Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tel Aviv

70 Years Ago Today

On August 3, 1940, Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky — one of the towering figures in the history of Zionism — died in New York of a heart attack at age 59.

He had been in New York since March, pushing his plan for a Jewish army to fight Hitler, giving speeches that drew huge crowds at the Manhattan Center. On June 20 — under the headline “Jabotinsky Asks Jews for Army of 100,000 – Zionist Leader Calls for Men to Fight as a Unit — 4,000 Hear Plea” — the New York Times reported his words from the prior evening:

I challenge the Jews, wherever they are still free, to demand the right of fighting the giant rattlesnake, not just under British or French or Polish labels, but as a Jewish Army. Some shout that we only want others to fight, some whisper that a Jew only makes a good soldier when squeezed in between Gentile comrades. I challenge the Jewish youth to give them the lie.

The day before his death, he had contracted to publish his book on the Jews and the war. On August 3, he collapsed at an upstate New York training camp for the Zionist youth movement he created. His last words, reported in Shmuel Katz’s monumental biography, were “I am so tired.” Katz believed the real cause of death was “stress and overwork.”

More than 12,000 people stood on Second Avenue three days later outside his funeral services — conducted by three rabbis, with 200 cantors chanting and 750 people in attendance, including British, Polish, Czech, and other diplomats. As he had requested, there were no eulogies or speeches. The New York Times reported the next day that:

At the end of the chapel service, the coffin, draped with a Zionist flag, was carried from the funeral home, surrounded by an honor guard of 50 boys and girls. … Many men and women wept … a throng of 25,000 followed the cortege or lined the route. …

A motorcade of fifty cars and eight buses left for the New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale, L.I., where a military service was held.

Jabotinsky’s 1935 will stipulated that he should be buried “wherever death finds me and my remains may not be brought to Palestine except by the order of that country’s eventual Jewish Government” — reflecting his faith in the eventual re-creation of the Jewish state. But it was not until 1964 that his body was transferred to Mount Herzl for burial.

It was a hero’s homecoming. In New York, the casket was carried through Manhattan to Kennedy airport in a hearse drawn by four white horses, with Times Square renamed “Jabotinsky Square” for the day; in Paris, the French government and Jewish community held a ceremony as the plane landed there on its way to Israel. In 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recalled the reception in Israel:

I clearly remember the immense funeral procession in the streets of Tel Aviv, which was unparalleled; I remember the tremendous emotion, sometimes tearful, of students and admirers, headed by the Chairman of the Herut Movement, Menachem Begin, who accompanied the coffin. A huge audience … came to pay their respects to the great Zionist leader; a bit late but wholeheartedly.

In a 2009 Knesset speech, Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the 1964 homecoming, which “made a tremendous impact on me.” On this day, we too should remember: read Midge Decter’s 1996 article (“one of those remarkable Eastern European Jews on whose like the world will never look again”); Hillel Halkin’s 2005 review (“one of the most intelligent, talented, honest, and likeable of all twentieth-century politicians”); Anne Lieberman’s extraordinary 2009 essay (which virtually channels Jabotinsky); and the resources at Jewish Ideas Daily.

On August 18, 2010, at 7:30 p.m., Americans for a Safe Israel will hold a special memorial at Park East Synagogue, 163 East 67th Street, with Douglas Feith as the keynote speaker.

On August 3, 1940, Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky — one of the towering figures in the history of Zionism — died in New York of a heart attack at age 59.

He had been in New York since March, pushing his plan for a Jewish army to fight Hitler, giving speeches that drew huge crowds at the Manhattan Center. On June 20 — under the headline “Jabotinsky Asks Jews for Army of 100,000 – Zionist Leader Calls for Men to Fight as a Unit — 4,000 Hear Plea” — the New York Times reported his words from the prior evening:

I challenge the Jews, wherever they are still free, to demand the right of fighting the giant rattlesnake, not just under British or French or Polish labels, but as a Jewish Army. Some shout that we only want others to fight, some whisper that a Jew only makes a good soldier when squeezed in between Gentile comrades. I challenge the Jewish youth to give them the lie.

The day before his death, he had contracted to publish his book on the Jews and the war. On August 3, he collapsed at an upstate New York training camp for the Zionist youth movement he created. His last words, reported in Shmuel Katz’s monumental biography, were “I am so tired.” Katz believed the real cause of death was “stress and overwork.”

More than 12,000 people stood on Second Avenue three days later outside his funeral services — conducted by three rabbis, with 200 cantors chanting and 750 people in attendance, including British, Polish, Czech, and other diplomats. As he had requested, there were no eulogies or speeches. The New York Times reported the next day that:

At the end of the chapel service, the coffin, draped with a Zionist flag, was carried from the funeral home, surrounded by an honor guard of 50 boys and girls. … Many men and women wept … a throng of 25,000 followed the cortege or lined the route. …

A motorcade of fifty cars and eight buses left for the New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale, L.I., where a military service was held.

Jabotinsky’s 1935 will stipulated that he should be buried “wherever death finds me and my remains may not be brought to Palestine except by the order of that country’s eventual Jewish Government” — reflecting his faith in the eventual re-creation of the Jewish state. But it was not until 1964 that his body was transferred to Mount Herzl for burial.

It was a hero’s homecoming. In New York, the casket was carried through Manhattan to Kennedy airport in a hearse drawn by four white horses, with Times Square renamed “Jabotinsky Square” for the day; in Paris, the French government and Jewish community held a ceremony as the plane landed there on its way to Israel. In 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recalled the reception in Israel:

I clearly remember the immense funeral procession in the streets of Tel Aviv, which was unparalleled; I remember the tremendous emotion, sometimes tearful, of students and admirers, headed by the Chairman of the Herut Movement, Menachem Begin, who accompanied the coffin. A huge audience … came to pay their respects to the great Zionist leader; a bit late but wholeheartedly.

In a 2009 Knesset speech, Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the 1964 homecoming, which “made a tremendous impact on me.” On this day, we too should remember: read Midge Decter’s 1996 article (“one of those remarkable Eastern European Jews on whose like the world will never look again”); Hillel Halkin’s 2005 review (“one of the most intelligent, talented, honest, and likeable of all twentieth-century politicians”); Anne Lieberman’s extraordinary 2009 essay (which virtually channels Jabotinsky); and the resources at Jewish Ideas Daily.

On August 18, 2010, at 7:30 p.m., Americans for a Safe Israel will hold a special memorial at Park East Synagogue, 163 East 67th Street, with Douglas Feith as the keynote speaker.

Read Less

Is J Street More Trouble Than It’s Worth?

J Street is backing Joe Sestak, providing both an endorsement and funding. He is their ideal candidate — willing to keynote at a CAIR fundraiser, unbothered by Obama’s Israel-bashing, happy to sign on to J Street’s letter on lifting the Gaza blockade, and left-leaning on everything else. This, of course, has raised concerns within the Jewish community. During the primary, Sen. Arlen Specter went after his opponent:

When addressing them at the May 2 forum, [Specter] went into great detail, describing his Jewish upbringing and choosing to focus much of his presentation on the issue of Israel. Responding to a question from the audience, he attacked his rival’s decision to participate at a meeting sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization that critics have accused of accommodating antisemitic views. “Sestak showed a lack of experience and sensitivity,” Specter said accusingly, later adding that “in the DNA” of the Jewish people, “we have memory of the pogroms.”

In May the contrast between Sestak and Specter, an ardent Israel supporter, was quite evident in an interview with the Jewish Exponent:

Do you believe a unified Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel? If not, should Israel freeze all its building in eastern Jerusalem?

Specter: Jerusalem is the rightful capital of Israel. In 1983, I joined Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) in introducing legislation to require the U.S. Embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I continue to support legislation requiring such a move.

Sestak: Both issues are ones that should be worked out between Israel and the Palestinians with the United States “in the room”; nothing should be mandated — by the administration or by Congress — upon the two parties as a condition for peace or at the beginning of the peace process.

Hmm, doesn’t exactly sound like Sestak is solid on the issue. (Sestak’s office did not respond to an inquiry as to his position on this and other issues relating to Israel.)

Now, candidates are sometimes willing to take flack over their support from a politically controversial group in exchange for handsome financing. Many a Democrat, for example, has taken his lumps for ”being in the pocket of labor bosses”; the consolation is the robust funds they receive from organized labor. So has the J Street endorsement been worth the trouble it has caused Sestak?

It sure doesn’t look that way: “GOP U.S. Senate nominee Pat Toomey raised roughly $1 million more than Democratic opponent Joe Sestak in the latest fundraising quarter, according to numbers provided by each campaign Tuesday, another indication the Republican could posses a significant financial advantage in the general election race.” It seems that the J Street endorsement really isn’t paying off. It may be that pro-Israel voters in Pennsylvania are already voting — with their checkbooks — against Sestak. Unfortunately for Sestak, J Street hasn’t begun to make up the difference.

We’ll see how this plays out in Pennsylvania and in races around the country in which J Street has bestowed its endorsement, but perhaps not sufficient funds, on leftist Democrats. One lesson of this election may well be that a J Street endorsement is the kiss of political death for those foolish enough to adhere to its extreme agenda with the expectation that J Street can provide ample financial support.

J Street is backing Joe Sestak, providing both an endorsement and funding. He is their ideal candidate — willing to keynote at a CAIR fundraiser, unbothered by Obama’s Israel-bashing, happy to sign on to J Street’s letter on lifting the Gaza blockade, and left-leaning on everything else. This, of course, has raised concerns within the Jewish community. During the primary, Sen. Arlen Specter went after his opponent:

When addressing them at the May 2 forum, [Specter] went into great detail, describing his Jewish upbringing and choosing to focus much of his presentation on the issue of Israel. Responding to a question from the audience, he attacked his rival’s decision to participate at a meeting sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization that critics have accused of accommodating antisemitic views. “Sestak showed a lack of experience and sensitivity,” Specter said accusingly, later adding that “in the DNA” of the Jewish people, “we have memory of the pogroms.”

In May the contrast between Sestak and Specter, an ardent Israel supporter, was quite evident in an interview with the Jewish Exponent:

Do you believe a unified Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel? If not, should Israel freeze all its building in eastern Jerusalem?

Specter: Jerusalem is the rightful capital of Israel. In 1983, I joined Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) in introducing legislation to require the U.S. Embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I continue to support legislation requiring such a move.

Sestak: Both issues are ones that should be worked out between Israel and the Palestinians with the United States “in the room”; nothing should be mandated — by the administration or by Congress — upon the two parties as a condition for peace or at the beginning of the peace process.

Hmm, doesn’t exactly sound like Sestak is solid on the issue. (Sestak’s office did not respond to an inquiry as to his position on this and other issues relating to Israel.)

Now, candidates are sometimes willing to take flack over their support from a politically controversial group in exchange for handsome financing. Many a Democrat, for example, has taken his lumps for ”being in the pocket of labor bosses”; the consolation is the robust funds they receive from organized labor. So has the J Street endorsement been worth the trouble it has caused Sestak?

It sure doesn’t look that way: “GOP U.S. Senate nominee Pat Toomey raised roughly $1 million more than Democratic opponent Joe Sestak in the latest fundraising quarter, according to numbers provided by each campaign Tuesday, another indication the Republican could posses a significant financial advantage in the general election race.” It seems that the J Street endorsement really isn’t paying off. It may be that pro-Israel voters in Pennsylvania are already voting — with their checkbooks — against Sestak. Unfortunately for Sestak, J Street hasn’t begun to make up the difference.

We’ll see how this plays out in Pennsylvania and in races around the country in which J Street has bestowed its endorsement, but perhaps not sufficient funds, on leftist Democrats. One lesson of this election may well be that a J Street endorsement is the kiss of political death for those foolish enough to adhere to its extreme agenda with the expectation that J Street can provide ample financial support.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Pay attention to how Obama behaves, not what he says.

Pay attention to the wailing on the left. “For many liberals, this is the summer of their discontent. Already disappointed with President Barack Obama’s ability to deliver on campaign promises, they now contemplate a slowing economic recovery and a good chance of Republican gains in November. Such developments would make enacting Obama’s agenda even more difficult.” It makes you wonder just how low Democratic turnout will be in November.

Pay attention to the circular firing squad — further evidence of the political damage Obama has wreaked on his party. “Democratic governors facing grim budget choices, lingering unemployment and angry voters are pointing a finger at their colleagues in Democratic-controlled Washington to explain this year’s toxic political climate. Few will directly fault President Barack Obama for their party’s plight heading into the fall midterm elections, but the state chief executives gathered here for the National Governors Association meeting believe Congress and the White House have made an already difficult year worse.”

Pay attention to how expectations have been lowered by the White House. Robert Gibbs on Meet the Press: “I think there’s no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall.  But I think there’s no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There’s no doubt about that. This will depend on strong campaigns by Democrats.” Notice how he shifts the onus to Democrats to save themselves from the negative impact of Obama.

Pay attention to the numbers. No matter how negative Obama’s rhetoric becomes, Mark McKinnon explains that: “It may not matter. The Democratic base is just not energized, unmoved by tired clichés and campaign retreads all about looking back. Blaming George W. Bush won’t help. About 132 million people voted in 2008. And if history repeats itself in the upcoming midterm elections, up to 40 million of them won’t show up again. Chances are many were one-time Obama voters.”

Pay attention to George Will on the “peace process”: “The Palestinians are holding out hoping that American pressure will be put on Israel to make concessions that they should be trying to get at the negotiating table, which makes me think that, once again, the peace process itself is the biggest impediment to peace. We’re constantly lecturing the Israelis, for whom getting up in the morning and getting on a bus can be a risk, that they ought to take a risk for peace. The Israelis say, we withdrew from Gaza. What did it get us? Hamas took over. We now have a terrorist state in Gaza armed with all kinds of rockets. We withdrew from southern Lebanon. Now we have Hezbollah dominating that with 65,000 short-range rockets and now scuds coming from Syria that can hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”

Pay attention – always — to Paul. “The mystic mollusc confirmed his flawless accuracy after Spain lifted the trophy, beating Holland 1-0. Paul has become England’s only hero of the tournament after accurately foretelling the result of all six matches involving Germany.”

