidates don’t actually run, which is what makes politics interesting.

Jeffrey Goldberg on Robert Wright: “Yep, I’m guilty of believing that jihadist ideology is at the root of Islamist terrorism. Bob got me good this time.” Really, foreclosures and mental illness are the root of the problem.

The left rides to the defense of Richard Goldstone. No surprise there.

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Abbas Gets a White House Visit

Fox News reports:

President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy wrapped up his latest diplomatic mission Sunday without getting the Palestinians to agree to indirect peace talks with Israel, but there were signs the impasse could be broken soon.George Mitchell said he would return to the region next week, signaling he is making progress.

Palestinian officials said President Mahmoud Abbas plans to consult with Arab countries at the end of the week and could soon be heading to the White House for talks with Obama. Abbas needs to decide whether to engage with Israel, with Mitchell as a go-between, even though Israel has rejected his demands to freeze new construction for Jews in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.

A senior Palestinian official said Abbas was inclined to agree to the talks, in large part because of personal appeals in recent days from Obama, Mitchell and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal Palestinian deliberations.

Wait. Abbas is meeting with Obama at the White House after the multiple snubs to Netanyahu? Yup. And it’s not hard to figure out why. The Obami are rewarding intransigence and bribing Abbas not to embarrass George Mitchell and crew by wrecking the proximity talks. Fox notes that the Obami hve been “trying to coax Abbas back to the table”:

Last week, Obama wrote to Abbas, promising to work hard to achieve a comprehensive Mideast peace deal and asking the Palestinian leader to agree to indirect talks, according to an Abbas aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the content of the letter with the media.

Obama also wrote that he looks forward to seeing Abbas soon, the aide said. He said an Obama-Abbas meeting could take place in the second half of May, but that no formal invitation was issued and no date set.

Another Abbas adviser, Saeb Erekat, said the Palestinians had requested a White House meeting in the past, and that Mitchell told them that Obama agreed to such a meeting. Erekat also said no date has been set.

The reversal of American Middle East policy is nearly complete. We insult the Israeli prime minister and coo over the Palestinian leader who celebrates terrorists, refuses to meet face to face with the Israelis, and lacks the ability (or the will) to recognize the Jewish state. Well, this is certainly a test for the American Jewish community — what say they about this latest sign of the Obami’s new found pro-Palestinian orientation? Or will they be snowed by the latest White House PR offensive and mutely accept this latest indication that the “rock-solid” relationship is that between Obama and the PA and not that between Obama and Israel?

And as for the “peace process,” one wonders what the Obami will do when all of this ends in yet another failure. For, of course, Abbas can’t possibly conclude a peace deal. With the help of the Obami, he will — no doubt —  find some way to shift the blame when it comes to the Israelis. That’s the sort of thing for which they can rely upon their new best friend in the White House.

Fox News reports:

President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy wrapped up his latest diplomatic mission Sunday without getting the Palestinians to agree to indirect peace talks with Israel, but there were signs the impasse could be broken soon.George Mitchell said he would return to the region next week, signaling he is making progress.

Palestinian officials said President Mahmoud Abbas plans to consult with Arab countries at the end of the week and could soon be heading to the White House for talks with Obama. Abbas needs to decide whether to engage with Israel, with Mitchell as a go-between, even though Israel has rejected his demands to freeze new construction for Jews in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.

A senior Palestinian official said Abbas was inclined to agree to the talks, in large part because of personal appeals in recent days from Obama, Mitchell and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal Palestinian deliberations.

Wait. Abbas is meeting with Obama at the White House after the multiple snubs to Netanyahu? Yup. And it’s not hard to figure out why. The Obami are rewarding intransigence and bribing Abbas not to embarrass George Mitchell and crew by wrecking the proximity talks. Fox notes that the Obami hve been “trying to coax Abbas back to the table”:

Last week, Obama wrote to Abbas, promising to work hard to achieve a comprehensive Mideast peace deal and asking the Palestinian leader to agree to indirect talks, according to an Abbas aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the content of the letter with the media.

