Commentary Magazine


Topic: settlements

A Tale of Two Letters: Why the Peace Process Went Poof

Last week Zbigniew Brzezinski, joined by five other foreign-policy experts from the past, issued an open letter entitled “Stand Firm, John Kerry,” calling for “clarity” on “the critical moral and political issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The letter castigated Israeli settlements and proposed “halting the diplomatic process” to “help stop this activity.” At “Pressure Points,” Elliott Abrams dismantled the letter, noting that, among other things, it ignored history.  

As it happens, tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of one of the more important items of history the Brzezinski group ignored: the April 14, 2004 letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Abrams recounts how the letter went through “many drafts, as words, phrases, and paragraphs came in and out,” ending with a “headline” that was clear: “There would be no return to 1967 and Israel could keep the major settlement blocks.” In her  own memoir, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounted spending three hours on the letter with Sharon the night before it was issued, and described the agreement to apply a “Google Earth test” for settlements: no new ones, no expanding the boundaries of them, but allowing building within existing settlements, since that would not reduce the land available for a Palestinian state. In his recent biography of Sharon, David Landau writes:

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Last week Zbigniew Brzezinski, joined by five other foreign-policy experts from the past, issued an open letter entitled “Stand Firm, John Kerry,” calling for “clarity” on “the critical moral and political issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The letter castigated Israeli settlements and proposed “halting the diplomatic process” to “help stop this activity.” At “Pressure Points,” Elliott Abrams dismantled the letter, noting that, among other things, it ignored history.  

As it happens, tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of one of the more important items of history the Brzezinski group ignored: the April 14, 2004 letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Abrams recounts how the letter went through “many drafts, as words, phrases, and paragraphs came in and out,” ending with a “headline” that was clear: “There would be no return to 1967 and Israel could keep the major settlement blocks.” In her  own memoir, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounted spending three hours on the letter with Sharon the night before it was issued, and described the agreement to apply a “Google Earth test” for settlements: no new ones, no expanding the boundaries of them, but allowing building within existing settlements, since that would not reduce the land available for a Palestinian state. In his recent biography of Sharon, David Landau writes:

The American-Israeli diplomacy culminated in a hugely significant exchange of letters between Bush and Sharon in April 2004. In his letter, Sharon committed to carry out the [Gaza] disengagement. In his response, President Bush committed to back Israel on two vital issues: the Palestinian refugees would not return en masse to the State of Israel; and – by clear implication – the large settlement blocs on the West Bank, close to the 1967 line, would remain part of Israel in a final status agreement. Sharon regarded the exchange of letters as his most salient achievement as prime minister. He was probably right.

Last year, as Secretary Kerry was in Israel seeking to restart peace negotiations, an Israeli reporter asked him about “a guarantee from the past”–“telling that blocs of settlements can stay.” His question was straightforward: “does [the guarantee] exist?” Kerry responded: “I remember that commitment very well because I was running for president then, and I personally have supported the notion that the situation on the ground has changed.” Indeed, four days after the Bush letter was issued, Kerry was asked directly about it on Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: On Thursday, President Bush … said that Israel can keep part of the land seized in the 1967 Middle East War and asserted the Palestinian refugees cannot go back to their particular homes. Do you support President Bush?

SEN. KERRY: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Completely?

SEN. KERRY: Yes.

The 2004 Bush letter was not simply a statement of policy; it was a negotiated deal, on which Israel relied in carrying out the Gaza disengagement, dismantling every settlement there and four others in the disputed territories as well. Sharon made the Bush letter part of the formal disengagement plan submitted to the Knesset for its approval. The U.S. Congress also endorsed the letter, in joint resolutions by the Senate (95-3) and House (407-9). The letter was endorsed in unambiguous terms by the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, who in 2013 as secretary of state correctly called it a “commitment.”

The Obama administration, when it took office in 2009, repeatedly refused to answer whether it was bound by the Bush letter. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied there were any “enforceable” understandings with Israel. The day before Palestinian President Abbas met with President Obama, Clinton told the press Obama had been “very clear” with Prime Minister Netanyahu that he “wants to see a stop to settlements – not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions”–and that this had been “communicated very clearly, not only to the Israelis but to the Palestinians and others.” The same day, Abbas told the Washington Post he would do nothing but watch the Obama administration pressure Netanyahu. The administration eventually got a ten-month construction freeze, which both Clinton and Obama envoy George Mitchell called “unprecedented.” It produced nothing from the Palestinians other than a demand in the tenth month that it be continued.

Now flash forward five years, to Secretary of State Kerry’s April 8, 2014 Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony, in which he said “both sides … wound up in positions where things happened that were unhelpful,” but that “when they were about to maybe [resume negotiations], 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem, and poof, that was sort of the moment.” Kerry knew the 700 “settlement units” [sic] were in a longstanding Jewish area in the capital of the Jewish state; that the area will be retained by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement; that Israel had made no commitment to Kerry to stop any construction there; and that Israel was working on an expanded prisoner release when the Palestinians went to the UN.

The peace process went “poof” not because of 700 units in Jerusalem, but because–for the third time in three years–the Palestinians violated the foundational agreement of the process, which obligates them not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations to change the status of the disputed territories. For the third time, the Palestinians went to the UN; for the third time, there was no American response; for the third time, there was no penalty for the violation; and on April 8, there was not even an honest assessment of the situation by the secretary of state.

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EU, UN Blame Settlements, not Palestinian Violence

In recent days both the European Union and the United Nations have issued statements condemning Israel for issuing housing permits to build additional homes in West Bank Jewish communities. Naturally, both statements equated these moves to Israel sabotaging the peace process, a completely dishonest claim that only makes it easier for the Palestinian side to use these moves as the very pretext that they are looking for to flee negotiations. In opposing the building of homes for Jews in communities that under just about any conceivable arrangement would remain part of Israel, these international bodies utterly ignore the most critical threat to peace in the area: the growing levels of Islamist violence in the territories, and the Palestinian Authority’s total neglect of its responsibility to confront this.

Indeed, the same Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), which issued the statement condemning the settlement construction, issued another statement only days earlier criticizing the activities of Israeli security forces operating in the West Bank, calling for investigations of any violations of international law.

In response to the publication of Israeli plans to move ahead with the construction of new housing projects in existing West Bank settlements, the EU’s Catherine Ashton said she was “deeply disappointed by the Israeli plans to expand settlements” and bemoaned how “unilateral action prejudging final status issues threatens the current peace negotiations.” Yet this is simply a misrepresentation of what is actually happening here. The talk of “expanding” settlements gives the sense of more territory being enveloped by Israel. In reality all building in these communities takes place within the existing perimeter boundaries of already established settlements. And the suggestion that creating more homes in these towns in any way prejudges “final status issues” is no less problematic. It has long been understood that the major settlement blocks would be annexed to Israel under any peace agreement.

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In recent days both the European Union and the United Nations have issued statements condemning Israel for issuing housing permits to build additional homes in West Bank Jewish communities. Naturally, both statements equated these moves to Israel sabotaging the peace process, a completely dishonest claim that only makes it easier for the Palestinian side to use these moves as the very pretext that they are looking for to flee negotiations. In opposing the building of homes for Jews in communities that under just about any conceivable arrangement would remain part of Israel, these international bodies utterly ignore the most critical threat to peace in the area: the growing levels of Islamist violence in the territories, and the Palestinian Authority’s total neglect of its responsibility to confront this.

Indeed, the same Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), which issued the statement condemning the settlement construction, issued another statement only days earlier criticizing the activities of Israeli security forces operating in the West Bank, calling for investigations of any violations of international law.

In response to the publication of Israeli plans to move ahead with the construction of new housing projects in existing West Bank settlements, the EU’s Catherine Ashton said she was “deeply disappointed by the Israeli plans to expand settlements” and bemoaned how “unilateral action prejudging final status issues threatens the current peace negotiations.” Yet this is simply a misrepresentation of what is actually happening here. The talk of “expanding” settlements gives the sense of more territory being enveloped by Israel. In reality all building in these communities takes place within the existing perimeter boundaries of already established settlements. And the suggestion that creating more homes in these towns in any way prejudges “final status issues” is no less problematic. It has long been understood that the major settlement blocks would be annexed to Israel under any peace agreement.

For those who support the two-state proposal, there is a fundamental question to be answered about why settlements are indeed so problematic for their plan. Two-state plans almost always envisage the settlements either being annexed to Israel or otherwise evacuated. Yet, the need for such arrangements only highlights the fact that just as the Palestinians are refusing to agree to live alongside a Jewish state, they even refuse to live peacefully alongside Jewish neighbors. They have made it very clear that they have absolutely no intention of tolerating a Jewish minority within their state in the same way that Israel has always embraced having an Arab minority within its borders. When Ashton addresses the settlement issue, it seems she does not stop for a moment to ask herself why she is backing the establishment of a Jew-free state.    

Even if EU and UN officials genuinely believe that unilateral actions will hurt prospects for an agreement, where are all their statements giving equal condemnation of Palestinian moves? It would seem that they are deaf to what are now almost daily statements coming from president Abbas, declaring his refusal to sign up to the U.S.-sponsored framework and his intention to end the talks and return to pursuing Palestinian statehood unilaterally.