Pay attention, Republican office holders, to Chris Christie. He’s got the right idea — be bold. “New Jersey would close its centralized car inspection lanes and motorists would pay for their own emissions tests under a sweeping set of recommendations set to be released by the Christie administration today. State parks, psychiatric hospitals and even turnpike toll booths could also be run by private operators, according to the 57-page report on privatization obtained by The Star-Ledger. Preschool classrooms would no longer be built at public expense, state employees would pay for parking and private vendors would dish out food, deliver health care and run education programs behind prison walls. All told, the report says, New Jersey could save at least $210 million a year by delivering an array of services through private hands.”

Pay attention to how Obama behaves, not what he says.

Pay attention to the wailing on the left. “For many liberals, this is the summer of their discontent. Already disappointed with President Barack Obama’s ability to deliver on campaign promises, they now contemplate a slowing economic recovery and a good chance of Republican gains in November. Such developments would make enacting Obama’s agenda even more difficult.” It makes you wonder just how low Democratic turnout will be in November.

Pay attention to the circular firing squad — further evidence of the political damage Obama has wreaked on his party. “Democratic governors facing grim budget choices, lingering unemployment and angry voters are pointing a finger at their colleagues in Democratic-controlled Washington to explain this year’s toxic political climate. Few will directly fault President Barack Obama for their party’s plight heading into the fall midterm elections, but the state chief executives gathered here for the National Governors Association meeting believe Congress and the White House have made an already difficult year worse.”

Pay attention to how expectations have been lowered by the White House. Robert Gibbs on Meet the Press: “I think there’s no doubt that there are a lot of seats that will be up, a lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall.  But I think there’s no doubt there are enough seats in play that could cause Republicans to gain control. There’s no doubt about that. This will depend on strong campaigns by Democrats.” Notice how he shifts the onus to Democrats to save themselves from the negative impact of Obama.

Pay attention to the numbers. No matter how negative Obama’s rhetoric becomes, Mark McKinnon explains that: “It may not matter. The Democratic base is just not energized, unmoved by tired clichés and campaign retreads all about looking back. Blaming George W. Bush won’t help. About 132 million people voted in 2008. And if history repeats itself in the upcoming midterm elections, up to 40 million of them won’t show up again. Chances are many were one-time Obama voters.”

Pay attention to George Will on the “peace process”: “The Palestinians are holding out hoping that American pressure will be put on Israel to make concessions that they should be trying to get at the negotiating table, which makes me think that, once again, the peace process itself is the biggest impediment to peace. We’re constantly lecturing the Israelis, for whom getting up in the morning and getting on a bus can be a risk, that they ought to take a risk for peace. The Israelis say, we withdrew from Gaza. What did it get us? Hamas took over. We now have a terrorist state in Gaza armed with all kinds of rockets. We withdrew from southern Lebanon. Now we have Hezbollah dominating that with 65,000 short-range rockets and now scuds coming from Syria that can hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”

Pay attention – always — to Paul. “The mystic mollusc confirmed his flawless accuracy after Spain lifted the trophy, beating Holland 1-0. Paul has become England’s only hero of the tournament after accurately foretelling the result of all six matches involving Germany.”

Pay attention, Republican office holders, to Chris Christie. He’s got the right idea — be bold. “New Jersey would close its centralized car inspection lanes and motorists would pay for their own emissions tests under a sweeping set of recommendations set to be released by the Christie administration today. State parks, psychiatric hospitals and even turnpike toll booths could also be run by private operators, according to the 57-page report on privatization obtained by The Star-Ledger. Preschool classrooms would no longer be built at public expense, state employees would pay for parking and private vendors would dish out food, deliver health care and run education programs behind prison walls. All told, the report says, New Jersey could save at least $210 million a year by delivering an array of services through private hands.”

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No Peace in Sight

Lee Smith’s latest column should be read by all those who are fixated on a two-state solution. In his conversation with Dore Gold and his review of Israel’s Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace (“essays about security and diplomacy by leading figures in Israel’s security establishment”), Smith provides some useful context for those obsessed with the “peace process”:

[E]veryone in Washington who believes that they know what Israel’s vision of a final settlement looks like is in for a surprise. Israel will have to retain security control over the Jordan rift valley, which means not just the river bank but the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge. It is important to remember that the West Bank overlooks Israel’s coastal plain and 70 percent of the country’s population. If the Hamas rockets fired from Gaza were launched from the West Bank on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it could bring Israel to its knees, disrupting the country’s economic and social life on a massive scale and shutting down Ben Gurion Airport. Moreover, Islamist militants from all around the region would attempt to transit through Jordan into the West Bank to launch attacks against the Zionist entity, destabilizing the Hashemite Kingdom.

To sum up, there is no peace partner for Israel to negotiate with and no territorial compromise that is currently feasible. But the Obami push on, oblivious to all of that — or perhaps intentionally filling the time as they fail to craft an approach that could thwart Iran’s nuclear program. But Smith finds a silver lining in the Obami’s cluelessness:

There is no going back to Oslo, no matter what the Obama Administration believes or hopes. Perhaps the only thing saving Netanyahu from having to fight with a U.S. president and thereby unnerve the Israeli electorate is the incompetence of the White House. Had Obama not pushed Netanyahu so hard on settlements, twice, he wouldn’t have pushed Mahmoud Abbas into a corner where it was impossible for the Palestinian president to be less intransigent than the United States, thus freezing the diplomatic process.

The paradox of the U.S. president’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause and lack of sympathy for Israeli territorial and security claims is that he has managed to fulfill the dreams of hard-liners on both sides and turn back the clock 20 years to before the ill-fated Oslo process even began. For the first time in two decades, the Palestinians and Israelis are not in direct negotiations. A final Palestinian-Israeli agreement couldn’t be further away, which means that Netanyahu can smile for the cameras and shake the president’s hand and breathe easily, now that he doesn’t have to explain that a peace deal, if it happens, won’t look like what everyone in Washington thinks it will.

We can understand the incompetence and utter unseriousness of the Obama team, but what is the excuse for Jewish groups? They mouth the same platitudes without answering the central dilemma: how is there to be peace with those who have not renounced terrorism, and why is “land for peace” still a viable approach? In some sense, Jewish groups are trapped in a paradigm that was central to their organizations’ missions for decades. The world has changed, the president is a change (from anyone who has previously occupied the Oval Office), and yet America Jewry is stuck in the Oslo time warp, championing a two-state solution that is not remotely attainable.

It is not only the administration that has to rethink its entire approach to Israel, but American Jewry as well. It’s time, I would suggest, to concentrate on what matters: preventing a nuclear Iran, enforcing UN resolution 1701 (regarding Lebanon), continuing support for economic development on the West Bank, and beating back attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state. As for the “peace process,” American Jewish leaders should stop pretending there’s any there there. And if they think there is, American Jewry needs savvier leaders.

Lee Smith’s latest column should be read by all those who are fixated on a two-state solution. In his conversation with Dore Gold and his review of Israel’s Critical Security Needs for a Viable Peace (“essays about security and diplomacy by leading figures in Israel’s security establishment”), Smith provides some useful context for those obsessed with the “peace process”:

[E]veryone in Washington who believes that they know what Israel’s vision of a final settlement looks like is in for a surprise. Israel will have to retain security control over the Jordan rift valley, which means not just the river bank but the eastern slopes of the West Bank hill ridge. It is important to remember that the West Bank overlooks Israel’s coastal plain and 70 percent of the country’s population. If the Hamas rockets fired from Gaza were launched from the West Bank on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it could bring Israel to its knees, disrupting the country’s economic and social life on a massive scale and shutting down Ben Gurion Airport. Moreover, Islamist militants from all around the region would attempt to transit through Jordan into the West Bank to launch attacks against the Zionist entity, destabilizing the Hashemite Kingdom.

To sum up, there is no peace partner for Israel to negotiate with and no territorial compromise that is currently feasible. But the Obami push on, oblivious to all of that — or perhaps intentionally filling the time as they fail to craft an approach that could thwart Iran’s nuclear program. But Smith finds a silver lining in the Obami’s cluelessness:

There is no going back to Oslo, no matter what the Obama Administration believes or hopes. Perhaps the only thing saving Netanyahu from having to fight with a U.S. president and thereby unnerve the Israeli electorate is the incompetence of the White House. Had Obama not pushed Netanyahu so hard on settlements, twice, he wouldn’t have pushed Mahmoud Abbas into a corner where it was impossible for the Palestinian president to be less intransigent than the United States, thus freezing the diplomatic process.

The paradox of the U.S. president’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause and lack of sympathy for Israeli territorial and security claims is that he has managed to fulfill the dreams of hard-liners on both sides and turn back the clock 20 years to before the ill-fated Oslo process even began. For the first time in two decades, the Palestinians and Israelis are not in direct negotiations. A final Palestinian-Israeli agreement couldn’t be further away, which means that Netanyahu can smile for the cameras and shake the president’s hand and breathe easily, now that he doesn’t have to explain that a peace deal, if it happens, won’t look like what everyone in Washington thinks it will.

We can understand the incompetence and utter unseriousness of the Obama team, but what is the excuse for Jewish groups? They mouth the same platitudes without answering the central dilemma: how is there to be peace with those who have not renounced terrorism, and why is “land for peace” still a viable approach? In some sense, Jewish groups are trapped in a paradigm that was central to their organizations’ missions for decades. The world has changed, the president is a change (from anyone who has previously occupied the Oval Office), and yet America Jewry is stuck in the Oslo time warp, championing a two-state solution that is not remotely attainable.

It is not only the administration that has to rethink its entire approach to Israel, but American Jewry as well. It’s time, I would suggest, to concentrate on what matters: preventing a nuclear Iran, enforcing UN resolution 1701 (regarding Lebanon), continuing support for economic development on the West Bank, and beating back attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state. As for the “peace process,” American Jewish leaders should stop pretending there’s any there there. And if they think there is, American Jewry needs savvier leaders.

Read Less

Say It in Arabic

David wondered yesterday why revolutionary statements by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been largely ignored by the mainstream media, and suggested that perhaps it’s because “it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state.” But there could be a far less sinister reason: The smarter Middle East hands have figured out by now that what Arab leaders say in English to American audiences is meaningless; what matters is what they are willing to say in Arabic to their own people. And so far, Abbas shows no sign of being willing to say the same in Arabic.

Granted, the statements represent progress: Even in English, I can’t recall Abbas ever before so openly acknowledging Jewish historical ties to the Middle East or Israel’s claim to (part of) Jerusalem. But in Arabic, the standard narrative continues to be that Jews are colonial interlopers with no claim whatsoever to the land. And as Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center perceptively noted, until this changes, peace will be impossible: Palestinians will not make peace unless they believe they can do so honorably, and this “depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land.”

It would be nice to think that Abbas’s statements last week were a dry run for the more difficult job of telling his countrymen the same things in Arabic. Far more likely, however, is that his goal was simply to woo liberal American Jews, who are presumably close to the Democratic administration, in the hope that they will in turn use their influence with the administration to help him secure his real goal — which is not a deal with Israel, but a deal with Barack Obama.

And that is not mere cynical speculation. It is, almost word for word, what a close associate quoted Abbas as saying less than three weeks ago.

According to the Jerusalem Post’s invaluable Khaled Abu Toameh, Abbas Zaki, who sits on the central committee of Abbas’s Fatah party, told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi paper in May that at a recent meeting with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, “President Abbas told Mitchell that the Israelis are no longer peace partners as much as the Americans are,” and therefore urged the U.S. to present its own peace proposals instead of waiting for an Israeli proposal.

“The Palestinian Authority is negotiating with Washington and not with Tel Aviv,” he added, lest anyone miss the message.

That interview, incidentally, occurred several days before Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. Numerous Western commentators have since blamed that raid for thwarting peace efforts. But as long as Abbas remains determined to negotiate with America rather than Israel, there can be no serious peace effort to thwart.

David wondered yesterday why revolutionary statements by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been largely ignored by the mainstream media, and suggested that perhaps it’s because “it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state.” But there could be a far less sinister reason: The smarter Middle East hands have figured out by now that what Arab leaders say in English to American audiences is meaningless; what matters is what they are willing to say in Arabic to their own people. And so far, Abbas shows no sign of being willing to say the same in Arabic.

Granted, the statements represent progress: Even in English, I can’t recall Abbas ever before so openly acknowledging Jewish historical ties to the Middle East or Israel’s claim to (part of) Jerusalem. But in Arabic, the standard narrative continues to be that Jews are colonial interlopers with no claim whatsoever to the land. And as Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center perceptively noted, until this changes, peace will be impossible: Palestinians will not make peace unless they believe they can do so honorably, and this “depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land.”

It would be nice to think that Abbas’s statements last week were a dry run for the more difficult job of telling his countrymen the same things in Arabic. Far more likely, however, is that his goal was simply to woo liberal American Jews, who are presumably close to the Democratic administration, in the hope that they will in turn use their influence with the administration to help him secure his real goal — which is not a deal with Israel, but a deal with Barack Obama.

And that is not mere cynical speculation. It is, almost word for word, what a close associate quoted Abbas as saying less than three weeks ago.

According to the Jerusalem Post’s invaluable Khaled Abu Toameh, Abbas Zaki, who sits on the central committee of Abbas’s Fatah party, told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi paper in May that at a recent meeting with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, “President Abbas told Mitchell that the Israelis are no longer peace partners as much as the Americans are,” and therefore urged the U.S. to present its own peace proposals instead of waiting for an Israeli proposal.

“The Palestinian Authority is negotiating with Washington and not with Tel Aviv,” he added, lest anyone miss the message.

That interview, incidentally, occurred several days before Israel’s botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. Numerous Western commentators have since blamed that raid for thwarting peace efforts. But as long as Abbas remains determined to negotiate with America rather than Israel, there can be no serious peace effort to thwart.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Thanks to the NAACP, Hallmark was forced to remove from the shelves space-themed cards that used the phrase “black hole.” The group’s professional grievants apparently misheard the second word. No kidding.

