Commentary Magazine


Topic: Sharon

Obama’s Middle East Policy: Incompetence Continues

The Obami have, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at virtually every turn, made the wrong decision and then botched the execution of that decision. Beginning with the decision to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than the Iranian nuclear threat and continuing through to the public bullying of Israel and the NPT declaration (and its walk-back), all followed by the charm campaign (when all that preceded it proved a bust and domestically harmful to boot), the Obami have made matters worse not better.

Now that they have struggled to pick up where the Bush team left off two years ago — direct talks – they are making new errors. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser who helped devise and maintain productive and warm U.S.-Israeli relations for eight years, tries to help the Obami avoid more missteps. (He is too polite to mention his own handiwork, but the administration might start with recognizing and confirming the agreement that Bush and Sharon reached in 2004 on settlements.)

Abrams warns the Obami team that in direct talks between the parties, it is best not to “intrude too deeply and too often.” This is good advice even for an administration that is respected and trusted by the parties. (“The Israelis and Palestinians do not negotiate seriously when U.S. officials are in the room; instead, they take positions designed to elicit American approval.”) George Mitchell has not yet figured this out, however.

Abrams also warns (as Tony Blair did at the March AIPAC conference, in very similar language) that what really matters is what is going on in the West Bank. He explains, “A Palestinian state will be built not at Camp David or Sharm el-Sheikh but in the West Bank, which is where our greatest efforts should be focused.” Again, Mitchell has not yet grasped this essential truth.

But Abrams’s most important piece of advice is this: the decision to work on a framework agreement is wrong. He quotes Mitchell’s explanation of such an agreement: “It’s more detailed than a declaration of principles, but is less than a full-fledged treaty. Its purpose is to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to enable the parties to then flesh out and complete a comprehensive agreement that will end the conflict and establish a lasting peace.” Abrams writes:

The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.

All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their “fundamental compromises” on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide.

In other words, whatever slim chance there might be for a peace deal (I personally think it’s close to zero) is reduced, once again, by an incompetent (is there any other adjective to describe him?) envoy and a flawed negotiating strategy. The most, I think, we can hope for is that the end of the talks don’t trigger another intifada, that the progress on the ground in the West Bank continues, and that sooner rather than later, a U.S. negotiating team will emerge that knows what it is doing.

The Obami have, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at virtually every turn, made the wrong decision and then botched the execution of that decision. Beginning with the decision to focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than the Iranian nuclear threat and continuing through to the public bullying of Israel and the NPT declaration (and its walk-back), all followed by the charm campaign (when all that preceded it proved a bust and domestically harmful to boot), the Obami have made matters worse not better.

Now that they have struggled to pick up where the Bush team left off two years ago — direct talks – they are making new errors. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser who helped devise and maintain productive and warm U.S.-Israeli relations for eight years, tries to help the Obami avoid more missteps. (He is too polite to mention his own handiwork, but the administration might start with recognizing and confirming the agreement that Bush and Sharon reached in 2004 on settlements.)

Abrams warns the Obami team that in direct talks between the parties, it is best not to “intrude too deeply and too often.” This is good advice even for an administration that is respected and trusted by the parties. (“The Israelis and Palestinians do not negotiate seriously when U.S. officials are in the room; instead, they take positions designed to elicit American approval.”) George Mitchell has not yet figured this out, however.

Abrams also warns (as Tony Blair did at the March AIPAC conference, in very similar language) that what really matters is what is going on in the West Bank. He explains, “A Palestinian state will be built not at Camp David or Sharm el-Sheikh but in the West Bank, which is where our greatest efforts should be focused.” Again, Mitchell has not yet grasped this essential truth.

But Abrams’s most important piece of advice is this: the decision to work on a framework agreement is wrong. He quotes Mitchell’s explanation of such an agreement: “It’s more detailed than a declaration of principles, but is less than a full-fledged treaty. Its purpose is to establish the fundamental compromises necessary to enable the parties to then flesh out and complete a comprehensive agreement that will end the conflict and establish a lasting peace.” Abrams writes:

The difficult compromises necessary for a final-status agreement that resolves all the core issues will be made at the very end. The only way Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can defend such compromises is by delivering to Palestinians their own state; the only way Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can do so is by saying Israel will now get peace, not only with Palestinians but with all Arab states.

All this cannot possibly happen until a final-status agreement is signed and implemented. Asking the parties to announce their “fundamental compromises” on the core issues when a final-status agreement is years away is asking them to commit political suicide.

In other words, whatever slim chance there might be for a peace deal (I personally think it’s close to zero) is reduced, once again, by an incompetent (is there any other adjective to describe him?) envoy and a flawed negotiating strategy. The most, I think, we can hope for is that the end of the talks don’t trigger another intifada, that the progress on the ground in the West Bank continues, and that sooner rather than later, a U.S. negotiating team will emerge that knows what it is doing.

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A Question for Obama Today

By my count, State Department spokesmen have declined 21 times over the past year to answer a straightforward question: does the Obama administration consider itself bound by the 2004 Bush letter given to Israel in exchange for the Gaza disengagement plan? On Friday, a key White House official logged the 22nd refusal to address the question:

The April 14, 2004, letter from Mr. Bush to Mr. Sharon said a final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians should reflect “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers,” and that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” …

During a conference call Friday with reporters, Dan Shapiro, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East and North Africa, declined to say whether the 2004 letter reflected the Obama administration’s understanding of the parameters or borders of a final settlement to the conflict.

