Commentary Magazine


Topic: Temple Mount

The Big Problem in Jerusalem Isn’t the Jews

In time for the Jewish calendar’s fall holiday season (Jews around the world are celebrating Sukkot—the feast of tabernacles—this week), today’s New York Times took up the delicate issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount where, we are told, troublemaking Jews are breaking the rules and making coexistence, if not peace, that much more difficult. Since some Jewish extremists do foolishly dream of replacing the mosques that are atop the Mount (which looks down on the Western Wall) with a rebuilt Third Temple, a scheme that would set off a religious war no sane person would want, Israel has always sought to keep the peace in the city by limiting Jewish visits and prohibiting Jewish prayer there. So with increasing numbers of Jews wanting to look around and perhaps even surreptitiously utter a prayer, the conceit of the Times piece appears to be that this is just one more instance in which Israelis are giving their Arab neighbors a hard time and pushing them out of a city that is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.

But however dangerous any idea of endangering the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque might be to world peace, the Jews are not the problem in Jerusalem. That’s because the dispute in the city isn’t really so much about who controls the Temple Mount but the Muslim effort to deny the Jewish history that is literally under their feet. Were it just a question of sharing sacred space, reasonable compromises that would give full Muslim autonomy over their holy sites while allowing Jewish prayer at the spiritual center of Judaism would be possible since Jewish extremists who want to evict Islam from the place are a tiny minority. Yet as long as the official position of both the Muslim Wakf religious authority, which has been allowed by Israel to govern the place since the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Palestinian Authority is that the Temples never existed and that Jews have no rights to their ancient capital, that will constitute the real obstacle to peace.

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In time for the Jewish calendar’s fall holiday season (Jews around the world are celebrating Sukkot—the feast of tabernacles—this week), today’s New York Times took up the delicate issue of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount where, we are told, troublemaking Jews are breaking the rules and making coexistence, if not peace, that much more difficult. Since some Jewish extremists do foolishly dream of replacing the mosques that are atop the Mount (which looks down on the Western Wall) with a rebuilt Third Temple, a scheme that would set off a religious war no sane person would want, Israel has always sought to keep the peace in the city by limiting Jewish visits and prohibiting Jewish prayer there. So with increasing numbers of Jews wanting to look around and perhaps even surreptitiously utter a prayer, the conceit of the Times piece appears to be that this is just one more instance in which Israelis are giving their Arab neighbors a hard time and pushing them out of a city that is sacred to the three monotheistic faiths.

But however dangerous any idea of endangering the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque might be to world peace, the Jews are not the problem in Jerusalem. That’s because the dispute in the city isn’t really so much about who controls the Temple Mount but the Muslim effort to deny the Jewish history that is literally under their feet. Were it just a question of sharing sacred space, reasonable compromises that would give full Muslim autonomy over their holy sites while allowing Jewish prayer at the spiritual center of Judaism would be possible since Jewish extremists who want to evict Islam from the place are a tiny minority. Yet as long as the official position of both the Muslim Wakf religious authority, which has been allowed by Israel to govern the place since the 1967 Six-Day War, and the Palestinian Authority is that the Temples never existed and that Jews have no rights to their ancient capital, that will constitute the real obstacle to peace.

At the heart of this conundrum is an error in Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s story. In an effort to give some historical background to the dispute, she writes the following:

In 2000, a visit by Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s opposition leader, accompanied by 1,000 police officers, prompted a violent outbreak and, many argue, set off the second intifada.

Many may argue that, but it is a flat-out lie. As figures within the Palestinian Authority have long since publicly admitted, the intifada was planned by then leader Yasir Arafat long before Sharon took a stroll on the site of the Temples around the Jewish New Year. The intifada was a deliberate strategy in which Arafat answered Israel’s offer of an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem that would have included the Temple Mount. The terrorist war of attrition was intended to beat down the Israelis and force them and the United States to offer even more concessions without forcing the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Sharon’s visit was merely a pretext that has long since been debunked.

Rudoren deserves to be roasted for passing along this piece of propaganda without even noting the proof to the contrary. But the problem here is more than just an error that shows the way she tends to swallow Palestinian lies hook, line, and sinker. That’s because the significance of the Sharon story lies in the way, Palestinian leaders have used the Temple Mount for generations to gin up hate against Israelis.

It bears pointing out that almost from the very beginning of the Zionist enterprise, those seeking to incite an Arab population that might regard the economic growth that came with the influx of immigrants as a good thing used the mosques on the Mount to whip up anti-Jewish sentiment. The pretext for the 1929 riots in which Jews were attacked across the country and the ancient community of Hebron was wiped out in a pogrom was a false rumor about the mosques being attacked. Arafat used the same theme to gain support for his otherwise inexplicable decision to tank the Palestinian economy in his terrorist war. Similarly, inflammatory sermons given in the mosques have often led to Muslim worshippers there raining down rocks on the Jewish worshippers in the Western Wall plaza below.

Israelis can argue about whether restoring even a minimal Jewish presence on the Temple Mount is wise. Some Orthodox authorities have always said that due to doubt about the presence of the Temple’s most sacred precincts no Jew should step foot on the plateau, although that is a point that seems less salient due to recent archeological discoveries. Others believe that any effort to contest Muslim ownership of the site converts a territorial dispute into a religious or spiritual one and should be avoided at all costs.

But, like so many internal Jewish and Israeli debates, these arguments miss the point about Arab opinion. As with other sacred sites to which Muslims lay claim, their position is not one in which they are prepared to share or guarantee equal access. The Muslim view of the Temple Mount is not one in which competing claims can be recognized, let alone respected. They want it Jew-free, the same way they envision a Palestinian state or those areas of Jerusalem which they say must be their capital.

It is in that same spirit that the Wakf has committed what many respected Israeli archeologists consider a program of vandalism on the Mount with unknown quantities of antiquities being trashed by their building program. Since they recognize no Jewish claim or even the history of the place, they have continued to act in this manner with, I might add, hardly a peep from the international community.

Thus while many friends of Israel will read Rudoren’s article and shake their heads about Israeli foolishness, the real story in Jerusalem remains the Palestinians’ unshakable determination to extinguish Jewish history as part of their effort to delegitimize the Jewish state. In the face of their intransigence and the fact that such intolerance is mainstream Palestinian opinion rather than the view of a few extremists, the desire of many Jews to visit a place that is the historic center of their faith (the Western Wall is, after all, merely the vestige of the Temple’s outer enclosure) doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

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Palestinians and the Western Wall

Five women were arrested today at the Western Wall as the dispute about the right of non-Orthodox Jews to conduct egalitarian services there continued. The confrontation that came, as it always does, on the first day of the Hebrew month displayed the usual nastiness as an Orthodox man was also arrested reportedly for trying to burn a prayer book of one of the Women of the Wall. But there were some hopeful signs that the compromise proposed by Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky won’t be opposed by Orthodox leaders. In particular, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the head of the Western Wall Foundation that currently runs things at the Wall, said he wouldn’t oppose Sharansky’s plan to expand the Western Wall Plaza so as to create another equally large space in which egalitarian services may be held.

Sharansky’s idea for creating “One Kotel for One People” based on the principles of access, equality and unity is a good one. If implemented, it would not only substantially improve the site; it would effectively end a long-running argument that serves only to alienate the majority of American Jews from Israel. But as I wrote yesterday, the real obstacle to this project is not the desire of some to keep the Wall functioning solely as an Orthodox synagogue rather than as a national shrine for all Jews. The problem is the willingness of Palestinians to use threats of violence to prevent any changes in the area. What I did not discuss fully yesterday was why exactly the Muslim religious authorities that control the Temple Mount compound above the Wall Plaza would care about stopping Jewish religious services. The answer goes to the heart of the Palestinian rejection of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem or any part of the country.

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Five women were arrested today at the Western Wall as the dispute about the right of non-Orthodox Jews to conduct egalitarian services there continued. The confrontation that came, as it always does, on the first day of the Hebrew month displayed the usual nastiness as an Orthodox man was also arrested reportedly for trying to burn a prayer book of one of the Women of the Wall. But there were some hopeful signs that the compromise proposed by Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky won’t be opposed by Orthodox leaders. In particular, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the head of the Western Wall Foundation that currently runs things at the Wall, said he wouldn’t oppose Sharansky’s plan to expand the Western Wall Plaza so as to create another equally large space in which egalitarian services may be held.

Sharansky’s idea for creating “One Kotel for One People” based on the principles of access, equality and unity is a good one. If implemented, it would not only substantially improve the site; it would effectively end a long-running argument that serves only to alienate the majority of American Jews from Israel. But as I wrote yesterday, the real obstacle to this project is not the desire of some to keep the Wall functioning solely as an Orthodox synagogue rather than as a national shrine for all Jews. The problem is the willingness of Palestinians to use threats of violence to prevent any changes in the area. What I did not discuss fully yesterday was why exactly the Muslim religious authorities that control the Temple Mount compound above the Wall Plaza would care about stopping Jewish religious services. The answer goes to the heart of the Palestinian rejection of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem or any part of the country.

Any attempt to expand the area of the ancient remnant of the Second Temple will hinge on a renovation of the Mugrabi Bridge, a ramp that allows access to the Temple Mount from the area around the Wall. As I noted previously, Muslims reacted to an Israeli plan to repair that facility with threats of violence even though it would have been to their benefit. They did the same thing in 1996 about the opening of a Western Wall tunnel exit that had nothing to do with them.

Some put this down only to the bad feelings that have poisoned all relations between Jews and Arabs in the dispute over sovereignty over Jerusalem and the land of Israel/Palestine. But this is not just a manifestation of malice. Muslim clerics associated with both the “moderates” of the Palestinian Authority and the extremists of Hamas agree that Jews have no claim to any part of the Western Wall, no matter how they wish to pray there.

The Wakf, the Muslim authority that governs the Temple Mount compound, claims that the Kotel is part of their bailiwick and reject Jewish sovereignty over any part of it or the city that surrounds it. Palestinian Authority leaders and their media have repeatedly claimed that the ancient temples were not built on the Mount where Muslim conquerors subsequently built mosques, just as they deny the associations of the Jews with the rest of their ancient homeland.