Thanks to Barack Obama, the Middle East is more dangerous than ever: “The Gaza flotilla incident might have been a great setback to the radical camp had the United States reacted sharply, defending Israel, condemning the jihadists on board and their sponsors in Turkey, blocking UN Security Council action, and refusing to sponsor another international inquiry that will condemn Israel. And Israel’s interests were not the only ones at stake: The blockade of Gaza is a joint Israeli-Egyptian action to weaken Hamas. But the American position reflects the Obama line: carefully balancing the interests of friend and foe, seeking to avoid offense to our enemies, or, as Churchill famously described British policy in the 1930s, ‘resolved to be irresolute.’ Middle Eastern states, including Arab regimes traditionally allied with the United States, view this pose as likely to get them all killed when enemies come knocking at the door.”

Thanks to Obama, Bobby Jindal has regained a lot of stature. He appears to be what Obama is not — competent, engaged, and proactive.

Thanks to Jon Stewart, Tim Pawlenty gets to show that he has a sense of humor.

Thanks to Leslie Gelb, we are reminded that things can always be worse: Robert Gates departs, Hillary Clinton goes to the Defense Department, and Chuck Hagel goes to the State Department. Oy.

Thanks to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, “a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 19% of voters think it would be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were reelected this November. Sixty-five percent (65%) disagree and say it would be better if most were defeated. Sixteen percent (16%) aren’t sure.”

Thanks to Obama, “people close to the president [Harmid Karzai] say he began to lose confidence in the Americans last summer, after national elections in which independent monitors determined that nearly one million ballots had been stolen on Mr. Karzai’s behalf. The rift worsened in December, when President Obama announced that he intended to begin reducing the number of American troops by the summer of 2011.” It’s no surprise, then, that “Mr. Karzai has been pressing to strike his own deal with the Taliban and the country’s archrival Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime supporter. According to a former senior Afghan official, Mr. Karzai’s maneuverings involve secret negotiations with the Taliban outside the purview of American and NATO officials.”

Thanks to Ben Bernanke, Rep. Gerry Connolly makes a fool of himself and his Republican challenger has a boffo campaign ad.

Thanks to Obama and the Democratic Congress, you’re probably not going to get to keep your health-care plan: “Over and over in the health care debate, President Barack Obama said people who like their current coverage would be able to keep it. But an early draft of an administration regulation estimates that many employers will be forced to make changes to their health plans under the new law. In just three years, a majority of workers—51 percent—will be in plans subject to new federal requirements, according to the draft.”

Thanks to Israel, there is a place in the Middle East where gays are not persecuted: “Tel Aviv embraced Israel’s GLBT community Friday as it hosted the 13th annual gay parade.Dozens of policemen and civilian police watched on as thousands marched, dancing and waving rainbow flags.”

Thanks to the economic-policy wizardry of the Obama administration: “U.S. consumers unexpectedly ratcheted back spending on everything from cars to clothing in May, adding to concerns that a volatile stock market and high unemployment are increasingly weighing down the economic recovery. The Commerce Department reported Friday that sales at retail establishments — including department stores, gas stations and restaurants — fell 1.2% in May from the previous month. The decline, driven by sharp drops in autos and building materials, was the first and largest since September 2009, when sales fell 2.2%.”

Thanks to the NAACP, Hallmark was forced to remove from the shelves space-themed cards that used the phrase “black hole.” The group’s professional grievants apparently misheard the second word. No kidding.

Thanks to Barack Obama, the Middle East is more dangerous than ever: “The Gaza flotilla incident might have been a great setback to the radical camp had the United States reacted sharply, defending Israel, condemning the jihadists on board and their sponsors in Turkey, blocking UN Security Council action, and refusing to sponsor another international inquiry that will condemn Israel. And Israel’s interests were not the only ones at stake: The blockade of Gaza is a joint Israeli-Egyptian action to weaken Hamas. But the American position reflects the Obama line: carefully balancing the interests of friend and foe, seeking to avoid offense to our enemies, or, as Churchill famously described British policy in the 1930s, ‘resolved to be irresolute.’ Middle Eastern states, including Arab regimes traditionally allied with the United States, view this pose as likely to get them all killed when enemies come knocking at the door.”

Thanks to Obama, Bobby Jindal has regained a lot of stature. He appears to be what Obama is not — competent, engaged, and proactive.

Thanks to Jon Stewart, Tim Pawlenty gets to show that he has a sense of humor.

Thanks to Leslie Gelb, we are reminded that things can always be worse: Robert Gates departs, Hillary Clinton goes to the Defense Department, and Chuck Hagel goes to the State Department. Oy.

Thanks to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, “a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 19% of voters think it would be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were reelected this November. Sixty-five percent (65%) disagree and say it would be better if most were defeated. Sixteen percent (16%) aren’t sure.”

Thanks to Obama, “people close to the president [Harmid Karzai] say he began to lose confidence in the Americans last summer, after national elections in which independent monitors determined that nearly one million ballots had been stolen on Mr. Karzai’s behalf. The rift worsened in December, when President Obama announced that he intended to begin reducing the number of American troops by the summer of 2011.” It’s no surprise, then, that “Mr. Karzai has been pressing to strike his own deal with the Taliban and the country’s archrival Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime supporter. According to a former senior Afghan official, Mr. Karzai’s maneuverings involve secret negotiations with the Taliban outside the purview of American and NATO officials.”

Thanks to Ben Bernanke, Rep. Gerry Connolly makes a fool of himself and his Republican challenger has a boffo campaign ad.

Thanks to Obama and the Democratic Congress, you’re probably not going to get to keep your health-care plan: “Over and over in the health care debate, President Barack Obama said people who like their current coverage would be able to keep it. But an early draft of an administration regulation estimates that many employers will be forced to make changes to their health plans under the new law. In just three years, a majority of workers—51 percent—will be in plans subject to new federal requirements, according to the draft.”

Thanks to Israel, there is a place in the Middle East where gays are not persecuted: “Tel Aviv embraced Israel’s GLBT community Friday as it hosted the 13th annual gay parade.Dozens of policemen and civilian police watched on as thousands marched, dancing and waving rainbow flags.”

Thanks to the economic-policy wizardry of the Obama administration: “U.S. consumers unexpectedly ratcheted back spending on everything from cars to clothing in May, adding to concerns that a volatile stock market and high unemployment are increasingly weighing down the economic recovery. The Commerce Department reported Friday that sales at retail establishments — including department stores, gas stations and restaurants — fell 1.2% in May from the previous month. The decline, driven by sharp drops in autos and building materials, was the first and largest since September 2009, when sales fell 2.2%.”

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Bibi’s Speech

Bibi Netanyahu delivered a full-throated defense of Israel and an attack on her critics on Wednesday. (To our Israeli comrades, I can only offer one suggestion — do it in the first news cycle.)

He makes clear that the flotilla is not the beginning of the story:

Last year, Israel acted to stop Hamas from firing thousands of rockets into Israel’s towns and cities. Hamas was firing on our civilians while hiding behind civilians. And Israel went to unprecedented lengths to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet it was Israel, and not Hamas, that was accused by the UN of war crimes. Now regrettably, the same thing appears to be happening now. But here are the facts. Hamas is smuggling thousands of Iranian rockets, missiles and other weaponry – smuggling it into Gaza in order to fire on Israel’s cities. These missiles can reach Ashdod and Beer Sheva – these are major Israeli cities. And I regret to say that some of them can reach now Tel Aviv, and very soon, the outskirts of Jerusalem. From the information we have, the planned shipments include weapons that can reach farther, even farther and deeper into Israel.

He reiterates Israel’s right of self-defense and doesn’t buy into the critics who from a safe distance sniff and declare that this was some abstract or unimportant matter:

This is not a theoretical challenge or a theoretical threat. We have already interdicted vessels bound for Hezbollah, and for Hamas from Iran, containing hundreds of tons of weapons.  In one ship, the Francop, we found hundreds of tons of war materiel and weapons destined for Hezbollah. In another celebrated case, the Karine A, dozens of tons of weapons were destined for Hamas by Iran via a shipment to Gaza. Israel simply cannot permit the free flow of weapons and war materials to Hamas from the sea.

I will go further than that. Israel cannot permit Iran to establish a Mediterranean port a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv and from Jerusalem.  And I would go beyond that too. I say to the responsible leaders of all the nations: The international community cannot afford an Iranian port in the Mediterranean. Fifteen years ago I cautioned about an Iranian development that has come to pass – people now recognize that danger. Today I warn of this impending willingness to enable Iran to establish a naval port right next to Israel, right next to Europe. The same countries that are criticizing us today should know that they will be targeted tomorrow.

Then he takes on the notion that the flotilla was needed for humanitarian reasons: “Humanitarian and other goods can go in and weapons and war materiel cannot. And we do let civilian goods into Gaza. There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Each week, an average of ten thousand tons of goods enter Gaza. There’s no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of medicine. There’s no shortage of other goods. On this occasion too, we made several offers – offers to deliver the goods on board the flotilla to Gaza after a security inspection. Egypt made similar offers.  And these offers were rejected time and again.”

Then the details of the battle:

Our naval personnel, just as they landed on the ship – you can see this in the videos – the first soldier – they were met with a vicious mob. They were stabbed, they were clubbed, they were fired upon. I talked to some of these soldiers. One was shot in the stomach, one was shot in the knee. They were going to be killed and they had to act in self-defense.

It is very clear to us that the attackers had prepared their violent action in advance. They were members of an extremist group that has supported international terrorist organizations and today support the terrorist organization called Hamas. They brought with them in advance knives, steel rods, other weapons. They chanted battle cries against the Jews. You can hear this on the tapes that have been released.

This was not a love boat. This was a hate boat. These weren’t pacifists. These weren’t peace activists. These were violent supporters of terrorism.

As for the second-guessers and those who want to set parameters — before any review is conducted and before the full facts are known — for what is and is not permitted in the name of Israeli self-defense:

Once again, Israel is told that it has a right to defend itself but is condemned every time it exercises that right. Now you know that a right that you cannot exercise is meaningless. And you know that the way we exercise it – under these conditions of duress, under the rocketing of our cities, under the impending killing of our soldiers – you know that we exercise it in a way that is commensurate with any international standard. I have spoken to leading leaders of the world, and I say the same thing today to the international community: What would you do? How would you stop thousands of rockets that are destined to attack your cities, your civilians, your children? How would your soldiers behave under similar circumstances? I think in your hearts, you all know the truth.

Israel regrets the loss of life. But we will never apologize for defending ourselves. Israel has every right to prevent deadly weapons from entering into hostile territory. And Israeli soldiers have every right to defend their lives and their country.

He makes a plea then for a cessation of double standards and for Israel to be treated “just like any other state.”

Other than being a bit quicker with the statement, I have only one quibble: he should not apologize for the loss of life. Did we apologize in WWII when we killed Nazis? Do we apologize when we kill Taliban fighters? The notion that these are innocent bystanders in the war to destroy the Jewish state is wrong — they were participants. Yes, yes, it’s a small tip of the hat to public opinion , but we could do without any concessions to the howling mob right now.

I have neither the intelligence data nor the expertise — who but the Israelis do at this point? — to claim that there were alternatives to the raid. (Each situation is unique, so other really smart operations don’t necessarily work in different situations.) In due time –after the situation has cooled — we will have an assessment from Israelis with complete data. And as soon as Israel starts getting praised by the UN for restraint, I’ll argue it should show more. But for now, I’ll offer a hearty “Right on!” and suggest that in a nation using drone weapons to kill terrorists that inevitably kill civilians, we should promote the idea, not undermine it, that the international community doesn’t get to set the rules of war for democratic nations that have internal checks and balances and that respect the rule of law. In sum, Israel, like the U.S., gets to decide for itself, subject to its own laws and its own free press and democratic system, what is “proportional” and what is essential to its own security.

Bibi Netanyahu delivered a full-throated defense of Israel and an attack on her critics on Wednesday. (To our Israeli comrades, I can only offer one suggestion — do it in the first news cycle.)

He makes clear that the flotilla is not the beginning of the story:

Last year, Israel acted to stop Hamas from firing thousands of rockets into Israel’s towns and cities. Hamas was firing on our civilians while hiding behind civilians. And Israel went to unprecedented lengths to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet it was Israel, and not Hamas, that was accused by the UN of war crimes. Now regrettably, the same thing appears to be happening now. But here are the facts. Hamas is smuggling thousands of Iranian rockets, missiles and other weaponry – smuggling it into Gaza in order to fire on Israel’s cities. These missiles can reach Ashdod and Beer Sheva – these are major Israeli cities. And I regret to say that some of them can reach now Tel Aviv, and very soon, the outskirts of Jerusalem. From the information we have, the planned shipments include weapons that can reach farther, even farther and deeper into Israel.

He reiterates Israel’s right of self-defense and doesn’t buy into the critics who from a safe distance sniff and declare that this was some abstract or unimportant matter:

This is not a theoretical challenge or a theoretical threat. We have already interdicted vessels bound for Hezbollah, and for Hamas from Iran, containing hundreds of tons of weapons.  In one ship, the Francop, we found hundreds of tons of war materiel and weapons destined for Hezbollah. In another celebrated case, the Karine A, dozens of tons of weapons were destined for Hamas by Iran via a shipment to Gaza. Israel simply cannot permit the free flow of weapons and war materials to Hamas from the sea.

I will go further than that. Israel cannot permit Iran to establish a Mediterranean port a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv and from Jerusalem.  And I would go beyond that too. I say to the responsible leaders of all the nations: The international community cannot afford an Iranian port in the Mediterranean. Fifteen years ago I cautioned about an Iranian development that has come to pass – people now recognize that danger. Today I warn of this impending willingness to enable Iran to establish a naval port right next to Israel, right next to Europe. The same countries that are criticizing us today should know that they will be targeted tomorrow.

Then he takes on the notion that the flotilla was needed for humanitarian reasons: “Humanitarian and other goods can go in and weapons and war materiel cannot. And we do let civilian goods into Gaza. There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Each week, an average of ten thousand tons of goods enter Gaza. There’s no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of medicine. There’s no shortage of other goods. On this occasion too, we made several offers – offers to deliver the goods on board the flotilla to Gaza after a security inspection. Egypt made similar offers.  And these offers were rejected time and again.”