The Bush letter reassured Israel of a “steadfast [U.S.] commitment” to “defensible borders” and to Israel’s ability to “defend itself, by itself” (a coded reference to Israel’s retention of its ultimate means of defense). Such borders require retention of the major settlement blocs, since they are located on the high ground surrounding the center of the country and other militarily significant points in the West Bank. (The 1967 Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum on defensible borders is summarized here, and a useful video showing the topography of such borders is here.)

In referring to the “realities” on the ground and what is “realistic” for final-status negotiations, the Bush letter set forth the requirements of a serious peace process — since no Israeli government is going to cede territory essential to its strategic defense — and represents in any event a commitment that cannot be repudiated simply by ignoring it (at least not in normal diplomacy).

The reason Shapiro and the State Department spokesman have ducked the question of adherence to the Bush letter may be that they in fact do not know the answer. Michael Oren reportedly said that his access to senior administration officials and advisers of the president is good but that Obama exercises very tight control and “[t]his is a one-man-show.” In the Obama-Netanyahu press conference scheduled for later today, perhaps someone will address the question to the only person in the administration who apparently can answer it.

By my count, State Department spokesmen have declined 21 times over the past year to answer a straightforward question: does the Obama administration consider itself bound by the 2004 Bush letter given to Israel in exchange for the Gaza disengagement plan? On Friday, a key White House official logged the 22nd refusal to address the question:

The April 14, 2004, letter from Mr. Bush to Mr. Sharon said a final peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians should reflect “new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers,” and that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” …

During a conference call Friday with reporters, Dan Shapiro, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East and North Africa, declined to say whether the 2004 letter reflected the Obama administration’s understanding of the parameters or borders of a final settlement to the conflict.

The Bush letter reassured Israel of a “steadfast [U.S.] commitment” to “defensible borders” and to Israel’s ability to “defend itself, by itself” (a coded reference to Israel’s retention of its ultimate means of defense). Such borders require retention of the major settlement blocs, since they are located on the high ground surrounding the center of the country and other militarily significant points in the West Bank. (The 1967 Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum on defensible borders is summarized here, and a useful video showing the topography of such borders is here.)

In referring to the “realities” on the ground and what is “realistic” for final-status negotiations, the Bush letter set forth the requirements of a serious peace process — since no Israeli government is going to cede territory essential to its strategic defense — and represents in any event a commitment that cannot be repudiated simply by ignoring it (at least not in normal diplomacy).

The reason Shapiro and the State Department spokesman have ducked the question of adherence to the Bush letter may be that they in fact do not know the answer. Michael Oren reportedly said that his access to senior administration officials and advisers of the president is good but that Obama exercises very tight control and “[t]his is a one-man-show.” In the Obama-Netanyahu press conference scheduled for later today, perhaps someone will address the question to the only person in the administration who apparently can answer it.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

We finally have the perfect (and poetic) telling of the Tipper and Al saga.

Obama finally tries to undo some of the damage wrought by his troop-pullout deadline: “We did not say, starting in July 2011, suddenly there will be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. … We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. … We said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility.” Now he just needs an affirmative statement that we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.

The voters finally get to grade Obama and the Democrats in November. They won’t be getting a B+: “This year’s low approval ratings for Congress are a potentially ominous sign for President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress. Gallup has found greater party seat change in Congress in midterm elections when Congress has had low approval ratings.” Congress has a 20 percent approval rating; in 1994, Democrats scored 23 percent and lost 53 seats.

Congress should finally defund this position: “Rashad Hussain, America’s special envoy to the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Saudi-based body formed in 1969 to ‘protect’ Jerusalem from the Israelis, announced a new title this week for President Barack Obama. According to Hussain, Obama is America’s ‘Educator-in-Chief on Islam.’” Unfortunately, until we have a new president, there’s nothing to be done — other than object loudly to this: “Hussain has now divulged that the U.S. will support the OIC in the latter’s United Nations effort to criminalize ‘defamation of religion’ — widely perceived as a measure to suppress criticism of Muslim practices that violate human rights.”

Will the Washington Post finally admit that the paper was snookered into hiring David Weigel as an authentic conservative voice? The latest: he apologizes to readers — for comments made on the lefty Journolist. Ahh … doesn’t that meant that … ? Even the Post should be able to figure that out now.

Will Democrats (and the rest of the country) finally be rid of Harry Reid? “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Nevada shows [Sharon] Angle earning 48% support, while Reid, the state’s longtime Democratic senator, picks up 41% of the vote.”

Jonathan Chait finally stumbles onto the truth. On Rand Paul’s obfuscation regarding the BP fund: “He’s intellectually honest enough that he doesn’t want to lie about his views. But he’s not quite intellectually honest enough to actually say what his views are. So he just keeps talking about issues related to the question without answering it.”

We finally have the perfect (and poetic) telling of the Tipper and Al saga.

