Commentary Magazine


Topic: United Nations

Will Treaty Force U.S. to Abandon Taiwan?

President Obama has pinned the United Nations front and center to his administration’s philosophy of foreign policy. Prior to engaging militarily in Libya, Obama sought Turtle Bay’s endorsement, but never bothered to seek that of the U.S. Congress. With his first—and possibly—last term winding down, the Obama team is rushing headlong into a number of UN-sponsored treaties absent much regard to American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.

The latest case in point could be the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Ted Bromund, my former graduate school colleague and now a Senior Research Fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, and his Heritage colleague Dean Cheng have an important report out looking at how joining the ATT could jeopardize the U.S. ability to help Taiwan defend itself from an increasingly aggressive China.

While China calls Taiwan a renegade province, the fact of the matter is that Taiwan was only under mainland Chinese control during the Qing Dynasty, and even then the Chinese control was tenuous. Taiwan has its own identity—apparent to anyone who travels there–and, unlike China, enjoys democracy and basic individual liberty.

The United States, of course, like much of the world, recognized the Republic of China as the legitimate representative of China until Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with the Peoples’ Republic of China. While the United States and Taiwan no longer maintain formal embassies in each others’ capitals, both house institutes and organizations which act as de facto embassies. Officially, the United States remains committed to Taiwan’s security, although the number of U.S. cabinet-level visits has declined precipitously in recent years, a fault which can be laid at the hands not only of the Obama administration, but the George W. Bush administration as well.

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President Obama has pinned the United Nations front and center to his administration’s philosophy of foreign policy. Prior to engaging militarily in Libya, Obama sought Turtle Bay’s endorsement, but never bothered to seek that of the U.S. Congress. With his first—and possibly—last term winding down, the Obama team is rushing headlong into a number of UN-sponsored treaties absent much regard to American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.

The latest case in point could be the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Ted Bromund, my former graduate school colleague and now a Senior Research Fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, and his Heritage colleague Dean Cheng have an important report out looking at how joining the ATT could jeopardize the U.S. ability to help Taiwan defend itself from an increasingly aggressive China.

While China calls Taiwan a renegade province, the fact of the matter is that Taiwan was only under mainland Chinese control during the Qing Dynasty, and even then the Chinese control was tenuous. Taiwan has its own identity—apparent to anyone who travels there–and, unlike China, enjoys democracy and basic individual liberty.

The United States, of course, like much of the world, recognized the Republic of China as the legitimate representative of China until Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with the Peoples’ Republic of China. While the United States and Taiwan no longer maintain formal embassies in each others’ capitals, both house institutes and organizations which act as de facto embassies. Officially, the United States remains committed to Taiwan’s security, although the number of U.S. cabinet-level visits has declined precipitously in recent years, a fault which can be laid at the hands not only of the Obama administration, but the George W. Bush administration as well.

At any rate, as Bromund and Cheng explain, U.S. accession to the ATT would have devastating implications on the U.S. ability to sell arms to Taiwan which are needed to keep the peace and keep an increasingly aggressive China at bay:

One reason for the State Department’s concern is that the ATT is likely to recognize—in the words of the current Chairman’s Draft Paper, the closest equivalent to a draft treaty currently available—“the inherent right of all States to individual or collective self-defense,” and thus their right to buy, sell, and transfer arms. But Taiwan is not a U.N. member state, nor is it recognized as sovereign by a majority of U.N. member states. It thus appears that the ATT will not recognize Taiwan’s right to buy or import arms.

Moreover, the ATT will require signatories to control their imports and exports of arms. It will be incumbent on treaty signatories not to circumvent the import control systems of other signatories. The PRC claims—correctly—that it operates the import control system for China, and, much more controversially, that Taiwan also constitutes part of its territory. By the same token, the Chairman’s Draft Paper uses terminology from the U.N. Charter to reaffirm “the right of all States to territorial integrity.” The ATT thus provides the basis for a Chinese argument that U.S. sales or transfers of arms to Taiwan would circumvent the PRC’s import control system, violate China’s territorial integrity, and thus violate the treaty.

The United Nations likes to cloak itself in the mantle of peace but, alas, its actions can instigate war. No administration should subordinate U.S. national security to an international body that cares little for freedom and liberty, nor should well-meaning academics in the Obama administration trade the freedom and right of self-defense of 23 million Taiwanese for a philosophical embrace of internationalism that might win applause in a university seminar, but which would be a disaster if ever implemented.

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Film Review: “U.N. Me” — Everything the Left Doesn’t Want to Know About the UN

Those who view his films as compendiums of distorted propaganda may rightly despise Michael Moore, but there’s no denying that his work re-popularized the documentary as an independent art form while effectively promoting his views. Moore and others who followed in his footsteps, such as Morgan Spurlock, whose “Super Size Me” lambasted the fast food industry, created a popular template in which the filmmaker’s personal narrative, interspersed with humor and relentless attempts to expose and thereby belittle the objects of their scorn, set the standard for the genre. But the question for viewers of a newly released film that was created in the spirit of “Roger and Me, ” “Bowling for Columbine” or “Super Size Me” is whether there is an audience for this sort of work if the subject matter is not one that liberals and leftists love to hate.

In “U.N. Me,” Ami Horowitz and Matthew Grof have done just that. Horowitz, the on-screen personality and narrator, takes his audience on an international tour intended to show that the United Nations is a corrupt talking shop that has made a mockery of the ideals that it was created to promote. As “U.N. Me” makes clear, the world body has criminal peacekeepers who fail to protect the innocent, purposely-blind nuclear inspectors, thieves in charge of food programs, and has a Human Rights Council that is a forum for tyrants and murderers.

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Those who view his films as compendiums of distorted propaganda may rightly despise Michael Moore, but there’s no denying that his work re-popularized the documentary as an independent art form while effectively promoting his views. Moore and others who followed in his footsteps, such as Morgan Spurlock, whose “Super Size Me” lambasted the fast food industry, created a popular template in which the filmmaker’s personal narrative, interspersed with humor and relentless attempts to expose and thereby belittle the objects of their scorn, set the standard for the genre. But the question for viewers of a newly released film that was created in the spirit of “Roger and Me, ” “Bowling for Columbine” or “Super Size Me” is whether there is an audience for this sort of work if the subject matter is not one that liberals and leftists love to hate.

In “U.N. Me,” Ami Horowitz and Matthew Grof have done just that. Horowitz, the on-screen personality and narrator, takes his audience on an international tour intended to show that the United Nations is a corrupt talking shop that has made a mockery of the ideals that it was created to promote. As “U.N. Me” makes clear, the world body has criminal peacekeepers who fail to protect the innocent, purposely-blind nuclear inspectors, thieves in charge of food programs, and has a Human Rights Council that is a forum for tyrants and murderers.

This may be familiar territory for readers of COMMENTARY, but if the intended audience is the crowd who enjoys the politically skewed humor of Moore and Spurlock’s movies, a great many eyes will be opened. Judging their effort by the standard set by those two, “U.N. Me” must be considered a resounding success. The film combines a low-key sense of righteous indignation at the outrageous behavior it uncovers with humor and paints its subjects as hypocrites and scoundrels. Yet even as we laugh along with Horowitz’s disingenuous attempts to get UN officials to tell the truth about what they are doing, one can’t help but wonder if this is a story most lovers of indie documentaries want to hear, because its point is to debunk an institution deeply loved by liberals and President Obama.

To get past the prejudices of filmgoers predisposed to dismiss criticism of the U.N., Horowitz concentrates his fire on the causes that most appeal to liberal sensibilities, such as the genocide in Darfur. That means the number one object of U.N. perfidy — the state of Israel — is conspicuous by its absence in the film. Though so much of what is wrong about the U.N. is illustrated by the widespread anti-Semitism given a hearing in its halls and the double standard by which the democratic State of Israel is subjected to most of the resolutions adopted by the institution, the Jewish state is mentioned only in passing throughout “U.N. Me.” Though this may disappoint some viewers, it’s not a mistake. While it eliminates many of the most egregious instances of U.N. misbehavior, the tactic also allows Horowitz to make his point about its failures without miring his narrative in the rhetorical battlefield of the Middle East conflict.