Given that Palestinian schools and broadcast media (in many instances funded by both the EU and the UN) put out a never-ending stream of incitement against Israel, in direct contravention of agreements that the PA is signed up to, wouldn’t you expect to occasionally hear some protest about this from Ashton or the UN’s special Middle East envoy Robert Serry? Instead, both of these figures pave Abbas’s way to fleeing talks by endorsing his narrative that settlement construction warrants just such a reaction.

These international diplomats live in a topsy-turvy version of reality in which homes for Jews are antithetical to peace, while the proliferation of Islamist terror groups in the West Bank are unworthy of comment. Indeed, in his Bloomberg interview President Obama repeatedly described settlements as “aggressive” so as to create the sense that building homes for Jews is comparable with acts of violence. Meanwhile Obama praised Abbas as having rejected violence. In truth Abbas’s PA continues to glorify and honor terrorism, but it also now seems that Abbas has adopted a parallel policy of inaction that only makes the proliferation of terrorism against Israelis more likely.

The growing threat of terror coming from the West Bank has become ever more apparent in recent months. It appears that, under pressure from a Palestinian public supportive of jihadist groups, the PA security forces have simply stopped policing certain neighborhoods of such radicalized cities as Jenin and Nablus. This has obliged the Israeli military to step up its involvement in these areas and over the weekend the IDF was engaged in a firefight in Jenin as they pursued Hamas operative Hamza Abu al-Hija, having already attempted to arrest him back in December. Despite the fact that these measures were necessitated by PA inaction, the Palestinian Authority actually condemned this incursion by Israel.

On Sunday Israeli border police officers were also injured by Palestinian rioters during a violent flare-up close to the Jewish holy site of Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem. Meanwhile Palestinians assaulted an Israeli man near a Nablus village after PA police dispersed a group of Israelis visiting the site of the former Jewish community of Homesh. These are the kinds of activities that by their very nature break the peace and yet while Robert Serry apparently chooses to remain silent about the activities of terrorist groups, his office has no such qualms about chastising the Israeli security forces that have to try and deal with this threat.

Ashton accuses Israel of “squandering” opportunities for peace. What word, then, would she use to describe Abbas’s policy of presiding over a government that at once promotes and permits this kind of violence?   

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Oxfam-Johansson Saga Takes Sinister Turn

When Scarlett Johansson came under pressure from the charity Oxfam to sever her ties with the Israeli company SodaStream, Johansson took the high-profile move of ending her longstanding relationship with the charity instead. For this stand, Johansson was pilloried by critics. The BBC’s Charlie Brooker portrayed the young actress as having essentially jettisoned a benevolent humanitarian group so as to side with the forces of uncompromising evil.

Now, however, it turns out that it may be the likes of Brooker who is owed some parodying in return. It has become apparent that not only is Oxfam guilty of highly politicized moves against Israel, but that Oxfam also stands accused of indirectly supporting the Palestinian terrorist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In a letter sent to Oxfam by the Israel Law Center, the charity is accused of having given support and funding to what are essentially satellite groups of the PFLP who then channel that funding back to the terror group itself.

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When Scarlett Johansson came under pressure from the charity Oxfam to sever her ties with the Israeli company SodaStream, Johansson took the high-profile move of ending her longstanding relationship with the charity instead. For this stand, Johansson was pilloried by critics. The BBC’s Charlie Brooker portrayed the young actress as having essentially jettisoned a benevolent humanitarian group so as to side with the forces of uncompromising evil.

Now, however, it turns out that it may be the likes of Brooker who is owed some parodying in return. It has become apparent that not only is Oxfam guilty of highly politicized moves against Israel, but that Oxfam also stands accused of indirectly supporting the Palestinian terrorist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In a letter sent to Oxfam by the Israel Law Center, the charity is accused of having given support and funding to what are essentially satellite groups of the PFLP who then channel that funding back to the terror group itself.

The letter calls on Oxfam to sever its ties with the groups in question–the Union of Health Workers Committees and the Union of Agricultural Workers Committees–or face the prospect of legal proceedings against it. Indeed, the PFLP is categorized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government; responsible for some of most gruesome and calculated attacks on Israeli civilians in recent memory. As such, Oxfam could well find itself to be in breach of a number of European and American laws concerning the support of terrorism.

Oxfam has a long record of using its position as a charity to smear Israel and advance the political causes of Palestinians. The charity’s alignment with the boycott campaign that targets companies like SodaStream betrays a total disregard for the welfare of the Palestinians that these companies employ, and that Oxfam claims to care about assisting. Yet, it had already become apparent that Oxfam’s political agenda against Israel trumped any concern for the needs of Palestinians simply trying to make an honest living. They were to be sacrificed as part of the greater campaign to damage the State of Israel and Israelis who had the misfortune of being on the “wrong side” of a defunct and briefly maintained armistice line.

Now these latest allegations suggest that Oxfam may have actually been willing to go much further still to support the war on Israelis. The way in which a group supposedly championing human rights could so invert the values it claimed to stand for is a disturbing statement on just how all-consuming the hatred of Israel appears to become for those who first choose to dabble in it. More gratifying, however, is that those who wished to mock Johansson as having forsaken a much deserving and benign charity have been made to look the most farcical of all in this whole saga. 

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The Rising Cost of Kerry’s Peace Charade

Listening to Palestinian officials bemoan the condition of the peace process can be disorienting, given that that they are the ones who have played no small part in sabotaging that very same process. Ahead of Secretary of State Kerry’s meeting with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, an unnamed PA official has been warning that the peace talks are in “real crisis.” The two are due to meet in Paris today, but to suggest that the negotiations are in crisis now would be to falsely imply that they were in a happier state at some previous point.

If they have taken on a particularly unpromising appearance in recent weeks it is because Abbas keeps issuing lists of demands so outlandish as to threaten the entire proceedings, which is precisely what such demands are intended to do. Ironically, despite this, Kerry is seeking a way to have the negotiation period extended for up to another year.

All of this, however, creates a serious headache for Israel. Since the Palestinians are currently saying that they will not remain at the negotiating table unless a framework is agreed upon by the end of April—while themselves saying that they reject Kerry’s current framework—it is likely that Israel will come under further pressure to concede still more. The Israeli press is reporting that as part of the framework the State Department is to request that Israel implement a partial settlement freeze on those Israeli communities in isolated parts of the West Bank.

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Listening to Palestinian officials bemoan the condition of the peace process can be disorienting, given that that they are the ones who have played no small part in sabotaging that very same process. Ahead of Secretary of State Kerry’s meeting with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, an unnamed PA official has been warning that the peace talks are in “real crisis.” The two are due to meet in Paris today, but to suggest that the negotiations are in crisis now would be to falsely imply that they were in a happier state at some previous point.

If they have taken on a particularly unpromising appearance in recent weeks it is because Abbas keeps issuing lists of demands so outlandish as to threaten the entire proceedings, which is precisely what such demands are intended to do. Ironically, despite this, Kerry is seeking a way to have the negotiation period extended for up to another year.

All of this, however, creates a serious headache for Israel. Since the Palestinians are currently saying that they will not remain at the negotiating table unless a framework is agreed upon by the end of April—while themselves saying that they reject Kerry’s current framework—it is likely that Israel will come under further pressure to concede still more. The Israeli press is reporting that as part of the framework the State Department is to request that Israel implement a partial settlement freeze on those Israeli communities in isolated parts of the West Bank.

Some might argue that this demand is not a particularly unreasonable one, although the families living in the communities in question can hardly be expected to see it this way. Yet, this is beside the point. The point is that yet again, the Obama administration is moving to pressure Israel to make real concessions in return for nothing more than the Palestinians continuing to maintain the veneer of participating in the charade of negotiations. And as has now been pointed out by so many, one of the primary beneficiaries of keeping up appearances on the peace front is Kerry himself.

This has become a recurring theme under this administration’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. In what has become a cyclical and self-perpetuating pattern, Israel is pressured by America into making real and difficult concessions in exchange for the Palestinians agreeing to participate in what only ever turn out to have been symbolic negotiations. These negotiations are inevitably restricted to a limited time frame; by the time each round comes to a close Abbas has spent the political capital he managed to extract from the previous Israeli concessions and begins to demand further concessions if he is to keep going through the motions of the peace process.

We saw how in 2009 Obama forced the Israelis to implement a nine-month settlement freeze just to get Abbas to the table. Then Abbas demanded that the freeze be extended to Jerusalem, and indeed it appeared that Israel unofficially capitulated to this too. Yet, only in the closing weeks of that nine-month period did Abbas finally arrive at the negotiating table, and by all accounts once there was only interested in talking about one thing: having the freeze and Israel’s concessions extended further. When it came to the current series of negotiations, this time around Israel refused to put life on hold for the half million of its citizens living over the green line. Instead it was compelled to release Palestinian terrorists, something which understandably caused the Israeli public great anguish, and surely cast doubt on Abbas’s credentials as a man of peace.