Obama also wrote that he looks forward to seeing Abbas soon, the aide said. He said an Obama-Abbas meeting could take place in the second half of May, but that no formal invitation was issued and no date set.

Another Abbas adviser, Saeb Erekat, said the Palestinians had requested a White House meeting in the past, and that Mitchell told them that Obama agreed to such a meeting. Erekat also said no date has been set.

The reversal of American Middle East policy is nearly complete. We insult the Israeli prime minister and coo over the Palestinian leader who celebrates terrorists, refuses to meet face to face with the Israelis, and lacks the ability (or the will) to recognize the Jewish state. Well, this is certainly a test for the American Jewish community — what say they about this latest sign of the Obami’s new found pro-Palestinian orientation? Or will they be snowed by the latest White House PR offensive and mutely accept this latest indication that the “rock-solid” relationship is that between Obama and the PA and not that between Obama and Israel?

And as for the “peace process,” one wonders what the Obami will do when all of this ends in yet another failure. For, of course, Abbas can’t possibly conclude a peace deal. With the help of the Obami, he will — no doubt —  find some way to shift the blame when it comes to the Israelis. That’s the sort of thing for which they can rely upon their new best friend in the White House.

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Are They Being Smart Yet?

Joe Biden arrived in Israel. A ticker-tape parade he did not receive. As this report notes:

Vice President Biden arrived in Israel on Monday to boost U.S. efforts to mediate talks between Israelis and Palestinians amid criticism that the Obama administration has set back the peace process.

Biden’s four-day visit — in addition to reassuring Israeli leaders about the U.S. commitment to curb Iran’s nuclear program — is designed to prod Israel and the Palestinians to get talks moving again. With a speech in Tel Aviv on Thursday, he will also try to court the Israeli public, some of whom felt snubbed in the past year by President Obama, who has visited Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia but has yet to come to Israel.

All George Mitchell could muster were so-called “proximity” talks, indirect discussions between parties that have little to discuss and, in the case of the Palestinians, little authority or willingness to make a “deal.” So the grousing has begun:

After so many years of direct talks that wrestled with the core issues of the future of Jerusalem, borders, security and Palestinian refugees, Mitchell’s announcement felt to some observers more like a setback than a success.

“It’s hardly a cause for celebration that after 17 years of direct official talks we are regressing to proximity talks,” said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of a Middle East blog and a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Saeb Erekat, the longtime Palestinian negotiator, told Israel’s Army Radio that the indirect talks were a last attempt “to save the peace process.”

My, what a comedown from the previous administrations, which at least were adept at getting the parties in the same room. But then all this is silliness squared. There is no deal to be had and no peace to be processed. That said, it’s painfully obvious that the Obami have made a bad situation worse. In case there was any doubt as to the diplomatic belly flop performed by the Mitchell-Axelrod-Clinton-Emanuel-Obama brain trust, we learn, “Israel announced construction of 112 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit. The administration had pushed hard — but unsuccessfully — last year for a complete freeze on settlements, and Israel’s new announcement came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting with Mitchell.” Message delivered.

Even those enamored of Obama and so benighted as to believe that peace is within sight at this juncture are rather disgusted with the Obama effort:

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. mediator and ambassador to Israel and Egypt who served both Democrat and Republican presidents, took a more skeptical view. He said it’s “not understandable why we would now have them sit in separate rooms and move between them.”

“I have been disappointed this past year with the lack of boldness and the lack of creativity and the lack of strength in our diplomacy with respect to this peace process. We have not articulated a policy, and we don’t have a strategy,” Kurtzer, who advised Obama’s presidential campaign, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

And like so many other allies (an entire coalition of the slighted might be assembled), the Israelis can’t quite believe they got a Biden visit. (“‘While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel,’ said Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, ‘we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.'”)