But even without a discussion of the U.N.’s unfair obsession with Israel, there is more than enough scandalous material to fill several hours, let alone the 90 minutes of “U.N. Me.”

In the Ivory Coast, Horowitz delves into the scandal of “peacekeepers gone wild” where the “blue helmets” are not only pleasure-seeking thieves who don’t protect the people of that war-torn nation but have themselves committed massacres.

The direct failure of the U.N. to do anything to stop the genocide in Rwanda though it had the forces on the spot and the intelligence to do so is a heartbreaking story, and here, Horowitz goes easy on the humor. But he makes up for that with his exploration of the U.N.’s failures to deal with genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan during which a Sudanese diplomat asserts that “climate change” is the reason so many were massacred by his government, prompting Horowitz to suggest that more Priuses is the answer to the problem.

The film also goes into great depth to describe the way ordinary corruption is part of business as usual at the U.N.. The “oil for food” scandal in which Saddam Hussein skimmed more than $10 billion from the world body in exchange for millions in bribes to U.N. officials is a central part of the story. At its core is the role of former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, demonstrating that this scheme was ordinary practice and not an exception.

And though the documentary doesn’t go into the bizarre way the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) has helped perpetuate the plight of the Palestinians (the U.N. has one agency for all other refugees and one devoted to the Palestinians), it is shown as employing terrorists in Gaza and allowing their ambulances to be used as getaway vehicles.

The film, which was first shown at film festivals in 2009 but only gained a general release on June 1 of this year, suffers in one respect from the delay. During the past three years, one of the U.N. agencies that Horowitz spoofs has changed for the better. Though the International Atomic Energy Agency was rightly seen as a body that was determined to “see no evil” when inspecting Iran under its previous leader, the Egyptian diplomat Mohamad El Baradei, his successor Yukio Amano has altered its course. Whereas in the past, the IAEA aided proliferation, these days, it is a thorn in the side of the Iranians and its release of incriminating evidence about their work on military applications of nuclear power have prodded the West to step up sanctions.

It may be that what Amano did with the IAEA shows the failure of the “new” U.N. Human Rights Council and other agencies need not have happened. With the right sort of leadership and an application of the principles of the original U.N. Charter, it is theoretically possible that all of the abuses and scandals Horowitz discusses in “U.N. Me” can be corrected. Yet given the deep-seated nature of the problems that are put on display here it could be that the reform of the IAEA is the exception that proves the rule. An institution where accountability is almost always absent, where Third World politics dictates that horrible crimes must be excused if not rationalized or sanitized may be beyond redemption. As journalist Claudia Rosett notes in the film, “avoiding the truth is in the DNA of this organization.”

In one of the concluding scenes, Horowitz escalates his reportorial hijinks. Not content with interviews with Iranians, Syrians and Sudanese who expose their contempt for human rights, the narrator jumps up on the stage of the U.N. hall in Geneva and attempts to address the delegates about their hypocrisy. While this can be dismissed as nothing more than a silly stunt, the fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust-denying president of Iran had opened the conference on human rights that Horowitz crashed makes it all too clear that the line between satire and truth has long since been erased at the U.N.

Horowitz and Groff have produced a documentary that may at times be a little too jocose for its serious subject matter, but is nevertheless always watchable and infused with genuine wit. It remains to be seen whether their praiseworthy effort to tell this important story will get the exposure it deserves, but anyone who takes the time to watch “U.N. Me” cannot help but walk away sharing the filmmaker’s frustration and disgust with the U.N.

“U.N. Me” is available in select theaters around the country as well as via on demand cable services and iTunes.

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In Nuclear Talks, Iran Plays the Victim Card

With the third round of nuclear talks approaching, Iranian senior figures are taking turns to the airwaves to present a well-rehearsed, grievance-filled version of the issues at stake in their current nuclear standoff with the international community. This time, speaking out is former Iranian minister of foreign affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati – currently a diplomatic adviser to the Supreme Leader. Velayati, who is wanted in Argentina for the 1994 Iran-orchestrated terror attack against the AMIA Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, announced in an interview with the Iranian news agency IRNA that he hoped that “the P5+1 group recognizes Iran’s inalienable nuclear right within the framework of the [United Nations Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] NPT and refrains from sitting on the sidelines.” He added, “By accepting Iran’s right to use peaceful nuclear energy, the forthcoming talks in Moscow should reach a favorable result.”

Iran has been spinning this tale for years now – and its propaganda is making considerable gains with Western leftists and among non-aligned movement members.

Iran is basically playing the victim card, darkly evoking an American-led and Zionist-orchestrated plot to deny Iran, alone among nations, the right to peacefully develop nuclear energy. The demand by the P5+1 to suspend all uranium enrichment and uranium reprocessing activities, Iran says, is an attempt to deny a right guaranteed under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to all its members. It is an unfair attempt, says Iran, because it is infused with a double standard where nuclear-weapons states and Israel are ganging up on Iran to preach to Tehran what they don’t practice. And it is a dangerous precedent, concludes Iran, because if legitimized, this mechanism can be adopted later to frustrate the legitimate nuclear ambitions of any other nation that is not a Western country and a friend of the United States.

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With the third round of nuclear talks approaching, Iranian senior figures are taking turns to the airwaves to present a well-rehearsed, grievance-filled version of the issues at stake in their current nuclear standoff with the international community. This time, speaking out is former Iranian minister of foreign affairs, Ali Akbar Velayati – currently a diplomatic adviser to the Supreme Leader. Velayati, who is wanted in Argentina for the 1994 Iran-orchestrated terror attack against the AMIA Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, announced in an interview with the Iranian news agency IRNA that he hoped that “the P5+1 group recognizes Iran’s inalienable nuclear right within the framework of the [United Nations Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] NPT and refrains from sitting on the sidelines.” He added, “By accepting Iran’s right to use peaceful nuclear energy, the forthcoming talks in Moscow should reach a favorable result.”

Iran has been spinning this tale for years now – and its propaganda is making considerable gains with Western leftists and among non-aligned movement members.

Iran is basically playing the victim card, darkly evoking an American-led and Zionist-orchestrated plot to deny Iran, alone among nations, the right to peacefully develop nuclear energy. The demand by the P5+1 to suspend all uranium enrichment and uranium reprocessing activities, Iran says, is an attempt to deny a right guaranteed under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to all its members. It is an unfair attempt, says Iran, because it is infused with a double standard where nuclear-weapons states and Israel are ganging up on Iran to preach to Tehran what they don’t practice. And it is a dangerous precedent, concludes Iran, because if legitimized, this mechanism can be adopted later to frustrate the legitimate nuclear ambitions of any other nation that is not a Western country and a friend of the United States.

So, as talks approach, it is useful to remind Western audiences of the basic facts around this matter.

First, Iran is a member of the NPT, and it is thus entitled to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes only as long as it meets its obligations under the NPT. But the International Atomic Energey Agency (IAEA) regards Iran as being in breach of its treaty obligations. This was stated explicitly and forcefully by the IAEA on September 24, 2005:

… Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement … constitute non-compliance in the context of Article XII.C of the Agency’s Statute … [T]he history of concealment of Iran’s nuclear activities referred to in the Director General’s report, the nature of these activities, issues brought to light in the course of the Agency’s verification of declarations made by Iran since September 2002 and the resulting absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes have given rise to questions that are within the competence of the Security Council, as the organ bearing the main responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

The Security Council has passed six UN Security Council resolutions under Chapter VII (1696, 1737, 1747, 1803, 1835, and 1929), which makes them mandatory and binding on all nations according to international law, commanding Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and uranium reprocessing activities.

The IAEA has reaffirmed this point in every report it published since Ambassador Yukiya Amano became its director general in early 2010.

