Commentary Magazine


Topic: Spain

Spain, Portugal and the Right of Return

Ali Jarbawi, a former Palestinian Authority minister, regurgitated several standard Palestinian talking points in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. Jonathan Tobin has already ably dissected most of them, but I’d like to focus on one he didn’t address: Jarbawi’s claim that the “right of return” is “guaranteed to refugees by international law.” Unfortunately for Jarbawi, this is a bad time to try to make that particular claim, because two European Union members, Spain and Portugal, are currently decisively refuting it.

Both countries recently announced plans to offer citizenship to descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews they expelled 500 years ago. At first glance, this might seem as if they had recognized a “right of return” – were it not for the fact that they’ve simultaneously refused to offer citizenship to descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Muslims expelled at about the same time.

 This has infuriated Muslim organizations, which are demanding equal treatment for their co-religionists. And if, as Palestinians claim, “return” were indeed a right guaranteed to all descendants of refugees in perpetuity, regardless of circumstances, these organizations would be justified. But in reality, it’s no such thing. And the arguments raised against it in Spain and Portugal apply to the Israeli-Palestinian case as well.

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Ali Jarbawi, a former Palestinian Authority minister, regurgitated several standard Palestinian talking points in a New York Times op-ed yesterday. Jonathan Tobin has already ably dissected most of them, but I’d like to focus on one he didn’t address: Jarbawi’s claim that the “right of return” is “guaranteed to refugees by international law.” Unfortunately for Jarbawi, this is a bad time to try to make that particular claim, because two European Union members, Spain and Portugal, are currently decisively refuting it.

Both countries recently announced plans to offer citizenship to descendants of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews they expelled 500 years ago. At first glance, this might seem as if they had recognized a “right of return” – were it not for the fact that they’ve simultaneously refused to offer citizenship to descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Muslims expelled at about the same time.

 This has infuriated Muslim organizations, which are demanding equal treatment for their co-religionists. And if, as Palestinians claim, “return” were indeed a right guaranteed to all descendants of refugees in perpetuity, regardless of circumstances, these organizations would be justified. But in reality, it’s no such thing. And the arguments raised against it in Spain and Portugal apply to the Israeli-Palestinian case as well.

First, according to the legislator who drafted Portugal’s law of return, the circumstances of the Jewish and Muslim expulsions were completely different. “Persecution of Jews was just that, while what happened with the Arabs was part of a conflict,” Jose Ribeiro e Castro said. ”There’s no basis for comparison.”

That, of course, is equally true of Palestinian refugees: Far from being the victims of persecution, they fled and/or were expelled during a bloody conflict in which five Arab armies, aided by large contingents of local Palestinian irregulars, invaded the newborn state of Israel and tried to eradicate it. Thus Israel owes no moral debt to the refugees comparable to that of Spain and Portugal to their Jews.

Second, as noted by Egyptian-Belgian journalist Khaled Diab, there’s the demographic issue: While “only a few thousand” Jews are considered likely to apply for Spanish and Portuguese citizenship, “unknown millions of Arabs and Muslims” might be eligible. And that creates a real problem:

If only a fraction of these were to apply, it could significantly and rapidly alter Spain’s demographic make-up. And in a country that was devoid of Muslims for half a millennium but lies on the fault line separating the two “civilizations,” this could well spark civil strife or even conflict.

That, of course, is far more true of tiny Israel, with only 8 million people, compared to Spain’s 47 million. If you believe UNRWA’s figures, the original 700,000 Palestinian refugees now have 5 million descendants. If substantial numbers of them relocated to Israel – and given the choice, they probably would, since Israel offers a better economy and more civil rights than the Arab countries where most now live – that could convert Israel’s Jewish majority into an Arab one. In short, it wouldn’t just risk “civil strife”; it would completely eradicate the Jewish state.

To be clear, nobody thinks Spain and Portugal have a legal obligation to offer citizenship even to descendants of their Jewish refugees: There is no such obligation under international law. But to the extent that one might posit a moral obligation, the Spanish and Portuguese cases clearly show that this obligation applies only to victims of persecution, not to those of armed conflict – and only if the demographic consequences won’t endanger the recipient country.

So the next time you hear someone claim Palestinians have a “right of return,” just refer them to Spain and Portugal for a brief lesson in what that “right” really means: exactly nothing.

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EU: What’s Fine for Spain Is Unacceptable for Israel

Recent news reports from Spain beautifully illustrate why nobody should take the European Union’s pretensions to moral superiority seriously–and especially not when it comes to Israel. Spain is now committing virtually every “abuse” the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers.

For instance, Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship. The checkpoints have lengthened travel times from 45 minutes to two hours for cross-border commuters and also increased costs, since people who used to drive now combine foot travel and taxis to reach work on time. These are precisely the complaints Europeans routinely level at Israeli checkpoints: that they undermine the Palestinian economy by increasing the time and expense of commuting to work or moving cargo.

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Recent news reports from Spain beautifully illustrate why nobody should take the European Union’s pretensions to moral superiority seriously–and especially not when it comes to Israel. Spain is now committing virtually every “abuse” the EU sanctimoniously accuses Israel of, without a peep of protest from its European peers.

For instance, Spain recently erected checkpoints along its border with Gibraltar that are creating real hardship. The checkpoints have lengthened travel times from 45 minutes to two hours for cross-border commuters and also increased costs, since people who used to drive now combine foot travel and taxis to reach work on time. These are precisely the complaints Europeans routinely level at Israeli checkpoints: that they undermine the Palestinian economy by increasing the time and expense of commuting to work or moving cargo.

But unlike the Spanish checkpoints–which blatantly violate the EU’s open-border rules–Israeli checkpoints are perfectly legal under international law, even if you accept the EU’s definition of the West Bank as “occupied territory” (which Israel doesn’t; it considers the area disputed territory). Under the laws of belligerent occupation, an occupying army is entitled to take reasonable military measures within the occupied territory to ensure its country’s security; it isn’t restricted to operating along the border. And Israel’s checkpoints were established to stop Palestinian suicide bombers.

Spain’s checkpoints, in contrast, are officially there to stop cigarette smuggling, though Gibraltar claims they are pure retaliation for its efforts to curb Spanish overfishing in its waters. By any standard, stopping suicide bombers is a stronger justification. Yet the same European officials who vociferously condemn Israel’s checkpoints have nothing to say about the Spanish ones.

Then there are the hundreds of thousands of Catalonians who formed a 250-mile human chain this month to demand independence from Spain. Catalonians also gave an absolute majority to pro-independence parties in last year’s provincial elections. Yet Spain adamantly refuses to let the province hold a referendum on secession.

By any standard, Israel has more justification for caution about Palestinian statehood than Spain does about Catalonian statehood. Catalonia has never threatened Spain in any way, nor is there any Catalonian terrorism. In contrast, large swathes of Palestinian society still call for Israel’s destruction, and every previous Israeli cession of land to the Palestinians has produced a security nightmare: nonstop rocket fire from Gaza, and endless suicide bombings and shooting attacks from the West Bank (until Israel reoccupied it). Indeed, of the roughly 1,800 Israelis killed by terrorists since Israel’s founding in 1948, fully two-thirds–about 1,200–were killed after Israel began ceding land to the Palestinians under the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Yet the European officials who repeatedly demand Israel’s immediate withdrawal from the West Bank haven’t said a word to support Catalonia. Apparently, Catalonians have no right to self-determination.

Then there are the Basques, whose oft-proclaimed desire for independence can’t be tested in a vote because Spain repeatedly bars pro-independence parties from running on the grounds of alleged ties to the Basque terror group ETA. That also doesn’t bother anyone in Europe, even though Europe objects vociferously when Israel refuses to talk to Palestinian parties that actively support terror, like Yasser Arafat’s PLO during the second intifada. Nor was Europe troubled when Spain severed peace talks with ETA at the very first terror attack, which killed exactly two people, though it condemned Israel viciously for halting talks with Arafat over repeated terror attacks that killed more than 1,000 people.

In short, Europe denounces Israeli actions as unacceptable even as it deems the exact same actions by Spain unexceptionable. There’s a name for such double standards, and it isn’t “human rights.” It’s known as hypocrisy.

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What Catalan Nationalism Tells Us About the European Union

The cycle of liberal big-government experiments is by now familiar: the left suggests a major expansion of state power to tackle a public policy problem; conservatives object and predict the range of unintended consequences that will result; liberals ridicule the right’s objections and the plausibility of those unintended consequences; the program is enacted; unintended consequences rain down on the project almost immediately; conservatives say “I told you so”; liberals lash out at those who dared to be correct about the project, then as now.

Bethany recently wrote about one such case: Obamacare’s incentives for companies to cut employment or move employees from full-time to part-time to avoid the onerous penalties associated with the health care reform monstrosity. Liberals lashed out at those companies, though none of their critiques revealed even a modest familiarity with basic economics (not to mention these liberals’ own culpability in the whole Obamacare disaster). The bigger the statist project, the more far-reaching the unintended consequences, and so the European Union—recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for starting bloody wars and then allowing the United States and the Russians to save them from themselves—is one such project.