Now Abbas is once again threatening to walk. According to Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, hardly someone with a vested interest in derailing the peace process, the Palestinians have blocked all attempts at progress with a string of impossible demands. With Abbas having contributed nothing useful to the conversation, it seems that the State Department is now trying to bribe him into remaining in negotiations by pressuring Israel into making yet more concessions. As with their floundering negotiations with Iran, and indeed Syria, the administration is attempting to appease the unappeasable. Unwilling to take the tough actions necessary to achieve concrete end results, all that Kerry can do is keep up the façade of a process. There is something almost Buddhist in all this; the journey has become the destination. But all the while, it’s America’s allies that are paying an ever-higher price for this administration’s indulgences. 

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Europe’s Unhinged Assault on Israel

If diplomacy is war by other means, the Europeans have been taking to the diplomatic warpath amidst an increasingly strident attitude toward Israel and its policies on Jewish communities over the 1949 armistice lines. The European position on Israel’s settlements has often been tagged as hypocritical and replete with double standards, but in recent days the European reaction to announcements of new homes for Jews living over the green line, including in eastern parts of Jerusalem, has been so disproportionate as to appear almost unhinged.  

On Thursday, Israeli diplomats in London, Paris, Rome, and Madrid were all hauled in by government officials to be subjected to protest and rebuke at the news that the Israeli government had issued housing permits for 600 new homes in Jerusalem and 800 in the settlement blocks, which under just about any conceivable re-drawing of the borders would remain part of Israel.

It is a rather strange turn of history to find that even in the 21st century European governments are still trying to tell Jews where they can and cannot live. Strange, that in a manner that almost smacks of old-style colonialism, Europeans are still trying to determine the borders of other peoples in other parts of the world.

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If diplomacy is war by other means, the Europeans have been taking to the diplomatic warpath amidst an increasingly strident attitude toward Israel and its policies on Jewish communities over the 1949 armistice lines. The European position on Israel’s settlements has often been tagged as hypocritical and replete with double standards, but in recent days the European reaction to announcements of new homes for Jews living over the green line, including in eastern parts of Jerusalem, has been so disproportionate as to appear almost unhinged.  

On Thursday, Israeli diplomats in London, Paris, Rome, and Madrid were all hauled in by government officials to be subjected to protest and rebuke at the news that the Israeli government had issued housing permits for 600 new homes in Jerusalem and 800 in the settlement blocks, which under just about any conceivable re-drawing of the borders would remain part of Israel.

It is a rather strange turn of history to find that even in the 21st century European governments are still trying to tell Jews where they can and cannot live. Strange, that in a manner that almost smacks of old-style colonialism, Europeans are still trying to determine the borders of other peoples in other parts of the world.

These moves by European diplomats sit alongside the European Union’s latest policy of issuing funding restrictions on Jewish businesses and organizations operating over the green line. So far this boycott policy is being held off while negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are underway. Yet, the message from Brussels has been clear, should talks fail, such policies will be brought to bear against Israel, signifying that even if the Palestinians walk away from a deal, Europeans will blame the Jewish state.

Indeed, the level of hypocrisy from European diplomats over the recent settlement announcement is breathtaking. For one thing, Israel is under no obligation to freeze building in the territories while negotiations take place. Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas demanded a series of concessions before deigning to join peace talks, but rather than put life on hold for Israelis living in Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israel instead opted to release a number of Palestinian terrorists. Now it seems the Europeans are demanding both the release of terrorists and a freeze on Jews living in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The real double standard, however, concerns European silence in the face of countless Palestinian breaches of the terms set down for the negotiation process. As I’ve written about here previously, the Palestinians have recently made moves to pursue membership in UN bodies, in direct contravention of their obligations under the negotiation framework. And as Jonathan Tobin has also noted in these pages, far from educating their population for peace as the Oslo agreements require them to, the Palestinian Authority continues mass incitement against Jews and Israel.

Nor should we forget, although it seems the Europeans already have, that in recent days a stream of rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israeli civilian areas. Yet, we can rest assured that if and when the Israeli military is forced to mount a ground incursion into Gaza, the streets of European capitals will fill with protesters, the airwaves will become deafening with furious condemnation of Israeli “aggression,” and European governments will call for Israel to show restraint.  

To their credit, the Israelis have not taken this latest diplomatic assault lying down. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has responded boldly stating, “When did the EU call in the Palestinian ambassadors to complain about the incitement that calls for Israel’s destruction? I think it is time to stop this hypocrisy. I think it is time to inject some balance and fairness to this discussion. Because I think this imbalance and this bias against Israel doesn’t advance peace.” And quite rightly the Israeli prime minister went on to say, “I think it pushed peace further away because it tells the Palestinians, ‘Basically you can do anything you want, say anything you want and you won’t be held accountable.’”

Israel’s foreign minister has gone further still and has requested meetings between Israeli officials and the ambassadors of the same European countries that summoned their Israeli ambassadors in for rebuke. No doubt the mood will be tense, the conversation somewhat uncomfortable, but something has to make the Europeans rethink their increasingly unhinged attitude toward Israel and those of its citizens who happen to live over the 1949 armistice lines.  

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Murderers or Houses: Kerry’s V.A.T. on Peace

The release of unrepentant Jew-killers from Israeli prisons to keep the engine of the peace process running has left many, even those sympathetic with the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, angrily wondering why Prime Minister Netanyahu did not accept a settlement freeze instead. There is a good reason, even for those not generally sympathetic to the Jewish presence: unlike the other concessions, a settlement freeze implicitly concedes Israel’s chief negotiating positions before even sitting down at the table.

The first thing to say is that the position Israel was put in by Secretary of State John Kerry and the Palestinians was fundamentally unjust. Israel is forced to make sacrifices even for the “privilege” of participating in peace negotiations to whose ultimate goal is “painful sacrifices” by Israel. In Israel, politicians talk about paying “the price” for peace. Kerry has put a price on paying the price: a value-added tax on peace.

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The release of unrepentant Jew-killers from Israeli prisons to keep the engine of the peace process running has left many, even those sympathetic with the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, angrily wondering why Prime Minister Netanyahu did not accept a settlement freeze instead. There is a good reason, even for those not generally sympathetic to the Jewish presence: unlike the other concessions, a settlement freeze implicitly concedes Israel’s chief negotiating positions before even sitting down at the table.

The first thing to say is that the position Israel was put in by Secretary of State John Kerry and the Palestinians was fundamentally unjust. Israel is forced to make sacrifices even for the “privilege” of participating in peace negotiations to whose ultimate goal is “painful sacrifices” by Israel. In Israel, politicians talk about paying “the price” for peace. Kerry has put a price on paying the price: a value-added tax on peace.

Moreover, if the occupation were so terrible (or real) one would think Abbas would be in a hurry to get to the bargaining table without any preliminaries. This suggests Abbas is not in such a hurry to get an “end of the occupation” so much as particular tactical wins. Moreover, the fact that a top priority for Abbas is the release of mass murders so they can be feted and remunerated shows that “peace” is not vaguely on the horizon, regardless of whether a Kerry diplomatic achievement is. If Bibi partied down with Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein, it would be the end of his career.

Still, why did Bibi take this option, of all the bad ones presented to him? We know he is not a slave of the settlers: he has imposed a construction freeze before, for 10 months, simply to entice Abbas to the table. It did not work, Abbas ran down the clock, and demanded an extension. So that has been tried.

But aren’t houses less important than justice for the murdered? Of course. However, unlike the release of terrorists, a construction freeze is fundamentally related to the substance of the negotiations themselves. That is, of all the proposed “gestures,” the freeze would not only be problematic in itself, but would have Israel start negotiations on its back foot.

Not allowing Jews to build houses in most of Jerusalem, in settlement blocs like Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim, and elsewhere that would surely remain under Israel sovereignty sends one message: we have absolutely no right to be here. We are trespassers. It is one thing to say the Palestinians can have a state because of demographic reasons, international pressure, and so forth. It is another thing to say we are trespassers in the Old City of Jerusalem and Hebron, where Jews lived until being expelled by Arab armies and mobs. A settlement freeze in effect agrees to the 1967 lines as the basis for negotiations–which even if it were a good idea, is a lot more than a “gesture of good faith.” It is one thing to say these territories should become Palestinian territory. It is another to say Israel took them from the Palestinians, that they always were, as Abbas claims, Palestinian territory.

Of course, the way the narrative of the peace process is structured, Israel should not be surprised at the pay-to-play. And for this situation, the tireless proponents of “peace” bear primary responsibility. If, as the left argues, Israel needs peace more than the Palestinians need it, no wonder the Palestinians will charge Israel heavily for the privilege of giving them a state.

That is indeed why the Palestinian demands go far beyond the end of occupation or having an independent state. The right of return? What does that have to do with the end of occupation? A capital in Jerusalem, which no Arab state has had? An end to Jewish control over the Holy Basin? Nothing to do with an independent state. These are additional political add-ons. Sovereignty over the Jordan Valley? Ditto; almost no Arabs (or Jews) live there; control over it is a territorial demand rather than an independence-related one.

Interestingly, the Labor Party, while favoring a two-state solution, was until recently against icing the cake–against the division of Jerusalem, ceding sovereignty over Jerusalem, and a right of return. Yet in succeeding rounds of peace negotiations, they have accepted all three in some form. This erosion of their position is natural. Once peace is defined as an existential Israeli interest–once Israeli politicians have resorted to the cheap tactic of threatening apartheid and illegitimacy–there is nowhere back to go, only forward with endless concessions.