And the June 2008 proposal to Iran, signed by the P5+1, further states that, provided Iran complies with its obligations under the NPT and with the aforementioned resolutions, “China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union High Representative state their readiness: to recognize Iran’s right to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in conformity with its NPT obligations; to treat Iran’s nuclear program in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT once international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program is restored.”

This text is now an integral part of UNSCR 1929 – and the details it offers (including detailed aspects of technological assistance) should leave no doubt to the following simple facts:

Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy, including the right to enrich for peaceful purposes, was never denied in principle and has been affirmed ad nauseam by Iran’s interlocutors. All Iranian protestations and lamentations to the contrary are lies, smokes and mirrors.

Iran’s right is suspended because Iran has failed to comply with the obligations that make it possible for Iran, and indeed any other nation who wishes to have a nuclear program, to pursue nuclear energy within the NPT framework.

Iran’s behavior is illegal. Iran’s non-compliance demands concrete steps sanctioned by UN Chapter VII binding resolutions.

No concession should be made, therefore, on these matters, and no compromise should be offered on enrichment suspension.

This provision, far from being a punishment, is the only remaining guarantee against the collapse of an already shaky non-proliferation regime.

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Political Victory Out of Battlefield Defeats

The United Nations has hardly been a cheerleader for the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan. In fact, UN representatives have often been skeptical of the methods and tactics employed by American troops. So it is particularly noteworthy that even the UN is recording a big drop—21 percent–in civilian deaths in the first four months of 2012 compared with the same period a year ago. This tallies with NATO figures showing a drop in insurgent attacks—evidence that the post-2009 surge is working.

Unfortunately, just as American troops and their allies are making demonstrable progress, their political masters are preparing to pull them out. French troops are due to leave this year and more than 20,000 American troops are due to leave in September with more, perhaps, to follow before long. Western politicians would be foolish, now that the coalition actually has the initiative and the Taliban are on their heels, to let up on the pressure. But that is precisely what may happen, allowing the Taliban, Haqqanis, et al., to pull a political victory out of their battlefield defeats.

The United Nations has hardly been a cheerleader for the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan. In fact, UN representatives have often been skeptical of the methods and tactics employed by American troops. So it is particularly noteworthy that even the UN is recording a big drop—21 percent–in civilian deaths in the first four months of 2012 compared with the same period a year ago. This tallies with NATO figures showing a drop in insurgent attacks—evidence that the post-2009 surge is working.

Unfortunately, just as American troops and their allies are making demonstrable progress, their political masters are preparing to pull them out. French troops are due to leave this year and more than 20,000 American troops are due to leave in September with more, perhaps, to follow before long. Western politicians would be foolish, now that the coalition actually has the initiative and the Taliban are on their heels, to let up on the pressure. But that is precisely what may happen, allowing the Taliban, Haqqanis, et al., to pull a political victory out of their battlefield defeats.

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The Bucks Stop with Kofi Annan

A friend on Capitol Hill alerts me to Kofi Annan’s budget for his doomed-from-the-start observer mission in Syria. (The breakdown is in paragraph 17):

The estimated requirements for the Office of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis for the 10-month period ending 31 December 2012 amount to $7,488,000 net ($7,932,200 gross) and will provide for salaries and common staff costs for 18 positions ($3,022,300), as well as operational costs ($4,465,700), comprising consultancies ($165,700), official travel ($1,590,500), and facilities and infrastructure ($578,400); ground transportation ($100,200); air transportation ($750,000); communications ($94,800) and information technology ($135,700); and other supplies, services and equipment ($1,050,400). Of the non-post items, $111,800 relates to one-time expenditures for the refurbishment of office space ($30,000) and provision of information technology and other equipment ($81,800).

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A friend on Capitol Hill alerts me to Kofi Annan’s budget for his doomed-from-the-start observer mission in Syria. (The breakdown is in paragraph 17):

The estimated requirements for the Office of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis for the 10-month period ending 31 December 2012 amount to $7,488,000 net ($7,932,200 gross) and will provide for salaries and common staff costs for 18 positions ($3,022,300), as well as operational costs ($4,465,700), comprising consultancies ($165,700), official travel ($1,590,500), and facilities and infrastructure ($578,400); ground transportation ($100,200); air transportation ($750,000); communications ($94,800) and information technology ($135,700); and other supplies, services and equipment ($1,050,400). Of the non-post items, $111,800 relates to one-time expenditures for the refurbishment of office space ($30,000) and provision of information technology and other equipment ($81,800).

So, Kofi Annan’s office will have 18 people?  Dividing the salary line item by 18, each employee will stand to make about $168,000—and that’s just ten months. The entire budget is a bit extreme, but that’s nothing new for Annan. Not only did he oversee the UN’s worst corruption scandal during his tenure as secretary-general, but he bankrupted his own “Global Humanitarian Foundation” retirement post through massive mismanagement. Western diplomats may assuage their guilt over the atrocities in Syria by throwing money at Annan and his office. They may not help Syrians, but they can be certain of one thing: When it comes to Annan, the bucks certainly stop with him.

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The UN Wants its Own Drones?

A friend on the Hill alerted me to this story which should raise red flags for any number of reasons:

The United Nations is weighing the possibility of using unmanned airplanes (drones) in intelligence operations and to searching for information… The issue was submitted to a committee of the UN General Assembly by the peacekeeping operations department, according to the organization’s official joint spokesman, Eduardo del Buey. Del Buey said that the United Nations is analyzing the potential use of that technology, including the support that the organization needs from the member countries if its use were recommended. The unarmed drones would be used for surveillance operations and to gather information, said the spokesman, adding that no conclusions or recommendations have been made on the matter.

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A friend on the Hill alerted me to this story which should raise red flags for any number of reasons:

The United Nations is weighing the possibility of using unmanned airplanes (drones) in intelligence operations and to searching for information… The issue was submitted to a committee of the UN General Assembly by the peacekeeping operations department, according to the organization’s official joint spokesman, Eduardo del Buey. Del Buey said that the United Nations is analyzing the potential use of that technology, including the support that the organization needs from the member countries if its use were recommended. The unarmed drones would be used for surveillance operations and to gather information, said the spokesman, adding that no conclusions or recommendations have been made on the matter.

The Obama administration unwisely puts the UN on a pedestal on a number of issues, but hopefully will quash any request that the United States share its drones with UN peacekeepers. Putting aside the question of what mandate or authority the UN has to conduct intelligence work in the first place, any UN drone capability—even in the name of peacekeeping—could greatly undermine U.S. national security. Even innocuous missions like the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire include personnel from countries such as China, Russia, and Pakistan, each of which would like to get their hands on the latest American technology.

Providing autonomous surveillance capabilities can provoke conflict rather than prevent it. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been, for nearly 35 years, an unmitigated disaster. As Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon, the Israeli army handed its positions over to UNIFIL to transfer to the Lebanese army. UNIFIL chose instead to provide the posts to Hezbollah. Then, less than five months later, Hezbollah guerrillas—dressed in UNIFIL regalia—kidnapped three Israelis from the Israeli side of the border. UNIFIL personnel were conducting surveillance at the time. They videotaped Hezbollah operatives dressed in UNIFIL uniforms and driving vehicles with UNIFIL markings but, for nine months, refused to acknowledge a video that could have provided the information necessary to identify the perpetrators and rescue the Israelis. Only after the outcry grew too loud to ignore did UN Secretary General Kofi Annan order an investigation. The results were damning.

Too many UN personnel are corrupt, venial, and untrustworthy. To offer them independent surveillance capability when they have so often abused their positions would be unwise and a danger to American national security. Alas, that makes the possibility that Obama would oblige even greater.