As Haaretz notes, the Wakf is opposed to any plans that might expand Jewish worship at the Wall or allow more people to have access to it. They also oppose all archeological digs in the area since they further establish the historical validity of Jewish claims. They also use spurious claims that Jews are trying to undermine the structure of the Mount—the same sort of libel that led to bloody Arab pogroms against Jews in the past—in order to whip up anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda in the Muslim and Arab worlds.

There is no doubt that these unscrupulous Palestinian leaders will use the same tactics to prevent Sharansky’s plan from ever being realized. That is regrettable. But what American Jews who rightly lament the situation at the Wall should understand is that the bigger problem in Jerusalem isn’t the dispute between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews but the one in which Palestinians attempt to deny the rights of all Jews. Prior to June 1967, no Jews could pray at any part of the Wall or step foot in the Old City of Jerusalem, and that is the situation Palestinians are trying to restore. Those determined to fight to the bitter end on issues of Jewish pluralism should remember that the bigger, far more important battle is part of the ongoing Arab war to destroy Israel.

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Deft Wall Compromise Will Never Happen

Natan Sharansky was asked by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to come up with a solution to a seemingly intractable dispute over the right of non-Orthodox Jews to hold egalitarian services at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. To the surprise of no one who has followed the career of a man who has embodied both integrity and principle since his days as a Prisoner of Zion in the Soviet Union, the head of the Jewish Agency did not fob off the assignment by coming up with a plan for further study or some other tactic for avoiding the controversy. Instead, he actually produced a proposal that would end the Orthodox monopoly over the national shrine by calling for the expansion of the Western Wall Plaza to encompass the little used section known as Robinson’s Arch, where non-Orthodox services could be held without harassment or police interference.

It’s a brilliant idea, but there’s only one problem with it. Even if, as expected, Netanyahu endorses the project, the chances of it being implemented are about as close to zero as you can imagine. It’s not just that the Orthodox establishment will cry foul and use all of their influence to ensure that it never happens. Nor will the enormous cost of such a scheme be the primary obstacle. Instead it will be a group that seemingly has no skin in the game over who controls the Kotel that will spike a plan that could go a long way toward promoting Jewish unity. Anyone who thinks the Muslim religious authorities who control the Temple Mount will consent to a course of action that will involve construction around the area and moving the ramp that allows access to the area isn’t thinking clearly.

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Natan Sharansky was asked by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to come up with a solution to a seemingly intractable dispute over the right of non-Orthodox Jews to hold egalitarian services at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. To the surprise of no one who has followed the career of a man who has embodied both integrity and principle since his days as a Prisoner of Zion in the Soviet Union, the head of the Jewish Agency did not fob off the assignment by coming up with a plan for further study or some other tactic for avoiding the controversy. Instead, he actually produced a proposal that would end the Orthodox monopoly over the national shrine by calling for the expansion of the Western Wall Plaza to encompass the little used section known as Robinson’s Arch, where non-Orthodox services could be held without harassment or police interference.

It’s a brilliant idea, but there’s only one problem with it. Even if, as expected, Netanyahu endorses the project, the chances of it being implemented are about as close to zero as you can imagine. It’s not just that the Orthodox establishment will cry foul and use all of their influence to ensure that it never happens. Nor will the enormous cost of such a scheme be the primary obstacle. Instead it will be a group that seemingly has no skin in the game over who controls the Kotel that will spike a plan that could go a long way toward promoting Jewish unity. Anyone who thinks the Muslim religious authorities who control the Temple Mount will consent to a course of action that will involve construction around the area and moving the ramp that allows access to the area isn’t thinking clearly.

Sharansky’s proposal calls for creating a space for prayer along the remnant of the Second Temple that will reportedly allow the egalitarian movements an area that is around the same space devoted to the existing men’s and women’s sections in the Wall Plaza. The Women of the Wall, a non-Orthodox group whose members wear prayer shawls and read from the Torah, have faced harassment and expulsion by the police from the women’s section of the Wall, which is operated as if it were an Orthodox synagogue rather than a national shrine for all Jews.

As Haaretz reports:

Under the proposal, sources said, the area now known as Robinson’s Arch on the southern end of the Wall will be greatly expanded to create a prayer space roughly equivalent to the existing men’s and women’s sections. Egalitarian prayer is currently permitted at the Arch, which is an archaeological site, but that prayer is only available at limited times and with an entrance fee. The expectation is that the enlarged space would be free and open around the clock, as the Kotel is now, but that could not be confirmed.

The plan also calls for the plaza surrounding the Wall to expand, so that visitors approaching the site in the Old City could clearly chose between praying at the egalitarian section, or the existing sections reserved only for men and for women. Still under discussion is governance of the new prayer area, but several sources said that they thought it would be run by something other than the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the ultra-Orthodox organization that currently controls the Kotel.

This would create a sense of equality for all Jewish denominations at the Wall even though few Israelis support the Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist movements. This would have to proceed despite what will be furious Orthodox complaints and the likelihood of demonstrations and other disruptions by Haredim who may see this as a chance to exercise their not-inconsiderable clout in the capital. However, the absence of the ultra-Orthodox political parties in the current Israeli government may give Sharansky the room to get it approved by the Cabinet.

Finding the money for the new Wall section may be difficult in a time of government budget cuts, but given a will to see this through on Netanyahu’s part and the likelihood that some of the funds for it could be raised in the Diaspora, cash won’t be the primary obstacle.

But anyone who has any memory of the reaction of Muslims to the seemingly inoffensive opening of an entrance to the Western Wall tunnels in 1996 (during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister) knows that it is the Wakf that has the ultimate veto power over the idea.

Though the Wakf has been accused, with good reason, of conducting what is for all intents and purposes a campaign of vandalism on the site of the ancient Jewish temples, it has treated any construction in and around the Kotel as a plot to undermine the Temple Mount. Dozens were killed in rioting when Netanyahu authorized the opening of an entrance to the tunnels. Since then, similar threats have prevented any repair of the ramp leading to the Temple Mount even though Israel’s plans to do so would have primarily benefited the Wakf and non-Jews, since Jews are prohibited from praying there (the one exception to the policy of free access for all faiths at the holy places under Israeli rule in Jerusalem).

The idea that the Wakf will simply allow Israel to move the ramp or rebuild it in such a manner as to prevent it from dividing the sections of the Wall is a fantasy. So, too, is the idea that Netanyahu would risk such violence merely in order to placate the Women of the Wall or a Diaspora that is disgusted by the way the Orthodox govern the Kotel.

All of which is to say that Sharansky might as well have punted on the project. In the meantime, the best we can hope for is that the Orthodox authorities will back off a bit and leave the Women of the Wall alone if they try and pray in the women’s section. In a perfect world, a new and expanded Kotel Plaza might solve the problem. But as we all know, Israel does not exist in a perfect world.

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Palestine Papers Confirm What Israel Has Said All Along

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

I don’t know whether the “Palestine Papers” published yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian are real or, as Barry Rubin argues, a fake aimed at discrediting the Palestinian Authority’s current leadership. What is certainly false, however, is the claim, as Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland put it, that “Now we know. Israel had a peace partner.”

If the papers are true, then, as Noah pointed out, they show the PA agreeing to let Israel keep most — though not all — of the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which are home to hundreds of thousands of Israelis. The Guardian deems this concession shameful. Freedland terms it “unthinkable”; the paper’s editorial goes even further, accusing Palestinians of agreeing “to flog the family silver.”

Yet, as Rick noted, every peace plan of the past decade — starting with the Clinton Parameters in 2000, which virtually the entire world claims to view as the basis for any agreement — has proposed assigning the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Israel. The Guardian is entitled to fantasize about a Palestinian state “created on 1967 borders, not around them,” but no serious mediator or negotiator ever has. Even UN Security Council Resolution 242, which everyone accepts as the basis for talks, was drafted so as to allow changes to the pre-1967 armistice lines.

Indeed, far from constituting an “unthinkable” concession, the PA offer detailed in these documents didn’t even amount to the minimum that every peace plan of the past decade has deemed necessary for an agreement — because every such plan, again starting with the Clinton Parameters, has also proposed giving Israel additional parts of the West Bank (usually in exchange for equivalent territory inside Israel) so as to allow it to retain some of the major settlement blocs. And, according to these documents, the Palestinians wouldn’t agree to that.

This, of course, tallies exactly with what Israel has said for the past decade. Israel never claimed that negotiations broke down over Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it repeatedly claimed that talks broke down over other issues, such as borders. In 2008, for instance, Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank plus territorial swaps equivalent to the remainder, but the Palestinians refused to sign: they insisted on land swaps of only about 2 percent (see here or here).

The Palestine Papers also claim that the PA agreed to cede exclusive control over the Temple Mount in favor of management by “a body or committee.” But that, too, was in Olmert’s offer: a five-member committee composed of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the U.S., thereby ensuring an Arab majority. And, again, the Palestinians refused to sign. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently told the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that “the gaps were wide.”

The documents did, however, contain one revealing quote: chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat allegedly told an American official, “Israelis want the two state solution but they don’t trust. They want it more than you think, sometimes more than Palestinians.”

Whether or not Erekat actually said that, it’s unfortunately true. And until it changes, peace will remain a distant dream.

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Jerusalem Dig Yields Another Historical Gem

Does it matter whether Jerusalem was a major city 3,500 years ago? Surely, nothing that happened that long ago could mean much today, especially since the Israelite Kingdom of David and Solomon — from which Jewish claims date — did not come along until a few centuries later. But the recent find of a clay fragment at the site of the City of David from this long ago actually has a great deal of meaning for the debate over both the Davidic kingdom’s significance and the depth of Jewish ties to the holy city.

The fragment, found in the Ophel area, in a dig carried out by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology and funded by New York philanthropists Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, is a small piece of what appears to have been a larger tablet. What makes it important is that it contains writing in ancient cuneiform symbols. This makes it the oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem. That alone is fascinating but what makes it truly significant is the high quality of the writing that seems to be the work of a highly skilled scribe who was probably part of a royal household. Analysis of the writing by Hebrew University experts shows that it may well have been part of a message sent from a king of Jerusalem to the pharaoh in Egypt.