When does the smart diplomacy start?

Here’s something smart: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s alternative vision. It goes like this:

Last August he announced what has come to be known as the “Fayyad Plan” under the heading: “Palestine — Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.” The idea is to build a de facto Palestinian state by mid-2011, with functioning government and municipal offices, police forces, a central bank, stock market, schools, hospitals, community centers, etc. Fayyad’s watchword is transparency, and his aim is institutions that are corruption-free and provide an array of modern government services.

Then, in mid-2011, with all the trappings of statehood in place, he intends to make his political move: Invite Israel to recognize the well-functioning Palestinian state and withdraw from territories it still occupies, or be forced to do so by the pressure of international opinion.

In February, at the 10th Herzliya Conference, an annual forum on Israel’s national security attended by top decision-makers and academics, Fayyad, the lone Palestinian, gave an articulate off-the-cuff address, leaving little doubt as to what he has in mind.

Now which track do we think has a better chance of success — Mitchell’s or Fayyad’s? And since the answer is so obvious, the mystery remains why Mitchell is still there and why we are still pursuing a fruitless and counterproductive policy.

Joe Biden arrived in Israel. A ticker-tape parade he did not receive. As this report notes:

Vice President Biden arrived in Israel on Monday to boost U.S. efforts to mediate talks between Israelis and Palestinians amid criticism that the Obama administration has set back the peace process.

Biden’s four-day visit — in addition to reassuring Israeli leaders about the U.S. commitment to curb Iran’s nuclear program — is designed to prod Israel and the Palestinians to get talks moving again. With a speech in Tel Aviv on Thursday, he will also try to court the Israeli public, some of whom felt snubbed in the past year by President Obama, who has visited Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia but has yet to come to Israel.

All George Mitchell could muster were so-called “proximity” talks, indirect discussions between parties that have little to discuss and, in the case of the Palestinians, little authority or willingness to make a “deal.” So the grousing has begun:

After so many years of direct talks that wrestled with the core issues of the future of Jerusalem, borders, security and Palestinian refugees, Mitchell’s announcement felt to some observers more like a setback than a success.

“It’s hardly a cause for celebration that after 17 years of direct official talks we are regressing to proximity talks,” said Yossi Alpher, co-editor of a Middle East blog and a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Saeb Erekat, the longtime Palestinian negotiator, told Israel’s Army Radio that the indirect talks were a last attempt “to save the peace process.”

My, what a comedown from the previous administrations, which at least were adept at getting the parties in the same room. But then all this is silliness squared. There is no deal to be had and no peace to be processed. That said, it’s painfully obvious that the Obami have made a bad situation worse. In case there was any doubt as to the diplomatic belly flop performed by the Mitchell-Axelrod-Clinton-Emanuel-Obama brain trust, we learn, “Israel announced construction of 112 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Ilit. The administration had pushed hard — but unsuccessfully — last year for a complete freeze on settlements, and Israel’s new announcement came as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting with Mitchell.” Message delivered.

Even those enamored of Obama and so benighted as to believe that peace is within sight at this juncture are rather disgusted with the Obama effort:

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. mediator and ambassador to Israel and Egypt who served both Democrat and Republican presidents, took a more skeptical view. He said it’s “not understandable why we would now have them sit in separate rooms and move between them.”

“I have been disappointed this past year with the lack of boldness and the lack of creativity and the lack of strength in our diplomacy with respect to this peace process. We have not articulated a policy, and we don’t have a strategy,” Kurtzer, who advised Obama’s presidential campaign, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week.

And like so many other allies (an entire coalition of the slighted might be assembled), the Israelis can’t quite believe they got a Biden visit. (“‘While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel,’ said Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, ‘we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.'”)

When does the smart diplomacy start?

