Commentary Magazine


Topic: Salam Fayyad

Why Fayyad is on His Way Out

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a favorite of both American diplomats and Israeli officials. His dedication to improving the lives of Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank and his support for security cooperation with Israel is seen as stepping-stones to a viable two-state solution. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is so enamored of him that he elevated Fayyad to a one-man ideology called “Fayyadism,” whose future depends on elevated levels of support from the United States and Israel. But the problem with Fayyad and his “ism” is its main constituency is not Palestinian but rather American and Israeli. So when Hamas asked Fayyad’s boss PA President Mahmoud Abbas to dump him as part of the unity pact with the Islamist group, there was little resistance.

Fayyad is hanging on in Ramallah until the pact is completed, but anyone wanting to get a better idea of why Fayyad has so little political support among his people should read this interview with the PA prime minister in Britain’s JC. In it, he discusses how he shares Israel’s fears of a nuclear Iran, wishes the Iranians would shut up about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, registers dismay at the way Turkey has abandoned its alliance with Israel and generally dismisses the possibility that the popular Fatah-Hamas unity pact will ever be consummated. With this sort of a platform, he’d probably have an easier time getting elected to the Knesset than to the Palestinian parliament.

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Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a favorite of both American diplomats and Israeli officials. His dedication to improving the lives of Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank and his support for security cooperation with Israel is seen as stepping-stones to a viable two-state solution. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is so enamored of him that he elevated Fayyad to a one-man ideology called “Fayyadism,” whose future depends on elevated levels of support from the United States and Israel. But the problem with Fayyad and his “ism” is its main constituency is not Palestinian but rather American and Israeli. So when Hamas asked Fayyad’s boss PA President Mahmoud Abbas to dump him as part of the unity pact with the Islamist group, there was little resistance.

Fayyad is hanging on in Ramallah until the pact is completed, but anyone wanting to get a better idea of why Fayyad has so little political support among his people should read this interview with the PA prime minister in Britain’s JC. In it, he discusses how he shares Israel’s fears of a nuclear Iran, wishes the Iranians would shut up about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, registers dismay at the way Turkey has abandoned its alliance with Israel and generally dismisses the possibility that the popular Fatah-Hamas unity pact will ever be consummated. With this sort of a platform, he’d probably have an easier time getting elected to the Knesset than to the Palestinian parliament.

While Fayyad is not the only Sunni Muslim to be wary of Iran’s influence and its nuclear ambitions, his litany of policy concerns aptly demonstrates why he was never able to develop his own power base in Palestinian politics. He is a genuine Palestinian moderate. Unlike Abbas’s Fatah Party, which only pretends to expound moderation and peace with Israel, Fayyad is the rare Palestinian politician who means it. Though Hamas may be distancing itself from its longtime ally and sponsor in Tehran in favor of its new Turkish sugar daddy, their desire to purge Fayyad along with his “ism” is a major aspect of their plan to use the unity pact to extend their influence on the West Bank.

One can only hope his sanguine dismissal of the possibility that Hamas-Fatah unity will ever become a reality is vindicated by events. If he’s wrong, he will be out of a job and the already slim theoretical chances of peace will evaporate. Given Fayyad’s failure to develop any broad-based Palestinian support, it’s unlikely that a desire to keep him in office will be a major sticking point.

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Middle East Optimism Requires Blinders

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end. Read More

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end.

The chief of these is the power of Hamas. Optimists like Goldberg acknowledge the fact that Gaza is a Hamas state and that no peace can be signed without its agreement. Unacknowledged in the Goldberg-Ibish piece is the fact that Abbas’s hold on the West Bank rests not on his legitimacy or the strength of his forces but on Israel’s unwillingness to allow it to fall into the hands of Hamas, as happened in Gaza in 2006. After all, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 and was turned down flat. President Obama’s foolish insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze even in those areas (as the recently released Al Jazeera documents show) the PA had already agreed would stay in Israeli hands has made it impossible for those talks to be renewed. But even if Abbas were to return to the table, he would be faced with the same dilemma he had before. Were he to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, he would face the wrath of his own people (as the reaction from the released documents proves), and even Israel’s support might not be enough to keep him in power, or alive.

Goldberg and Ibish conclude their lengthy article by calling for both Netanyahu and Abbas to visit the other side and acknowledge their antagonists’ respective rights and pain much in the way that Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan once did. But they forget that the original Oslo Accords were just such an acknowledgment, and that while Israelis swooned over such gestures (even though Yasir Arafat’s credibility was very much doubtful), Palestinians merely took Israel’s willingness to make concessions as a sign of weakness and lack of faith in the rightness of their cause. Moreover, Abbas doesn’t dare do more. In a region where both Israel and the PA are faced with the growing influence of Iran and its allies Hezbollah (which is moving toward control of Lebanon) and Hamas, the tide of extremism is more than a match for Fayyad’s pragmatism. Under such circumstances, optimism about peace requires the sort of tunnel vision that comes only with blind faith.

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Other Than That …

Near the end of a long front-page story in the Los Angeles Times regarding the Palestinian “prime minister,” the reporter noted that Salam Fayyad’s political fortunes “face a major test this summer, when his state-readiness campaign is slated to be completed by Aug. 26.” Fayyad insisted that the work can be completed on time and said he has “no Plan B.” On the other hand:

He acknowledged that there is major unfinished business, including weak courts, a nonfunctioning parliament and the absence of elections because of the split between Fatah and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. All of that, including the reunification of Fatah and Hamas, needs to be completed before Palestinians will be ready for statehood, he said.

In identifying the problem of “weak courts,” Fayyad knows whereof he speaks. In December, the Palestinian “High Court” ruled that the West Bank local elections had been illegally cancelled. But the court has no power to enforce its ruling, and Fayyad has ignored a letter to him from the Central Elections Commission regarding rescheduling.

So, other than establishing an independent judiciary; a functioning legislature; a unified political system; holding elections on a local, legislative, or presidential level; and dismantling the terrorist group that occupies half the putative state, the state-readiness effort is right on schedule.

Near the end of a long front-page story in the Los Angeles Times regarding the Palestinian “prime minister,” the reporter noted that Salam Fayyad’s political fortunes “face a major test this summer, when his state-readiness campaign is slated to be completed by Aug. 26.” Fayyad insisted that the work can be completed on time and said he has “no Plan B.” On the other hand:

He acknowledged that there is major unfinished business, including weak courts, a nonfunctioning parliament and the absence of elections because of the split between Fatah and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. All of that, including the reunification of Fatah and Hamas, needs to be completed before Palestinians will be ready for statehood, he said.

In identifying the problem of “weak courts,” Fayyad knows whereof he speaks. In December, the Palestinian “High Court” ruled that the West Bank local elections had been illegally cancelled. But the court has no power to enforce its ruling, and Fayyad has ignored a letter to him from the Central Elections Commission regarding rescheduling.

So, other than establishing an independent judiciary; a functioning legislature; a unified political system; holding elections on a local, legislative, or presidential level; and dismantling the terrorist group that occupies half the putative state, the state-readiness effort is right on schedule.

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Israel’s Opposition Leader Puts Politics Before Pollard

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni hit a new low yesterday when she ordered her Knesset faction to vote against a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard — and then had the nerve to take the podium and declare: “I will not turn Pollard into a political issue. We will give our support to every effort to free him.”