Obama finally tries to undo some of the damage wrought by his troop-pullout deadline: “We did not say, starting in July 2011, suddenly there will be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. … We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. … We said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility.” Now he just needs an affirmative statement that we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.

The voters finally get to grade Obama and the Democrats in November. They won’t be getting a B+: “This year’s low approval ratings for Congress are a potentially ominous sign for President Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress. Gallup has found greater party seat change in Congress in midterm elections when Congress has had low approval ratings.” Congress has a 20 percent approval rating; in 1994, Democrats scored 23 percent and lost 53 seats.

Congress should finally defund this position: “Rashad Hussain, America’s special envoy to the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Saudi-based body formed in 1969 to ‘protect’ Jerusalem from the Israelis, announced a new title this week for President Barack Obama. According to Hussain, Obama is America’s ‘Educator-in-Chief on Islam.’” Unfortunately, until we have a new president, there’s nothing to be done — other than object loudly to this: “Hussain has now divulged that the U.S. will support the OIC in the latter’s United Nations effort to criminalize ‘defamation of religion’ — widely perceived as a measure to suppress criticism of Muslim practices that violate human rights.”

Will the Washington Post finally admit that the paper was snookered into hiring David Weigel as an authentic conservative voice? The latest: he apologizes to readers — for comments made on the lefty Journolist. Ahh … doesn’t that meant that … ? Even the Post should be able to figure that out now.

Will Democrats (and the rest of the country) finally be rid of Harry Reid? “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Nevada shows [Sharon] Angle earning 48% support, while Reid, the state’s longtime Democratic senator, picks up 41% of the vote.”

Jonathan Chait finally stumbles onto the truth. On Rand Paul’s obfuscation regarding the BP fund: “He’s intellectually honest enough that he doesn’t want to lie about his views. But he’s not quite intellectually honest enough to actually say what his views are. So he just keeps talking about issues related to the question without answering it.”

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Marco Rubio Gets It

Marco Rubio addressed a gathering of Jewish Republicans in Florida on Thursday. The entire speech should be read in full. It is frankly the best speech on Israel since George W. Bush went to the Knesset.

A few points are most noteworthy. First, he understands that the flotilla incident is part of a larger history and that America in the past has responded quite differently when Israel was assaulted for defending itself:

Support for Israel by the United States in a time of crisis has been a given for over 60 years. And yet, lately, there is the emerging sense that this long-standing relationship isn’t what it used to be. We are in the midst of an all out, concerted global effort to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. The recent flotilla incident and the reaction of many in the international community is nothing more than a part of that effort. In no way can the U.S. allow a path to be cleared that would enable the United Nations or any international body to discredit and diminish our democratic friend and partner. If Israel’s right to self-defense is undermined by efforts to lift its legal and necessary blockade of Gaza, which serves to stop Hamas from arming itself with deadly weapons, there will be lasting consequences not only for Israel, but also for the U.S. and the entire world.

Second, he understands that Israel and the U.S. are joined in facing common foes:

Israel’s enemies are or will soon be America’s enemies as well. They are emboldened every time they sense any sort of daylight between the United States and Israel. Now more than at any other time, it is important America have a firm and clear relationship with Israel.  . . Israel is a valued American ally, our closest and most reliable friend in the Middle East, and the only democracy there. Living in a democracy, Israel’s Arabs enjoy fundamental human rights and liberties that are limited or virtually non-existent in majority-ruled Arab countries.  Israel is not a problem or obstacle to peace and should not be treated as one. In every incident, every pronouncement and every action related to Israel, enemies like Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah look for signs of weakness in America’s support as an invitation to undermine Israel and move one step closer to her destruction. The stronger the U.S.-Israel alliance, the stronger the moderate, pro-U.S. elements in the Arab world will be. If the U.S. shows itself to be an unreliable ally to Israel, moderate Arab states will take note that they cannot trust the U.S. to be a reliable friend for them either.

Third, he understands that the obstacle to peace is not Israel and that the U.S. has no business imposing a peace deal:

So long as other governments mercilessly criticize Israel, so long as the Palestinians ignore the problems of their own society and blame everything on Israel, and so long as Palestinian extremists are emboldened by extremist forces across the region, a two-state solution almost certainly can’t happen. … We should always remember that the obstacle to peace isn’t Israel; it is Palestinian extremists and Islamic terrorists who will not accept the Jewish State.

Next he pushes back against Obama’s Jerusalem-housing obsession and his fetish for a West Bank settlement freeze:

Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, as the U.S. Congress has repeatedly recognized. The U.S. should work toward the goal of moving our Embassy there. We should stop condemning or punishing Israel for allowing Jews to build homes in their capital city, one to which Jews have an historic and religious attachment. … [C]onstruction activity in West Bank settlements has never before prevented negotiations, and a “construction freeze” should not be a precondition for them. Israel has shown — in Sinai, Gaza, and the West Bank — the willingness to remove settlements and their inhabitants. The Government of Israel, under several prime ministers, has made clear its understanding that a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians will require removal of many West Bank settlements. The U.S. must continue to support the position expressed by President Bush in a 2004 letter to Prime Minister Sharon, which stated that there would be no return to the 1949 armistice lines and that those lines would have to be adjusted to reflect changes on the ground since 1967 — major new settlements where thousands of Israeli families live.