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The cycle of liberal big-government experiments is by now familiar: the left suggests a major expansion of state power to tackle a public policy problem; conservatives object and predict the range of unintended consequences that will result; liberals ridicule the right’s objections and the plausibility of those unintended consequences; the program is enacted; unintended consequences rain down on the project almost immediately; conservatives say “I told you so”; liberals lash out at those who dared to be correct about the project, then as now.

Bethany recently wrote about one such case: Obamacare’s incentives for companies to cut employment or move employees from full-time to part-time to avoid the onerous penalties associated with the health care reform monstrosity. Liberals lashed out at those companies, though none of their critiques revealed even a modest familiarity with basic economics (not to mention these liberals’ own culpability in the whole Obamacare disaster). The bigger the statist project, the more far-reaching the unintended consequences, and so the European Union—recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for starting bloody wars and then allowing the United States and the Russians to save them from themselves—is one such project.

The latest in the long list of unintended consequences of the EU is its effect on secessionist movements, including the parties in support of Catalan independence in Spain. To be sure, Catalan independence is an old movement that long preceded the European Union. But the EU has had two effects on Catalan independence. First, an unintended consequence of EU supra-nationalism is the resurgence of more basic nationalism and the urge to reclaim both the identity and sovereignty that were pick-pocketed by the antidemocratic EU. Second is how the Union factors into the case against secession, especially in Spain, and how it is really more an indictment of the EU than the case against sovereignty. (This isn’t new; another example is how eurocrats insist that a country leaving the currency union could conceivably drag down the entire EU, meaning the project is basically a suicide pact. File it under “now they tell us”—except that conservatives, well, did tell them.)

The Catalan independence movement had spent the last few months picking up steam, but the late-November election slowed its momentum considerably–in part because it took place during a recession and in part because the result necessitated coalition governing in Catalonia rather than give the party of charismatic Catalan President Artur Mas a mandate to govern alone. But the pre-election momentum spooked committed EU statists enough to warrant something of modern classic in Economist editorials.

There is, certainly, a case against Catalan independence; as the Wall Street Journal explains here, independence could offset its own financial advantages by forcing the new Catalan state to assume its portion of Spanish debt and the added costs of having to re-apply to join the EU, which are not inconsiderable.

There is a substantial degree of frustration in Catalonia at having to prop up the finances of the rest of Spain’s less productive regions. The Economist concedes Barcelona this point, but then offers a remarkable justification for disregarding it:

The argument that Catalans should not subsidise feckless Andalusians is a dangerous one: apply that more widely and the euro zone would fall apart. Indeed, far from welcoming Catalonia as an independent member, the euro zone’s leaders hardly yearn for an extra nation-state.

Let’s unpack these two sentences, because this is eurocracy in a nutshell. The first sentence recalls the EU suicide pact: add a dose of logic to EU policymaking and the whole enterprise falls apart. The project cannot survive personal accountability because the continent has too much economic dead weight for its own good.

And as to the second sentence: welcome to the twisted world of the ever-expanding state that swallows up anyone who runs from it but runs from those who embrace it. The eurozone wants you kicking and screaming; anyone that wants in is immediately suspect. (There is, admittedly, a certain unimpeachable logic to wondering why on earth someone would still want to join the EU at this point.)

We do not seem to be on the cusp of Catalan independence just yet. But this episode is notable for its confirmation of the intellectual poverty of the eurocause, and for the reminder that not all unintended consequences are deleterious. Sometimes, as with the resurgence of identity and democratic self-reliance, each can be a corrective to liberal excesses.

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Economic Shoes Are Dropping

If the stock market is truly a leading indicator (and it tends to be one of the more reliable ones), then the Obama campaign had better start worrying. May has been a brutal month for the Dow. It closed May 1 at 13,279. As it approached noon today, it’s at 12,360, down 59 on the day. That’s a decline of 7.1 percent for the month, wiping out all the gains since Jan. 1.

The reasons, of course, are not hard to find: the crisis in Europe, lackluster economic data in general, a sharp drop in consumer confidence in May, an uptick in weekly jobless claims, and more.

Perhaps the biggest news is the drop in bond rates. The benchmark ten-year treasury bond is currently yielding 1.53 percent. On July 1 last year, the ten-year treasury was yielding 3.2 percent, more than twice as much. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that the federal government can finance its huge deficits more easily (and consumers can borrow more cheaply as well: mortgage rates are at near record lows). But the bad news is that bond yields go down for two reasons: a slowing economy and/or a financial crisis. As nervous investors seek safe haven, demand for treasuries rises, pushing down yields. (French and German bond rates are also very low for the same reason, yielding 2.35 percent and an astonishing 1.24 percent respectively.)

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If the stock market is truly a leading indicator (and it tends to be one of the more reliable ones), then the Obama campaign had better start worrying. May has been a brutal month for the Dow. It closed May 1 at 13,279. As it approached noon today, it’s at 12,360, down 59 on the day. That’s a decline of 7.1 percent for the month, wiping out all the gains since Jan. 1.

The reasons, of course, are not hard to find: the crisis in Europe, lackluster economic data in general, a sharp drop in consumer confidence in May, an uptick in weekly jobless claims, and more.

Perhaps the biggest news is the drop in bond rates. The benchmark ten-year treasury bond is currently yielding 1.53 percent. On July 1 last year, the ten-year treasury was yielding 3.2 percent, more than twice as much. This is good news and bad news. The good news is that the federal government can finance its huge deficits more easily (and consumers can borrow more cheaply as well: mortgage rates are at near record lows). But the bad news is that bond yields go down for two reasons: a slowing economy and/or a financial crisis. As nervous investors seek safe haven, demand for treasuries rises, pushing down yields. (French and German bond rates are also very low for the same reason, yielding 2.35 percent and an astonishing 1.24 percent respectively.)

But countries at the heart of the crisis are not faring so well. Spain is not borrowing so cheaply, to put it mildly. Its current rate on ten-year bonds is 6.67 percent, more than five times what Germany has to pay to borrow. Spanish banking is near collapse and the country is in deep recession. If Spain were unable to meet its obligations and rescue its banking sector, it would be a much bigger deal than Greece’s problems. At about $1.5 trillion, its economy is five times the size of the Greek economy. Not even Germany (the world’s fourth largest economy) can write a check that big.

All eyes will be on tomorrow’s release of the jobs report for May, at 8:30 a.m., an hour before the market opens. But there are a lot of other economic shoes to drop in the next few weeks. As Bette Davis, playing Margot Channing, said in “All About Eve”: “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

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Lebanon: An Inflection Point for the Status Quo

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle. Read More

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.

But the days when the Western navies had plenty of carriers to move around from crisis to crisis are behind us. Two carriers may be in the Mediterranean shortly, but not because they were urgently dispatched. Abraham Lincoln is tethered to our requirements in Southwest Asia; USS Enterprise, on the way to relieve Lincoln on-station, is transiting through the Mediterranean. Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier, has been scheduled since her deployment in October to return home in February.

NATO’s non-U.S. carrier force is razor thin. Charles de Gaulle’s departure from France last fall was marred by a breakdown that delayed this very rare deployment by several weeks. Britain, once a reliable dispatcher of aircraft carriers, is in worse shape: just this weekend, the Royal Navy sent its last fighter-jet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, to be decommissioned. Britain won’t have a carrier that can deploy fighter jets again until 2020. In this capability, Italy now outstrips Britain: the Italians have two carriers that can each transport eight Harrier jump-jets. Spain has one.

For the U.S., as for France, putting a carrier off Lebanon entails rigorously prioritizing crises: either leaving some unattended or accepting schedule gaps down the road. With enough effort, the U.S. and France could still seek to affect the outcome in Lebanon with an offshore show of force. But the regional expectation implied by the Arab press rumor — the sense that Western navies can easily bring overwhelming force to a crisis — is outdated today.

Margin and latitude in our force options are casualties of the extended post–Cold War drawdown. At a juncture evocative of previous dilemmas for U.S. presidents, Obama would do better to take his cue from Harry Truman in the late 1940s than from Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. One way or another, this crisis in Lebanon will have a disproportionate impact on the future.

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China and Those Tensions that Remain

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington has been accompanied by the usual swooning. The New York Times, for instance, finds “Subtle Signs of Progress in U.S.-China Relations.” Very subtle indeed:

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the Chinese for the first time expressed public concern over North Korea’s recent disclosure of a modern uranium-enrichment plant, a small but ardently sought step in American efforts to press Kim Jong-il to roll back his nuclear weapons program.

More surprisingly, perhaps, Mr. Hu said at a White House news conference that China “recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights,” a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate.

But even Times reporter Michael Wines is forced to admit that “words, of course, are easier than deeds.” He went on to concede (a concession that undercuts the entire thrust of the article):

Neither side made any significant progress, much less any breakthrough, on the larger problems that have bedeviled relations ever since Mr. Obama made his state visit to Beijing in November 2009. On the American side, that includes revaluing China’s currency, leveling the playing field for American investors in China and establishing a serious discourse between the nations’ militaries.

