Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Israel relations

Parsing Paul’s ‘Evolution’ on Aid to Israel

Has Senator Rand Paul’s “evolution” on support for Israel and aid to the Jewish state gone far enough? That’s the question the pro-Israel community is asking these days as the 2016 Republican presidential contender attempts to navigate a changed foreign-policy environment in the wake of recent events in the Middle East. But while some credible voices think he should be given credit for moving closer to Israel, skeptics about both his position shifts as well as his ability to bring vast numbers of young voters to his party still have the better argument.

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Has Senator Rand Paul’s “evolution” on support for Israel and aid to the Jewish state gone far enough? That’s the question the pro-Israel community is asking these days as the 2016 Republican presidential contender attempts to navigate a changed foreign-policy environment in the wake of recent events in the Middle East. But while some credible voices think he should be given credit for moving closer to Israel, skeptics about both his position shifts as well as his ability to bring vast numbers of young voters to his party still have the better argument.

One voice raised on behalf of giving Paul a chance to prove himself is Abby W. Shachter, the author of Acculturated, the indispensable cultural blog, who writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune that both left- and right-wing critics of Paul on Israel are mistaken. While acknowledging the doubts about Paul’s sincerity about being a friend of Israel, she thinks friends of Israel shouldn’t consider his longstanding opposition to foreign aid a disqualifying factor. As Shachter notes, his position on aid to Israel has evolved since he began public life as a supporter of his extremist libertarian father’s presidential candidacies. Paul now claims he’s never really advocated ending assistance to Israel and says that even if all foreign aid is eliminated, Israel should be last on the list to be cut and even voted this summer for additional funding for the Iron Dome missile defense system that has saved countless lives from death at the hands of Hamas missiles.

Even more significantly, the recent controversy over President Obama’s willingness to use aid as a lever to pressure Israel may make Paul’s position on the question more defensible. Many Israelis believe the president’s decision to halt ammunition sales and transfers to Israel at the height of the fighting in Gaza so as to force the Jewish state to buckle to his demands about a cease-fire should force their country to ponder whether the price of this aid is too high in terms of their independence and security. If so, then maybe Paul’s position should be regarded as actually one that is helping Israel rather than a threat to its well-being.

Shachter goes even further and cautions conservative friends of Israel to think long and hard about labeling the libertarian senator as a foe of the Jewish state. She believes his ability to bring more young voters to the GOP has caused Democrats to fear him more than other Republicans. If Paul is spurned, she fears Republicans will rue the day they repelled the youth/libertarian voters that support the Kentucky senator, especially if they back libertarian or fringe candidates in November 2016.

But I’m afraid Shachter is giving Paul too much credit for both his “evolution” on the Middle East and his ability to help Republicans win in 2016.

Let’s first understand that Paul’s attempt to spin his record on Israel is blatantly insincere. If the senator has moved far closer to mainstream views on Israel since his presidential ambitions became manifest, that also illustrates just how far he has had to come from his starting point as a supporter of his father’s hostile attitude toward the Jewish state and the need for a strong American position on the Middle East. While he never explicitly singled out Israel for aid cutoffs, it’s also true that he has always opposed any assistance, a position that he still maintains to a large degree.

It is also true that many friends of Israel are rethinking the value of aid since Obama has used the assistance to pressure Israel to adopt policies that are against its interests. Paul is right when he says Israel would be better off if it were not dependent on the United States for military aid. But the problem is that even after the disheartening spectacle of Washington betraying its sole democratic ally in the Middle East in this manner, Israel doesn’t really have an alternative to this aid, no matter how many strings come with it.

The plain fact is that while Israel has a thriving arms industry of its own, if it is to maintain its qualitative edge over its Arab and Muslim foes, it’s going to need continued help from the United States. Without U.S. funding (started under the George W. Bush administration and continued under Obama), the Iron Dome system would not have been deployed as quickly or in the numbers needed to stop Hamas’s rocket offensive this year. Iron Dome might be the most prominent example of the utility of U.S. military assistance, but it is not the only one. Like it or not, Israel needs U.S. weapons and ammunition, especially when it is forced into shooting wars where resupply of stocks becomes necessary. Seen in that context, Paul’s rhetoric about aid cutoffs being to Israel’s benefit is beside the point, if not completely insincere.

Nor does Paul’s opposition to aid make sense even from a strictly American viewpoint. The U.S. has always gained nearly as much from security cooperation with Israel as the recipients. The U.S. not only benefits from Israeli technology and intelligence but the money is almost entirely spent in the United States. The assistance given is as much aid to the U.S. arms industry as it is to Israel.

As for Paul’s ability to bring in hordes of youthful libertarians who can tip the balance in 2016, that may be more of a myth than anything else. As Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog noted earlier this week, polls give us no evidence of any potential for such a massive swing vote. Young liberals may like Paul’s foreign policy, but not much else about the libertarian. But that shouldn’t recommend him to Republicans because the only reason they do like him is that his views are actually to the left of President Obama’s generally weak posture on foreign and defense issues. Even so, there is little evidence that liberals will back a conservative libertarian for president. Nor is it likely that any defection of libertarians, who have been hostile to every GOP presidential nominee for a generation, would be enough to cost Republicans the presidency.

Thus, while Paul should be encouraged to continue to evolve, his position on Israel is still unsatisfactory. More to the point, his position on aid reflects an even greater desire for an American retreat from the Middle East than that of Obama. In the unlikely event that his views truly change, pro-Israel conservatives should give him a chance. Until then, they would do well to seek an alternative that will both support Israel and have a better chance of being elected president.

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Why Is Hamas Still Shooting?

Earlier today and not long after Israel had agreed to extend the temporary cease-fire that existed in Gaza, a new barrage of rockets was fired from the Hamas-run strip into Israel. Hamas’s latest rupture of a cease-fire caused Israel to pull its negotiators out of the talks in Cairo where Egyptian and American interlocutors have attempted to craft a compromise solution that would allow an agreement to end the shooting. But before the U.S. starts pressuring Israel to send its diplomats back to the table, Americans should realize that the reason why Hamas is still firing missiles has not a little to do with their expectations about the international reaction to their behavior that have been confirmed by the Obama administration.

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Earlier today and not long after Israel had agreed to extend the temporary cease-fire that existed in Gaza, a new barrage of rockets was fired from the Hamas-run strip into Israel. Hamas’s latest rupture of a cease-fire caused Israel to pull its negotiators out of the talks in Cairo where Egyptian and American interlocutors have attempted to craft a compromise solution that would allow an agreement to end the shooting. But before the U.S. starts pressuring Israel to send its diplomats back to the table, Americans should realize that the reason why Hamas is still firing missiles has not a little to do with their expectations about the international reaction to their behavior that have been confirmed by the Obama administration.

Like the thousands launched in the last month as the latest fighting raged, those fired today were either shot down by Iron Dome or exploded harmlessly in empty fields. But the massive nature of this provocation makes it clear that the rockets were not the act of isolated or rogue groups in Gaza but a concerted effort by Hamas to pressure both Israel and the other parties to the talks to give in to their demands to lift the blockade of the strip without the Islamists agreeing to any real limits on their ability to re-arm.

Some observers, like reporters from the New York Times, think the back and forth between Hamas and Israel is some kind of pantomime show with no real purpose. As the Times piece noted, both sides know they won’t get what they want in the talks. But it needs to be understood that so long as Hamas believes the international community will be so concerned about the plight of the people of Gaza–whose lives have been devastated by the war the terror group launched–that they will eventually be able to corner the Israelis and force them and the Egyptians to loosen the blockade, the violence will continue.

The willingness of Hamas to keep firing despite their complete military defeat at the hands of the Israelis illustrates a key point about the asymmetrical warfare in which the two sides have been engaged.

Hamas rocket barrages have been a fiasco as almost none of the thousands of rockets fired have found their targets. Their enormous investment in building dozens of tunnels aimed at facilitating cross-border terror attacks has been thrown away. Indeed, their decision to launch an ill-timed war this summer not only undid years of work before the tunnels could be exploited, it also led to their planning for a coup in the West Bank against Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to be discovered in advance of that plot being set in motion.

And yet the reality that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must face is that despite the victories won by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and the Israel Defense Forces’ successful incursion into Gaza, Hamas is not only undeterred from launching more rockets; it also doesn’t consider itself to have been defeated.

By understandably halting that offensive without toppling Hamas because of the great cost such a battle would exact from his country, Netanyahu has tacitly accepted that this last month would not be the last battle fought with Hamas. But the question before Israel is not whether Netanyahu will order an all-out offensive designed to rid the strip of its Hamas tyrants once and for all. That decision has already been made and Netanyahu has already made clear that Israel won’t or can’t pay such a price in blood and international pressure that a re-occupation of the strip would entail.

Instead, the question yet to be answered is whether international pressure—and in particular pressure from the United States—will force the Israelis to allow a loosening of the blockade so as to help Gaza rebuild and Hamas to re-arm. By keeping the rocket barrages going even though it knows that they will do little or no damage to Israel, Hamas is counting on that pressure being increased. More rockets will force more Israeli counter-strikes and those will, without doubt, worsen the situation of the Palestinians in Gaza and therefore increase the agitation going on around the globe against Israel’s measures of self-defense.

That is why if the Obama administration is serious about crafting a cease-fire that means anything, it must signal to Hamas that it must abandon its hopes for a political victory in Cairo that will overshadow its military defeat. Yet while still insisting that it disdains Hamas, the administration’s determination to pick fights with Israel and to force it to back down on demands for the demilitarization of the strip have unintended consequences. By pushing for Israel to halt the fighting and for it to give in to some of Hamas’s demands, the U.S. has once again set in motion a series of events that will only lead to more violence.

Netanyahu is determined not to unnecessarily exacerbate the relationship with the U.S. and President Obama’s brutal attempts to force it to stop fighting by halting weapon shipments have reduced Israel’s room to maneuver. But he should resist pressure to return to Cairo. As bad as Hamas’s intermittent missile barrages may be, agreeing to a formal cease-fire that would open up the floodgates for the resupply of the group’s arsenal via shipments from Iran would be far worse. Hamas is still firing in no small part to convince Obama to crack down even harder on Israel. The president should refuse to play along. But if he does, Israel must not agree to a deal that will make the next round of fighting with Hamas just as bad, if not worse, than the last one.

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What Message Is Obama Sending to Israel?

Last week, the Wall Street Journal dropped a bombshell by reporting that the U.S. had withheld a shipment of Hellfire missiles from Israel during wartime and that the Obama administration “tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel.” In response, I wrote that the administration could no longer resort to its favorite defense on Israel: that no matter how poorly President Obama and his appointees treated Israel in the diplomatic arena, at least he had Israel’s back on security.

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Last week, the Wall Street Journal dropped a bombshell by reporting that the U.S. had withheld a shipment of Hellfire missiles from Israel during wartime and that the Obama administration “tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel.” In response, I wrote that the administration could no longer resort to its favorite defense on Israel: that no matter how poorly President Obama and his appointees treated Israel in the diplomatic arena, at least he had Israel’s back on security.

Yesterday Shmuel Rosner wrote a very smart response. He disagrees with me on how much of a lesson we can draw from this one incident, but has his own incisive take on it. I think it’s worth clarifying part of my original point and also drawing attention to Rosner’s own analysis of the dustup, which has important implications.

I wrote that “now we know that the president is not fully committed to Israel’s security.” Rosner quotes that line and then writes: “a halt of one, or even five, shipments of arms, when Israel can clearly do without them for now, is not yet a clear statement of carelessness regarding Israel’s security.”

That’s true, but I didn’t write that the president cares nothing for Israel’s security; I wrote that he’s “not fully committed to Israel’s security.” I think that’s an important distinction. And the reason I wrote that is not just about stopping one (“or even five”) arms shipments, but the key point that the resupply process has generally been on autopilot and takes place below Obama’s pay grade.

It’s not as though Obama were transferring all that weaponry to Israel and then decided to hold one shipment to apply pressure to Prime Minister Netanyahu. It’s that, if the Journal story has it right, Obama was unaware of the arms transfers in that program, and when he became aware he put a stop to one shipment and the fast-track process and took a key component of U.S.-Israel mutual defense off of autopilot. While Israel was at war, no less.

In other words, Obama deserves less credit than he’s received for supporting Israel’s security over the last six years, not that Obama has suddenly changed course (though that’s true in a way too).