Then he goes after Obama for the administration’s conduct in international bodies:

In recent weeks, tensions have heightened in the Middle East with the confrontation provoked by the Turkish Flotilla. It was outrageous for the United States to abandon Israel at the UN, and support a Security Council statement condemning the acts that led to bloodshed, including Israel’s need to defend itself. There will be world-wide consequences if the United States continues to pressure Israel to lift its legal and necessary blockade of Gaza. Iran and its terrorist surrogates are the only ones who will benefit. …

It is also important to highlight the outrageous actions of the Obama Administration in supporting the UN resolution – passed at the Nuclear Non-proliferation Conference – just three days before the Flotilla incident. … I am deeply concerned that the U.S. chose to support a UN resolution that undermines Israel’s security, while giving Iran a “free pass.”

He concludes by addressing “the singles greatest threat” to Israel and the U.S. — a nuclear-armed Iran. He argues for stronger sanctions, pointing out the absurdity of allowing a carve-out for Russia’s S300 sale to Iran. And he includes something we have never heard from Obama:

Military action against Iran is undesirable. However, a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. Ultimately, we must use all means at our disposal to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. And if Israel needs to act to prevent this we should give her our full support.

This is what we should demand and expect of every candidate and official who styles himself as “pro-Israel.” And it is an embarrassment that the finest explication of these issues and statement of determination does not come from Jewish leaders, who still scurry here and there trying to reconcile two irreconcilable realities (i.e., Obama’s stance toward Israel and defense of the Jewish state). When a new occupant enters the White House, he or she would do well to pull out Rubio’s speech and use it as the foundation for America’s Israel policy.

Marco Rubio addressed a gathering of Jewish Republicans in Florida on Thursday. The entire speech should be read in full. It is frankly the best speech on Israel since George W. Bush went to the Knesset.

A few points are most noteworthy. First, he understands that the flotilla incident is part of a larger history and that America in the past has responded quite differently when Israel was assaulted for defending itself:

Support for Israel by the United States in a time of crisis has been a given for over 60 years. And yet, lately, there is the emerging sense that this long-standing relationship isn’t what it used to be. We are in the midst of an all out, concerted global effort to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. The recent flotilla incident and the reaction of many in the international community is nothing more than a part of that effort. In no way can the U.S. allow a path to be cleared that would enable the United Nations or any international body to discredit and diminish our democratic friend and partner. If Israel’s right to self-defense is undermined by efforts to lift its legal and necessary blockade of Gaza, which serves to stop Hamas from arming itself with deadly weapons, there will be lasting consequences not only for Israel, but also for the U.S. and the entire world.

Second, he understands that Israel and the U.S. are joined in facing common foes:

Israel’s enemies are or will soon be America’s enemies as well. They are emboldened every time they sense any sort of daylight between the United States and Israel. Now more than at any other time, it is important America have a firm and clear relationship with Israel.  . . Israel is a valued American ally, our closest and most reliable friend in the Middle East, and the only democracy there. Living in a democracy, Israel’s Arabs enjoy fundamental human rights and liberties that are limited or virtually non-existent in majority-ruled Arab countries.  Israel is not a problem or obstacle to peace and should not be treated as one. In every incident, every pronouncement and every action related to Israel, enemies like Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah look for signs of weakness in America’s support as an invitation to undermine Israel and move one step closer to her destruction. The stronger the U.S.-Israel alliance, the stronger the moderate, pro-U.S. elements in the Arab world will be. If the U.S. shows itself to be an unreliable ally to Israel, moderate Arab states will take note that they cannot trust the U.S. to be a reliable friend for them either.

Third, he understands that the obstacle to peace is not Israel and that the U.S. has no business imposing a peace deal:

So long as other governments mercilessly criticize Israel, so long as the Palestinians ignore the problems of their own society and blame everything on Israel, and so long as Palestinian extremists are emboldened by extremist forces across the region, a two-state solution almost certainly can’t happen. … We should always remember that the obstacle to peace isn’t Israel; it is Palestinian extremists and Islamic terrorists who will not accept the Jewish State.

Next he pushes back against Obama’s Jerusalem-housing obsession and his fetish for a West Bank settlement freeze:

Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, as the U.S. Congress has repeatedly recognized. The U.S. should work toward the goal of moving our Embassy there. We should stop condemning or punishing Israel for allowing Jews to build homes in their capital city, one to which Jews have an historic and religious attachment. … [C]onstruction activity in West Bank settlements has never before prevented negotiations, and a “construction freeze” should not be a precondition for them. Israel has shown — in Sinai, Gaza, and the West Bank — the willingness to remove settlements and their inhabitants. The Government of Israel, under several prime ministers, has made clear its understanding that a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians will require removal of many West Bank settlements. The U.S. must continue to support the position expressed by President Bush in a 2004 letter to Prime Minister Sharon, which stated that there would be no return to the 1949 armistice lines and that those lines would have to be adjusted to reflect changes on the ground since 1967 — major new settlements where thousands of Israeli families live.