Ever since Pollard’s 1985 arrest for spying on Israel’s behalf, successive Israeli governments have quietly sought a pardon for him. Never before, however, has Israel publicly appealed for his release.

But if there was ever any chance of Obama granting this request, Livni has just killed it by her disgraceful show of partisanship. After all, the Obama administration has made no secret of its preference for Livni over Netanyahu: see, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s ostentatious hour-long meeting with Livni at the State Department last month, even as she allotted only 30 minutes in a side room of the Saban Forum that same weekend to the government’s representative, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus Obama is highly unlikely to do anything that could be perceived as a victory for Netanyahu over Livni.

Had Livni’s faction backed the letter in the vote that Kadima itself requested, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would be clear that Netanyahu’s request was backed by a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus. But now that claim is impossible. By its vote, Kadima has made it clear that it views freeing Pollard as a lower priority than scoring points off Netanyahu. Livni’s assertion of support for “every effort to free him” is worse than meaningless when her party has just torpedoed the one serious effort actually in train.

This isn’t the first time Livni has displayed gross irresponsibility as opposition leader. Her joint interview to ABC with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last month, at which the two of them teamed up to blame Netanyahu for the lack of progress in the peace process, was also a new low. I can’t remember any previous Israeli opposition leader staging a joint press conference with an adversary in order to smear her own country to the American public — especially when said adversary, rather than her government, is the one who has actually been refusing to negotiate for the past two years.

But at least there she attacked Netanyahu over an issue on which they ostensibly disagreed. In the Pollard vote, Livni sabotaged him over an issue on which they ostensibly agreed.

The pity is that Livni actually began her stint as opposition leader by demonstrating impressive national responsibility. Unfortunately, the statesmanlike veneer didn’t last long.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni hit a new low yesterday when she ordered her Knesset faction to vote against a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard — and then had the nerve to take the podium and declare: “I will not turn Pollard into a political issue. We will give our support to every effort to free him.”

Ever since Pollard’s 1985 arrest for spying on Israel’s behalf, successive Israeli governments have quietly sought a pardon for him. Never before, however, has Israel publicly appealed for his release.

But if there was ever any chance of Obama granting this request, Livni has just killed it by her disgraceful show of partisanship. After all, the Obama administration has made no secret of its preference for Livni over Netanyahu: see, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s ostentatious hour-long meeting with Livni at the State Department last month, even as she allotted only 30 minutes in a side room of the Saban Forum that same weekend to the government’s representative, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus Obama is highly unlikely to do anything that could be perceived as a victory for Netanyahu over Livni.

Had Livni’s faction backed the letter in the vote that Kadima itself requested, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would be clear that Netanyahu’s request was backed by a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus. But now that claim is impossible. By its vote, Kadima has made it clear that it views freeing Pollard as a lower priority than scoring points off Netanyahu. Livni’s assertion of support for “every effort to free him” is worse than meaningless when her party has just torpedoed the one serious effort actually in train.

This isn’t the first time Livni has displayed gross irresponsibility as opposition leader. Her joint interview to ABC with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last month, at which the two of them teamed up to blame Netanyahu for the lack of progress in the peace process, was also a new low. I can’t remember any previous Israeli opposition leader staging a joint press conference with an adversary in order to smear her own country to the American public — especially when said adversary, rather than her government, is the one who has actually been refusing to negotiate for the past two years.

But at least there she attacked Netanyahu over an issue on which they ostensibly disagreed. In the Pollard vote, Livni sabotaged him over an issue on which they ostensibly agreed.

The pity is that Livni actually began her stint as opposition leader by demonstrating impressive national responsibility. Unfortunately, the statesmanlike veneer didn’t last long.

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The “Palestinian” Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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West Bank Shows There Is a Military Solution to Terror

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

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A Refreshing Change

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

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Delay Would Make Israeli-Palestinian Deal More Likely, Not Less

On Monday, I argued that Washington’s push for final-status talks now, when neither Israelis nor Palestinians actually think a deal is possible, could substantially worsen a situation that’s currently tolerable for both sides — a concern that Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, reiterated yesterday. But there’s another reason why talks now are a bad idea: Contrary to the accepted wisdom, the conflict is likely to be more resolvable in another few decades, not less.

First, after 16 years of existence, the Palestinian Authority has only now, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, finally started building institutions of statehood. Time would enable these institutions to grow and develop, increasing the chances that whatever Palestinian state a deal established would be viable rather than collapse into chaos.

Second, after years of alternately attacking Israel itself and tacitly abetting Hamas’s attacks, the PA has only now started seriously fighting terror — albeit mainly because Hamas threatens its own survival. This long track record of complicity in terror has been a major obstacle to an agreement, because it convinced Israelis that further territorial withdrawals would undermine their own security unless accompanied by stringent security provisions, including the continued IDF presence in parts of the West Bank, which Palestinians reject.

But if the PA now demonstrates a serious, long-term commitment to counterterrorism — and two years isn’t even close to constituting “long-term” — less stringent security provisions would be possible. The paradigm is Israel’s 1994 treaty with Jordan: The 27 years of de facto peace that preceded the agreement created a level of trust that enabled far less complex security arrangements than peace with Egypt did.

Most importantly, however, time is needed to enable the emergence of a new generation of leaders who are actually prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state — something both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have repeatedly refused to do.

Indeed, just yesterday, Fayyad stormed out of a meeting of the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates financial aid to the PA, rather than sign a summary statement referencing “two states for two peoples,” Jewish and Palestinian, rather than merely “two states.” Nor was this accidental: PA leaders are fine with two states, but only if both are Palestinian — with Israel’s conversion into a second Palestinian state being accomplished by flooding it with millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.

This is due partly to the long shadow cast by Yasir Arafat, who dominated Palestinian politics for 50 years until his death in 2004. As Munib al-Masri — the West Bank’s wealthiest businessman, a close associate of Arafat’s, and a former supporter of Oslo who vehemently opposes the current talks — told Haaretz (Hebrew only) this month, neither Abbas “nor anyone else can concede more than Arafat did in negotiations with Israel. The Americans and Israelis don’t understand this.” And regarding the current generation, who grew up under Arafat’s thumb, he’s undoubtedly right.

But a new generation, growing up in a post-Arafat world, might be able to free itself of this shadow. And only once this happens will peace be possible.

On Monday, I argued that Washington’s push for final-status talks now, when neither Israelis nor Palestinians actually think a deal is possible, could substantially worsen a situation that’s currently tolerable for both sides — a concern that Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, reiterated yesterday. But there’s another reason why talks now are a bad idea: Contrary to the accepted wisdom, the conflict is likely to be more resolvable in another few decades, not less.

First, after 16 years of existence, the Palestinian Authority has only now, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, finally started building institutions of statehood. Time would enable these institutions to grow and develop, increasing the chances that whatever Palestinian state a deal established would be viable rather than collapse into chaos.

Second, after years of alternately attacking Israel itself and tacitly abetting Hamas’s attacks, the PA has only now started seriously fighting terror — albeit mainly because Hamas threatens its own survival. This long track record of complicity in terror has been a major obstacle to an agreement, because it convinced Israelis that further territorial withdrawals would undermine their own security unless accompanied by stringent security provisions, including the continued IDF presence in parts of the West Bank, which Palestinians reject.

But if the PA now demonstrates a serious, long-term commitment to counterterrorism — and two years isn’t even close to constituting “long-term” — less stringent security provisions would be possible. The paradigm is Israel’s 1994 treaty with Jordan: The 27 years of de facto peace that preceded the agreement created a level of trust that enabled far less complex security arrangements than peace with Egypt did.

