Commentary Magazine


Topic: Shmuel Rosner

Ben Smith Spills the Beans: Obama’s Middle East Policy Is a Disaster

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem: Read More

Ben Smith reveals what nearly every serious Middle East observer already knows: Obama has made things worse, not better, in that volatile region. He reports:

Instead of becoming a heady triumph of his diplomatic skill and special insight, Obama’s peace process is viewed almost universally in Israel as a mistake-riddled fantasy. And far from becoming the transcendent figure in a centuries-old drama, Obama has become just another frustrated player on a hardened Mideast landscape. …

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have refused American demands to hold peace talks with the Israelis before the freeze is extended. Talks with Arab states over gestures intended to build Israeli confidence – a key part of Obama’s early plan — have long since been scrapped.

The political peace process to which Obama committed so much energy is considered a failure so far. And in the world’s most pro-American state, the public and its leaders have lost any faith in Obama and – increasingly — even in the notion of a politically negotiated peace.

Obama naturally blames everyone else. But the criticism is biting and personal: it is Obama and his misguided ideology that are at the root of the problem:

[T]he American president has been diminished, even in an era without active hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. His demands on the parties appear to shrink each month, with the path to a grand peace settlement narrowing to the vanishing point. The lack of Israeli faith in him and his process has them using the talks to extract more tangible security assurances – the jets. And though America remains beloved, Obama is about as popular here as he is in Oklahoma. A Jerusalem Post poll in May found 9 percent of Israelis consider Obama “pro-Israel,” while 48 percent say he’s “pro-Palestinian.” …

“Israelis really hate Obama’s guts,” said Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for two leading Israeli newspapers. “We used to trust Americans to act like Americans, and this guy is like a European leader.”

Many senior Israeli leaders have concluded that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were right about Obama’s naivete and inexperience.

“The naïve liberals who are at the heart of the administration really believe in all the misconceptions the Palestinians and all their friends all over the world are trying to place,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former high-ranking military intelligence officer who is now deputy director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

But in some sense, Ben Smith’s account is too generous. It is not merely that Obama has made hash out of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; it is that he has undermined American stature more broadly in the Middle East. Yes, the Israelis and the PA regard him as foolish, but what’s even more important is that so do the Syrians, Saudis, and Iranians. He has wasted time on the non-peace process and in fact exacerbated tensions as the other nations looked on. The aging Sunni leaders regard him with alarm: has he no idea what to do about Iran? The mullahs regard him with contempt: he has already told them that they need not worry about military action.

Obama is right — there is such a thing as linkage, but not in the way he imagined. The progress of the Middle East non-peace talks is irrelevant to the threat of an Iranian nuclear power. But what is highly relevant, and deeply troubling, is the perception of an American administration in over its head, disloyal to friends, and anxious to make a deal at any cost to preserve the patina of competency it is struggling to maintain. And to make matters worse, it’s fair to conclude that beyond the Middle East — in China, Russia, and North Korea — they are learning the same lesson.

One final note. The well-sourced and dead-on report comes from Ben Smith, not the nominal foreign affairs reporter for Politico. This is because the latter, a former Journo-list member, is among the worse and least-informative foreign affairs “reporters” out there. In fact, she’s no more than a scribe for the Obami and the J Street crowd. And that explains why none of the material, widely available to followers of the mainstream media, was ever reported by her. Maybe it’s time to get a full-time person on the foreign affairs beat who actually reports rather than regurgitates the left’s take on American foreign policy.

Read Less

Israel Can’t Afford Unforced Errors

Shmuel Rosner at the Jerusalem Post aptly identifies two things on which the “vast majority of Israelis” would probably agree: first, “letting the flotilla into Gaza was not an option,” because ending the naval blockade would allow Hamas to import huge quantities of arms that, as recent history proves, would be used against Israeli civilians. And second, “letting peace activists stab Israeli soldiers with knives and hammer them and axe them was also not an option”: in a life-threatening situation, soldiers are supposed to defend themselves, not let themselves be killed. These two points are the heart of the matter, and CONTENTIONS contributors rightly focused on them yesterday.