Then he goes after Obama for the administration’s conduct in international bodies:

In recent weeks, tensions have heightened in the Middle East with the confrontation provoked by the Turkish Flotilla. It was outrageous for the United States to abandon Israel at the UN, and support a Security Council statement condemning the acts that led to bloodshed, including Israel’s need to defend itself. There will be world-wide consequences if the United States continues to pressure Israel to lift its legal and necessary blockade of Gaza. Iran and its terrorist surrogates are the only ones who will benefit. …

It is also important to highlight the outrageous actions of the Obama Administration in supporting the UN resolution – passed at the Nuclear Non-proliferation Conference – just three days before the Flotilla incident. … I am deeply concerned that the U.S. chose to support a UN resolution that undermines Israel’s security, while giving Iran a “free pass.”

He concludes by addressing “the singles greatest threat” to Israel and the U.S. — a nuclear-armed Iran. He argues for stronger sanctions, pointing out the absurdity of allowing a carve-out for Russia’s S300 sale to Iran. And he includes something we have never heard from Obama:

Military action against Iran is undesirable. However, a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. Ultimately, we must use all means at our disposal to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. And if Israel needs to act to prevent this we should give her our full support.

This is what we should demand and expect of every candidate and official who styles himself as “pro-Israel.” And it is an embarrassment that the finest explication of these issues and statement of determination does not come from Jewish leaders, who still scurry here and there trying to reconcile two irreconcilable realities (i.e., Obama’s stance toward Israel and defense of the Jewish state). When a new occupant enters the White House, he or she would do well to pull out Rubio’s speech and use it as the foundation for America’s Israel policy.

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RE: J Street Comes Clean

J Street’s position on Jerusalem, detailed below by Jen Rubin, is a perfect example of why the proper way to understand the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization is as an export-import business. Bear with me for a moment.

There was a set of ideas about the Arab-Israeli conflict to which many people subscribed in the 80s and 90s. These ideas became the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords became an immense, catastrophic failure. Many people who were Oslo advocates, thus confronted with reality, changed their minds about the conflict (an obvious example is Benny Morris). Some Oslo advocates, however, did not, and adopted various theories to justify their continued membership in the peace-process-can-do-no-harm camp: the Israeli offers were never good enough, Sharon started the intifada, territorial withdrawal must come first, a conspiracy of neocons and AIPAC has always worked against peace, and so on. In 2000 in Lebanon and in 2005 in Gaza, territorial withdrawal was tried, and the results detonated a belief even deeper than Oslo, this one going all the way back to 1967 and perhaps even to 1948: the hope that land could be traded for peace and that the conflict is about borders, not Israel’s very existence.

These accumulated facts changed the attitude of Israelis in a dramatic way. The Oslo consensus disintegrated not only as an understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but as a political platform. In the early 90s, Labor and Meretz held a combined 56 Knesset seats. Today they have 16. Yet despite this political collapse in Israel, a few true believers still cling to the Oslo fantasy. How can these ideas survive their failure in the very place they’re supposed to be applied?

J Street, working with various Meretz has-beens in Israel, imports the ideas to America and tries to revive them here, where Jews are far less aware of their abysmal record of failure. J Street pushes them to the Obama administration, which is favorably disposed to them anyway. Here is where the exporting happens: Obama now seeks to impose them on an unreceptive Israel.

This is not just an insular story about Israeli-American-Jewish politics. It’s probably the major reason why there is so much conflict between the Obama and Netanyahu governments. The former is living on J Street, where it is not considered insane to demand that Israel relinquish the Western Wall, the most meaningful place in Judaism, to an “international force” (Israel should agree to this when the Pope and the Saudis surrender the Vatican and Mecca to an international force). The latter came to power as the culminating point of an Israeli consensus that understands the failures of the previous 17 years and rejects the ideas that J Street and the Obama administration are trying to force back to Israel. This is why J Street is, in its essence, a political export-import business.

J Street’s position on Jerusalem, detailed below by Jen Rubin, is a perfect example of why the proper way to understand the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization is as an export-import business. Bear with me for a moment.

There was a set of ideas about the Arab-Israeli conflict to which many people subscribed in the 80s and 90s. These ideas became the Oslo Accords. The Oslo Accords became an immense, catastrophic failure. Many people who were Oslo advocates, thus confronted with reality, changed their minds about the conflict (an obvious example is Benny Morris). Some Oslo advocates, however, did not, and adopted various theories to justify their continued membership in the peace-process-can-do-no-harm camp: the Israeli offers were never good enough, Sharon started the intifada, territorial withdrawal must come first, a conspiracy of neocons and AIPAC has always worked against peace, and so on. In 2000 in Lebanon and in 2005 in Gaza, territorial withdrawal was tried, and the results detonated a belief even deeper than Oslo, this one going all the way back to 1967 and perhaps even to 1948: the hope that land could be traded for peace and that the conflict is about borders, not Israel’s very existence.

These accumulated facts changed the attitude of Israelis in a dramatic way. The Oslo consensus disintegrated not only as an understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but as a political platform. In the early 90s, Labor and Meretz held a combined 56 Knesset seats. Today they have 16. Yet despite this political collapse in Israel, a few true believers still cling to the Oslo fantasy. How can these ideas survive their failure in the very place they’re supposed to be applied?