This matters because many influential archaeologists, as well as Palestinian propagandists, have dismissed Jewish ties to Jerusalem by claiming that the Kingdom of David mentioned in the Bible was an insignificant entity and that its capital in Jerusalem was nothing more than a village. These people scoff at the notion that the effort to restore Jewish sovereignty to the area is based on historical precedent rather than biblical romance.

The lesson of this most recent find is that if Jerusalem were already an important walled city in the centuries before David, it is very difficult to argue that it was a backwater only when the Jews took over, some 3,000 years ago. Since anti-Zionists wish to claim that King David and his kingdom never really existed and that the great city from which he ruled it is a myth, this evidence of the city’s significance even before his time is more proof of the falsity of anti-Israel historical polemics.

The stakes involved in these seemingly arcane archaeological disputes are quite high. That is why anti-Zionists have been at such pains to dismiss or minimize the importance of Mazar’s amazing finds in the course of her exploration of the City of David site. As COMMENTARY wrote back in February, when Mazar released findings that showed that she had found a portion of an ancient city wall as well as other possible royal structures dating to the 10th century B.C.E., the greatest threat to those who think that parts of Jerusalem should be off-limits to Jews comes not when Jewish-owned buildings go up but when Jews start digging into the ground.

The area in which in the City of David dig is located is often referred to in the press as “traditionally Palestinian” or merely “Arab Jerusalem.” The point is, Israel’s enemies — both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders — have specifically opposed the effort to explore the rich history of the City of David area and they consider the creation of an archaeological park there to be just another “illegal” Jewish settlement. That is why the City of David is an important intellectual and political battleground. As has been the case on the Temple Mount, where the Muslim religious authority that runs the enclosure without Israeli interference has routinely trashed any evidence that contradicts their false claims that Jerusalem has no Jewish history prior to the 20th century, this is no mere academic argument but a rather concerted effort by anti-Zionists to falsify history. What Eilat Mazar has done with the help of her American donors is to establish even more firmly that those who trash biblical history and the ancient kingdom of Israel — and, by extension, the modern Jewish state — are ideologically motivated liars.

Does it matter whether Jerusalem was a major city 3,500 years ago? Surely, nothing that happened that long ago could mean much today, especially since the Israelite Kingdom of David and Solomon — from which Jewish claims date — did not come along until a few centuries later. But the recent find of a clay fragment at the site of the City of David from this long ago actually has a great deal of meaning for the debate over both the Davidic kingdom’s significance and the depth of Jewish ties to the holy city.

The fragment, found in the Ophel area, in a dig carried out by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology and funded by New York philanthropists Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman, is a small piece of what appears to have been a larger tablet. What makes it important is that it contains writing in ancient cuneiform symbols. This makes it the oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem. That alone is fascinating but what makes it truly significant is the high quality of the writing that seems to be the work of a highly skilled scribe who was probably part of a royal household. Analysis of the writing by Hebrew University experts shows that it may well have been part of a message sent from a king of Jerusalem to the pharaoh in Egypt.

This matters because many influential archaeologists, as well as Palestinian propagandists, have dismissed Jewish ties to Jerusalem by claiming that the Kingdom of David mentioned in the Bible was an insignificant entity and that its capital in Jerusalem was nothing more than a village. These people scoff at the notion that the effort to restore Jewish sovereignty to the area is based on historical precedent rather than biblical romance.

The lesson of this most recent find is that if Jerusalem were already an important walled city in the centuries before David, it is very difficult to argue that it was a backwater only when the Jews took over, some 3,000 years ago. Since anti-Zionists wish to claim that King David and his kingdom never really existed and that the great city from which he ruled it is a myth, this evidence of the city’s significance even before his time is more proof of the falsity of anti-Israel historical polemics.

The stakes involved in these seemingly arcane archaeological disputes are quite high. That is why anti-Zionists have been at such pains to dismiss or minimize the importance of Mazar’s amazing finds in the course of her exploration of the City of David site. As COMMENTARY wrote back in February, when Mazar released findings that showed that she had found a portion of an ancient city wall as well as other possible royal structures dating to the 10th century B.C.E., the greatest threat to those who think that parts of Jerusalem should be off-limits to Jews comes not when Jewish-owned buildings go up but when Jews start digging into the ground.

The area in which in the City of David dig is located is often referred to in the press as “traditionally Palestinian” or merely “Arab Jerusalem.” The point is, Israel’s enemies — both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders — have specifically opposed the effort to explore the rich history of the City of David area and they consider the creation of an archaeological park there to be just another “illegal” Jewish settlement. That is why the City of David is an important intellectual and political battleground. As has been the case on the Temple Mount, where the Muslim religious authority that runs the enclosure without Israeli interference has routinely trashed any evidence that contradicts their false claims that Jerusalem has no Jewish history prior to the 20th century, this is no mere academic argument but a rather concerted effort by anti-Zionists to falsify history. What Eilat Mazar has done with the help of her American donors is to establish even more firmly that those who trash biblical history and the ancient kingdom of Israel — and, by extension, the modern Jewish state — are ideologically motivated liars.

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How the West’s Silence Undermines Its Mideast Policy

Kudos to Britain’s Zionist Federation for launching a campaign this week against the ludicrous decision by the country’s Advertising Standards Authority to ban an Israeli tourism ad featuring a picture of the Western Wall because it “implied that the part of East Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the state of Israel” rather than “occupied territory,” and was thus “likely to mislead.” But the ones who should be leading this campaign are the American government, the British government, and any other government that claims to view Israeli-Palestinian peace as a policy priority.

To understand why these governments should care, it’s worth perusing a seemingly unrelated article by Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center. Singer argued that for the Palestinians to be willing to make peace with Israel, two conditions must hold.

First, Palestinians must be convinced that they have no chance of destroying Israel — because if Israel can be eradicated, leaving them with 100 percent of the territory, they obviously have no incentive to sign a deal that would give them at most 22 percent. And while Palestinians know they can’t defeat Israel militarily as things stand now, Singer wrote, they remain hopeful “that their international campaign to delegitimize Israel will lead to international pressure that forces it into a series of retreats that ultimately makes it unable to defend itself.”

Second, Palestinians must be convinced that they can make peace with honor — 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.” But currently, he noted, “The Palestinian leadership is deliberately making an honorable peace impossible by falsely denying that Jews have a legitimate claim to any of the land.” They even deny that a Jewish Temple ever stood on the Temple Mount.

The ASA decision, far from encouraging these necessary Palestinian convictions to take root, does the exact opposite. First, it bolsters Palestinian hopes that their delegitimization strategy will succeed. As Jonathan noted last week, if Britain thinks Jews have no claim even to the Western Wall, the road is short to convincing it that Jews have no claim to any place in Israel.

And second, it reinforces the Palestinian belief that Jews have no historic ties to the land. After all, Western officials and journalists consistently refer to the Western Wall as Judaism’s holiest site. So if Britain thinks even this “holiest of Jewish sites” properly belongs to Palestinians rather than to Jews, Jewish claims of deep religious/historical ties to this land cannot be anything other than a massive fraud.

If Western governments are serious about wanting Middle East peace, they must confront these twin Palestinian pathologies head-on instead of catering to them, as the ASA did in this decision. And the longer they wait, they harder it will be — because the more time passes without any serious challenge to these views from the West, the more deeply entrenched in the Palestinian psyche they become.

Kudos to Britain’s Zionist Federation for launching a campaign this week against the ludicrous decision by the country’s Advertising Standards Authority to ban an Israeli tourism ad featuring a picture of the Western Wall because it “implied that the part of East Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the state of Israel” rather than “occupied territory,” and was thus “likely to mislead.” But the ones who should be leading this campaign are the American government, the British government, and any other government that claims to view Israeli-Palestinian peace as a policy priority.

To understand why these governments should care, it’s worth perusing a seemingly unrelated article by Max Singer of the Begin-Sadat Center. Singer argued that for the Palestinians to be willing to make peace with Israel, two conditions must hold.

First, Palestinians must be convinced that they have no chance of destroying Israel — because if Israel can be eradicated, leaving them with 100 percent of the territory, they obviously have no incentive to sign a deal that would give them at most 22 percent. And while Palestinians know they can’t defeat Israel militarily as things stand now, Singer wrote, they remain hopeful “that their international campaign to delegitimize Israel will lead to international pressure that forces it into a series of retreats that ultimately makes it unable to defend itself.”

Second, Palestinians must be convinced that they can make peace with honor — 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.” But currently, he noted, “The Palestinian leadership is deliberately making an honorable peace impossible by falsely denying that Jews have a legitimate claim to any of the land.” They even deny that a Jewish Temple ever stood on the Temple Mount.

The ASA decision, far from encouraging these necessary Palestinian convictions to take root, does the exact opposite. First, it bolsters Palestinian hopes that their delegitimization strategy will succeed. As Jonathan noted last week, if Britain thinks Jews have no claim even to the Western Wall, the road is short to convincing it that Jews have no claim to any place in Israel.

And second, it reinforces the Palestinian belief that Jews have no historic ties to the land. After all, Western officials and journalists consistently refer to the Western Wall as Judaism’s holiest site. So if Britain thinks even this “holiest of Jewish sites” properly belongs to Palestinians rather than to Jews, Jewish claims of deep religious/historical ties to this land cannot be anything other than a massive fraud.

If Western governments are serious about wanting Middle East peace, they must confront these twin Palestinian pathologies head-on instead of catering to them, as the ASA did in this decision. And the longer they wait, they harder it will be — because the more time passes without any serious challenge to these views from the West, the more deeply entrenched in the Palestinian psyche they become.

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Another Jewish Organization Takes On Obama

Albeit with less vehemence than the World Jewish Congress and the ADL, the Orthodox Union joins the growing list of Jewish organizations publicly taking on Obama’s assault on Israel. Nathan Diament writes that the notion of an imposed peace with a divided Jerusalem — a “bitter pill,” as Zbigniew Brzezinski describes it – is fundamentally faulty:

Jerusalem cannot be equated with any other Israeli-Palestinian border arrangement in pursuit of a peace accord. The city is at the core of Jewish theology, history and identity.