Here’s something smart: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s alternative vision. It goes like this:

Last August he announced what has come to be known as the “Fayyad Plan” under the heading: “Palestine — Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.” The idea is to build a de facto Palestinian state by mid-2011, with functioning government and municipal offices, police forces, a central bank, stock market, schools, hospitals, community centers, etc. Fayyad’s watchword is transparency, and his aim is institutions that are corruption-free and provide an array of modern government services.

Then, in mid-2011, with all the trappings of statehood in place, he intends to make his political move: Invite Israel to recognize the well-functioning Palestinian state and withdraw from territories it still occupies, or be forced to do so by the pressure of international opinion.

In February, at the 10th Herzliya Conference, an annual forum on Israel’s national security attended by top decision-makers and academics, Fayyad, the lone Palestinian, gave an articulate off-the-cuff address, leaving little doubt as to what he has in mind.

Now which track do we think has a better chance of success — Mitchell’s or Fayyad’s? And since the answer is so obvious, the mystery remains why Mitchell is still there and why we are still pursuing a fruitless and counterproductive policy.

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RE: Abbas Still Says No

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

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Blah Blah Blah with Bush

I would like readers to know that my skepticism about Bush’s present visit to Jerusalem does not stem from resentment for the traffic snarls that threaten my peace-seeking efforts to drive my kids to school on time. Nor does it come from the kitsch that flowed from the Israel Convention Center last night, as two childrens’ choirs, one on site and the other in Maryland, celebrated the Israel-U.S. alliance in the presence of world leaders by unfathomably and simultaneously singing the Beatles’ Let it Be and Naomi Shemer’s Lu Yehi, which was written after the 1973 war in conscious echoing of the Liverpudlians’ swan song.

I sometimes wish that international politics were less, er, full of it. When you hear Olmert declaring significant progress being made in talks with Palestinians and a bewildered Saeb Erekat responding that he has no idea what Olmert’s talking about, and you find yourself believing the Palestinians, then you know what I mean. Or when Bush describes Olmert as “an honest man,” something that virtually no Israeli believes any more. Or when Israeli leaders respond to yesterday’s rocket attack on an Ashkelon shopping mall (it was an Iranian-made rocket, for those of you keeping score), which injured dozens, by declaring yet again that Israel will not stand idly by while blah blah blah . . . Perhaps I should just stop reading the stuff and go back to comics.

There is, of course, a good reason why international politics is so often a swamp of dissimulation. (It’s not diplomatic to use the word “lies.”) It is because politicians are accountable to people back home, and the farther away something is, the harder it is for the real bosses — the voters — to tell truth from fiction. Who among Bush’s voters really cares, or really knows, whether Olmert is an honest guy? Back home, it makes Bush look like a generous spirit; over here, it makes him look complicit in the deterioration of politics and the loss of values in the Jewish state.

Oh, well. Israelis, for their part, have grown numb to the whole thing. They’re busy as usual, dealing with casualties and trying to put their elected officials behind bars.

I would like readers to know that my skepticism about Bush’s present visit to Jerusalem does not stem from resentment for the traffic snarls that threaten my peace-seeking efforts to drive my kids to school on time. Nor does it come from the kitsch that flowed from the Israel Convention Center last night, as two childrens’ choirs, one on site and the other in Maryland, celebrated the Israel-U.S. alliance in the presence of world leaders by unfathomably and simultaneously singing the Beatles’ Let it Be and Naomi Shemer’s Lu Yehi, which was written after the 1973 war in conscious echoing of the Liverpudlians’ swan song.

I sometimes wish that international politics were less, er, full of it. When you hear Olmert declaring significant progress being made in talks with Palestinians and a bewildered Saeb Erekat responding that he has no idea what Olmert’s talking about, and you find yourself believing the Palestinians, then you know what I mean. Or when Bush describes Olmert as “an honest man,” something that virtually no Israeli believes any more. Or when Israeli leaders respond to yesterday’s rocket attack on an Ashkelon shopping mall (it was an Iranian-made rocket, for those of you keeping score), which injured dozens, by declaring yet again that Israel will not stand idly by while blah blah blah . . . Perhaps I should just stop reading the stuff and go back to comics.