But Rosner’s conclusion is worth contemplating as well. He writes:

But I do see something else that is quite disturbing: Obama no longer cares if people say that he doesn’t care about Israel’s security.

Let me explain: for six years it was important for the administration to separate “security relations” from “diplomatic relations”, because the separation enabled it to keep wrapping itself in a ‘supportive of Israel’ garment even as it was having bitter fights with the Israeli government. When relations were very tense, the pretense of them being still very strong was important for the Obama administration to maintain. Of course, part of it is because it is true: the relations are still strong. The US and Israel have ties strong enough to sustain a period of tension between the two governments. But there were also other reasons for the Obama team to insist on the viability of the “security” relations. Possibly, some of this was for political reasons – Obama did not wish to pick a fight with political supporters over Israel. And some of it probably had psychological motivations – it enabled people within the administration that are basically supportive of Israel to compartmentalize their own feelings about the policies of the administration in which they serve.

Enter the latest report, which ruins it for Obama, or at least significantly damages it. Suddenly, the Obama administration decided to send a blow in the one area that was supposedly a no-entry-zone.

If Obama no longer cares to be seen as supportive of Israel, Rosner writes, then that would be “a change that is much more significant than one shipment of Hellfire missiles.”

There have been a lot of jokes about the president already enjoying his retirement, but the kernel of truth at the center of them has been his disregard for pretending he cares about any number of issues. He’s disengaged and, frankly, appears overwhelmed by the task at hand.

But he’s still president, and he’s still the most visible representative of his party. The Democrats already have an “Israel problem,” in that the base of the party continues their own reassessment of the special relationship. Obama only reinforces that at a time when Israeli civilians are being forced into bomb shelters.

And it matters for another reason, and this is a point on which Rosner and I agree. American diplomatic support for Israel cannot so easily be separated from support for Israel’s security. Diplomatic pressure from the U.S. can attempt to force Israel’s government to take positions that weaken its security, regardless of its supply of arms and ammunition.

Israel’s enemies react according to its perceived strength, and that in turn relies on the fairly significant factor of whether the Jewish state has the world’s only superpower standing behind it. Obama is quite aware of the impression he’s giving, and it will almost certainly have real-world consequences.

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Israel Should Ignore Obama’s Tantrum

Last month as the fighting raged in Gaza, news about the United States resupplying the ammunition stocks of the Israel Defense Forces balanced other, more troubling stories about arguments between the two countries over diplomacy. But it turns out the arguments between the Obama administration and the Israelis were even angrier than we thought. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the White House has been having a full-fledged temper tantrum over Israel’s unwillingness to take orders from Washington and doesn’t care who knows it. But the best advice friends of Israel can give Prime Minister Netanyahu is to stick to his positions despite the insults being flung in his direction.

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Last month as the fighting raged in Gaza, news about the United States resupplying the ammunition stocks of the Israel Defense Forces balanced other, more troubling stories about arguments between the two countries over diplomacy. But it turns out the arguments between the Obama administration and the Israelis were even angrier than we thought. As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the White House has been having a full-fledged temper tantrum over Israel’s unwillingness to take orders from Washington and doesn’t care who knows it. But the best advice friends of Israel can give Prime Minister Netanyahu is to stick to his positions despite the insults being flung in his direction.

The article, which appears to be based on leaks from high-ranking U.S. officials, revolves around the notion that the administration is furious with Israel. The anger emanating from the White House is, at its core, the function of policy differences about the peace process. It also revolves around Israel’s decision to attempt to reduce Hamas’s arsenal rather than merely shoot down the rockets aimed at its cities. But what really seems to have gotten the president’s goat is the ease with which Jerusalem has been able to circumvent his desire to pressure it to make concessions via the strong support of Congress and the close ties that have been established between Israel’s defense establishment and the Pentagon.

As Seth noted earlier, rather than speeding the necessary ammunition supplies to the IDF, the administration was doing the opposite. But the ammunition transfers were just the last straw for a White House that regards Israel’s government and the wall-to-wall bipartisan pro-Israel consensus that backs it up as a source of unending frustration.

It bears remembering that this administration came into office in January 2009 determined to create more daylight between the positions of the two countries, and that’s exactly what it did. Obama picked pointless fights with Netanyahu over settlements and Jerusalem throughout his first term, culminating in a calculated ambush of the prime minister on a trip to Washington in May 2011 when the president sought to impose the 1967 lines as the starting point for future peace talks. But Netanyahu, who had sought to downplay differences until that point, was having none of it and made clear his resistance. Instead of humiliating the Israeli, Obama was forced to watch as Netanyahu was endlessly cheered before a joint meeting of Congress as if he was Winston Churchill visiting the U.S. during World War Two.

That might have led to a further escalation of the fight between the two governments, but the president’s looming reelection campaign intervened. What followed instead was an administration charm offensive aimed at pro-Israel voters in which all was seemingly forgotten and forgiven even if anger still lingered beneath the surface.

Those tensions have now resurfaced in Obama’s second term. The trigger for much of it was Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to waste much of the last year on an effort to revive peace talks with the Palestinians that no one with any sense thought had a chance of success. Predictably, his failure (which was unfairly blamed by both the secretary and the president on Israel rather than on a Palestinian Authority that remains unable and/or unwilling to make peace) exacerbated the situation and led, albeit indirectly, to this summer’s fighting. Yet rather than learn from this mistake, the administration’s reaction to Gaza has been mostly motivated by pique against the Israelis and an incoherent impulse to frustrate Netanyahu.

But now that the dust appears to have settled in Gaza at least for the moment, where does that leave U.S.-Israel relations? It is true, as John noted earlier, that the alliance seems to have sunk to a point that is roughly comparable to that experienced during the administration of the elder George Bush. Administration officials are openly saying that Netanyahu doesn’t know his place and making implicit threats of retaliation.

But, as was the case in 2011, it’s not clear that Obama and his minions in the West Wing can do anything but complain about Netanyahu to their friends in the press. But the Journal story highlights an important fact. No matter how angry Obama may be about Netanyahu’s refusal to do his bidding and make concessions that make even less sense today than they did a few years ago, there are limits as to how far he can go and what he may do to take revenge for this.

The thing that is driving Obama crazy is not so much Netanyahu’s willingness to say no to him but the fact that Congress and most Americans seem to think there is nothing wrong with it. The president may be, as Aaron David Miller famously said, someone who is “not in love with the idea of Israel” as his recent predecessors have been. But the alliance he inherited from George W. Bush and Bill Clinton is one that is so strong and so deeply entrenched within the U.S. political and defense establishments that there isn’t all that much he can’t do about it.

Try as he might, Obama can’t persuade any Israeli government to endanger its people by repeating the Gaza experiment in the West Bank. Nor will he persuade them to refrain from hitting Hamas hard and opposing negotiations that further empower it. Netanyahu has a relatively united Israeli nation behind him that rightly distrusts Obama. He also can count on the support of a bipartisan consensus in Congress that sees no reason to back an increasingly unpopular and ineffective lame duck president against the country’s only democratic ally in the Middle East.

This administration can still undermine the alliance and America’s own interests by perpetuating this personal feud with the prime minister and exacerbating it by further appeasement of Iran in the nuclear talks. But if Obama couldn’t break Netanyahu in his first term, he won’t do so now. As difficult as it may be to ignore the brickbats flying from Washington, the Israelis can stand their ground against this president sure in the knowledge that most Americans back them and that the next occupant of the Oval Office, whether a Democrat or a Republican, is likely to be far more supportive of this special alliance that Obama disdains.

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What Does It Mean to Support Israel?

Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe Program, is pretty good at getting publicity even if his stunts or the silly talk about the former congressman running for president hasn’t helped his show’s or his network’s sinking ratings. But Scarborough’s antics this week do give us an excuse to puncture some myths about what it means to be pro-Israel.

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Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe Program, is pretty good at getting publicity even if his stunts or the silly talk about the former congressman running for president hasn’t helped his show’s or his network’s sinking ratings. But Scarborough’s antics this week do give us an excuse to puncture some myths about what it means to be pro-Israel.

Scarborough has been tearing into Israel all week for its tactics during its counter-terrorist operations in Gaza. According to Scarborough, the increasing toll of Palestinian casualties was proof that what Israel was doing was damaging to its cause. But, as is his usual practice, as the week went on, he raised the temperature on his rhetoric saying yesterday that what Israel was doing was “asinine.” When conservatives and others roundly criticized him for these denunciations, he again upped the ante today by claiming that those who didn’t agree with him were “simpleminded” and that he knew better than anyone else what it meant to be a friend of Israel.

As Politico reported:

“The prolonged killing of children and women in Palestinian territories will only serve to weaken Israel and strengthen Hamas,” he said.

Scarborough concluded by saying that U.S. supporters of Israel should not necessarily endorse all its actions. “Blindly supporting Israel and Israeli politicians — when their actions may action be strengthening their enemies and our enemies, like Hamas — is no way to show your support and no way to show your friendship,” he said.

Scarborough began each of his rants about Israel this week by claiming that everyone knew that he was always a great champion of Israel. We’ll take that assertion at face value, but whatever help the TV personality gave the pro-Israel cause during his brief and erratic congressional career doesn’t give him the right to lecture the rest of us or Israel’s government or its people as to what is in their best interests.

The argument that the gruesome pictures of Palestinian casualties don’t help Israel isn’t terribly controversial. But to claim, as Scarborough does, that these pictures should dictate a halt to military operations against Hamas terrorists, doesn’t necessarily follow.

Ironically, Scarborough’s interpretation of friendship for Israel seems to fall under the theory most often promoted by left-wing critics of the Jewish state, not its supporters. Namely, that the best way to be a friend of Israel is to criticize it and to try and prevent it from defending itself or refusing to take actions that would endanger its security.

The problem with Scarborough’s position is that those, like him, who say they are friends of Israel and support its right of self-defense and that they condemn Hamas but then go on to say that Israel should not resist Hamas terrorism or seek to take out rocket launchers or terrorist tunnels are contradicting themselves.

Responsibility for the casualties in Gaza belongs to Hamas and Hamas alone. The context of this debate is a situation in which Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, shelters its leaders, fighters, and munitions in United Nations schools and facilities as well as mosques and hospitals. To assert that Israel is forbidden from firing on any target where a civilian might be is to grant Hamas complete impunity.

Its fighters have not only rained down many rockets on their own people but also deployed huge numbers of IED explosives that have demolished more than a thousand buildings in Gaza.

While the deaths of those caught in the crossfire are tragic and regrettable, those inclined to castigate Israeli forces for not doing enough to prevent the killings should remember that U.S. soldiers conducting anti-terror operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan face the same dilemmas and could be criticized in the same manner. Would Scarborough call those efforts “asinine” or is it only Palestinians that may not be hurt and Israelis who must show restraint? Does he seriously believe that Americans, who went to the other side of the world to take out the forces that supported the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan to protect their homeland, can’t understand why Israelis refuse to let a terrorist state next door to operate with impunity?

More to the point, it should be understood that being a friend ought to mandate understanding and support in tough times, not just in good times when seeking to raise money from pro-Israel donors. Those who are rightly calling for the U.S. to support the effort to take out Hamas are not being blind. Rather it is those like Scarborough, who, despite the lip service they pay to Israel’s security, refuse to draw the logical conclusions from events that lack comprehension of what is going on.

If Scarborough wants to be a friend of Israel he might think about paying attention to the enormous shift in public opinion with the Jewish state. As Jeffrey Goldberg noted today in the Atlantic, even Israeli left-wingers who are fierce critics of Netanyahu, like novelist Amos Oz, aren’t buying into the mindset of those who oppose the Gaza operation. The normally fractious Israeli public is more united than it has ever been in its support for the effort to disarm Hamas. Anyone who is truly supportive of Israel or desirous of saving Palestinian lives should be speaking out against Hamas and calling for its defeat, not bashing the Israelis for defending their country.

Scarborough can think and speak as he likes. But if he or anyone else believes Israel should pull its punches in its efforts to take out those who launch rockets at their cities or build tunnels to commit terrorist atrocities, they are engaging in a dangerous brand of moral relativism. If so, they should try a little honesty and drop the pose of a friend of the Jewish state.

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Kerry’s Folly: Friends Can Say No to Friends

The Israeli government is doing its best to patch things up with the Obama administration after Secretary of State John Kerry was blasted by a broad consensus of opinion in the Jewish state as well as many respected American journalists for his bungled efforts to broker a cease-fire in Gaza that would have helped Hamas. But after all the umbrage from Washington and the apologies from Jerusalem, the real question we should be asking is not about Kerry’s hurt feelings but whether Israel has the right to tell its sole superpower ally “no.”