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What Threatens Peace? Houses or Terror?

The news that Israel is preparing to announce permissions for new housing starts in Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement blocs is causing predictable consternation in the international community. The Palestinian Authority is claiming the building of these homes threatens the peace process. European nations are expressing their unhappiness with rumblings about a “harsh response” that may go beyond their previous efforts to restrict economic cooperation with the Jewish state so as to exclude anything to do with the settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu can also expect U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to be upset since he has gone on record as branding the Jewish presence beyond the cease-fire lines of June 4, 1967 as “illegitimate.”

Why is Netanyahu doing it? The consensus answer is domestic politics. Having agreed to release more convicted Palestinian terrorists next month, he is hoping to keep his coalition together by throwing a bone to his right-wing supporters in the form of housing starts. But even settlement movement supporters are no more thrilled with a policy that somehow equates building homes with sending unrepentant murderers of Jews back to a hero’s welcome than is the PA about an announcement of new houses within existing settlements. Considering that it is unlikely that these homes will be built any time soon, if ever, the announcement seems to be a lose-lose proposition for the prime minister and his government. But before you join in the chorus of critics lambasting his decision, it is worthwhile to re-examine the question of what is and what is not an obstacle to Middle East peace.

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The news that Israel is preparing to announce permissions for new housing starts in Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement blocs is causing predictable consternation in the international community. The Palestinian Authority is claiming the building of these homes threatens the peace process. European nations are expressing their unhappiness with rumblings about a “harsh response” that may go beyond their previous efforts to restrict economic cooperation with the Jewish state so as to exclude anything to do with the settlements. Prime Minister Netanyahu can also expect U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to be upset since he has gone on record as branding the Jewish presence beyond the cease-fire lines of June 4, 1967 as “illegitimate.”

Why is Netanyahu doing it? The consensus answer is domestic politics. Having agreed to release more convicted Palestinian terrorists next month, he is hoping to keep his coalition together by throwing a bone to his right-wing supporters in the form of housing starts. But even settlement movement supporters are no more thrilled with a policy that somehow equates building homes with sending unrepentant murderers of Jews back to a hero’s welcome than is the PA about an announcement of new houses within existing settlements. Considering that it is unlikely that these homes will be built any time soon, if ever, the announcement seems to be a lose-lose proposition for the prime minister and his government. But before you join in the chorus of critics lambasting his decision, it is worthwhile to re-examine the question of what is and what is not an obstacle to Middle East peace.

This is a moment when terrorism against the Jewish state is on the rise. Rockets are flying from Gaza into southern Israel. And Israel’s supposed peace partners continue to say they will never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Yet the world is about to pounce on Israel for having the temerity to state its intention to build houses. If that doesn’t tell you all you have to know about the skewed moral compass of Israel’s critics and the lopsided morality of Middle East peace processing, nothing will.

Let’s first walk back the assumption that is treated as self-evident by the Obama administration and the rest of the foreign-policy establishment: that building these homes makes peace less likely. This is simply false.

Furthermore, the existence of settlements over the green line would not prevent their removal if the Palestinians were ever to make the leap the world has been waiting for them to make for decades: to renounce the conflict and recognize that Israel is the Jewish state which will never be toppled so as to create another Arab majority state. Until the PA renounces the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and stops treating pre-1967 Israel as “occupied territory,” there is nothing to talk about.

It should also be understood that Israel is not building more settlements, merely allowing natural growth inside the communities that have existed for decades.

Even more to the point, the peace agreement that Kerry, liberal pundits, and others all say is well known is one in which the areas where these homes will be built will remain inside Israel. The accord that “everybody knows” and which we are endlessly told merely has to be acknowledged by Israel isn’t going to be one where the 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem are handed over to the Palestinians. Nor are the major settlement blocs going to be razed and their population evicted. Even President Obama has said that they will be accommodated by territorial swaps.

The Palestinians can have their state in almost all of the West Bank and even part of Jerusalem without having a single one of these homes or most of the settlements touched. Why then is there such consternation about building in an area that won’t change hands even in the unlikely event that peace is achieved?

Unless the administration and the Europeans are as committed to the proposition that hundreds of thousands of Jews will be tossed out of their homes in Jerusalem, its suburbs, and the other blocs close to the ’67 lines, making a fuss about building in these places is a red herring designed to obfuscate the real problems of the region rather than focusing on a matter of vital interest.

Far more troubling for the future of the region is the current surge in terrorism taking place in the West Bank as well as the increase in missile firings from Gaza. Contrary to the conventional wisdom about the Middle East that is routinely published in the mainstream media, this is not part of a cycle of violence for which both Israelis and Palestinians are equally to blame. Rather it is a function of Palestinian politics in which the Islamists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are competing with equally radical segments of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party. None of these groups is prepared to accept true peace with Israel on any terms, even if not a single Jew were left on the other side of the 1967 lines. Until a sea change in Palestinian politics occurs that will enable their leaders to embrace peace—something that Hamas control of Gaza currently makes impossible—diplomacy doesn’t have a chance.

By threatening Israel with another intifada if it does not make more concessions to the Palestinians, Kerry has set in motion a train of events in which Palestinian rejectionists feel justified, indeed encouraged, in engaging in violence. A U.S. policy that treats houses as more of a threat to peace than terrorism is one that is not only bound to fail but is also likely to make the situation worse.

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France’s Peace Process Innovation

For the second time in two weeks, France has proven itself the most serious foreign-policy player the West currently has. First, it thwarted an abysmal nuclear deal with Iran. Now, it’s come up with the most creative idea for advancing Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy that I’ve heard in years.

Speaking in Ramallah yesterday, French President Francois Hollande essentially told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the following: You think Israeli settlement construction is destroying prospects for a two-state solution, and therefore want it halted. I agree. But the Israelis think these prospects are being destroyed by your demand to relocate millions of Palestinians to Israel (aka the “right of return”). So why not trade concessions on the right of return for a settlement freeze?

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For the second time in two weeks, France has proven itself the most serious foreign-policy player the West currently has. First, it thwarted an abysmal nuclear deal with Iran. Now, it’s come up with the most creative idea for advancing Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy that I’ve heard in years.

Speaking in Ramallah yesterday, French President Francois Hollande essentially told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the following: You think Israeli settlement construction is destroying prospects for a two-state solution, and therefore want it halted. I agree. But the Israelis think these prospects are being destroyed by your demand to relocate millions of Palestinians to Israel (aka the “right of return”). So why not trade concessions on the right of return for a settlement freeze?

The first innovation in this proposal is that someone in Paris actually seems to have read the Oslo Accords–a rarity among Western diplomats–and discovered that they explicitly designate settlements as a final-status issue, just like refugees; Israel has no interim obligation to stop building them. Once this is understood, it’s obvious that an unrequited settlement freeze is a nonstarter: No sane negotiator would make major, upfront, unrequited concessions on a significant final-status issue. Hollande therefore proposed a substantive trade in which both sides would make concessions on a major final-status issue.

Granted, the issues aren’t equivalent. Flooding Israel with over five million Palestinians really would render a two-state solution impossible, by turning the Jewish state into a second Palestinian one. Settlements, by contrast, don’t preclude a Palestinian state; even chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat admits that they occupy only 1.1 percent of the West Bank. But since Palestinians have repeatedly declared a settlement freeze a top priority, such a trade would give both sides something they claim to want.

And that is the even greater innovation in Hollande’s proposal: For the first time in 20 years of Israeli-Palestinian talks, a Western leader is suggesting mutual concessions instead of demanding that Israel make unilateral ones.

Contrast this with some of the Obama administration’s “peacemaking” proposals:

  • Israel should agree in advance to a border based on the 1967 lines. In other words, Israel should concede all the Palestinians’ territorial demands upfront without getting anything in exchange.
  • Israel and the PA should negotiate a deal on borders and security only, without resolving issues like Jerusalem and the refugees or ending the conflict. In other words, instead of trading territory for peace, Israel should trade territory for no peace. Moreover, it should forfeit its only bargaining chip–territory–in the first stage of negotiations, thereby leaving itself with nothing to trade for Palestinian concessions on vital issues like the refugees.
  • Israel should free 104 Palestinian murderers just so the Palestinians will deign to negotiate–a move Israeli negotiating expert Moty Cristal aptly termed paying “with hard currency for nothing.” Palestinians also temporarily halted their campaign against Israel in international agencies, but that will resume in nine months. The prisoners won’t be rearrested.

To be fair, Hollande’s proposal won’t actually bring peace any more than Obama’s ideas have, because the Palestinians aren’t willing to make any concessions: Abbas told Hollande he has no authority to deviate from the Arab League’s stance on the refugees, begging the obvious question of what the point of the current talks are if he has no power to actually negotiate.

Nevertheless, the French proposal at least acknowledges the obvious fact that peace requires concessions by both sides, not just one. And that is a necessary first step. For as long as the world keeps pandering to Palestinian rejectionism by not demanding any concessions, as the Obama administration has, the Palestinians will never have an incentive to make any.