J Street, working with various Meretz has-beens in Israel, imports the ideas to America and tries to revive them here, where Jews are far less aware of their abysmal record of failure. J Street pushes them to the Obama administration, which is favorably disposed to them anyway. Here is where the exporting happens: Obama now seeks to impose them on an unreceptive Israel.

This is not just an insular story about Israeli-American-Jewish politics. It’s probably the major reason why there is so much conflict between the Obama and Netanyahu governments. The former is living on J Street, where it is not considered insane to demand that Israel relinquish the Western Wall, the most meaningful place in Judaism, to an “international force” (Israel should agree to this when the Pope and the Saudis surrender the Vatican and Mecca to an international force). The latter came to power as the culminating point of an Israeli consensus that understands the failures of the previous 17 years and rejects the ideas that J Street and the Obama administration are trying to force back to Israel. This is why J Street is, in its essence, a political export-import business.

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Obama’s Appeal Is Lost on World Leaders

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

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Ya’alon Unloads on Obami

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

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Peace Plan No. 6

Asked about the Washington Post story in which it was reported that the administration is considering its own Middle East peace plan, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley issued a non-denial/denial yesterday, in which the operative words were “at this point”:

I would steer you away from the idea that we are — we’re going to try to, at this point, impose a particular view on the parties … our focus right now is getting them into the proximity talks, into negotiations, and then we’ll see what happens after that. [Emphasis added]

The “peace process” has not suffered from an insufficient number of plans. In the past decade, we have had five of them: (1) the Israeli two-state plan presented at Camp David in July 2000 — rejected by the Palestinians; (2) the Clinton Parameters presented in December 2000 — rejected by the Palestinians; (3) the 2003 Roadmap, calling for the dismantlement of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups as Phase I — ignored by the Palestinians; (4) the 2005 Gaza disengagement, giving the Palestinians a Judenrein Gaza to start their state — which produced a rocket war on Israeli civilians; and (5) the 2007-08 Annapolis Process, a plan for year-long final-status negotiations resulting in still another Israeli offer of a state — rejected by the Palestinians.

Even a casual observer can spot the problem here, and it is not the absence of a plan.

The Gaza disengagement was the result of a deal in which Israel withdrew every soldier and settler from Gaza (and dismantled four settlements in the West Bank to demonstrate it would be Gaza first, not Gaza last) in exchange for explicit American promises about the future of the peace process. The first of those promises was that the U.S. would neither impose its own plan nor allow others to do so.

The U.S. letter memorializing the deal assured Israel that the U.S. would do its utmost to “prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added). Sharon was concerned that Israel might eventually be pressured to accept something like the Geneva Accord (then being touted by Jimmy Carter), pushing Israel back to the indefensible 1967 borders. The second promise was a reiteration of the “steadfast commitment” by the U.S. to “defensible borders” for Israel.

The coming U.S. plan will violate both of those promises, and the prospect of such a plan will eliminate any incentive for the Palestinians to do anything other than wait for it — secure in the knowledge that the current U.S. administration does not feel bound by any prior commitments to Israel.

Asked about the Washington Post story in which it was reported that the administration is considering its own Middle East peace plan, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley issued a non-denial/denial yesterday, in which the operative words were “at this point”:

I would steer you away from the idea that we are — we’re going to try to, at this point, impose a particular view on the parties … our focus right now is getting them into the proximity talks, into negotiations, and then we’ll see what happens after that. [Emphasis added]

The “peace process” has not suffered from an insufficient number of plans. In the past decade, we have had five of them: (1) the Israeli two-state plan presented at Camp David in July 2000 — rejected by the Palestinians; (2) the Clinton Parameters presented in December 2000 — rejected by the Palestinians; (3) the 2003 Roadmap, calling for the dismantlement of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups as Phase I — ignored by the Palestinians; (4) the 2005 Gaza disengagement, giving the Palestinians a Judenrein Gaza to start their state — which produced a rocket war on Israeli civilians; and (5) the 2007-08 Annapolis Process, a plan for year-long final-status negotiations resulting in still another Israeli offer of a state — rejected by the Palestinians.

Even a casual observer can spot the problem here, and it is not the absence of a plan.

The Gaza disengagement was the result of a deal in which Israel withdrew every soldier and settler from Gaza (and dismantled four settlements in the West Bank to demonstrate it would be Gaza first, not Gaza last) in exchange for explicit American promises about the future of the peace process. The first of those promises was that the U.S. would neither impose its own plan nor allow others to do so.

The U.S. letter memorializing the deal assured Israel that the U.S. would do its utmost to “prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan” than the Roadmap (emphasis added). Sharon was concerned that Israel might eventually be pressured to accept something like the Geneva Accord (then being touted by Jimmy Carter), pushing Israel back to the indefensible 1967 borders. The second promise was a reiteration of the “steadfast commitment” by the U.S. to “defensible borders” for Israel.

The coming U.S. plan will violate both of those promises, and the prospect of such a plan will eliminate any incentive for the Palestinians to do anything other than wait for it — secure in the knowledge that the current U.S. administration does not feel bound by any prior commitments to Israel.

