Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. administration

Peace Plan No. 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Obami Pushing Israel to Act Unilaterally?

The Obami are promising another round of sanctions aimed at Iran. This will be the fourth round, and we should not, judging from press reports, expect them to be “crippling.” As Bill Kristol noted on Fox News Sunday:

The only things that can stop the Iranian nuclear program are — would be the success of the green movement in Iran, which the Obama administration has done nothing to help and remains incredibly indifferent to and standoffish to on the one hand, or military action on the other, which the Obama administration seems uninterested in doing and I’m afraid is setting up a situation where Israel will feel it has to act.

The abject lack of seriousness from the Obama administration — its disinclination to even suggest the use of force or to aid the Green Movement in any meaningful way — has not gone unnoticed either here or in Israel. At the AIPAC conference, the contrast between Hillary Clinton’s platitudinous “unacceptable” formulation and Tony Blair’s “whatever it takes” phraseology was hard to ignore. And, as Kristol points out, even doves in Israel like Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister, are talking about the need for an Israeli strike on Iran this year, absent the implementation of “crippling sanctions.” (“An Israeli military campaign against Iran’s nuclear installations is likely to cripple that country’s nuclear project for a number of years. The retaliation against Israel would be painful, but bearable.”)

We can speculate as to whether the Obami’s assault on Netanyahu over the Jerusalem housing permit was meant to stymie Israel’s plans for such action. If so, this is yet another gross error in judgment by the Obami, who have an exaggerated sense of their own ability to bully those who interfere with their plans. As fraught with peril as an Israeli military operation might be and as unseemly as it might be for the U.S. to stand idly by – ignoring its role as leader of the West and shrinking from its international responsibilities – Israel, if faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and a recalcitrant U.S. administration, will have no choice but to act in its own defense. Netanyahu said it clearly last month, no doubt to put the administration as well as the mullahs on notice. (“The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.”)

By publicly savaging the Israeli government and making apparent just how not solid is the current relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the Obami are encouraging, not dissuading, the Israeli government to take matters into its own hands. Given the treatment by the Obama administration, what Israeli government could place its trust and the fate of the Jewish state in the Obami’s hands? It would be foolish and irresponsible — and the Israelis are neither. And once again we see that the folly-ridden Obama Middle East policy — engagement with Iran, renunciation of force, clubbing its closest ally — is creating a more dangerous and volatile world for the U.S. and its allies.

The Obami are promising another round of sanctions aimed at Iran. This will be the fourth round, and we should not, judging from press reports, expect them to be “crippling.” As Bill Kristol noted on Fox News Sunday:

The only things that can stop the Iranian nuclear program are — would be the success of the green movement in Iran, which the Obama administration has done nothing to help and remains incredibly indifferent to and standoffish to on the one hand, or military action on the other, which the Obama administration seems uninterested in doing and I’m afraid is setting up a situation where Israel will feel it has to act.

The abject lack of seriousness from the Obama administration — its disinclination to even suggest the use of force or to aid the Green Movement in any meaningful way — has not gone unnoticed either here or in Israel. At the AIPAC conference, the contrast between Hillary Clinton’s platitudinous “unacceptable” formulation and Tony Blair’s “whatever it takes” phraseology was hard to ignore. And, as Kristol points out, even doves in Israel like Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister, are talking about the need for an Israeli strike on Iran this year, absent the implementation of “crippling sanctions.” (“An Israeli military campaign against Iran’s nuclear installations is likely to cripple that country’s nuclear project for a number of years. The retaliation against Israel would be painful, but bearable.”)

We can speculate as to whether the Obami’s assault on Netanyahu over the Jerusalem housing permit was meant to stymie Israel’s plans for such action. If so, this is yet another gross error in judgment by the Obami, who have an exaggerated sense of their own ability to bully those who interfere with their plans. As fraught with peril as an Israeli military operation might be and as unseemly as it might be for the U.S. to stand idly by – ignoring its role as leader of the West and shrinking from its international responsibilities – Israel, if faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and a recalcitrant U.S. administration, will have no choice but to act in its own defense. Netanyahu said it clearly last month, no doubt to put the administration as well as the mullahs on notice. (“The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.”)

By publicly savaging the Israeli government and making apparent just how not solid is the current relationship between the U.S. and Israel, the Obami are encouraging, not dissuading, the Israeli government to take matters into its own hands. Given the treatment by the Obama administration, what Israeli government could place its trust and the fate of the Jewish state in the Obami’s hands? It would be foolish and irresponsible — and the Israelis are neither. And once again we see that the folly-ridden Obama Middle East policy — engagement with Iran, renunciation of force, clubbing its closest ally — is creating a more dangerous and volatile world for the U.S. and its allies.

Read Less

Hostility to Israel Plays out

Given the Obami’s assault on Israel’s building in its eternal capital, this should come as no surprise:

The chief of the Arab League warned Saturday that Israel’s actions could bring about a final end to the Middle East peace process. Amr Moussa urged an Arab leadership summit in Libya on Saturday to forge a new strategy to pressure Israel, saying the peace process could not be “an open ended process.”

“We must prepare for the possibility that the peace process will be a complete failure,” Moussa said. “This is the time to stand up to Israel. We must find alternative options, because the situation appears to have reached a turning point.”

Speaking at the event, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said there would be no peace agreement without ending the occupation of Palestinian land, first and foremost east Jerusalem. He accused Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu’s government of trying to create a de facto situation in Jerusalem that would torpedo any future peace settlement.