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The Gratuitous Nature of EU’s Israel Policy

When the European Union announced new restrictions on its dealings with Israeli entities in Jerusalem and the West Bank, there was some confusion, thanks to the initial reporting by Haaretz, of what the new rules meant in practice. But clearing up the confusion does not seem to have done the EU and its regulations any favors. Yair Rosenberg read through the document and explained that the EU rules did not amount to a full-blown economic boycott of Jews living where the EU doesn’t want Jews to live. That is true enough; I wrote about the new rules and preferred to call them a “move toward boycotting Jews in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem,” which it plainly was.

And Wednesday at the Times of Israel, American law professor Eugene Kontorovich made the sensible point that because the new rules don’t restrict trade but rather apply to grants and the like, the regulations won’t harm EU economies the way a trade boycott would. Kontorovich was not writing in defense of the morality of the EU’s discriminatory action; he was simply noting that withholding grants and barring trade are two very different things. Nonetheless, the newfound clarity on the rules should not inspire a sense of relief. If anything, Kontorovich’s explanation of the regulations shows the EU’s policymakers to be not just intent on discriminating against Jews in their current and historic capital but also ignorant of international law even while using their interpretation of such law as the basis for their collective actions:

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When the European Union announced new restrictions on its dealings with Israeli entities in Jerusalem and the West Bank, there was some confusion, thanks to the initial reporting by Haaretz, of what the new rules meant in practice. But clearing up the confusion does not seem to have done the EU and its regulations any favors. Yair Rosenberg read through the document and explained that the EU rules did not amount to a full-blown economic boycott of Jews living where the EU doesn’t want Jews to live. That is true enough; I wrote about the new rules and preferred to call them a “move toward boycotting Jews in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem,” which it plainly was.

And Wednesday at the Times of Israel, American law professor Eugene Kontorovich made the sensible point that because the new rules don’t restrict trade but rather apply to grants and the like, the regulations won’t harm EU economies the way a trade boycott would. Kontorovich was not writing in defense of the morality of the EU’s discriminatory action; he was simply noting that withholding grants and barring trade are two very different things. Nonetheless, the newfound clarity on the rules should not inspire a sense of relief. If anything, Kontorovich’s explanation of the regulations shows the EU’s policymakers to be not just intent on discriminating against Jews in their current and historic capital but also ignorant of international law even while using their interpretation of such law as the basis for their collective actions:

The Europeans regard Israel as an occupier in the West Bank, despite the illegitimacy of the previous Jordanian presence there. They also see Jewish communities there as violating the Geneva Conventions prohibition on the “occupying power… transferring its civilian population” into the occupied territory, despite the fact that Jews living in the West Bank there were not “transferred” by Israel in any meaning of the word; they just moved themselves.

Set such quibbles aside. Let’s assume the European position on settlements is correct. Even so, international law does not forbid or restrict the operations of private groups based in or operating in the West Bank. International law prohibits governments from “transferring” settlers to occupied territory; it does not make the settlers themselves illegal, international lepers, or legitimate objects of discrimination. It does not prohibit business from operating in occupied territory, or require the denial of services to “transferees” and their descendants. Such a broad reading of international rules finds absolutely no support in the treatment of any other occupation. Indeed, in an important recent decision concerning a company involved in building the Jerusalem light rail, a high-level French court held that international law does not restrict companies from doing business across the Green Line, or even working on Israeli government-funded projects.

The EU, Kontorovich notes, doesn’t apply this standard even to territorial disputes involving European countries. So it can’t really be about international law, since the EU only wants to apply this standard to Israel. What else could it be? Kontorovich provides a clue when he writes of another aspect of the EU rules that undercuts the argument it is about enforcing international law. The EU rules apparently contain a carve-out for those groups determined to be consistent with EU peace process policy:

Moreover, the guidelines contain a massive exception that undermines the notion that this is about international law rather than EU foreign policy. Article 15 exempts groups that “promot[e] the Middle East peace process in line with EU policy.” Either the Geneva Conventions and related rules prevent Israelis from having anything to do with the West Bank or they do not – but they certainly do not contain a “things the EU likes” exception. The exemption reveals the true purpose of the rules: to promote European foreign policy, not to vindicate international law. Indeed, the essence of the rule of law is about applying general rules to similar cases, regardless of one’s sympathies. The application of unique rules to Jewish State is the opposite of lawful.

This is about EU foreign policy, not international law. And that is what makes it so distressing. The EU’s exclusionary and discriminatory actions against Jews in the Middle East are not an unfortunate step compelled by laws and norms; they simply want to do it. From time to time the EU will attempt to portray its actions as upholding justice and the law. But that is manifestly untrue, as is any claim the EU is acting in its own self-interest. EU leaders are following their hearts, and their hearts are telling them to take a swing at Israelis from time to time, just to remind them who their true friends are–and who they aren’t.

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This Day in History (and Current Events)

Today is the ninth anniversary of one of the key documents in the history of the “peace process”: the April 14, 2004 letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon, reiterating a “steadfast commitment” by the U.S. to “defensible borders” for Israel, and recognizing that Palestinian refugees would return to a Palestinian state, not to Israel. In Tested by Zion, his invaluable account of the Bush administration and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Elliott Abrams describes how carefully considered the letter was: there were “many drafts, as words, phrases, and paragraphs came in and went out.” At the end, “the headline was clear: There would be no return to 1967 and Israel could keep the major settlement blocks.”

The letter was more than a statement of U.S. policy. It was part of a deal. One of the most troublesome signs of the new approach adopted by President Obama in 2009 was the repeated refusals by administration spokespersons to answer whether the U.S. was bound by the letter. At 22, I stopped counting the number of times the question was asked and not answered, as the administration signaled Israel that the prior U.S. commitment was no longer reliable. But last week, on his return visit to Israel seeking to re-invigorate the “peace process,” Secretary of State Kerry was asked about it again.

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Today is the ninth anniversary of one of the key documents in the history of the “peace process”: the April 14, 2004 letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon, reiterating a “steadfast commitment” by the U.S. to “defensible borders” for Israel, and recognizing that Palestinian refugees would return to a Palestinian state, not to Israel. In Tested by Zion, his invaluable account of the Bush administration and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Elliott Abrams describes how carefully considered the letter was: there were “many drafts, as words, phrases, and paragraphs came in and went out.” At the end, “the headline was clear: There would be no return to 1967 and Israel could keep the major settlement blocks.”

The letter was more than a statement of U.S. policy. It was part of a deal. One of the most troublesome signs of the new approach adopted by President Obama in 2009 was the repeated refusals by administration spokespersons to answer whether the U.S. was bound by the letter. At 22, I stopped counting the number of times the question was asked and not answered, as the administration signaled Israel that the prior U.S. commitment was no longer reliable. But last week, on his return visit to Israel seeking to re-invigorate the “peace process,” Secretary of State Kerry was asked about it again.

At an April 9 press conference in Tel Aviv, Bow Shapira from Israeli TV (Channel 1) told Kerry he wanted to ask about “a guarantee from the past”–the 2004 Bush letter, which he described as “telling that blocs of settlements can stay, cannot [be] removed from the territory.” His question about the guarantee was straightforward: “well, does it exist?” Kerry responded in part as follows:

I remember that commitment very well because I was running for president then, and I personally have supported the notion that the situation on the ground has changed, and obviously, we’re talking about blocs that are in a very different status. I’m not going to get into telling you what ought to happen with respect to any particular piece of geography today because that’s for the parties to decide in their negotiation. But I have certainly supported the notion publicly myself that we need to deal with the ’67 lines, plus the swaps that reflect some of the changes that have taken place since then.

It is not surprising that Kerry remembered the commitment so well. He appeared on “Meet the Press” on April 18, 2004–four days after the Bush letter was issued–and was asked directly about it by Tim Russert:

MR. RUSSERT: On Thursday, President Bush … said that Israel can keep part of the land seized in the 1967 Middle East War and asserted the Palestinian refugees cannot go back to their particular homes. Do you support President Bush?

SEN. KERRY: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Completely?

SEN. KERRY: Yes.

Kerry’s response to the Israeli reporter last week is significant, because he recognized: (1) that the Bush letter was in fact a commitment, subsequently endorsed by both the Senate (95-3) and the House (407-9) in concurrent resolutions; and (2) that he supported it at the time, in unambiguous terms.

But it is indicative of the continuing problem President Obama created with his refusal in 2009 to endorse the Bush letter that an Israeli reporter felt it necessary to ask whether the U.S. commitment exists. The president has been attempting to assure Israelis with his have-your-back, all-options-on-the-table rhetorical commitments, but they remember that in the past he did not feel constrained to respect even a written commitment to Israel. 

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Do Jerusalem Homes Prevent Peace?

The lead article above the fold in Sunday’s New York Times teases President Obama’s visit to Israel by focusing on what it represents as a serious threat to the chances of peace: the building of homes by Jews in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. As the piece states, the government of Israel is not looking to provide any pretext for a fight with the Obama administration. So there will be no announcements of government-sponsored housing starts in the capital that have been portrayed as “insults” to the U.S. in order for the president to gin up spats between the two allies. As Eli Lake writes today in the Daily Beast, a “détente” now exists between the two governments that de-emphasizes the moribund peace process with the Palestinians and is allowing them to cooperate more closely on the nuclear threat from Iran. But for those determined to pin blame on Israelis for the lack of progress toward an end to the conflict with the Palestinians, Jerusalem remains a hot-button issue.