From the religious perspective, Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish identity. Observant Jews pray each day for Jerusalem’s welfare, facing toward it. We read Biblical accounts of our forefathers that take place there. We conclude our holiest days — as we did at the Passover Seder last month — with a prayer that, next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem.

And he reminds us of the pre-1967 Jerusalem:

Synagogues were destroyed. This is what happened to the Hurva Synagogue, which was finally rededicated this month — amid Palestinian denunciations and incitement to violence. Christian sites were degraded, too. But after the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel unified the city and opened the holy sites to people of all faiths.

From 1948 to 1967, when Jordan held the Old City and East Jerusalem, Jews were barred entry, denied worship at the Western Wall at the foot of the Temple Mount and denied access to the ancient cemeteries on the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion.

Whether or not one agrees with Diament’s take, his argument makes it clear that there is no obvious peace deal where the terms are “known to all,” as  Brzezinsk put it. Obama’s assault on Jerusalem and the threat of an imposed peace deal are, in fact, an “anathema to Jews everywhere.” (He certainly has some polling data on his side.)

It does seem we are entering a new phase in the Jewish community’s relationship with the administration. The series of public rebukes is noteworthy. And so is the timing of the AIPAC-sponsored letters, taking issue with Obama’s Iran and Israel policies. It is no coincidence it came directly on the heels of the nuclear summit. The message: you’re not fooling anyone. Now the question is whether that opposition manifests itself in a decline in support for Obama, and whether he really cares what Jews think. There’s substantial doubt about both.

Albeit with less vehemence than the World Jewish Congress and the ADL, the Orthodox Union joins the growing list of Jewish organizations publicly taking on Obama’s assault on Israel. Nathan Diament writes that the notion of an imposed peace with a divided Jerusalem — a “bitter pill,” as Zbigniew Brzezinski describes it – is fundamentally faulty:

Jerusalem cannot be equated with any other Israeli-Palestinian border arrangement in pursuit of a peace accord. The city is at the core of Jewish theology, history and identity.

From the religious perspective, Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish identity. Observant Jews pray each day for Jerusalem’s welfare, facing toward it. We read Biblical accounts of our forefathers that take place there. We conclude our holiest days — as we did at the Passover Seder last month — with a prayer that, next year, we will celebrate in Jerusalem.

And he reminds us of the pre-1967 Jerusalem:

Synagogues were destroyed. This is what happened to the Hurva Synagogue, which was finally rededicated this month — amid Palestinian denunciations and incitement to violence. Christian sites were degraded, too. But after the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel unified the city and opened the holy sites to people of all faiths.

From 1948 to 1967, when Jordan held the Old City and East Jerusalem, Jews were barred entry, denied worship at the Western Wall at the foot of the Temple Mount and denied access to the ancient cemeteries on the Mount of Olives and Mount Zion.

Whether or not one agrees with Diament’s take, his argument makes it clear that there is no obvious peace deal where the terms are “known to all,” as  Brzezinsk put it. Obama’s assault on Jerusalem and the threat of an imposed peace deal are, in fact, an “anathema to Jews everywhere.” (He certainly has some polling data on his side.)

It does seem we are entering a new phase in the Jewish community’s relationship with the administration. The series of public rebukes is noteworthy. And so is the timing of the AIPAC-sponsored letters, taking issue with Obama’s Iran and Israel policies. It is no coincidence it came directly on the heels of the nuclear summit. The message: you’re not fooling anyone. Now the question is whether that opposition manifests itself in a decline in support for Obama, and whether he really cares what Jews think. There’s substantial doubt about both.

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British Tourism Authority: Western Wall Is “Occupied Territory”

Naturally. The UK’s “Advertising Standards Authority” has declared that an Israeli advertisement containing a picture of the Western Wall is misleading because the Wall is not part of Israel — it is occupied territory.

The ASA said that the advert featured various landmarks that were in East Jerusalem which were part of the Occupied Territories.

It ruled that the advert breached truthfulness guidelines and ordered that it not be used again, adding: “We told the Israeli Tourist Office not to imply that places in the Occupied Territories were part of the state of Israel.”

It said: “The ASA noted the itinerary image of Jerusalem used in the ad featured the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, which were both in East Jerusalem, a part of the Occupied Territories of the West Bank.”

Britain is in bad shape, isn’t it?

Naturally. The UK’s “Advertising Standards Authority” has declared that an Israeli advertisement containing a picture of the Western Wall is misleading because the Wall is not part of Israel — it is occupied territory.

The ASA said that the advert featured various landmarks that were in East Jerusalem which were part of the Occupied Territories.

It ruled that the advert breached truthfulness guidelines and ordered that it not be used again, adding: “We told the Israeli Tourist Office not to imply that places in the Occupied Territories were part of the state of Israel.”

It said: “The ASA noted the itinerary image of Jerusalem used in the ad featured the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, which were both in East Jerusalem, a part of the Occupied Territories of the West Bank.”

Britain is in bad shape, isn’t it?

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Moderation

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit has picked up on the April 4 – Easter Sunday – greeting to the Palestinian people of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In it, Fayyad promised that next year, the people will hold the (Islamic) Holy Fire vigil in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, “capital” of the Palestinian state.

Fayyad, of course, has made his reputation over the last decade as a Western-friendly moderate, praised by Thomas Friedman for advocating that the Palestinian Arabs focus on building their institutions to prepare for viable statehood rather than on armed struggle against Israel. Friedman calls this approach “Fayyadism,” but as Jonathan Tobin pointed out in March, Fayyadism is a policy without a constituency among the Palestinian Arabs.  It isn’t something that can be counted on or appealed to in the clutch.

Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting is a reminder that it could be more problematic if Fayyadism did have a constituency. The statehood proposal announced by Fayyad in August 2009 might de-emphasize armed resistance, but its provision for unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state with the June 4, 1967, border is hardly uncontroversial.

One element of such a declaration – to be made in 2011, according to Fayyad’s two-year timetable – would be unilaterally assuming Arab control of Jerusalem’s Old City, the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the rest of East Jerusalem. The text of Fayyad’s April 4 greeting could hardly be more pointed regarding the import of that. His words are a reminder of the years 1948 to 1967, when Jordan’s occupation force destroyed dozens of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter and denied Jews access to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. More than half of Old Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants left the city during that period because of religious restrictions and harassment.

Today, the ancient iron key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is kept and wielded daily by a Muslim family under a centuries-old charter from the Ottoman Empire. While Israel administers civil life in the Old City, this is merely a tradition with an aspect of historical charm to it. Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting reminds us, however, that under Arab Islamic rule, this tradition represents the power to prohibit the free exercise of religion.

Fayyad’s provocative greeting can’t be dismissed as meaningless demagoguery. He has already put forward an actual plan to declare East Jerusalem part of a Palestinian state in 2011, the “next year” referred to in his greeting. He himself may or may not be the leader around whom Palestinians and their foreign sponsors can coalesce, but he has for the first time overlaid the Palestinians’ long-vague aspirations with the organizing agent of a true, state-oriented strategy.

Thomas Friedman is typical of Western observers in welcoming this as a sign of seriousness. But we would be perilously shortsighted to mistake the Fayyad strategy’s de-emphasis on the tactics of armed insurgency for a moderation of Palestinian objectives. Palestinian leaders continue to promise a great deal they either can’t deliver, or could only deliver if conditions were radically different. Approaching immoderate objectives with a revised strategy isn’t actually a sign of moderation.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit has picked up on the April 4 – Easter Sunday – greeting to the Palestinian people of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In it, Fayyad promised that next year, the people will hold the (Islamic) Holy Fire vigil in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, “capital” of the Palestinian state.

Fayyad, of course, has made his reputation over the last decade as a Western-friendly moderate, praised by Thomas Friedman for advocating that the Palestinian Arabs focus on building their institutions to prepare for viable statehood rather than on armed struggle against Israel. Friedman calls this approach “Fayyadism,” but as Jonathan Tobin pointed out in March, Fayyadism is a policy without a constituency among the Palestinian Arabs.  It isn’t something that can be counted on or appealed to in the clutch.

Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting is a reminder that it could be more problematic if Fayyadism did have a constituency. The statehood proposal announced by Fayyad in August 2009 might de-emphasize armed resistance, but its provision for unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state with the June 4, 1967, border is hardly uncontroversial.

One element of such a declaration – to be made in 2011, according to Fayyad’s two-year timetable – would be unilaterally assuming Arab control of Jerusalem’s Old City, the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as well as the rest of East Jerusalem. The text of Fayyad’s April 4 greeting could hardly be more pointed regarding the import of that. His words are a reminder of the years 1948 to 1967, when Jordan’s occupation force destroyed dozens of synagogues in the Jewish Quarter and denied Jews access to the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. More than half of Old Jerusalem’s Christian inhabitants left the city during that period because of religious restrictions and harassment.

Today, the ancient iron key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is kept and wielded daily by a Muslim family under a centuries-old charter from the Ottoman Empire. While Israel administers civil life in the Old City, this is merely a tradition with an aspect of historical charm to it. Fayyad’s Easter Sunday greeting reminds us, however, that under Arab Islamic rule, this tradition represents the power to prohibit the free exercise of religion.

Fayyad’s provocative greeting can’t be dismissed as meaningless demagoguery. He has already put forward an actual plan to declare East Jerusalem part of a Palestinian state in 2011, the “next year” referred to in his greeting. He himself may or may not be the leader around whom Palestinians and their foreign sponsors can coalesce, but he has for the first time overlaid the Palestinians’ long-vague aspirations with the organizing agent of a true, state-oriented strategy.

Thomas Friedman is typical of Western observers in welcoming this as a sign of seriousness. But we would be perilously shortsighted to mistake the Fayyad strategy’s de-emphasis on the tactics of armed insurgency for a moderation of Palestinian objectives. Palestinian leaders continue to promise a great deal they either can’t deliver, or could only deliver if conditions were radically different. Approaching immoderate objectives with a revised strategy isn’t actually a sign of moderation.