Then the increasingly Islamic-tilting Turkish government gets into the act:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a guest at the summit, said in his speech that the Israeli “violation” of peace in Jerusalem and Muslim holy sites was unacceptable. Erdogan said that the Israeli position defining the whole of Jerusalem as its united capital was “madness.” Israeli construction in east Jerusalem was completely unjustified, he said

The UN, of course, can’t be left out of the Israel bash-a-thon. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pipes up:

Ban called for the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip which has created an “unacceptable and unsustainable” situation on the ground.Ban reiterated his condemnation of settlement activity in east Jerusalem, describing the settlements as “illegal.” “Like all of you, I was deeply dismayed when Israel advanced planning to build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem. There are several other recent unilateral actions as well,” Ban said noting Israel”s recent announcement of plans to construct another 20 dwellings and tensions surrounding the Al-Aqsa mosque, among others.

This is not only predictable; it is frankly by design — the Obami’s bully-boy pressure tactics encourage others to pile on. Obama thereby endears (he supposes) the U.S. administration to the “international community” — which, of course, seeks not a secure and peaceful Israel but a hamstrung and delegitimized (if not entirely eradicated) one.

As Bill Kristol explains, the Obami’s anti-Israel bent is no accident but part of his larger approach, which seeks realignment in Middle East policy as Obama becomes not the leader of a single nation or even of the alliance of democracies but the wise mediator for all humanity:

And there’s no better way to be a leader of humanity than to show disapproval of the Jewish state. Sure, Obama’s turn against Israel will make it less likely that Palestinians will negotiate seriously with her. Sure, it will embolden radical Arabs and Muslims against those who would like their nations to take a different, more responsible, course. Sure, it’s a distraction from the real challenge of Iran. But the turn against Israel is ultimately a key part of what Obamaism is all about. That’s why there’s been so little attempt by the administration to reassure friends of Israel that Obama has been acting more in sorrow than in anger. Obama’s proud of his anger at the stiff-necked Jewish state. It puts him in sync with the rest of the world.

In this, we see the intersection of Obama’s multilateralism, his aversion to American exceptionalism, his fetish with his own international popularity, his obsession with engaging despots, his disinterest in promoting human rights, and his hostility toward the Jewish state. They are interlocking pieces in the greater Obama vision — each reenforces the other and makes more precarious the security of not only Israel but also the United States. Obama may suppose he is making America more popular or reducing conflict with rogue states, but instead, he is fueling the ambitions of aggressive despots and frittering away America’s moral standing. We are abetting an international free-for-all as the world’s bullies look for openings to assert themselves and to show just how dangerous it is to be a small democratic ally of the U.S.

Given the Obami’s assault on Israel’s building in its eternal capital, this should come as no surprise:

The chief of the Arab League warned Saturday that Israel’s actions could bring about a final end to the Middle East peace process. Amr Moussa urged an Arab leadership summit in Libya on Saturday to forge a new strategy to pressure Israel, saying the peace process could not be “an open ended process.”

“We must prepare for the possibility that the peace process will be a complete failure,” Moussa said. “This is the time to stand up to Israel. We must find alternative options, because the situation appears to have reached a turning point.”

Speaking at the event, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said there would be no peace agreement without ending the occupation of Palestinian land, first and foremost east Jerusalem. He accused Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu’s government of trying to create a de facto situation in Jerusalem that would torpedo any future peace settlement.

Then the increasingly Islamic-tilting Turkish government gets into the act:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a guest at the summit, said in his speech that the Israeli “violation” of peace in Jerusalem and Muslim holy sites was unacceptable. Erdogan said that the Israeli position defining the whole of Jerusalem as its united capital was “madness.” Israeli construction in east Jerusalem was completely unjustified, he said

The UN, of course, can’t be left out of the Israel bash-a-thon. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pipes up:

Ban called for the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip which has created an “unacceptable and unsustainable” situation on the ground.Ban reiterated his condemnation of settlement activity in east Jerusalem, describing the settlements as “illegal.” “Like all of you, I was deeply dismayed when Israel advanced planning to build 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem. There are several other recent unilateral actions as well,” Ban said noting Israel”s recent announcement of plans to construct another 20 dwellings and tensions surrounding the Al-Aqsa mosque, among others.

This is not only predictable; it is frankly by design — the Obami’s bully-boy pressure tactics encourage others to pile on. Obama thereby endears (he supposes) the U.S. administration to the “international community” — which, of course, seeks not a secure and peaceful Israel but a hamstrung and delegitimized (if not entirely eradicated) one.

As Bill Kristol explains, the Obami’s anti-Israel bent is no accident but part of his larger approach, which seeks realignment in Middle East policy as Obama becomes not the leader of a single nation or even of the alliance of democracies but the wise mediator for all humanity:

And there’s no better way to be a leader of humanity than to show disapproval of the Jewish state. Sure, Obama’s turn against Israel will make it less likely that Palestinians will negotiate seriously with her. Sure, it will embolden radical Arabs and Muslims against those who would like their nations to take a different, more responsible, course. Sure, it’s a distraction from the real challenge of Iran. But the turn against Israel is ultimately a key part of what Obamaism is all about. That’s why there’s been so little attempt by the administration to reassure friends of Israel that Obama has been acting more in sorrow than in anger. Obama’s proud of his anger at the stiff-necked Jewish state. It puts him in sync with the rest of the world.

In this, we see the intersection of Obama’s multilateralism, his aversion to American exceptionalism, his fetish with his own international popularity, his obsession with engaging despots, his disinterest in promoting human rights, and his hostility toward the Jewish state. They are interlocking pieces in the greater Obama vision — each reenforces the other and makes more precarious the security of not only Israel but also the United States. Obama may suppose he is making America more popular or reducing conflict with rogue states, but instead, he is fueling the ambitions of aggressive despots and frittering away America’s moral standing. We are abetting an international free-for-all as the world’s bullies look for openings to assert themselves and to show just how dangerous it is to be a small democratic ally of the U.S.