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The Israeli government is doing its best to patch things up with the Obama administration after Secretary of State John Kerry was blasted by a broad consensus of opinion in the Jewish state as well as many respected American journalists for his bungled efforts to broker a cease-fire in Gaza that would have helped Hamas. But after all the umbrage from Washington and the apologies from Jerusalem, the real question we should be asking is not about Kerry’s hurt feelings but whether Israel has the right to tell its sole superpower ally “no.”

Today’s cease-fire fiasco in which an initiative for a halt to the fighting from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas demonstrated anew how irrelevant the man lauded by the United States as a peace partner has become in the current conflict. But the main focus of discussion in the last few days has been Kerry’s foolish decision to adopt the positions of Hamas’s Turkish and Qatari allies in putting forward a cease-fire proposal that effectively cut both Abbas and Egypt out of the process. Israel’s government was shocked at Kerry’s betrayal that would have granted Hamas terrorists an undeserved political victory.

But rather than be held accountable for Kerry’s blunder as well as his miscalculations during the course of his sponsorship of peace talks whose collapse led directly to the current round of violence, what we are hearing are complaints about Israel’s chutzpah in calling out the secretary for his mistakes. Some today are pointing out what they consider to be Israel’s foolishness in creating friction with its sole friend. Indeed, at a time when the safety of the Jewish state is directly related to the continued use of the Iron Dome system that was financed in large measure by the United States, and for which Israel will need more funding to keep it shooting down Hamas rockets, there is a sense that uppity Israelis are biting the hand that is feeding them.

There is a superficial logic to such criticism of the Israelis and anytime a foreign government and its press attack any American official. Yet to frame this issue as one of ingratitude on the part of Israelis—both for U.S. assistance and for Kerry’s efforts to broker peace—is to misperceive the problem. Israelis should treat U.S. officials with courtesy and to listen to their advice. Yet expecting them to compromise their security for the sake of good feelings isn’t merely unrealistic. It’s an act of hostility that undermines an alliance that is as much in America’s interest as it is Israel’s.

Such tension between these two close friends is nothing new. U.S. leaders have been pressuring Israel to make territorial withdrawals or “risks” for peace since the inception of the state. That pressure intensified after the Six-Day War when the U.S. switched from an interested onlooker in the conflict (few remember that the Israelis fought all of their wars up until the Yom Kippur War without U.S. arms or significant assistance) to an ally of the Jewish state. Arguments such as those of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan with Menachem Begin, George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker with Yitzhak Shamir, and Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama with Benjamin Netanyahu all raised the same hackles about Israel’s refusal to consistently knuckle under to American demands.

But all these debates revolve around a basic principle that, like it or not, American leaders have had to learn to respect: Israel is a sovereign nation and cannot be asked to sacrifice the lives of its citizens in order to gratify the demands or the ego of American presidents and secretaries of state. In the current case, that means seeking to prematurely force Israel to cease operations against Hamas rocket fire and terror infiltration tunnels or to grant the terrorists concessions is simply unacceptable.

Moreover, as Kerry’s about-face after the weekend in which he agreed that demilitarization of Gaza should be the goal of any negotiations illustrated, even the Obama administration understands that the American people do not support a policy of pressure on Israel. Indeed, anyone thinking that Obama and Kerry might try to squeeze Netanyahu to make concessions by holding up more funding for Iron Dome got a dose of reality in the past few days when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were competing with each other over who would give the Israelis the most additional Iron Dome money.

It can be argued that friends shouldn’t be rude to friends, although the disgust and anger that Kerry generated across the entire Israeli political spectrum, including many fierce critics of Netanyahu, renders the administration’s hurt feelings somewhat ridiculous. But friends have a right to tell a friend—even a generous one that supplies essential aid—that their requests are neither reasonable nor helpful. Israel is not a banana republic and has said no to the United States before this and will again. More to the point, so long as the requests coming from the administration remain as unreasonable and out of touch with the reality of the conflict as those adopted by Obama and Kerry have been, Netanyahu should be able to resist them in the full knowledge that most Americans both understand and support his position.

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Obama and Ceasefire: A Little History

As the controversy over John Kerry’s bungled efforts to negotiate a ceasefire continues, we should look back on the last time America spoke of such things.

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As the controversy over John Kerry’s bungled efforts to negotiate a ceasefire continues, we should look back on the last time America spoke of such things.

On November 21, 2012, Israel agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that concluded the eight-day Operation “Pillar of Defense,” which Israel began after a day on which Hamas launched 100 rockets at Israel. President Obama made a phone call to Bibi Netanyahu that day. This is part of the White House “readout” of that phone call:

The President made clear that no country can be expected to tolerate rocket attacks against civilians….The President commended the Prime Minister for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal – which the President recommended the Prime Minster do – while reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself. The President said that the United States would use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza. [emphasis mine]

Well, that went well, didn’t it? Between the ceasefire in 2012 and the outbreak of hostilities in 2014, Hamas made or smuggled in thousands of new rockets and went even more hog-wild with the tunnels. And how did Hamas go hog-wild with the tunnels? With cement that the United States, among others, insisted Israel allow into Gaza for humanitarian reasons in January 2014. That’s not America’s fault, but it’s worth noting that the president made an explicit promise to “intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs,” and clearly did not follow up on that promise.

The last sentence of the phone-call readout from 2012 was this: “The President said that he was committed to seeking additional funding for Iron Dome and other U.S.-Israel missile defense programs.” And indeed, in 2014, the United States did authorize $235 million over three years for Iron Dome. The administration deserves commendation for that, but Iron Dome money is a no-brainer—Iron Dome is effectively a real-world testing ground for American missile defenses, and would be cheap at twice the price.

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Kerry v. Israel: Why It Gets Personal

The Obama administration is fuming about the anger in Israel about Secretary of State John Kerry’s bumbling efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in Gaza. But while senior U.S. officials are claiming the attacks on Kerry from Israelis across the political spectrum puts the relationship between the two countries in jeopardy, the change in tune today from Kerry in his statements about the goals of negotiations illustrated just how deep is the hole that he has dug for himself and the United States in the current crisis.

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The Obama administration is fuming about the anger in Israel about Secretary of State John Kerry’s bumbling efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in Gaza. But while senior U.S. officials are claiming the attacks on Kerry from Israelis across the political spectrum puts the relationship between the two countries in jeopardy, the change in tune today from Kerry in his statements about the goals of negotiations illustrated just how deep is the hole that he has dug for himself and the United States in the current crisis.

After delivering demands to Israel that amounted to an American surrender to Hamas, in a speech delivered this morning Kerry said that “demilitarization” of Gaza was a necessary element of hopes for peace. He’s right about that, but after seeking to hamstring Israeli efforts to halt Hamas rocket fire and to eliminate the tunnel network they use to store their arsenal and to launch cross-border attacks on Israeli targets, the umbrage that administration figures are expressing about the reaction to the secretary’s behavior is unjustified.

The fact that it has become personal between Kerry and Israel does neither country any good and that is why even though the anger in the Jewish state at the secretary was universal, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., rightly sought to disassociate his government from any personal attacks on Kerry today. But as with previous tiffs in which the administration expressed anger about criticism of the secretary, the focus on defending Kerry’s honor or good intentions is beside the point. Though he continues to pose as the tireless worker for peace that is being unfairly targeted for his even-handed approach, it’s time to realize that Kerry actually deserves a not inconsiderable share of the blame for the situation.

Even if we are to credit Kerry, as Dermer suggests, for his good intentions, the secretary deserves every bit of the opprobrium that has been leveled at him by Israelis from the right to the left.

Kerry’s disastrous intervention in the current fighting demonstrated the utter and complete incoherence of the position that he has carved out for the United States. On the one hand, Kerry has prioritized the effort to create a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But by seeking to save Hamas by granting it concessions in the form of open borders rather than forcing the demilitarization that he belatedly endorsed, Kerry is making such a peace deal impossible.

The depth of the contradictions here are hard to comprehend. On the one hand, following President Obama’s lead, Kerry has praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas endlessly as a true partner for peace even though the PA chief has repeatedly turned down chances to negotiate seriously. But by seeking to place constraints on Israeli military actions directed at degrading Hamas’s capability to launch terror attacks, Kerry is actually undermining Abbas. His cease-fire proposal wasn’t so much an insult to Israel as it was to the PA. Though publicly condemning Israeli actions, it’s no secret that Abbas is hoping that the Jewish state will remove his on-again-off-again rival/partner in the Palestinian government from the scene. By endorsing the proposal for a cease-fire that came from Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey, Kerry stabbed Abbas in the back.

But the incompetence didn’t begin with one ill-considered piece of diplomatic ineptitude. It must be understood that nothing that is going on today—including the grievous casualty toll inside Gaza—would have happened had not Kerry single-handedly forced both Abbas and the Israelis into a negotiation that both knew would only lead to disaster. Throughout the nine months during which the secretary orchestrated a new round of peace talks between Israel and the PA, the administration was warned that the problem wasn’t just that the effort couldn’t succeed so long as the Palestinians were divided between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas. It was that once the failure occurred, it would provide a justification for a new round of violence in the same manner that past such efforts had done. Kerry not only ignored those warnings but raised the stakes by personally speaking about a third intifada happening if the two sides didn’t do as he bid. Those who pointed out that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy were denounced as insufficiently supportive of peace. But the reality is that Kerry not only set the stage for this new outbreak, he more or less gave Hamas a green light to go ahead and start shooting.

The only common threads in Kerry’s diplomatic endeavors have been his enormous self-regard and a clear animus for the Netanyahu government. Either of these foibles would be forgivable if Kerry were focused on actions that would advance a two-state solution. But by pushing for a settlement when Abbas was unable to comply and then disingenuously blaming his failure on Israel, Kerry hurt the PA and set back any chance for peace. Once Hamas escalated the current fighting, he again took his eye off the ball and focused entirely on pushing for a cease-fire that would enhance the Islamists’ prestige and marginalize the Palestinians that he had championed.

Israelis who are forced to seek refuge in bomb shelters from Hamas missiles or await terror attacks from Gaza tunnels may be forgiven for losing patience with Kerry’s self-righteous lectures about casualties and human rights. But the attention given the anger he has generated there ought not to divert us from his record of failure. On Iran, Syria, and Russia, Kerry has done little to advance U.S. interests or to protect human rights. But with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has done worse than that. Having set the region up for conflict, he is now doing everything possible to ensure that the violence will continue at some point in the future by allowing Hamas to survive and even claim victory. Seen from that perspective, his good intentions and the insults being thrown his way from Israelis are mere footnotes to a historic legacy of failure.

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As Rockets Fly, Administration Blasts Israel

Give the Obama administration credit. Its Middle East policies may be counterproductive, but the White House is consistent. Rather than let the fact that hundreds of terrorist rockets were launched at Israeli cities affect their public pronouncements, the administration went ahead and let a White House official blast the Jewish state and its government yesterday.

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Give the Obama administration credit. Its Middle East policies may be counterproductive, but the White House is consistent. Rather than let the fact that hundreds of terrorist rockets were launched at Israeli cities affect their public pronouncements, the administration went ahead and let a White House official blast the Jewish state and its government yesterday.

Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and a special assistant to President Barack Obama, gave the keynote address at the Haaretz Conference on Peace in Tel Aviv yesterday. Yet rather than use the opportunity to focus on American support for Israel’s right to self-defense at a time when the very city he was speaking in was being targeted by Hamas rockets, Gordon centered his remarks on harsh criticism of the Israeli government and lavished praise on the Palestinian leader who had embraced unity with the people currently shooting at Tel Aviv and scores of other Israeli cities, towns, and villages.

Gordon’s thesis was familiar. The Obama administration believes that Israel must negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority because it cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state while continuing to rule over millions of Arabs in the West Bank. And he blames Israel for the failure to conclude such an agreement with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas.

That’s the position Secretary of State John Kerry adopted after the predictable collapse of his peace initiative in April and echoed by various administration officials since then. The U.S. preferred to blame Israel for this failure rather than recognize that Abbas was never truly interested in signing any agreement. Faith in Abbas’s commitment to negotiations was lost when he fled the talks to return to efforts to get the United Nations to recognize Palestinian independence. Any remaining trust in his bona fides should have evaporated when he concluded a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas rather than agreeing to continue to talk to Israel. The administration compounded that error when it decided to continue to keep sending aid to the PA despite the presence of Hamas in its ranks, which U.S. law forbade.