There is, of course, a good reason why international politics is so often a swamp of dissimulation. (It’s not diplomatic to use the word “lies.”) It is because politicians are accountable to people back home, and the farther away something is, the harder it is for the real bosses — the voters — to tell truth from fiction. Who among Bush’s voters really cares, or really knows, whether Olmert is an honest guy? Back home, it makes Bush look like a generous spirit; over here, it makes him look complicit in the deterioration of politics and the loss of values in the Jewish state.

Oh, well. Israelis, for their part, have grown numb to the whole thing. They’re busy as usual, dealing with casualties and trying to put their elected officials behind bars.

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Today’s Yeshiva Massacre in Jerusalem

In case you hadn’t heard, there has just been a terror attack in Jerusalem: a gunman infiltrated a yeshiva and opened fire on a crowd of teenagers in the dining hall:

Witnesses said that only one terrorist had entered the building and that he managed to fire 500-600 bullets over the course of 10 minutes before he was killed.

It is unclear at the moment which of the myriad Palestinian terror groups perpetrated the attack, but Hamas thought it would be a good idea to get its two cents into the news coverage post-haste:

“We bless the (Jerusalem) operation. It will not be the last,” Hamas said in a statement.

It is safe to say in this regard that many Gazans share Hamas’ sense of good fortune:

Gaza’s streets filled with joyous crowds of thousands on Thursday evening following the terror attack at a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary in which eight people were killed. In mosques in Gaza City and northern Gaza, many residents went to perform the prayers of thanksgiving. Armed men fired in the air in celebration and others passed out sweets to passersby.

Note that this is the terror group, implacably devoted to bloodshed and murder, that a number of American foreign policy elites have been lecturing the Bush administration and the Olmert government to “diplomatically engage.”

And now we have Mahmoud Abbas making his Arafat-esque perfunctory denunciation:

“President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack in Jerusalem that claimed the lives of many Israelis and he reiterated his condemnation of all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis,” said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.

Abbas is a man in the habit of condemning specific acts of terrorism, but honoring and celebrating terrorism and terrorists generally–especially in Arabic. When George Habash died — the founder of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and an unapologetic celebrator of savagery against Jews — Abbas ordered the PA’s flags to half-mast for three days. Abbas’s state-run television station shows maps of “Palestine” with Israel eradicated, and he refers in speeches intended for domestic consumption to the glories of martyrdom. Abu Mazen has a long way to go before rivaling his predecessor in this kind of doublespeak, but he is certainly headed in the right direction.

In case you hadn’t heard, there has just been a terror attack in Jerusalem: a gunman infiltrated a yeshiva and opened fire on a crowd of teenagers in the dining hall:

Witnesses said that only one terrorist had entered the building and that he managed to fire 500-600 bullets over the course of 10 minutes before he was killed.

It is unclear at the moment which of the myriad Palestinian terror groups perpetrated the attack, but Hamas thought it would be a good idea to get its two cents into the news coverage post-haste:

“We bless the (Jerusalem) operation. It will not be the last,” Hamas said in a statement.

It is safe to say in this regard that many Gazans share Hamas’ sense of good fortune:

Gaza’s streets filled with joyous crowds of thousands on Thursday evening following the terror attack at a Jerusalem rabbinical seminary in which eight people were killed. In mosques in Gaza City and northern Gaza, many residents went to perform the prayers of thanksgiving. Armed men fired in the air in celebration and others passed out sweets to passersby.

Note that this is the terror group, implacably devoted to bloodshed and murder, that a number of American foreign policy elites have been lecturing the Bush administration and the Olmert government to “diplomatically engage.”

And now we have Mahmoud Abbas making his Arafat-esque perfunctory denunciation:

“President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack in Jerusalem that claimed the lives of many Israelis and he reiterated his condemnation of all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis,” said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.