As the Times reports, the purchase of property in the Old City and in other parts of Jerusalem that are majority Arab is viewed as an unwelcome provocation by the United States, but it can’t pin the blame for it on Prime Minister Netanyahu since these are private initiatives. In the past, Obama foolishly picked fights about building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that even he understands would remain part of Jerusalem in the event the Palestinians ever decided to make peace. Such building in those places as well as in the settlement blocs that Israel would also retain has no effect on the prospects for peace. But peace plans backed by the U.S. and offered by past Israeli governments did offer the Palestinian Authority sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in the city. So would the presence of a few scattered groups of Jews in those areas really “complicate” a solution for peace if the will for peace existed on both sides? The only honest answer to that question is no.

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The lead article above the fold in Sunday’s New York Times teases President Obama’s visit to Israel by focusing on what it represents as a serious threat to the chances of peace: the building of homes by Jews in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. As the piece states, the government of Israel is not looking to provide any pretext for a fight with the Obama administration. So there will be no announcements of government-sponsored housing starts in the capital that have been portrayed as “insults” to the U.S. in order for the president to gin up spats between the two allies. As Eli Lake writes today in the Daily Beast, a “détente” now exists between the two governments that de-emphasizes the moribund peace process with the Palestinians and is allowing them to cooperate more closely on the nuclear threat from Iran. But for those determined to pin blame on Israelis for the lack of progress toward an end to the conflict with the Palestinians, Jerusalem remains a hot-button issue.

As the Times reports, the purchase of property in the Old City and in other parts of Jerusalem that are majority Arab is viewed as an unwelcome provocation by the United States, but it can’t pin the blame for it on Prime Minister Netanyahu since these are private initiatives. In the past, Obama foolishly picked fights about building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that even he understands would remain part of Jerusalem in the event the Palestinians ever decided to make peace. Such building in those places as well as in the settlement blocs that Israel would also retain has no effect on the prospects for peace. But peace plans backed by the U.S. and offered by past Israeli governments did offer the Palestinian Authority sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in the city. So would the presence of a few scattered groups of Jews in those areas really “complicate” a solution for peace if the will for peace existed on both sides? The only honest answer to that question is no.

It should first be understood that the whole discussion of what Israeli policies would or would not enhance the chances for peace is itself something of a diversion from reality. Successive Israeli governments, including the present one, have endorsed a two-state solution. Three times—in 2000, 2001 and 2008—it offered the Palestinians an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem that would include the areas that are discussed in the Times feature. Each time, they rejected the offers.

While critics of Israel keep saying that settlements are precluding the chance of peace, were the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table (which they have refused to do since the end of 2008), these offers might or might not be put back in play. Especially after the disastrous withdrawal from Gaza, which resulted in the territory becoming a huge terror base rather than advancing the chances for peace, the Israeli people are far more skeptical about such schemes. But were the PA ever to show its commitment to ending the conflict, anything would be possible.

But in the absence of such a commitment, talk about Israeli home building preventing peace is simply an attempt to divert attention from Palestinian rejectionism.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas did take up Netanyahu’s offer to conduct peace talks anywhere, anytime. Would the building in Arab areas stop such an initiative from succeeding?

As the Times relates, the sum total of Jews living in those neighborhoods amounts to approximately 2,200 people living in scattered homes and apartments. They, like the Jews living in far-flung settlements deep in the West Bank, would oppose being put into a putative state of Palestine. But were such an agreement truly promising peace, rather than a truce that would only postpone further Palestinian efforts to destroy Israel, it is not likely they would prevail in stopping such an agreement from being ratified or implemented. But if peace were really in the offing, the question arises: why would the presence of a few Jews in parts of their ancient capital be so offensive to the Palestinians?

The fact is, it is not a few people whom the Times characterize as extremists that oppose a partition of Jerusalem. The overwhelming majority of Israelis think division of the city is unworkable and not likely to enhance the chances of peace. Moreover, unlike the editors of the Times and others who insist that only an Israeli commitment to leave parts of Jerusalem will bring peace, most Israelis understand the Palestinians aren’t remotely interested in peace on virtually any terms that would require them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

Given the ongoing Palestinian hostility to Israel’s existence and support for terror, many Israelis would question the wisdom of further entangling the Jewish and Arab populations by building in Arab neighborhoods. But few would question the right of Jews to live there.

As the final Palestinian quoted in the piece says, the Arabs are still laboring under the delusion that the Jews can be made to think Jerusalem isn’t “their place” or “their land” and will be made to leave. So long as attitudes such as these prevail, peace is truly impossible no matter what Israel’s government or its citizens say or do.

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Linking Obligations with Rights at the UNHRC

The UN Human Rights Council yesterday released a predictable report deeming Israeli settlements–including huge Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem–a “war crime” and demanding the evacuation of all their hundreds of thousands of residents, thereby throwing every Israeli-Palestinian peace plan ever proposed out the window: All such plans envision Israel retaining parts of East Jerusalem and the settlement blocs. The report would thus seem unhelpful to the “peace process” that Western governments so ardently support. But it’s arousing far less ire among these governments than Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the HRC’s Universal Periodic Review process, under which every country’s human rights record is supposed to be scrutinized every four years. As U.S. ambassador to the council Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe explained, “The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review, and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed.”

Yet as Professor Anne Bayefsky pointed out, it’s immensely hypocritical to insist on universality of obligations without universality of rights. And in two important ways, Israel doesn’t enjoy the same rights at the HRC as every other country does. First, it’s the only country whose alleged human-rights abuses are a permanent agenda item: The council has one agenda item for Israel, and one for all the other 192 UN member states. Second, it’s the only country that isn’t a full member of any regional working group. Bayefsky therefore proposed a simple quid pro quo: Israel should promise to uphold the universality of the review process the moment the council upholds the universality of Israel’s rights as a member state.

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The UN Human Rights Council yesterday released a predictable report deeming Israeli settlements–including huge Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem–a “war crime” and demanding the evacuation of all their hundreds of thousands of residents, thereby throwing every Israeli-Palestinian peace plan ever proposed out the window: All such plans envision Israel retaining parts of East Jerusalem and the settlement blocs. The report would thus seem unhelpful to the “peace process” that Western governments so ardently support. But it’s arousing far less ire among these governments than Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the HRC’s Universal Periodic Review process, under which every country’s human rights record is supposed to be scrutinized every four years. As U.S. ambassador to the council Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe explained, “The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review, and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed.”

Yet as Professor Anne Bayefsky pointed out, it’s immensely hypocritical to insist on universality of obligations without universality of rights. And in two important ways, Israel doesn’t enjoy the same rights at the HRC as every other country does. First, it’s the only country whose alleged human-rights abuses are a permanent agenda item: The council has one agenda item for Israel, and one for all the other 192 UN member states. Second, it’s the only country that isn’t a full member of any regional working group. Bayefsky therefore proposed a simple quid pro quo: Israel should promise to uphold the universality of the review process the moment the council upholds the universality of Israel’s rights as a member state.

If Israel’s leaders had any diplomatic smarts, they would long since have adopted this strategy. But Israel’s stupidity doesn’t excuse the hypocrisy of the Western governments that are pressuring it to comply with the universal review while making no effort to end these other distortions. By insisting that the council’s violations of Israel’s rights produce no corresponding reduction in Israel’s obligations toward the council, they are essentially saying it’s perfectly fine to deny Israel the rights enjoyed by every other UN member: After all, in other spheres of life, these governments do think that denial of rights reduces obligations. Just for example, does anyone remember “no taxation without representation”?

In short, Western governments are implicitly endorsing the council’s anti-Israel bias even as they publicly claim to oppose it. In fact, they even actively collaborate in it: After all, one of these two distortions–full membership in a regional working group–is in their power to rectify; nobody is stopping them from making Israel a full member of the Western working group.

That’s also why the claim that Israel’s refusal could serve as a precedent for egregious rights violators like North Korea or Zimbabwe is so ridiculous: Unlike Israel, none of these countries are denied the universal rights granted all other UN members states; hence they have no grounds for refusing to honor their obligations.

But since the council has agreed to postpone Israel’s review to allow time for a rethink, Western governments still have a chance to do the right thing: insist that the council’s systemic denial of Israel’s rights come to an end. Once that happens, I’m sure they’ll have no trouble getting Israel to comply with its obligations.

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The Israeli Election and the Media’s Teachable Moment

After the 2012 presidential election, liberals gave conservatives a piece of advice: do some soul searching, and get out of your media bubble. Conservatives were wrong about the election, they were told, because they turned their assumptions into predictions. So it will be interesting to find out if the leftist foreign-policy press is ready to take its own advice, after a colossally botched year of coverage leading up to this week’s Israeli Knesset election.