That tensions remain even after the two presidents broke bread together should hardly be a surprise. Keep in mind the larger picture. Numerous countries have ascended to great power status in the past 1,000 years, as China now aspires to do. Not a single one managed to make the transition peacefully. Not the Ottomans, not the Habsburgs, not the French, not the British, not the Germans, not the Russians. Not even the Americans. We like to think of ourselves as a peace-loving nation, but that’s not how our neighbors see us — and with good cause. Remember, as soon as we were strong enough, we went to war with Mexico to wrestle away the Southwest, and then, for good measure, we went to war with Spain to wrestle away Cuba and the Philippines. These were the actions, recall, of a liberal democracy. Autocratic regimes like the one in Beijing tend to be much more belligerent.

And indeed, China has been acting aggressively recently in trying to establish its hegemony in the region. As part of this process, it has undertaken a rapid military buildup that, as Dan Blumenthal and Mike Mazza note in the Weekly Standard, includes acquiring the means to strike distant American bases.

Does this mean that war with China is inevitable? Of course not. But we should be wary of the happy talk that normally accompanies summits. China may indeed see a “peaceful rise,” the slogan it adopted a few years ago. But based on history, that’s not the way to bet.

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At the UN, NGOs Blame Israel for Plight of Palestinian Women

Today a UN committee looked into whether Israel was complying with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). And, of course, human rights groups came out in full force to blame discrimination against Palestinian women on Israel — including the poor quality of girls’ education, domestic violence, and early marriage.

According to an NGO Monitor press release this morning, left-wing human rights groups like Badil, Al Haq, and the Defense for Children International “submitted a statement to the Committee prior to the review, regarding women’s rights in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. In addition, Badil prepared a supplement to the original submission. Many of their claims reflect the de-legitimization campaigns involving NGOs.”

Any rational and honest observer can see that it’s absurd to hold Israel accountable for women’s rights violations that are rampant throughout the entire Muslim world — the same violations that can be seen in every country and territory surrounding Israel.

But in addition to faulting Israel for problems that it clearly has little control over, human rights groups ignored even more troubling examples of female mistreatment that are widespread in the Palestinian territories:

The submission omits crucial women’s rights abuses, failing to address domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or murders termed “honor killings,” which in 1999 comprised more than two-thirds of all murders in Gaza and the West Bank, according to UNICEF. NGO Monitor also notes that WCLAC has received funding from the European Union, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Spain, Belgium and Ireland, along with other individual European governments.  OxfamNOVIB (Netherlands), George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and DanChurchAid (budgeted by the Danish government) also have provided funding.

“We again see foreign European funding to NGOs contribute to the demonization of Israel in the international arena, instead of addressing real human rights abuses.” Steinberg adds. “In this text, these NGOs place their political agenda ahead of goals to protect women. The submission fails to address the repressive Hamas regime in Gaza, which conducts female genital mutilation, forbids women to walk on the beach alone or smoke in public, and forces female lawyers to wear a hijab in court.  This NGO submission also omits the issues of polygamy and sexual assaults on peace activists that occur in the PA. These critical issues are not addressed because they are outside the NGO narrative that obsessively focuses on demonizing Israel.”

This is just another illustration of how problematic these European-funded NGOs have become in Israel. Of course, the Knesset’s recent creation of an investigatory committee into NGO funding is probably not the best way to deal with the situation — but it’s easy to see why the government was pushed in that direction. Israel simply must do something to combat the false narratives of politicized human rights groups, which are growing more outlandish every the day. But as a democratic country that has an interest in protecting free speech, it really has to be very cautious about how it handles this.

Today a UN committee looked into whether Israel was complying with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). And, of course, human rights groups came out in full force to blame discrimination against Palestinian women on Israel — including the poor quality of girls’ education, domestic violence, and early marriage.

According to an NGO Monitor press release this morning, left-wing human rights groups like Badil, Al Haq, and the Defense for Children International “submitted a statement to the Committee prior to the review, regarding women’s rights in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. In addition, Badil prepared a supplement to the original submission. Many of their claims reflect the de-legitimization campaigns involving NGOs.”

Any rational and honest observer can see that it’s absurd to hold Israel accountable for women’s rights violations that are rampant throughout the entire Muslim world — the same violations that can be seen in every country and territory surrounding Israel.

But in addition to faulting Israel for problems that it clearly has little control over, human rights groups ignored even more troubling examples of female mistreatment that are widespread in the Palestinian territories:

The submission omits crucial women’s rights abuses, failing to address domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or murders termed “honor killings,” which in 1999 comprised more than two-thirds of all murders in Gaza and the West Bank, according to UNICEF. NGO Monitor also notes that WCLAC has received funding from the European Union, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Spain, Belgium and Ireland, along with other individual European governments.  OxfamNOVIB (Netherlands), George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and DanChurchAid (budgeted by the Danish government) also have provided funding.

“We again see foreign European funding to NGOs contribute to the demonization of Israel in the international arena, instead of addressing real human rights abuses.” Steinberg adds. “In this text, these NGOs place their political agenda ahead of goals to protect women. The submission fails to address the repressive Hamas regime in Gaza, which conducts female genital mutilation, forbids women to walk on the beach alone or smoke in public, and forces female lawyers to wear a hijab in court.  This NGO submission also omits the issues of polygamy and sexual assaults on peace activists that occur in the PA. These critical issues are not addressed because they are outside the NGO narrative that obsessively focuses on demonizing Israel.”

This is just another illustration of how problematic these European-funded NGOs have become in Israel. Of course, the Knesset’s recent creation of an investigatory committee into NGO funding is probably not the best way to deal with the situation — but it’s easy to see why the government was pushed in that direction. Israel simply must do something to combat the false narratives of politicized human rights groups, which are growing more outlandish every the day. But as a democratic country that has an interest in protecting free speech, it really has to be very cautious about how it handles this.

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USAID, Spanish Government Supporting Anti-Israel Tourism Group?

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem. Read More

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem.

The involvement of USAID with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism is more tenuous, though. Another pamphlet on the website includes the USAID logo and the ministry’s logo, implying that the project was a collaboration between the two organizations.

The ministry also claims that USAID facilitated its involvement in an international tourism conference last October. “This activity came as part of the Palestine Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ membership at the Adventure Travel Trade Association and part of the support provided by the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion (EDIP) project funded by the USAID,” says the website.

USAID’s own website says that it “supported Palestinian representation at the World Religious Tourism Expo,” though it doesn’t clarify who the representation was.

I’ve called USAID for comment, but as of now, they have been unable to get in touch with officials at their West Bank office, which is closed until after the holiday weekend. We’ll update this story as soon as more information arises.

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Morning Commentary

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

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The “Palestinian” Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Palestinian Authority: 10 EU States to Approve Palestinian Embassies

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed yesterday that 10 European Union states have decided to upgrade their PLO missions to embassy status. He didn’t specify which countries had allegedly agreed to this (though some foreign publications have recently tossed out the names France, Spain, Greece, and Portugal as possibilities):

Around 10 EU countries are set to upgrade the status of Palestinian representative offices in their capitals in the near future, chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat declared on Sunday.

This would mean that Palestinian missions would move a step closer toward becoming embassies whose officials enjoy full diplomatic immunity. … A PA official told The Jerusalem Post that the decision to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state was designed to shift the conflict from one over ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ to one over an “occupied state with defined borders.”

There’s an air of believability to Erekat’s claim in light of Norway’s recent approval of a Palestinian embassy, but I have to admit I’m still a bit skeptical, especially since the names of the countries aren’t mentioned. For one thing, unlike the EU states, Norway isn’t a member of the Quartet that brokers peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Would EU members really want to risk the semblance of neutrality by taking steps toward the unilateral validation of Palestinian statehood? And less than a week after the EU definitively rejected Erekat’s call to recognize Palestine as a country?

Supposing Erekat’s assertion is accurate, this move seems to be more symbolic than practical: for the EU member states, it’s a way to show solidarity with the Palestinians, while delivering a public jab at Israel over settlement construction. For the Palestinian Authority, it’s pretty much a PR move, designed to build momentum for a possible UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood, as well as an easy way to get the words “Israeli occupation” peppered into the news cycle.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have some problematic consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As David Frum pointed out yesterday, this type of unilateral approach to Palestinian statehood serves only to delay the peace process:

From the beginning of the Obama administration, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate directly with Israel. Indirect discussions have stumbled along without result. Abbas has insisted he cannot talk without a settlement freeze. Then when he gets his settlement freeze, he explains he still cannot talk.

The beauty of the UN approach is that it provides a perfect excuse never to talk to Israel again.

The UN approach may never achieve anything. It may leave the Palestinian people stuck in a frustrating status quo. But anything is better than a deal that would require a Palestinian leader to acknowledge the permanence of Israel. Back in 2000, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton that signing a treaty with Israel would cost Arafat his life. Abbas seems to have reached the same conclusion.

Of course, obstructing the peace process with Israel may be exactly what Erekat is hoping for. The PA official recently wrote a column in the Guardian calling for Israel to recognize the Palestinian “right of return,” so, clearly, a two-state solution isn’t even on his radar.