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The Indifferent Ally

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

We were told during the campaign that Obama was a worldly man. He had lived overseas. He understood America’s “proper” place in the world. (Yes, there’s American exceptionalism, but also Greek and British exceptionalism. In other words, America’s not exceptional at all.) He “got” the Muslim World. And he just adored multilateralism. So he was going to repair all the damage done by the cowboy who preceded him. But it seems not to have worked out that way. And the number of aggrieved allies is considerably higher than it was when George W. Bush left office.

Jackson Diehl explains:

I recently asked several senior administration officials, separately, to name a foreign leader with whom Barack Obama has forged a strong personal relationship during his first year in office. A lot of hemming and hawing ensued. … His following means that, in democratic countries at least, leaders have a strong incentive to befriend him. And yet this president appears, so far, to have no genuine foreign friends. In this he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.

Diehl chalks most of this up to disinterest on Obama’s part. He is, after all, consumed with reinventing America. And frankly, he’s been an unreliable ally (ask the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Honduras) and an unfaithful friend. (“Obama also hasn’t hesitated to publicly express displeasure with U.S. allies. He sparred all last year with Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu; he expressed impatience when Japan’s Yukio Hatoyama balked at implementing a military base agreement. He has repeatedly criticized Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, and he gave up the videoconferences Bush used to have with Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki.”) He’s been obsessed with ingratiating himself with foes who are indifferent to his overtures rather than forging solid partnerships with those whose help we could use. (“In foreign as well as domestic affairs, coolness has its cost.”)

In all this one senses a certain insularity. Obama reminds us he isn’t one for open-ended commitments. (Too bad, then, that our enemies wage open-ended wars.) The serial rudeness to the Brits and constant carping at Israel suggest not merely tone-deafness but also indifference to the concerns and sensibilities of our allies. Where is all that vaunted internationalism and supposed sophistication? Well, he’s got other concerns, but perhaps once ObamaCare and cap-and-trade go by the wayside, he’ll look for other ways to spend his time. Restoring our alliances would be a place to start. It seems they were in better shape when he arrived and could use some tending.

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And Then a Step to the Right . . .

Count me among those who fail to understand what Obama is saying when he speaks about Hamas. His latest swipe at Bush and McCain goes like this: “They’re going to have to explain why Hamas now controls Gaza, Hamas that was strengthened because the United States insisted that we should have democratic elections in the Palestinian Authority.”

Um, what? Obama seems to be saying that he opposes Palestinian democracy, since it strengthens radicals. Or perhaps he accepts Natan Sharansky’s critique of the administration, who did not like that fact that it emphasized elections rather than first inculcating democratic norms, such as free speech and press. Obama certainly seems to have forgotten that Hamas’s coup in Gaza was a widely predicted outcome of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which Bush had little choice in supporting once Sharon was pushing it. Maybe these are legitimate criticisms of Bush, but unless I’m missing something, they appear to be criticisms from the Right. Do we have any reason to think Obama would have been tougher on Hamas or the Palestinians than Bush?

Maybe this is how he’s trying to fend off the appeasement label: Dance so fast from left to right that you can’t see him any more.

Count me among those who fail to understand what Obama is saying when he speaks about Hamas. His latest swipe at Bush and McCain goes like this: “They’re going to have to explain why Hamas now controls Gaza, Hamas that was strengthened because the United States insisted that we should have democratic elections in the Palestinian Authority.”

Um, what? Obama seems to be saying that he opposes Palestinian democracy, since it strengthens radicals. Or perhaps he accepts Natan Sharansky’s critique of the administration, who did not like that fact that it emphasized elections rather than first inculcating democratic norms, such as free speech and press. Obama certainly seems to have forgotten that Hamas’s coup in Gaza was a widely predicted outcome of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which Bush had little choice in supporting once Sharon was pushing it. Maybe these are legitimate criticisms of Bush, but unless I’m missing something, they appear to be criticisms from the Right. Do we have any reason to think Obama would have been tougher on Hamas or the Palestinians than Bush?

Maybe this is how he’s trying to fend off the appeasement label: Dance so fast from left to right that you can’t see him any more.

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The Mirage

What if Condoleezza Rice came to Jerusalem, and nobody cared?

When you have been watching the peace process for enough years, you start to wonder whether anything is ever serious. So here was Rice asking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for confidence-building measures, accordingly he announced the removal of 50 West Bank roadblocks and several key checkpoints, leaving the Secretary of State “amazed.” Yet on the same day, he also announced the resumption of building in major settlement blocs, in flat contradiction to his previous commitments.

So Condi is trying to make sure President Bush has some points scored in advance of his upcoming visit to Israel, and Olmert is trying to make sure that both Labor and Shas stay in his government. Does anybody care whether these actions actually mean anything? Whether the removal of roadblocks will result in (a) the significant easing of Palestinian life, (b) the significant facilitating of terrorist activity, with its attendant innocents butchered, or (c) both? Has anyone followed up on whether last fall’s Annapolis bonanza amounted to anything, or what the expansion of settlements means for future borders? Why does this all feel so ephemeral?