Most importantly, however, time is needed to enable the emergence of a new generation of leaders who are actually prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state — something both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have repeatedly refused to do.

Indeed, just yesterday, Fayyad stormed out of a meeting of the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates financial aid to the PA, rather than sign a summary statement referencing “two states for two peoples,” Jewish and Palestinian, rather than merely “two states.” Nor was this accidental: PA leaders are fine with two states, but only if both are Palestinian — with Israel’s conversion into a second Palestinian state being accomplished by flooding it with millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.

This is due partly to the long shadow cast by Yasir Arafat, who dominated Palestinian politics for 50 years until his death in 2004. As Munib al-Masri — the West Bank’s wealthiest businessman, a close associate of Arafat’s, and a former supporter of Oslo who vehemently opposes the current talks — told Haaretz (Hebrew only) this month, neither Abbas “nor anyone else can concede more than Arafat did in negotiations with Israel. The Americans and Israelis don’t understand this.” And regarding the current generation, who grew up under Arafat’s thumb, he’s undoubtedly right.

But a new generation, growing up in a post-Arafat world, might be able to free itself of this shadow. And only once this happens will peace be possible.

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A Two-State Solution but Not Two Peoples?

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has long been the poster child for Palestinian moderation toward Israel, but his transparent attempts to manufacture a domestic constituency (as opposed to his considerable cheering section in the United States) are rapidly undermining the notion that he is a stalwart advocate of peace. Earlier this year, he staged a photo opportunity in which he led the burning of Israeli goods that he wished Palestinians to boycott. Now he is refusing to pay even lip service to the idea that a two-state solution to the conflict would allow one of those states to be the home of the Jews.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Fayyad stormed out of a United Nations committee meeting in New York and canceled a scheduled joint press conference with Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, because Ayalon refused to sign off on a summary of the encounter that mentioned the goal of the negotiation as being “two states” but that also did not include the phrase “two states for two peoples.”

Some peace processors have viewed Ayalon as a troublemaker, but he does not deserve to be blamed for upsetting the Americans’ favorite Palestinian. During the course of this round of peace talks — and every previous one — the Palestinians have always refused to accept the idea that a final resolution of the conflict will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, even as they demand that the other half of the two-state solution be recognized not only as a Palestinian state but one in which no Jews or Jewish community will be permitted to dwell. The “moderate” Fayyad has now apparently extended this lack of recognition to not even acknowledging that another people has a right to live there either. As Ayalon put it, “If the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about and … if the Palestinians mean, at the end of the process, to have one Palestinian state and one bi-national state, this will not happen.”

The point here is more than mere sophistry. If the peace talks do not result in recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, then the conflict will not be over. While some groups are putting pressure on Israel to concede its right to build in disputed territories prior to even the start of negotiations (such as the left-wing lobby J Street, which published a full page ad in the New York Times today demanding that Israel freeze settlements without mentioning any corresponding concessions from the Palestinians), the PA won’t even admit that a two-state solution will allow for one of the two to be Jewish. One needn’t be a peace-process cynic to understand that what is going on now is a charade, not a genuine negotiation.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has long been the poster child for Palestinian moderation toward Israel, but his transparent attempts to manufacture a domestic constituency (as opposed to his considerable cheering section in the United States) are rapidly undermining the notion that he is a stalwart advocate of peace. Earlier this year, he staged a photo opportunity in which he led the burning of Israeli goods that he wished Palestinians to boycott. Now he is refusing to pay even lip service to the idea that a two-state solution to the conflict would allow one of those states to be the home of the Jews.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Fayyad stormed out of a United Nations committee meeting in New York and canceled a scheduled joint press conference with Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, because Ayalon refused to sign off on a summary of the encounter that mentioned the goal of the negotiation as being “two states” but that also did not include the phrase “two states for two peoples.”

Some peace processors have viewed Ayalon as a troublemaker, but he does not deserve to be blamed for upsetting the Americans’ favorite Palestinian. During the course of this round of peace talks — and every previous one — the Palestinians have always refused to accept the idea that a final resolution of the conflict will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, even as they demand that the other half of the two-state solution be recognized not only as a Palestinian state but one in which no Jews or Jewish community will be permitted to dwell. The “moderate” Fayyad has now apparently extended this lack of recognition to not even acknowledging that another people has a right to live there either. As Ayalon put it, “If the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about and … if the Palestinians mean, at the end of the process, to have one Palestinian state and one bi-national state, this will not happen.”

The point here is more than mere sophistry. If the peace talks do not result in recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, then the conflict will not be over. While some groups are putting pressure on Israel to concede its right to build in disputed territories prior to even the start of negotiations (such as the left-wing lobby J Street, which published a full page ad in the New York Times today demanding that Israel freeze settlements without mentioning any corresponding concessions from the Palestinians), the PA won’t even admit that a two-state solution will allow for one of the two to be Jewish. One needn’t be a peace-process cynic to understand that what is going on now is a charade, not a genuine negotiation.

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Obama Boxed In

Obama has been postponing the inevitable — the eventual realization that there is no Middle East peace agreement to be had at this stage (or any time soon). For reasons that not even the PA can fathom, the Obami chirped optimistically about the prospects for success. Somehow, the Obama team expected to keep everyone in the room to at least continue talking and mask the failure of his Middle East policy. Obama would publicly pressure Bibi on the settlement moratorium. He would plead with Abbas. And if the talks ended, the blame could be placed (after all, the groundwork has already been laid) on Bibi.

Unfortunately for Obama, Bibi and Israel’s supporters wised up this time around. As I noted yesterday, Bibi has already made clear that the basic issue is not settlements but Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state and give up the dream of a one-state solution. Bibi is laying some groundwork of his own, it seems. Read More

Obama has been postponing the inevitable — the eventual realization that there is no Middle East peace agreement to be had at this stage (or any time soon). For reasons that not even the PA can fathom, the Obami chirped optimistically about the prospects for success. Somehow, the Obama team expected to keep everyone in the room to at least continue talking and mask the failure of his Middle East policy. Obama would publicly pressure Bibi on the settlement moratorium. He would plead with Abbas. And if the talks ended, the blame could be placed (after all, the groundwork has already been laid) on Bibi.

Unfortunately for Obama, Bibi and Israel’s supporters wised up this time around. As I noted yesterday, Bibi has already made clear that the basic issue is not settlements but Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state and give up the dream of a one-state solution. Bibi is laying some groundwork of his own, it seems.

Deputy Prime Minister Danny Ayalon got into the act, too:

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad angrily left a UN Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee  meeting and canceled a scheduled subsequent press conference with Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon in New York on Tuesday, after Ayalon refused to approve a summary of the meeting which said “two states” but did not include the words “two states for two peoples.”

“What I say is that if the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about,” Ayalon told the Post in a telephone interview. “And also, I said if the Palestinians mean, at the end of the process, to have one Palestinian state and one bi-national state, this will not happen.”

But that wasn’t all. As this report makes clear, Israel’s American supporters have been busy — and clever:

A bipartisan group of senators are circulating a new letter urging President Obama to speak out publicly to pressure the Palestinian leadership not to abandon the Middle East peace talks.