Read Less

The Moral-Equivalence Trap

Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined other lawmakers in issuing a statement on the Obami’s war of words on Israel. It was a mixed bag – at best:

The Administration had real justification for being upset with the timing of the settlements announcement. A process was supposed to be in place to keep the United States from being blindsided by just such a development, and yet once again we were blindsided. The Israeli leadership needs to get this right and put a system in place so it won’t happen again.

But let’s put the situation in perspective. The United States and Israel have very good cooperation on any number of matters, and this will continue. These include keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the Goldstone Report, and security assistance. U.S.-Israel security ties are in many ways closer than they have ever been, and they are certainly far stronger than the news stories of the past few days would lead one to believe.

We need to disentangle bilateral relations from the peace process. Let’s keep in mind that peace talks are not a gift to one party or the other. They are an opportunity for both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom badly need peace. The Palestinians may not like an Israeli announcement about prospective housing in Jerusalem, and the Israelis may not like the Palestinians naming a town square after a brutal terrorist, but the talks need to go forward.

On the one hand, the notion that we should “disentangle our bilateral relations from the peace process” is a welcome rebuke to Obama’s obsession with the fruitless peace process. The last statement, however, is an appalling example of moral relativism. Does Berman — who should know better — really mean to equate the extension of an apartment complex in Jerusalem with the Palestinian celebration of terrorism? Apparently so. One suspects that so do the Obami. Indeed, in the administration’s view, the apartment complex build-out warrants a “condemnation,” but the Palestinian cult of death does not. In fact the Obami’s current stance and rhetoric is worse than moral relativism: the White House has adopted the Palestinian narrative and now treats incitement to violence as a less egregious matter than the building of an apartment complex within a Jewish neighborhood of Israel’s capital.

The current crisis, if it has a silver lining, has at least made clear who embraces the Israeli narrative — namely, that the barrier to peace is 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism — and who does not. Regrettably, the administration does not. The Obami, and a certain segment of the Left in America, have forgotten a good deal of history and have embraced a far different view — one that finds sympathy in the Palestinians’ perpetual victimhood. It remains to be seen how the differences in perception between the U.S. administration and Israel will play out. For now, Americans who fancy themselves as supporters of the Jewish state would do well to avoid Berman’s egregious error and remind the administration (which is obsessed with domestic politics) that such talk will find little support among the public generally, which thankfully still sees Israel not as the cause of the Middle East conflict but as a democratic ally besieged by terrorists and facing implacable enemies.

Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined other lawmakers in issuing a statement on the Obami’s war of words on Israel. It was a mixed bag – at best:

The Administration had real justification for being upset with the timing of the settlements announcement. A process was supposed to be in place to keep the United States from being blindsided by just such a development, and yet once again we were blindsided. The Israeli leadership needs to get this right and put a system in place so it won’t happen again.

But let’s put the situation in perspective. The United States and Israel have very good cooperation on any number of matters, and this will continue. These include keeping Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the Goldstone Report, and security assistance. U.S.-Israel security ties are in many ways closer than they have ever been, and they are certainly far stronger than the news stories of the past few days would lead one to believe.

We need to disentangle bilateral relations from the peace process. Let’s keep in mind that peace talks are not a gift to one party or the other. They are an opportunity for both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom badly need peace. The Palestinians may not like an Israeli announcement about prospective housing in Jerusalem, and the Israelis may not like the Palestinians naming a town square after a brutal terrorist, but the talks need to go forward.

On the one hand, the notion that we should “disentangle our bilateral relations from the peace process” is a welcome rebuke to Obama’s obsession with the fruitless peace process. The last statement, however, is an appalling example of moral relativism. Does Berman — who should know better — really mean to equate the extension of an apartment complex in Jerusalem with the Palestinian celebration of terrorism? Apparently so. One suspects that so do the Obami. Indeed, in the administration’s view, the apartment complex build-out warrants a “condemnation,” but the Palestinian cult of death does not. In fact the Obami’s current stance and rhetoric is worse than moral relativism: the White House has adopted the Palestinian narrative and now treats incitement to violence as a less egregious matter than the building of an apartment complex within a Jewish neighborhood of Israel’s capital.

The current crisis, if it has a silver lining, has at least made clear who embraces the Israeli narrative — namely, that the barrier to peace is 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism — and who does not. Regrettably, the administration does not. The Obami, and a certain segment of the Left in America, have forgotten a good deal of history and have embraced a far different view — one that finds sympathy in the Palestinians’ perpetual victimhood. It remains to be seen how the differences in perception between the U.S. administration and Israel will play out. For now, Americans who fancy themselves as supporters of the Jewish state would do well to avoid Berman’s egregious error and remind the administration (which is obsessed with domestic politics) that such talk will find little support among the public generally, which thankfully still sees Israel not as the cause of the Middle East conflict but as a democratic ally besieged by terrorists and facing implacable enemies.

Read Less

The Climb-Down?

Perhaps a mini climb-down has begun by the Obami. After all, they encountered a “firestorm” of criticism from Jewish groups and a bipartisan selection (although many more Republicans) of elected officials and candidates. Rep. Steve Israel is the latest Democrat to weigh in, declaring: “Israel is a close friend and ally and our relationship is based on mutual interests and benefits. We need to reaffirm the American-Israeli relationship as Vice President Biden did at Tel Aviv University last week. The Administration, to the extent that it has disagreements with Israel on policy matters, should find way to do so in private and do what they can to defuse this situation.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand issued a more mild statement, but one expressing concern nevertheless: “The close bond between the United States and Israel remains unbreakable, and America will continue to show unyielding support for Israel’s security. While the timing of the East Jerusalem housing announcement was regrettable, it must not cloud the most critical foreign policy issue facing both counties — Iran’s nuclear threat. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I am focused on strengthening international pressure on Iran’s regime to derail its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Republican Tom Price also issued a stern statement imploring Obama to stop “condemning our allies and started aggressively cracking down on those who sponsor terrorist groups and are ruthlessly pursuing nuclear weapons.”