Put another way: This story seems to have no point, no thesis, other than its own telling. I’m not saying that nothing real can happen in Middle East diplomacy: The Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, and the withdrawal from Gaza — all these things were real, for better or worse. But all of them required extremely dedicated movers, people with a vision, and the guts, political savvy, and wherewithal to carry it out.

Our situation is different: Nobody on either side of the fence really thinks Israel and the PA–which anyway represents only West Bank Palestinians now–are likely to reach any kind of meaningful peace agreement in the next year. Nor does anyone think that the present Israeli government is capable of implementing all the oft-avowed “painful concessions” such a deal would entail. Olmert is no Begin or Sharon. He is, instead, the man who brought you Lebanon II, probably the most inconclusive war in Middle East history. Nor is Bush really looking for dramatic achievements which can backfire on the electoral side and land his successor with a still-deeper mess. This is a dance of shadows, a mirage.

What if Condoleezza Rice came to Jerusalem, and nobody cared?

When you have been watching the peace process for enough years, you start to wonder whether anything is ever serious. So here was Rice asking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for confidence-building measures, accordingly he announced the removal of 50 West Bank roadblocks and several key checkpoints, leaving the Secretary of State “amazed.” Yet on the same day, he also announced the resumption of building in major settlement blocs, in flat contradiction to his previous commitments.

So Condi is trying to make sure President Bush has some points scored in advance of his upcoming visit to Israel, and Olmert is trying to make sure that both Labor and Shas stay in his government. Does anybody care whether these actions actually mean anything? Whether the removal of roadblocks will result in (a) the significant easing of Palestinian life, (b) the significant facilitating of terrorist activity, with its attendant innocents butchered, or (c) both? Has anyone followed up on whether last fall’s Annapolis bonanza amounted to anything, or what the expansion of settlements means for future borders? Why does this all feel so ephemeral?

Put another way: This story seems to have no point, no thesis, other than its own telling. I’m not saying that nothing real can happen in Middle East diplomacy: The Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, and the withdrawal from Gaza — all these things were real, for better or worse. But all of them required extremely dedicated movers, people with a vision, and the guts, political savvy, and wherewithal to carry it out.

Our situation is different: Nobody on either side of the fence really thinks Israel and the PA–which anyway represents only West Bank Palestinians now–are likely to reach any kind of meaningful peace agreement in the next year. Nor does anyone think that the present Israeli government is capable of implementing all the oft-avowed “painful concessions” such a deal would entail. Olmert is no Begin or Sharon. He is, instead, the man who brought you Lebanon II, probably the most inconclusive war in Middle East history. Nor is Bush really looking for dramatic achievements which can backfire on the electoral side and land his successor with a still-deeper mess. This is a dance of shadows, a mirage.

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A Country on Hold

Here’s how Nahum Barnea, perhaps Israel’s most prominent columnist, anticipated the release yesterday afternoon of the long-awaited Winograd Committee report on the 2006 war in Lebanon:

We experienced a failed war during the past summer. It was Israel’s most exposed war. We knew in real time almost everything that was said in the cabinet and in the corridors of the General Headquarters; we knew about the mishaps and the foul-ups, about the army’s helplessness at the frontlines and the collapse of the home front.

It wasn’t the hunger for answers that led to the establishment of the Winograd Commission; it was the need for punishment.

Read More

Here’s how Nahum Barnea, perhaps Israel’s most prominent columnist, anticipated the release yesterday afternoon of the long-awaited Winograd Committee report on the 2006 war in Lebanon:

We experienced a failed war during the past summer. It was Israel’s most exposed war. We knew in real time almost everything that was said in the cabinet and in the corridors of the General Headquarters; we knew about the mishaps and the foul-ups, about the army’s helplessness at the frontlines and the collapse of the home front.

It wasn’t the hunger for answers that led to the establishment of the Winograd Commission; it was the need for punishment.

What is curious about this need, which is palpable, is how restrained its manifestations have been.

Olmert’s 3-percent popularity rating is within the pollsters’ margin of error—or as some have suggested, within the realm of the fat content of cottage cheese. Yet there have not been the mass rallies and media clamor that have brought down previous governments. A strange sense of passivity and resignation has set in. For months, Israel has felt like a country on hold.

On Thursday, a rally criticizing the Olmert government is scheduled in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 just after speaking to a large pro-government demonstration. The big question: whether this rally will be large enough—somewhere significantly over 100,000 people—to end our national sleepwalk, or will be small enough to brush off.

If the rally is a bust, it will be because, as much as the public wants to be rid of Olmert, it is not happy about the likely alternatives to him. Polls show that former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was run out of office in 1999 in a seemingly career-ending defeat, is poised for a comeback. But the rump Likud party he heads now holds only about one-tenth of the Knesset’s seats. So the public, having become disillusioned with three major paradigms in rapid succession—”Greater Israel,” Oslo, and Sharon’s unilateralism—may see no better alternative even to a government it deems to have failed.

One can only hope that Israel’s next leader, whoever it is, is able to exceed the public’s low expectations. One can also draw comfort from the fact that the same war that discredited Israel’s political and military leadership also demonstrated the resilience of the Israeli people under fire, and the courage and motivation of the country’s soldiers. For its part, the IDF already has new leadership and is busy learning the lessons of the last war. In its ranks, readiness is the new watchword of the day.

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