In his wrap-up of just how wrong the media was, Walter Russell Mead gives his readers the following tip: “As negotiations to form a coalition government unfold in the next few weeks, expect more of the same from the MSM”–referring to the mainstream media. I imagine he’s right about that; the liberal press in America got the Israeli election so wrong because they get Israel itself so wrong. But it’s easy to understand how this happens by reading the article that Mead singles out as the “piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts”–David Remnick’s essay in the New Yorker, dated for this week to coincide with the elections, on the rise of Israel’s right. Remnick writes:

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After the 2012 presidential election, liberals gave conservatives a piece of advice: do some soul searching, and get out of your media bubble. Conservatives were wrong about the election, they were told, because they turned their assumptions into predictions. So it will be interesting to find out if the leftist foreign-policy press is ready to take its own advice, after a colossally botched year of coverage leading up to this week’s Israeli Knesset election.

In his wrap-up of just how wrong the media was, Walter Russell Mead gives his readers the following tip: “As negotiations to form a coalition government unfold in the next few weeks, expect more of the same from the MSM”–referring to the mainstream media. I imagine he’s right about that; the liberal press in America got the Israeli election so wrong because they get Israel itself so wrong. But it’s easy to understand how this happens by reading the article that Mead singles out as the “piece of journalism that got furthest away from the facts”–David Remnick’s essay in the New Yorker, dated for this week to coincide with the elections, on the rise of Israel’s right. Remnick writes:

More broadly, the story of the election is the implosion of the center-left and the vivid and growing strength of the radical right. What Bennett’s rise, in particular, represents is the attempt of the settlers to cement the occupation and to establish themselves as a vanguard party, the ideological and spiritual core of the entire country. Just as a small coterie of socialist kibbutzniks dominated the ethos and the public institutions of Israel in the first decades of the state’s existence, the religious nationalists, led by the settlers, intend to do so now and in the years ahead. In the liberal tribune Haaretz, the columnist Ari Shavit wrote, “What is now happening is impossible to view as anything but the takeover by a colonial province of its mother country.”

If that strikes you as a bit overdone, and maybe a conclusion that should have been subjected to rigorous cynicism before endorsing it, what follows that in the article offers a map for how this came to be published with such certainty. The next paragraph begins with a contemptuous dismissal of the Labor Party’s election platform and its focus on domestic issues, without even a quote from the party. But those aren’t important issues, we are told, and Remnick knows this because in the next paragraph he quotes Tzipi Livni telling him so. Livni’s old party was almost shut out of the next Knesset completely, holding on to what looks to be two Knesset seats (down from 28 in the 2009 elections). It’s fair to say that Livni was wrong about the “core issues.”

Remnick’s pessimism about the settlements continues, as he follows Livni’s section of the story with quotes from the director of Peace Now’s “Settlement Watch” project. And that is followed by former Palestinian legislator Ghassan Khatib, who is then followed in the story by the pro-settlement politician Danny Danon. After that, Remnick talks about the left’s favoritoe Israeli bogeyman, Avigdor Lieberman, and moves on to how Theodor Herzl would disapprove.

You’ll notice one thing missing from all this: the Israeli voter. There is no discussion of what was actually bothering Israelis about the Netanyahu government or their rejection of Livni’s attempts to lead a credible opposition. Remnick deserves credit for much about the piece: he interviews people with whom he vehemently disagrees at length, and lets them speak for themselves. He doesn’t simply bring up old quotes from the rightist Moshe Feiglin, for example, but talks to Feiglin himself to see if that’s where he still stands on the issues. He does not seem to cherry-pick statements or conceal the context of his conversations from the reader.

But it’s an article full of politicians whose beliefs dovetail with Remnick’s own expectations. Yair Lapid, who was the big story of the election by leading his party to 19 seats, is mentioned exactly once. Labor, the other party that improved its standing greatly by addressing the kitchen-table issues that regular Israelis had been talking and fretting about, is virtually absent; Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich is not mentioned at all.

So should we expect more of this type of coverage from the media? History tells us that the writers and pundits who get Israel wrong do so consistently. But there’s a real opportunity here for a “teachable moment,” as our president might say. If you want to know what everyday Israelis think, just ask them. Trust me, they’ll tell you.

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After UN Vote, Israel Plans J’lem Housing

Peace Now is calling this a “deal breaker for the two-state solution,” which is a great joke after yesterday’s UN debacle. This is Israel’s reply to the Palestinian Authority’s resolution, and why not? You’d think shredding the 17-year-old Oslo framework might merit some sort of response.

The New York Times reports:

As the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status Thursday night, Israel took steps toward building housing in a controversial area of East Jerusalem known as E1, where Jewish settlements have long been seen as the death knell for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.

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Peace Now is calling this a “deal breaker for the two-state solution,” which is a great joke after yesterday’s UN debacle. This is Israel’s reply to the Palestinian Authority’s resolution, and why not? You’d think shredding the 17-year-old Oslo framework might merit some sort of response.

The New York Times reports:

As the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status Thursday night, Israel took steps toward building housing in a controversial area of East Jerusalem known as E1, where Jewish settlements have long been seen as the death knell for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Friday that the decision was made late Thursday night to move forward on “preliminary zoning and planning preparations” for housing units in E1, which would connect the large settlement of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem and therefore make it impossible to connect the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem to Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Israel also authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units in other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the official said.

Whatever your thoughts on the settlements, this is hardly an eye-for-an-eye retribution. It’s not an explicit violation of any agreements by Israel. Compare that to the PA’s UN bid, which violates article XXXI, sec. 7 of the Oslo accords, which states “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” (It’s not as if the PA was unaware of that — a member of the Fatah Central Committee said earlier this month that the day after the vote, Oslo would be null and void).

Israel made concessions under Oslo that can’t be unmade. The PA, which has been the beneficiary of these concessions, no longer wants to stand by its own obligations. And what’s Israel’s response? Not to tear up Oslo, not to try to collapse the PA, or block funds. But to resume building in East Jerusalem, something that wasn’t considered an insurmountable obstacle to talks until recently. You can argue the construction is unhelpful, but how much does that matter when the PA is openly flouting its signed agreements on one side and Hamas is shooting missiles across the border on the other?

And, in a way, maybe this actually is necessary for a future two-state agreement. How can the Israeli public be expected to agree to painful concessions if its leaders won’t even hold the Palestinians to account when past agreements are broken? The settlement construction is a way for Israel to show there are penalties for violating agreements while still staying within the boundaries of Oslo.

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Left Finds New Way to Demonize Settlers

One of the observations that unites the Middle East commentariat–right, left, and center–is that the Obama administration’s obsession with Israeli settlements has been counterproductive to peacemaking efforts. That doesn’t mean everyone approves of settlement building, just that there is wide agreement on one of the enduring truisms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: settlements are not the main obstacle to peace.

But according to Rabbi Eric Yoffie, they are the main obstacle preventing American Jews from staying connected to Israel. Yoffie writes in Haaretz:

I spoke a few weeks ago with someone who works with American Jewish organizations in planning programs for their meetings and conventions. “Israel is out,” he told me. The demand for speakers about Israel or from Israel has dropped dramatically over the last decade. American Jews are simply interested in other things.

This was a man who understands the U.S. Jewish zeitgeist, and I was initially stunned by his statement. After all, he was not referring to the assimilated minority of Jews who are distancing themselves from all things Jewish; neither was he talking about the anti-Israel Left. He was describing the mainstream, organized Jewish community, which—sadly, tragically—is drifting away from its deep connection to the State of Israel.

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One of the observations that unites the Middle East commentariat–right, left, and center–is that the Obama administration’s obsession with Israeli settlements has been counterproductive to peacemaking efforts. That doesn’t mean everyone approves of settlement building, just that there is wide agreement on one of the enduring truisms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: settlements are not the main obstacle to peace.

But according to Rabbi Eric Yoffie, they are the main obstacle preventing American Jews from staying connected to Israel. Yoffie writes in Haaretz:

I spoke a few weeks ago with someone who works with American Jewish organizations in planning programs for their meetings and conventions. “Israel is out,” he told me. The demand for speakers about Israel or from Israel has dropped dramatically over the last decade. American Jews are simply interested in other things.

This was a man who understands the U.S. Jewish zeitgeist, and I was initially stunned by his statement. After all, he was not referring to the assimilated minority of Jews who are distancing themselves from all things Jewish; neither was he talking about the anti-Israel Left. He was describing the mainstream, organized Jewish community, which—sadly, tragically—is drifting away from its deep connection to the State of Israel.

There are two important problems with what Yoffie says here, though they are not the main problem with his article. The first is that the American Jewish drift away from Israel is a widely debunked myth. Second, a fading interest in speakers from Israel is not at all representative of American Jews’ connection to Israel.

But the biggest problem with the article is Yoffie’s stated reason for the mythical Jewish detachment from Israel that isn’t happening:

The settlement enterprise, long the central issue of Israel’s internal politics, has become the constant, harping theme of political discussion about the Jewish State, causing concern, dismay, and confusion among even the most committed American Jews.

While some Jewish leaders (full disclosure: I have done this myself) attribute the focus on settlement to unfriendly press coverage in America, in reality the opposite is true. Many American Jews read Israel’s daily press, now widely available in English, and see that the obsession with settlement comes from the Israeli side and not the American side.

Yoffie also calls the settlement movement the “NRA of Israel.” I’m not sure if he’s trying to insult gun owners or Israelis–or both.