But as egregious as those misjudgments were before this latest outbreak of violence, they were rendered even more absurd by the spectacle of an American official sticking to this line even as a Hamas rocket offensive rained down on the Jewish state.

Perhaps the president believes that timing is irrelevant when it comes to pressuring the Netanyahu government but if the U.S. goal is to persuade the Israeli people to make more concessions to the Palestinians, then yesterday’s speech was a disaster.

It bears repeating that Israel made three offers of statehood and independence to the Palestinians in 2000, 2001, and 2008 that would have given them control of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem. The Palestinians, first under Yasir Arafat and then Abbas, turned them down each time. Abbas’s recent decision to flee the latest talks and his refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn constitute a fourth “no” to peace. This is a fact that has caused most Israelis to give up on the process even though the overwhelming majority—including the supposedly intransigent Netanyahu—favor a two-state solution in theory and would be willing to make serious territorial concessions in exchange for an end to the conflict, as opposed to a truce.

But the rocket fire from Gaza provided more than an inconvenient background noise for Gordon’s speech. It was a reminder of what happens when Israel gives up territory to the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon heeded the international calls for Israel to make concessions and to separate from the Palestinians and in 2005 he withdrew every Israeli settlement, soldier, and civilian from Gaza. But rather than use this as a steppingstone to comprehensive peace, the Palestinians used the retreat to turn Gaza into a giant missile-launching pad and terrorist base. Since Hamas’s 2007 coup when they seized control of the strip, Gaza has been an independent Palestinian state in all but name. As such, it is a standing argument against further such withdrawals in the West Bank that abuts Israel’s main population centers. No Israeli government will ever contemplate ceding security control of more territory unless it can be sure that it will not be used to replicate the Gaza experiment.

But instead of sending a strong message to the Palestinians that they must renounce violence and make peace, Gordon’s speech made clear that the U.S. has no intention of holding Abbas accountable for his embrace of Hamas. Gordon’s pointed dismissal of Netanyahu’s recent comments about the need for Israel to secure the Jordan River security line in light of the growing Islamist threat from the East in Iraq as well as Syria will also inspire no Israeli confidence in the judgment or the reliability of American promises.

As I wrote yesterday, the Obama administration bears a not inconsiderable degree of responsibility for the current mess. Kerry’s initiative was undertaken with complete disregard of the consequences of its likely failure. The secretary’s prediction of a third intifada in the wake of its collapse was a self-fulfilling prophecy that Israelis are now witnessing as they mourn the three teenagers who were murdered by Hamas terrorists and see their skies filled with rockets. The decision to treat the Fatah-Hamas pact as not being a threat to peace was similarly misguided. The idea that a weakling like Abbas could force Hamas to embrace peace wasn’t so much a mistake as a demonstration of the administration’s complete lack of understanding of the situation.

When a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians happens that will allow their leaders to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and end the conflict, they will find their neighbors willing to talk and to once again offer them sovereignty over part of the land they share with the Jews. But if Obama, Kerry, or Gordon think Israelis are likely to embrace Abbas or to start more withdrawals on the West Bank at a time when the Palestinians are using the only territory they control to wage war on them, they’re as arrogant as they are clueless.

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Pollard for Murderers? A Bad Deal

Over the last 20 years, the name of Jonathan Pollard has hovered around the margins of the Middle East peace process. Almost every time the United States wanted to push the Israelis to make concessions that were unpalatable, some have suggested that the Jewish state might be enticed to swallow one bitter pill or another by the release of the former U.S. Navy analyst. Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the United States since 1985 for spying for the Jewish state, is a sore point for many Israelis as well as some Americans who believe, not incorrectly, that his sentence of life in prison was disproportionate to the crime and far more draconian than anyone else ever convicted of espionage for a U.S. ally. So it is hardly surprising that now that the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are imploding once again, talk of releasing Pollard has returned as well.

As it always does, the prospect of Pollard’s release will tempt the Israelis. Though what Pollard did was a crime and did great damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to American Jewry, Israelis rightly feel that he was sacrificed and left to rot in prison by their political leadership at the time of his actions (a troika that included the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir as well as Shimon Peres, who is currently serving as Israel’s president). But as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu may wish to secure Pollard’s release (something that he tried to do in negotiations with President Clinton in 1998), he shouldn’t take the bait. The odds are, Washington is bluffing about letting Pollard go. But even if President Obama is willing to take the heat from the U.S. security establishment and spring Pollard, Netanyahu should not trade the freedom of a score of Arab terrorist murderers (some of whom are Israeli citizens rather than residents of the West Bank) for Pollard.

The current impasse revolves around the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to agree to the framework for ongoing peace talks suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry because it mentions that peace means recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants no part of such a deal and, as has clearly always been his intention, would prefer to end any talks that might put him in the position of refusing a two-state solution preferred by Israel but which he has neither the will nor the ability to get his people to accept. But with the PA walking out of talks, Netanyahu sees no reason to follow through on the last batch of Arab prisoners whose release was part of the ransom offered to Abbas last year as the price for returning to the peace table after years of boycotting them.

Abbas has already seen that his intransigence won’t cause either President Obama or much of the Western media to blame him for the collapse of the talks. He thinks he is in the catbird seat and can make further demands on the Israelis in the form of the release of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti (serving five life sentences for murders of Israeli civilians during the second intifada) and a settlement freeze in order to keep talking secure in the knowledge that the West will blame Israel no matter what he does. So in order to get Netanyahu, who has reluctantly agreed to Kerry’s framework that Abbas rejected, to keep paying, the Americans will have to come up with some form of pressure or gimmick. Though I doubt that President Obama is prepared to do battle with the U.S. intelligence community (which has an irrational obsession with keeping Pollard in prison until he dies) to make good on such an offer, the mere suggestion of the idea may be enough to keep the Israelis from walking away in frustration from the process.

But this is a bad deal for Israel on many levels.

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Over the last 20 years, the name of Jonathan Pollard has hovered around the margins of the Middle East peace process. Almost every time the United States wanted to push the Israelis to make concessions that were unpalatable, some have suggested that the Jewish state might be enticed to swallow one bitter pill or another by the release of the former U.S. Navy analyst. Pollard, who has been imprisoned in the United States since 1985 for spying for the Jewish state, is a sore point for many Israelis as well as some Americans who believe, not incorrectly, that his sentence of life in prison was disproportionate to the crime and far more draconian than anyone else ever convicted of espionage for a U.S. ally. So it is hardly surprising that now that the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are imploding once again, talk of releasing Pollard has returned as well.

As it always does, the prospect of Pollard’s release will tempt the Israelis. Though what Pollard did was a crime and did great damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to American Jewry, Israelis rightly feel that he was sacrificed and left to rot in prison by their political leadership at the time of his actions (a troika that included the late Yitzhak Rabin and Yitzhak Shamir as well as Shimon Peres, who is currently serving as Israel’s president). But as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu may wish to secure Pollard’s release (something that he tried to do in negotiations with President Clinton in 1998), he shouldn’t take the bait. The odds are, Washington is bluffing about letting Pollard go. But even if President Obama is willing to take the heat from the U.S. security establishment and spring Pollard, Netanyahu should not trade the freedom of a score of Arab terrorist murderers (some of whom are Israeli citizens rather than residents of the West Bank) for Pollard.

The current impasse revolves around the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to agree to the framework for ongoing peace talks suggested by Secretary of State John Kerry because it mentions that peace means recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and would commit the Palestinians to ending the conflict. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants no part of such a deal and, as has clearly always been his intention, would prefer to end any talks that might put him in the position of refusing a two-state solution preferred by Israel but which he has neither the will nor the ability to get his people to accept. But with the PA walking out of talks, Netanyahu sees no reason to follow through on the last batch of Arab prisoners whose release was part of the ransom offered to Abbas last year as the price for returning to the peace table after years of boycotting them.

Abbas has already seen that his intransigence won’t cause either President Obama or much of the Western media to blame him for the collapse of the talks. He thinks he is in the catbird seat and can make further demands on the Israelis in the form of the release of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti (serving five life sentences for murders of Israeli civilians during the second intifada) and a settlement freeze in order to keep talking secure in the knowledge that the West will blame Israel no matter what he does. So in order to get Netanyahu, who has reluctantly agreed to Kerry’s framework that Abbas rejected, to keep paying, the Americans will have to come up with some form of pressure or gimmick. Though I doubt that President Obama is prepared to do battle with the U.S. intelligence community (which has an irrational obsession with keeping Pollard in prison until he dies) to make good on such an offer, the mere suggestion of the idea may be enough to keep the Israelis from walking away in frustration from the process.

But this is a bad deal for Israel on many levels.

As I wrote on the 25th anniversary of his imprisonment, Pollard’s case is a mixed bag for supporters of Israel. As much as his sentence was an injustice, he is no hero and did grave harm. Moreover, the prospect that someone who committed espionage in the belief that he was helping Israel would gain his release in exchange for the freedom of those who indiscriminately shed Jewish blood is more than an irony; it’s an outrage that even the spy should reject.

Having already released scores of Arab murderers, who have been subsequently honored and embraced by Abbas, there is little incentive for Netanyahu to keep letting them out if the Palestinians are not going to commit to peace talks whose purpose is an end to the conflict. If he is going to be blamed for the collapse of Kerry’s initiative no matter what he does, it would be a mistake to start making further concessions that will come back to haunt him later. The problem with injecting Pollard into peace talks is that it is the sort of American concession for which Israel will pay a disproportionate price with little prospect of receiving what it wants. That’s what happened the last time he offered to make territorial concessions in exchange for Pollard’s freedom. In the end, the Palestinians got the land, and Israel got neither Pollard nor peace.

If the Palestinians want something from Israel they should be prepared to pay for it by demonstrating their willingness to end the conflict and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. In essence a trade for Pollard now would be a substitute for getting the Palestinians to make those assurances. However much they may want Pollard, making such a swap would be against the long-term prospects of both Israel’s security and peace.

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Kerry’s Diplomatic Double Standards

So, Secretary of State John Kerry is deeply upset and insulted that Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, criticized U.S. strategy and suggested that the United States is exuding weakness. One would think the former senator from Massachusetts would have a thicker skin, and might also consider if there was something to Yaalon’s remarks, however undiplomatic they might have been. Never mind, however. What is truly revealing is how Kerry acts in other circumstances when officials from other countries make similar statements castigating U.S. policy.

Here, for example, is Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaking earlier this month: “America no longer creates events in the region; rather it is the Muslims who create events and the Americans are forced to be another actor in decline, although not a dominant player. Meanwhile, the Americans have lost operational power against Syria today and this is a great proof for Muslims.” Kerry’s reaction? Crickets. Obama’s reaction? Nada. And, lest this be seen as an exception rather than the rule, here is an excerpt (and my analysis) of a statement from Tehran that went even further last month. And where is Kerry every time Iranian leaders encourage chants of “Death to America” after Friday prayers in central Tehran?

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So, Secretary of State John Kerry is deeply upset and insulted that Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, criticized U.S. strategy and suggested that the United States is exuding weakness. One would think the former senator from Massachusetts would have a thicker skin, and might also consider if there was something to Yaalon’s remarks, however undiplomatic they might have been. Never mind, however. What is truly revealing is how Kerry acts in other circumstances when officials from other countries make similar statements castigating U.S. policy.

Here, for example, is Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, speaking earlier this month: “America no longer creates events in the region; rather it is the Muslims who create events and the Americans are forced to be another actor in decline, although not a dominant player. Meanwhile, the Americans have lost operational power against Syria today and this is a great proof for Muslims.” Kerry’s reaction? Crickets. Obama’s reaction? Nada. And, lest this be seen as an exception rather than the rule, here is an excerpt (and my analysis) of a statement from Tehran that went even further last month. And where is Kerry every time Iranian leaders encourage chants of “Death to America” after Friday prayers in central Tehran?

The Obama administration’s heightened sensitivity to criticism doesn’t apply to the Palestinian Authority either. Kerry remains silent when his much-heralded partner in peace talks not only rejects American positions but also lionizes terrorists and murderers, hardly an attitude that advances U.S. interests in the region.