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Hillary Boasts of Her Success

This report suggests that the Obami have learned exactly nothing from the smash-up with Israel over the Jerusalem housing expansion:

In an interview with the BBC’s Kim Ghattas today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the toughness of the U.S. reaction to the Israeli government’s East Jerusalem housing announcement last week is “paying off” as the U.S. now expects negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to resume.

She also said that contrary to some reports, the U.S. is not interested in forcing a shuffle in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. She said, however, that it’s Netanyahu’s responsibility to “make sure that he brings in everyone else” in his government he needs to to pursue negotiations with the Palestinians.

Hillary seems positively delighted with the crimp put in U.S.-Israeli relations. Do you think she’ll repeat that at her AIPAC appearance Monday morning? Or is boasting about roughing up Bibi just a morsel for consumption by the Israel-bashing BBC? Meanwhile, one wonders whether Hillary considers this among her successes:

While a tense calm has prevailed in the capital since rioting rocked its eastern neighborhoods Tuesday, Jerusalem Police on Thursday announced that the deployment of more than 3,000 police officers throughout the Old City and east Jerusalem would continue Friday, and access to the Temple Mount would be restricted, amid fears that prayers there could give way to renewed clashes.

The heightened police presence has been in effect since last Friday, when tensions in the area began to build and sporadic clashes erupted inside the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud.

I’m sure an imaginary condemnation is sure to follow.

This report suggests that the Obami have learned exactly nothing from the smash-up with Israel over the Jerusalem housing expansion:

In an interview with the BBC’s Kim Ghattas today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the toughness of the U.S. reaction to the Israeli government’s East Jerusalem housing announcement last week is “paying off” as the U.S. now expects negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to resume.

She also said that contrary to some reports, the U.S. is not interested in forcing a shuffle in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. She said, however, that it’s Netanyahu’s responsibility to “make sure that he brings in everyone else” in his government he needs to to pursue negotiations with the Palestinians.

Hillary seems positively delighted with the crimp put in U.S.-Israeli relations. Do you think she’ll repeat that at her AIPAC appearance Monday morning? Or is boasting about roughing up Bibi just a morsel for consumption by the Israel-bashing BBC? Meanwhile, one wonders whether Hillary considers this among her successes:

While a tense calm has prevailed in the capital since rioting rocked its eastern neighborhoods Tuesday, Jerusalem Police on Thursday announced that the deployment of more than 3,000 police officers throughout the Old City and east Jerusalem would continue Friday, and access to the Temple Mount would be restricted, amid fears that prayers there could give way to renewed clashes.

The heightened police presence has been in effect since last Friday, when tensions in the area began to build and sporadic clashes erupted inside the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud.

I’m sure an imaginary condemnation is sure to follow.

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Why Obama Got Everything Wrong

In a must-read column, Yossi Klein Halevi makes a number of key observations. Running through them all is a single theme: the Obami grossly miscalculated the consequences when they staged a fight with Bibi Netanyahu.

First is the violence:

The return of menace to Jerusalem is not because a mid-level bureaucrat announced stage four of a seven-stage process in the eventual construction of 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. … Why, then, the outbreak of violence now? Why Hamas’s “day of rage” over Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority’s call to gather on the Temple Mount to “save” the Dome of the Rock from non-existent plans to build the Third Temple? Why the sudden outrage over rebuilding a synagogue, destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, when dozens of synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the quarter without incident? The answer lies not in Jerusalem but in Washington. By placing the issue of building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at the center of the peace process, President Obama has inadvertently challenged the Palestinians to do no less.

Second is the assumption that Bibi might be marginalized or toppled by an outcry from the Israeli public:

The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis’ initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu.

Third is the ill-conceived goal of preserving the proximity talks:

Now the administration is demanding that Israel negotiate over final status issues in proximity talks as a way of convincing the Palestinians to agree to those talks–as if Israelis would agree to discuss the future of Jerusalem when Palestinian leaders refuse to even sit with them.

How could the Obami have gotten so much so wrong? Well, “Obama could be guilty of such amateurishness was perhaps forgivable because he was, after all, an amateur.” Sheer incompetence cannot be underestimated as an explanation. Certainly sending political bully David Axelrod to beat up on Israel on the Sunday talk shows will go down as among the dumbest foreign-policy moves in the annals of Middle East diplomacy — which has more than its share of them.

Not without justification, some look beyond incompetence to Obama’s mouthing of  Palestinian victimology rhetoric. It’s not hard to conclude that Obama has fallen prey to “clientitis” — a syndrome usually reserved for State Department officials who become too closely identified with the country to which they are assigned.

In this case, Obama has become transfixed by the litany of Palestinian grievances, has come to share their conviction that Israel is the problem, and has failed to deliver the hard news — namely that they need to reject the “right of return to Greater Palestine,” renounce violence, normalize their society, and recognize Israel before there will be “peace.” In so doing he has helped plunge Israel into violence, soured our relations with Israel, and done his Palestinian clients no favors. As with so much regarding Obama, it’s the collision of incompetence and bad ideas that explains another administration debacle.

In a must-read column, Yossi Klein Halevi makes a number of key observations. Running through them all is a single theme: the Obami grossly miscalculated the consequences when they staged a fight with Bibi Netanyahu.

First is the violence:

The return of menace to Jerusalem is not because a mid-level bureaucrat announced stage four of a seven-stage process in the eventual construction of 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. … Why, then, the outbreak of violence now? Why Hamas’s “day of rage” over Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority’s call to gather on the Temple Mount to “save” the Dome of the Rock from non-existent plans to build the Third Temple? Why the sudden outrage over rebuilding a synagogue, destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, when dozens of synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the quarter without incident? The answer lies not in Jerusalem but in Washington. By placing the issue of building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at the center of the peace process, President Obama has inadvertently challenged the Palestinians to do no less.

Second is the assumption that Bibi might be marginalized or toppled by an outcry from the Israeli public:

The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis’ initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu.

Third is the ill-conceived goal of preserving the proximity talks:

Now the administration is demanding that Israel negotiate over final status issues in proximity talks as a way of convincing the Palestinians to agree to those talks–as if Israelis would agree to discuss the future of Jerusalem when Palestinian leaders refuse to even sit with them.

How could the Obami have gotten so much so wrong? Well, “Obama could be guilty of such amateurishness was perhaps forgivable because he was, after all, an amateur.” Sheer incompetence cannot be underestimated as an explanation. Certainly sending political bully David Axelrod to beat up on Israel on the Sunday talk shows will go down as among the dumbest foreign-policy moves in the annals of Middle East diplomacy — which has more than its share of them.

Not without justification, some look beyond incompetence to Obama’s mouthing of  Palestinian victimology rhetoric. It’s not hard to conclude that Obama has fallen prey to “clientitis” — a syndrome usually reserved for State Department officials who become too closely identified with the country to which they are assigned.

In this case, Obama has become transfixed by the litany of Palestinian grievances, has come to share their conviction that Israel is the problem, and has failed to deliver the hard news — namely that they need to reject the “right of return to Greater Palestine,” renounce violence, normalize their society, and recognize Israel before there will be “peace.” In so doing he has helped plunge Israel into violence, soured our relations with Israel, and done his Palestinian clients no favors. As with so much regarding Obama, it’s the collision of incompetence and bad ideas that explains another administration debacle.

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How Many Lives Is Biden’s Pride Worth?

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

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Palestinians Take the Measure Of Obama

Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

The Hurva Synagogue, which is in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, has been rebuilt and has been rededicated, and in response, Hamas has called for a “day of rage.” Why? I don’t know why. The Hurva Synagogue does not sit atop the Temple Mount; it’s not near the Temple Mount. Rumors that the rebuilding has affected the Temple Mount are being spread by people who want to create violence and death in the holy city.

But alas, Goldberg knows full well why Hamas is calling for violence and death: “The Hurva holds special meaning for Jews because it was destroyed in 1948 by the Arab Legion, which went on to expel the Jews from the Old City. The fact that Hamas — and even some in Fatah — are protesting this rededication means that we might still be at square one, which is to say, where Arafat was in 2000, when he denied the historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem.”  He warns that “this is about denying the right of Judaism to exist in its holiest city.”

Hmm, now where could the Palestinians have gotten the notion that they could engage in such behavior with impunity? Why do we suppose they haven’t a fear in the world that they might lose the adoring glances of the Obami and the security of “proximity talks,” whereby they avoid, as the Netanyahu government has offered, direct negotiations? Well it might have something to do with the perception that “Israel’s last line of defense against false claims and promises — the United States — has made itself indistinguishable from the United Nations and Amnesty International and all the other NGOs and religious denominations that have declared a virtual war against the Jewish state.”

Oh, but as Goldberg would explain, Hurva is completely different from an apartment complex! Oh really? Well, the housing complex at the center of the storm is not one that even Yasir Arafat would have made a claim for (before he revealed negotiations to be a sham and returned to the business of killing Jews). Who can say that the Palestinians have misread the situation? On the contrary, they can spot daylight when they see it. The State Department’s spokesman offered some tepid criticism of the Palestinians’ call to violence:

I would say that we also have some concerns today about the tensions regarding the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. And we are urging all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to remain calm. We’re deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions that we see. And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement.

But there was no “condemnation.” That kind of language and bully-boy tactics are reserved, of course, for Israel. The Palestinians may not be interested in peace, but they aren’t fools. They’ve figured out what’s fair game in the Obama era.

Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

The Hurva Synagogue, which is in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, has been rebuilt and has been rededicated, and in response, Hamas has called for a “day of rage.” Why? I don’t know why. The Hurva Synagogue does not sit atop the Temple Mount; it’s not near the Temple Mount. Rumors that the rebuilding has affected the Temple Mount are being spread by people who want to create violence and death in the holy city.

But alas, Goldberg knows full well why Hamas is calling for violence and death: “The Hurva holds special meaning for Jews because it was destroyed in 1948 by the Arab Legion, which went on to expel the Jews from the Old City. The fact that Hamas — and even some in Fatah — are protesting this rededication means that we might still be at square one, which is to say, where Arafat was in 2000, when he denied the historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem.”  He warns that “this is about denying the right of Judaism to exist in its holiest city.”