The new initiative comes ahead of the Sept. 26 deadline expiration of Israel’s 10-month settlement construction moratorium, which presents the first obstacle to the direct peace talks being spearheaded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly stated that he will withdraw from the negotiations if settlement construction resumes, but Israeli leaders have been equally adamant that they will not extend the moratorium.

President Obama has told Jewish leaders to ignore negative public statements by Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, calling it all part of the diplomatic game. But the administration has publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, at least in part.

Lawmakers, who have also bristled at the administration’s public pressure on Netanyahu, are now calling on Obama to make it clear to Abbas that even if the freeze isn’t extended, he should stay at the table.

It is a not-so-subtle message from lawmakers (Barbara Boxer, Robert Casey, Johnny Isakson, and Richard Burr are the initial sponsors, more signatories are expected) that there will be little patience with finger-pointing at Bibi should/when the talks collapse:

“Obviously this is a direct message to President Abbas, and President Obama, that many in Congress … want the Palestinian leadership to stop making what they see as threats and to put public pressure on the Palestinian Authority to move their position,” said one Capitol Hill insider who had seen the letter.

“Many Capitol Hill office see Abbas quitting the talks over the settlements as him using the same issue he was clinging to when trying to set preconditions for the talks in the first place.”

No, these letters don’t just appear on their own, so credit goes not only to the clear-minded senators but also to pro-Israel advocates who decided it would be much more productive to box in Obama than to gloss over his anti-Israel moves (e.g., opening the door to a UN investigation of the flotilla incident). This is, I would suggest, one more sign that Obama’s prestige and authority are slipping fast. Lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t about to put up with Obama’s Israel-bashing any longer and have decided that they’ve carried enough water for him when it comes to the Middle East.

For more than 18 months, Obama and his hapless envoy, George Mitchell, have made zero progress in promoting peace in the Middle East. Rather, they have strained relations with Israel, raised and then dashed the Palestinians’ hopes, annoyed American Jews, and emphasized the growing alienation of Obama from his own party. If friends of Israel thought it would help, they might suggest that Mitchell join Larry Summers in the “retired in failure” club. But so long as Obama is in the Oval office, there is little possibility that our Middle East diplomacy will get any smarter. Let’s pray it doesn’t get worse.

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Washington’s West Bank Pyromania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reaction to Murder of Israelis

The White House responds this way to the killing of Israelis on the eve of the “peace talks”:

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today perpetrated by Hamas in which four Israelis were killed in the southern West Bank. We express our condolences to the victims’ families and call for the terrorists behind this horrific act to be brought to justice. We note that the Palestinian Authority has condemned this attack. On the eve of the re-launch of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, this brutal attack underscores how far the enemies of peace will go to try to block progress.  It is crucial that the parties persevere, keep moving forward even through difficult times, and continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region that provides security for all peoples.

A few things of note. First, the woman was in fact pregnant, but the Obami – who value abortion-on-demand above all else – do not mention that death in any way. Second, this is the mindless infatuation with the peace process — all evidence that the Palestinian Authority lacks the ability and the will to enforce a peace deal (should it ever decide to make one) is discounted; in fact, every development becomes further justification for talks. This is how ideologues operate.

I asked an official with a pro-Israel organization about the incident. He, not unlike Judea Pearl, thinks it’s time for Muslims to step up to the plate:

Everyone is wondering if the peace talks will succeed, or, for that matter, if the imam of the 9/11 mosque is a moderate.

Well, here’s a ready test. Do they condemn this senseless violence? The murder of innocents? A pregnant woman? An unborn baby? Three other people?

Where is their voice now? They find it to lash out at Israel. Will they find it in compassion and condemnation of terrorism?  Or will they just cynically make false charges and claim they want peace but opt for something else, like every time before?

But as for the PA, “Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack, which was claimed by the armed wing of the Hamas Islamist movement which governs the Gaza Strip. ‘We condemn this operation, which goes against Palestinian interests,’ Fayyad said.” Well, that’s swell — and where was Abbas? And did they repeat it in Arabic to the Palestinian public? The official reminded us:

After Israel and Jordan made peace, a Jordanian soldier tragically opened fire on a field trip of children visiting the “border of peace,” killing several. King Hussein went to the homes of these children, got down on his knees and asked their forgiveness. That is peace. Show me that and I will show you the path to moderate Islam and peace.

Easy prediction: Ehud Barak will make good on his pledge to “exact a price” for the murders. And Muslim leaders will proclaim the action “disproportionate.” We’ve seen this all before. Which is why pursuing the “peace process” — which provokes an upsurge in Israeli deaths — is such a counterproductive exercise.

Oh, and J Street also condemned the attacks — and then ignored the implication of the murders: “It is unfortunately not a surprise that extremists would try to undermine the launch of direct talks. We urge all sides to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control and harming the prospects for peace.” Fellas, the whole thing is out of control, and Abbas can’t or won’t prevent “the situation” — the premeditated slaughter of Jewish innocents — from “harming the prospects for peace.” But come to think of it, there are no prospects.

The White House responds this way to the killing of Israelis on the eve of the “peace talks”:

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today perpetrated by Hamas in which four Israelis were killed in the southern West Bank. We express our condolences to the victims’ families and call for the terrorists behind this horrific act to be brought to justice. We note that the Palestinian Authority has condemned this attack. On the eve of the re-launch of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, this brutal attack underscores how far the enemies of peace will go to try to block progress.  It is crucial that the parties persevere, keep moving forward even through difficult times, and continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region that provides security for all peoples.

A few things of note. First, the woman was in fact pregnant, but the Obami – who value abortion-on-demand above all else – do not mention that death in any way. Second, this is the mindless infatuation with the peace process — all evidence that the Palestinian Authority lacks the ability and the will to enforce a peace deal (should it ever decide to make one) is discounted; in fact, every development becomes further justification for talks. This is how ideologues operate.

I asked an official with a pro-Israel organization about the incident. He, not unlike Judea Pearl, thinks it’s time for Muslims to step up to the plate:

Everyone is wondering if the peace talks will succeed, or, for that matter, if the imam of the 9/11 mosque is a moderate.

Well, here’s a ready test. Do they condemn this senseless violence? The murder of innocents? A pregnant woman? An unborn baby? Three other people?

Where is their voice now? They find it to lash out at Israel. Will they find it in compassion and condemnation of terrorism?  Or will they just cynically make false charges and claim they want peace but opt for something else, like every time before?

But as for the PA, “Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack, which was claimed by the armed wing of the Hamas Islamist movement which governs the Gaza Strip. ‘We condemn this operation, which goes against Palestinian interests,’ Fayyad said.” Well, that’s swell — and where was Abbas? And did they repeat it in Arabic to the Palestinian public? The official reminded us:

After Israel and Jordan made peace, a Jordanian soldier tragically opened fire on a field trip of children visiting the “border of peace,” killing several. King Hussein went to the homes of these children, got down on his knees and asked their forgiveness. That is peace. Show me that and I will show you the path to moderate Islam and peace.

Easy prediction: Ehud Barak will make good on his pledge to “exact a price” for the murders. And Muslim leaders will proclaim the action “disproportionate.” We’ve seen this all before. Which is why pursuing the “peace process” — which provokes an upsurge in Israeli deaths — is such a counterproductive exercise.

Oh, and J Street also condemned the attacks — and then ignored the implication of the murders: “It is unfortunately not a surprise that extremists would try to undermine the launch of direct talks. We urge all sides to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control and harming the prospects for peace.” Fellas, the whole thing is out of control, and Abbas can’t or won’t prevent “the situation” — the premeditated slaughter of Jewish innocents — from “harming the prospects for peace.” But come to think of it, there are no prospects.