So maybe someone in the administration took all that in and decided that allowing David Axelrod to play Chicago bully on the Sunday talk shows was not a good idea. As this report explains:

The Obama administration pledged Monday that Israel remained a US ally as congressional rivals rallied behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a feud over the construction of settlements. …

“Israel is a strategic ally of the US and will continue to be so,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters. “Our commitment to Israel’s security remains unshakeable.”

He also declined to comment on Netanyahu’s remarks to his Likud Party that construction would go ahead, saying that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was waiting for a “formal” reply to a tense telephone call on Friday.

“When she outlined what she thought appropriate actions would be to the prime minister, she asked for a response by the Israeli government. We wait for the response,” Crowley said.

Without prompting from reporters, Crowley criticized unnamed Palestinians for their remarks on Israel’s reopening of a landmark synagogue in Jerusalem’s walled Old City that had been destroyed in fighting 62 years ago.

Message received? Well, if so, then who’s running our Middle East policy and how did things escalate to this level? Certainly, a climb-down is preferable to continued escalation, but after a week of this, the Obami amateur hour leaves Israel, the Palestinians, Obama’s domestic supporters, the American Jewish community, and every nation looking on (some with horror, others with delight) baffled. If there is a game plan here or a set of permanent concerns and interests at play, it’s hard to discern. In the feckless and reckless Obama foreign policy, uncertainty is the order of the day. Allies should be forewarned: they may be on thin ice at any time. And our foes? Well, they must marvel that the U.S. is so cavalier with its friends and so willing to adopt the rhetoric and positions of its enemies. And for those nations on the fence, why would they have confidence in the U.S. administration? Being a “friend” of the U.S. is a dicey business these days.

Perhaps a mini climb-down has begun by the Obami. After all, they encountered a “firestorm” of criticism from Jewish groups and a bipartisan selection (although many more Republicans) of elected officials and candidates. Rep. Steve Israel is the latest Democrat to weigh in, declaring: “Israel is a close friend and ally and our relationship is based on mutual interests and benefits. We need to reaffirm the American-Israeli relationship as Vice President Biden did at Tel Aviv University last week. The Administration, to the extent that it has disagreements with Israel on policy matters, should find way to do so in private and do what they can to defuse this situation.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand issued a more mild statement, but one expressing concern nevertheless: “The close bond between the United States and Israel remains unbreakable, and America will continue to show unyielding support for Israel’s security. While the timing of the East Jerusalem housing announcement was regrettable, it must not cloud the most critical foreign policy issue facing both counties — Iran’s nuclear threat. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I am focused on strengthening international pressure on Iran’s regime to derail its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Republican Tom Price also issued a stern statement imploring Obama to stop “condemning our allies and started aggressively cracking down on those who sponsor terrorist groups and are ruthlessly pursuing nuclear weapons.”

So maybe someone in the administration took all that in and decided that allowing David Axelrod to play Chicago bully on the Sunday talk shows was not a good idea. As this report explains:

The Obama administration pledged Monday that Israel remained a US ally as congressional rivals rallied behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a feud over the construction of settlements. …

“Israel is a strategic ally of the US and will continue to be so,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters. “Our commitment to Israel’s security remains unshakeable.”

He also declined to comment on Netanyahu’s remarks to his Likud Party that construction would go ahead, saying that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was waiting for a “formal” reply to a tense telephone call on Friday.

“When she outlined what she thought appropriate actions would be to the prime minister, she asked for a response by the Israeli government. We wait for the response,” Crowley said.

Without prompting from reporters, Crowley criticized unnamed Palestinians for their remarks on Israel’s reopening of a landmark synagogue in Jerusalem’s walled Old City that had been destroyed in fighting 62 years ago.

Message received? Well, if so, then who’s running our Middle East policy and how did things escalate to this level? Certainly, a climb-down is preferable to continued escalation, but after a week of this, the Obami amateur hour leaves Israel, the Palestinians, Obama’s domestic supporters, the American Jewish community, and every nation looking on (some with horror, others with delight) baffled. If there is a game plan here or a set of permanent concerns and interests at play, it’s hard to discern. In the feckless and reckless Obama foreign policy, uncertainty is the order of the day. Allies should be forewarned: they may be on thin ice at any time. And our foes? Well, they must marvel that the U.S. is so cavalier with its friends and so willing to adopt the rhetoric and positions of its enemies. And for those nations on the fence, why would they have confidence in the U.S. administration? Being a “friend” of the U.S. is a dicey business these days.

Read Less

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Whither Iran Policy?

Could it be true? According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. administration may have changed its mind on the virtues of engaging Iran’s regime while giving the cold shoulder to its street opposition. As Paul Richter reports,

After keeping a careful distance for the last year, the Obama administration has concluded that the Iranian opposition movement has staying power and has embraced it as a central element in the U.S.-led campaign to pressure the country’s clerical government.

Clearly, the administration is not about to embrace the rhetoric of regime change. Nor is it going to send an expeditionary force to oust the tyrants in Tehran. But perhaps there is a growing realization that something unprecedented has happened in Iran since June 12, 2009, and that the best hope American interests have rests on a change of regime carried out from the inside.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Could it be true? According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. administration may have changed its mind on the virtues of engaging Iran’s regime while giving the cold shoulder to its street opposition. As Paul Richter reports,

After keeping a careful distance for the last year, the Obama administration has concluded that the Iranian opposition movement has staying power and has embraced it as a central element in the U.S.-led campaign to pressure the country’s clerical government.