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Obama’s Push to Fund UNESCO is No Joke

Even amidst the flurry of overt philo-Semitism that is the hallmark of President Obama’s election year Jewish charm offensive, some remnants of his less appealing foreign policy stands persist. One such anomaly is the administration campaign to restore American funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). U.S. law required Obama to cut off UNESCO after it admitted the Palestinian Authority as a full voting member of the group as part of the Arab effort to make an end run around the Middle East peace process. The Palestinian push for recognition of their independence without first making peace with Israel fizzled, but the president’s ardent love for the UN and its constituent agencies made him regret the fact that he was obligated to punish UNESCO.

There is little chance that Congress will amend the law so as to allow the flow of U.S. taxpayer cash to resume. But those supporting such a move got a boost recently when Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” did a segment intended to spoof the cutoff. The satire complimented UNESCO’s own efforts to persuade Americans that they are a collection of non-political do-gooders whose efforts are being hampered. But as Claudia Rosett writes in an important piece in The Weekly Standard, the truth about UNESCO is a familiar story for those who follow the world of international non-governmental organizations. The corruption of the agency and, in particular, its efforts in the African nation of Gabon (which was the focus of “The Daily Show’s” skits), serves as a warning of how the world body wastes American money intended for charitable purposes.

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Even amidst the flurry of overt philo-Semitism that is the hallmark of President Obama’s election year Jewish charm offensive, some remnants of his less appealing foreign policy stands persist. One such anomaly is the administration campaign to restore American funding to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). U.S. law required Obama to cut off UNESCO after it admitted the Palestinian Authority as a full voting member of the group as part of the Arab effort to make an end run around the Middle East peace process. The Palestinian push for recognition of their independence without first making peace with Israel fizzled, but the president’s ardent love for the UN and its constituent agencies made him regret the fact that he was obligated to punish UNESCO.

There is little chance that Congress will amend the law so as to allow the flow of U.S. taxpayer cash to resume. But those supporting such a move got a boost recently when Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” did a segment intended to spoof the cutoff. The satire complimented UNESCO’s own efforts to persuade Americans that they are a collection of non-political do-gooders whose efforts are being hampered. But as Claudia Rosett writes in an important piece in The Weekly Standard, the truth about UNESCO is a familiar story for those who follow the world of international non-governmental organizations. The corruption of the agency and, in particular, its efforts in the African nation of Gabon (which was the focus of “The Daily Show’s” skits), serves as a warning of how the world body wastes American money intended for charitable purposes.

As Rosett writes:

Far from helping the world’s neediest, UNESCO’s top priority is helping itself. The Heritage Foundation’s Brett Schaefer calculates that 87 percent of UNESCO’s $326 million budget last year was allocated for its own staff, travel, and operating costs. More than half of UNESCO’s staffers are based in Paris, many pulling in tax-exempt six-figure salaries, with plush benefits and 30 days of vacation per year. UNESCO’s auditors reported that on travel costs alone, the organization was squandering more than $3 million annually via bad management and a taste for business-class airline tickets. A program of financial disclosure by senior UNESCO officials has been mysteriously delayed.

To its credit, UNESCO does have an Ethics Office, which in its 2009-2010 annual report bluntly noted “a failure by employees at all levels to take responsibility for their work.” That’s no surprise, given the findings in the same report that many of UNESCO’s employees don’t know what they are supposed to be doing. The Ethics Office further reported receiving “more and more complaints” about UNESCO employees “inappropriately using their diplomatic immunity” to show “non-respect of private legal and financial obligations.” In other words, they were abusing UN privileges to break local laws.

As for Gabon, as Rosett notes:

Apparently [UNESCO’s Washington flack] neglected to mention to Comedy Central’s intrepid reporter that little Gabon is the ninth-largest oil producer in Africa. Gabon’s 1.5 million citizens are poor not because the United States has been snatching their books or defunding UNESCO, but because Gabon has been plundered for more than 40 years by the family of President Ali Bongo Ondimba—the same fellow who showed his support for UNESCO after its Palestinian vote by pledging $2 million from Gabon.

Though UNESCO was supposedly reformed in the last decade after a long history of being one of the most corrupt and politically biased (against Israel) of all the UN’s agencies, the reality is that the rhetoric we have heard from the president and Secretary of State Clinton about its value to the world is largely fluff. It continues to show its prejudice against Israel in efforts to treat Jewish holy sites in Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem as Muslim shrines and to oppose archeological digs in Israel’s capital as attempts to “Judaize” the city.

The Obama campaign to refund UNESCO is one more example of how the president intends to use a second term to show how “flexible” his foreign policy will be. UNESCO doesn’t deserve American funding. But one can bet that a re-elected Obama will spend the next four years finding ways to funnel U.S. support to his pets at the UN.

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More U.N. Officials Step Up to Push Anti-Israel Smears and Pro-Hamas Propaganda

UNRWA’s Chris Gunness has personally stepped up to fulfill his organization’s traditional role as a wartime propaganda outlet for Hamas, describing Israel’s self-defense operations as “sick sick sick.” The UN group routinely peddles anti-Israel falsehoods even during relatively quiet periods – e.g. their scapegoating Israel for UNRWA’s terror-promoting schools – but during conflicts their media manipulation becomes particularly shameless.

Now even non-UNRWA UN officials have taken to broadcasting false anti-Israel smears, per new information about a tweet that Alana first covered earlier this week. You’ll remember that Khulood Badawi tweeted a picture of an injured Palestinian girl, with a caption asserting that the girl had been hit in an Israeli air strike. The photo spread like wildfire, garnering 300 retweets and becoming the day’s top “#Gaza” tweet.

The entire thing was a fabrication. The photo wasn’t taken this week and the girl wasn’t hurt by Israeli munitions. The picture was actually snapped by Reuters in 2006, and the girl had fallen off a swing. Honest Reporting ran down the original.

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UNRWA’s Chris Gunness has personally stepped up to fulfill his organization’s traditional role as a wartime propaganda outlet for Hamas, describing Israel’s self-defense operations as “sick sick sick.” The UN group routinely peddles anti-Israel falsehoods even during relatively quiet periods – e.g. their scapegoating Israel for UNRWA’s terror-promoting schools – but during conflicts their media manipulation becomes particularly shameless.

Now even non-UNRWA UN officials have taken to broadcasting false anti-Israel smears, per new information about a tweet that Alana first covered earlier this week. You’ll remember that Khulood Badawi tweeted a picture of an injured Palestinian girl, with a caption asserting that the girl had been hit in an Israeli air strike. The photo spread like wildfire, garnering 300 retweets and becoming the day’s top “#Gaza” tweet.

The entire thing was a fabrication. The photo wasn’t taken this week and the girl wasn’t hurt by Israeli munitions. The picture was actually snapped by Reuters in 2006, and the girl had fallen off a swing. Honest Reporting ran down the original.

Now it turns out Badawi is an official at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), where she works as an Information and Media Coordinator. Again the story is on Honest Reporting, which has helpfully posted OCHA’s contact information in case you feel moved to protest how a UN media coordinator is using new media technology to spread lies.

Compared to Badawi’s hit-and-run resentment, or to the rants about the “big lies of Zionists” that other UNRWA officials are posting as blog comments, Gunness’s open gushing is almost refreshing. Not only is he a sort of happy pro-Hamas warrior, but viewed from a certain angle what he’s doing is admirably consistent with UNRWA’s historical behavior. As opposed to OCHA workers, who are neophytes on the institutionalized anti-Israel propaganda scene.

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Time for the UN to Retract Terror Approval

Almost a decade ago, histrionics were running high at the United Nations. After enduring months of a Palestinian terrorist campaign, Israel launched Operation Defense Shield during which Israeli commandoes went door to booby-trapped door in Jenin to root out bomb makers and their factories. During the course of the Jenin operation, Israel lost 23 soldiers, men who would be alive had the Israelis simply bombed the city instead of attempting surgical excision of the terror cells. The world cried foul, and promoted the myth of the Jenin massacre. Here, for example, is the BBC report from the time.

It was against this backdrop that on April 15, 2002, the United Nations Human Rights Commission—which has since been reconstituted as the United Nations Council— and at the time under the leadership of former Irish President Mary Robinson, passed a resolution embracing an earlier General Assembly resolution which declared “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.” France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Sweden all supported the resolution.