Nevertheless, I can’t agree with Jonathan that given the circumstances, “the question of whether Israel’s forces might have been better prepared” is “insignificant.” Israel knows that much of the world will seize on any pretext to condemn it, justified or not; it also knows there will be many times when it cannot avoid providing such pretexts: for instance, it couldn’t let its citizens suffer daily rocket fire from Gaza forever, even knowing that last year’s successful military action against Hamas would spark widespread denunciations. Therefore, it must take extra care to avoid providing unnecessary pretexts for condemnation. And in this case, it failed to take even minimal precautions.

For instance, the radical nature of IHH, the Turkish group that organized the flotilla, was well known. J.E. Dyer detailed it for CONTENTIONS readers yesterday; similar information is available from Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. The center was founded by retired members of Israel’s intelligence community and cooperates closely with this community; anything it knows would also have been known to the Israel Defense Forces — or at least should have been.

But given that the flotilla was organized by a group with links to al-Qaeda and other “jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya” — a group that actively provided “logistical support and funding” to such networks and kept weapons, explosives, and instructions for making improvised explosive devices in its Istanbul offices — how could the IDF possibly have “planned on dealing with peace activists, not a battle,” as one senior naval officer said afterward? Al-Qaeda affiliates are not generally known for peaceful demonstrations.

For that matter, neither are some of the left-wing activists Israel attracts — as nobody knows better than the IDF: it confronts them weekly at demonstrations against the security fence in Bili’in. Though Palestinian shills term these protests “nonviolent,” they are anything but: masked men routinely use slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli troops and have wounded many; one Israeli policeman was permanently blinded when a hurled stone took out his eye. The IDF would never send a lone soldier into the mob at Bili’in. So why send soldiers to rappel one by one into the mob aboard the Marmara, making them easy pickings?

This is the kind of unforced error Israel cannot afford to make. It may be unfair that Israel can’t afford mistakes that other countries make with impunity, but it’s reality. And Israel must start learning to deal with it.

Shmuel Rosner at the Jerusalem Post aptly identifies two things on which the “vast majority of Israelis” would probably agree: first, “letting the flotilla into Gaza was not an option,” because ending the naval blockade would allow Hamas to import huge quantities of arms that, as recent history proves, would be used against Israeli civilians. And second, “letting peace activists stab Israeli soldiers with knives and hammer them and axe them was also not an option”: in a life-threatening situation, soldiers are supposed to defend themselves, not let themselves be killed. These two points are the heart of the matter, and CONTENTIONS contributors rightly focused on them yesterday.

Nevertheless, I can’t agree with Jonathan that given the circumstances, “the question of whether Israel’s forces might have been better prepared” is “insignificant.” Israel knows that much of the world will seize on any pretext to condemn it, justified or not; it also knows there will be many times when it cannot avoid providing such pretexts: for instance, it couldn’t let its citizens suffer daily rocket fire from Gaza forever, even knowing that last year’s successful military action against Hamas would spark widespread denunciations. Therefore, it must take extra care to avoid providing unnecessary pretexts for condemnation. And in this case, it failed to take even minimal precautions.

For instance, the radical nature of IHH, the Turkish group that organized the flotilla, was well known. J.E. Dyer detailed it for CONTENTIONS readers yesterday; similar information is available from Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. The center was founded by retired members of Israel’s intelligence community and cooperates closely with this community; anything it knows would also have been known to the Israel Defense Forces — or at least should have been.

But given that the flotilla was organized by a group with links to al-Qaeda and other “jihadist terrorist networks in Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Chechnya” — a group that actively provided “logistical support and funding” to such networks and kept weapons, explosives, and instructions for making improvised explosive devices in its Istanbul offices — how could the IDF possibly have “planned on dealing with peace activists, not a battle,” as one senior naval officer said afterward? Al-Qaeda affiliates are not generally known for peaceful demonstrations.