Clearly, the administration is not about to embrace the rhetoric of regime change. Nor is it going to send an expeditionary force to oust the tyrants in Tehran. But perhaps there is a growing realization that something unprecedented has happened in Iran since June 12, 2009, and that the best hope American interests have rests on a change of regime carried out from the inside.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Read Less

How’s Syrian Engagement Working out?

As we’ve noted, the Obami recently sent the U.S. ambassador back to Syria, in an effort, we are told, to engage Damascus and wean Syria away from Iran. It’s not working too well. Not at all, really:

The U.S. administration has asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to immediately stop transferring arms to Hezbollah. American officials made the request during a meeting Friday with the Syrian ambassador to Washington. …

The move was described as an opportunity to discuss the next steps following the visit to Damascus by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on February 17.

The administration also said the meeting was part of its efforts to achieve a direct dialogue with Syria on issues of interest to both sides.

Haaretz has learned that Burns’ visit to Damascus ended unsatisfactorily for the U.S. administration. During Burns’ meeting with Assad, the Syrian leader denied all American claims that his regime was providing military aid to terrorists in Iraq, or to Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups.

Assad essentially told Burns that he had no idea what the American was talking about.

Well, why would it be, do you think, that Assad is playing dumb? After all, we sent our ambassador back without asking for anything in return, and we have been so mute… er… respectful of the Syrian government on the subject of human rights. Oh, wait. Could it be that having given Assad pretty much all he wants up front, we have no leverage to extract anything further from him? Could be.

And it’s not like this should come as any surprise. Last August, Elliott Abrams wrote that the Obama policy of unilateral diplomatic gestures was bearing no fruit:

Syria continues to support Hezbollah’s blocking of the formation of a government in Lebanon, backing Hezbollah in its demand for a “blocking third” that would prevent any decisions Hezbollah opposes in any new Cabinet. The Palestinian terrorist groups remain headquartered in Damascus, and under no visible restraints. And on August 19, President Bashar Asad paid a visit to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, to showcase his support of the latter during the current Iranian political crisis.

So we tossed in more goodies – the return of Ambassador Ford — and lo and behold, still no results. In fact, Assad seems emboldened to defy American requests, secure in the knowledge there will be no downside to his snubbing of the administration. (What — we’re going to pull Ford out the week after he was sent? Hardly.) This is the appeasement game in action, of course. Defenders of the Obama policy, as they would do for all such gambits, insist we simply aren’t trying hard enough and have to do even more to encourage the Assad regime.

If we had not already sent Ford back to Damascus, would we have been more successful? Hard to know. But at least we would not have looked foolish in the process and convinced Assad he has the upper hand. And in the meantime, had we not been ingratiating ourselves with Damascus, we might have given some moral and political support to those Syrians under the boot of the despotic regime. Now we have the worst of all worlds — a defiant Assad, no leverage, and further erosion of America’s moral standing. That’s a regrettably familiar pattern with Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.

As we’ve noted, the Obami recently sent the U.S. ambassador back to Syria, in an effort, we are told, to engage Damascus and wean Syria away from Iran. It’s not working too well. Not at all, really:

The U.S. administration has asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to immediately stop transferring arms to Hezbollah. American officials made the request during a meeting Friday with the Syrian ambassador to Washington. …

The move was described as an opportunity to discuss the next steps following the visit to Damascus by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on February 17.

The administration also said the meeting was part of its efforts to achieve a direct dialogue with Syria on issues of interest to both sides.

Haaretz has learned that Burns’ visit to Damascus ended unsatisfactorily for the U.S. administration. During Burns’ meeting with Assad, the Syrian leader denied all American claims that his regime was providing military aid to terrorists in Iraq, or to Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups.

Assad essentially told Burns that he had no idea what the American was talking about.

Well, why would it be, do you think, that Assad is playing dumb? After all, we sent our ambassador back without asking for anything in return, and we have been so mute… er… respectful of the Syrian government on the subject of human rights. Oh, wait. Could it be that having given Assad pretty much all he wants up front, we have no leverage to extract anything further from him? Could be.

And it’s not like this should come as any surprise. Last August, Elliott Abrams wrote that the Obama policy of unilateral diplomatic gestures was bearing no fruit:

Syria continues to support Hezbollah’s blocking of the formation of a government in Lebanon, backing Hezbollah in its demand for a “blocking third” that would prevent any decisions Hezbollah opposes in any new Cabinet. The Palestinian terrorist groups remain headquartered in Damascus, and under no visible restraints. And on August 19, President Bashar Asad paid a visit to President Ahmadinejad in Tehran, to showcase his support of the latter during the current Iranian political crisis.

So we tossed in more goodies – the return of Ambassador Ford — and lo and behold, still no results. In fact, Assad seems emboldened to defy American requests, secure in the knowledge there will be no downside to his snubbing of the administration. (What — we’re going to pull Ford out the week after he was sent? Hardly.) This is the appeasement game in action, of course. Defenders of the Obama policy, as they would do for all such gambits, insist we simply aren’t trying hard enough and have to do even more to encourage the Assad regime.