Abbas is a man in the habit of condemning specific acts of terrorism, but honoring and celebrating terrorism and terrorists generally–especially in Arabic. When George Habash died — the founder of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and an unapologetic celebrator of savagery against Jews — Abbas ordered the PA’s flags to half-mast for three days. Abbas’s state-run television station shows maps of “Palestine” with Israel eradicated, and he refers in speeches intended for domestic consumption to the glories of martyrdom. Abu Mazen has a long way to go before rivaling his predecessor in this kind of doublespeak, but he is certainly headed in the right direction.

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The Wrong Rebuttal

A major sticking point has arisen in the run-up to the not-much-anticipated Annapolis conference: as a precondition, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is insisting that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. On Monday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat created a stir when he announced that the Palestinians would do no such thing, arguing that, “no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity.”

Naturally, Erekat is wrong. As my contentions colleague Noah Pollak intimated, every country with a cross, crescent, or religious phrase on its national flag, to varying extremes, traces its national identity to religious/cultural roots. Moreover, Israel’s use of the term “Jewish state” hardly connotes theocracy, as Erekat deceptively implies, but rather the state’s ethno-cultural identity. In this vein, former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Meir Shamgar once compared Israel’s being Jewish to France’s being French.

Yet these rebuttals all seem a little too neat. After all, we don’t find France demanding recognition of its French identity—least of all from its adversaries—as Israel continues to do. Indeed, nobody contests that France is French by virtue of a population that is overwhelmingly French.

Olmert should operate with similar confidence regarding Israel’s ethno-cultural character, which is Jewish by virtue of a population that is mostly Jewish. Of course, in this context, Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” is code for renouncing the “right of return,” by which four million Palestinians would be permitted to repatriate to Israel. But if Olmert wishes to prevent this outcome, he’d be better served dealing in terms that affirm Israel’s sovereignty, rather than subjecting its pre-existent character to Palestinian acquiescence. Sovereignty encompasses the right of a state to secure its borders—and determine who can and cannot enter. When Palestinians are asked to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” they are granted an undue voice in affirming Israel’s internal character—a strike against Israeli sovereignty that Israel bizarrely invites. Israel is a Jewish state, whether or not Erekat admits it.

So long as any Israeli-Palestinian peace process aims to create two sovereign states, Israel’s “Jewish character” must be seen as a matter for Israelis alone to define and determine. For this reason, Olmert would be best served arriving at the Annapolis conference ready to talk about security arrangements and final borders—ones that guarantee total sovereignty for Israelis and Palestinians over their own affairs.

A major sticking point has arisen in the run-up to the not-much-anticipated Annapolis conference: as a precondition, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is insisting that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. On Monday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat created a stir when he announced that the Palestinians would do no such thing, arguing that, “no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity.”

Naturally, Erekat is wrong. As my contentions colleague Noah Pollak intimated, every country with a cross, crescent, or religious phrase on its national flag, to varying extremes, traces its national identity to religious/cultural roots. Moreover, Israel’s use of the term “Jewish state” hardly connotes theocracy, as Erekat deceptively implies, but rather the state’s ethno-cultural identity. In this vein, former Israeli Supreme Court Chief Justice Meir Shamgar once compared Israel’s being Jewish to France’s being French.

Yet these rebuttals all seem a little too neat. After all, we don’t find France demanding recognition of its French identity—least of all from its adversaries—as Israel continues to do. Indeed, nobody contests that France is French by virtue of a population that is overwhelmingly French.

Olmert should operate with similar confidence regarding Israel’s ethno-cultural character, which is Jewish by virtue of a population that is mostly Jewish. Of course, in this context, Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” is code for renouncing the “right of return,” by which four million Palestinians would be permitted to repatriate to Israel. But if Olmert wishes to prevent this outcome, he’d be better served dealing in terms that affirm Israel’s sovereignty, rather than subjecting its pre-existent character to Palestinian acquiescence. Sovereignty encompasses the right of a state to secure its borders—and determine who can and cannot enter. When Palestinians are asked to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” they are granted an undue voice in affirming Israel’s internal character—a strike against Israeli sovereignty that Israel bizarrely invites. Israel is a Jewish state, whether or not Erekat admits it.