Then the details of the battle:

Our naval personnel, just as they landed on the ship – you can see this in the videos – the first soldier – they were met with a vicious mob. They were stabbed, they were clubbed, they were fired upon. I talked to some of these soldiers. One was shot in the stomach, one was shot in the knee. They were going to be killed and they had to act in self-defense.

It is very clear to us that the attackers had prepared their violent action in advance. They were members of an extremist group that has supported international terrorist organizations and today support the terrorist organization called Hamas. They brought with them in advance knives, steel rods, other weapons. They chanted battle cries against the Jews. You can hear this on the tapes that have been released.

This was not a love boat. This was a hate boat. These weren’t pacifists. These weren’t peace activists. These were violent supporters of terrorism.

As for the second-guessers and those who want to set parameters — before any review is conducted and before the full facts are known — for what is and is not permitted in the name of Israeli self-defense:

Once again, Israel is told that it has a right to defend itself but is condemned every time it exercises that right. Now you know that a right that you cannot exercise is meaningless. And you know that the way we exercise it – under these conditions of duress, under the rocketing of our cities, under the impending killing of our soldiers – you know that we exercise it in a way that is commensurate with any international standard. I have spoken to leading leaders of the world, and I say the same thing today to the international community: What would you do? How would you stop thousands of rockets that are destined to attack your cities, your civilians, your children? How would your soldiers behave under similar circumstances? I think in your hearts, you all know the truth.

Israel regrets the loss of life. But we will never apologize for defending ourselves. Israel has every right to prevent deadly weapons from entering into hostile territory. And Israeli soldiers have every right to defend their lives and their country.

He makes a plea then for a cessation of double standards and for Israel to be treated “just like any other state.”

Other than being a bit quicker with the statement, I have only one quibble: he should not apologize for the loss of life. Did we apologize in WWII when we killed Nazis? Do we apologize when we kill Taliban fighters? The notion that these are innocent bystanders in the war to destroy the Jewish state is wrong — they were participants. Yes, yes, it’s a small tip of the hat to public opinion , but we could do without any concessions to the howling mob right now.

I have neither the intelligence data nor the expertise — who but the Israelis do at this point? — to claim that there were alternatives to the raid. (Each situation is unique, so other really smart operations don’t necessarily work in different situations.) In due time –after the situation has cooled — we will have an assessment from Israelis with complete data. And as soon as Israel starts getting praised by the UN for restraint, I’ll argue it should show more. But for now, I’ll offer a hearty “Right on!” and suggest that in a nation using drone weapons to kill terrorists that inevitably kill civilians, we should promote the idea, not undermine it, that the international community doesn’t get to set the rules of war for democratic nations that have internal checks and balances and that respect the rule of law. In sum, Israel, like the U.S., gets to decide for itself, subject to its own laws and its own free press and democratic system, what is “proportional” and what is essential to its own security.

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So How About That Blockade?

I don’t know if Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a good idea or a bad idea. After the incident in the Mediterranean earlier this week, though, when blockade runners on the Mavi Marmara ship attacked Israeli forces and were shot and killed in the process, Israel is likely to face more pressure than ever to lift it.

Let’s be honest about what that would mean.

Hezbollah in Lebanon, which shares a land border with Syria and is not under blockade, has a gigantic arsenal of rockets and missiles, more than most governments in the Middle East, and that arsenal includes missiles that can reach every single inch of Israeli territory, including Jerusalem, downtown Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear power plant. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah will likely mean missiles, artillery shells, and payloads from air strikes will explode all over the Eastern Mediterranean, making last year’s small war in Gaza look even smaller.

Hamas has a relatively tiny arsenal of crude rockets, but if the Gaza Strip were not under military blockade, it could acquire whatever weapons Syria and Iran felt like sending by ship. Gaza could bristle with as many destructive projectiles as Hezbollah has. Food and medicines are allowed into the Strip already, so the most significant difference between Gaza now and a Gaza without a blockade will be the importation of weapons and war material.

More Israelis would be likely to die during the ensuing hostilities, and an even larger number of Palestinians would be likely to die when Israel fights back harder against a better armed and more dangerous adversary.

There’s a case to be made for lifting the blockade, even so. The living standards of Gaza residents might rise a little, and the long list of reasons to gripe about Israel will shorten by one. It doesn’t quite seem worth it to me, but I’m not in charge of these things.

I don’t know if Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a good idea or a bad idea. After the incident in the Mediterranean earlier this week, though, when blockade runners on the Mavi Marmara ship attacked Israeli forces and were shot and killed in the process, Israel is likely to face more pressure than ever to lift it.

Let’s be honest about what that would mean.

Hezbollah in Lebanon, which shares a land border with Syria and is not under blockade, has a gigantic arsenal of rockets and missiles, more than most governments in the Middle East, and that arsenal includes missiles that can reach every single inch of Israeli territory, including Jerusalem, downtown Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the Dimona nuclear power plant. The next war between Israel and Hezbollah will likely mean missiles, artillery shells, and payloads from air strikes will explode all over the Eastern Mediterranean, making last year’s small war in Gaza look even smaller.

Hamas has a relatively tiny arsenal of crude rockets, but if the Gaza Strip were not under military blockade, it could acquire whatever weapons Syria and Iran felt like sending by ship. Gaza could bristle with as many destructive projectiles as Hezbollah has. Food and medicines are allowed into the Strip already, so the most significant difference between Gaza now and a Gaza without a blockade will be the importation of weapons and war material.

More Israelis would be likely to die during the ensuing hostilities, and an even larger number of Palestinians would be likely to die when Israel fights back harder against a better armed and more dangerous adversary.

There’s a case to be made for lifting the blockade, even so. The living standards of Gaza residents might rise a little, and the long list of reasons to gripe about Israel will shorten by one. It doesn’t quite seem worth it to me, but I’m not in charge of these things.

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Why Obama Won’t Be Going to Israel

Jen’s post on the White House rabbinical meetings contained this summary of the rabbis’ input:

[Rabbi Jack] Moline said the major responses from the rabbis were to urge Obama to visit Israel, to express some concern of there being a double standard for Israel and to tell Obama that they were not “confident from the President himself that he feels Israel in his kishkes.”

The rabbis thus echoed the request that 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers made in their own meeting with Obama last week: go to Israel and give a speech (“Message: I care”). It is the same request that liberal Israeli and American columnists made last year. It will be ignored again, for at least four reasons.

First, Obama cannot give the speech without changing the underlying policy that necessitated it in the first place. He has adopted a foreign policy that relies on putting daylight between the U.S. and Israel to “reset” our relations with the Arab and Muslim world. There cannot be a Jerusalem speech to offset the Cairo one — because one of the principal purposes of the latter was precisely to demonstrate that Israel no longer enjoys its former position in American foreign policy.

Second, Obama is unlikely to risk a less-than-admiring reception from the Knesset, which often — as does the British Parliament — features simultaneous rebuttals from the floor. These days, Obama does not even risk prime-time press conferences in the United States. His last interview was with Bono.

Third, a Knesset speech would invite comparisons with George W. Bush’s Knesset address — which, Seth Lipsky correctly observed, “will stand as a measure for those who follow him” and which captured an extraordinary moment in history. Speaking on Israel Independence Day, Bush began as follows:

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people, Eretz Yisrael.

Obama cannot approximate Bush’s address, because he does not share Bush’s perspective.

Fourth, even if Obama gave a comparable speech, it would not be believed. His actions — reneging on his pledge of an undivided Jerusalem; failing to honor U.S. understandings regarding settlements; ignoring the commitments in the 2004 Bush letter, given in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal; failing to visit Israel when he visited Turkey, failing again when he visited Egypt, and failing again over the past 12 months; slurring Israel in his Cairo speech; telling U.S. Jewish groups that closeness to Israel had resulted in “no progress” in the peace process; attempting to attend the Durban II conference; awarding a presidential medal to Durban I’s Mary Robinson; granting legitimacy to the anti-Semitic UN Human Rights Council; demanding compliance with Palestinian preconditions for peace negotiations; repeatedly humiliating Israel’s prime minister during his U.S. visits; castigating Israel for planning Jewish homes in the Jewish area of the Jewish capital; endless patience with Iran combined with public impatience with Israel; etc. — represent a record that cannot be corrected merely with a speech, even if it begins with “Let me be clear.”

The rabbis hope for a speech in Israel to show how Obama feels in his kishkes, but it is not going to happen. In any event, we already know how Obama feels, and the gently-phrased response of the rabbis (they are not “confident” about him) suggests that, despite their reluctance to admit it, they know it too.

Jen’s post on the White House rabbinical meetings contained this summary of the rabbis’ input:

[Rabbi Jack] Moline said the major responses from the rabbis were to urge Obama to visit Israel, to express some concern of there being a double standard for Israel and to tell Obama that they were not “confident from the President himself that he feels Israel in his kishkes.”

The rabbis thus echoed the request that 37 Jewish Democratic lawmakers made in their own meeting with Obama last week: go to Israel and give a speech (“Message: I care”). It is the same request that liberal Israeli and American columnists made last year. It will be ignored again, for at least four reasons.

First, Obama cannot give the speech without changing the underlying policy that necessitated it in the first place. He has adopted a foreign policy that relies on putting daylight between the U.S. and Israel to “reset” our relations with the Arab and Muslim world. There cannot be a Jerusalem speech to offset the Cairo one — because one of the principal purposes of the latter was precisely to demonstrate that Israel no longer enjoys its former position in American foreign policy.

Second, Obama is unlikely to risk a less-than-admiring reception from the Knesset, which often — as does the British Parliament — features simultaneous rebuttals from the floor. These days, Obama does not even risk prime-time press conferences in the United States. His last interview was with Bono.

Third, a Knesset speech would invite comparisons with George W. Bush’s Knesset address — which, Seth Lipsky correctly observed, “will stand as a measure for those who follow him” and which captured an extraordinary moment in history. Speaking on Israel Independence Day, Bush began as follows:

We gather to mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel’s independence, founded on the “natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.” What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people, Eretz Yisrael.

Obama cannot approximate Bush’s address, because he does not share Bush’s perspective.

Fourth, even if Obama gave a comparable speech, it would not be believed. His actions — reneging on his pledge of an undivided Jerusalem; failing to honor U.S. understandings regarding settlements; ignoring the commitments in the 2004 Bush letter, given in exchange for the Gaza withdrawal; failing to visit Israel when he visited Turkey, failing again when he visited Egypt, and failing again over the past 12 months; slurring Israel in his Cairo speech; telling U.S. Jewish groups that closeness to Israel had resulted in “no progress” in the peace process; attempting to attend the Durban II conference; awarding a presidential medal to Durban I’s Mary Robinson; granting legitimacy to the anti-Semitic UN Human Rights Council; demanding compliance with Palestinian preconditions for peace negotiations; repeatedly humiliating Israel’s prime minister during his U.S. visits; castigating Israel for planning Jewish homes in the Jewish area of the Jewish capital; endless patience with Iran combined with public impatience with Israel; etc. — represent a record that cannot be corrected merely with a speech, even if it begins with “Let me be clear.”

The rabbis hope for a speech in Israel to show how Obama feels in his kishkes, but it is not going to happen. In any event, we already know how Obama feels, and the gently-phrased response of the rabbis (they are not “confident” about him) suggests that, despite their reluctance to admit it, they know it too.

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Obama’s Backing of Israeli Rocket Shield: Charm Offensive or Harbinger of More Pressure?

The White House’s charm offensive toward Israel’s supporters continued this week with a nice dividend for the Jewish state: financial backing for the country’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system designed to protect Israeli towns against Palestinian rocket attacks. Haaretz reported yesterday that the Pentagon informed Israel’s Defense Ministry that the president had approved the transfer of $205 million for the purchase of 10 Iron Dome batteries that could help shield southern Israelis towns such as Sderot that have been battered in the past by Katyushas and Qassam missiles from Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

Iron Dome has, of course, been in the works for years, and the decision is merely a continuation of U.S. support for the project that began during the Bush administration. But to Israel’s great frustration, approval of the money for these purchases had been held up for the past couple of years. Obama’s critics could well point out that he deserves the blame for stalling the Israelis for the past 16 months as well as the credit for the final approval. That said, if the weapons system works as well in practice as it did in tests, it has the potential to minimize the missile threat from Gaza in the future.

The timing of the decision may have been dictated by the administration’s desire to walk back from the hostility its stands on Jerusalem and insults to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked from friends of Israel. The charm offensive belies the left’s claims that most American Jews back Obama’s Israel-bashing. The White House’s clear desire to undo the impression it had previously sought to foster of America distancing itself from the Jewish state is an indication that it doesn’t believe most American Jews support a policy of further pressure on Israel.

However, backing for the Iron Dome project may have another context. Even if the system isn’t foolproof, should a new terrorist offensive against Israel be launched either in the south by Hamas or, as widely anticipated, in the north by an even more heavily armed Hezbollah, a defensive shield against rocket attacks could give the administration the leverage it needs to prevent substantial Israeli counterattacks against either threat. Moreover, in the unlikely event that the “proximity” talks with the Palestinian Authority make progress, the existence of even a leaky missile shield will strengthen American pressure on Israel to make further territorial surrenders to the Palestinians. After all, the reason why most Israelis are aghast at the prospect of a further pullback in the West Bank is the knowledge that such a move could put virtually all central Israel — and the vast majority of the Israeli population — in missile range and potentially put the metropolis of Tel Aviv in the same sorry condition as bloodied and battered Sderot.

Seen in this light, the American money spent on Iron Dome batteries could help buy future Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Though the anti-missile defense the program promises is desperately needed by Israel — and a move for which Obama deserves applause — it is an open question whether the country will be better off or more secure if this charm offensive purchase is the harbinger of more American pressure.