Hmm, now where could the Palestinians have gotten the notion that they could engage in such behavior with impunity? Why do we suppose they haven’t a fear in the world that they might lose the adoring glances of the Obami and the security of “proximity talks,” whereby they avoid, as the Netanyahu government has offered, direct negotiations? Well it might have something to do with the perception that “Israel’s last line of defense against false claims and promises — the United States — has made itself indistinguishable from the United Nations and Amnesty International and all the other NGOs and religious denominations that have declared a virtual war against the Jewish state.”

Oh, but as Goldberg would explain, Hurva is completely different from an apartment complex! Oh really? Well, the housing complex at the center of the storm is not one that even Yasir Arafat would have made a claim for (before he revealed negotiations to be a sham and returned to the business of killing Jews). Who can say that the Palestinians have misread the situation? On the contrary, they can spot daylight when they see it. The State Department’s spokesman offered some tepid criticism of the Palestinians’ call to violence:

I would say that we also have some concerns today about the tensions regarding the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. And we are urging all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to remain calm. We’re deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions that we see. And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement.

But there was no “condemnation.” That kind of language and bully-boy tactics are reserved, of course, for Israel. The Palestinians may not be interested in peace, but they aren’t fools. They’ve figured out what’s fair game in the Obama era.

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RE: The Fallout

Republican House Minority Whip Eric Cantor has released a blistering critique of the Obama anti-Israel gambit:

To say that I am deeply concerned with the irresponsible comments that the White House, Vice President, and the Secretary of State have made against Israel is an understatement. In an effort to ingratiate our country with the Arab world, this Administration has shown a troubling eagerness to undercut our allies and friends. Israel has always been committed to the peace process, including advocating for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, in effort to bring this conflict to an end. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Government continues to insist on indirect talks and slowing down the process. …

While it condemns Israel, the Administration continues to ignore a host of Palestinian provocations that undermine prospects for peace in the region. Where is the outrage when top Fatah officials call for riots on the Temple Mount? Why does the Palestinian Authority get a pass when it holds a ceremony glorifying the woman responsible for one of the deadliest terror attack in Israel’s history? Surely, the Administration’s double standard has set back the peace process. …

Israel continues to be a world leader in the fight against terrorism and speak out against the prospects of a nuclear Iran. For this Administration to treat our special relationship with Israel, one of our closest and most strategic Democratic allies, in this fashion is beyond irresponsible and jeopardizes America’s national security.

Minority Leader John Boehner, embellishing on a brief response over the weekend has weighed in as well:

The Administration’s decision to escalate its rhetoric following Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel is not merely irresponsible, it is an affront to the values and foundation of our long-term relationship with a close friend and ally. The Administration has demonstrated a repeated pattern since it took office:  while it makes concessions to countries acting contrary to U.S. national interests, it ignores or snubs the commitments, shared values and sacrifices of many of our country’s best allies. If the Administration wants to work toward resolving the conflict in the Middle East, it should focus its efforts on Iran’s behavior, including its pursuit of nuclear weapons, its state-sponsorship of terrorism, its crushing of domestic democratic forces, and the impact its behavior is having, not just on Israel, but also on the calculations of other countries in the region as well as on the credibility of international nonproliferation efforts.  House Republicans remain committed to our long-standing bilateral friendship with Israel, as well as to the commitments this country has made.

These statements are significant in that they put the Republican Congressional leadership squarely on the side of Israel supporters, including AIPAC and the ADL, which have objected strenuously to the misplaced priorities and bizarrely hostile treatment shown to our ally Israel. The focus will now be on the Democrats: do they defend the adminsitration or challenge it to clean up the mess made over the last few days?

It is not a good thing for support for Israel to break down on party lines. That has not been the case historically. As noted earlier, in 1991, three founders of the Republican Jewish Coalition — Max Fisher, George Klein, and Dick Fox — penned a letter to then President George H.W. Bush strongly protesting the cutoff of loan guarantees as a lever to get (yes, nearly two decades and not much has changed) Israel to knuckle under at the bargaining table (then it was Madrid). It is the bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and in the United States at large which has been critical to the maintainence of a robust and warm alliance between the two countries. That it is fraying now, when the most critical national-security threat to both (Iran’s nuclear ambitions) looms large, is especially troubling. And that, in the statements from pro-Israel Republicans, AIPAC, the ADL, and others, is what the administration is being asked to focus on. But then, they have no solution or game plan — it seems — on Iran. So beating up on Israel passes the time and excuses, in their own mind, the inactivity on that most critical issue.

A bipartisan coalition in support of Israel, in which stated principles trump partisan loyalty and political convenience, has been the cornerstone of the U.S.-Israel relationship. We are reminded now that for a president to enthusiastically lead, rather than decimate, that coalition is essential. What’s indispensible is a U.S.president who does more than mouth platitudes about our enduring relationship with the Jewish state. What is needed is a president who does not adopt the rhetoric and the bargaining posture of  intransigent Palestinians waiting for the U.S. to deliver Israel on a platter. Can our relationship survive without such a president? We are regrettably going to find out.

Republican House Minority Whip Eric Cantor has released a blistering critique of the Obama anti-Israel gambit:

To say that I am deeply concerned with the irresponsible comments that the White House, Vice President, and the Secretary of State have made against Israel is an understatement. In an effort to ingratiate our country with the Arab world, this Administration has shown a troubling eagerness to undercut our allies and friends. Israel has always been committed to the peace process, including advocating for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, in effort to bring this conflict to an end. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Government continues to insist on indirect talks and slowing down the process. …

While it condemns Israel, the Administration continues to ignore a host of Palestinian provocations that undermine prospects for peace in the region. Where is the outrage when top Fatah officials call for riots on the Temple Mount? Why does the Palestinian Authority get a pass when it holds a ceremony glorifying the woman responsible for one of the deadliest terror attack in Israel’s history? Surely, the Administration’s double standard has set back the peace process. …

Israel continues to be a world leader in the fight against terrorism and speak out against the prospects of a nuclear Iran. For this Administration to treat our special relationship with Israel, one of our closest and most strategic Democratic allies, in this fashion is beyond irresponsible and jeopardizes America’s national security.

Minority Leader John Boehner, embellishing on a brief response over the weekend has weighed in as well:

The Administration’s decision to escalate its rhetoric following Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel is not merely irresponsible, it is an affront to the values and foundation of our long-term relationship with a close friend and ally. The Administration has demonstrated a repeated pattern since it took office:  while it makes concessions to countries acting contrary to U.S. national interests, it ignores or snubs the commitments, shared values and sacrifices of many of our country’s best allies. If the Administration wants to work toward resolving the conflict in the Middle East, it should focus its efforts on Iran’s behavior, including its pursuit of nuclear weapons, its state-sponsorship of terrorism, its crushing of domestic democratic forces, and the impact its behavior is having, not just on Israel, but also on the calculations of other countries in the region as well as on the credibility of international nonproliferation efforts.  House Republicans remain committed to our long-standing bilateral friendship with Israel, as well as to the commitments this country has made.

These statements are significant in that they put the Republican Congressional leadership squarely on the side of Israel supporters, including AIPAC and the ADL, which have objected strenuously to the misplaced priorities and bizarrely hostile treatment shown to our ally Israel. The focus will now be on the Democrats: do they defend the adminsitration or challenge it to clean up the mess made over the last few days?

It is not a good thing for support for Israel to break down on party lines. That has not been the case historically. As noted earlier, in 1991, three founders of the Republican Jewish Coalition — Max Fisher, George Klein, and Dick Fox — penned a letter to then President George H.W. Bush strongly protesting the cutoff of loan guarantees as a lever to get (yes, nearly two decades and not much has changed) Israel to knuckle under at the bargaining table (then it was Madrid). It is the bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and in the United States at large which has been critical to the maintainence of a robust and warm alliance between the two countries. That it is fraying now, when the most critical national-security threat to both (Iran’s nuclear ambitions) looms large, is especially troubling. And that, in the statements from pro-Israel Republicans, AIPAC, the ADL, and others, is what the administration is being asked to focus on. But then, they have no solution or game plan — it seems — on Iran. So beating up on Israel passes the time and excuses, in their own mind, the inactivity on that most critical issue.

A bipartisan coalition in support of Israel, in which stated principles trump partisan loyalty and political convenience, has been the cornerstone of the U.S.-Israel relationship. We are reminded now that for a president to enthusiastically lead, rather than decimate, that coalition is essential. What’s indispensible is a U.S.president who does more than mouth platitudes about our enduring relationship with the Jewish state. What is needed is a president who does not adopt the rhetoric and the bargaining posture of  intransigent Palestinians waiting for the U.S. to deliver Israel on a platter. Can our relationship survive without such a president? We are regrettably going to find out.

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A Lesson for the Future in Abbas’s Retreat on Refusing to Talk

That Israel and the Palestinians, after 16 years of direct talks, are now back to indirect talks is an undeniable retreat. But in a must-read analysis, the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent, Herb Keinon, points out that this may nevertheless be one of the most hopeful moments of the entire peace process — because for the first time, “the Palestinians gave in on something.”

“Israelis, Palestinians and the world have become accustomed to Israel setting red lines, and then moving them,” Keinon wrote. “The Palestinians, on the other hand, have set a track record of saying what they mean.” For instance, they have never budged from their demand for “all of east Jerusalem, including the Old City,” or for “the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel proper.”

But after months of proclaiming that he would not resume talks with Israel without a complete freeze on Israeli construction in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has backed down. And this offers a crucial lesson for the future.

“The reason Abbas was willing to move his red line was because he came under intense pressure from the US, certain elements inside the EU, and from Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan to start talks, even though all his conditions were not met,” Keinon noted. “The valuable lesson here: The Palestinians, too, and not only Israel, are susceptible to pressure.”

In the rest of the article, Keinon focuses on the short term — primarily, whether the U.S., EU, Egypt, and Jordan will learn this lesson well enough to pressure Abbas to continue talks after his self-imposed four-month deadline expires.

But the truly significant implications are for the long term. Until now, the U.S., EU, and Arab states have devoted all their efforts to pressuring Israel to change its positions — with great success. Israel’s “red lines” on borders and Jerusalem, for instance, have steadily retreated, to the point where former prime minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank, large chunks of East Jerusalem, international Muslim control over the Temple Mount, and even a symbolic absorption of Palestinian refugees. Yet there are limits beyond which no Israeli government will ever go.