So long as any Israeli-Palestinian peace process aims to create two sovereign states, Israel’s “Jewish character” must be seen as a matter for Israelis alone to define and determine. For this reason, Olmert would be best served arriving at the Annapolis conference ready to talk about security arrangements and final borders—ones that guarantee total sovereignty for Israelis and Palestinians over their own affairs.

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Don’t Believe Your Ears

Saeb Erekat, the longstanding Palestinian negotiator, announced on Israeli radio today that the Palestinians will not accept Israel as a “Jewish state” (never mind that it already is)—that description carrying with it, of course, a prohibition on Israel’s being flooded with the millions of descendants of the Arabs who left Palestine before and during the 1948 War of Independence, people currently languishing under the awful custodianship of UNRWA in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.

Erekat is legendary for what could politely be called his casual relationship to the truth. In one of his finer moments, in 2002, he was shrieking to every Western reporter who would listen that the IDF had slaughtered over 500 civilians in Jenin and buried them in mass graves (the reporters not only were listening but believing, and thereafter not caring very much at having been lied to). But all of that unpleasantness is so much water under the bridge at this point. Erekat is a favorite of the press corps, and little things like false accusations of a massacre should never be permitted to undercut future media appearances.

And so today, in refusing to assent to the existence of something that is already real—a Jewish homeland—he said that “no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity.” I wonder if Erekat is familiar with the two largest states in the Middle East—Saudi Arabia and Iran—that do exactly that, and in far more sensational fashion than liberal, democratic Israel? Are any of the journalists who routinely make themselves the receptacles for Erekat’s garbage going to ask him, in his next media appearance (occurring moments from now, I feel safe predicting) to explain this strange proposition? It is amazing that this clown continues to command attention from journalists.

Saeb Erekat, the longstanding Palestinian negotiator, announced on Israeli radio today that the Palestinians will not accept Israel as a “Jewish state” (never mind that it already is)—that description carrying with it, of course, a prohibition on Israel’s being flooded with the millions of descendants of the Arabs who left Palestine before and during the 1948 War of Independence, people currently languishing under the awful custodianship of UNRWA in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.

Erekat is legendary for what could politely be called his casual relationship to the truth. In one of his finer moments, in 2002, he was shrieking to every Western reporter who would listen that the IDF had slaughtered over 500 civilians in Jenin and buried them in mass graves (the reporters not only were listening but believing, and thereafter not caring very much at having been lied to). But all of that unpleasantness is so much water under the bridge at this point. Erekat is a favorite of the press corps, and little things like false accusations of a massacre should never be permitted to undercut future media appearances.

And so today, in refusing to assent to the existence of something that is already real—a Jewish homeland—he said that “no state in the world connects its national identity to a religious identity.” I wonder if Erekat is familiar with the two largest states in the Middle East—Saudi Arabia and Iran—that do exactly that, and in far more sensational fashion than liberal, democratic Israel? Are any of the journalists who routinely make themselves the receptacles for Erekat’s garbage going to ask him, in his next media appearance (occurring moments from now, I feel safe predicting) to explain this strange proposition? It is amazing that this clown continues to command attention from journalists.

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Hanan Ashrawi, Hustler

Hanan Ashrawi is a name familiar to anyone who has even casually followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as she has been at the forefront, particularly the media forefront, of the campaign to put Palestinian grievances front and center on the world stage. Ashrawi, like her counterpart Saeb Erekat, is American-educated, fluent in English, and has immense talent in presenting Palestinian terrorism and irredentism in a vocabulary that grates, as minimally as possible, on the western ear.