Additionally, the settlement-related news today is positive–Israel’s government evacuated a settlement and moved the village’s inhabitants without incident. Even the New York Times was forced to admit, through gritted teeth no doubt, that this was “the first peaceful evacuation of a Jewish settlement from the occupied territories in memory.” (Related question: Whose memory? The reporter’s? Is it now journalistically acceptable to say that you can’t remember the last time something happened and didn’t have any interest in trying to find out?)

But that good news was in the American press, which Yoffie says is no longer influencing Americans. We must look to the Israeli press, then, to see what could be causing American Jews to stop being interested in listening to presentations by Israeli convention speakers. And sure enough, there was some bad news about violent Israelis. From Haaretz:

On Saturday, Israel’s social protest turned violent as thousands of Israelis clashed with police, blocked roads, and smashed bank windows.

“What we saw was not a popular protest but a planned web of events including law infractions and violence,” [Police Commissioner Yohanan] Danino said.

So Israel’s leftist protesters are violent rioters? That is troubling indeed. Perhaps Yoffie will address that in a future column. In the meantime, Israeli leftists should learn how to comport themselves within the bounds of respectability–like the Ulpana settlers. American Jews are watching, you know.

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Beinart’s Slippery Slope of Delegitimization

Omri ably dismantles the justification for Peter Beinart’s latest back-of-the-classroom arm-waving attempt to get attention by writing in approval of a limited boycott, divestment and sanctions strategy against the Israelis who don’t share his liberal opinions. The most obvious issue is that it is a slippery slope that will never simply remain targeting only settlements. (There are also other very good reasons to oppose the policy, as Omri notes as well.)

But there is another aspect of Beinart’s suggestion that is, like his BDS suggestion, both morally reprehensible and a dangerous slippery slope. That would be Beinart’s suggestion that we divide Israelis between those who live within the 1949 armistice line (good) and those who live beyond it (bad). Here is Beinart:

Instead, we should call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel.” The phrase suggests that there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.

Having made that rhetorical distinction, American Jews should seek every opportunity to reinforce it.

Such list making is an atrocious excuse for reasoned debate, even without the slippery slope that will follow.

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Omri ably dismantles the justification for Peter Beinart’s latest back-of-the-classroom arm-waving attempt to get attention by writing in approval of a limited boycott, divestment and sanctions strategy against the Israelis who don’t share his liberal opinions. The most obvious issue is that it is a slippery slope that will never simply remain targeting only settlements. (There are also other very good reasons to oppose the policy, as Omri notes as well.)

But there is another aspect of Beinart’s suggestion that is, like his BDS suggestion, both morally reprehensible and a dangerous slippery slope. That would be Beinart’s suggestion that we divide Israelis between those who live within the 1949 armistice line (good) and those who live beyond it (bad). Here is Beinart:

Instead, we should call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel.” The phrase suggests that there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.

Having made that rhetorical distinction, American Jews should seek every opportunity to reinforce it.

Such list making is an atrocious excuse for reasoned debate, even without the slippery slope that will follow.

The slippery slope, of course, is that the “legitimate” vs. “illegitimate” argument will immediately be applied to those, anywhere and anytime, who voice any support for the Jews Beinart says to stay away from. When reading Beinart’s proposed division, I immediately remembered hearing this before. It was, in fact, John Mearsheimer who proposed the formulation. (See Michael’s post for some more on Mearsheimer.) In a speech in April 2010, the noted conspiracy theorist offered two categories of Jews: “righteous Jews” and the “new Afrikaners” (there was a third category of the fence-sitters as well). Both Beinart and Mearsheimer want to draw these lines to save Israel from itself. Beinart warns:

If Israel makes the occupation permanent and Zionism ceases to be a democratic project, Israel’s foes will eventually overthrow Zionism itself.

We are closer to that day than many American Jews want to admit. Sticking to the old comfortable ways endangers Israel’s democratic future. If we want to effectively oppose the forces that threaten Israel from without, we must also oppose the forces that threaten it from within.

And here is Mearsheimer:

What is truly remarkable about this situation is that the Israel lobby is effectively helping Israel commit national suicide. Israel, after all, is turning itself into an apartheid state, which, as Ehud Olmert has pointed out, is not sustainable in the modern era…. It is hard to understand why Israel and its American supporters are not working overtime to create a viable Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories and why instead they are moving full-speed ahead to build Greater Israel, which will be an apartheid state. It makes no sense from either a moral or a strategic perspective.

At the time of Mearsheimer’s speech, those who occasionally defend Beinart excoriated Mearsheimer. Jeffrey Goldberg, for example, thought Mearsheimer’s speech sounded an awful lot like the leftwing anti-Semite of the Roosevelt era, Father Coughlin. He reproduced a quote that Meryl Yourish found from one of Coughlin’s speeches:

My purpose is to help eradicate from the world its mania for persecution, to help align all good men. Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Gentile, Christian and non-Christian, in a battle to stamp out the ferocity, the barbarism and the hate of this bloody era. I want the good Jews with me, and I’m called a Jew-baiter, an anti-Semite.

Goldberg added that what he finds most interesting about Mearsheimer “is how his understanding of Jews and their nefarious role in American (sic) and in the world has caused him to abandon the principles of foreign policy realism that he advocated in his previous career, the reputable career he had before the Jews conquered his brain.”

And apparently Mearsheimer’s cautionary tale couldn’t prevent them from conquering Beinart’s as well. No doubt Beinart’s vapid, vainglorious crusade to lead the good Jews against who he characterizes as consisting in part of “poor Sephardic, Russian and ultra-Orthodox Jews” will be treated with the same revulsion. Beinart may, as he says, care deeply about Jewish survival. But echoing Mearsheimer is a funny way to show it.

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J Street Rolls Out the Red Carpet for BDS

These posts, about J Street conference speakers who advocate anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions, are becoming an annual tradition. Last year the ostensibly pro-Israel group hosted BDS advocates from fringe left-wing Jewish groups, raising questions as to why J Street’s commitment to “expanding the debate” over Israel only seems to involve stretching the spectrum to include the anti-Israel side.

This year J Street is hosting the book launch of Peter Beinart who — will wonders never cease — just published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a “Zionist BDS” campaign that would seek to economically suffocate all Israeli Jews who live beyond the 1948 armistice lines.

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These posts, about J Street conference speakers who advocate anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions, are becoming an annual tradition. Last year the ostensibly pro-Israel group hosted BDS advocates from fringe left-wing Jewish groups, raising questions as to why J Street’s commitment to “expanding the debate” over Israel only seems to involve stretching the spectrum to include the anti-Israel side.

This year J Street is hosting the book launch of Peter Beinart who — will wonders never cease — just published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a “Zionist BDS” campaign that would seek to economically suffocate all Israeli Jews who live beyond the 1948 armistice lines.

(1) In practice — which is to say, outside of Beinart’s singular too-clever-by-half advocacy — there’s no such thing as a limited anti-Israel boycott. There isn’t this critical mass of Western activists waiting to learn from Peter Beinart which Israelis they’re supposed to like and who they need to ostracize, and takes either shallow narcissism or revelatory cocooning to believe otherwise. Meanwhile the Palestinians talk about Israeli chains that “spread like cancer,” a nice rhetorical reminder that boycott movements get their strength not just from revulsion but from the cheap superiority to be found in feeling revulsed. Israel doesn’t actually make all that much in the West Bank, and the typical attraction of BDS has far more to do with chasing the never-quite-adequate pleasure of hating those people — of indulging in an ugly sneer at the thought of rotting Israeli goods and suffering Israeli families — than with utilizing objective economic leverage.

That’s why calls for so-called “targeted” BDS routinely metastasize into calls for total boycotts of the Jewish State. In Britain efforts to label products from settlements spurred greater efforts for full boycotts. Partisans inclined to hate Israel hijack not just the campaigns but also even the physical forums where partial vs. full BDS gets debated. The consistency with which that dynamic has played out raises questions about whether limited BDS advocates are merely naive.

(2) BDS is such a vulgar advocacy that even Norman Finkelstein, who once made John Mearsheimer’s list of good Jews, can’t stomach it. He recently lashed out against the “cult” in general, and he was specifically bothered by the nudge-wink pretense that BDS advocates can somehow untangle their campaigns from wholesale calls to wipe out Israel:

Finkelstein got into trouble when he said that some people in BDS “don’t want Israel.” He lectured his BDS colleagues: “Stop trying to be so clever, because you’re only clever in your cult. The moment you step out, you have to deal with Israeli propaganda … They say, ‘No, they’re not really talking about rights; they’re talking about they want to destroy Israel.’ And in fact I think they’re right, I think that’s true.”

In fact, Finkelstein said, it is “not an accident, an unwitting omission, that BDS does not mention Israel”: They “know it will split the movement, because there’s a large segment—component—of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel.” You can see why anti-Israel people were offended to hear this from Finkelstein, of all people. Yet Finkelstein was not revealing some deep secret about the motives of those BDS-ers. Anyone who has listened to their leaders, read their papers, seen them at play, or checked out their circle of acquaintances, supporters, and collaborators can hardly be surprised.

It would be great if someone could push Beinart on Finkelstein’s points, especially on the issue of left-wing BDS disingenuousness. The odds of that particular conversation happening at the J Street conference are, for obvious reasons, not particularly great.

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