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed yesterday that 10 European Union states have decided to upgrade their PLO missions to embassy status. He didn’t specify which countries had allegedly agreed to this (though some foreign publications have recently tossed out the names France, Spain, Greece, and Portugal as possibilities):

Around 10 EU countries are set to upgrade the status of Palestinian representative offices in their capitals in the near future, chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat declared on Sunday.

This would mean that Palestinian missions would move a step closer toward becoming embassies whose officials enjoy full diplomatic immunity. … A PA official told The Jerusalem Post that the decision to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state was designed to shift the conflict from one over ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ to one over an “occupied state with defined borders.”

There’s an air of believability to Erekat’s claim in light of Norway’s recent approval of a Palestinian embassy, but I have to admit I’m still a bit skeptical, especially since the names of the countries aren’t mentioned. For one thing, unlike the EU states, Norway isn’t a member of the Quartet that brokers peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Would EU members really want to risk the semblance of neutrality by taking steps toward the unilateral validation of Palestinian statehood? And less than a week after the EU definitively rejected Erekat’s call to recognize Palestine as a country?

Supposing Erekat’s assertion is accurate, this move seems to be more symbolic than practical: for the EU member states, it’s a way to show solidarity with the Palestinians, while delivering a public jab at Israel over settlement construction. For the Palestinian Authority, it’s pretty much a PR move, designed to build momentum for a possible UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood, as well as an easy way to get the words “Israeli occupation” peppered into the news cycle.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have some problematic consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As David Frum pointed out yesterday, this type of unilateral approach to Palestinian statehood serves only to delay the peace process:

From the beginning of the Obama administration, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate directly with Israel. Indirect discussions have stumbled along without result. Abbas has insisted he cannot talk without a settlement freeze. Then when he gets his settlement freeze, he explains he still cannot talk.

The beauty of the UN approach is that it provides a perfect excuse never to talk to Israel again.

The UN approach may never achieve anything. It may leave the Palestinian people stuck in a frustrating status quo. But anything is better than a deal that would require a Palestinian leader to acknowledge the permanence of Israel. Back in 2000, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton that signing a treaty with Israel would cost Arafat his life. Abbas seems to have reached the same conclusion.

Of course, obstructing the peace process with Israel may be exactly what Erekat is hoping for. The PA official recently wrote a column in the Guardian calling for Israel to recognize the Palestinian “right of return,” so, clearly, a two-state solution isn’t even on his radar.

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U.S. Adopts Israeli Anti-Terror Tactics, but Waffles on Defending Israel’s Use of Them

One cable from the WikiLeaks trove raises a disturbing possibility: the Obama administration’s obsession with Israeli settlements could end up undermining America’s own war on terror.

Shortly before Israel announced a 10-month freeze on settlement construction last year, Germany urged Washington to threaten that absent such a moratorium, the U.S. would refuse to block a UN Security Council vote on the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. U.S. officials correctly responded that this would be “counterproductive” but agreed to tell Israel “that their policy on settlements was making it difficult for their friends to hold the line in the UNSC” — thus implying that Washington might so threaten in the future. And last month, the U.S. indeed implicitly conditioned future efforts to block Goldstone on another settlement freeze.

Yet America has a vital interest of its own in burying Goldstone: facing many of the same military problems in its war on terror that Israel does, it has increasingly adopted many of the same tactics.

Last month, for example, the New York Times reported that in Afghanistan’s Kandahar region, “American forces are encountering empty homes and farm buildings left so heavily booby-trapped by Taliban insurgents that the Americans have been systematically destroying hundreds of them” in order “to reduce civilian and military casualties.” They even destroyed houses that weren’t booby-trapped because “searching empty houses was often too dangerous.” And as an Afghan official correctly noted, “It’s the insurgents and the enemy of the country that are to blame for this destruction, because they have planted mines in civilian houses and main roads everywhere.”

This is precisely what Israel did in its 2008-09 Gaza war, for the same reason: it found hundreds of booby-trapped houses, schools, even a zoo. But Goldstone, like the so-called human rights organizations, pooh-poohed this claim, accusing Israel of wantonly destroying civilian property in a deliberate effort to target civilians. Far from blaming Hamas for booby-trapping houses, they blamed Israel for destroying the traps.

The same goes for drone strikes on wanted terrorists — not just in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and Yemen. Israel has used this tactic for years, also for the same reason: sometimes, it’s the only way to neutralize a dangerous terrorist short of a major ground operation with massive casualties on both sides. But aerial strikes can also produce unintended civilian casualties.

The U.S. recently defended this tactic to the UN Human Rights Council, stressing that targeted killings are “lawful, they constitute neither extrajudicial killing nor political assassination.”

But human rights organizations have repeatedly denounced similar Israeli strikes as “extrajudicial executions” even when there have been no civilian casualties. And the outcry has been much worse when there were. Just last year, for instance, a Spanish court considered indicting several senior Israeli officials over a 2002 strike on Hamas mastermind Salah Shehadeh that, due to flawed intelligence, also killed 14 other people. (The case was halted after Spain moved to amend its universal-jurisdiction law.)

In short, America’s own self-interest demands that it thwart legal assaults on Israeli counterterrorism tactics. Otherwise, it’s liable to find itself in the dock next.

One cable from the WikiLeaks trove raises a disturbing possibility: the Obama administration’s obsession with Israeli settlements could end up undermining America’s own war on terror.

Shortly before Israel announced a 10-month freeze on settlement construction last year, Germany urged Washington to threaten that absent such a moratorium, the U.S. would refuse to block a UN Security Council vote on the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. U.S. officials correctly responded that this would be “counterproductive” but agreed to tell Israel “that their policy on settlements was making it difficult for their friends to hold the line in the UNSC” — thus implying that Washington might so threaten in the future. And last month, the U.S. indeed implicitly conditioned future efforts to block Goldstone on another settlement freeze.

Yet America has a vital interest of its own in burying Goldstone: facing many of the same military problems in its war on terror that Israel does, it has increasingly adopted many of the same tactics.

Last month, for example, the New York Times reported that in Afghanistan’s Kandahar region, “American forces are encountering empty homes and farm buildings left so heavily booby-trapped by Taliban insurgents that the Americans have been systematically destroying hundreds of them” in order “to reduce civilian and military casualties.” They even destroyed houses that weren’t booby-trapped because “searching empty houses was often too dangerous.” And as an Afghan official correctly noted, “It’s the insurgents and the enemy of the country that are to blame for this destruction, because they have planted mines in civilian houses and main roads everywhere.”

This is precisely what Israel did in its 2008-09 Gaza war, for the same reason: it found hundreds of booby-trapped houses, schools, even a zoo. But Goldstone, like the so-called human rights organizations, pooh-poohed this claim, accusing Israel of wantonly destroying civilian property in a deliberate effort to target civilians. Far from blaming Hamas for booby-trapping houses, they blamed Israel for destroying the traps.

The same goes for drone strikes on wanted terrorists — not just in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and Yemen. Israel has used this tactic for years, also for the same reason: sometimes, it’s the only way to neutralize a dangerous terrorist short of a major ground operation with massive casualties on both sides. But aerial strikes can also produce unintended civilian casualties.

The U.S. recently defended this tactic to the UN Human Rights Council, stressing that targeted killings are “lawful, they constitute neither extrajudicial killing nor political assassination.”

But human rights organizations have repeatedly denounced similar Israeli strikes as “extrajudicial executions” even when there have been no civilian casualties. And the outcry has been much worse when there were. Just last year, for instance, a Spanish court considered indicting several senior Israeli officials over a 2002 strike on Hamas mastermind Salah Shehadeh that, due to flawed intelligence, also killed 14 other people. (The case was halted after Spain moved to amend its universal-jurisdiction law.)

In short, America’s own self-interest demands that it thwart legal assaults on Israeli counterterrorism tactics. Otherwise, it’s liable to find itself in the dock next.

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An Exceptional Life

I admit to being a fan of obituaries, not only those of the most famous or infamous but also of those whose lives were not played out in daily headlines. They are tiny history lessons and morality tales. They are vivid reminders that ordinary people are capable of doing remarkable things, and they prod us to ask: what would I have done?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a gem. We learn:

Shortly after German troops invaded Belgium in 1940, Gaston Vandermeerssche, a Belgian university student, bicycled 800 miles to the south of France and became a spy.

Mr. Vandermeerssche, who died Nov. 1 at age 89 in Milwaukee, joined the resistance and ferried microfilm documents over the Pyrenees to Spain, where intermediaries sent the information on to London.

Later in the war he helped organize the Dutch underground, which came to comprise hundreds of agents and safe houses. After his network was penetrated by the Germans, he tried to escape, but was arrested near the Spanish border. He spent 24 months being interrogated in prison, but by his own account never broke.

The details of his exploits are eye-popping. (“He became a courier, making weekly trips from Brussels to Toulouse to Barcelona. The last leg involved trudging over snowy passes in the Pyrenees by moonlight. The microfilms he carried bore information collected by members of the underground on shipyards, gun emplacements and the like.”) But it is also the details of his very unextraordinary life — the son of a furniture maker who ended life in the U.S. as an executive of Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. — that remind us of the innate decency and capacity for greatness that ordinary people possess. Indeed, it was Vandermeerssche’s unexceptionalness that confounded his captors:

Mr. Vandermeerssche was arrested in Perpignan, France, in 1943 with a cache of microfilm stuffed into butter tubs. His German interrogators suspected his role in the Dutch underground, but couldn’t prove it.