The White House’s charm offensive toward Israel’s supporters continued this week with a nice dividend for the Jewish state: financial backing for the country’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system designed to protect Israeli towns against Palestinian rocket attacks. Haaretz reported yesterday that the Pentagon informed Israel’s Defense Ministry that the president had approved the transfer of $205 million for the purchase of 10 Iron Dome batteries that could help shield southern Israelis towns such as Sderot that have been battered in the past by Katyushas and Qassam missiles from Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

Iron Dome has, of course, been in the works for years, and the decision is merely a continuation of U.S. support for the project that began during the Bush administration. But to Israel’s great frustration, approval of the money for these purchases had been held up for the past couple of years. Obama’s critics could well point out that he deserves the blame for stalling the Israelis for the past 16 months as well as the credit for the final approval. That said, if the weapons system works as well in practice as it did in tests, it has the potential to minimize the missile threat from Gaza in the future.

The timing of the decision may have been dictated by the administration’s desire to walk back from the hostility its stands on Jerusalem and insults to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked from friends of Israel. The charm offensive belies the left’s claims that most American Jews back Obama’s Israel-bashing. The White House’s clear desire to undo the impression it had previously sought to foster of America distancing itself from the Jewish state is an indication that it doesn’t believe most American Jews support a policy of further pressure on Israel.

However, backing for the Iron Dome project may have another context. Even if the system isn’t foolproof, should a new terrorist offensive against Israel be launched either in the south by Hamas or, as widely anticipated, in the north by an even more heavily armed Hezbollah, a defensive shield against rocket attacks could give the administration the leverage it needs to prevent substantial Israeli counterattacks against either threat. Moreover, in the unlikely event that the “proximity” talks with the Palestinian Authority make progress, the existence of even a leaky missile shield will strengthen American pressure on Israel to make further territorial surrenders to the Palestinians. After all, the reason why most Israelis are aghast at the prospect of a further pullback in the West Bank is the knowledge that such a move could put virtually all central Israel — and the vast majority of the Israeli population — in missile range and potentially put the metropolis of Tel Aviv in the same sorry condition as bloodied and battered Sderot.

Seen in this light, the American money spent on Iron Dome batteries could help buy future Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Though the anti-missile defense the program promises is desperately needed by Israel — and a move for which Obama deserves applause — it is an open question whether the country will be better off or more secure if this charm offensive purchase is the harbinger of more American pressure.

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Times Square Bomb: An Israeli Perspective

Like all of us, I am greatly relieved that the Times Square car bomb didn’t go off, that we can talk about fear rather than death, about catching the perps rather than treating the wounded and comforting the bereaved. Judging from news reports, the bomb seems to be the work of amateurs more concerned with not being detected as they bought their supplies than with the actual deadliness of the explosion. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, has called it a “one-off.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Because if she’s not, what now looks like a policing success will start to look more and more like an intelligence failure. Here in Israel, the security of citizens has been bought after many years of fighting bombers, suicide and otherwise, the success of which battles forced our enemies to resort to lobbing rockets across the southern and northern borders — still a war, but somehow a lot more tolerable. Yes, part of it was good policing and the alert responses of civilians, some of them armed, in tough situations. And part of the credit goes to building a big, long wall between us and the terrorist hornet’s nests in the West Bank and Gaza. But the biggest factor in preventing terror attacks today is undoubtedly the vast intelligence apparatus that has prevented literally thousands of attacks like the Times Square bomb from being launched in the first place. Many of the IDF operations you hear about, and many more that never make the news, are acting on intel about planned terror attacks. Terrorists are arrested, sometimes killed, before they make it to our teeming public squares.

There is little one can do to prevent a determined nutcase, acting alone, from buying stuff that can blow up and parking his car in a public place. But if it turns out that the Taliban really were behind it, or that some other international terror group has determined to wreak havoc on New Yorkers again, the first question to ask will be why intel didn’t know about it in time to prevent it. It may sound unfair to place that kind of a burden on intelligence — after all, they can’t know everything, can they? But it’s been by setting the bar that high, and by allocating the resources to make it realistic, that has made it possible for me today to sit on a train between Tel Aviv and Haifa and write these words to you without feeling like my life is at risk.

Of course, America is much bigger, and its terrorist enemies live across Asia and the Middle East, not just in the relatively small areas of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other places. Yes, America is much bigger — but then again, so is the federal budget, right?

Like all of us, I am greatly relieved that the Times Square car bomb didn’t go off, that we can talk about fear rather than death, about catching the perps rather than treating the wounded and comforting the bereaved. Judging from news reports, the bomb seems to be the work of amateurs more concerned with not being detected as they bought their supplies than with the actual deadliness of the explosion. Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, has called it a “one-off.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Because if she’s not, what now looks like a policing success will start to look more and more like an intelligence failure. Here in Israel, the security of citizens has been bought after many years of fighting bombers, suicide and otherwise, the success of which battles forced our enemies to resort to lobbing rockets across the southern and northern borders — still a war, but somehow a lot more tolerable. Yes, part of it was good policing and the alert responses of civilians, some of them armed, in tough situations. And part of the credit goes to building a big, long wall between us and the terrorist hornet’s nests in the West Bank and Gaza. But the biggest factor in preventing terror attacks today is undoubtedly the vast intelligence apparatus that has prevented literally thousands of attacks like the Times Square bomb from being launched in the first place. Many of the IDF operations you hear about, and many more that never make the news, are acting on intel about planned terror attacks. Terrorists are arrested, sometimes killed, before they make it to our teeming public squares.

There is little one can do to prevent a determined nutcase, acting alone, from buying stuff that can blow up and parking his car in a public place. But if it turns out that the Taliban really were behind it, or that some other international terror group has determined to wreak havoc on New Yorkers again, the first question to ask will be why intel didn’t know about it in time to prevent it. It may sound unfair to place that kind of a burden on intelligence — after all, they can’t know everything, can they? But it’s been by setting the bar that high, and by allocating the resources to make it realistic, that has made it possible for me today to sit on a train between Tel Aviv and Haifa and write these words to you without feeling like my life is at risk.

Of course, America is much bigger, and its terrorist enemies live across Asia and the Middle East, not just in the relatively small areas of the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and a few other places. Yes, America is much bigger — but then again, so is the federal budget, right?

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John McCain: Pull the Trigger

John McCain and Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday had the following exchange over the news that Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent up a warning flare that Obama doesn’t have a viable plan to prevent the mullahs from going nuclear:

MCCAIN: I didn’t need a secret memo from Mr. Gates to ascertain that. We do not have a coherent policy. I think that’s pretty obvious. We keep threatening sanctions. We keep, for well over a year now — in fact, including the previous administration — we keep threatening.

And obviously, we have not done anything that would in any way be viewed effective. Former secretary of state George Shultz once told me — he said, My old Marine drill instructor said never point a gun at somebody unless you’re willing to pull the trigger.

We have to be willing to pull the trigger on significant sanctions. And then we have to make plans for whatever contingencies follow if those sanctions are not effective. … I believe that the Chinese and the Russians will not be particularly helpful.

So why don’t we get our European allies together and let’s impose sanctions from that aspect of it? Maybe that would embarrass somehow or force the Russians and Chinese to act in a more cooperative fashion.

WALLACE: So forget the U.N., just impose …

MCCAIN: Maybe not forget the U.N., but certainly go ahead and move forward with some serious, meaningful sanctions.

WALLACE: What are sanctions?

MCCAIN: Well, refined petroleum products is one. The other, I think, is stand up for the human rights of the people of Iran. Put the pictures of those people who were brutalizing and killing and torturing the demonstrators and the people who are standing up for their God-given rights. Make them famous. We did that in certain respects during the Cold War.

WALLACE: And what about military action?

MCCAIN: Well, I think, obviously, every contingency has to be on the table. I think that we — it’s pretty clear that the Israelis cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran. We saw news reports that the Syrians have moved Scud missiles into southern Lebanon. That is a serious escalatory move. Now Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are within range of Scud missiles.

So I think that we have to have contingency plans. But I do agree with most experts. Let’s try to get the pressure on from all directions, tough, tough sanctions, and stand up for the people that want and obviously are demonstrating in the streets and are being brutalized in the prisons.

The fact that Gates’s January memo was leaked now — following Obama’s dog-and-pony nuclear summit show – suggests that someone in the administration is nervous that the Obami have made precious little progress in devising an alternative to its que sera, sera stance toward a nuclear-armed Iran. The choice comes down to this: Obama’s mini-sanctions (which increasingly seem to be a slow walk to containment) or the toughest unilateral sanctions we can muster with a credible threat of military force if those sanctions don’t succeed. Unfortunately, by downplaying the use of force (and let’s be candid, Gates contributed to this by contributing his fair share of the bad-mouthing), such a threat is going to be all the more difficult to muster.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Obami have done an extremely effective job of eliminating or hampering the most serious options for thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It may come as news to the Gray Lady’s readers, but for Obama’s conservative critics, it’s hardly surprising that when a president is reluctant to flex America’s “hard power,” the world becomes a more dangerous place.

John McCain and Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday had the following exchange over the news that Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent up a warning flare that Obama doesn’t have a viable plan to prevent the mullahs from going nuclear:

MCCAIN: I didn’t need a secret memo from Mr. Gates to ascertain that. We do not have a coherent policy. I think that’s pretty obvious. We keep threatening sanctions. We keep, for well over a year now — in fact, including the previous administration — we keep threatening.

And obviously, we have not done anything that would in any way be viewed effective. Former secretary of state George Shultz once told me — he said, My old Marine drill instructor said never point a gun at somebody unless you’re willing to pull the trigger.

We have to be willing to pull the trigger on significant sanctions. And then we have to make plans for whatever contingencies follow if those sanctions are not effective. … I believe that the Chinese and the Russians will not be particularly helpful.

So why don’t we get our European allies together and let’s impose sanctions from that aspect of it? Maybe that would embarrass somehow or force the Russians and Chinese to act in a more cooperative fashion.

WALLACE: So forget the U.N., just impose …

MCCAIN: Maybe not forget the U.N., but certainly go ahead and move forward with some serious, meaningful sanctions.

WALLACE: What are sanctions?

MCCAIN: Well, refined petroleum products is one. The other, I think, is stand up for the human rights of the people of Iran. Put the pictures of those people who were brutalizing and killing and torturing the demonstrators and the people who are standing up for their God-given rights. Make them famous. We did that in certain respects during the Cold War.

WALLACE: And what about military action?

MCCAIN: Well, I think, obviously, every contingency has to be on the table. I think that we — it’s pretty clear that the Israelis cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran. We saw news reports that the Syrians have moved Scud missiles into southern Lebanon. That is a serious escalatory move. Now Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are within range of Scud missiles.

So I think that we have to have contingency plans. But I do agree with most experts. Let’s try to get the pressure on from all directions, tough, tough sanctions, and stand up for the people that want and obviously are demonstrating in the streets and are being brutalized in the prisons.

The fact that Gates’s January memo was leaked now — following Obama’s dog-and-pony nuclear summit show – suggests that someone in the administration is nervous that the Obami have made precious little progress in devising an alternative to its que sera, sera stance toward a nuclear-armed Iran. The choice comes down to this: Obama’s mini-sanctions (which increasingly seem to be a slow walk to containment) or the toughest unilateral sanctions we can muster with a credible threat of military force if those sanctions don’t succeed. Unfortunately, by downplaying the use of force (and let’s be candid, Gates contributed to this by contributing his fair share of the bad-mouthing), such a threat is going to be all the more difficult to muster.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Obami have done an extremely effective job of eliminating or hampering the most serious options for thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It may come as news to the Gray Lady’s readers, but for Obama’s conservative critics, it’s hardly surprising that when a president is reluctant to flex America’s “hard power,” the world becomes a more dangerous place.

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Let Them Meet Steel

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

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Bashar Assad Takes the Measure of Barack Obama

There is an important story in today’s Wall Street Journal that says a lot about how the Middle East is changing in the era of smart diplomacy:

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has transferred long-range Scud missiles to the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah in a move that threatens to alter the Middle East’s military balance, Israeli and U.S. officials alleged. …

Officials briefed on the intelligence said Israeli and American officials believe Lebanon transferred Scud D missiles to Hezbollah that were built with either North Korean or Russian technology.

The Scuds are believed to have a range of over 430 miles, placing Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s nuclear installations at Dimona all within range of Hezbollah’s military forces. …

Israeli officials said this week that Scud D missiles were “game-changing” armaments that marked a new escalation in the Mideast conflict. They charged Mr. Assad with further fusing Syria’s military command with Hezbollah’s and Iran’s and breaking clearly defined red-lines established by Israel’s defense forces.

The Scud-D has been around for decades; why is it being transferred to Hezbollah at this particular moment? There are two likely reasons: (1) the White House has become the most prominent Western critic of Israel, and Syria is confident that President Obama will not do much to either punish an Israeli enemy or speak clearly in Israel’s defense. (2) Under the Obama Doctrine, many enemies of America are treated with kindness in order to prove that they should not fear us, under the theory that once the fear is gone, there will be very little to obstruct the progression of smooth relations. The engagement policy thus requires the overlooking of all kinds of bad behavior.

Syria, it appears, has made an accurate calculation on both of the above counts.

Remember how critics of the Bush administration always said that the neocon cowboys in the White House clung stubbornly to failed policies out of ideological conviction? Here’s the final paragraph of the WSJ story:

U.S. officials stressed, however, that the White House wasn’t second-guessing its engagement strategy and was pushing forward with Mr. Ford’s nomination. “Sending an Ambassador to Syria who can press the Syrian government in a firm and coordinated fashion … is part of our strategy to achieve comprehensive peace in the region,” the White House said in a statement.

I’m sure Mr. Ford is a talented diplomat, but is there any chance that his presence in Damascus would have stopped the transfer of long-range missiles to Hezbollah?

There is an important story in today’s Wall Street Journal that says a lot about how the Middle East is changing in the era of smart diplomacy:

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has transferred long-range Scud missiles to the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah in a move that threatens to alter the Middle East’s military balance, Israeli and U.S. officials alleged. …

Officials briefed on the intelligence said Israeli and American officials believe Lebanon transferred Scud D missiles to Hezbollah that were built with either North Korean or Russian technology.