Bashing allies isn’t going to bring respect back to the United States on the world stage, nor is forcing allies to genuflect. Diplomatic temper tantrums aren’t going to imbue Kerry with an aura of competence that his policies and actions haven’t managed to achieve. Sometimes, tough words from friends are necessary, even with the moral inversion that currently underpins Obama and Kerry’s words and actions.

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Why Is Yaalon Not Playing By the Rules?

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon is not playing by the rules. Members of the Israeli Cabinet are not supposed to be publicly telling the truth about American foreign-policy failures. But while it is to be expected that minor officials will mouth off on occasion about heavy-handed U.S. attempts to prop up the Palestinians or pressure the Jewish state into concessions, the man who is in charge of the Israeli defense establishment is supposed to understand that candor about the Obama administration interferes with his primary duties, which involve close security coordination with Washington.

Yaalon first pushed the envelope on U.S.-Israeli relations back in January when he had the bad manners to talk about Secretary of State John Kerry’s “messianic” obsession with Middle East peace that seemed divorced from the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians. But when he disparaged the U.S. as too “weak” to deal with Iran and that Israel was going to be forced to act on its own, that was too much for the Americans. A “senior American official” responded with what Haaretz termed a “blistering personal attack” in which Yaalon’s commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship was questioned.

What’s going on here? Why is Yaalon, previously known primarily as more of a defense intellectual than a firebrand, twisting the U.S. tiger’s tail in this manner? Is it part of a strategy cooked up by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu aimed at showing the Americans that Israel won’t be intimidated by pressure tactics? Or does it have to do with Yaalon’s political ambitions? And do Yaalon’s doubts about America’s trustworthiness reflect mainstream Israeli thinking on the subject?

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Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon is not playing by the rules. Members of the Israeli Cabinet are not supposed to be publicly telling the truth about American foreign-policy failures. But while it is to be expected that minor officials will mouth off on occasion about heavy-handed U.S. attempts to prop up the Palestinians or pressure the Jewish state into concessions, the man who is in charge of the Israeli defense establishment is supposed to understand that candor about the Obama administration interferes with his primary duties, which involve close security coordination with Washington.

Yaalon first pushed the envelope on U.S.-Israeli relations back in January when he had the bad manners to talk about Secretary of State John Kerry’s “messianic” obsession with Middle East peace that seemed divorced from the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians. But when he disparaged the U.S. as too “weak” to deal with Iran and that Israel was going to be forced to act on its own, that was too much for the Americans. A “senior American official” responded with what Haaretz termed a “blistering personal attack” in which Yaalon’s commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship was questioned.

What’s going on here? Why is Yaalon, previously known primarily as more of a defense intellectual than a firebrand, twisting the U.S. tiger’s tail in this manner? Is it part of a strategy cooked up by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu aimed at showing the Americans that Israel won’t be intimidated by pressure tactics? Or does it have to do with Yaalon’s political ambitions? And do Yaalon’s doubts about America’s trustworthiness reflect mainstream Israeli thinking on the subject?

Those who assume the defense minister’s impolitic comments are part of a clever coordinated strategy in which Yaalon is playing bad cop to Netanyahu’s good cop with the Americans are probably wrong. Israeli politics is rarely that neat and tidy. Netanyahu has rightly come to the conclusion that no good will come from publicly challenging the U.S. on the peace process at the moment. It’s even more far-fetched to think the prime minister would have approved of a senior colleague’s decision to dissect the disastrous mistakes the U.S. has made in other conflicts such as the current crisis over Russian aggression against Ukraine, especially coming from the man who must work closely with the U.S. defense establishment. Yaalon was forced to walk back his personal attack on Kerry in January. It’s likely that he will need to do the same with his even more pointed blast at the Americans.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss Yaalon’s views as extreme. The defense minister is not alone in thinking that the Obama administration’s retreats in the Middle East and weakness in dealing with Russia have undermined Israel’s security. American failures in Syria and Ukraine undermine faith in America’s ability to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. The question is not whether Yaalon was right about doubts about the U.S. but whether this is something the defense minister should be saying in public rather than in private.

The answer to that question is obviously not. Though, as Yaalon rightly notes, U.S. security cooperation to Israel is mutually beneficial rather than a gift, it still ill behooves the top defense official of an American ally to behave in this manner.

This kind of display does strengthen Yaalon’s support among the Likud party faithful and other right-wing members of Netanyahu’s coalition. Were Netanyahu to step down or to decide not to run for reelection in 2017, it would make a lot of sense for Yaalon to be trying to shore up his right flank in a campaign for prime minister. But Yaalon is not likely to succeed Netanyahu. The prime minister is, after all, only one year older than his defense minister. Though Netanyahu is not that popular among a Likud membership that has grown even more right-wing in recent years, Yaalon is a typical former general whose political skills don’t match those of his boss. Nor is it likely that Netanyahu would split the party as Ariel Sharon did in 2005 leaving Yaalon with a chance to lead its rump.

Yaalon’s frustration with the U.S. is understandable. He may also be worried about whether the prime minister will buckle under American pressure. But he wouldn’t be the first former general to be outmaneuvered by Netanyahu. If he keeps popping off in this manner, he may discover that this kind of truth telling isn’t as politically useful as he thinks.

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An Alternative to the Two-State Solution

Talk of managing, as opposed to solving, the Israel-Palestinian dispute has become increasingly fashionable in these years of a faltering, and at times failed, peace process. For many commentators it had become a case of Israel having to decide not to decide, for now at least. However, with the onset of Secretary of State Kerry’s most recent round of negotiations, we have seen a concerted effort to revive hopes for an imminent resolution of the conflict around a two-state proposal. President Obama’s recent interview in Bloomberg has already drawn much comment. Friends of Israel have expressed fully warranted dismay at the president’s disingenuous attempts to frame Prime Minister Netanyahu as some kind of hardened rejectionist of the peace process as the president willfully ignored the many concessions for peace already sacrificed by Netanyahu. He spoke as if the settlement freezes, prisoner releases and countless hours of negotiating had never happened.

Of course, Netanyahu already embraced the concept of two states as soon as he took office, as outlined in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. However, Israel’s prime minister has also made quite clear that any genuine peace will have to rest on full Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. This has been responded to with skepticism from much of the international community, particularly on the part of the Europeans. The Zionist left (or at least what remains of it) has also proven pretty cold to this demand, with even moderates from this camp such as Shlomo Avineri appearing unenthusiastic about the Jewish state demand.

However, in this month’s featured essay for Mosaic Yoav Sorek not only proposes an alternative strategy, and indeed attitude, for Israel, but a strategy that places at its core the assertion of the Jewish state and its most fundamental rights. In his essay Israel’s Big Mistake Sorek argues that the path of concession and accommodation pursued by Israel since the early 1990s has been a disastrous one, only weakening it and emboldening the demands of Israel’s enemies. Sorek makes a strong case for the acknowledgement of the fact that since the conflict has not ever been about territory, but rather about ending Israel’s existence, nothing short of a total acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East will be able to deliver real peace.

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Talk of managing, as opposed to solving, the Israel-Palestinian dispute has become increasingly fashionable in these years of a faltering, and at times failed, peace process. For many commentators it had become a case of Israel having to decide not to decide, for now at least. However, with the onset of Secretary of State Kerry’s most recent round of negotiations, we have seen a concerted effort to revive hopes for an imminent resolution of the conflict around a two-state proposal. President Obama’s recent interview in Bloomberg has already drawn much comment. Friends of Israel have expressed fully warranted dismay at the president’s disingenuous attempts to frame Prime Minister Netanyahu as some kind of hardened rejectionist of the peace process as the president willfully ignored the many concessions for peace already sacrificed by Netanyahu. He spoke as if the settlement freezes, prisoner releases and countless hours of negotiating had never happened.

Of course, Netanyahu already embraced the concept of two states as soon as he took office, as outlined in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. However, Israel’s prime minister has also made quite clear that any genuine peace will have to rest on full Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. This has been responded to with skepticism from much of the international community, particularly on the part of the Europeans. The Zionist left (or at least what remains of it) has also proven pretty cold to this demand, with even moderates from this camp such as Shlomo Avineri appearing unenthusiastic about the Jewish state demand.

However, in this month’s featured essay for Mosaic Yoav Sorek not only proposes an alternative strategy, and indeed attitude, for Israel, but a strategy that places at its core the assertion of the Jewish state and its most fundamental rights. In his essay Israel’s Big Mistake Sorek argues that the path of concession and accommodation pursued by Israel since the early 1990s has been a disastrous one, only weakening it and emboldening the demands of Israel’s enemies. Sorek makes a strong case for the acknowledgement of the fact that since the conflict has not ever been about territory, but rather about ending Israel’s existence, nothing short of a total acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East will be able to deliver real peace.

Israel’s mistake has been to buy into the notion that it can purchase from the Arab world its right to exist by trading territory. It has pursued the land for peace equation on the belief that if it shrinks its territory and weakens itself strategically it can placate it enemies’ hostility. But as Sorek points out, logically the opposite is true. It is only by maintaining its strength, asserting its presence, and demanding to be recognized that Israel can have any chance of eventually compelling its neighbors to accept the reality of its existence, and in doing so fulfill the foundational vision of Zionism.

As far as concluding the long running dispute with the Palestinians is concerned, Sorek proposes that Israel might start by not seeking to appease and legitimize the most hard-line elements among the Palestinians. It was the great mistake of the Rabin government, the author argues, to recognize and elevate the PLO instead of continuing the policy of working to defeat Arafat’s terror organization. Instead, Sorek suggests that Israel should essentially take the initiative and simply assert its rights and authority over the entire territory in its control. Whether or not Israel is to find a way to simply fully integrate the Arab communities living throughout its territories, or whether they will ultimately see their future in reclaiming their former Jordanian citizenship, Sorek makes the claim that none of this will prove as difficult as the 20-year long shambles of attempting to establish a Palestinian state.

Obama makes the dishonest claim that he would like to be presented with some alternative to the two-state proposal. But that request is doubly disingenuous, because not only does the president clearly have no desire for an alternative plan, but he also knows full well that Netanyahu is cooperating in efforts to establish a Palestinian state. Yet, Netanyahu is also pursuing somewhat of a synthesis approach by insisting that territorial compromise by Israel must be matched by real Palestinian acceptance of the Jewish state.

Israel’s prime minister may demand this acceptance, but it is a sign of how doubtful the Israelis are that it will come from the region as a whole that they continue to insist that they hold such strategically significant areas as the Jordan valley. As Sorek observes in his essay, Israelis have given up on the hope of ever being embraced by the wider Arab-Islamic world. TS Eliot once wrote of those dreaming up systems so utopian that no one in them would ever need be good. In this way talk of sophisticated early warning systems in the Jordan valley, symbolic deals on token numbers of refugees, land swaps and more, are all part of misguided efforts to negotiate a final status arrangement so watertight that it won’t matter if the Jewish state is still reviled by Palestinians and the wider region.

As Yoav Sorek argues, nothing short of full acceptance of the Jewish state will bring peace to Israel and end the conflict, pursuing that acceptance is the only viable way to bring about a real and lasting peace.

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No “Special Relationship” Bingo at AIPAC

In anticipation of the AIPAC conference, Yair Rosenberg over at Tablet published a mock bingo card, with all the buzzwords and catch phrases in U.S.-Israeli relations. As you sat listening to the speeches, you could mark your card as each speaker proclaimed Israel a “major strategic ally” or intoned that “no deal is better than a bad deal” (with Iran). In the center square of the card sits this couplet: “Special Relationship.” It’s the most hallowed of all ways to describe U.S.-Israeli ties, dating back John F. Kennedy and Golda Meir. Nothing more reassures Israelis than to hear that phrase, which elevates U.S.-Israel relations to a very select club.

In December, I provided the evidence here at Commentary that John Kerry, as secretary of state, has avoided using the phrase “special relationship” to describe ties with Israel, reserving it exclusively for the United Kingdom. I argued that this constituted a subtle demotion of Israel. Was he saving the magic words for AIPAC?

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In anticipation of the AIPAC conference, Yair Rosenberg over at Tablet published a mock bingo card, with all the buzzwords and catch phrases in U.S.-Israeli relations. As you sat listening to the speeches, you could mark your card as each speaker proclaimed Israel a “major strategic ally” or intoned that “no deal is better than a bad deal” (with Iran). In the center square of the card sits this couplet: “Special Relationship.” It’s the most hallowed of all ways to describe U.S.-Israeli ties, dating back John F. Kennedy and Golda Meir. Nothing more reassures Israelis than to hear that phrase, which elevates U.S.-Israel relations to a very select club.