Thus, no agreement will ever be possible unless the Palestinians, too, change some of their positions – which, as Keinon noted, has yet to happen. And it never will happen without concerted pressure from the U.S., EU, and Arab world.

If these countries learn the lesson and in fact begin pressuring Abbas to start educating his people about what an agreement will really entail, Barack Obama might someday justly claim credit for having fomented the turnabout that ultimately led to an agreement. But if they instead fall back into the old familiar pattern of endlessly pressuring Israel for more concessions, the current round of talks will be just one more link in an unbroken chain of peace-process failures.

That Israel and the Palestinians, after 16 years of direct talks, are now back to indirect talks is an undeniable retreat. But in a must-read analysis, the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent, Herb Keinon, points out that this may nevertheless be one of the most hopeful moments of the entire peace process — because for the first time, “the Palestinians gave in on something.”

“Israelis, Palestinians and the world have become accustomed to Israel setting red lines, and then moving them,” Keinon wrote. “The Palestinians, on the other hand, have set a track record of saying what they mean.” For instance, they have never budged from their demand for “all of east Jerusalem, including the Old City,” or for “the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel proper.”

But after months of proclaiming that he would not resume talks with Israel without a complete freeze on Israeli construction in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has backed down. And this offers a crucial lesson for the future.

“The reason Abbas was willing to move his red line was because he came under intense pressure from the US, certain elements inside the EU, and from Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan to start talks, even though all his conditions were not met,” Keinon noted. “The valuable lesson here: The Palestinians, too, and not only Israel, are susceptible to pressure.”

In the rest of the article, Keinon focuses on the short term — primarily, whether the U.S., EU, Egypt, and Jordan will learn this lesson well enough to pressure Abbas to continue talks after his self-imposed four-month deadline expires.

But the truly significant implications are for the long term. Until now, the U.S., EU, and Arab states have devoted all their efforts to pressuring Israel to change its positions — with great success. Israel’s “red lines” on borders and Jerusalem, for instance, have steadily retreated, to the point where former prime minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank, large chunks of East Jerusalem, international Muslim control over the Temple Mount, and even a symbolic absorption of Palestinian refugees. Yet there are limits beyond which no Israeli government will ever go.

Thus, no agreement will ever be possible unless the Palestinians, too, change some of their positions – which, as Keinon noted, has yet to happen. And it never will happen without concerted pressure from the U.S., EU, and Arab world.

If these countries learn the lesson and in fact begin pressuring Abbas to start educating his people about what an agreement will really entail, Barack Obama might someday justly claim credit for having fomented the turnabout that ultimately led to an agreement. But if they instead fall back into the old familiar pattern of endlessly pressuring Israel for more concessions, the current round of talks will be just one more link in an unbroken chain of peace-process failures.

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The Return of “Defensible Borders”?

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told foreign journalists last week that under any peace agreement, Israel would insist on maintaining a presence along the Palestinian-Jordanian border to thwart arms smuggling, he provoked some predictably negative responses. Writing in the Jerusalem Post this week, for instance, Ben-Gurion University Professor David Newman termed this “a return to a way of thinking … thought to have disappeared over a decade ago.” Claiming that “most generals” no longer consider this necessary, he accused Netanyahu of simply trying “to hammer the nails even more strongly into the coffin of peace.”

In fact, Newman is almost entirely wrong but through no fault of his own — because the one thing he’s right about is that Netanyahu’s statement “reinserted the defensible border concept into public discourse,” whence it had virtually disappeared. And since Israeli premiers stopped talking about it more than a decade ago, how was anyone to know that every prime minister, and the defense establishment, continued to insist on defensible borders in practice?

Two weeks ago, Haaretz’s veteran diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn detailed the security demands that Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert received from the defense establishment, which Olmert approved, forwarded to then president George Bush, and later asked Bush to pass on to Barack Obama. These demands included “the rights to supervise Palestine’s border crossings, to fly in Palestinian airspace, to regulate radio frequencies and to build hilltop warning stations.”

And Olmert is the prime minister who offered the most far-reaching concessions in Israel’s history, including the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount.

Indeed, as Benn noted yesterday, “Netanyahu’s political positions, which call for annexing the major West Bank settlement blocs and maintaining military control over the Jordan Valley, are no different from those of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.”

This invites an obvious question: if all Israeli prime ministers agreed that Israel needs defensible borders under any agreement, why did they stop saying so — thereby leading the world, and their own citizens, to assume that this demand had been dropped and that the security issue could thus be easily resolved, whereas in fact, as one veteran negotiator told Benn, it’s the hardest of all, the one on which “the agreement will stand or fall”? Did they assume the world would oppose these demands and want to avoid opening yet another front of international criticism of Israel? Or did they simply consider it irrelevant, given that Israeli-Palestinian disagreements on other issues show no signs of being resolved anytime soon?

Whatever the reason, it was a disastrous negotiating tactic. If Israel is to have any hope of achieving these demands, it cannot spring them as a surprise at the last minute, when an agreement is otherwise at hand; it must state them upfront — clearly, forcefully, and consistently — both to prepare international public opinion and to make it clear that Israel deems this issue critical.

It is therefore encouraging that Netanyahu has finally started reviving the “defensible borders” concept. Now he must ensure that it remains on the public agenda.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told foreign journalists last week that under any peace agreement, Israel would insist on maintaining a presence along the Palestinian-Jordanian border to thwart arms smuggling, he provoked some predictably negative responses. Writing in the Jerusalem Post this week, for instance, Ben-Gurion University Professor David Newman termed this “a return to a way of thinking … thought to have disappeared over a decade ago.” Claiming that “most generals” no longer consider this necessary, he accused Netanyahu of simply trying “to hammer the nails even more strongly into the coffin of peace.”

In fact, Newman is almost entirely wrong but through no fault of his own — because the one thing he’s right about is that Netanyahu’s statement “reinserted the defensible border concept into public discourse,” whence it had virtually disappeared. And since Israeli premiers stopped talking about it more than a decade ago, how was anyone to know that every prime minister, and the defense establishment, continued to insist on defensible borders in practice?

Two weeks ago, Haaretz’s veteran diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn detailed the security demands that Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert received from the defense establishment, which Olmert approved, forwarded to then president George Bush, and later asked Bush to pass on to Barack Obama. These demands included “the rights to supervise Palestine’s border crossings, to fly in Palestinian airspace, to regulate radio frequencies and to build hilltop warning stations.”

And Olmert is the prime minister who offered the most far-reaching concessions in Israel’s history, including the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount.

Indeed, as Benn noted yesterday, “Netanyahu’s political positions, which call for annexing the major West Bank settlement blocs and maintaining military control over the Jordan Valley, are no different from those of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak.”

This invites an obvious question: if all Israeli prime ministers agreed that Israel needs defensible borders under any agreement, why did they stop saying so — thereby leading the world, and their own citizens, to assume that this demand had been dropped and that the security issue could thus be easily resolved, whereas in fact, as one veteran negotiator told Benn, it’s the hardest of all, the one on which “the agreement will stand or fall”? Did they assume the world would oppose these demands and want to avoid opening yet another front of international criticism of Israel? Or did they simply consider it irrelevant, given that Israeli-Palestinian disagreements on other issues show no signs of being resolved anytime soon?

Whatever the reason, it was a disastrous negotiating tactic. If Israel is to have any hope of achieving these demands, it cannot spring them as a surprise at the last minute, when an agreement is otherwise at hand; it must state them upfront — clearly, forcefully, and consistently — both to prepare international public opinion and to make it clear that Israel deems this issue critical.

It is therefore encouraging that Netanyahu has finally started reviving the “defensible borders” concept. Now he must ensure that it remains on the public agenda.

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Honest Broker, Anyone?

Nothing in George Mitchell’s interview with PBS last week received more attention than the envoy’s implied threat to revoke American loan guarantees to Israel. That’s a pity — because far more worrisome is the goal he set for the negotiations, as highlighted by Aluf Benn in today’s Haaretz. “We think the way forward … is full implementation of the Arab peace initiative,” Mitchell declared“That’s the comprehensive peace in the region that is the objective set forth by the president.”

The Arab initiative mandates a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines — every last inch of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. It also demands a solution to the refugee problem “in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194,” which Arabs interpret as allowing the refugees to “return” to Israel.

Later in the interview, Mitchell says this initiative requires “a negotiation and a discussion,” and that you can’t negotiate by telling “one side you have to agree in advance to what the other side wants.” Yet by saying his goal is “full implementation” of this initiative, he’s effectively saying, “You can have your negotiation and discussion, but Washington has no intention of being an honest broker: it fully backs the Arab position on borders, Jerusalem, and even (to some extent) the refugees.”

This is the administration’s clearest statement yet that it’s abandoning the position held by every previous U.S. administration: that Israel needs “defensible borders” — which everyone agrees the 1967 lines are not. Mitchell also thereby abandoned the position, held by every previous administration, that any deal must acknowledge Israel’s historic ties to the Temple Mount via some Israeli role there, even if only symbolic (see Bill Clinton’s idea of “sovereignty under the Mount”). The Arab initiative requires Israel to just get out.

And Mitchell effectively took Syria’s side on that border dispute: no Israeli government ever agreed to withdraw farther than the international border, whereas the Arab initiative mandates the 1967 lines — i.e., including the territory Syria illegally annexed pre-1967.

Even worse, the Arab initiative addresses none of Israel’s concerns, such as recognition as a Jewish state or security arrangements. That means Mitchell just announced support for all Arab demands without obtaining any parallel concession to Israel. Under those circumstances, why would the Arabs bother making any?

And his repeated demand that Israeli-Palestinian talks deal with borders first indicates that this was no slip of the tongue. After all, the only thing Israel has to give is territory; having once ceded that via an agreement on borders, it has nothing left to trade for, say, security arrangements — which, as a veteran Israeli negotiator told Benn, has actually proved one of the hardest issues to resolve in previous rounds of talks. Borders first, an Israeli minister summed up, is “a trap. We only give, we don’t get anything.”

