Commentary Magazine


Topic: West Bank

The Israeli “Land Grab” and Hopes for Peace

Those intransigent Israelis have done it again. Just when the world was hoping for gestures of peace, they’ve done something making the two-state solution with the Palestinians harder to implement. Or so most of the world is claiming today after Israel’s government declared that 988 acres of vacant land in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem is “state land” and therefore might be used for development. But the diplomatic condemnation raining down on the Israelis today is illogical and has very little to do with the terms of what a real peace deal might look like. If the Palestinians really wanted peace, this move wouldn’t affect it in the least.

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Those intransigent Israelis have done it again. Just when the world was hoping for gestures of peace, they’ve done something making the two-state solution with the Palestinians harder to implement. Or so most of the world is claiming today after Israel’s government declared that 988 acres of vacant land in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem is “state land” and therefore might be used for development. But the diplomatic condemnation raining down on the Israelis today is illogical and has very little to do with the terms of what a real peace deal might look like. If the Palestinians really wanted peace, this move wouldn’t affect it in the least.

As the New York Times reported today, the seizure of the vacant land is being considered proof that the Netanyahu government doesn’t want peace. It was condemned by the Palestinian Authority, the United Kingdom, and even criticized by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. But the way the story is being presented in the mainstream press is highly misleading.

The New York Times simply refers to the land in its headline as “West Bank Land Near Bethlehem.” That’s true in that the place is in the area taken by Israel in June 1967 and it is near the city of Bethlehem. But savvy readers should have picked up on the mention in the story of the fact that it is “in” a settlement bloc. Though the Peace Now organization condemned the move as one that would “dramatically change the reality” in the area, since it is already inside an area that is heavily populated by Jews and claimed by the Jewish state, it’s hard to see how anything that happens inside it would affect the future of other parts of the West Bank which might theoretically be conceded to the Palestinians as part of an independent state.

But this isn’t just any settlement bloc; it’s Gush Etzion. That may not mean much to Americans, let alone Europeans who can be counted on to condemn anything the Israelis do, but it does put the matter of whether this decision actually affects possible peace negotiations in perspective.

It needs to be remembered that most peace advocates keep telling us that the terms of peace between Israel and the Palestinians are well known and that all that is needed is the will to implement them rather than more discussions about the details. But among those terms is the concept of territorial swaps that was endorsed by President Obama and even approved by the Palestinian participants in the Geneva initiatives. The swaps would allow Israel to keep the blocs of settlements—most of which are adjacent to the 1967 lines—in exchange for other territory to be given to the Palestinians. While there is some dispute as to which blocs are part of this consensus, there is no doubt that one of them is the Etzion bloc.

There are two reasons for the assumption that Gush Etzion stays inside of Israel even if a Palestinian state is created in the West Bank.

One is that it is just south of Jerusalem and requires no great manipulation of the map. It guards the southern flank of Israel’s capital and the area containing 22 Jewish communities with over 70,000 living there can be retained while leaving Bethlehem inside a putative Palestinian state.

But this land is also significant because, contrary to the narrative in which Jews are portrayed as “stealing” Arab land, Gush Etzion was actually populated and owned by Jews not only prior to 1967 but also prior to Israel’s War of Independence. Gush Etzion was a bloc of Jewish settlements that was overrun by Jordanian army units and local Palestinians after a bitterly contested siege. Its inhabitants were either massacred or taken prisoner and their homes and farms destroyed. As such, it was the first land to be reclaimed for Jewish settlement after the 1967 war put it back in Israeli hands.

Let’s be clear about this. Neither the ownership nor the future of Gush Etzion is up for debate in any peace talks. In every peace plan, whether put forward by Israel’s government or its left-wing opponents, the bloc remains part of Israel, a reality that most sensible Palestinians accept.

The legal dispute about whether empty land can be converted to state use for development or settlement or if it is actually the property of neighboring Arab villages is one that will play itself out in Israel’s courts. Given the scrupulous manner with which Israel’s independent judiciary has handled such cases in the past, if the local Arabs can prove their dubious assertions of ownership, the land will be theirs.

But no matter who wins that case, it won’t affect the territory of a Palestinian state since whether individual Arabs own these lots or Jews won’t make a difference in peace talks. If Jews wind up living there it won’t impact the future borders of a Palestinian state any more than the fact that Arabs are building on lots in Bethlehem.