In December, I provided the evidence here at Commentary that John Kerry, as secretary of state, has avoided using the phrase “special relationship” to describe ties with Israel, reserving it exclusively for the United Kingdom. I argued that this constituted a subtle demotion of Israel. Was he saving the magic words for AIPAC?

Obviously not: he didn’t utter them in his AIPAC speech. Sure, there were all sorts of emotive expressions of support for Israel. But “special relationship?” Kerry seems as reluctant to speak the words, as Mahmoud Abbas is loath to utter “Jewish state.”

I wonder whether even one of the 14,000 Israel supporters in the Washington Convention Center noticed the omission, in the flurry of sweet nothings floated by Kerry. But have no doubt: no words can substitute for “special relationship.” That’s why it stands at the very center of the U.S.-Israeli bingo card. Israelis know it, and you can be sure that John Kerry knows it too.

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Robert Malley and the Shift to Appeasement

Back in 2008 when Barack Obama first ran for president, one of the many signals he sent to Jewish groups to reassure them of his good will toward Israel and his foreign-policy bona fides was to sever ties with Robert Malley. Malley, a Clinton-era National Security Council staffer, is best known for his stand blaming Israel rather than Yasir Arafat for the collapse of the 2000 Camp David peace summit. His position as an informal advisor to the Obama campaign was a major liability for a candidate desperate to reassure Jewish Democrats that he could be relied upon to maintain the alliance with Israel. But when it became known in May of 2008 that Malley had met with Hamas terrorists, the Obama campaign severed ties with Malley.

It turned out that those who worried that Malley’s presence in the Obama foreign-policy shop was a sign of future trouble with the Jewish state were right. Despite his campaign promises and the fact that he failed to give an inveterate Israel-basher like Malley a job in his administration, President Obama spent most of his first term picking fights with the State of Israel before a reelection-year charm offensive. But now well into his second term, the president is finally rewarding Malley for falling on his sword for him during his first campaign. This afternoon it was announced that Malley is heading back to the White House to serve as a senior director at the National Security Council where he will be tasked with managing relations between the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies. While we are told the administration is making an effort to bolster its traditional ties to the region, Malley’s appointment sends a very different signal, especially to Israel.

At a time when Saudi Arabia and other allies in the region are worried that the U.S. has turned its back on them as part of the president’s misguided pursuit of détente with Iran, the president has called back to service one of the foremost defenders of appeasement of terror. Though Malley is merely one more member of a second-term team that is increasingly hostile to Israel, his joining the NSC removes any remaining doubt about where American foreign policy is heading.

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Back in 2008 when Barack Obama first ran for president, one of the many signals he sent to Jewish groups to reassure them of his good will toward Israel and his foreign-policy bona fides was to sever ties with Robert Malley. Malley, a Clinton-era National Security Council staffer, is best known for his stand blaming Israel rather than Yasir Arafat for the collapse of the 2000 Camp David peace summit. His position as an informal advisor to the Obama campaign was a major liability for a candidate desperate to reassure Jewish Democrats that he could be relied upon to maintain the alliance with Israel. But when it became known in May of 2008 that Malley had met with Hamas terrorists, the Obama campaign severed ties with Malley.

It turned out that those who worried that Malley’s presence in the Obama foreign-policy shop was a sign of future trouble with the Jewish state were right. Despite his campaign promises and the fact that he failed to give an inveterate Israel-basher like Malley a job in his administration, President Obama spent most of his first term picking fights with the State of Israel before a reelection-year charm offensive. But now well into his second term, the president is finally rewarding Malley for falling on his sword for him during his first campaign. This afternoon it was announced that Malley is heading back to the White House to serve as a senior director at the National Security Council where he will be tasked with managing relations between the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies. While we are told the administration is making an effort to bolster its traditional ties to the region, Malley’s appointment sends a very different signal, especially to Israel.

At a time when Saudi Arabia and other allies in the region are worried that the U.S. has turned its back on them as part of the president’s misguided pursuit of détente with Iran, the president has called back to service one of the foremost defenders of appeasement of terror. Though Malley is merely one more member of a second-term team that is increasingly hostile to Israel, his joining the NSC removes any remaining doubt about where American foreign policy is heading.

At the time he was working for the Obama campaign, his defenders, including a gaggle of high-ranking Clinton foreign-policy officials, denounced Malley’s critics for what they claimed were unfair personal attacks. But the problem with Malley was never so much about his motives or his father’s role as a supporter of the Egyptian Communist Party and the Nasser regime as it was his own beliefs and policies.

By claiming as he did in an infamous article in the New York Review of Books in August of 2001 that the Camp David summit’s failure was Israel’s fault rather than that of Arafat, Malley demonstrated extraordinary bias against the Jewish state as well as a willingness to revise recent history to fit his personal agenda. Malley absolved Arafat from blame for refusing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. In doing so he not only flatly contradicted the testimony of President Bill Clinton and other U.S. officials present, but his justification of Arafat’s indefensible behavior also served to rationalize the Palestinian terror offensive that followed their rejection of peace.

In the years since then, Malley has remained a virulent critic of Israel and an advocate for recognition and acceptance of the Hamas terrorists who rule Gaza as well as engagement with Iran and other rejectionist states.

All this should have been enough to keep him out of any administration that professed friendship for Israel. But by putting him in charge of relations with the Gulf states, President Obama is also demonstrating that he is determined to continue a policy of downgrading relations with traditional allies in favor of better relations with Iran and other radicals. As much as Israel has cause for concern about the headlong rush to embrace Iran, the Saudis have just as much reason to worry, especially because of the administration’s failure to act in Syria, where Iran’s ally Bashar Assad appears to be winning his war to hold on to power. The Saudis are right to dismiss the president’s attempts to reassure them on Iran. Now that he has appointed a longtime advocate of embracing America’s foes, it’s not likely they will feel any better about U.S. policy.

The return to a position of influence of an Arafat apologist like Malley is one more sign of just how far the president has strayed from his campaign pledges on the Middle East. The U.S. drift toward appeasement of radical Islamists is no longer a matter of speculation but a fact. Any constraints on administration policies based in concern about alienating America’s allies are now a thing of the past.

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Kerry’s Motives Are Beside the Point

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a point when he chided those Israelis—especially some of his Cabinet colleagues—who have been attacking U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Though he has a well-earned reputation as the political equivalent of a bull in a china shop, Lieberman played the diplomat to help calm a growing dispute after the Obama administration took umbrage when Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and then Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett tore into Kerry for his “obsessive” pursuit of a deal with the Palestinians and his warning that the Jewish state would be boycotted if his quest failed. Lieberman vouched for Kerry’s bona fides as “a true friend of Israel” and even praised the secretary for behaving appropriately in seeking to create a framework of principles on which the parties could negotiate.

What is Lieberman—who is every bit as right-wing on settlements and security as either Yaalon or Bennett—up to? First, there’s Lieberman’s desire to be viewed as a credible successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than just an ideologue. He also relished the chance to take a swipe at Bennett (another would-be Netanyahu successor) and to mock him for the fact that his response to the peace process hasn’t caused him to abandon the governing coalition.

But there’s another important reason that Israelis shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to personalize the dispute with Kerry. Making the secretary’s personality or statements the issue is a distraction from the substance of the major differences between the U.S. and Israel. Reducing those differences to accusations of anti-Semitism undermines the arguments against Kerry’s positions since it turns him into a victim. The greater problem with John Kerry’s policies is not that his intentions are evil; it’s that the process he advocates—and the threats he’s made to America’s only democratic ally in the region—and which he’s determined to pursue regardless of the obstacles or his dim chances of success is setting into motion a series of events that are deeply damaging to Israel. If Israel is to minimize the harm he’s doing while also maintain its alliance with the United States, the wisest course is to keep this from becoming a personal quarrel.

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Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had a point when he chided those Israelis—especially some of his Cabinet colleagues—who have been attacking U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Though he has a well-earned reputation as the political equivalent of a bull in a china shop, Lieberman played the diplomat to help calm a growing dispute after the Obama administration took umbrage when Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and then Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett tore into Kerry for his “obsessive” pursuit of a deal with the Palestinians and his warning that the Jewish state would be boycotted if his quest failed. Lieberman vouched for Kerry’s bona fides as “a true friend of Israel” and even praised the secretary for behaving appropriately in seeking to create a framework of principles on which the parties could negotiate.

What is Lieberman—who is every bit as right-wing on settlements and security as either Yaalon or Bennett—up to? First, there’s Lieberman’s desire to be viewed as a credible successor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than just an ideologue. He also relished the chance to take a swipe at Bennett (another would-be Netanyahu successor) and to mock him for the fact that his response to the peace process hasn’t caused him to abandon the governing coalition.

But there’s another important reason that Israelis shouldn’t succumb to the temptation to personalize the dispute with Kerry. Making the secretary’s personality or statements the issue is a distraction from the substance of the major differences between the U.S. and Israel. Reducing those differences to accusations of anti-Semitism undermines the arguments against Kerry’s positions since it turns him into a victim. The greater problem with John Kerry’s policies is not that his intentions are evil; it’s that the process he advocates—and the threats he’s made to America’s only democratic ally in the region—and which he’s determined to pursue regardless of the obstacles or his dim chances of success is setting into motion a series of events that are deeply damaging to Israel. If Israel is to minimize the harm he’s doing while also maintain its alliance with the United States, the wisest course is to keep this from becoming a personal quarrel.

Many Israelis and their friends abroad tend to treat all American advocacy for land-for-peace deals, concessions to the Palestinians, or opposition to settlements as prima facie evidence of hatred for Israel. Some of those who do take those positions are, in fact, hostile to Israel. Yet many of those who believe it is in Israel’s interest to divest itself of the West Bank do so in good faith. Like some Israelis, they believe the country must be saved from itself. When stands such as theirs are expressed in terms as if they’re unquestionably right and therefore should override the views of those elected by the Israeli people to run their own government, it is highly offensive. But it is not the same as being a supporter of boycotts of Israel or an opponent of the existence of the state.

What Kerry has done and said in the last six months provides ample of evidence for those who think he’s no friend to Israel. His evident indifference to the violence of Palestinian incitement and to the spectacle of terrorist murderers being freed by Israel at his behest being embraced as heroes by the Palestinian Authority was deeply offensive. The same could be said of his recent rationalization, if not endorsement, of those seeking to boycott Israel when he said such efforts would succeed if his peace treaty weren’t signed by the Israelis. After such statements, it’s clear that Kerry’s affection for Israel seems dependent on Israeli obedience to him rather than on the common values that bind the U.S. and the Jewish state.

But making Kerry’s personality or any implied animus on his part the issue does little to help Israel navigate this crisis.

Fortunately, Lieberman, like the prime minister, has understood that Israel’s government does better by keeping as close as it can to the Obama administration. That’s why they have apparently decided to make to the Palestinians what amounts to a fourth offer of an independent state that would include 90 percent of the West Bank and are even willing to accept a framework of principles that would allow the negotiations Kerry is sponsoring to continue beyond the original nine-month period originally envisioned. Netanyahu and Lieberman are, as I wrote earlier this week, clearly betting on a Palestinian rejection of their peace offer. Though this won’t convince Israel’s foes and critics to change their minds, Netanyahu and Lieberman are correct in believing that as long as the Obama administration and Kerry know that they weren’t the ones to say no, they will be able both to preserve Israel’s security and its alliance with the United States.

The success of this gambit depends not so much on the Palestinians playing their familiar rejectionist role in this drama but on Kerry’s psychological makeup. The hope is that, like Bill Clinton, who never forgave Yasir Arafat for rejecting peace at Camp David in 2000 thus denying him a Nobel Peace Prize, Kerry will have no choice but to feel the same after he fails. It is a matter of opinion whether Kerry is as good a friend of Israel as Lieberman says. But the odds that he will react rationally after the ultimate and inevitable failure of his mission won’t be hurt by Israel’s senior leaders behaving as if his motives are as untainted as they would like them to be.