“I was so young, the Germans did not believe that this kid was the head of that large network,” he said in the oral history. “And I told them, ‘Are you crazy? I couldn’t have done this.’ ”

Months of brutal interrogation and solitary confinement failed to break Mr. Vandermeerssche’s will. He was betrayed by another member of the underground, and was sentenced to death in a military trial. But he was freed by American troops near the end of the war.

Although shattered by his experiences in prison—he said he couldn’t eat or sleep normally for a decade—Mr. Vandermeerssche resumed his studies, earning a Ph.D. in physics.

You can understand my fondness for obits.

I admit to being a fan of obituaries, not only those of the most famous or infamous but also of those whose lives were not played out in daily headlines. They are tiny history lessons and morality tales. They are vivid reminders that ordinary people are capable of doing remarkable things, and they prod us to ask: what would I have done?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a gem. We learn:

Shortly after German troops invaded Belgium in 1940, Gaston Vandermeerssche, a Belgian university student, bicycled 800 miles to the south of France and became a spy.

Mr. Vandermeerssche, who died Nov. 1 at age 89 in Milwaukee, joined the resistance and ferried microfilm documents over the Pyrenees to Spain, where intermediaries sent the information on to London.

Later in the war he helped organize the Dutch underground, which came to comprise hundreds of agents and safe houses. After his network was penetrated by the Germans, he tried to escape, but was arrested near the Spanish border. He spent 24 months being interrogated in prison, but by his own account never broke.

The details of his exploits are eye-popping. (“He became a courier, making weekly trips from Brussels to Toulouse to Barcelona. The last leg involved trudging over snowy passes in the Pyrenees by moonlight. The microfilms he carried bore information collected by members of the underground on shipyards, gun emplacements and the like.”) But it is also the details of his very unextraordinary life — the son of a furniture maker who ended life in the U.S. as an executive of Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. — that remind us of the innate decency and capacity for greatness that ordinary people possess. Indeed, it was Vandermeerssche’s unexceptionalness that confounded his captors:

Mr. Vandermeerssche was arrested in Perpignan, France, in 1943 with a cache of microfilm stuffed into butter tubs. His German interrogators suspected his role in the Dutch underground, but couldn’t prove it.

“I was so young, the Germans did not believe that this kid was the head of that large network,” he said in the oral history. “And I told them, ‘Are you crazy? I couldn’t have done this.’ ”

Months of brutal interrogation and solitary confinement failed to break Mr. Vandermeerssche’s will. He was betrayed by another member of the underground, and was sentenced to death in a military trial. But he was freed by American troops near the end of the war.

Although shattered by his experiences in prison—he said he couldn’t eat or sleep normally for a decade—Mr. Vandermeerssche resumed his studies, earning a Ph.D. in physics.

You can understand my fondness for obits.

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There Is a Moral Void in the Oval Office

It struck me in observing the FPI conference yesterday and in reading Eli Lake’s piece on Russian democracy activist Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian deputy prime minister, that there is a a growing realization by those who are and should be friends of America that the U.S. is AWOL when it comes to leading the West and the values the West stands for.

At yesterday’s session, former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar reminded the audience that America is the “indispensable” nation and bemoaned the president’s decided lack of attention to Europe. (The U.S. is not looking at Europe,” he remarked.) When asked about his concerns regarding the Obama administration, he bluntly responded,

As you know, I am not a supporter of President Obama. … This is the first time the Europeans feel that for the American President, especially after the First and Second World War, Europe is not a priority. It is not an important part of the solution. … A lot of Europeans think Mr. Obama is not an American president. Now, he’s living in a moment of confusion, and disagrees in economic terms. … Politically, leadership is in my opinion weak. Economically, it is a very serious problem. I consider that the current economic American policy is a huge mistake, and in terms of security, it depends.

To send the message that the power, the force, in the sense of the United States, the presence of the United States is necessary to maintain. I hear every day organize and pull out the 19 troops, and another day, no. What is the policy of the United States. It is not possible if you want to maintain the capacity to be the leader in the world.

After his public remarks, I asked Aznar, who is a founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative, whether Israel delegitimizers have been inspired by Obama’s public animus to the Jewish state. He replied that when there is an opportunity, Israel’s delegitimizers grab it. (He also contends that things are better now between the U.S. and Israel, reflecting some observers’ misperception, I would argue, that the absence of public shouting matches denotes a more productive relationship.)

Eli’s piece provides more support for the unfortunate conclusion that Obama’s disinterest in human rights and yearning to remove conflicts with rivals and foes (even at the price of sacrificing our own interests) is leaving our friends bewildered. He explains with regard to Nemtsov :

“Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy,” he told a conference held by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The criticism from Mr. Nemtsov highlights the Obama administration’s approach to improving relations with Russia that critics say has neglected past U.S. priorities for Russia, such as advancing democracy and the rule of law. Instead, the administration has sought to win Russian cooperation with U.S. goals at the United Nations, to sanction Iran and to win cooperation for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Here’s the stunner, conveyed by Eli:

In the meeting, Mr. Nemtsov presented Mr. Obama with a copy of a 2005 Senate resolution co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama condemning the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who was detained in 2005 on charges widely considered to be political retaliation from Mr. Putin, who was then Russia’s president.

Mr. Nemtsov said the president’s face had no expression when presented with the old resolution. He only said, “I know.”

“I was disappointed,” Mr. Nemtsov said of the encounter with Mr. Obama over Mr. Khodorkovsky. “I talked with [White House Russia specialist] Michael McFaul about that. He had a clear position about this case; he agreed with me. I don’t think Obama had a clear position. If Obama had this position, I am sure he would have responded.”

Think about that. The leader of the Free World is presented with information about one of the most highly publicized Russian human-rights violations and expresses no emotion or even interest in it. Can you image any other U.S. president reacting in this way?

In sum, the concern that Aznar and Nemstov expresses is one that conservatives have raised for some time: Obama’s lack of resolve and reticence on human rights is leaving allies in the lurch and making the world a more dangerous place. Obama, who is quite enamored of European opinion, would do well to listen to what some of its best representatives are saying.

It struck me in observing the FPI conference yesterday and in reading Eli Lake’s piece on Russian democracy activist Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian deputy prime minister, that there is a a growing realization by those who are and should be friends of America that the U.S. is AWOL when it comes to leading the West and the values the West stands for.

At yesterday’s session, former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar reminded the audience that America is the “indispensable” nation and bemoaned the president’s decided lack of attention to Europe. (The U.S. is not looking at Europe,” he remarked.) When asked about his concerns regarding the Obama administration, he bluntly responded,

As you know, I am not a supporter of President Obama. … This is the first time the Europeans feel that for the American President, especially after the First and Second World War, Europe is not a priority. It is not an important part of the solution. … A lot of Europeans think Mr. Obama is not an American president. Now, he’s living in a moment of confusion, and disagrees in economic terms. … Politically, leadership is in my opinion weak. Economically, it is a very serious problem. I consider that the current economic American policy is a huge mistake, and in terms of security, it depends.

To send the message that the power, the force, in the sense of the United States, the presence of the United States is necessary to maintain. I hear every day organize and pull out the 19 troops, and another day, no. What is the policy of the United States. It is not possible if you want to maintain the capacity to be the leader in the world.

After his public remarks, I asked Aznar, who is a founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative, whether Israel delegitimizers have been inspired by Obama’s public animus to the Jewish state. He replied that when there is an opportunity, Israel’s delegitimizers grab it. (He also contends that things are better now between the U.S. and Israel, reflecting some observers’ misperception, I would argue, that the absence of public shouting matches denotes a more productive relationship.)

Eli’s piece provides more support for the unfortunate conclusion that Obama’s disinterest in human rights and yearning to remove conflicts with rivals and foes (even at the price of sacrificing our own interests) is leaving our friends bewildered. He explains with regard to Nemtsov :

“Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy,” he told a conference held by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The criticism from Mr. Nemtsov highlights the Obama administration’s approach to improving relations with Russia that critics say has neglected past U.S. priorities for Russia, such as advancing democracy and the rule of law. Instead, the administration has sought to win Russian cooperation with U.S. goals at the United Nations, to sanction Iran and to win cooperation for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Here’s the stunner, conveyed by Eli:

In the meeting, Mr. Nemtsov presented Mr. Obama with a copy of a 2005 Senate resolution co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama condemning the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who was detained in 2005 on charges widely considered to be political retaliation from Mr. Putin, who was then Russia’s president.

Mr. Nemtsov said the president’s face had no expression when presented with the old resolution. He only said, “I know.”

“I was disappointed,” Mr. Nemtsov said of the encounter with Mr. Obama over Mr. Khodorkovsky. “I talked with [White House Russia specialist] Michael McFaul about that. He had a clear position about this case; he agreed with me. I don’t think Obama had a clear position. If Obama had this position, I am sure he would have responded.”