On Monday night she spoke at Emory University, and updated her repertoire to take in the latest developments. The Second Lebanon War, she said, “proved [Israel] could not defeat a nation fighting for freedom.” Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy that is encamped in southern Lebanon, is a nation? That is fighting for its freedom by abducting IDF soldiers in Israel? That’s a novel take. Regarding Palestinian politics, she said: “Violence and extreme ideology of Israel feeds violence and extremism on the other side. And that’s what led to the election of Hamas.”

Ashrawi is a prisoner of one of the great imperishable cultural dementias of the Arab world—namely, the imperative always to blame everything on Israel, no matter how implausible, no matter how ludicrous, no matter the extent to which doing so undermines your own interests and credibility and contributes to the spread of a mania that has been singularly detrimental to the advancement of the people you claim to speak for. This is why it was such a shock, in the summer of 2006, to see several Sunni regimes denounce Hezbollah for instigating a war with Israel. Granted, those statements were far more expressions of concern over Iran’s outsized ambitions in the region than defenses of Israel, but still—they indicated that a ray of sunlight, however fleeting, had appeared in the Middle East. Ashrawi is having none of that, and prefers the good old days of the intifada, when Israel was the first and only object of Arab scorn in the Middle East.

Read More

Hanan Ashrawi is a name familiar to anyone who has even casually followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as she has been at the forefront, particularly the media forefront, of the campaign to put Palestinian grievances front and center on the world stage. Ashrawi, like her counterpart Saeb Erekat, is American-educated, fluent in English, and has immense talent in presenting Palestinian terrorism and irredentism in a vocabulary that grates, as minimally as possible, on the western ear.

On Monday night she spoke at Emory University, and updated her repertoire to take in the latest developments. The Second Lebanon War, she said, “proved [Israel] could not defeat a nation fighting for freedom.” Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy that is encamped in southern Lebanon, is a nation? That is fighting for its freedom by abducting IDF soldiers in Israel? That’s a novel take. Regarding Palestinian politics, she said: “Violence and extreme ideology of Israel feeds violence and extremism on the other side. And that’s what led to the election of Hamas.”

Ashrawi is a prisoner of one of the great imperishable cultural dementias of the Arab world—namely, the imperative always to blame everything on Israel, no matter how implausible, no matter how ludicrous, no matter the extent to which doing so undermines your own interests and credibility and contributes to the spread of a mania that has been singularly detrimental to the advancement of the people you claim to speak for. This is why it was such a shock, in the summer of 2006, to see several Sunni regimes denounce Hezbollah for instigating a war with Israel. Granted, those statements were far more expressions of concern over Iran’s outsized ambitions in the region than defenses of Israel, but still—they indicated that a ray of sunlight, however fleeting, had appeared in the Middle East. Ashrawi is having none of that, and prefers the good old days of the intifada, when Israel was the first and only object of Arab scorn in the Middle East.

In her speech Ashrawi bemoaned the economic decrepitude of the West Bank and Gaza, and wallowed in the feelings of hopelessness she says have cast all of Palestine into shadow. If Ashrawi wishes to locate the cause of these problems, she need only look to the Palestinian terror war of 2000-2005, a war Ashrawi spent barnstorming the western media, explaining away every suicide bombing and act of Palestinian depravity as the understandable responses of a helpless, victimized people. She said at Emory that “there is a very clear power asymmetry. One side holds all the cards, all the power, and the other side is entirely helpless.” Think about that choice of words for a moment: entirely helpless. Ashrawi is an advocate for the permanent infantilization of her people and the complete denial of their moral and political agency. (I suppose she gets more time in front of the cameras this way.)

The true liberation of Palestine—I’m not holding my breath—will require in its first act the rejection of cynical hustlers like Ashrawi, who have made careers out of sending the Palestinian people down one dead end street after another, only to appear later on television screens, decrying their suffering. Free Palestine, indeed.

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