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Almost a decade ago, histrionics were running high at the United Nations. After enduring months of a Palestinian terrorist campaign, Israel launched Operation Defense Shield during which Israeli commandoes went door to booby-trapped door in Jenin to root out bomb makers and their factories. During the course of the Jenin operation, Israel lost 23 soldiers, men who would be alive had the Israelis simply bombed the city instead of attempting surgical excision of the terror cells. The world cried foul, and promoted the myth of the Jenin massacre. Here, for example, is the BBC report from the time.

It was against this backdrop that on April 15, 2002, the United Nations Human Rights Commission—which has since been reconstituted as the United Nations Council— and at the time under the leadership of former Irish President Mary Robinson, passed a resolution embracing an earlier General Assembly resolution which declared “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.” France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Sweden all supported the resolution.

For those who argue that the United Nations Human Rights Commission and its successor Council define humanitarian law, the vote taken against the backdrop of anti-Israel animus created a precedent which blessed any and all terrorism: Hijackings, bus bombings, sniper attacks on civilians all became legal so long as the terrorists justified it in terms of liberation. The Palestinian Authority did just that—citing the resolution to justify a subsequent terrorist attack against Jews in Hebron, but the Basque separatist organization ETA and Tamil Tigers could just as easily justify their bloodshed in the resolution.

As the world marks a decade since the resolution, it remains a dark mark on the United Nations. Terrorists have killed thousands across the globe in the name of “liberation” ever since. Indeed, groups such as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the Taliban both cynically exploit anti-colonialist rhetoric to justify their terrorism. That Robinson and the UN provided an intellectual and legal framework for them to do so is especially shameful.

President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and Ambassador Susan Rice make no secret of their desire to promote the United Nations as the moral authority for international relations. Unless they are willing to force the United Nations to correct its moral failings, however, then no Western democrat or liberal should ever take the United Nations for anything more than a regressive club for autocrats and moral failing.

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Kofi Annan Wrong Man for Syria Job

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby have appointed former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to be their top envoy on the worsening situation in Syria. While Annan is certainly a better choice than was Sudanese Lt. Gen. Mohammad al-Dabi, the Arab League’s previous pick and a man complicit in the Darfur genocide, Annan is not a good choice.

As head of peace-keeping during the Rwanda genocide, Annan hid behind legalisms and bureaucracy. Had he been bolder, his peacekeepers might actually have kept the peace, but for Annan, the path of least resistance enabled a quarter million civilians to die. His apology came years too late for people there.

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby have appointed former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to be their top envoy on the worsening situation in Syria. While Annan is certainly a better choice than was Sudanese Lt. Gen. Mohammad al-Dabi, the Arab League’s previous pick and a man complicit in the Darfur genocide, Annan is not a good choice.

As head of peace-keeping during the Rwanda genocide, Annan hid behind legalisms and bureaucracy. Had he been bolder, his peacekeepers might actually have kept the peace, but for Annan, the path of least resistance enabled a quarter million civilians to die. His apology came years too late for people there.

Alas, Annan failed upwards. While Annan saw his position as secretary-general as a bully-pulpit, the world’s top diplomat as it were, that is not actually the job of the secretary-general. Rather, the secretary-general is supposed to be the UN’s top administrator, responsible for its running and operations so that diplomats appointed by sovereign states can get at the business of diplomacy. Annan, however, failed at this task. Overseeing the Oil-for-Food program, the UN’s largest humanitarian effort, Annan presided over unprecedented fraud, from which his family profited. Had Annan allowed the UN to be audited by outside forensic experts rather than the UN’s own hand-picked panel, much more might have come to light.

Annan’s utter incompetence would have landed any other executive out of a job or in prison, but the culture which the UN embraces values neither accountability nor transparency.

Unfortunately, lives are on the line in Syria, and so Annan’s incompetence will again have real world consequences. The Syrian people deserve better.

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Obama Wants to Let UNESCO Off the Hook

In a deviation from the charm offensive he has been aiming at American Jews in the last several months, President Obama has asked Congress to grant him a waiver that will allow the administration to continue funding the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) despite its recognition of Palestinian statehood. U.S. law forbids the funding of any international organization that grants admission to the Palestinians as a separate, independent state prior to its signing a peace treaty with Israel. However, JTA reports that Obama, who is a dedicated admirer of the UN and its member agencies, hopes he can persuade Congress to let him keep sending taxpayer dollars to the group in spite of the law.

Republican opposition to the waiver is assured, meaning the chances of Obama’s wish being granted are virtually nonexistent. But given how anxious the president has been to show Jewish voters and donors that he is, as he claims, Israel’s best friend ever in the White House, the decision to try to flout the law in order to bolster a controversial UN agency gives us some real insight into the administration’s thinking and its plans in a possible second term for Obama.

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In a deviation from the charm offensive he has been aiming at American Jews in the last several months, President Obama has asked Congress to grant him a waiver that will allow the administration to continue funding the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) despite its recognition of Palestinian statehood. U.S. law forbids the funding of any international organization that grants admission to the Palestinians as a separate, independent state prior to its signing a peace treaty with Israel. However, JTA reports that Obama, who is a dedicated admirer of the UN and its member agencies, hopes he can persuade Congress to let him keep sending taxpayer dollars to the group in spite of the law.

Republican opposition to the waiver is assured, meaning the chances of Obama’s wish being granted are virtually nonexistent. But given how anxious the president has been to show Jewish voters and donors that he is, as he claims, Israel’s best friend ever in the White House, the decision to try to flout the law in order to bolster a controversial UN agency gives us some real insight into the administration’s thinking and its plans in a possible second term for Obama.

The Palestinian Authority’s effort to gain statehood via the UN last fall was a flop despite the fearful predictions that the campaign would create a “diplomatic tsunami.” The UNESCO vote was the PA’s sole victory in an otherwise calamitous strategy that illustrated how thin their international support turned out to be. It also debunked the myth that the Israel-Palestinian struggle was the key to unraveling all the problems of the Middle East. Granting the PA statehood without first having to make peace with Israel would not only fail to solve that conflict but would do nothing to deal with the threat from a nuclear Iran which was the issue most countries, especially moderate Arab regimes, cared most about.

But if Obama ever gets his way, it will be a signal to both the Palestinians and the international community that Obama’s devotion to the UN far outweighs the lip service he pays to the pro-Israel community.

While the administration has been campaigning to restore aid to UNESCO on the grounds it is an essential tool of international development, that seems to be more a testimony to Obama’s loyalty to the UN than any tangible evidence of its utility. UNESCO was widely considered the most politicized and blatantly anti-Israel of all UN agencies, and the Reagan administration pulled the U.S. out of it altogether. Since then, it has been reformed to the point where America felt comfortable participating, but its policies are still questionable. In recent years, it has taken stands against what it calls the “Judaization” of Jerusalem and treated the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb outside of Bethlehem as mosques rather than as Jewish shrines. It is anticipated this bias will worsen with full Palestinian membership.

What the pro-Israel community needs to remember is it was largely the threat of a U.S. aid cutoff that ensured the UN and its other agencies would not follow UNESCO’s lead on the Palestinians. If UNESCO goes unpunished it will be an incentive for other such groups to grant the Palestinians their wish. Doing so, especially now that the PA is about to become a joint venture between Fatah and Hamas, would be a defeat for U.S. policy and further diminish the already dim chances of peace.

Though Democrats will spend the rest of 2012 attempting to sell Jewish voters the idea that Obama is Israel’s best friend, the UNESCO waiver request is evidence not only of the falseness of this claim but of what may come in a second term for the president.

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The UN’s Green World Order

At Fox News, COMMENTARY contributor George Russell has a fantastic report on a confidential gathering of UN officials that took place last October. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and others met in a Long Island mansion and brainstormed on how “to consolidate a radical new global green economy, promote a spectrum of sweeping new social policies and build an even more important role for UN institutions ‘to manage the process of globalization better.’”