For that matter, neither are some of the left-wing activists Israel attracts — as nobody knows better than the IDF: it confronts them weekly at demonstrations against the security fence in Bili’in. Though Palestinian shills term these protests “nonviolent,” they are anything but: masked men routinely use slingshots to hurl stones at Israeli troops and have wounded many; one Israeli policeman was permanently blinded when a hurled stone took out his eye. The IDF would never send a lone soldier into the mob at Bili’in. So why send soldiers to rappel one by one into the mob aboard the Marmara, making them easy pickings?

This is the kind of unforced error Israel cannot afford to make. It may be unfair that Israel can’t afford mistakes that other countries make with impunity, but it’s reality. And Israel must start learning to deal with it.

Read Less

Haaretz Misleads on Its Obama Poll

Today’s Haaretz surprised us with the following (apparently temporary) headline: “Haaretz Poll: Most Israelis See Obama as Fair and Friendly.” This, of course, seems to fly in the face not only of my own unscientific cab-driver canvasing, but of many other polls that have appeared in the last year as well. Yet I knew something was up when the article, after repeating the assertion that “a sweeping majority of Israelis think [Obama's] treatment of this country is friendly and fair,” doesn’t actually tell you the numbers. In fact, after this attention-grabbing first sentence, it drops the subject entirely, going on to talk only of Israelis’ opinions about Netanyahu, building in Jerusalem, and so on — but not Obama.

What’s going on? Shmuel Rosner lets the cat out of the bag. It turns out that when asked their opinion of Obama’s attitude towards Israel, Israelis were given three choices: Hostile, Fair, Friendly. Note that “fair” here is not a positive statement but a placeholder for “neutral.” And the numbers are: Hostile: 21%; Fair: 51%; Friendly: 18%. So the poll deceives by using the word “fair” instead of “neutral,” forcing the respondent to say something positive-sounding when he may not have meant to. And then Haaretz deceives by asserting that a “sweeping majority” of Israelis see Obama as “fair and friendly.” This is, of course, ridiculous: it would be just as accurate to point out that an even more sweeping majority see him as “fair and hostile.”

By midmorning Israel time, Haaretz had scrapped the headline and moved the “sweeping majority” assertion to the third paragraph. Yet, as of this writing, they’re still using the “fair and friendly” line, and I’m sure it will be repeated all over the place in the days to come.

Today’s Haaretz surprised us with the following (apparently temporary) headline: “Haaretz Poll: Most Israelis See Obama as Fair and Friendly.” This, of course, seems to fly in the face not only of my own unscientific cab-driver canvasing, but of many other polls that have appeared in the last year as well. Yet I knew something was up when the article, after repeating the assertion that “a sweeping majority of Israelis think [Obama's] treatment of this country is friendly and fair,” doesn’t actually tell you the numbers. In fact, after this attention-grabbing first sentence, it drops the subject entirely, going on to talk only of Israelis’ opinions about Netanyahu, building in Jerusalem, and so on — but not Obama.

What’s going on? Shmuel Rosner lets the cat out of the bag. It turns out that when asked their opinion of Obama’s attitude towards Israel, Israelis were given three choices: Hostile, Fair, Friendly. Note that “fair” here is not a positive statement but a placeholder for “neutral.” And the numbers are: Hostile: 21%; Fair: 51%; Friendly: 18%. So the poll deceives by using the word “fair” instead of “neutral,” forcing the respondent to say something positive-sounding when he may not have meant to. And then Haaretz deceives by asserting that a “sweeping majority” of Israelis see Obama as “fair and friendly.” This is, of course, ridiculous: it would be just as accurate to point out that an even more sweeping majority see him as “fair and hostile.”

By midmorning Israel time, Haaretz had scrapped the headline and moved the “sweeping majority” assertion to the third paragraph. Yet, as of this writing, they’re still using the “fair and friendly” line, and I’m sure it will be repeated all over the place in the days to come.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Let’s hope it’s not true: “Sen. John Kerry has filed a formal request to visit Iran, Iranian news agencies reported Tuesday — news made public in the middle of the government’s bloody crackdown on dissidents that has left more than a dozen dead.” It would be frightful if the Obami foreign policy toward Iran were this incoherent.