Think about that. The leader of the Free World is presented with information about one of the most highly publicized Russian human-rights violations and expresses no emotion or even interest in it. Can you image any other U.S. president reacting in this way?

In sum, the concern that Aznar and Nemstov expresses is one that conservatives have raised for some time: Obama’s lack of resolve and reticence on human rights is leaving allies in the lurch and making the world a more dangerous place. Obama, who is quite enamored of European opinion, would do well to listen to what some of its best representatives are saying.

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RE: A Bad Deal All Around

Jennifer and Evelyn, between them, have covered pretty comprehensively the problems with latest settlement-freeze deal. I note, however, that the generally left-leaning Economist picked up on the aspect of the deal that concerns me the most and isn’t getting a lot of attention. Jennifer alludes to it with this passage:

And as for the promise to veto UN resolutions attacking Israel or declaring a Palestinian state, why should Israel have to give anything to Obama for simply adhering to past U.S. policy? My Israel guru remarks, “This shows the Obama mentality that we veto as a difficult favor for Israel, rather than out of principle.”

The Economist is blunter: “Is America bribing Bibi or blackmailing him?” One problem with the Obama administration’s action is that it can so easily be read as blackmail. It’s basic diplomatic competence to avoid creating such implications if they are unintended.

Independent of nations or circumstances, the U.S. posture should, on principle, oppose the peremptory creation of new nations against the will of UN member states. Making this principle conditional, for transient bargaining purposes, is a grave strategic error. A number of our own allies have ethnic-nationalist insurgencies, border disputes, or both – nations like Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Japan. Russia, China, and India have them as well. They are able to deal with their problems as ongoing but relatively minor nuisances largely because the momentum of global expectations is with the principles of national sovereignty and order.

The Obama deal offered to Israel contains too broad a hint that America’s commitment to those principles might be conditional. Perhaps Team Obama sees Israel as a case so special that nothing done in relation to it has meaning for the principles of international relations. But the rest of the world’s nations don’t share that view – nor do their insurgencies or their respective border antagonists. What they see is the trend of actions by the United States. This is a destabilizing move and a very ill-advised one.

Jennifer and Evelyn, between them, have covered pretty comprehensively the problems with latest settlement-freeze deal. I note, however, that the generally left-leaning Economist picked up on the aspect of the deal that concerns me the most and isn’t getting a lot of attention. Jennifer alludes to it with this passage:

And as for the promise to veto UN resolutions attacking Israel or declaring a Palestinian state, why should Israel have to give anything to Obama for simply adhering to past U.S. policy? My Israel guru remarks, “This shows the Obama mentality that we veto as a difficult favor for Israel, rather than out of principle.”

The Economist is blunter: “Is America bribing Bibi or blackmailing him?” One problem with the Obama administration’s action is that it can so easily be read as blackmail. It’s basic diplomatic competence to avoid creating such implications if they are unintended.

Independent of nations or circumstances, the U.S. posture should, on principle, oppose the peremptory creation of new nations against the will of UN member states. Making this principle conditional, for transient bargaining purposes, is a grave strategic error. A number of our own allies have ethnic-nationalist insurgencies, border disputes, or both – nations like Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Japan. Russia, China, and India have them as well. They are able to deal with their problems as ongoing but relatively minor nuisances largely because the momentum of global expectations is with the principles of national sovereignty and order.

The Obama deal offered to Israel contains too broad a hint that America’s commitment to those principles might be conditional. Perhaps Team Obama sees Israel as a case so special that nothing done in relation to it has meaning for the principles of international relations. But the rest of the world’s nations don’t share that view – nor do their insurgencies or their respective border antagonists. What they see is the trend of actions by the United States. This is a destabilizing move and a very ill-advised one.

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The Multi-Plane Attack Story

If, indeed, the developing story involving UPS planes and others carrying suspicious boxes, including ones from Yemen, means a major attack on the United States has been thwarted, two things suggest themselves. First, that this is an election-eve plan similar to the monstrous Madrid train bombing in 2004 — and the Bin Laden tape on the eve of the 2004 election. In the case of those elections, it was clear what al Qaeda wanted — to punish Spain for its role in the Iraq war effort and to punish George Bush. Parsing what the possible goal would be in this election is difficult, though the simplest explanation is usually the best: It’s about the U.S.’s more aggressive stance in Afghanistan. Second: This comes after an election season in which the word “terrorism” has barely been spoken. That will end this weekend, as the closing discussion before Tuesday’s election will suddenly center on foreign, military, and homeland security policy.

If, indeed, the developing story involving UPS planes and others carrying suspicious boxes, including ones from Yemen, means a major attack on the United States has been thwarted, two things suggest themselves. First, that this is an election-eve plan similar to the monstrous Madrid train bombing in 2004 — and the Bin Laden tape on the eve of the 2004 election. In the case of those elections, it was clear what al Qaeda wanted — to punish Spain for its role in the Iraq war effort and to punish George Bush. Parsing what the possible goal would be in this election is difficult, though the simplest explanation is usually the best: It’s about the U.S.’s more aggressive stance in Afghanistan. Second: This comes after an election season in which the word “terrorism” has barely been spoken. That will end this weekend, as the closing discussion before Tuesday’s election will suddenly center on foreign, military, and homeland security policy.

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Britain’s Dwindling Defense Budget

American officials are right to be concerned about the further evisceration of British defense capabilities that is apparently planned by the Tory-Liberal Democratic coalition government. Britain has already seen the size of its armed forces shrivel since the end of the Cold War, but Prime Minister David Cameron and Defense Minister Liam Fox apparently have more cuts in the works, expected to be in the range of 10 to 20 percent. Defense spending as a percentage of GDP, already far below the U.S. level, is likely to fall under 2 percent, putting Britain in the same league as Italy, Spain, and other countries with little in the way of significant and deployable military resources.

The Telegraph reports that “the cuts…. will lead to a substantial reduction in the size of the Army, which will also have to give up many of its tanks and armoured vehicles.” Also on the chopping block are the frigates that are needed to fight pirates and other valuable weapons systems that allow Britain to punch far above its weight in the international system. For all of Cameron’s and Fox’s empty and unconvincing rhetoric about maintaining British capabilities while slashing the defense budget, the reality is that their planned budget will continue the sad undoing of Britain’s global leadership role, which traces back to the 16th century.

The Financial Times, hardly a bastion of right-wingery, denounces the cuts in an editorial that warns “there is little sign of coherent geopolitical thinking behind Britain’s planned defence cuts. Instead, this has turned into a money-driven rather than a threat-driven process.” The FT notes that it is particularly striking that at the same time that Cameron is chopping defense, he “is sticking stubbornly to his promise simultaneously to raise Britain’s spending on overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP. This is a bizarre choice of priorities, especially for a Conservative prime minister and particularly when the country is still at war in Afghanistan.”

I would emphasize how bizarre this is for a Tory prime minister. If the Conservatives are not the strong-on-defense party, what identity do they have left? There is a lesson here for those Republicans who might be tempted to adopt a green-eyeshade approach to our own defense policy. As Danielle Pletka and Tom Donnelly eloquently warn in today’s Washington Post:

Conservatives, and the party that putatively represents them, need to decide whether they wish to continue to warrant that trust. They can continue to be the party of Eisenhower and Reagan, supporting and resourcing a robust American role in the world. Or they can reinvent themselves as a combination of Ebenezer Scrooge and George McGovern, withdrawing from the world to a countinghouse America.

The need to maintain American strength — which won’t be cheap — is all the more imperative when one of our few reliable allies is slashing its own defense budget. That means, like it or not, that we will have to do more than ever to maintain global security, or else the entire world will pay a staggering price as terrorists, pirates, weapons proliferators, and other international menaces run free.

American officials are right to be concerned about the further evisceration of British defense capabilities that is apparently planned by the Tory-Liberal Democratic coalition government. Britain has already seen the size of its armed forces shrivel since the end of the Cold War, but Prime Minister David Cameron and Defense Minister Liam Fox apparently have more cuts in the works, expected to be in the range of 10 to 20 percent. Defense spending as a percentage of GDP, already far below the U.S. level, is likely to fall under 2 percent, putting Britain in the same league as Italy, Spain, and other countries with little in the way of significant and deployable military resources.

The Telegraph reports that “the cuts…. will lead to a substantial reduction in the size of the Army, which will also have to give up many of its tanks and armoured vehicles.” Also on the chopping block are the frigates that are needed to fight pirates and other valuable weapons systems that allow Britain to punch far above its weight in the international system. For all of Cameron’s and Fox’s empty and unconvincing rhetoric about maintaining British capabilities while slashing the defense budget, the reality is that their planned budget will continue the sad undoing of Britain’s global leadership role, which traces back to the 16th century.

The Financial Times, hardly a bastion of right-wingery, denounces the cuts in an editorial that warns “there is little sign of coherent geopolitical thinking behind Britain’s planned defence cuts. Instead, this has turned into a money-driven rather than a threat-driven process.” The FT notes that it is particularly striking that at the same time that Cameron is chopping defense, he “is sticking stubbornly to his promise simultaneously to raise Britain’s spending on overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP. This is a bizarre choice of priorities, especially for a Conservative prime minister and particularly when the country is still at war in Afghanistan.”