The Scuds are believed to have a range of over 430 miles, placing Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s nuclear installations at Dimona all within range of Hezbollah’s military forces. …

Israeli officials said this week that Scud D missiles were “game-changing” armaments that marked a new escalation in the Mideast conflict. They charged Mr. Assad with further fusing Syria’s military command with Hezbollah’s and Iran’s and breaking clearly defined red-lines established by Israel’s defense forces.

The Scud-D has been around for decades; why is it being transferred to Hezbollah at this particular moment? There are two likely reasons: (1) the White House has become the most prominent Western critic of Israel, and Syria is confident that President Obama will not do much to either punish an Israeli enemy or speak clearly in Israel’s defense. (2) Under the Obama Doctrine, many enemies of America are treated with kindness in order to prove that they should not fear us, under the theory that once the fear is gone, there will be very little to obstruct the progression of smooth relations. The engagement policy thus requires the overlooking of all kinds of bad behavior.

Syria, it appears, has made an accurate calculation on both of the above counts.

Remember how critics of the Bush administration always said that the neocon cowboys in the White House clung stubbornly to failed policies out of ideological conviction? Here’s the final paragraph of the WSJ story:

U.S. officials stressed, however, that the White House wasn’t second-guessing its engagement strategy and was pushing forward with Mr. Ford’s nomination. “Sending an Ambassador to Syria who can press the Syrian government in a firm and coordinated fashion … is part of our strategy to achieve comprehensive peace in the region,” the White House said in a statement.

I’m sure Mr. Ford is a talented diplomat, but is there any chance that his presence in Damascus would have stopped the transfer of long-range missiles to Hezbollah?

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How Do You Impose Peace?

This report explains the latest Palestinian celebration of terrorism:

The future Palestinian Authority presidential compound will be built along a street named for an infamous Hamas arch-terrorist, Channel 10 reported on Wednesday.

The Ramallah street was named for notorious Hamas suicide bomb mastermind Yihyeh Ayyash, also known as the “engineer,” who was the architect of multiple attacks, including a 1994 bombing of a Tel Aviv bus, which killed 20 people, and injured dozens.

Ayyash was killed in 1996 in what was most likely an Israeli assassination, after his cell phone exploded in his Beit Lahia home, in the Gaza Strip.

Last time, the Palestinians pulled this – naming a square in Ramallah for terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi, who killed 38 Israelis — Hillary Clinton tried to pass it off as the doing of Hamas, despite ample evidence that the PA joined in the festivities. It’s going to be even harder for the Obami to make excuses for the PA this time:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement in response to the naming, saying it was an “outrageous glorification of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority.”

“Right next to a Presidential compound in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority has named a street after a terrorist who murdered hundreds of innocent Israeli men, women and children,” the statement said, adding that “the world must forcefully condemn this official Palestinian incitement for terrorism and against peace.”

So does the Obama team manage to get out a simple declaratory sentence this time — “We condemn this behavior,” for example? But more important, given this is the behavior and mentality of the PA — the supposedly reasonable Palestinian party to negotiations — how do the Obami intend to impose a peace deal? If one party is still caught in the grip of the cult of death, what reason is there to suppose that it is prepared to sign and then live up to an agreement by which they disarm and renounce terrorism?

At the AIPAC conference, Tony Blair laid out the challenge:

Until the year 2000, and with the heroic attempts of President Clinton, we attempted to achieve an agreement first and then shape reality around it. But it was not to be. After that came the Intifada. Thousands died. Then came the withdrawal from Gaza. Israel got out. It took 7000 settlers with it. In Israeli eyes, it received violence and terror in return.

The occupation deepened. Gaza was isolated. Faith in peace collapsed.

Ten years on, that faith has to be restored.

It can’t be done in a summit.

It has to be done patiently, and over time on the ground.

It can’t only be negotiated top-down.

It has also to be built bottom up.

Peace now will not come simply through an agreement negotiated; it must come through a reality created and sustained.

It means building institutions of Palestinian Government: not just well equipped, loyal security forces, but civil police, courts, prisons, prosecutors, the whole infrastructure of the rule of law.

It means treating those who commit acts of terror not only as enemies of Israel but enemies of Palestine.

Obviously, we are not remotely at that juncture – a point utterly lost or ignored by the Obami. So they imagine a pristine paper agreement will create peace — a  notion so divorced from experience and so blind to the realities occurring daily that one is tempted to conclude, “They can’t be serious!”  Blair got it when he declared: “The mentality has to move from resistance to governance. There can be no ambiguity, no wavering, no half heart towards terrorism. It is totally and completely without justification and we will never compromise in our opposition to it or those that practice it.” The Obami don’t.

It therefore follows that the Obami’s indifference to that fundamental requirement for peace disqualifies them as competent interlocutors. They are neither “honest” nor “brokering” — they have become henchmen for the Palestinians who await deliverance of the Jewish state — or what remains of it — without need to root out and renounce violence, without cultivation of the Palestinian institutions that can sustain peace. Israel and its supporters should be clear: there is no role for this administration in any peace process — they are, in fact merely, establishing incentives for violence and Palestinian rejectionism.

This report explains the latest Palestinian celebration of terrorism:

The future Palestinian Authority presidential compound will be built along a street named for an infamous Hamas arch-terrorist, Channel 10 reported on Wednesday.

The Ramallah street was named for notorious Hamas suicide bomb mastermind Yihyeh Ayyash, also known as the “engineer,” who was the architect of multiple attacks, including a 1994 bombing of a Tel Aviv bus, which killed 20 people, and injured dozens.

Ayyash was killed in 1996 in what was most likely an Israeli assassination, after his cell phone exploded in his Beit Lahia home, in the Gaza Strip.

Last time, the Palestinians pulled this – naming a square in Ramallah for terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi, who killed 38 Israelis — Hillary Clinton tried to pass it off as the doing of Hamas, despite ample evidence that the PA joined in the festivities. It’s going to be even harder for the Obami to make excuses for the PA this time:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement in response to the naming, saying it was an “outrageous glorification of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority.”

“Right next to a Presidential compound in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority has named a street after a terrorist who murdered hundreds of innocent Israeli men, women and children,” the statement said, adding that “the world must forcefully condemn this official Palestinian incitement for terrorism and against peace.”

So does the Obama team manage to get out a simple declaratory sentence this time — “We condemn this behavior,” for example? But more important, given this is the behavior and mentality of the PA — the supposedly reasonable Palestinian party to negotiations — how do the Obami intend to impose a peace deal? If one party is still caught in the grip of the cult of death, what reason is there to suppose that it is prepared to sign and then live up to an agreement by which they disarm and renounce terrorism?

At the AIPAC conference, Tony Blair laid out the challenge:

Until the year 2000, and with the heroic attempts of President Clinton, we attempted to achieve an agreement first and then shape reality around it. But it was not to be. After that came the Intifada. Thousands died. Then came the withdrawal from Gaza. Israel got out. It took 7000 settlers with it. In Israeli eyes, it received violence and terror in return.

The occupation deepened. Gaza was isolated. Faith in peace collapsed.

Ten years on, that faith has to be restored.

It can’t be done in a summit.

It has to be done patiently, and over time on the ground.

It can’t only be negotiated top-down.

It has also to be built bottom up.

Peace now will not come simply through an agreement negotiated; it must come through a reality created and sustained.

It means building institutions of Palestinian Government: not just well equipped, loyal security forces, but civil police, courts, prisons, prosecutors, the whole infrastructure of the rule of law.

It means treating those who commit acts of terror not only as enemies of Israel but enemies of Palestine.

Obviously, we are not remotely at that juncture – a point utterly lost or ignored by the Obami. So they imagine a pristine paper agreement will create peace — a  notion so divorced from experience and so blind to the realities occurring daily that one is tempted to conclude, “They can’t be serious!”  Blair got it when he declared: “The mentality has to move from resistance to governance. There can be no ambiguity, no wavering, no half heart towards terrorism. It is totally and completely without justification and we will never compromise in our opposition to it or those that practice it.” The Obami don’t.

It therefore follows that the Obami’s indifference to that fundamental requirement for peace disqualifies them as competent interlocutors. They are neither “honest” nor “brokering” — they have become henchmen for the Palestinians who await deliverance of the Jewish state — or what remains of it — without need to root out and renounce violence, without cultivation of the Palestinian institutions that can sustain peace. Israel and its supporters should be clear: there is no role for this administration in any peace process — they are, in fact merely, establishing incentives for violence and Palestinian rejectionism.

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Oren Responds to the Obami’s Temper Tantrum

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren is compelled to put the best possible face on U.S.-Israeli relations. So he tells Candy Crowely on State of the Union that the state of U.S.-Israeli relations is “great.” Well, such is the burden a diplomat must bear. But Oren was also candid and unequivocal in his reiteration of Israel’s position on Jerusalem:

Israel has a policy that goes back to 1967. This is not the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the policy of Golda Meir. It’s the policy of Yitzhak Rabin, that is, that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. Under Israeli law, it has the same status as Tel Aviv.  And our policy is that every Arab, every Jew has a right to build anywhere in the city legally as they — an Arab and Jew would have a right to build legally anywhere in a city in the United States, including in this city, in Washington, D.C. That’s our policy. The policy is not going to change.

And he swatted away the argument that Israel had somehow imperiled the “peace process” by continuing to allow building in the nation’s capital, as every previous government had permitted:

We understand that — we understand that we have negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, a piece treaty with Jordan. There has been 16 years of negotiations with the Palestinians, including two cases where Israeli prime ministers put complete peace plans on the table, including Jerusalem. And throughout that entire period of peace-making, Israel’s policy on Jerusalem remained unchanged.

We feel that now we should proceed directly to peace negotiations without a change in policy. We understand that Jerusalem will be one of the core issues discussed in those peace negotiations, but the main issue is to get the peace negotiations started. We are waiting for the Palestinians to join us at the table. So far, they have not done so.

The Obami-staged fuss over building in Jerusalem was for naught, it seems. The Obami picked the wrong fight with the wrong prime minister. The Netanyahu administration is not about to be bullied; the Palestinians have only been encouraged to dig in their heels and throw stones; and the rest of the Arab world nervously eyes the U.S. as a fickle ally. Meanwhile the real threat to peace and security — the mullahs’ nuclear program — proceeds unchecked.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren is compelled to put the best possible face on U.S.-Israeli relations. So he tells Candy Crowely on State of the Union that the state of U.S.-Israeli relations is “great.” Well, such is the burden a diplomat must bear. But Oren was also candid and unequivocal in his reiteration of Israel’s position on Jerusalem:

Israel has a policy that goes back to 1967. This is not the policy of Benjamin Netanyahu. This is the policy of Golda Meir. It’s the policy of Yitzhak Rabin, that is, that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. Under Israeli law, it has the same status as Tel Aviv.  And our policy is that every Arab, every Jew has a right to build anywhere in the city legally as they — an Arab and Jew would have a right to build legally anywhere in a city in the United States, including in this city, in Washington, D.C. That’s our policy. The policy is not going to change.

And he swatted away the argument that Israel had somehow imperiled the “peace process” by continuing to allow building in the nation’s capital, as every previous government had permitted:

We understand that — we understand that we have negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, a piece treaty with Jordan. There has been 16 years of negotiations with the Palestinians, including two cases where Israeli prime ministers put complete peace plans on the table, including Jerusalem. And throughout that entire period of peace-making, Israel’s policy on Jerusalem remained unchanged.

We feel that now we should proceed directly to peace negotiations without a change in policy. We understand that Jerusalem will be one of the core issues discussed in those peace negotiations, but the main issue is to get the peace negotiations started. We are waiting for the Palestinians to join us at the table. So far, they have not done so.

The Obami-staged fuss over building in Jerusalem was for naught, it seems. The Obami picked the wrong fight with the wrong prime minister. The Netanyahu administration is not about to be bullied; the Palestinians have only been encouraged to dig in their heels and throw stones; and the rest of the Arab world nervously eyes the U.S. as a fickle ally. Meanwhile the real threat to peace and security — the mullahs’ nuclear program — proceeds unchecked.

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Around and Around Foggy Bottom

At the State Department briefing, one sometimes gets the sense it’s Abbott and Costello time (“Who’s on First?”). Reporters on Tuesday tried in vain to get answers to two questions: have the Obami thrown in the towel on the Jerusalem housing issue and have proximity talks actually begun. You can read the transcript in full and not find an answer. A sample of the questioning gives you the sense the Obami would just rather not talk about much of anything right now.

On the housing issue:

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday in her speech to AIPAC, Secretary Clinton said that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — but we’ll just confine ourselves to Jerusalem here — was — did not help; it damaged the credibility of both the peace process and also the credibility of the United States as a mediator. Several hours after she spoke and after she met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he addressed the same crowd and said that Jerusalem is not a settlement, it’s our capital. He said that Jews have been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years and would continue to do so.

What gives here? Where is — is there any attempt to reconcile these positions or have you just — have you guys just decided that they win and you’ll agree to disagree on this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are continuing our discussions with Israeli officials and with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’ll meet President Obama later this afternoon. We understand that Jerusalem is deeply important to Israelis and Palestinians, and to Jews, Muslims, and Christians everywhere. We believe it’s possible to reach an outcome that both realizes the aspirations of all parties in Jerusalem and safeguards its status for the future.

Without getting into the specifics of our ongoing conversations with the prime minister or with Israeli officials, we’ve raised our concerns with them. Jerusalem is one of those issues. The prime minister has responded to our concerns. During the course of our dialogue over the past two weeks, he has added some thoughts of his own in terms of how we can create an atmosphere of trust and move the proximity talks forward, address the substance, including Jerusalem. It’s a final status issue. The only way to ultimately resolve competing claims on the future of Jerusalem is to get to direct negotiations.