Meanwhile, outside the Obami cocoon: “Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Diplomats said the assessment was heightening international concern about Tehran’s nuclear activities.”

MSNBC going into rehab? It is redoing its daytime lineup. “MSNBC may need to prove its news commitment to viewers. With news of the attempted terrorist attack on a plane bound for Detroit breaking late on Christmas, the network stuck with pre-taped programming. CNN and Fox covered the story much more extensively.” The solution? “MSNBC will pair Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie for one hour at 9 a.m. in a newsy, nonpartisan look at the day’s upcoming events.” In MSNBC parlance, “nonpartisan” means no “Bush=Hilter” comments.

Hannah Rosenthal denies that slamming the Israeli Ambassador was out of bounds. Or it was taken out of context. (The “system worked”? No, that’s another gaffe-prone Obama flack.) In any event, she, as Shmuel Rosner points out, is picking up friends with the Israel-bashing crowd and is “on the way to becoming their new martyr.”

Second time is the charm? “Mr. Obama has been seeking to counter criticism that he was out of touch in the aftermath of the foiled plot, which took place Friday. For the first three days, he delegated public statements to subordinates before giving a statement Monday.” It would  be nice if he got it right the first time. (One wonders what the White House’s internal polling must show about the public reaction to its handling of the terror attack.)

And it certainly doesn’t look as though Abdulmutallab was an “isolated extremist”: “The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the same Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told the Washington Times.”

Diane Ravitch nails it: “So the crotch-bomber will be tried for a felony in a federal court, with all the rights and privileges of American citizens. So Khalid Sheik-Mohammed and his associates will be able to enlist an army of pro bono lawyers to defend their ‘constitutional rights,’ the same ones they tried to destroy, along with some 3,000 lives. So KSM and pals will get discovery proceedings, will demand a new venue, will insist that the U.S. produce witnesses to their alleged crimes, will inflict millions of dollars of unnecessary security costs on NYC (or any other host city) that might better be spent on schools. In short, the Obama administration has woven a web of confusion, rhetoric, and illogic that will entangle it for years to come, as it attempts to defuse, de-escalate and minimize the terrorist threat. The reason this strategy is politically foolish is that the terrorist threat is real.”

Meanwhile the Washington Post reports: “Former detainees of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have led and fueled the growing assertiveness of the al-Qaeda branch that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner, potentially complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to shut down the facility.” It almost as though releasing dangerous terrorists is only enabling a network of fanatical murderers, huh? Must the Obami insist that closing Guantanamo is still a “national security imperative”? I think we have found the “systematic failure.”

This seems right: “By staying in Hawaii, the president has sent the message that the situation really isn’t all that serious, that things can proceed just fine until he’s back. And isn’t it that kind of reasoning that emboldens our never-vacationing enemies into thinking Christmas Day is the perfect time for them to strike?”

Let’s hope it’s not true: “Sen. John Kerry has filed a formal request to visit Iran, Iranian news agencies reported Tuesday — news made public in the middle of the government’s bloody crackdown on dissidents that has left more than a dozen dead.” It would be frightful if the Obami foreign policy toward Iran were this incoherent.

Meanwhile, outside the Obami cocoon: “Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Diplomats said the assessment was heightening international concern about Tehran’s nuclear activities.”

MSNBC going into rehab? It is redoing its daytime lineup. “MSNBC may need to prove its news commitment to viewers. With news of the attempted terrorist attack on a plane bound for Detroit breaking late on Christmas, the network stuck with pre-taped programming. CNN and Fox covered the story much more extensively.” The solution? “MSNBC will pair Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie for one hour at 9 a.m. in a newsy, nonpartisan look at the day’s upcoming events.” In MSNBC parlance, “nonpartisan” means no “Bush=Hilter” comments.