If we had not already sent Ford back to Damascus, would we have been more successful? Hard to know. But at least we would not have looked foolish in the process and convinced Assad he has the upper hand. And in the meantime, had we not been ingratiating ourselves with Damascus, we might have given some moral and political support to those Syrians under the boot of the despotic regime. Now we have the worst of all worlds — a defiant Assad, no leverage, and further erosion of America’s moral standing. That’s a regrettably familiar pattern with Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

No Indigenous Enrichment

Writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, Ray Takeyh attacks the Bush Administration’s decision to support a new incentive package for Iran. According to Takeyh,

As President Bush addressed the Israeli parliament last week, denouncing negotiations with recalcitrant regimes as the “false comfort of appeasement,” his diplomats, in conjunction with their European counterparts, offered Iran another incentive package to stop enriching uranium. Even though they are making another effort to disarm Iran through mediation, the administration’s approach is hopelessly defective. Beyond insisting on onerous conditions that are unlikely to be met by any Iranian government, the United States and its allies still hope that Tehran will trade its enrichment rights for inducements. If Washington is going to mitigate the Iranian nuclear danger, it must discard the formula of exchanging commercial contracts for nuclear rights and seek more imaginative solutions.

There may be plenty of good reasons to criticize the new incentive package–though its exact details are not yet known–and there are obvious partisan reasons, in the midst of an electoral campaign, for Takeyh to accuse the administration of hypocrisy. The fact is, the U.S. administration has agreed to enhance the incentives package because Europeans have so persistently claimed that Iran will concede on enrichment only if there are solid U.S. incentives on the table (an oblique admission of failure on Europe’s part, after six years of dialogue with Iran). But the U.S. is not only offering incentives in the delusional hope that somehow Iran will relent under a mixture of pressure and temptation. The U.S. and its European allies assume that the offer will be presented and either accepted or rejected before the IAEA releases its expected report–due by June 3. A further Iranian rejection–which Takeyh himself anticipates, given statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader to this extent–will provide grounds for additional consensus-based sanctions at the UN level, or at least at the EU level. It may not be much of a strategy, but it is something, and it is hardly appeasement–given that the incentives, once trumped by Iran, will make it easier to tighten sanctions.

What’s the alternative?

Takeyh says that ‘it is time to discard the formula of “suspension for incentives” for one that trades “enrichment for transparency.” He is proposing, in other words, indigenous enrichment, but under tight international control–something along the lines recently suggested by William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh in the New York Review of Books.

There is no ideal solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran. But to suggest that, because Iran got away with its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is set to cross the nuclear threshold sometimes soon, we have no choice but to concede and hope for the best, does not seem to be the preferred alternative to the current course. After all, there is no tight control regime. Iran may have several undeclared clandestine facilities at work. Iran’s history of nuclear deception makes it harder to believe that what we see is what we have–we may concede on enrichment and transfer of technology and still get an Iranian nuclear bomb.

But beyond the risks of letting enrichment happen in Iran’s specific case, the lesson learned from this debacle would be for other countries to trump the NPT as Iran did and go along the path of nuclearization. Iran would be rewarded for violating the NPT and for ignoring successive UN Security Council resolutions. We would forego our principles and handsomely reward bad behavior–a practice that, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, may well be called “appeasement”: “to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles.”

Writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, Ray Takeyh attacks the Bush Administration’s decision to support a new incentive package for Iran. According to Takeyh,

As President Bush addressed the Israeli parliament last week, denouncing negotiations with recalcitrant regimes as the “false comfort of appeasement,” his diplomats, in conjunction with their European counterparts, offered Iran another incentive package to stop enriching uranium. Even though they are making another effort to disarm Iran through mediation, the administration’s approach is hopelessly defective. Beyond insisting on onerous conditions that are unlikely to be met by any Iranian government, the United States and its allies still hope that Tehran will trade its enrichment rights for inducements. If Washington is going to mitigate the Iranian nuclear danger, it must discard the formula of exchanging commercial contracts for nuclear rights and seek more imaginative solutions.

There may be plenty of good reasons to criticize the new incentive package–though its exact details are not yet known–and there are obvious partisan reasons, in the midst of an electoral campaign, for Takeyh to accuse the administration of hypocrisy. The fact is, the U.S. administration has agreed to enhance the incentives package because Europeans have so persistently claimed that Iran will concede on enrichment only if there are solid U.S. incentives on the table (an oblique admission of failure on Europe’s part, after six years of dialogue with Iran). But the U.S. is not only offering incentives in the delusional hope that somehow Iran will relent under a mixture of pressure and temptation. The U.S. and its European allies assume that the offer will be presented and either accepted or rejected before the IAEA releases its expected report–due by June 3. A further Iranian rejection–which Takeyh himself anticipates, given statements by Iran’s Supreme Leader to this extent–will provide grounds for additional consensus-based sanctions at the UN level, or at least at the EU level. It may not be much of a strategy, but it is something, and it is hardly appeasement–given that the incentives, once trumped by Iran, will make it easier to tighten sanctions.

What’s the alternative?

Takeyh says that ‘it is time to discard the formula of “suspension for incentives” for one that trades “enrichment for transparency.” He is proposing, in other words, indigenous enrichment, but under tight international control–something along the lines recently suggested by William Luers, Thomas Pickering, and Jim Walsh in the New York Review of Books.

There is no ideal solution to the nuclear standoff with Iran. But to suggest that, because Iran got away with its violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is set to cross the nuclear threshold sometimes soon, we have no choice but to concede and hope for the best, does not seem to be the preferred alternative to the current course. After all, there is no tight control regime. Iran may have several undeclared clandestine facilities at work. Iran’s history of nuclear deception makes it harder to believe that what we see is what we have–we may concede on enrichment and transfer of technology and still get an Iranian nuclear bomb.

But beyond the risks of letting enrichment happen in Iran’s specific case, the lesson learned from this debacle would be for other countries to trump the NPT as Iran did and go along the path of nuclearization. Iran would be rewarded for violating the NPT and for ignoring successive UN Security Council resolutions. We would forego our principles and handsomely reward bad behavior–a practice that, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary, may well be called “appeasement”: “to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles.”