The discussion centered on plans for June’s Rio + 20 Summit on Sustainable Development, and was something like Occupy Wall Street rally meets Avatar. Participants both noted that “inequity” is the “single greatest challenge and threat” to the world and “the UN in Rio should be the voice of the planet and its people.” They’ll have to fight Barack Obama for that gig, no?

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At Fox News, COMMENTARY contributor George Russell has a fantastic report on a confidential gathering of UN officials that took place last October. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and others met in a Long Island mansion and brainstormed on how “to consolidate a radical new global green economy, promote a spectrum of sweeping new social policies and build an even more important role for UN institutions ‘to manage the process of globalization better.’”

The discussion centered on plans for June’s Rio + 20 Summit on Sustainable Development, and was something like Occupy Wall Street rally meets Avatar. Participants both noted that “inequity” is the “single greatest challenge and threat” to the world and “the UN in Rio should be the voice of the planet and its people.” They’ll have to fight Barack Obama for that gig, no?

Russell’s report is valuable because it exposes the scale of the green movement’s ambitions, the full integration of environmentalism into every other leftist cause du jour, and the extent of the UN’s radicalism. Environmentalism is a legitimized mainstream vehicle for everything from anti-capitalist legislation to trans-hemispheric reparations to global governance. You start with a couple of balmy summers and end up with what the meeting’s minutes described as “a means to ‘reorient public and private decision-making’ to make the world’s poorest people the new economy’s ‘main beneficiaries.’”

In some sense, the climate debate has already become irrelevant. By the time Climategate episode 4986 elicits an “oops” from Al Gore, the UN’s global redistributionist machine will have long dispensed with its initial green premise and be onto justifying global socialism on its own terms.

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Another UN Anti-Israel Spectacle

If you were concerned that the United Nations is spending too much time on the massacres of civilians in Syria, or on the ongoing arrests of journalists in Turkey, or on the repression of women in Egypt, or on the persecution and murder of Christians in Nigeria and across the Arab Spring countries – you can set your mind at ease. Today, the UN Security Council will be focused on Israel:

The UN Security Council will on Wednesday hear a briefing on the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories which the United States had opposed… Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian coordinator, will give details on the impact of Israeli settlements at the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday morning as part of discussions on the Middle East, diplomats said. Morocco officially made the request for the briefing as the Arab representative on the 15-member council. The briefing would be “useful,” said Morocco’s UN ambassador Mohammed Loulichki.

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If you were concerned that the United Nations is spending too much time on the massacres of civilians in Syria, or on the ongoing arrests of journalists in Turkey, or on the repression of women in Egypt, or on the persecution and murder of Christians in Nigeria and across the Arab Spring countries – you can set your mind at ease. Today, the UN Security Council will be focused on Israel:

The UN Security Council will on Wednesday hear a briefing on the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories which the United States had opposed… Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian coordinator, will give details on the impact of Israeli settlements at the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday morning as part of discussions on the Middle East, diplomats said. Morocco officially made the request for the briefing as the Arab representative on the 15-member council. The briefing would be “useful,” said Morocco’s UN ambassador Mohammed Loulichki.

The AFP description that Morocco “officially made the request” is a little muted. What actually happened is that Morocco replaced Lebanon on the Security Council – yes, Iran’s Hezbollah-controlled proxy state has just now stepped down – and immediately hijacked a session on Children and Armed Conflict to demand time to talk about Israeli settlements.

Morocco’s electoral scene is dominated by the Islamist Justice and Development Party. Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara was picked out by Freedom House [PDF] for its “Worst of the Worst 2011″ list. And of course there’s something basically hypocritical about sidelining a genuine human rights issue to posture about human rights. But since this is the UN, it took just more than a week for Morocco to get its anti-Israel spectacle.

At the end of November, the UN’s Middle East peace envoy blamed the Middle East deadlock on Israeli settlement construction. Days after that, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on a call to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu about Palestinian funds, took the opportunity to criticize Israeli settlement construction. A few weeks later, Ambassador Rice – no particular fan of Israeli settlement construction – was moved to condemn the sum of the UN’s anti-Israel focus as “obsessive” and “ugly.” A week after that, the UNSC tried to issue a condemnation about Israeli settlement construction.

So you can see how the Moroccans might think there’s not enough time being spent at the UN on Israeli settlement construction.

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Learning from Clinton’s Mideast Mistakes

In 1974, Yasser Arafat delivered a famous address to the United Nations in which he said: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” It was meant as an implicit threat, and it underlined one of the dangers of the peace process: there was value in the two sides talking, but Arafat’s side promised to resort to violence if unsatisfied with the talks.

Arafat fulfilled his promise repeatedly over the years, but never more famously or with more damage to long-term prospects for peace than after the failure of the Clinton administration’s Camp David summit in 2000. At a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared US on Tuesday night, one of the negotiators involved in that summit, Aaron David Miller, said this:

In July 2000, we decided to recommend to Bill Clinton to go to Camp David to try to create a conflict-ending solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Do you realize that a dozen years after that summit, we are still paying for the lack of wisdom and the recklessness of that decision? Israelis and Palestinians have not yet recovered from the trauma of those ten years, because we believed in an effort to do something in the face of a desperate situation, that we could make it better. This notion is reckless, and it’s not well thought through.

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In 1974, Yasser Arafat delivered a famous address to the United Nations in which he said: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” It was meant as an implicit threat, and it underlined one of the dangers of the peace process: there was value in the two sides talking, but Arafat’s side promised to resort to violence if unsatisfied with the talks.

Arafat fulfilled his promise repeatedly over the years, but never more famously or with more damage to long-term prospects for peace than after the failure of the Clinton administration’s Camp David summit in 2000. At a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared US on Tuesday night, one of the negotiators involved in that summit, Aaron David Miller, said this:

In July 2000, we decided to recommend to Bill Clinton to go to Camp David to try to create a conflict-ending solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Do you realize that a dozen years after that summit, we are still paying for the lack of wisdom and the recklessness of that decision? Israelis and Palestinians have not yet recovered from the trauma of those ten years, because we believed in an effort to do something in the face of a desperate situation, that we could make it better. This notion is reckless, and it’s not well thought through.

The wisdom of the Bush administration that followed was to recognize–though without saying it explicitly–just how much the Clinton administration had wrecked the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It’s nice to see Miller–who, by the way, encouraged the reelection of Barack Obama Tuesday night–admit it as well.

But the question now is, what should be done instead? That was the topic of the debate, which was entitled: “The U.N. should admit Palestine as a full member state.” It pitted, for the motion, Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouthi and the New America Foundation and J Street’s Daniel Levy against Israeli diplomat Dore Gold and Miller.

The whole debate is worth watching, which can be done at Intelligence Squared’s website. But, aside from the brutal honesty about some of the worst features of Clinton’s diplomatic destruction in the Middle East, one aspect jumped out at me. Barghouthi and Levy made it clear the main goal of U.N. recognition would be to immediately declare the 1949 armistice lines as official borders and deem every last Israeli over those lines–including in Jerusalem–an illegal nuisance over whom the PLO now had sovereignty.

Both Miller and Gold raised this point out of concern that borders should be negotiated, not declared, and that if the Palestinians declare their borders then Israel will have every right to do the same–and in fact would be forced to out of an obligation to protect Jews living in an area the Palestinians have deemed should be Judenrein the moment such borders are set.

Gold was asked why the declaration of a Palestinian state at the U.N. would necessarily set those borders. Gold responded: “Well, what if the very resolution itself states that the borders will be the June 4 [1967] lines? Is the Palestinian side willing to relinquish that phraseology from a Security Council resolution?”

In response, Barghouthi tried valiantly to avoid answering the question, but moderator John Donvan pressed him on each dodge. Finally, Barghouthi said this: “I think there are four issues for negotiation. There is settlements, there is the borders, there is the issue of refugees, there is the issue of Jerusalem. Nobody said that admitting us to the U.N. will mean that we will not negotiate about all these issues.”