Hannah Rosenthal denies that slamming the Israeli Ambassador was out of bounds. Or it was taken out of context. (The “system worked”? No, that’s another gaffe-prone Obama flack.) In any event, she, as Shmuel Rosner points out, is picking up friends with the Israel-bashing crowd and is “on the way to becoming their new martyr.”

Second time is the charm? “Mr. Obama has been seeking to counter criticism that he was out of touch in the aftermath of the foiled plot, which took place Friday. For the first three days, he delegated public statements to subordinates before giving a statement Monday.” It would  be nice if he got it right the first time. (One wonders what the White House’s internal polling must show about the public reaction to its handling of the terror attack.)

And it certainly doesn’t look as though Abdulmutallab was an “isolated extremist”: “The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the same Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told the Washington Times.”

Diane Ravitch nails it: “So the crotch-bomber will be tried for a felony in a federal court, with all the rights and privileges of American citizens. So Khalid Sheik-Mohammed and his associates will be able to enlist an army of pro bono lawyers to defend their ‘constitutional rights,’ the same ones they tried to destroy, along with some 3,000 lives. So KSM and pals will get discovery proceedings, will demand a new venue, will insist that the U.S. produce witnesses to their alleged crimes, will inflict millions of dollars of unnecessary security costs on NYC (or any other host city) that might better be spent on schools. In short, the Obama administration has woven a web of confusion, rhetoric, and illogic that will entangle it for years to come, as it attempts to defuse, de-escalate and minimize the terrorist threat. The reason this strategy is politically foolish is that the terrorist threat is real.”

Meanwhile the Washington Post reports: “Former detainees of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have led and fueled the growing assertiveness of the al-Qaeda branch that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner, potentially complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to shut down the facility.” It almost as though releasing dangerous terrorists is only enabling a network of fanatical murderers, huh? Must the Obami insist that closing Guantanamo is still a “national security imperative”? I think we have found the “systematic failure.”

This seems right: “By staying in Hawaii, the president has sent the message that the situation really isn’t all that serious, that things can proceed just fine until he’s back. And isn’t it that kind of reasoning that emboldens our never-vacationing enemies into thinking Christmas Day is the perfect time for them to strike?”

Read Less

Sorry, Max…

… but I’m going to return fire.

I did not write declaratively that Power “will advise” Obama to “repudiate Israel” — I asked a rhetorical question: “Does anyone think that if the time comes that Power has President Obama’s ear, she will advise him to do anything other than repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East in favor of appeasing its greatest enemy?” I stand by the question.

Max writes: “Pollak also quotes her as somehow being in favor of imposing a settlement on the parties.” Somehow? In 2002, she explicitly used the word “impose,” and added, for good measure, that the conflict “does require external intervention.” There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of ambiguity here, much less cause for skepticism.

Also, where have I written that I believe Power is “anti-Israel”? If Max had read my posts carefully he would have noticed that not once did I use such a crude and muddled construction. The reason is that I do not believe that Power is animated by “anti-Israel” sentiment, whatever that might entail. What I do believe about her is exactly what I have written about her: That she appears to hold a set of naive and mischievous opinions on the Middle East. Her interview with Shmuel Rosner in Haaretz yesterday reinforced that assessment, with her repeatedly explaining Rosner that she’s no expert on things like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Well, whatever; there are plenty of links to what I wrote in Max’s post, and I invite readers to click on them to see whether I was judicious in characterizing the things Samantha Power has said, as opposed to the level of care that has been taken right here on CONTENTIONS in characterizing my commentary on Power’s commentary, as it were.

… but I’m going to return fire.

I did not write declaratively that Power “will advise” Obama to “repudiate Israel” — I asked a rhetorical question: “Does anyone think that if the time comes that Power has President Obama’s ear, she will advise him to do anything other than repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East in favor of appeasing its greatest enemy?” I stand by the question.