George Bush’s Road Map viewed the Arab initiative as merely one of many “foundations” for talks. Mitchell’s adoption of its “full implementation” as a goal thus represents a deterioration in U.S. positions that ought to worry all Israel supporters.

Nothing in George Mitchell’s interview with PBS last week received more attention than the envoy’s implied threat to revoke American loan guarantees to Israel. That’s a pity — because far more worrisome is the goal he set for the negotiations, as highlighted by Aluf Benn in today’s Haaretz. “We think the way forward … is full implementation of the Arab peace initiative,” Mitchell declared“That’s the comprehensive peace in the region that is the objective set forth by the president.”

The Arab initiative mandates a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines — every last inch of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. It also demands a solution to the refugee problem “in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194,” which Arabs interpret as allowing the refugees to “return” to Israel.

Later in the interview, Mitchell says this initiative requires “a negotiation and a discussion,” and that you can’t negotiate by telling “one side you have to agree in advance to what the other side wants.” Yet by saying his goal is “full implementation” of this initiative, he’s effectively saying, “You can have your negotiation and discussion, but Washington has no intention of being an honest broker: it fully backs the Arab position on borders, Jerusalem, and even (to some extent) the refugees.”

This is the administration’s clearest statement yet that it’s abandoning the position held by every previous U.S. administration: that Israel needs “defensible borders” — which everyone agrees the 1967 lines are not. Mitchell also thereby abandoned the position, held by every previous administration, that any deal must acknowledge Israel’s historic ties to the Temple Mount via some Israeli role there, even if only symbolic (see Bill Clinton’s idea of “sovereignty under the Mount”). The Arab initiative requires Israel to just get out.

And Mitchell effectively took Syria’s side on that border dispute: no Israeli government ever agreed to withdraw farther than the international border, whereas the Arab initiative mandates the 1967 lines — i.e., including the territory Syria illegally annexed pre-1967.

Even worse, the Arab initiative addresses none of Israel’s concerns, such as recognition as a Jewish state or security arrangements. That means Mitchell just announced support for all Arab demands without obtaining any parallel concession to Israel. Under those circumstances, why would the Arabs bother making any?

And his repeated demand that Israeli-Palestinian talks deal with borders first indicates that this was no slip of the tongue. After all, the only thing Israel has to give is territory; having once ceded that via an agreement on borders, it has nothing left to trade for, say, security arrangements — which, as a veteran Israeli negotiator told Benn, has actually proved one of the hardest issues to resolve in previous rounds of talks. Borders first, an Israeli minister summed up, is “a trap. We only give, we don’t get anything.”

George Bush’s Road Map viewed the Arab initiative as merely one of many “foundations” for talks. Mitchell’s adoption of its “full implementation” as a goal thus represents a deterioration in U.S. positions that ought to worry all Israel supporters.

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First, Do No Harm

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

After Israeli media reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had threatened to curtail U.S. involvement in Israeli-Palestinian talks, the White House rushed to deny it. That’s a pity — because curtailing U.S. involvement would be far more helpful than what special envoy George Mitchell is actually doing.

Interviewed by PBS yesterday, Mitchell (as Jennifer noted) declared: “We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years … Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

That, frankly, is ridiculous. In 16 years of talks, the parties have yet to resolve a single final-status issue. Just 15 months ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected an Israeli offer of 94 percent of the West Bank, territorial exchanges for the remainder, and international Muslim control over the Temple Mount. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will certainly offer no more, and probably not as much. So what does Mitchell think will happen in the next two years to suddenly make Abbas abandon positions he has stuck to for the last 16 — or else make Israel agree to suicide by, for instance, accepting Abbas’ demand that it absorb 4.7 million Palestinian “refugees”?

Nor need one be “anti-peace” to recognize this. Here’s the first sentence of a column published in the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz yesterday by its leftist, pro-peace diplomatic correspondent, Aluf Benn: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.”

While arguing that Israel must make concessions anyway to placate world opinion, Benn articulates an important truth: “The establishment of new states arouses multigenerational conflicts” that rarely end quickly. The India-Pakistan and Cyprus conflicts, which also date back to the British Empire’s mid-20th century breakup, are still unresolved, he notes, and the Israeli-Arab conflict is no less intractable.

But were Mitchell just spouting nonsense, nobody would care. The problem is that such nonsense does active harm by raising expectations that cannot be met — then provoking a backlash of disappointment.

First, Palestinians and other Arabs routinely interpret such statements by U.S. officials as pledges to make Israel kowtow to Palestinian demands. When that doesn’t happen, it increases anti-American sentiment, entrenches disbelief in the possibility of peace (thus strengthening extremists like Hamas), and can even spark renewed anti-Israel terror, as the Camp David summit in 2000 showed.

Second, it further entrenches Israeli skepticism about peace.

Third, it will almost certainly increase anti-Israel hysteria in Europe. Unlike Israelis and Palestinians, Europeans largely share Mitchell’s conviction that peace is imminently achievable. Hence every time it fails to materialize, they seek a scapegoat. And so far, that scapegoat has always been Israel: while demanding ever more Israeli concessions, the EU has yet to publicly demand any Palestinian concessions.

There are things America could do to further peace — like finally telling the Palestinians that they, too, must compromise. But doing nothing would be better than doing active harm. And that’s what Washington is doing now.

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RE: Abbas Still Says No

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

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Re: What the Palestinians Really Want

In his post on Friday, Rick correctly identified the myth that has foiled every peace-making effort for decades: namely, that the Palestinians actually want a state.

To understand just how untenable this myth is, it’s worth comparing Palestinian behavior with that of the Jews in 1947. The UN Partition Plan proposed that year gave the Jewish state only 12 percent of the territory originally allotted to it under the 1922 League of Nations Mandate, and only 56 percent of what remained after Britain tore away 78 percent of the original territory to create Transjordan (today’s Jordan). Moreover, it excluded Jerusalem, the focus of Jewish national and religious longing throughout 2,000 years of exile. And its borders were completely indefensible, as the plan’s map shows.

Nevertheless, the pre-state Jewish leadership accepted it. Why? Because two years after the Holocaust — which not only proved the dangers of not having a state, but left hundreds of thousands of Jewish survivors as stateless refugees in desperate need of a home — this leadership believed any state, even one so badly flawed, was better than none. Only a state could resettle the survivors and allow them to rebuild their lives; only a state could make “never again” a reality rather than an empty slogan.

The Palestinians, according to their own universally accepted narrative, are in a similar situation today. For 42 years, according to this narrative, millions of them have lived under brutal occupation. For 61 years, millions more have lived in squalid refugee camps, with no hope and no future. Only statehood can end these evils.

Under these circumstances, one would expect Palestinian leaders to jump at any offered state, however flawed, that would end the occupation and enable them to rehabilitate their refugees. Instead, they have repeatedly rejected statehood offers.

Moreover, they did not merely reject ridiculously inadequate offers like the one the Jews nevertheless accepted in 1947. They rejected offers equivalent to 95 and even 100 percent (the Clinton and Olmert plans, respectively) of the territory they ostensibly want, including most of east Jerusalem and even the Temple Mount. In short, they rejected everything they could possibly get under any formula leading to a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one.

And that is the problem — as becomes clear upon examining why the Palestinians repeatedly rejected such offers. First, Palestinians refused to abandon their demand that the refugees be resettled not in the Palestinian state, but in the Jewish one — thereby effectively eradicating the latter. They also refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They even refused to acknowledge any historical Jewish connection to this land, and especially to the Temple Mount — though they would have controlled the Mount in practice.

In short, what the Palestinians really want is not a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one; if they did, they could have one at any time. What they want is a Palestinian state instead of the Jewish one. And until that changes, Israeli-Palestinian peace will remain a mirage.

In his post on Friday, Rick correctly identified the myth that has foiled every peace-making effort for decades: namely, that the Palestinians actually want a state.

To understand just how untenable this myth is, it’s worth comparing Palestinian behavior with that of the Jews in 1947. The UN Partition Plan proposed that year gave the Jewish state only 12 percent of the territory originally allotted to it under the 1922 League of Nations Mandate, and only 56 percent of what remained after Britain tore away 78 percent of the original territory to create Transjordan (today’s Jordan). Moreover, it excluded Jerusalem, the focus of Jewish national and religious longing throughout 2,000 years of exile. And its borders were completely indefensible, as the plan’s map shows.

Nevertheless, the pre-state Jewish leadership accepted it. Why? Because two years after the Holocaust — which not only proved the dangers of not having a state, but left hundreds of thousands of Jewish survivors as stateless refugees in desperate need of a home — this leadership believed any state, even one so badly flawed, was better than none. Only a state could resettle the survivors and allow them to rebuild their lives; only a state could make “never again” a reality rather than an empty slogan.

The Palestinians, according to their own universally accepted narrative, are in a similar situation today. For 42 years, according to this narrative, millions of them have lived under brutal occupation. For 61 years, millions more have lived in squalid refugee camps, with no hope and no future. Only statehood can end these evils.

Under these circumstances, one would expect Palestinian leaders to jump at any offered state, however flawed, that would end the occupation and enable them to rehabilitate their refugees. Instead, they have repeatedly rejected statehood offers.

Moreover, they did not merely reject ridiculously inadequate offers like the one the Jews nevertheless accepted in 1947. They rejected offers equivalent to 95 and even 100 percent (the Clinton and Olmert plans, respectively) of the territory they ostensibly want, including most of east Jerusalem and even the Temple Mount. In short, they rejected everything they could possibly get under any formula leading to a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one.

And that is the problem — as becomes clear upon examining why the Palestinians repeatedly rejected such offers. First, Palestinians refused to abandon their demand that the refugees be resettled not in the Palestinian state, but in the Jewish one — thereby effectively eradicating the latter. They also refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They even refused to acknowledge any historical Jewish connection to this land, and especially to the Temple Mount — though they would have controlled the Mount in practice.

In short, what the Palestinians really want is not a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one; if they did, they could have one at any time. What they want is a Palestinian state instead of the Jewish one. And until that changes, Israeli-Palestinian peace will remain a mirage.

Read Less




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