Read Less

The (Financial) Hammer Comes Down

While Swiss energy company EGL–backed by its government–is busy signing unprecedented gas deals with Iran, the U.S. government is trying to increase economic pressure on Tehran’s business partners by making financial transactions with Iran harder and more expensive. First, the U.S. sanctioned Future Bank in Bahrain for its links to Iran’s Bank Melli, Iran’s leading commercial bank. Then it issued an advisory about 49 banks linked to Iran and their deceptive financial practices. Now, the U.S. has demanded that the Swiss government fully disclose the contract that EGL signed with Tehran.

It is too early to tell whether Switzerland will satisfy Washington’s curiosity. After all, judging by the enduring secrecy of its banking system, one can say transparency is not Switzerland’s greatest strength. Regardless, the U.S. administration should look into more robust ways to “encourage” recalcitrant European governments and companies to comply more with the spirit, to say nothing of the letter, of the developing UN sanctions regime against Iran. Europeans, after all, are all about solving the nuclear standoff with Iran through non-military means.

It should be clear then, to them as it is to the U.S., that short of military action the only thing that stands between Iran and a nuclear bomb is robust economic pressure–mainly from Iran’s commercial partners in Europe. As for the Swiss, their protestations of innocence and UN sanctions compliance are a little odd. But then again, they hang together with Switzerland’s other recent diplomatic activity.

While Swiss energy company EGL–backed by its government–is busy signing unprecedented gas deals with Iran, the U.S. government is trying to increase economic pressure on Tehran’s business partners by making financial transactions with Iran harder and more expensive. First, the U.S. sanctioned Future Bank in Bahrain for its links to Iran’s Bank Melli, Iran’s leading commercial bank. Then it issued an advisory about 49 banks linked to Iran and their deceptive financial practices. Now, the U.S. has demanded that the Swiss government fully disclose the contract that EGL signed with Tehran.

It is too early to tell whether Switzerland will satisfy Washington’s curiosity. After all, judging by the enduring secrecy of its banking system, one can say transparency is not Switzerland’s greatest strength. Regardless, the U.S. administration should look into more robust ways to “encourage” recalcitrant European governments and companies to comply more with the spirit, to say nothing of the letter, of the developing UN sanctions regime against Iran. Europeans, after all, are all about solving the nuclear standoff with Iran through non-military means.

It should be clear then, to them as it is to the U.S., that short of military action the only thing that stands between Iran and a nuclear bomb is robust economic pressure–mainly from Iran’s commercial partners in Europe. As for the Swiss, their protestations of innocence and UN sanctions compliance are a little odd. But then again, they hang together with Switzerland’s other recent diplomatic activity.

Read Less

Annapolis Syndrome

There is an unmistakable tinge of insanity creeping into the U.S. effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It takes form in the embarrassing desperation of Condoleeza Rice, as she countenances the increasing implausibility of the Annapolis conference with ever more florid and urgent declarations of the imperative of creating a Palestinian state. It takes form in the haphazard manner in which the U.S. has jettisoned virtually every requirement arrived upon in previous negotiations, most notably the unannounced dismissal of the 2003 Roadmap. And this creeping insanity takes form most strikingly in the refusal of U.S. strategists to deal seriously with the array of facts on the ground, facts that would undermine any print-on-paper agreements arising from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Rice arrived in Israel yesterday—her eighth visit in the past year—to continue cajoling her interlocutors toward Annapolis. “Now we are talking about a joint document that will seriously and substantively address core issues. We have come quite a long way. We’ve got quite a long way to go,” she said. Actually, we have not come a long way. Anyone familiar with even the most basic outlines of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking knows that in all but the finest details, everything being negotiated today has been negotiated dozens of times before in summits and conferences and shuttle diplomacy and secret meetings undertaken by every U.S. administration stretching back decades: borders, refugees, Jerusalem, water, security, etc.

Read More

There is an unmistakable tinge of insanity creeping into the U.S. effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It takes form in the embarrassing desperation of Condoleeza Rice, as she countenances the increasing implausibility of the Annapolis conference with ever more florid and urgent declarations of the imperative of creating a Palestinian state. It takes form in the haphazard manner in which the U.S. has jettisoned virtually every requirement arrived upon in previous negotiations, most notably the unannounced dismissal of the 2003 Roadmap. And this creeping insanity takes form most strikingly in the refusal of U.S. strategists to deal seriously with the array of facts on the ground, facts that would undermine any print-on-paper agreements arising from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Rice arrived in Israel yesterday—her eighth visit in the past year—to continue cajoling her interlocutors toward Annapolis. “Now we are talking about a joint document that will seriously and substantively address core issues. We have come quite a long way. We’ve got quite a long way to go,” she said. Actually, we have not come a long way. Anyone familiar with even the most basic outlines of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking knows that in all but the finest details, everything being negotiated today has been negotiated dozens of times before in summits and conferences and shuttle diplomacy and secret meetings undertaken by every U.S. administration stretching back decades: borders, refugees, Jerusalem, water, security, etc.

I feel safe predicting that the Annapolis conference, putatively only five weeks away, will not happen, or will take place in a highly attenuated form. Every event and indicator is working against it. The Arab states whose attendance the Bush administration has said will be required for the conference to be effective are either on the fence or are actively working to undermine American diplomacy. Saudi Arabia is following the exact same bait-and-switch formula it always has: express interest, wait and see what is in the offing, and then back out at the last minute.