We’re not putting any preconditions on this. Our task at the present time is to get the parties — get the proximity talks moving forward, get the parties into direct negotiations, putting the substance on the table, and finding a just resolution that ultimately reaches a peace agreement. That is our ongoing effort, and that conversation and that effort will continue this afternoon at the White House.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he was extremely emphatic, so I’m a little suspicious about whether this response that he gave to the Secretary contained anything in it that you would like — that you actually want to see done. I mean, how can you convince us that, in fact, progress is being made when he basically said last night that he’s taking your suggestion on East Jerusalem and said thanks but no thanks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Israeli Government has a policy, but we also have a point of view that Jerusalem is a final status issue. And we look forward to addressing these issues first within the proximity talks, moving to direct negotiations. Ultimately, the future of Jerusalem can only be resolved through the direct negotiations that we hope will get started as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: And you don’t see him — you don’t see what he said last night, and not just in the comments that I quoted, but in others, as that Israel does not agree that Jerusalem is a final status issue?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think at one point the prime minister also added that he did not see a distinction necessarily between in Jerusalem and building in Tel Aviv. We — and we disagree with that. And that Jerusalem is a –

QUESTION: So is that the bottom line here?

MR. CROWLEY: — is a final status issue. It’s a city of significant importance to multiple communities. The issues surrounding the future of Jerusalem as part of this process can only be resolved through direct negotiations, and the sooner we get there, the better.

QUESTION: So the bottom line is you have agreed to disagree on this specific issue?

MR. CROWLEY: We are continuing our discussions.

And that’s not even the end of the ping-pong match. Hmm. Sounds like the Obami would rather move on — after they blew up Israel-U.S. relations, sunk Obama’ approval in Israel, and gave Palestinians the idea that there is plenty of daylight between the U.S. and Israel.

OK, so have proximity talks begun? Here we go:

QUESTION: P.J., we’ve gone back and forth even as long as 10 days ago on whether the proximity talks had started formally or not started. And now we’ve had the interruption, the Quartet meeting, and yet Mitchell’s — Senator Mitchell’s gone back and had meetings with both sides. Is it your contention that the proximity talks are ongoing or they’re yet to be resumed? What’s the way to phrase it?

MR. CROWLEY: We are looking to make progress through proximity talks, and that is the focus of our effort.

QUESTION: Well, are they ongoing or are they yet to start?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, let’s go back to — the proximity talks are a means to an end. And the first step is proximity talks. The second step is direct negotiations. Hopefully, the end result is a peace agreement that ends the conflict. What we want to see through the proximity talks are to see the parties begin to tackle the substance, to tackle the core issues at the heart of the process. That has not started yet. So we hope to resume that, but before we can, obviously we need to make sure that there’s an atmosphere of trust, so that when those proximity talks begin to address the substance, they will be productive. …

QUESTION: Because, to be honest with you, P.J., and during the last administration we were constantly told that Annapolis was yielding results, that everything was — and they were, oh, just trust us. Yes, it’s happening. Well, it went nowhere. Why should we believe either government this time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. Look, I mean, there is a simple pass/fail test here.

QUESTION: And where do you think you’ve gotten on that right now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right, can I – give me a chance, Matt. All right, the proximity talks are not an end to themselves. The proximity talks –

QUESTION: But you haven’t gotten proximity talks yet.

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: Right?

MR. CROWLEY: Do you want to switch places?

QUESTION: No. (Laughter.) I just want to — if you can’t — there’s a simple answer, which is why keep this stuff secret? Why keep it secret?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it can be a straightforward answer if I can get it out.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll shut up.

Well, if you can’t even tell whether proximity talks have begun, then there’s no way to tell whether they’re working. It’s increasingly hard for reasonable people to say with a straight face that any of this is producing anything of value. Well, other than the daily dose of farce from Foggy Bottom.

At the State Department briefing, one sometimes gets the sense it’s Abbott and Costello time (“Who’s on First?”). Reporters on Tuesday tried in vain to get answers to two questions: have the Obami thrown in the towel on the Jerusalem housing issue and have proximity talks actually begun. You can read the transcript in full and not find an answer. A sample of the questioning gives you the sense the Obami would just rather not talk about much of anything right now.

On the housing issue:

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday in her speech to AIPAC, Secretary Clinton said that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — but we’ll just confine ourselves to Jerusalem here — was — did not help; it damaged the credibility of both the peace process and also the credibility of the United States as a mediator. Several hours after she spoke and after she met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he addressed the same crowd and said that Jerusalem is not a settlement, it’s our capital. He said that Jews have been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years and would continue to do so.

What gives here? Where is — is there any attempt to reconcile these positions or have you just — have you guys just decided that they win and you’ll agree to disagree on this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are continuing our discussions with Israeli officials and with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’ll meet President Obama later this afternoon. We understand that Jerusalem is deeply important to Israelis and Palestinians, and to Jews, Muslims, and Christians everywhere. We believe it’s possible to reach an outcome that both realizes the aspirations of all parties in Jerusalem and safeguards its status for the future.

Without getting into the specifics of our ongoing conversations with the prime minister or with Israeli officials, we’ve raised our concerns with them. Jerusalem is one of those issues. The prime minister has responded to our concerns. During the course of our dialogue over the past two weeks, he has added some thoughts of his own in terms of how we can create an atmosphere of trust and move the proximity talks forward, address the substance, including Jerusalem. It’s a final status issue. The only way to ultimately resolve competing claims on the future of Jerusalem is to get to direct negotiations.

We’re not putting any preconditions on this. Our task at the present time is to get the parties — get the proximity talks moving forward, get the parties into direct negotiations, putting the substance on the table, and finding a just resolution that ultimately reaches a peace agreement. That is our ongoing effort, and that conversation and that effort will continue this afternoon at the White House.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he was extremely emphatic, so I’m a little suspicious about whether this response that he gave to the Secretary contained anything in it that you would like — that you actually want to see done. I mean, how can you convince us that, in fact, progress is being made when he basically said last night that he’s taking your suggestion on East Jerusalem and said thanks but no thanks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Israeli Government has a policy, but we also have a point of view that Jerusalem is a final status issue. And we look forward to addressing these issues first within the proximity talks, moving to direct negotiations. Ultimately, the future of Jerusalem can only be resolved through the direct negotiations that we hope will get started as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: And you don’t see him — you don’t see what he said last night, and not just in the comments that I quoted, but in others, as that Israel does not agree that Jerusalem is a final status issue?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think at one point the prime minister also added that he did not see a distinction necessarily between in Jerusalem and building in Tel Aviv. We — and we disagree with that. And that Jerusalem is a –

QUESTION: So is that the bottom line here?

MR. CROWLEY: — is a final status issue. It’s a city of significant importance to multiple communities. The issues surrounding the future of Jerusalem as part of this process can only be resolved through direct negotiations, and the sooner we get there, the better.

QUESTION: So the bottom line is you have agreed to disagree on this specific issue?

MR. CROWLEY: We are continuing our discussions.

And that’s not even the end of the ping-pong match. Hmm. Sounds like the Obami would rather move on — after they blew up Israel-U.S. relations, sunk Obama’ approval in Israel, and gave Palestinians the idea that there is plenty of daylight between the U.S. and Israel.

OK, so have proximity talks begun? Here we go:

QUESTION: P.J., we’ve gone back and forth even as long as 10 days ago on whether the proximity talks had started formally or not started. And now we’ve had the interruption, the Quartet meeting, and yet Mitchell’s — Senator Mitchell’s gone back and had meetings with both sides. Is it your contention that the proximity talks are ongoing or they’re yet to be resumed? What’s the way to phrase it?

MR. CROWLEY: We are looking to make progress through proximity talks, and that is the focus of our effort.

QUESTION: Well, are they ongoing or are they yet to start?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, let’s go back to — the proximity talks are a means to an end. And the first step is proximity talks. The second step is direct negotiations. Hopefully, the end result is a peace agreement that ends the conflict. What we want to see through the proximity talks are to see the parties begin to tackle the substance, to tackle the core issues at the heart of the process. That has not started yet. So we hope to resume that, but before we can, obviously we need to make sure that there’s an atmosphere of trust, so that when those proximity talks begin to address the substance, they will be productive. …

QUESTION: Because, to be honest with you, P.J., and during the last administration we were constantly told that Annapolis was yielding results, that everything was — and they were, oh, just trust us. Yes, it’s happening. Well, it went nowhere. Why should we believe either government this time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. Look, I mean, there is a simple pass/fail test here.

QUESTION: And where do you think you’ve gotten on that right now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right, can I – give me a chance, Matt. All right, the proximity talks are not an end to themselves. The proximity talks –

QUESTION: But you haven’t gotten proximity talks yet.

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: Right?

MR. CROWLEY: Do you want to switch places?

QUESTION: No. (Laughter.) I just want to — if you can’t — there’s a simple answer, which is why keep this stuff secret? Why keep it secret?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it can be a straightforward answer if I can get it out.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll shut up.

Well, if you can’t even tell whether proximity talks have begun, then there’s no way to tell whether they’re working. It’s increasingly hard for reasonable people to say with a straight face that any of this is producing anything of value. Well, other than the daily dose of farce from Foggy Bottom.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jane Hamsher or Bill Kristol? “This bill will mandate that millions of people who are currently uninsured purchase insurance from private companies, or the IRS will collect up to 2% of their annual income in penalties. … The bill was written so that most Wal-Mart employees will qualify for subsidies, and taxpayers will pick up a large portion of the cost of their coverage. … In 2009, health care costs were 17.3% of GDP [but] in 2019 [under the] Senate bill [they'll be] 20.9% of GDP. … This bill does not bring down costs.”

The end of the Blue Dogs: “The party made a concerted effort in 2006 and 2008 to recruit candidates that could win moderate or GOP-leaning districts. That’s a key reason why Democrats won such big congressional majorities. But after forging a big-tent caucus, Speaker Pelosi has not governed that way. Instead, she pushed Blue Dog and other moderate Democrats to vote as if they represented her San Francisco district.” When the Republicans did this, I think the media narrative was that the party was risking majority support for ideological extremism.

Quin Hillyer channels the anti–Bart Stupak anger: “And if he thinks he will be ever live it down or be allowed to forget it, well, maybe he doesn’t think very well.”

How incompetent is NPR to get duped by a fake AIPAC release saying the group favors a settlement freeze? Doesn’t public radio know anything about AIPAC? Your tax dollars at work.

Marco Rubio is crushing potential opponents: “Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio for now runs well ahead in a three-way race for the U.S. Senate in Florida, should Governor Charlie Crist decide to run as an independent. The first Rasmussen Repots telephone survey of a potential three-candidate Senate race finds Rubio earning 42% support from likely voters in the state. Democrat Kendrick Meek picks up 25%, and Crist runs third with 22%. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell on ObamaCare: “[T]his massive and complex piece of legislation allows the federal government to exercise control over one-sixth of the United States economy. … Most disconcerting is the provision mandating that every American must purchase health insurance or face a monetary penalty. … Just a few days ago I approved a bill, passed on a bipartisan basis, which prohibits mandatory insurance purchases for Virginians. Virginia’s Attorney General has rightly chosen to challenge the constitutionality of the federal mandate. I anticipate that he will be joined by a number of other states.” It now becomes an issue in every state race.

Yuval Levin on the latest regarding the Cornhusker Kickback: “That kickback was of course offered as an enticement to win the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, and to help him forget about his pro-life principles. Well lo and behold, Nelson has now announced that he opposes the reconciliation bill and will vote against it. Apparently it taxes and spends too much. It really renews your faith in politicians, doesn’t it?”

Not just a headache or fodder but potential grounds for prosecution: “The formidable Patrick Fitzgerald is leading a probe of Guantanamo Bay defense lawyers whom the CIA accused of giving detainees photos of CIA agents in an attempt to identify interrogators. … The investigation could be a headache for the Justice Department, and fodder for the attacks from Liz Cheney and others on the Guantanamo Bay lawyers.”

Perhaps Obama picked a fight on the wrong issue. Most Israelis think Bibi Netanyahu was aware of the decision to approve additional housing units in Jerusalem, but “most of those asked by the survey supported the view that construction in east Jerusalem should be treated like construction in Tel Aviv, despite the harsh criticism launched at the government over the recent diplomatic dispute with the US. Only a quarter of those polled believe the construction project should not have been approved, with 41% saying that only the timing was wrong. The number of people supportive of the construction in Ramat Shlomo neighborhood is twice that of its objectors.”

ABC staffers are grumbling over the hiring of Christiane Amanpour for This Week. Well, if it’s any consolation to the eminently qualified Jake Tapper, the criterion used was apparently “celebrity.” It certainly wasn’t objectivity. Or accuracy. Remember this one.

Jane Hamsher or Bill Kristol? “This bill will mandate that millions of people who are currently uninsured purchase insurance from private companies, or the IRS will collect up to 2% of their annual income in penalties. … The bill was written so that most Wal-Mart employees will qualify for subsidies, and taxpayers will pick up a large portion of the cost of their coverage. … In 2009, health care costs were 17.3% of GDP [but] in 2019 [under the] Senate bill [they'll be] 20.9% of GDP. … This bill does not bring down costs.”

The end of the Blue Dogs: “The party made a concerted effort in 2006 and 2008 to recruit candidates that could win moderate or GOP-leaning districts. That’s a key reason why Democrats won such big congressional majorities. But after forging a big-tent caucus, Speaker Pelosi has not governed that way. Instead, she pushed Blue Dog and other moderate Democrats to vote as if they represented her San Francisco district.” When the Republicans did this, I think the media narrative was that the party was risking majority support for ideological extremism.

Quin Hillyer channels the anti–Bart Stupak anger: “And if he thinks he will be ever live it down or be allowed to forget it, well, maybe he doesn’t think very well.”

How incompetent is NPR to get duped by a fake AIPAC release saying the group favors a settlement freeze? Doesn’t public radio know anything about AIPAC? Your tax dollars at work.