Max writes: “Pollak also quotes her as somehow being in favor of imposing a settlement on the parties.” Somehow? In 2002, she explicitly used the word “impose,” and added, for good measure, that the conflict “does require external intervention.” There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of ambiguity here, much less cause for skepticism.

Also, where have I written that I believe Power is “anti-Israel”? If Max had read my posts carefully he would have noticed that not once did I use such a crude and muddled construction. The reason is that I do not believe that Power is animated by “anti-Israel” sentiment, whatever that might entail. What I do believe about her is exactly what I have written about her: That she appears to hold a set of naive and mischievous opinions on the Middle East. Her interview with Shmuel Rosner in Haaretz yesterday reinforced that assessment, with her repeatedly explaining Rosner that she’s no expert on things like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Well, whatever; there are plenty of links to what I wrote in Max’s post, and I invite readers to click on them to see whether I was judicious in characterizing the things Samantha Power has said, as opposed to the level of care that has been taken right here on CONTENTIONS in characterizing my commentary on Power’s commentary, as it were.

Read Less

ANNAPOLIS: The monitor & judge

The rumor in Annapolis yesterday was that the recently-retired Marine Gen. James Jones had been tapped as the man to lead the “monitoring and judging” component of the renewed American effort to push the implementation of the Roadmap. Today, it became official.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the job involves monitoring the development of Palestinian security services. One focus would be how those forces interact with neighboring security services, including Israeli authorities.

“There is in her mind a need for someone to take a look internally at not only the efforts of the Palestinians to build up their security forces, but how those efforts relate to the Israeli government and Israeli security efforts and how those efforts also relate through the region,” he said.

As I argued yesterday, the manner in which this job is performed will be vital to how the Palestinian effort at developing competent security services is going to be viewed. And that, in turn, is going to affect how much pressure is put on Israel to reduce its security presence in the West Bank. Check out Wikipedia for a little more info on Jones. Shmuel Rosner and Aluf Benn have more on the Jones appointment in their Annapolis diary:

The issue that threatened to disrupt the talks between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her lead-negotiating counterpart, former PA prime minister Ahmed Qureia, was over who would supervise the two sides and decide whether they are meeting their road map obligations. Experience in the Middle East suggests that the Israelis and the Palestinians are very good at blaming the other side, but they do not really like to keep their obligations. Had this been different the Palestinian terrorist groups and the outposts in the West Bank would have long gone. During the Oslo period there was no responsible adult around to ensure that the obligations were met. The road map sought to correct this and set a mechanism of monitoring under American control.

The Palestinians and the Americans proposed for the current negotiations to set up a tripartite committee that would discuss all issues and decide who was right and who needs to correct things. Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposed this proposal, fearing that Israel will find itself in a minority position, and proposed instead that an American arbitrator would be assigned to decide. The final compromise is that a committee will be set up, but the decision maker will be U.S. General Jim Jones, the former NATO commander, who will take up his new duties in the coming days. Like other generals appointed by the White House for this thankless job, Jones will also probably go through a complicated breaking-in period in the Middle East.

The rumor in Annapolis yesterday was that the recently-retired Marine Gen. James Jones had been tapped as the man to lead the “monitoring and judging” component of the renewed American effort to push the implementation of the Roadmap. Today, it became official.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the job involves monitoring the development of Palestinian security services. One focus would be how those forces interact with neighboring security services, including Israeli authorities.

“There is in her mind a need for someone to take a look internally at not only the efforts of the Palestinians to build up their security forces, but how those efforts relate to the Israeli government and Israeli security efforts and how those efforts also relate through the region,” he said.

As I argued yesterday, the manner in which this job is performed will be vital to how the Palestinian effort at developing competent security services is going to be viewed. And that, in turn, is going to affect how much pressure is put on Israel to reduce its security presence in the West Bank. Check out Wikipedia for a little more info on Jones. Shmuel Rosner and Aluf Benn have more on the Jones appointment in their Annapolis diary:

The issue that threatened to disrupt the talks between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her lead-negotiating counterpart, former PA prime minister Ahmed Qureia, was over who would supervise the two sides and decide whether they are meeting their road map obligations. Experience in the Middle East suggests that the Israelis and the Palestinians are very good at blaming the other side, but they do not really like to keep their obligations. Had this been different the Palestinian terrorist groups and the outposts in the West Bank would have long gone. During the Oslo period there was no responsible adult around to ensure that the obligations were met. The road map sought to correct this and set a mechanism of monitoring under American control.