The Saudi behavior is to be expected. But Egypt’s behavior is new and uniquely egregious, and is apparently not being met with any American resistance. While America and Israel have been pursuing an explicit policy of strengthening Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas while isolating Hamas, Egypt continues to counsel a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Worse, Egypt is strengthening Hamas by allowing the free flow of terrorists and weaponry across their border with Gaza, through a network of tunnels that has dramatically expanded in recent months. The weaponry includes Katyusha rockets that have twice the range of the Kassams that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been firing at Israel. (These missiles represent nothing less than the means by which Hamas will be able to scuttle negotiations at a time of its choosing.) The Israelis have made much of the problem of the Egypt-Gaza border tunnels, but the Egyptians have done absolutely nothing to stop the smuggling. And Rice, swept up in shuttling between Washington, Jerusalem, and Ramallah, can’t be bothered to pay attention to this strategy of sabotage by an ostensible American ally that receives billions of dollars per year in U.S. aid.

Meanwhile, the larger question of what to do about Hamas and Gaza looms unmentioned over the proceedings. Rice has offered a platitudinous and contradictory position that a Palestinian state must include Gaza, but that Hamas, which controls Gaza largely by consent of the governed, has no place in a Palestinian state. Various senescent diplomatic elites have attempted to convince the Bush administration to bring Hamas into the negotiations, but it seems that even if invited, Hamas would refuse—the terror group recently announced its total rejection of the current negotiations, and its charter explicitly rejects diplomacy and conferencing in favor of jihad. The challenge posed by Hamas is so new and so significant that neither Rice nor Abbas has the wherewithal to address it.

What Rice has in fact gone a long way toward accomplishing is a demonstration of the fact that none of the U.S.’s previous diplomatic commitments will be considered of the slightest relevance when it comes to the latest round of peacemaking. Most farcical of all is that the current round of “engagement,” intended in part to restore American credibility in the Middle East by showing the world that the U.S. is willing to heavily invest itself in the conflict, is swiftly establishing the opposite—the same thing that was established in all the previous peacemaking efforts. But at least the Bush administration can come away from all of this knowing that this particular failure was not a unique one.

Read Less

Amnesty International’s Doublespeak

Amnesty International is beating its anti-American drum again. In 2005, AI’s secretary-general Irene Khan called the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo “the gulag of our time.” Aside from defaming the U.S., this grotesque metaphor belittled the martyrdom of the millions of victims of the real gulags, most of whom did not survive the experience and none of whom were terrorists. Rather, they were sent to their doom for such offenses as being “the wife of an enemy of the people.”

On Wednesday, AI issued its 2007 report, and Khan was back at it. “One of the biggest blows to human rights has been the attempt of Western democratic states to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights,” she said. Which “democratic states”? As Khan continued, with characteristic restraint, “the U.S. administration’s doublespeak has been breathtakingly shameless. It is unrepentant about the global web of abuse it has spun in the name of counterterrorism.”

But who is doing the doublespeak? The war against terrorism is the supreme human-rights struggle of our time. This is so because the first human right is the right to life, and scores of innocents every day have it brutally snatched from them by terrorists. It is so, too, because the regimes that succor terrorists are themselves among the world’s most repressive and because the jihadists and other radicals who carry out terrorism aim to become rulers themselves. If they succeed, they will show their subjects no more mercy than they do their victims today. And the war on terror is doubly a campaign for human rights because the Bush administration has “shamelessly” built its anti-terror strategy around the objective of promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

Read More

Amnesty International is beating its anti-American drum again. In 2005, AI’s secretary-general Irene Khan called the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo “the gulag of our time.” Aside from defaming the U.S., this grotesque metaphor belittled the martyrdom of the millions of victims of the real gulags, most of whom did not survive the experience and none of whom were terrorists. Rather, they were sent to their doom for such offenses as being “the wife of an enemy of the people.”

On Wednesday, AI issued its 2007 report, and Khan was back at it. “One of the biggest blows to human rights has been the attempt of Western democratic states to roll back some fundamental principles of human rights,” she said. Which “democratic states”? As Khan continued, with characteristic restraint, “the U.S. administration’s doublespeak has been breathtakingly shameless. It is unrepentant about the global web of abuse it has spun in the name of counterterrorism.”

But who is doing the doublespeak? The war against terrorism is the supreme human-rights struggle of our time. This is so because the first human right is the right to life, and scores of innocents every day have it brutally snatched from them by terrorists. It is so, too, because the regimes that succor terrorists are themselves among the world’s most repressive and because the jihadists and other radicals who carry out terrorism aim to become rulers themselves. If they succeed, they will show their subjects no more mercy than they do their victims today. And the war on terror is doubly a campaign for human rights because the Bush administration has “shamelessly” built its anti-terror strategy around the objective of promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

Is it odd for a bloody war to be the fulcrum of the struggle for human rights? Not at all. The two greatest victories for human rights of the last century (and probably of all time) were the allied victory over the Axis in World War II and the West’s victory over the Soviet Union in the cold war. These spelled the difference between life and death, freedom and slavery, for hundreds of millions of people. The greatest victory for human rights in American history was the North’s victory in the Civil War, ending slavery. (Amnesty International was not around, of course, at the time of the Civil War or World War II. But it was in business during the cold war, toward which it adopted a posture of studied neutrality. In other words, in the great human-rights battle of its time, Amnesty went AWOL.)

In each of these wars, our side was guilty of human-rights violations more egregious than anything that has happened at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib. Some of those were necessary—as President Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus may have been—and others were shameful, like the detention of Japanese-American citizens by FDR. But even these egregious abuses pale in comparison to the stakes of the wars, stakes that had everything to do with human rights.

Today, it may be that some U.S. actions in the war on terror are questionable or blameworthy. But such derogations are trivial in comparison with what is at issue between us and the terrorists. No one genuinely devoted to human rights can be blind to this. Those who ignore it are using the lingo of human rights to pursue some other agenda.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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