Why then is the Gush Etzion land decision being represented as such a blow to a peace process that was already torpedoed earlier this year by the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation fact and rendered even more unlikely by the terrorist war of attrition launched by Hamas this summer?

The reason is fairly obvious. The Palestinians and their cheerleaders aren’t really interested in negotiating peace and drawing lines that could effectively divide the land even on terms favorable to their side. The Obama-endorsed land swaps that would include Gush Etzion or any other possible provisions to achieve peace are irrelevant to their goals because it is still impossible for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

That’s a fact that pro-peace Israelis like Livni and others here in the United States need to understand. Livni didn’t condemn the Etzion announcement because she believes it actually could impact the terms of a peace deal. She knows it won’t. Rather, she thinks that the move will draw attention to the area and encourage Arabs and foreign governments to advocate for Israel to give up even this land that Jews originally owned. But whether or not attention is drawn to the bloc, the Palestinians are no more willing to let the Jews keep it than they are to let them keep any other part of the West Bank or those lands that were inside the pre-67 lines.

Livni, like some other Israelis, is also uncomfortable with the idea that the motivation for this decision is to send a message to the Arabs about terrorism. Giving more land for Jewish settlement in this area may also be a response to the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers that set off the war with Hamas since the trio were taken and killed in this very area. Sending such a message is a policy that can be debated, but whether or not it is wise or appropriate has nothing to do with the terms of peace.

The Gush Etzion announcement is no land grab. It concerns vacant lots inside an area that will always be kept as part of Israel. But the anger that it generated does send a signal to Israel that the Palestinians aren’t going to accept their continued presence in any part of the country. That’s bad news for peace but remedying it will require a shift toward acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy among the Palestinians, not the surrender of Jewish communities.

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Can Abbas Challenge Hamas? Not Likely.

After 50 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, many in the international community are hoping the cease-fire will encourage a revival of the Middle East peace talks between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority that collapsed this past spring. But while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has welcomed the possibility, at least in theory, he does have one request of PA head Mahmoud Abbas: divorce Hamas. Is he being unreasonable?

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After 50 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas, many in the international community are hoping the cease-fire will encourage a revival of the Middle East peace talks between the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority that collapsed this past spring. But while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has welcomed the possibility, at least in theory, he does have one request of PA head Mahmoud Abbas: divorce Hamas. Is he being unreasonable?

The short answer is no.

Abbas has been the darling of the Western media and the Obama administration in recent years largely because of their antipathy for Netanyahu. His popularity has only increased recently because of the implicit comparison with Hamas whose decision to plunge the country into war resulted in death and destruction for the people of Gaza and achieved nothing for the Palestinians. Nothing, that is, except the satisfaction of killing 70 Jews and the spectacle of seeing most Israelis being obligated to run back and forth to bomb shelters to evade the largely ineffectual Hamas barrage of thousands of rockets. Hamas started the conflict when its members kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teens and they relentlessly escalated it at every turn despite Netanyahu’s acceptance of cease-fire offers that would have saved most of those Palestinians who were killed in the fighting.

This behavior was egregious enough that even Abbas felt he could get away with criticizing his Islamist rivals when he said this week that all of the deaths, injuries and damage done by the fighting could have been avoided and questioning the future of his unity pact with Hamas. But Abbas, who reportedly met with Netanyahu earlier this week, isn’t likely to throw Hamas out of his PA government. Though Hamas is unlikely to ever allow the PA back into Gaza as they agreed, the unity pact signed this past spring was Abbas’s ticket out of negotiations with Israel and, as such, allows him to posture as if he wants peace to Western audiences while reminding fellow Palestinians that he is just as committed to the long war against Israel as the Islamists.

The gap between reality and what Abbas says in public gets bigger all the time. While Abbas talks big about going back to the United Nations in order to force Israel to completely withdraw from the West Bank, there’s not much secret about the fact that the only thing keeping him in secure possession of his headquarters in Ramallah, not to mention, his life, is the protection afforded him by Israel’s security services. As the news about a planned Hamas coup against Abbas that was foiled by the Shin Bet proved, the last thing the PA leader actually wants is a West Bank without an Israeli security presence.

Yet if Abbas was really serious about obtaining an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem, he must know that the only way to do so is to convince Israelis that it would not turn into another version of Gaza. Israelis remember that they withdrew every soldier, settlement and settler from Gaza in 2005 in the hope of encouraging peace only to realize that what they had done was to provide Hamas with the opportunity of running a terrorist state on their doorstop. Given the ease with which Hamas ousted Fatah from the strip, it’s fair to ask why anyone would expect a different outcome if a similar experiment were tried in the West Bank.