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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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CENTCOM’s ‘Red Team’ Hearts Hamas and Hezbollah

It appears that the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups have some friends in a rather unlikely niche of the American military. While the Obama administration has maintained the line that both these groups are terrorist and threats to peace, some senior intelligence officers at the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) think the United States should be making nice with them.

According to Mark Perry, writing in Foreign Policy, a leaked memo that was issued on May 7 by a CENTCOM “Red Team” asserts that the United States ought to be advocating for Hezbollah’s integration into the Lebanese Armed Forces and a Hamas-Fatah merger for the Palestinians. He quotes the report as characterizing the Islamist terror groups as “pragmatic and opportunistic” and plays down the close ties between them and Iran, for which they are widely viewed as local proxies. The memo compared Hezbollah with the post–Good Friday Agreement Irish Republican Army and seems to envision its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, becoming the Gerry Adams of Lebanon and a force for peace. As for Hamas, not only did the report boost that Islamist group, but it also dismissed the much-touted efforts of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton in helping to train a new Palestinian security force that would control terrorism.

Red Team reports are supposed to challenge existing policies and attitudes, but according to Perry, this apologia for Hamas and Hezbollah and repudiation of efforts to isolate these terror organizations actually “reflects the thinking among a significant number of senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters — and among senior CENTCOM intelligence officers and analysts serving in the Middle East.”

If that is so, then it is a matter of deep concern for those who worry about the future of the Middle East. While the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from Israel, it has nevertheless resisted the temptation to repudiate the basic principles of American policy, which has always insisted that such groups must repudiate terrorism, recognize the State of Israel, and adhere to existing peace agreements before they can seek U.S. recognition, let alone the sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that the CENTCOM Red Team believes should be given to them. Moreover, the memo’s repudiation of efforts to aid Palestinian moderates ought to give Israelis pause. Both Israel and the United States have been active in supporting the efforts of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s attempts to create an infrastructure that could resist Hamas and become a credible partner for peace. But calling for Hamas to be integrated into the forces that Dayton is training is tantamount to saying that the two-state solution is dead and that Israel is, more or less, on its own as it faces the challenge of Palestinian terror.

There are many problems with the Red Team’s point of view, but the chief objection is that it completely misunderstands the power of extremist religion in determining the policies of both Hamas and Hezbollah. Both are guided by Islamist ideas that utterly reject the legitimacy of Israel and are steeped in anti-Jewish and anti-Western hatred. The notion that they can be house trained in the way that the Red Team envisions is not only ridiculous but also bespeaks a Western mindset that has no comprehension of extremist Islamic or Arabic political culture.

While there is no reason to believe that either the administration or outgoing CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus has endorsed this radical departure from American anti-terror policy, the leaking of this memo and the notion that it represents the opinions of many in the Pentagon ought to scare Israelis and leave them less willing than ever to make the sorts of concessions Washington believes can strengthen the peace process. If many in the U.S. military are willing to rationalize Hamas and Hezbollah in the way this memo does, then Israelis may be forgiven for concluding that perhaps they need to re-evaluate their own faith in American guarantees of the security of the Jewish state.

It appears that the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups have some friends in a rather unlikely niche of the American military. While the Obama administration has maintained the line that both these groups are terrorist and threats to peace, some senior intelligence officers at the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) think the United States should be making nice with them.

According to Mark Perry, writing in Foreign Policy, a leaked memo that was issued on May 7 by a CENTCOM “Red Team” asserts that the United States ought to be advocating for Hezbollah’s integration into the Lebanese Armed Forces and a Hamas-Fatah merger for the Palestinians. He quotes the report as characterizing the Islamist terror groups as “pragmatic and opportunistic” and plays down the close ties between them and Iran, for which they are widely viewed as local proxies. The memo compared Hezbollah with the post–Good Friday Agreement Irish Republican Army and seems to envision its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, becoming the Gerry Adams of Lebanon and a force for peace. As for Hamas, not only did the report boost that Islamist group, but it also dismissed the much-touted efforts of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton in helping to train a new Palestinian security force that would control terrorism.

Red Team reports are supposed to challenge existing policies and attitudes, but according to Perry, this apologia for Hamas and Hezbollah and repudiation of efforts to isolate these terror organizations actually “reflects the thinking among a significant number of senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters — and among senior CENTCOM intelligence officers and analysts serving in the Middle East.”

If that is so, then it is a matter of deep concern for those who worry about the future of the Middle East. While the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from Israel, it has nevertheless resisted the temptation to repudiate the basic principles of American policy, which has always insisted that such groups must repudiate terrorism, recognize the State of Israel, and adhere to existing peace agreements before they can seek U.S. recognition, let alone the sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that the CENTCOM Red Team believes should be given to them. Moreover, the memo’s repudiation of efforts to aid Palestinian moderates ought to give Israelis pause. Both Israel and the United States have been active in supporting the efforts of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s attempts to create an infrastructure that could resist Hamas and become a credible partner for peace. But calling for Hamas to be integrated into the forces that Dayton is training is tantamount to saying that the two-state solution is dead and that Israel is, more or less, on its own as it faces the challenge of Palestinian terror.

There are many problems with the Red Team’s point of view, but the chief objection is that it completely misunderstands the power of extremist religion in determining the policies of both Hamas and Hezbollah. Both are guided by Islamist ideas that utterly reject the legitimacy of Israel and are steeped in anti-Jewish and anti-Western hatred. The notion that they can be house trained in the way that the Red Team envisions is not only ridiculous but also bespeaks a Western mindset that has no comprehension of extremist Islamic or Arabic political culture.

While there is no reason to believe that either the administration or outgoing CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus has endorsed this radical departure from American anti-terror policy, the leaking of this memo and the notion that it represents the opinions of many in the Pentagon ought to scare Israelis and leave them less willing than ever to make the sorts of concessions Washington believes can strengthen the peace process. If many in the U.S. military are willing to rationalize Hamas and Hezbollah in the way this memo does, then Israelis may be forgiven for concluding that perhaps they need to re-evaluate their own faith in American guarantees of the security of the Jewish state.

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No Shortage of ‘Barbarians’ to Oppose Peace

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman closes his column today by quoting Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar, who believes Israel’s right-wingers hold on to the “no’s” of their Arab antagonists for dear life. To bolster this argument, Eldar quotes Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which a Byzantine narrator asks, “What’s going to happen to us without barbarians?”

While Friedman devotes his space on the op-ed page to a 700-word mash note to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Eldar column he quotes is devoted to resurrecting one of Friedman’s own publicity stunts — the so-called Saudi peace proposal of 2002 — and representing it as an example of how Israel has turned down a chance to end the conflict. That bit of nonsense, which was first broached in a Friedman column, supposedly offered Israel the recognition of the entire Arab world as long as it surrendered every inch of land it won in the 1967 Six-Day War. That this so-called peace proposal also included the demand that Israel allow millions of the descendants of Palestinian Arab refugees to “return” — which would mean an end to the Jewish state — is a mere detail that can be ignored as far as Eldar is concerned. In other words, rather than a peace proposal, it was merely a demand for a unilateral Israeli surrender.

Even Friedman doesn’t talk much about the Saudi initiative anymore, but that doesn’t stop Eldar from pretending that it was a genuine opportunity for peace.