In other words, no, he would not agree to drop the June 4, 1967 lines from the resolution. He then said this: “As one final point, please, it’s very dangerous to say we admit, we accept Palestinian[s], that they should have a state, but we don’t agree with ‘67 borders because what that means is that you want us to have a Bantustan like there was in South Africa.”

There went any hint Barghouthi would be willing to fulfill an agreement even Arafat agreed to, which was to make borders subject to final-status negotiations.

It should be clear why this is significantly more dangerous than even the formulation that the two sides should agree to set the 1949/67 lines as the basis for negotiations and go from there. The Palestinian insistence on pulling this stunt at the U.N. tells you why the U.S. is so vehemently opposed to it. As Miller suggested, the pain and suffering inflicted upon the Israelis and Palestinians by the foolhardy Clinton administration is no excuse to encourage its desperate sequel.

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Ronald Reagan on Democracy

The unfolding revolution in Egypt has provoked a wider debate about what has been called the “freedom agenda.” At the heart of this debate is whether the United States should champion democratic ideals. Some people, including many conservatives, are deeply skeptical of the wisdom of promoting democracy, arguing that some nations (most especially in the Islamic and Arab world) are unprepared for freedom. Making democracy and human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy is therefore unwise and, in many cases, injurious to America’s national interests.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the words of the most important conservative figure of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan said plenty about democracy — including during his June 8, 1982, Westminster Address. That speech is worth quoting extensively, since Reagan laid out his argument with intelligence and care.

“Democracy is not a fragile flower,” Reagan said. “Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.”

America’s 40th president went on to say this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections. The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.

In practice, Reagan did not place talisman-like powers in democracy, and he wasn’t stupid in his application of the principles he enunciated. He didn’t favor destabilizing pro-American authoritarian regimes if they were going to be replaced by anti-American totalitarian ones. Statesmanship involves the prudential application of principles to particular situations and moments in time, something at which Reagan excelled. Read More

The unfolding revolution in Egypt has provoked a wider debate about what has been called the “freedom agenda.” At the heart of this debate is whether the United States should champion democratic ideals. Some people, including many conservatives, are deeply skeptical of the wisdom of promoting democracy, arguing that some nations (most especially in the Islamic and Arab world) are unprepared for freedom. Making democracy and human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy is therefore unwise and, in many cases, injurious to America’s national interests.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the words of the most important conservative figure of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan said plenty about democracy — including during his June 8, 1982, Westminster Address. That speech is worth quoting extensively, since Reagan laid out his argument with intelligence and care.

“Democracy is not a fragile flower,” Reagan said. “Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.”

America’s 40th president went on to say this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections. The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.

In practice, Reagan did not place talisman-like powers in democracy, and he wasn’t stupid in his application of the principles he enunciated. He didn’t favor destabilizing pro-American authoritarian regimes if they were going to be replaced by anti-American totalitarian ones. Statesmanship involves the prudential application of principles to particular situations and moments in time, something at which Reagan excelled.

Still, there is no denying the centrality that freedom and human rights played in American foreign policy during the Reagan years. And those who are consistently skeptical about proclaiming the inalienable and universal rights of all human beings — who when they speak about democracy promotion these days almost always do so in critical terms — are standing shoulder-to-shoulder not with Reagan but with Henry Kissinger.

Secretary Kissinger, after all, downplayed the role of morality in foreign policy. He believed that the United States should largely ignore the human-rights violations of other nations. Democracy promotion for him was a peripheral concern, and sometimes not even that.

Oh, and Dr. Kissinger was (in the 1976 primary challenge against Gerald Ford) Reagan’s bete noire, and the Reagan presidency in important respects a repudiation of Kissinger’s realpolitik.

I admire much about Henry Kissinger. But on this, as on so much else, Ronald Reagan was right.

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Media- and NGO-Fueled Ignorance on Egypt and Tunisia

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

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Could an Unstable Egypt Bring Israel and the U.S. Closer?

At Politico, Walter Russell Mead analyzes what the possible outcome in Egypt could mean for the U.S.-Israel relationship. He writes that if an extremist government ends up replacing President Hosni Mubarak, this could lead to a renewed closeness between the U.S. and Israel:

[W]hile U.S. debate over the costs of our alliance with Israel could sharpen, the United States is likely to draw closer to Israel if the regional climate grows more polarized. Between 50 percent and two-thirds of the American people routinely tell pollsters they believe Israel is a close ally that the United States should support. Israel is one of a small number of countries that a majority of Americans say they are willing to defend with military force.

While Israel seems relatively secure, that majority argues about whether the best way to help Israel is to push it toward concessions to the Palestinians or to support it as it hangs tough.

But when Israel comes under threat, those arguments fade into the background.

Obviously it wouldn’t be good for Israel if an extremist government took over in Egypt. But it would also reaffirm the U.S.’s strategic reliance on the Jewish state, and highlight Israel’s position as the only U.S. ally in the region.

According to Mead, this intensified national support for Israel would likely lead to a closer relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government. At the same time, this development could also alienate parts of Obama’s left-wing base:

At the same time, a vocal American minority — ranging from the “truther” far left through parts of the respectable foreign policy establishment and extending out into the Buchananite far right — asserts that strong U.S. support for Israel endangers our vital interests throughout the Middle East.

If a radical government should emerge in Egypt, it could strengthen this conviction among the opponents of the U.S.-Israel relationship. They will likely redouble their efforts to distance Washington from Israel.

The situation in Egypt is so erratic that it’s hard to guess what will happen in a week, let alone six months from now. But supposing Mead’s calculation proves correct, here’s one prediction: the line between Israel’s supporters and enemies would be clearer. And phony friends of Israel who push anti-Israel policies — like a UN resolution condemning the Jewish state — will have a much harder time finding political support within the Obama administration or with members of Congress.

At Politico, Walter Russell Mead analyzes what the possible outcome in Egypt could mean for the U.S.-Israel relationship. He writes that if an extremist government ends up replacing President Hosni Mubarak, this could lead to a renewed closeness between the U.S. and Israel:

[W]hile U.S. debate over the costs of our alliance with Israel could sharpen, the United States is likely to draw closer to Israel if the regional climate grows more polarized. Between 50 percent and two-thirds of the American people routinely tell pollsters they believe Israel is a close ally that the United States should support. Israel is one of a small number of countries that a majority of Americans say they are willing to defend with military force.

While Israel seems relatively secure, that majority argues about whether the best way to help Israel is to push it toward concessions to the Palestinians or to support it as it hangs tough.

But when Israel comes under threat, those arguments fade into the background.

Obviously it wouldn’t be good for Israel if an extremist government took over in Egypt. But it would also reaffirm the U.S.’s strategic reliance on the Jewish state, and highlight Israel’s position as the only U.S. ally in the region.

According to Mead, this intensified national support for Israel would likely lead to a closer relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government. At the same time, this development could also alienate parts of Obama’s left-wing base:

At the same time, a vocal American minority — ranging from the “truther” far left through parts of the respectable foreign policy establishment and extending out into the Buchananite far right — asserts that strong U.S. support for Israel endangers our vital interests throughout the Middle East.

If a radical government should emerge in Egypt, it could strengthen this conviction among the opponents of the U.S.-Israel relationship. They will likely redouble their efforts to distance Washington from Israel.

The situation in Egypt is so erratic that it’s hard to guess what will happen in a week, let alone six months from now. But supposing Mead’s calculation proves correct, here’s one prediction: the line between Israel’s supporters and enemies would be clearer. And phony friends of Israel who push anti-Israel policies — like a UN resolution condemning the Jewish state — will have a much harder time finding political support within the Obama administration or with members of Congress.