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Sanctions Stall Doesn’t Signal AIPAC’s Fall

After amassing an impressive 58 senators from both parties to co-sponsor a bill calling for new sanctions on Iran in case the current negotiations end in failure, the legislation has stalled in the Senate. Alarmed by what it felt was a threat to its diplomacy with Iran, the administration and its backers launched an all-out attack on the measure, claiming its passage would so offend Tehran that it would end nuclear talks with the West and leave the United States no alternative but to go to war. Even worse, some of the president’s supporters claimed that the only reason so many legislators, including 16 Democrats, would back the bill was that they were acting, in the words of influential television comedian Jon Stewart, as senators “from the great state of Israel.” This not-so-subtle invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer canard in which a vast pro-Israel conspiracy manipulates a helpless Congress paid off by wealthy Jews to the detriment of American interests has become a chestnut of Washington policy debates, but one the administration’s cheerleaders haven’t hesitated to invoke.

All this has chilled a debate about passing more Iran sanctions that might be considered moot in any case since as long as Majority Leader Harry Reid is determined to keep the bill from coming to a vote, it has little chance of passage. But rather than discuss the administration’s scorched-earth campaign on the issue, the New York Times prefers to join with the administration in taking another shot at the arch-villain of the supporters of the conspiratorial view of U.S. foreign policy put forward in the infamous “Israel Lobby” thesis: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). According to the Times, the lull in the battle over sanctions is a sign that AIPAC is losing its touch on Capitol Hill. This is considered good news for the administration and critics of the pro-Israel lobby and the bipartisan community for which it speaks. But while AIPAC can’t be happy with the way it and other advocates of sanctions have been brushed back in this debate, reports of its decline are highly exaggerated. While the administration has won its point for the moment in stalling the bill, the idea that it has won the political war over Iran is, at best, premature.

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After amassing an impressive 58 senators from both parties to co-sponsor a bill calling for new sanctions on Iran in case the current negotiations end in failure, the legislation has stalled in the Senate. Alarmed by what it felt was a threat to its diplomacy with Iran, the administration and its backers launched an all-out attack on the measure, claiming its passage would so offend Tehran that it would end nuclear talks with the West and leave the United States no alternative but to go to war. Even worse, some of the president’s supporters claimed that the only reason so many legislators, including 16 Democrats, would back the bill was that they were acting, in the words of influential television comedian Jon Stewart, as senators “from the great state of Israel.” This not-so-subtle invocation of the Walt-Mearsheimer canard in which a vast pro-Israel conspiracy manipulates a helpless Congress paid off by wealthy Jews to the detriment of American interests has become a chestnut of Washington policy debates, but one the administration’s cheerleaders haven’t hesitated to invoke.

All this has chilled a debate about passing more Iran sanctions that might be considered moot in any case since as long as Majority Leader Harry Reid is determined to keep the bill from coming to a vote, it has little chance of passage. But rather than discuss the administration’s scorched-earth campaign on the issue, the New York Times prefers to join with the administration in taking another shot at the arch-villain of the supporters of the conspiratorial view of U.S. foreign policy put forward in the infamous “Israel Lobby” thesis: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). According to the Times, the lull in the battle over sanctions is a sign that AIPAC is losing its touch on Capitol Hill. This is considered good news for the administration and critics of the pro-Israel lobby and the bipartisan community for which it speaks. But while AIPAC can’t be happy with the way it and other advocates of sanctions have been brushed back in this debate, reports of its decline are highly exaggerated. While the administration has won its point for the moment in stalling the bill, the idea that it has won the political war over Iran is, at best, premature.

The chief problem with the article is that its premise is based on the myth that AIPAC is a monolithic and unstoppable group that can pass any bill it likes. The article’s assertion that AIPAC has gotten its way on every public policy issue since its futile effort to stop the Reagan administration from selling AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia in 1981 is foolish. AIPAC rarely, if ever, directly challenges presidents and when it does it inevitably comes out on the short end, as in its confrontation with the George H.W. Bush administration over loan guarantees to Israel in 1991 when the elder President Bush depicted himself as “one, lonely, little guy” standing up to AIPAC. Written by White House correspondent Mark Landler, one of whose previous recent forays into foreign policy was a sycophantic paean to the virtues of Secretary of State John Kerry, today’s equally slanted piece simplifies the congressional debate on Iran—which has been driven as much, if not more, by longstanding Senate sanctions activists such as Senate Foreign Policy Committee chair Robert Menendez and his Republican counterpart Mark Kirk than outside lobbyists—into a one-on-one duel between Obama and AIPAC.

That suits the administration since it wishes to show itself as having bested AIPAC. But it dramatically distorts the truth about the way AIPAC operates and its aversion to involvement in partisan debates. The charge that the group is biased toward Republicans is bunk. The group and its large cadre of supporters throughout the nation are only interested in whether a member of Congress is a supporter of Israel and enthusiastically backs Democrats who fit that description and does the same for those in the GOP. Nor is it the American branch of the Likud, as some falsely assert and Landler implies in his misleading article. The group’s guiding principle is respect for Israeli democracy and when that means, as it did for much of the 1990s, backing a left-wing government that embraced Oslo, that stand was a source of frustration to AIPAC supporters sympathetic to the Israeli right. Its primary purpose is to encourage support for the alliance between the two countries and that goal is bound to disappoint partisans on both ends of the political spectrum.

It is precisely because AIPAC is not equipped for partisan battles that it’s invariably reluctant to directly challenge any president. That was true last year when it passed on the opportunity to oppose Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense despite his vocal support for Walt-Mearsheimer slurs, and it is true today when it has decided to tread lightly on the Iran sanctions issue rather than express open opposition to the president.

By smearing all those who want a measure that would actually strengthen his hand in negotiations with Iran as warmongers, the president has faced down AIPAC and the pro-sanctions bipartisan Senate majority. But if, as is likely, the administration’s Iran diplomacy yields no dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and its stockpile of enriched uranium, the president will find himself facing the same bipartisan majority demanding more sanctions and action on Iran led by Menendez, his own party’s foreign-policy point man.

In the meantime, when AIPAC supporters gather by the thousands next month in Washington, the message to the group from Congress will give the lie to the conceit of Landler’s piece. Liberals hoped that alternatives to the mainstream pro-Israel group, such as J Street, would equal or supersede the organization. But after more than five years the leftist alternative remains without influence in Congress or in an administration that has proved time and again that it knows it must reckon with AIPAC as the principal voice of pro-Israel opinion in this country. AIPAC’s power does not reside in a mythical ability to override the will of presidents but in the simple fact that support for the Jewish state transcends party politics as well as ethnic or religious lines.

It says something disturbing about this administration that it has been more solicitous of the sensibilities of the Islamist dictators of Iran in the past few months than those of Americans who care about Israel’s security. But anyone, including the White House correspondent of the Times, who expects an all-out war between the Obama administration and AIPAC in the coming months is misinterpreting both AIPAC’s purpose and the ability of the White House to sustain its dangerous push for détente with Tehran in the absence of any tangible progress toward ending the Iranian nuclear threat.

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Israelis Are Right Not to Trust Obama

Last March, President Obama visited Israel for the first time since taking office. There he gave several speeches that must be considered among the most pro-Zionist ever uttered by an American leader. He annoyed supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by asking Israelis to pressure their government to take risks for peace — the same risks, as it happened — that his predecessors had already tried with disastrous results. But the genuinely supportive tone of his remarks persuaded some observers  that despite a first term marred by almost continual fights with Jerusalem, the president might finally win over an Israeli public that had never warmed to him. But less than a year later after that long-delayed visit, it might as well have never have taken place, as far as the Israelis are concerned. A new Times of Israel poll published this week shows that an overwhelming majority do not trust Obama to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and a clear majority view him unfavorably.

This frustrates the president’s defenders who cite the strong security cooperation that has continued on his watch, the generous aid to Israel that continues to flow, to the Jewish state, as well as the fact that he retained the support of more than two-thirds of American Jewish voters in his reelection campaign. Obama’s apologists also say he should be trusted to do the right thing on Iran and be given a chance to let diplomacy work to end the nuclear threat. They insist the administration’s push to force the Jewish state to make more concessions to the Palestinians is in Israel’s interests.

Israelis, however, aren’t impressed by any of these arguments. They distrust him more now than they did before his visit. That should prompt Americans who claim to be friends of Israel to ask themselves what the Israelis know that they don’t.

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Last March, President Obama visited Israel for the first time since taking office. There he gave several speeches that must be considered among the most pro-Zionist ever uttered by an American leader. He annoyed supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by asking Israelis to pressure their government to take risks for peace — the same risks, as it happened — that his predecessors had already tried with disastrous results. But the genuinely supportive tone of his remarks persuaded some observers  that despite a first term marred by almost continual fights with Jerusalem, the president might finally win over an Israeli public that had never warmed to him. But less than a year later after that long-delayed visit, it might as well have never have taken place, as far as the Israelis are concerned. A new Times of Israel poll published this week shows that an overwhelming majority do not trust Obama to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and a clear majority view him unfavorably.

This frustrates the president’s defenders who cite the strong security cooperation that has continued on his watch, the generous aid to Israel that continues to flow, to the Jewish state, as well as the fact that he retained the support of more than two-thirds of American Jewish voters in his reelection campaign. Obama’s apologists also say he should be trusted to do the right thing on Iran and be given a chance to let diplomacy work to end the nuclear threat. They insist the administration’s push to force the Jewish state to make more concessions to the Palestinians is in Israel’s interests.

Israelis, however, aren’t impressed by any of these arguments. They distrust him more now than they did before his visit. That should prompt Americans who claim to be friends of Israel to ask themselves what the Israelis know that they don’t.

The reason for Obama’s low approval and trust ratings among Israelis is no mystery. He came into office in January 2009 determined to establish daylight between Israel and the United States and wasted no time in achieving that goal. The fights he picked with Netanyahu were largely intended to undermine the prime minister’s standing at home but only served to strengthen him among his countrymen. Netanyahu’s defiance of Obama’s demands was based on positions widely agreed upon by the majority of Israelis such as a refusal to divide Jerusalem. Most Israelis aren’t any more enamored of West Bank settlements than the president, most view American insistence on pushing Israel back to its 1967 borders as madness because, unlike Obama, they vividly recall the events of 2005. In that year the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza produced a hale of rockets fired on their towns and cities along the border which they now see as a clear warning of what would recur if the tragic experiment were repeated.

The president’s disastrous retreat on Syria—after promising that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line,” that would trigger an American response —in which he has effectively  conceded that there is nothing the U.S. is prepared to do to restrain an Assad regime backed by both Russia and Iran has also undermined Israeli trust in his judgment, not to mention his promises.

That skepticism is even greater on Iran. Much was made in the American media in 2012 and 2013 about the lack of support for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran among members of the country’s security establishment and the Israeli public. But that stance was based on a belief that the only way to deal with Iran was in concert with a resolute United States. There is little disagreement in Israel about the absolute necessity for the West to eliminate the Iranian nuclear program as well as to force it to give up its ballistic missile program and to end its support of terrorism. Thus, the U.S. decision to embrace an interim nuclear deal that does nothing to dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure (a position reaffirmed today by Iran’s foreign minister) and loosens sanctions in a way that has led many in Europe to believe that the restrictions will soon be eliminated altogether, has rightly alarmed Israelis.

Though Obama has consistently pledged to stop Iran from getting a bomb, Israelis view the American embrace of diplomacy with the Islamist regime very differently from the president’s supporters in the United States. While many Americans accept the administration’s arguments that the only alternative to its engagement with Iran is war, Israelis understand that the talk emanating from Washington about détente with Tehran represents nothing short of a profound betrayal of Obama’s pledges.

The United States seems to be retreating from the Middle East, a position that frightens many Arabs as well as the Israelis. They see the drift toward the appeasement of Iran as a sign that this administration is prepared to accept a compromise with Tehran that will leave the nuclear threat in place. Under these circumstances, it’s hard to blame the Israelis for believing that Obama can’t be trusted. American friends of Israel—including those who voted for Obama—have good reason to take a long, hard look at the Israeli poll results and reconsider their longstanding unblinking trust in this president.  

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Yaalon’s Unwelcome Peace Process Truths

Give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some credit. In his first term as Israel’s leader in the 1990s, he might well have issued a statement like the one attributed to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon yesterday in which the former general trashed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and damned the security plan that he presented to Israel this month as “not worth the paper it’s written on.” Since returning to the prime minister’s office in 2009 Netanyahu has done his best to keep the relationship with Washington from overheating. If there have been a series of scrapes with the Obama administration, that is largely the fault of the president’s desire to pick policy fights with him and the prime minister has done his best not to overreact. No matter how wrong Israel’s leaders may think their American counterparts are, little good comes from public spats. As Netanyahu knows, the only ones who benefit from exposing the daylight between the two countries’ positions are the Palestinians and other foes.