The Palestinians and the Americans proposed for the current negotiations to set up a tripartite committee that would discuss all issues and decide who was right and who needs to correct things. Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposed this proposal, fearing that Israel will find itself in a minority position, and proposed instead that an American arbitrator would be assigned to decide. The final compromise is that a committee will be set up, but the decision maker will be U.S. General Jim Jones, the former NATO commander, who will take up his new duties in the coming days. Like other generals appointed by the White House for this thankless job, Jones will also probably go through a complicated breaking-in period in the Middle East.

Read Less

ANNAPOLIS: Rosner’s take

Shmuel Rosner’s post on the opening remarks at Annapolis is worth reading.

Shmuel Rosner’s post on the opening remarks at Annapolis is worth reading.

Read Less

Annapolis: Engaging With What?

Yesterday I attended two Annapolis-related presentations in Washington, the first at the New America Foundation and the second at the National Press Club, sponsored by The Israel Project. The events offered a useful contrast in the way that two camps view not just the state of the peace process, but the conflict itself. The Israel Project symposium featured Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz, Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings, and David Wurmser, the former Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney. This was by far the more interesting presentation, as the three participants were serious people trafficking in serious ideas.

The New America event, on the other hand, was intended to publicize the “re-release” of a letter first published in the New York Review of Books on October 10th, most notably signed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, and Brent Scowcroft, which has now attracted a couple dozen more signatories. It was ignored the first time it was published, and it’s enjoyable to predict that the addition of the signatures of Joseph Wilson and Gary Hart is going to further cement its irrelevance.

In any event, the New America panelists were Daniel Levy, Robert Malley, Ghaith al-Omari, and Steve Clemons, and they lodged as their major criticism the United States and Israel’s refusal to “engage” Hamas. That refusal is shaping up, for the realist and leftist critics of the peace process, as a primary objection, and in the coming months it will likely be invoked by the same critics as a major reason why Annapolis accomplished nothing. This faction is positioning its argument so that the failure of Annapolis can be leveraged to undermine the isolation of Hamas. As such, it is worth wondering whether people like Malley and Levy actually have a point.

Read More

Yesterday I attended two Annapolis-related presentations in Washington, the first at the New America Foundation and the second at the National Press Club, sponsored by The Israel Project. The events offered a useful contrast in the way that two camps view not just the state of the peace process, but the conflict itself. The Israel Project symposium featured Shmuel Rosner of Haaretz, Tamara Cofman Wittes of Brookings, and David Wurmser, the former Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney. This was by far the more interesting presentation, as the three participants were serious people trafficking in serious ideas.

The New America event, on the other hand, was intended to publicize the “re-release” of a letter first published in the New York Review of Books on October 10th, most notably signed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lee Hamilton, and Brent Scowcroft, which has now attracted a couple dozen more signatories. It was ignored the first time it was published, and it’s enjoyable to predict that the addition of the signatures of Joseph Wilson and Gary Hart is going to further cement its irrelevance.

In any event, the New America panelists were Daniel Levy, Robert Malley, Ghaith al-Omari, and Steve Clemons, and they lodged as their major criticism the United States and Israel’s refusal to “engage” Hamas. That refusal is shaping up, for the realist and leftist critics of the peace process, as a primary objection, and in the coming months it will likely be invoked by the same critics as a major reason why Annapolis accomplished nothing. This faction is positioning its argument so that the failure of Annapolis can be leveraged to undermine the isolation of Hamas. As such, it is worth wondering whether people like Malley and Levy actually have a point.