Marco Rubio is crushing potential opponents: “Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio for now runs well ahead in a three-way race for the U.S. Senate in Florida, should Governor Charlie Crist decide to run as an independent. The first Rasmussen Repots telephone survey of a potential three-candidate Senate race finds Rubio earning 42% support from likely voters in the state. Democrat Kendrick Meek picks up 25%, and Crist runs third with 22%. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell on ObamaCare: “[T]his massive and complex piece of legislation allows the federal government to exercise control over one-sixth of the United States economy. … Most disconcerting is the provision mandating that every American must purchase health insurance or face a monetary penalty. … Just a few days ago I approved a bill, passed on a bipartisan basis, which prohibits mandatory insurance purchases for Virginians. Virginia’s Attorney General has rightly chosen to challenge the constitutionality of the federal mandate. I anticipate that he will be joined by a number of other states.” It now becomes an issue in every state race.

Yuval Levin on the latest regarding the Cornhusker Kickback: “That kickback was of course offered as an enticement to win the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, and to help him forget about his pro-life principles. Well lo and behold, Nelson has now announced that he opposes the reconciliation bill and will vote against it. Apparently it taxes and spends too much. It really renews your faith in politicians, doesn’t it?”

Not just a headache or fodder but potential grounds for prosecution: “The formidable Patrick Fitzgerald is leading a probe of Guantanamo Bay defense lawyers whom the CIA accused of giving detainees photos of CIA agents in an attempt to identify interrogators. … The investigation could be a headache for the Justice Department, and fodder for the attacks from Liz Cheney and others on the Guantanamo Bay lawyers.”

Perhaps Obama picked a fight on the wrong issue. Most Israelis think Bibi Netanyahu was aware of the decision to approve additional housing units in Jerusalem, but “most of those asked by the survey supported the view that construction in east Jerusalem should be treated like construction in Tel Aviv, despite the harsh criticism launched at the government over the recent diplomatic dispute with the US. Only a quarter of those polled believe the construction project should not have been approved, with 41% saying that only the timing was wrong. The number of people supportive of the construction in Ramat Shlomo neighborhood is twice that of its objectors.”

ABC staffers are grumbling over the hiring of Christiane Amanpour for This Week. Well, if it’s any consolation to the eminently qualified Jake Tapper, the criterion used was apparently “celebrity.” It certainly wasn’t objectivity. Or accuracy. Remember this one.

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The Resistance Bloc Will Not Be Appeased

Hezbollah’s reaction to Israel’s plan to build 1,600 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem might help President Barack Obama understand something that has so far eluded him: the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah resistance bloc will not allow him to appease it.

“The scheme is yet another part of a Judaization campaign,” Hezbollah said in a statement quoted by the Tehran Times, “that targets the holy city of al-Quds [Jerusalem] and a provocation of Muslim feeling.” If Obama expected a little appreciation from Israel’s enemies for making the same point with more diplomatic finesse, he was mistaken. “The Zionist plan to construct hundreds of homes in al-Quds,” Hezbollah continued, “truly shows American cover to it.”

So not only is Obama denied credit for standing up to Israel’s government, he is accused of doing precisely the opposite.

Anti-Americanism is ideological oxygen for partisans of the resistance bloc. They will no sooner let it go than they will stop breathing. Their entire worldview and political program would turn to ashes without it, much as Fidel Castro’s would without socialism. When the United States doesn’t follow the script, they just lie.

If we extend a hand in friendship, they’ll bite it and try to chew off a finger. If we take their side once in a while to appear evenhanded, they’ll twist the truth until it looks like a sinister plot, then they’ll bite us again.

A couple of years ago Hezbollah stretched a banner across an overpass near Lebanon’s international airport that said, in English, “All our catastrophes come from America.” Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah would have an awfully hard time climbing down from that high a tree even if his Iranian masters would let him — and they won’t. They’ve been calling Israel the “Little Satan” and the U.S. the “Great Satan” since Jimmy Carter, of all people, was president.

The resistance bloc would remain viciously anti-American even if the United States declared war on Israel and bombed Tel Aviv. Maybe — maybe — that wouldn’t be true if the U.S. were the little Satan instead of the great Satan, but even then it probably wouldn’t matter that much. Resistance-bloc leaders, like anyone else in the world, may enjoy watching their enemies slugging it out with each other, but that doesn’t mean they’ll warm to one or the other all of a sudden because of it.

That’s how the Iran-Iraq war looked to us in the 1980s. It was a “red on red” fight where two regimes we detested bloodied and weakened each other. Henry Kissinger summed up the sentiment on our side: “It’s too bad they can’t both lose.”

And that’s how the American-led invasion of Iraq looked from the point of view of Iran’s rulers in 2003. They had every reason in the world to hate Saddam Hussein more than anyone else in the world. His army killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians in an eight-year war he started less than a year after Ayatollah Khomeini became Supreme Leader. (Israel, meanwhile, has never fought a war with Iran and hasn’t killed any Iranians.) Yet the United States earned no points whatsoever for taking out their most dangerous enemy and placing their Shia co-religionists in the saddle in Baghdad.

There are, of course, millions of Arabs and Iranians who detest the Khomeinist-led resistance bloc and feel threatened by it, including about half of Palestinians. Most are less ideologically severe, and some have already made peace with Israel. Perhaps the Obama administration is hoping the U.S. can increase its standing with them by publicly sparring with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even if it works, though, it won’t make any difference. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be divorced from the region-wide Arab-Israeli and Iranian-Israeli conflicts. If all the moderates in the whole Arab world were to drop their hostility to the U.S. and Israel and yearn for a peaceful solution, Hamas and Hezbollah, with Syrian and Iranian backing, could still scotch peace talks and peace treaties with kidnappings, suicide bombings, and missile attacks whenever they felt like it.

Resolving this mother of all quagmires would be excruciatingly difficult even if all four pieces of the resistance bloc were taken off the board yesterday. In the meantime, bruising our alliance with Israel to grease the skids on a peace process to nowhere is gratuitous.

Hezbollah’s reaction to Israel’s plan to build 1,600 apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem might help President Barack Obama understand something that has so far eluded him: the Syrian-Iranian-Hamas-Hezbollah resistance bloc will not allow him to appease it.

“The scheme is yet another part of a Judaization campaign,” Hezbollah said in a statement quoted by the Tehran Times, “that targets the holy city of al-Quds [Jerusalem] and a provocation of Muslim feeling.” If Obama expected a little appreciation from Israel’s enemies for making the same point with more diplomatic finesse, he was mistaken. “The Zionist plan to construct hundreds of homes in al-Quds,” Hezbollah continued, “truly shows American cover to it.”

So not only is Obama denied credit for standing up to Israel’s government, he is accused of doing precisely the opposite.

Anti-Americanism is ideological oxygen for partisans of the resistance bloc. They will no sooner let it go than they will stop breathing. Their entire worldview and political program would turn to ashes without it, much as Fidel Castro’s would without socialism. When the United States doesn’t follow the script, they just lie.

If we extend a hand in friendship, they’ll bite it and try to chew off a finger. If we take their side once in a while to appear evenhanded, they’ll twist the truth until it looks like a sinister plot, then they’ll bite us again.

A couple of years ago Hezbollah stretched a banner across an overpass near Lebanon’s international airport that said, in English, “All our catastrophes come from America.” Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah would have an awfully hard time climbing down from that high a tree even if his Iranian masters would let him — and they won’t. They’ve been calling Israel the “Little Satan” and the U.S. the “Great Satan” since Jimmy Carter, of all people, was president.

The resistance bloc would remain viciously anti-American even if the United States declared war on Israel and bombed Tel Aviv. Maybe — maybe — that wouldn’t be true if the U.S. were the little Satan instead of the great Satan, but even then it probably wouldn’t matter that much. Resistance-bloc leaders, like anyone else in the world, may enjoy watching their enemies slugging it out with each other, but that doesn’t mean they’ll warm to one or the other all of a sudden because of it.

That’s how the Iran-Iraq war looked to us in the 1980s. It was a “red on red” fight where two regimes we detested bloodied and weakened each other. Henry Kissinger summed up the sentiment on our side: “It’s too bad they can’t both lose.”

And that’s how the American-led invasion of Iraq looked from the point of view of Iran’s rulers in 2003. They had every reason in the world to hate Saddam Hussein more than anyone else in the world. His army killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians in an eight-year war he started less than a year after Ayatollah Khomeini became Supreme Leader. (Israel, meanwhile, has never fought a war with Iran and hasn’t killed any Iranians.) Yet the United States earned no points whatsoever for taking out their most dangerous enemy and placing their Shia co-religionists in the saddle in Baghdad.

There are, of course, millions of Arabs and Iranians who detest the Khomeinist-led resistance bloc and feel threatened by it, including about half of Palestinians. Most are less ideologically severe, and some have already made peace with Israel. Perhaps the Obama administration is hoping the U.S. can increase its standing with them by publicly sparring with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu.

Even if it works, though, it won’t make any difference. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can’t be divorced from the region-wide Arab-Israeli and Iranian-Israeli conflicts. If all the moderates in the whole Arab world were to drop their hostility to the U.S. and Israel and yearn for a peaceful solution, Hamas and Hezbollah, with Syrian and Iranian backing, could still scotch peace talks and peace treaties with kidnappings, suicide bombings, and missile attacks whenever they felt like it.

Resolving this mother of all quagmires would be excruciatingly difficult even if all four pieces of the resistance bloc were taken off the board yesterday. In the meantime, bruising our alliance with Israel to grease the skids on a peace process to nowhere is gratuitous.

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The No-Good, Horrible Biden Visit

The broken pottery is being scooped up in the wake of Joe Biden’s Israel visit. We are told that there is a “huge debate” going on now within the administration:

Administration officials said Thursday that while Mitchell is still slated to return to the region next week to try to salvage the proximity talks, there is a “huge debate” inside the administration “about what to do.” Part of Biden’s purpose in the trip was to reassure Israelis about the U.S.’s traditional commitment, and much of his speech in Tel Aviv was devoted to that theme.

So that didn’t really work out as planned, it seems. But, of course, the peace-process cottage industry sees this as an opportunity to — you guessed it! — push Israel into talks with the Palestinians: “In Washington, some experts said the settlements episode could give Washington leverage to make Netanyahu himself sign off on any housing decisions regarding contested East Jerusalem — and to push both him and the Palestinians to avoid any further such provocations in Jerusalem while proximity talks are under way.”

Well, there is no dissuading some who have devoted themselves to a process that is increasingly divorced from reality. It defies logic to think that an acrimonious relationship between the U.S. and Israel can help promote the peace process. It was, one fondly recalls from the George W. Bush days, only when the relationship between the two countries was robust, respectful, and warm that the Israeli government was emboldened to make concessions — on check points, settlements, and Gaza itself.

Aaron David Miller, no critic of the peace process, is a bit more in touch with reality than the unnamed “experts.” All of this he rightly sees as a giant non-starter and no way to run Middle East policy:

Obama has no Middle East policy without the Israelis. As frustrated as the president and vice president may be with Israel, any chance Washington has of moving negotiations forward requires Israeli cooperation. And the administration does not want to lose its influence with Israel when it comes to Iran — particularly now, with sanctions in the works. . . . Moreover, Obama now knows the settlements issue is a dog’s lunch. He can’t win — particularly when it involves Jerusalem. No, the smart money is on Obama’s keeping his powder dry, for now. Odds are that he will focus, instead, on getting the indirect talks launched, while he thinks about how to bridge the gaps on the core issues, including borders, security, refugees and, yes, Jerusalem.

“Condemning” Israel is an odd way to keep his “powder dry.” But Miller is right: the Obami are never going to win a standoff, especially a public one, with Israel over its eternal capital. And so, once again, the Obami are left with bruised feelings all around and no viable gameplan. It makes one long for smart diplomacy.

The Israelis and Palestinians will, at some point, have to sit down directly. But the history of successful Arab-Israeli peacemaking demonstrates that every agreement that lasted — with the exception of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty — came about through U.S. mediation.

The broken pottery is being scooped up in the wake of Joe Biden’s Israel visit. We are told that there is a “huge debate” going on now within the administration:

Administration officials said Thursday that while Mitchell is still slated to return to the region next week to try to salvage the proximity talks, there is a “huge debate” inside the administration “about what to do.” Part of Biden’s purpose in the trip was to reassure Israelis about the U.S.’s traditional commitment, and much of his speech in Tel Aviv was devoted to that theme.

So that didn’t really work out as planned, it seems. But, of course, the peace-process cottage industry sees this as an opportunity to — you guessed it! — push Israel into talks with the Palestinians: “In Washington, some experts said the settlements episode could give Washington leverage to make Netanyahu himself sign off on any housing decisions regarding contested East Jerusalem — and to push both him and the Palestinians to avoid any further such provocations in Jerusalem while proximity talks are under way.”

Well, there is no dissuading some who have devoted themselves to a process that is increasingly divorced from reality. It defies logic to think that an acrimonious relationship between the U.S. and Israel can help promote the peace process. It was, one fondly recalls from the George W. Bush days, only when the relationship between the two countries was robust, respectful, and warm that the Israeli government was emboldened to make concessions — on check points, settlements, and Gaza itself.

Aaron David Miller, no critic of the peace process, is a bit more in touch with reality than the unnamed “experts.” All of this he rightly sees as a giant non-starter and no way to run Middle East policy:

Obama has no Middle East policy without the Israelis. As frustrated as the president and vice president may be with Israel, any chance Washington has of moving negotiations forward requires Israeli cooperation. And the administration does not want to lose its influence with Israel when it comes to Iran — particularly now, with sanctions in the works. . . . Moreover, Obama now knows the settlements issue is a dog’s lunch. He can’t win — particularly when it involves Jerusalem. No, the smart money is on Obama’s keeping his powder dry, for now. Odds are that he will focus, instead, on getting the indirect talks launched, while he thinks about how to bridge the gaps on the core issues, including borders, security, refugees and, yes, Jerusalem.

“Condemning” Israel is an odd way to keep his “powder dry.” But Miller is right: the Obami are never going to win a standoff, especially a public one, with Israel over its eternal capital. And so, once again, the Obami are left with bruised feelings all around and no viable gameplan. It makes one long for smart diplomacy.

The Israelis and Palestinians will, at some point, have to sit down directly. But the history of successful Arab-Israeli peacemaking demonstrates that every agreement that lasted — with the exception of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty — came about through U.S. mediation.

Read Less