But apparently Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon hasn’t gotten the memo about not telling off the Americans. In an apparently unguarded moment, the former general spouted off about Kerry, the peace process, and the Palestinians yesterday, and the subsequent report in Yediot Ahronot published in English on their Ynetnews.com site brought down a firestorm on the Israeli government. Though Yaalon walked back his comments in a statement to the media, he did not deny the accuracy of the original Yediot story. This indiscretion won’t help Netanyahu in his dealings with either Obama or Kerry. It is especially foolish coming from a cabinet minister whose department has worked closely with the administration on security measures throughout the last five years to Israel’s benefit in spite of the political differences between the governments. But leaving aside the diplomatic harm he has done his country, honest observers must admit that what Yaalon said was true. The question facing both Israel and the United States is not so much what to do about Yaalon or other members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet who can’t keep their mouths shut, but at what point it will behoove the two governments to acknowledge the futility of Kerry’s endeavor.

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Give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some credit. In his first term as Israel’s leader in the 1990s, he might well have issued a statement like the one attributed to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon yesterday in which the former general trashed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and damned the security plan that he presented to Israel this month as “not worth the paper it’s written on.” Since returning to the prime minister’s office in 2009 Netanyahu has done his best to keep the relationship with Washington from overheating. If there have been a series of scrapes with the Obama administration, that is largely the fault of the president’s desire to pick policy fights with him and the prime minister has done his best not to overreact. No matter how wrong Israel’s leaders may think their American counterparts are, little good comes from public spats. As Netanyahu knows, the only ones who benefit from exposing the daylight between the two countries’ positions are the Palestinians and other foes.

But apparently Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon hasn’t gotten the memo about not telling off the Americans. In an apparently unguarded moment, the former general spouted off about Kerry, the peace process, and the Palestinians yesterday, and the subsequent report in Yediot Ahronot published in English on their Ynetnews.com site brought down a firestorm on the Israeli government. Though Yaalon walked back his comments in a statement to the media, he did not deny the accuracy of the original Yediot story. This indiscretion won’t help Netanyahu in his dealings with either Obama or Kerry. It is especially foolish coming from a cabinet minister whose department has worked closely with the administration on security measures throughout the last five years to Israel’s benefit in spite of the political differences between the governments. But leaving aside the diplomatic harm he has done his country, honest observers must admit that what Yaalon said was true. The question facing both Israel and the United States is not so much what to do about Yaalon or other members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet who can’t keep their mouths shut, but at what point it will behoove the two governments to acknowledge the futility of Kerry’s endeavor.

Having already conceded that Yaalon was stupid to say such things within earshot of a reporter, the defense minister gets no sympathy here for the abuse he is taking today in Israel’s press as well as from parliamentary allies and foes. The Israeli government has to be frustrated with Kerry’s persistence in pushing for concessions from them, especially when they see no sign of moderation on the part of their Palestinian peace partners who will not accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn nor renounce the right of return for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. But as damaging as pressure on Israel to accept the 1967 borders and the division of Jerusalem may be, so long as Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas is prevented by the reality of his people’s political culture and the threat from Hamas and other opposition groups from ever signing a deal that would end the conflict, Netanyahu knows that the best policy is to avoid an overt conflict with the U.S.

That said, Yaalon’s reminder of the absurdity of Kerry’s quest does help clarify the situation for those naïve enough to believe the talks have some chance of success.

Yaalon’s assertion that the negotiations are not between Israel and the Palestinians but between the Jewish state and the U.S. is self-evident. The PA has repeatedly demonstrated that it won’t budge from uncompromising positions against realistic territorial swaps or security guarantees, much less the existential questions of refugees and two states for two peoples. All that has happened in the past year is that Israel has been prevailed upon to bribe the PA by releasing terrorist murderers for the privilege of sitting at a table again with Abbas.

Nor can there be any real argument with Yaalon’s assessment of Kerry’s behavior when he described the secretary’s crusade as “inexplicably obsessive and messianic.” Few in either Israel or the United States, even those who are most in favor of his efforts, thought he had much of a chance to start with and there’s been no evidence that the odds have improved. His crack that “all that can save us is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace” makes no sense since the only way the secretary will get such an honor is if Abbas signs on the dotted line. But it probably also reflects what Abbas is thinking since his goal is to prevent an agreement without actually having to turn one down publicly.

Yaalon is also right to dismiss the security guarantees Kerry has offered Israel in exchange for a withdrawal from the West Bank. The example of the Gaza withdrawal—which Yaalon opposed when he was chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, a stand that led to his term being cut short by former prime minister Ariel Sharon—as well as the situation along the border with Lebanon illustrates what happens when Israel tries to entrust its security either to Palestinian good will or third parties.

But perhaps the most incisive of Yaalon’s controversial comments was his assertion that Abbas’s future was dependent on Israel’s remaining in the West Bank, not on its departure from the territories:

Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is alive and well thanks to us. The moment we leave Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) he is finished.

Without an Israeli security umbrella, Hamas or more radical Fatah factions would have deposed Abbas a long time ago. His administration over most of the West Bank is simply impossible without Israeli help. Pretending that this isn’t the case is one of the key fictions that form the foundation of Kerry’s conceit about giving Abbas sovereignty over the area and why such a deal or a unilateral Israeli retreat, as some are now suggesting, would repeat the Gaza fiasco.

Most Israelis would applaud any effort to separate the two peoples and desperately want an agreement that would end the conflict for all time rather than merely to pause it in order for the Palestinians to resume it later when they are in a more advantageous position. Though the minister shouldn’t have criticized Kerry publicly, until the secretary and those who are supporting his pressure on Israel and not on the Palestinians can answer Yaalon’s politically incorrect comments, the peace process is doomed. 

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What Should the U.S. Ask from Iran?

The Obama administration’s decision to sign a deal with Iran has brought the differences between the U.S. and Israel on the issue of the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions out into the open. Much of the debate about the question has focused on the fears of the Israeli government and many Americans that an agreement that loosened sanctions while allowing Tehran to continue enriching uranium and while retaining its nuclear infrastructure will not halt Iran’s march to a weapon. Both countries have sought to minimize the argument by focusing on disagreements about negotiations or the proper timing and application of sanctions while still insisting that they share a common goal. But this may obscure a more fundamental disagreement about whether an Iran run by extremist clerics and still dedicated to spreading terror and achieving regional hegemony can be integrated into the international community.

That is the backdrop for the anger being expressed by the administration and its cheerleaders in the foreign-policy establishment at Israel’s criticisms of the Iran deal. As this analysis by Reuters explains, supporters of the administration’s policy believe the conditions being proposed by Israel about a final deal with Iran are intended to sabotage the diplomatic process. In this version of events, Reuters’ sources say Netanyahu’s attempt to get the West to force Iran not only to reduce its enrichment but also dismantle its nuclear plants, end its ballistic missile project, cease supporting terrorism and incitement against Israel, and commit to respecting human rights are “crazy maximalist demands.” In doing so, Netanyahu is seen as not only trying to derail the talks with Iran but also inciting Congress to forestall any effort to expand upon them to create a new détente between the ayatollah’s regime and the U.S. But rather than focusing solely on the administration’s frustration at Jerusalem’s efforts to slow down the administration’s rush to end the conflict, perhaps it might be a good time to ask what exactly the United States wants from Iran.

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The Obama administration’s decision to sign a deal with Iran has brought the differences between the U.S. and Israel on the issue of the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions out into the open. Much of the debate about the question has focused on the fears of the Israeli government and many Americans that an agreement that loosened sanctions while allowing Tehran to continue enriching uranium and while retaining its nuclear infrastructure will not halt Iran’s march to a weapon. Both countries have sought to minimize the argument by focusing on disagreements about negotiations or the proper timing and application of sanctions while still insisting that they share a common goal. But this may obscure a more fundamental disagreement about whether an Iran run by extremist clerics and still dedicated to spreading terror and achieving regional hegemony can be integrated into the international community.

That is the backdrop for the anger being expressed by the administration and its cheerleaders in the foreign-policy establishment at Israel’s criticisms of the Iran deal. As this analysis by Reuters explains, supporters of the administration’s policy believe the conditions being proposed by Israel about a final deal with Iran are intended to sabotage the diplomatic process. In this version of events, Reuters’ sources say Netanyahu’s attempt to get the West to force Iran not only to reduce its enrichment but also dismantle its nuclear plants, end its ballistic missile project, cease supporting terrorism and incitement against Israel, and commit to respecting human rights are “crazy maximalist demands.” In doing so, Netanyahu is seen as not only trying to derail the talks with Iran but also inciting Congress to forestall any effort to expand upon them to create a new détente between the ayatollah’s regime and the U.S. But rather than focusing solely on the administration’s frustration at Jerusalem’s efforts to slow down the administration’s rush to end the conflict, perhaps it might be a good time to ask what exactly the United States wants from Iran.

Dating back to his first presidential campaign, President Obama has been clear about his desire to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. There has never been any deviation from that goal in the rhetoric of the administration. But he has also been consistent in his desire not so much to strip the ayatollahs of their nuclear toys but to create a dialogue and an end to decades of confrontation between the U.S. and Iran. Obama’s desire for engagement with Iran was no secret during the 2008 campaign and was given a prominent mention in his first inaugural address. During his five years in office, Obama’s efforts to achieve engagement have been as fruitless as those of his predecessors. But the Geneva accord has given new life to the effort.

The desire for more than a nuclear deal with Iran is the only logical explanation for the hysteria emanating from the White House at the prospect of Congress passing another round of sanctions. Since the proposal being pushed by a bipartisan coalition in the Senate would do nothing more than strengthen Obama’s leverage in the talks with Iran, his threat of a veto and talk about opposing anything that would “break faith” with a regime that has never acted or negotiated in good faith seems bizarre. But if the president’s real object is not the narrow goal of ending the Iranian nuclear threat, it makes sense.

The same question applies to the anger expressed in Washington and in European capitals at Israel’s attempt to remind the West that uranium enrichment isn’t the only aspect of Iranian policy of concern.

First of all, it should be remembered that Netanyahu’s effort to get the West to force Iran to dismantle its nuclear project isn’t a new demand invented by Israel to stop the talks. It reflects President Obama’s explicit promises about the nuclear threat including this passage from his October 22, 2012 foreign-policy debate with Mitt Romney:

So the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice. They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.

As the president rightly indicated at that time, anything short of that would pave the way for a bomb, especially given Iran’s history of promise-breaking and America’s experience of such deals with other scofflaws like North Korea.

Just as important, a tunnel vision-like focus on the nuclear issue that ignores Iran’s ballistic weapons program would be more than shortsighted. Iran may claim the goal of its missiles is a peaceful space program, but the Islamist regime is no more interested in space than it is in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. If anything, it would be “crazy” for the U.S. to ignore the missiles that could deliver potential Iranian weapons not only to Israel but also to Western targets.

Critics of Israel claim these are unrealistic demands, but that view reflects a defeatism about diplomacy that is unwarranted. With the military and economic leverage the U.S. possesses, there is no reason to think Iran can’t be compelled to give up its nukes or missiles.

That also applies to acknowledging  the fact that Iran is a state sponsor of terror as well as understanding that another Iranian goal is to extend its sphere of influence beyond its borders throughout the Middle East via allies like Bashar Assad, Hezbollah, and perhaps even Hamas. Nor should Iran’s demonization of Israel that Jerusalem has rightly termed “genocidal” be off the table. If Iran is really changing its stripes, a dubious assertion based on the victory of Hassan Rouhani in the country’s faux presidential election last summer, then surely it is not too much to ask that it change its tune about terror and end its incitement against Israel along with its nuclear project.

Rather than carping about Israel, these are exactly the questions that both the media and Congress should be asking about the direction of U.S. policy toward Iran in the wake of the Geneva deal. Were Iran as moderate as the U.S. hopes, its nuclear program would not be so troubling. The choice with Iran is not one between war and peace. Instead, it is whether the U.S. is prepared to make its peace with an aggressive nuclear Iran or a peaceful nation that is not a threat to its Arab neighbors as well as to Israel. If the administration isn’t prepared to ask Iran to change, then the result of any nuclear deal isn’t likely to make the region or the United States safer. Even assuming the doubtful proposition that the current diplomatic effort will actually stop Iran’s weapons program, a nuclear deal that leaves the ayatollah’s missiles, terror, and hate in place is an open invitation to future conflict, not peace or détente.

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