I would emphasize how bizarre this is for a Tory prime minister. If the Conservatives are not the strong-on-defense party, what identity do they have left? There is a lesson here for those Republicans who might be tempted to adopt a green-eyeshade approach to our own defense policy. As Danielle Pletka and Tom Donnelly eloquently warn in today’s Washington Post:

Conservatives, and the party that putatively represents them, need to decide whether they wish to continue to warrant that trust. They can continue to be the party of Eisenhower and Reagan, supporting and resourcing a robust American role in the world. Or they can reinvent themselves as a combination of Ebenezer Scrooge and George McGovern, withdrawing from the world to a countinghouse America.

The need to maintain American strength — which won’t be cheap — is all the more imperative when one of our few reliable allies is slashing its own defense budget. That means, like it or not, that we will have to do more than ever to maintain global security, or else the entire world will pay a staggering price as terrorists, pirates, weapons proliferators, and other international menaces run free.

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True Friends of Israel

As we have noted, a new organization, the Friends of Israel Initiative, headed by former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar has been formed to combat efforts to delegitimize Israel and to make the positive case for why Israel is critical to the West. In a remarkable speech that should be read in full, Aznar explained:

Israel is under a new kind of attack. Not conventional war as in 1948, 56, 67 or 73. Not terrorism as we saw in the 70s, 80s and 90s. But a new kind of attack — an attack on Israel’s legitimacy, on her right to exist. A “soft-war,” where many of its adversaries are employing legal tricks, multinational bodies, and an army of dubious NGO’s to present internationally Israel as an illegitimate state, as a barbarian State, a State that should be isolated and converted into a pariah State.

We think this is intolerable. It is unjust, morally wrong, and a strategic risk — not only for Israel and its people — but for all of us. Israel is an integral part of the West, and the weaker it is, the weaker the entire West will be perceived to be.

He succinctly explains why we cannot let Israel — in other words, the Zionist undertaking — fail:

We want to stand up for the right of Israel to exist. Judeo-Christian values form the roots of our civilization. Delegitimizing Israel undermines our identity, warps our values and put at risk what we are and who we are.

So, dear friends, it is not only the threat that if Israel goes down, which, make no mistake, many of its enemies would like to see happen, we all go down. It is that letting Israel be demonized will lead to the delegitimation of our own cherished values. If Israel were to disappear by the force of its enemies, I sincerely doubt the West could remain as we know it.

That is the case that is too infrequently made. The Obami posit, in essence, that we are doing Israel a favor by offering our support, at great risk to ourselves. In fact, not only is Israel a valued ally, but the Jewish state is also crucial to us.

Perhaps Congress, becoming more daring in its defiance of a failing presidency, can help in this regard. In Congress, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)  and Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) have introduced a resolution H.Con Res. 315:

“Recognizing the formation and supporting the objectives of the Friends of Israel Initiative.” It calls on Congress to recognize the formation of the Initiative, to affirm its goals as laid down in its mission statement as well as reaffirming Congress’s “enduring bipartisan support” for the US-Israeli relationship and for Israel’s right to exist as a secure and democratic Jewish state.

Sadly, this is very much needed because we have an administration that takes for granted — or abuses — our democratic ally. Caterwauling over a nonexistent wave of Islamophobia has distracted and befuddled the media (more so than usual). It is critical to redirect the public discussion and remind governments and their citizens what Israel stands for, why our relationship is essential, and why the notion of distancing ourselves from the Jewish state essentially means divorcing ourselves from the values at the core of Western civilization. The Friends of Israel couldn’t have stepped forward at a more opportune moment.

As we have noted, a new organization, the Friends of Israel Initiative, headed by former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar has been formed to combat efforts to delegitimize Israel and to make the positive case for why Israel is critical to the West. In a remarkable speech that should be read in full, Aznar explained:

Israel is under a new kind of attack. Not conventional war as in 1948, 56, 67 or 73. Not terrorism as we saw in the 70s, 80s and 90s. But a new kind of attack — an attack on Israel’s legitimacy, on her right to exist. A “soft-war,” where many of its adversaries are employing legal tricks, multinational bodies, and an army of dubious NGO’s to present internationally Israel as an illegitimate state, as a barbarian State, a State that should be isolated and converted into a pariah State.

We think this is intolerable. It is unjust, morally wrong, and a strategic risk — not only for Israel and its people — but for all of us. Israel is an integral part of the West, and the weaker it is, the weaker the entire West will be perceived to be.

He succinctly explains why we cannot let Israel — in other words, the Zionist undertaking — fail:

We want to stand up for the right of Israel to exist. Judeo-Christian values form the roots of our civilization. Delegitimizing Israel undermines our identity, warps our values and put at risk what we are and who we are.

So, dear friends, it is not only the threat that if Israel goes down, which, make no mistake, many of its enemies would like to see happen, we all go down. It is that letting Israel be demonized will lead to the delegitimation of our own cherished values. If Israel were to disappear by the force of its enemies, I sincerely doubt the West could remain as we know it.

That is the case that is too infrequently made. The Obami posit, in essence, that we are doing Israel a favor by offering our support, at great risk to ourselves. In fact, not only is Israel a valued ally, but the Jewish state is also crucial to us.

Perhaps Congress, becoming more daring in its defiance of a failing presidency, can help in this regard. In Congress, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)  and Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) have introduced a resolution H.Con Res. 315:

“Recognizing the formation and supporting the objectives of the Friends of Israel Initiative.” It calls on Congress to recognize the formation of the Initiative, to affirm its goals as laid down in its mission statement as well as reaffirming Congress’s “enduring bipartisan support” for the US-Israeli relationship and for Israel’s right to exist as a secure and democratic Jewish state.

Sadly, this is very much needed because we have an administration that takes for granted — or abuses — our democratic ally. Caterwauling over a nonexistent wave of Islamophobia has distracted and befuddled the media (more so than usual). It is critical to redirect the public discussion and remind governments and their citizens what Israel stands for, why our relationship is essential, and why the notion of distancing ourselves from the Jewish state essentially means divorcing ourselves from the values at the core of Western civilization. The Friends of Israel couldn’t have stepped forward at a more opportune moment.

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What’s in a Name?

Michael Lame of the decidedly non-partisan Re-Think The Middle East provides some useful background on the history of Cordoba for which the Ground Zero mosque is to be named. He writes:

Many writers have waxed rhapsodic about a golden age of peace and prosperity in Muslim Spain. But is that really what it was like? “Nostalgia is the enemy of historical understanding,” warns historian Richard Fletcher, author of Moorish Spain. “The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was a land of tranquility.”

The 800 years referred to by the Cordoba Initiative constitutes the entire era of Muslim rule in Spain, stretching from 711 to 1492. Yet Cordoba itself, the cultural and for long periods of time the political capital of al-Andalus, succumbed to Christian conquest (or reconquest) in 1236.

Imam Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West, narrows the pertinent time frame, explaining that the Cordoba Initiative is “named after the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, when the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain.”

But Rauf’s nostalgia should concern us, and give pause to his defenders. As Lame notes:

The idea of an Andalusian golden age, when Christians and Jews lived contentedly under Muslim rule, has become a fixture of Western historical thinking over the last hundred years. But is it true?

Professor [Richard] Fletcher weighs in on the question: “Early medieval Spain was multicultural in the sense of being culturally diverse, a land within which different cultures coexisted; but not in the sense of experiencing cultural integration. Toleration for Christians and Jews as ‘Peoples of the Book’ is enjoined by the Koran. But in practice it was limited – Christians under Islamic rule were forbidden to build new churches, to ring church bells, to hold public processions – and sometimes it broke down altogether. In 1066 there was a pogrom in Granada in which its Jewish community was slaughtered. Thousands of Christians were deported to slavery in Morocco in 1126. Thoroughly dismissive attitudes to Christians and Jews may be found in the Arabic literature of al-Andalus. It is a myth of the modern liberal imagination that medieval Islamic Spain was, in any sense that we should recognize today, a tolerant society.”

Lame advises that we should be aware of what Rauf’s “tolerance” entails:

One should not forget that Cordovan tolerance was predicated on Islamic rule. Jews and Christians, once they accepted their status as dhimmi, protected albeit subservient peoples, could participate in the intellectual, artistic, and economic life of the broader community. But one fact was clear throughout medieval Spain, that a single faith was dominant – Islam in the south and Christianity in the north – and the other religious communities were allowed to remain at the pleasure, or rather the sufferance, of the dominant religious-political power.

Sufferance as the basis for a multi-religious society is not a model that will appeal to 21st century Christians, Muslims, or Jews. For that reason alone, Cordoba is a questionable symbol of inter-faith co-existence. A better model might be … New York City!

In fact, New York has so many mosques that the question of tolerance of Muslims in America is not in doubt, except in the minds of the mosque’s defenders, who equate the placement of the mosque with religious “freedom.” Now, Rauf can hardly be ignorant of the history of Cordoba, as many of his defenders seem to be. He has, in the selection of his mosque’s name and placement, chosen to carry a message to his fellow Muslims and the world at large. It’s not a message the any of us, especially the left, which is supposedly opposed to religious domination of societies (or is that only a rule for Christians?), should embrace.