As for Friedman, his enthusiasm for Fayyad and his new Palestinian bureaucracy and security force is unbridled. But contrary to the implication of his column, Israel is not only willing to talk to Fayyad; it is his greatest booster, as the “hard-line” Netanyahu government has closed checkpoints and done all in its power to keep the PA government going.

But the problem for Fayyad as well as for Israel is those barbarians who Eldar pretends don’t exist anymore. The Islamist terrorists of Hamas hold Gaza in a totalitarian grip that has been strengthened by international support for lifting the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the region. And Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, remain on their perches in the West Bank largely due to the protection and patronage of Israel’s security forces, which keep Abbas’s own Fatah terrorists and the threat of Hamas at bay.

If the terrorists of Hamas and Fatah were tiny and relatively harmless factions without a following in Palestinian society, Eldar and Friedman might well be right to deride Israel for fearing a barbarian threat from extremists. But as both of them well know, it is Fayyad and the fraction of the Palestinian public that supports “Fayyadism” — as Friedman likes to call it — that is the minority phenomenon and the supporters of violence and rejection of Israel’s legitimacy that are the overwhelming majority. That’s why Abbas and Fayyad (who has lately tried to burnish his image in the Palestinian street by staging public burnings of Israeli goods he wants his people to boycott) won’t negotiate directly with Israel and actually turned down the offer of a state that included the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem as well as Gaza and the West Bank from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert only two years ago. They know that if they ever accepted an Israeli peace offer, their future in Palestinian politics, not to mention their lives, would be in great danger.

Far from fearing a barbarian threat that no longer exists, the real barbarians are still very much at Israel’s gate and have their hands around the throats of Palestinian moderates. Until that changes, far from being the truth-telling realists they claim to be, Friedman and Eldar remain mere fantasists with an ideological axe to grind against Netanyahu.

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Lieberman’s Truthful Indiscretion

Avigdor Lieberman is in trouble again. The Israeli foreign minister was quoted at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, as saying that he thought there was “absolutely no chance of reaching a Palestinian state by 2012.” Those words were enough to inspire the New York Times to predict that Lieberman’s remarks could “further strain peace efforts.” As the Times helpfully pointed out, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said his goal is to be ready to set up a functioning state by the start of 2012. PA President Mahmoud Abbas tried to win Brownie points with Washington (which has been trying to convene peace talks) by countering that, unlike Lieberman, he still believed in the peace process.

Lieberman is well known for what critics have always considered a thuggish personality and the fact that his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has insulated the Yisrael Beiteinu Party head from all important foreign-policy decisions, especially anything having to do with the United States. There is little doubt that Lieberman is as undiplomatic a foreign-policy spokesman as any country could have. But he was speaking the unvarnished truth when he scoffed at the notion that peace and a Palestinian state would arrive by 2012.

But contrary to the assumptions of Israel’s critics, the reason for this has nothing to do with the “hard-line” nature of the government in which Netanyahu and Lieberman serve. Both have expressed their willingness to accept a two-state solution. The problem is that Abbas and Fayyad, those alleged peace optimists, have no intention of signing a peace deal with Israel no matter how many concessions on land or any other issue Netanyahu and Lieberman are prepared to make.

The extent of the disingenuousness of this discussion, in which Israel is blamed for the dim prospects for peace, cannot be overestimated. Had the PA’s goal been simply to have a state alongside Israel, there would have been no need to wait for 2012. Unmentioned in the account of Lieberman’s gaffe is the fact that in 2008, Abbas and Fayyad rejected Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state that would have included virtually all the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. Their predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected similar offers in 2000 and 2001. These refusals made it clear that the dynamic of Palestinian political culture made any peace agreement, no matter where the borders were drawn, impossible as long as it required the Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

The current situation finds Abbas and Fayyad afraid to anger the Palestinian street by making such a pledge and unwilling even to negotiate directly with Israel. At the same time, the Islamists of Hamas are not only still firmly in control of Gaza but the international isolation of their terror regime is also breaking down in the wake of the aid flotilla incident, a development that weakens Abbas. Under these circumstances, it is hard to see how any serious person could possibly believe that peace efforts have any sort of chance no matter what concessions might be dragged out of the Israelis by the Obama administration. But rather than face these unpleasant facts, it’s much easier to blame it all on Lieberman and Israel.

Avigdor Lieberman is in trouble again. The Israeli foreign minister was quoted at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, as saying that he thought there was “absolutely no chance of reaching a Palestinian state by 2012.” Those words were enough to inspire the New York Times to predict that Lieberman’s remarks could “further strain peace efforts.” As the Times helpfully pointed out, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has said his goal is to be ready to set up a functioning state by the start of 2012. PA President Mahmoud Abbas tried to win Brownie points with Washington (which has been trying to convene peace talks) by countering that, unlike Lieberman, he still believed in the peace process.

Lieberman is well known for what critics have always considered a thuggish personality and the fact that his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has insulated the Yisrael Beiteinu Party head from all important foreign-policy decisions, especially anything having to do with the United States. There is little doubt that Lieberman is as undiplomatic a foreign-policy spokesman as any country could have. But he was speaking the unvarnished truth when he scoffed at the notion that peace and a Palestinian state would arrive by 2012.

But contrary to the assumptions of Israel’s critics, the reason for this has nothing to do with the “hard-line” nature of the government in which Netanyahu and Lieberman serve. Both have expressed their willingness to accept a two-state solution. The problem is that Abbas and Fayyad, those alleged peace optimists, have no intention of signing a peace deal with Israel no matter how many concessions on land or any other issue Netanyahu and Lieberman are prepared to make.

The extent of the disingenuousness of this discussion, in which Israel is blamed for the dim prospects for peace, cannot be overestimated. Had the PA’s goal been simply to have a state alongside Israel, there would have been no need to wait for 2012. Unmentioned in the account of Lieberman’s gaffe is the fact that in 2008, Abbas and Fayyad rejected Israel’s offer of a Palestinian state that would have included virtually all the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. Their predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected similar offers in 2000 and 2001. These refusals made it clear that the dynamic of Palestinian political culture made any peace agreement, no matter where the borders were drawn, impossible as long as it required the Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

The current situation finds Abbas and Fayyad afraid to anger the Palestinian street by making such a pledge and unwilling even to negotiate directly with Israel. At the same time, the Islamists of Hamas are not only still firmly in control of Gaza but the international isolation of their terror regime is also breaking down in the wake of the aid flotilla incident, a development that weakens Abbas. Under these circumstances, it is hard to see how any serious person could possibly believe that peace efforts have any sort of chance no matter what concessions might be dragged out of the Israelis by the Obama administration. But rather than face these unpleasant facts, it’s much easier to blame it all on Lieberman and Israel.

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New Poll Shatters Myths on Gaza Blockade and Settlement Freeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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West Bank Murder Puts Peace Advocacy in Perspective

In recent weeks, all the focus in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been on Gaza. So far Israel’s government, supported by the vast majority of its people, has resisted international pressure to lift the blockade of Gaza, a measure that would grant both a psychological victory to the Islamist terrorists of Hamas as well as facilitate the rearming and refortification of the region.