The engagement camp says that it wishes to bolster the moderates while engaging the extremists, which is presented as a cost-free way to conduct diplomacy—never mind that U.S. diplomatic attention directed at Hamas thoroughly would discredit Mahmoud Abbas, whose only selling point to the Palestinian people at this point is the fact that he is the Palestinians’ only focal point for American and Israeli attention. That is a rather obvious point, of course. But the one I wish to emphasize involves the incompleteness with which the engagement camp makes its case.

What I have always found strange about the engagers is their reluctance to make arguments that move beyond bumper-sticker bromides about the need to talk to your enemies, and to explain precisely what would be up for discussion with Hamas. The Hamas charter seems to preempt diplomacy insofar as it says that “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.” I say “seems,” because perhaps in practice Hamas does not hew to the strict language of its founding declaration—but alas, there is no historic or contemporary evidence for this conceit. Hamas is famous for denying the right of Israel to exist, but not many people seem to pay much regard to the fact that Hamas also denies the right of Palestine to exist: Hamas has always been abundantly clear that its goal is the violent imposition of an Islamic caliphate throughout the Middle East—not the establishment of a Palestinian state.

So what, pray tell, do people like Daniel Levy and Robert Malley propose is up for negotiation with Hamas? In the face of both Hamas’s plainly stated antipathy to diplomacy, in addition to decades of concrete experience of the same, would it not behoove Levy and Malley to pay special attention to this particular aspect of engaging Hamas? Shouldn’t an explanation about the contours of, and prospects for, a successful pursuit of diplomacy with Hamas indeed be the very first thing to which Levy and Malley set themselves? I know that if I were arguing in good faith for engagement, this is where I would be compelled to start: to provide an answer to the question, What can Israel offer Hamas other than its own suicide?

At yesterday’s event, as he has elsewhere, Levy proposed an Israel-Hamas cease-fire as a starting measure…and then changed the subject. Well, what comes after that, Daniel? How many times has Hamas agreed to cease-fires with Israel (and with Fatah) out of its own need to regroup and rearm, only to attack later at a time of its choosing? At what point in the course of the “engagement” process do the leaders of Hamas renounce the basic premises and tactics for which their movement stands? Does Khaled Mashal march down to his local Al Jazeera office in Damascus to announce to the world that because he got a phone call from a member of the Quartet, he’s realized that all the crazy stuff in the Hamas charter—about how the Jews started the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, both World Wars, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the Rotary Club and the Freemasons, all in pursuit of Zionist world domination—was perhaps a bit too anti-Semitic? Can you tell us, Robert Malley—you who has argued repeatedly that giving money, diplomatic attention, and concessions to Hamas will change the group—of a single instance in which Hamas permanently has moderated a position or altered its behavior because of diplomatic pressure? As people who continuously are banging on the table about “genuine engagement” with Hamas, is it too much to ask, you know, for some genuine details?

As it stands right now, the intellectual output of the Levy-Malley faction involves bromides about “engagement” that are quickly buried in an avalanche of ambiguous diplomatic jargon designed to avoid the possibility of having to commit themselves to engaging in a serious explanation of how diplomacy is going to transform Hamas from a genocidal Islamic supremacist group to a peaceful Palestinian nationalist movement. This is an act of alchemy that Levy and Malley cannot credibly perform, and it is the reason why all of their voluminous babble about engagement never manages to rise above the level of the vague cliché.

There are dozens of reasons why Annapolis will be unable to achieve anything close to its stated goals, but, contrary to popular opinion, one of them is not the absence, next week, of representatives of Hamas at the Naval Academy. Nevertheless, that absence will emerge, from the Scowcrofts and Malleys, as a major source of the peace process’s failure. I propose a different failure: the refusal of the most prolific advocates for engagement to display a little intellectual courage and put themselves on the record explaining how their concessions are going to transform Hamas. Because if that actually works, and one of the most intransigent Islamist groups in the world can be defeated by diplomacy, then clearly there are two other diplomatic summits that should be convened—between Israel and Hizballah, and the United States and al Qaeda.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.