Michael Lame of the decidedly non-partisan Re-Think The Middle East provides some useful background on the history of Cordoba for which the Ground Zero mosque is to be named. He writes:

Many writers have waxed rhapsodic about a golden age of peace and prosperity in Muslim Spain. But is that really what it was like? “Nostalgia is the enemy of historical understanding,” warns historian Richard Fletcher, author of Moorish Spain. “The simple and verifiable historical truth is that Moorish Spain was more often a land of turmoil than it was a land of tranquility.”

The 800 years referred to by the Cordoba Initiative constitutes the entire era of Muslim rule in Spain, stretching from 711 to 1492. Yet Cordoba itself, the cultural and for long periods of time the political capital of al-Andalus, succumbed to Christian conquest (or reconquest) in 1236.

Imam Rauf’s book, What’s Right with Islam: a New Vision for Muslims and the West, narrows the pertinent time frame, explaining that the Cordoba Initiative is “named after the period between roughly 800 and 1200 CE, when the Cordoba Caliphate ruled much of today’s Spain.”

But Rauf’s nostalgia should concern us, and give pause to his defenders. As Lame notes:

The idea of an Andalusian golden age, when Christians and Jews lived contentedly under Muslim rule, has become a fixture of Western historical thinking over the last hundred years. But is it true?

Professor [Richard] Fletcher weighs in on the question: “Early medieval Spain was multicultural in the sense of being culturally diverse, a land within which different cultures coexisted; but not in the sense of experiencing cultural integration. Toleration for Christians and Jews as ‘Peoples of the Book’ is enjoined by the Koran. But in practice it was limited – Christians under Islamic rule were forbidden to build new churches, to ring church bells, to hold public processions – and sometimes it broke down altogether. In 1066 there was a pogrom in Granada in which its Jewish community was slaughtered. Thousands of Christians were deported to slavery in Morocco in 1126. Thoroughly dismissive attitudes to Christians and Jews may be found in the Arabic literature of al-Andalus. It is a myth of the modern liberal imagination that medieval Islamic Spain was, in any sense that we should recognize today, a tolerant society.”

Lame advises that we should be aware of what Rauf’s “tolerance” entails:

One should not forget that Cordovan tolerance was predicated on Islamic rule. Jews and Christians, once they accepted their status as dhimmi, protected albeit subservient peoples, could participate in the intellectual, artistic, and economic life of the broader community. But one fact was clear throughout medieval Spain, that a single faith was dominant – Islam in the south and Christianity in the north – and the other religious communities were allowed to remain at the pleasure, or rather the sufferance, of the dominant religious-political power.

Sufferance as the basis for a multi-religious society is not a model that will appeal to 21st century Christians, Muslims, or Jews. For that reason alone, Cordoba is a questionable symbol of inter-faith co-existence. A better model might be … New York City!

In fact, New York has so many mosques that the question of tolerance of Muslims in America is not in doubt, except in the minds of the mosque’s defenders, who equate the placement of the mosque with religious “freedom.” Now, Rauf can hardly be ignorant of the history of Cordoba, as many of his defenders seem to be. He has, in the selection of his mosque’s name and placement, chosen to carry a message to his fellow Muslims and the world at large. It’s not a message the any of us, especially the left, which is supposedly opposed to religious domination of societies (or is that only a rule for Christians?), should embrace.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama’s baddest critic warns him about flip-floppery on the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Obama, you are not the mayor of Podunk arguing with the City Council over sewer versus septic; you are the president of the United States of America , the greatest country in the world! It may be that your utterances are sounding like indefensible rubbish to more and more of us, but at the very least you, the presidential enunciator of them, ought to have the courage to defend them —especially when they’re already in writing.”

Greg Sargent warns anti-Israel Democrats that the Emergency Committee for Israel is putting them “on notice that if they criticize Israel, they can expect to be targeted, too.” Or, to put it differently, it will be harder to fake being pro-Israel.

Charlie Cook warns Democrats that the Connecticut Senate race will tighten. And sure enough: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary telephone survey of Likely Connecticut Voters finds that Democrat Richard Blumenthal has slipped below the 50% mark of support this month against Republican Linda McMahon in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Bill Kristol warns the left to get a grip: “The ‘f*ck tea’ movement [the real name of a new leftist undertaking] — that’s what the left has come to. They can’t defend the results of Obama’s policies or the validity of Krugman’s arguments. They know it’s hard to sustain an antidemocratic ethos in a democracy. They realize they’ve degenerated into pro-am levels of whining and squabbling. So they curse their opponents.”

The Gray Lady warns politicians to avoid Michelle Obama’s vacation gaffe: “Forget the lush beaches of Bora Bora or the Campari-soaked cafes along the Côte d’Azur. And don’t even think about Rome or Paris. Astute Washington politicians have long known that when it comes to politically palatable summer vacations, it is best not to cross any oceans. Or even seas. Michelle Obama violated one of this city’s most sacrosanct unwritten rules when she went to Spain — during a recession, no less — with her daughter and a few friends.”

Senate Republicans warn the administration that its pick for ambassador to Turkey is a no-go: “The nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey is being held up in the Senate and the GOP has no intention of allowing a vote on the nomination any time soon. … The administration might be wary of spending its limited political capital to push through the Ricciardone nomination to a floor debate in the Senate because it could open up a broader public discussion of Turkey policy the White House might not think is useful given the delicate diplomatic environment.”

Douglas Schoen warns fellow Democrats: “The recent discouraging economic news is a watershed for the Obama administration — at least as far as the midterms are concerned. It discredits one of the administration’s few remaining positive arguments: that the administration ushered in an economic recovery that otherwise might not have occurred.”

Bibi warns the world, explains George Will: “If Iran were to ‘wipe the Zionist entity off the map,’ as it vows to do, it would, Netanyahu believes, achieve a regional ‘dominance not seen since Alexander.’ … He says that 1948 meant this: ‘For the first time in 2,000 years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack.’ And he says: ‘The tragic history of the powerlessness of our people explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.’ If Israel strikes Iran, the world will not be able to say it was not warned.” Nor will it be able to say that, by leaving the job to Israel, Obama fufilled his role as leader of the Free World.

Obama’s baddest critic warns him about flip-floppery on the Ground Zero mosque: “Mr. Obama, you are not the mayor of Podunk arguing with the City Council over sewer versus septic; you are the president of the United States of America , the greatest country in the world! It may be that your utterances are sounding like indefensible rubbish to more and more of us, but at the very least you, the presidential enunciator of them, ought to have the courage to defend them —especially when they’re already in writing.”

Greg Sargent warns anti-Israel Democrats that the Emergency Committee for Israel is putting them “on notice that if they criticize Israel, they can expect to be targeted, too.” Or, to put it differently, it will be harder to fake being pro-Israel.

Charlie Cook warns Democrats that the Connecticut Senate race will tighten. And sure enough: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary telephone survey of Likely Connecticut Voters finds that Democrat Richard Blumenthal has slipped below the 50% mark of support this month against Republican Linda McMahon in the state’s U.S. Senate race.”

Bill Kristol warns the left to get a grip: “The ‘f*ck tea’ movement [the real name of a new leftist undertaking] — that’s what the left has come to. They can’t defend the results of Obama’s policies or the validity of Krugman’s arguments. They know it’s hard to sustain an antidemocratic ethos in a democracy. They realize they’ve degenerated into pro-am levels of whining and squabbling. So they curse their opponents.”

The Gray Lady warns politicians to avoid Michelle Obama’s vacation gaffe: “Forget the lush beaches of Bora Bora or the Campari-soaked cafes along the Côte d’Azur. And don’t even think about Rome or Paris. Astute Washington politicians have long known that when it comes to politically palatable summer vacations, it is best not to cross any oceans. Or even seas. Michelle Obama violated one of this city’s most sacrosanct unwritten rules when she went to Spain — during a recession, no less — with her daughter and a few friends.”

Senate Republicans warn the administration that its pick for ambassador to Turkey is a no-go: “The nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey is being held up in the Senate and the GOP has no intention of allowing a vote on the nomination any time soon. … The administration might be wary of spending its limited political capital to push through the Ricciardone nomination to a floor debate in the Senate because it could open up a broader public discussion of Turkey policy the White House might not think is useful given the delicate diplomatic environment.”

Douglas Schoen warns fellow Democrats: “The recent discouraging economic news is a watershed for the Obama administration — at least as far as the midterms are concerned. It discredits one of the administration’s few remaining positive arguments: that the administration ushered in an economic recovery that otherwise might not have occurred.”

Bibi warns the world, explains George Will: “If Iran were to ‘wipe the Zionist entity off the map,’ as it vows to do, it would, Netanyahu believes, achieve a regional ‘dominance not seen since Alexander.’ … He says that 1948 meant this: ‘For the first time in 2,000 years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack.’ And he says: ‘The tragic history of the powerlessness of our people explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense.’ If Israel strikes Iran, the world will not be able to say it was not warned.” Nor will it be able to say that, by leaving the job to Israel, Obama fufilled his role as leader of the Free World.

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