But while Israelis and their friends are rightly focused on preventing Hamas from resuming its rocket attacks on southern Israel, attacks on Jewish targets in the West Bank have been largely ignored. Part of the reason is that the security fence that separates the area from pre-1967 Israel has effectively halted the flow of suicide bombers. But there have been literally hundreds of incidents of shootings as well as many attacks with lethal rocks on Israeli motorists in the West Bank. Fortunately, most have not resulted in casualties. Yesterday, however, a Palestinian shooter in the Hebron area ambushed a police vehicle. The attack left one officer dead and another wounded. Interestingly, the New York Times article that reported the shooting also included some interesting information about the supposedly draconian Israeli security regime in the West Bank. Since Israel has been trying to hand over security responsibilities in the region to the Palestinian Authority’s forces, according to the left-wing group B’Tselem, which opposes Israel’s presence in the West Bank, 20 staffed security checkpoints have been closed in the past two years.

The point is, the much-lauded administration of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, tells Americans and other Westerners that they want peace with Israel. But the PA-sponsored incitement against Jews and the presence of Jews in their midst continues. Fayyad’s boycott of Israeli goods may be intended to boost his popularity, but it also feeds into the demonization of Israelis, which is the primary obstacle to lasting peace and implicitly legitimizes the Palestinian sport of taking potshots at Israeli vehicles.

Of course, there are those critics of Israel who believe that the mere presence of a Jew on the West Bank, even one just driving in a car, is sufficient provocation to justify a murderous Palestinian attack, or at least enough to rationalize such a crime. But those who feel this way should ponder the Gaza precedent.

In 2005 Israel withdrew every settlement and every soldier from Gaza, which is what Israel’s critics want it to do in the West Bank. But the result wasn’t peace but an escalation of violence across the border into Israel proper, with the evacuated territory turned into a terrorist base from which thousands of missiles were launched at Israeli towns and villages. The idea of repeating this exercise in the West Bank, which borders Israel’s main population centers, is unthinkable, but that is exactly what those who decry the “occupation” are demanding. Though the vast majority of Israelis would like nothing better to completely separate themselves from the Palestinians and would gladly accept a two-state solution, they are not prepared to allow the West Bank to turn into another Hamasistan.

Advocates for peace who reduce the situation to simplistic pieties should understand that yesterday’s shooting is a reminder of the grim reality of Palestinian hatred and violence and the unpleasant choices that face the Israeli people.

In recent weeks, all the focus in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been on Gaza. So far Israel’s government, supported by the vast majority of its people, has resisted international pressure to lift the blockade of Gaza, a measure that would grant both a psychological victory to the Islamist terrorists of Hamas as well as facilitate the rearming and refortification of the region.

But while Israelis and their friends are rightly focused on preventing Hamas from resuming its rocket attacks on southern Israel, attacks on Jewish targets in the West Bank have been largely ignored. Part of the reason is that the security fence that separates the area from pre-1967 Israel has effectively halted the flow of suicide bombers. But there have been literally hundreds of incidents of shootings as well as many attacks with lethal rocks on Israeli motorists in the West Bank. Fortunately, most have not resulted in casualties. Yesterday, however, a Palestinian shooter in the Hebron area ambushed a police vehicle. The attack left one officer dead and another wounded. Interestingly, the New York Times article that reported the shooting also included some interesting information about the supposedly draconian Israeli security regime in the West Bank. Since Israel has been trying to hand over security responsibilities in the region to the Palestinian Authority’s forces, according to the left-wing group B’Tselem, which opposes Israel’s presence in the West Bank, 20 staffed security checkpoints have been closed in the past two years.

The point is, the much-lauded administration of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, tells Americans and other Westerners that they want peace with Israel. But the PA-sponsored incitement against Jews and the presence of Jews in their midst continues. Fayyad’s boycott of Israeli goods may be intended to boost his popularity, but it also feeds into the demonization of Israelis, which is the primary obstacle to lasting peace and implicitly legitimizes the Palestinian sport of taking potshots at Israeli vehicles.

Of course, there are those critics of Israel who believe that the mere presence of a Jew on the West Bank, even one just driving in a car, is sufficient provocation to justify a murderous Palestinian attack, or at least enough to rationalize such a crime. But those who feel this way should ponder the Gaza precedent.

In 2005 Israel withdrew every settlement and every soldier from Gaza, which is what Israel’s critics want it to do in the West Bank. But the result wasn’t peace but an escalation of violence across the border into Israel proper, with the evacuated territory turned into a terrorist base from which thousands of missiles were launched at Israeli towns and villages. The idea of repeating this exercise in the West Bank, which borders Israel’s main population centers, is unthinkable, but that is exactly what those who decry the “occupation” are demanding. Though the vast majority of Israelis would like nothing better to completely separate themselves from the Palestinians and would gladly accept a two-state solution, they are not prepared to allow the West Bank to turn into another Hamasistan.

Advocates for peace who reduce the situation to simplistic pieties should understand that yesterday’s shooting is a reminder of the grim reality of Palestinian hatred and violence and the unpleasant choices that face the Israeli people.

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Fayyad’s Bonfire Lights the Way to Hatred, Not Peace

The popularity of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad among Israeli and American observers has always greatly exceeded his standing among his own people. Both dovish and hawkish analysts hold the American-educated technocrat as a unique Palestinian politician: honest, skilled at economics and governing, and dedicated to peace. But lately, even his Israeli and American fans have begun to notice that Fayyad’s dedication to peace is being undermined by his efforts to make himself more loved by Palestinians.

Fayyad is at a disadvantage when he competes with Hamas and other factions because the bona fides of any Palestinian political faction has always been defined by the amount of Jewish blood spilled. Unlike other major Palestinian figures, the University of Texas-trained economist has no gunmen or terrorist cadres at his disposal. So instead, he must wage war against the Jews using the tools of his own trade — by championing the boycott of Israeli goods produced in Jewish communities in the territories.

Even an admirer like Dalia Itzik, an important figure in Kadima – the party that the Obama administration hopes will somehow eventually replace Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud – thinks Fayyad’s decision to embrace such tactics is a blow to the hopes for peace that Fayyad has done so much to encourage in the past. No right-winger, Itzik is a former Labor Party speaker of the Knesset, but even she understands that what Fayyad is doing when he allows himself to be photographed throwing Israeli products into a bonfire is burning the chances for cooperation between the two peoples. As Itzik writes in the Jerusalem Post, it is “hope that is being boycotted” most of all in this campaign.

As to be expected, Fayyad’s bonfire photo-op got more sympathetic coverage in the New York Times last week as its article played along with the notion that his mobilization of the slender resources of the PA to conduct a witch hunt weeding out Israeli goods in Palestinian stores was merely a matter of “nonviolent resistance.”

But Fayyad’s administration was supposed to focus on development, heightened security, and the promise of peaceful interaction with Israel. But as both Itzik and other Israelis have rightly noted, the whole premise behind the boycott is a campaign of incitement in which anything created or sold by Jews is seen as illegitimate. It also feeds into the Palestinian notion that, despite Fayyad’s talk of peace, the Jewish state is, itself, illegitimate.

If Fayyad’s notion of peace rests on the premise of the expulsion of every single Jew from the territories and a Palestinian boycott of Israel, it is hard to see how even this paragon of Palestinian politicians is doing much to foster a spirit of peace. Rather than fighting to create a saner Palestinian political culture, Fayyad appears to be attempting to gain points with his public by pandering to the basest Palestinian instincts. The problem with such a plan is that no matter how many bonfires of Jewish products Fayyad builds, he can never really compete with the guys who have the guns and the explosives for the affection of the Palestinian public. All of which ought to lead us to wonder why so much attention and so much hope is being wagered by both Israel and the United States on his success.