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State Dept: Turkey’s Report on Flotilla ‘Independent and Credible’

You’ve got to be kidding:

QUESTION: I just — on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into [the flotilla incident]. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t — wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent…

QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has –

QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel, so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So — but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.

QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis’?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one … [crosstalk] Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year. [emphasis added]

Actually, the Turkish report, which accused Israel of mowing down civilians from a helicopter before any commandos landed, was neither credible nor independent. There’s a helpful chart up at Daled Amos that compares it with the Israeli investigation that exonerated the commandos, the emphasis being placed on Turkey’s near-total lack of credibility. We don’t know how the Turkish commission was empowered to compel testimony or what testimony it heard, and we can’t reverse-engineer the issue because the public hasn’t been given the report. We don’t even who was on the Turkish commission. Read More

You’ve got to be kidding:

QUESTION: I just — on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into [the flotilla incident]. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t — wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.

MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent…

QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has –

QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel, so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So — but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.

QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis’?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one … [crosstalk] Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year. [emphasis added]

Actually, the Turkish report, which accused Israel of mowing down civilians from a helicopter before any commandos landed, was neither credible nor independent. There’s a helpful chart up at Daled Amos that compares it with the Israeli investigation that exonerated the commandos, the emphasis being placed on Turkey’s near-total lack of credibility. We don’t know how the Turkish commission was empowered to compel testimony or what testimony it heard, and we can’t reverse-engineer the issue because the public hasn’t been given the report. We don’t even who was on the Turkish commission.

What we do know is that the Israeli investigation was headed by a former Supreme Court justice and supervised by foreign observers, while Ankara’s commission was an internal government investigation closed to observers. So not so much with the independence either.

Of course, the U.S. government has an obligation to maintain ties with NATO member Turkey. We’ve got nukes there, among other interests. But Turkey’s report is going to be cited to formally condemn Israel in international forums, just like the Goldstone Report is still being cited in ostensibly binding resolutions. Turkey is already trying to mainstream its lies from the other direction, in the form of a vicious anti-Jewish film of the kind not seen on the Continent since the 1940s. The cross-pollination between anti-Semitic venom and international “findings” is a real one — Durban I and II have proved as much — and the Turkish claim is not a “contradictory point of view” or a “valid perspective.” It’s a blood libel.

Eventually, the U.S. will have to decide whether it wants to stop anti-Semitic invective of the kind found in the Turkish report from becoming an international resolution. If it does, U.S. diplomats will need to state the truth, as demonstrated by everything from videos to Turkish journalists on the Mavi Marmara: terrorist supporters backed by the Turkish government attempted to break a legal blockade imposed on a terrorist group seeking a UN member’s annihilation, and those terrorists’ supporters ambushed troops who attempted to nonviolently intercept them. U.S. diplomats will also have to insist that implying otherwise is simply untenable.

Saying the opposite now, even in an attempt to kick the can down the road, will make that task awkward.

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RE: RE: Oh, Man, Not Another Sputnik Moment …

J.E. Dyer’s reaction to my post on the “Sputnik moment” theme prompts this reflection: as a conservative, you can cite examples like the academy’s treatment of the Cold War all day long. If you’re a historian, you can point to the Arming America saga, which revealed that a few Second Amendment supporters and amateur historians had a better grasp of historical methodology and reality than the distinguished committee that awarded the Bancroft Prize to that faked book (and then was forced to take it back). If you’re interested in climate change, you can point, today, to the UN report on the non-melting glaciers of the Himalayas, and the shabby way that the UN panel — headed by a railway engineer — cribbed its so-called data from the World Wildlife Fund.

But always, the center-left returns, with mule-like stubbornness, to its default position: conservatives are stupid, probably on the corporate payroll somehow, and all the hubbub is just sound and fury around what are basically minor and unimportant issues. It’s J.E.’s disillusioning Cold War story all over again, in other words. The consensus on the value of often-politicized expert opinion — a consensus that derives from the Progressive Era — is so strong that even when the Cold War ended, and the so-called experts were demonstrably proved to have been wrong about it, the consensus endured.  It’s not really a belief, per se. It’s a default mentality.

I’d like to go with J.E. and say this is the result of the educational system. But, unfortunately, while I agree that higher education isn’t helping, I fear — perhaps she agrees with me — that it’s as much symptom as it is cause.

J.E. Dyer’s reaction to my post on the “Sputnik moment” theme prompts this reflection: as a conservative, you can cite examples like the academy’s treatment of the Cold War all day long. If you’re a historian, you can point to the Arming America saga, which revealed that a few Second Amendment supporters and amateur historians had a better grasp of historical methodology and reality than the distinguished committee that awarded the Bancroft Prize to that faked book (and then was forced to take it back). If you’re interested in climate change, you can point, today, to the UN report on the non-melting glaciers of the Himalayas, and the shabby way that the UN panel — headed by a railway engineer — cribbed its so-called data from the World Wildlife Fund.

But always, the center-left returns, with mule-like stubbornness, to its default position: conservatives are stupid, probably on the corporate payroll somehow, and all the hubbub is just sound and fury around what are basically minor and unimportant issues. It’s J.E.’s disillusioning Cold War story all over again, in other words. The consensus on the value of often-politicized expert opinion — a consensus that derives from the Progressive Era — is so strong that even when the Cold War ended, and the so-called experts were demonstrably proved to have been wrong about it, the consensus endured.  It’s not really a belief, per se. It’s a default mentality.

I’d like to go with J.E. and say this is the result of the educational system. But, unfortunately, while I agree that higher education isn’t helping, I fear — perhaps she agrees with me — that it’s as much symptom as it is cause.

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Why Did Peace Talks Fail? Abbas Wouldn’t Take the Pen and Sign

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status. Read More

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status.

These concessions represented grave setbacks to Israeli security and Jewish rights. Israel’s past experience with international security forces along its borders are mixed, though the horrible record of United Nations forces in Lebanon — which allowed terrorists free access to the frontier — is a reminder of the cost of relying on foreign troops to guarantee Israeli security. Similarly, it should be noted that the only period during which Jews — and members of other faiths — have had full access to sacred spots has been since 1967. Prior to that, Jewish access to the holy places was virtually nonexistent. Olmert’s reliance on the goodwill of an international community that has never been particularly concerned with Jewish rights was extraordinary. And as for the refugees, his willingness to allow some back into Israel and to compensate the others completely ignores the fact that the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were forced out of their homes after 1948 seem to have been completely forgotten in his pact with Abbas.

Olmert would have had a difficult time selling such a terrible deal to Israelis, but the odds are they would have accepted it if it meant that the Palestinians were truly willing to end the conflict. But it never came to that. Why? It was simply because Abbas couldn’t bring himself to take yes for an answer. For all the chatter about how many concessions the Palestinians were willing to make, when it came to actually making peace and taking the best deal possible, Abbas was no different from his old boss Yasir Arafat, who turned down Bill Clinton and the Israelis at Camp David in 2000.

As Olmert tells it, on Sept. 16, 2008, in a meeting at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli handed Abbas a map showing his Palestinian state including parts of Jerusalem.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] said that he could not decide and that he needed time,” Mr. Olmert writes. “I told him that he was making an historic mistake.

“ ‘Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,’ he said to me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is fairer or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving this.’”

Abbas and Olmert never met again. Faced with an opportunity to end the conflict and create the Palestinian state that has supposedly been his movement’s goal, Abbas couldn’t take the pen and sign because he knew that the culture of Palestinian politics was such that he could not persuade his people to compromise. The essence of Palestinian nationalism has always been and remains the negation of both Zionism and the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Concede that and there is no Palestinian nationalism. So once again, the Palestinians walked away from peace.

Yesterday Abbas’s top negotiator, Saeb Erekat, claimed in an article in the Guardian that the Al Jazeera documents show that the Palestinians had no partner for peace. We will continue to hear more big lies from the Palestinians and their Western cheerleaders in the future. But the truth is, as Abbas’s refusal to take the pen proves, even the most moderate Palestinian leaders still can’t make peace.

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