The popularity of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad among Israeli and American observers has always greatly exceeded his standing among his own people. Both dovish and hawkish analysts hold the American-educated technocrat as a unique Palestinian politician: honest, skilled at economics and governing, and dedicated to peace. But lately, even his Israeli and American fans have begun to notice that Fayyad’s dedication to peace is being undermined by his efforts to make himself more loved by Palestinians.

Fayyad is at a disadvantage when he competes with Hamas and other factions because the bona fides of any Palestinian political faction has always been defined by the amount of Jewish blood spilled. Unlike other major Palestinian figures, the University of Texas-trained economist has no gunmen or terrorist cadres at his disposal. So instead, he must wage war against the Jews using the tools of his own trade — by championing the boycott of Israeli goods produced in Jewish communities in the territories.

Even an admirer like Dalia Itzik, an important figure in Kadima – the party that the Obama administration hopes will somehow eventually replace Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud – thinks Fayyad’s decision to embrace such tactics is a blow to the hopes for peace that Fayyad has done so much to encourage in the past. No right-winger, Itzik is a former Labor Party speaker of the Knesset, but even she understands that what Fayyad is doing when he allows himself to be photographed throwing Israeli products into a bonfire is burning the chances for cooperation between the two peoples. As Itzik writes in the Jerusalem Post, it is “hope that is being boycotted” most of all in this campaign.

As to be expected, Fayyad’s bonfire photo-op got more sympathetic coverage in the New York Times last week as its article played along with the notion that his mobilization of the slender resources of the PA to conduct a witch hunt weeding out Israeli goods in Palestinian stores was merely a matter of “nonviolent resistance.”

But Fayyad’s administration was supposed to focus on development, heightened security, and the promise of peaceful interaction with Israel. But as both Itzik and other Israelis have rightly noted, the whole premise behind the boycott is a campaign of incitement in which anything created or sold by Jews is seen as illegitimate. It also feeds into the Palestinian notion that, despite Fayyad’s talk of peace, the Jewish state is, itself, illegitimate.

If Fayyad’s notion of peace rests on the premise of the expulsion of every single Jew from the territories and a Palestinian boycott of Israel, it is hard to see how even this paragon of Palestinian politicians is doing much to foster a spirit of peace. Rather than fighting to create a saner Palestinian political culture, Fayyad appears to be attempting to gain points with his public by pandering to the basest Palestinian instincts. The problem with such a plan is that no matter how many bonfires of Jewish products Fayyad builds, he can never really compete with the guys who have the guns and the explosives for the affection of the Palestinian public. All of which ought to lead us to wonder why so much attention and so much hope is being wagered by both Israel and the United States on his success.

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Middle East Peace Talks: What Changed in the Last Two Years?

The announcement that the so-called “proximity” talks started up today is, as Noah wrote earlier today, a “victory” of some sort for President Obama because the existence of such talks allows the president to pretend that he is advancing the cause of peace.

However, American friends of Israel might well note the difference between the current negotiations and the last round of (unsuccessful) talks held between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. Like the current talks, those negotiations were also strongly backed by the United States, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to sincerely believe that the process started in Annapolis in the fall of 2007 had a reasonable chance of success. The Palestinians proved her wrong. At that time, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the PA a state in Gaza, the West Bank, and part of Jerusalem and even agreed, to the dismay of most Israelis, to take back some Palestinian refugees into Israel as well as to share sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem. But the answer from the moderate Mahmoud Abbas and his likeable Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was no different from that given to Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton by Yasser Arafat when they offered a similar package in 2000 and 2001: no!

But then, at least, the parties were speaking directly to each other. Not passing messages to each other via intermediaries as bored middle-school students do. And as much as the United States made it very clear to the Israelis that America wanted them to make even more concessions to the Arabs than ever before (a wish that was readily granted by Olmert), the United States did not offer the Palestinians a veto over the existence of the talks. Neither did it take a stand on a critical final-status issue that prejudiced Israel’s negotiating position in such a way as to render any discussions on the matter largely moot.

But that’s exactly what the United States has done by allowing the Palestinians to avoid talks until a building freeze was put into place on Jewish housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. By treating these neighborhoods, most of which are nearly 40 years old, as indistinguishable from “settlements” in outlying areas of the West Bank, the Obama administration has signaled that it views the more than 200,000 Jews who live in those neighborhoods with the same contempt as it views the settlers in the West Bank. By making an issue out of building in these areas, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to concede them to Israel even in a theoretical final-status agreement. Thus any house, even privately built in one of those neighborhoods, now becomes a U.S.-endorsed rationale for the Palestinians to pull out of talks that they had no interest in to begin with.

The ultimate fate of these negotiations is no mystery. Just as was the case in 2008, even if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded everything that his American and domestic critics demand, there is virtually no chance that Abbas will sign any paper that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state. In that sense, the 2010 talks are no different from the 2008 version. But the administration’s undermining of Israel’s position will make it easier for the Palestinians to blame their refusal to make peace on the Israelis. And for that, they have Barack Obama to thank.

The announcement that the so-called “proximity” talks started up today is, as Noah wrote earlier today, a “victory” of some sort for President Obama because the existence of such talks allows the president to pretend that he is advancing the cause of peace.

However, American friends of Israel might well note the difference between the current negotiations and the last round of (unsuccessful) talks held between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. Like the current talks, those negotiations were also strongly backed by the United States, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to sincerely believe that the process started in Annapolis in the fall of 2007 had a reasonable chance of success. The Palestinians proved her wrong. At that time, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the PA a state in Gaza, the West Bank, and part of Jerusalem and even agreed, to the dismay of most Israelis, to take back some Palestinian refugees into Israel as well as to share sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem. But the answer from the moderate Mahmoud Abbas and his likeable Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was no different from that given to Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton by Yasser Arafat when they offered a similar package in 2000 and 2001: no!

But then, at least, the parties were speaking directly to each other. Not passing messages to each other via intermediaries as bored middle-school students do. And as much as the United States made it very clear to the Israelis that America wanted them to make even more concessions to the Arabs than ever before (a wish that was readily granted by Olmert), the United States did not offer the Palestinians a veto over the existence of the talks. Neither did it take a stand on a critical final-status issue that prejudiced Israel’s negotiating position in such a way as to render any discussions on the matter largely moot.

But that’s exactly what the United States has done by allowing the Palestinians to avoid talks until a building freeze was put into place on Jewish housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. By treating these neighborhoods, most of which are nearly 40 years old, as indistinguishable from “settlements” in outlying areas of the West Bank, the Obama administration has signaled that it views the more than 200,000 Jews who live in those neighborhoods with the same contempt as it views the settlers in the West Bank. By making an issue out of building in these areas, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to concede them to Israel even in a theoretical final-status agreement. Thus any house, even privately built in one of those neighborhoods, now becomes a U.S.-endorsed rationale for the Palestinians to pull out of talks that they had no interest in to begin with.

The ultimate fate of these negotiations is no mystery. Just as was the case in 2008, even if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded everything that his American and domestic critics demand, there is virtually no chance that Abbas will sign any paper that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state. In that sense, the 2010 talks are no different from the 2008 version. But the administration’s undermining of Israel’s position will make it easier for the Palestinians to blame their refusal to make peace on the Israelis. And for that, they have Barack Obama to thank.

Read Less




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