Yet despite everything, Abbas clings to the pact with Hamas as if somehow this will save him. It won’t.

If we assume that Abbas truly wants a peace deal with Israel and statehood rather than just an excuse to keep avoiding peace talks, there is actually only one path to that outcome. While Netanyahu speaks of the necessity of a Fatah-Hamas divorce, what is needed is a PA decision to finally break with Hamas and to fight it just as Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has done with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Israel would love to see Abbas march into Gaza and oust Hamas from control as the unity pact supposedly promised. But given the weakness of the PA forces and the resolute nature of Hamas’s armed cadres (who massacred Fatah supporters when they seized the strip in a 2007 coup) that has about as much chance of happening as the Fatah government ridding itself of corruption. But if a two-state solution is to become a reality rather than a theory that is what it will take.

Until it does, all discussions of Israeli withdrawals or PA statehood initiatives are merely hot air. In his 10 years of power, Abbas has never shown the slightest indication that he is willing to do what it takes to achieve peace as opposed to just posture in order to appear belligerent in front of his own people. If Abbas is not a cipher that will never challenge Hamas, then he’s going to have to prove it. Unfortunately, nothing we have seen before, during or after the summer war with Hamas should lead anyone to think that he can.

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Hamas Coup Should Change Truce Equation

The news that Israel’s security services foiled a plot by Hamas that was aimed at toppling the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank will probably ignored by most of the Jewish state’s critics who are obsessed with damning its campaign in Gaza to suppress rocket fire and terror tunnel building. But rather than dismissing this as a minor story, those who are pushing Israel hard to make concessions to both Hamas and the PA should be paying closer attention to what the terrorists intend to do and the implication of their plans for a truce that would further empower the Islamists.

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The news that Israel’s security services foiled a plot by Hamas that was aimed at toppling the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank will probably ignored by most of the Jewish state’s critics who are obsessed with damning its campaign in Gaza to suppress rocket fire and terror tunnel building. But rather than dismissing this as a minor story, those who are pushing Israel hard to make concessions to both Hamas and the PA should be paying closer attention to what the terrorists intend to do and the implication of their plans for a truce that would further empower the Islamists.

The details of what Israel’s Shin Bet service discovered during the sweeps of the West Bank in May and June should curl Abbas’ hair. The group that he had embraced as a partner in the PA as a result of the unity pact he signed in April wasn’t planning on going along with Fatah’s leadership as Abbas and Secretary of State John Kerry naively believed. Instead they set up new terror cells in all the major towns and cities of the West Bank whose goal was to ultimately set off a new conflagration with Israel with a series of massive attacks throughout the area including one on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

What did Hamas think it could accomplish by pouring operatives, money, weapons and explosives into the West Bank? The point was to plunge the area into turmoil opening up a second front against Israel to relieve pressure on Hamas in Gaza as well as to make it impossible for Abbas to pretend to govern the West Bank.

This ought to change the conversation about the terms of the truce that the United States has been pushing Israel to accept to formally conclude the recent hostilities in Gaza. If, as reported, the West has pressured Israel to accept a loosening of the blockade on Gaza — the key Hamas demand throughout the fighting — then we can be sure that this summer’s bloodshed will be repeated before long. While it is hoped that easing the isolation of Gaza will ameliorate the suffering of Palestinians and perhaps even help Abbas gain back control of the strip, so long as Hamas is still armed and in power there, these hopes are in vain. Open borders for Gaza means an inevitable resupply of the Hamas arsenal, more building materials for tunnels and the rest of the underground city that enables the Islamist movement to continue fighting while its human hostages above ground continue to die every time they pick another fight with Israel.

But the decision to acquiesce to any of Hamas’s demands will have consequences for more than the future of Gaza. The assumption that Abbas can continue to hang on to the West Bank and maybe even assume some power in Gaza is based on the idea that Hamas is on the ropes and without options. But once the resupply of Hamas in Gaza begins, it will have serious implications for Abbas’s future.

The only reason Abbas has stayed in power in the West Bank is the protection he gets from Israel’s army and security services. But the more chances Hamas gets to topple him the more likely it is that sooner or later, the Islamist will launch the third intifada they are aiming at even if the Shin Bet manages to save Abbas’s hide. Any outcome in Gaza that can be portrayed as victory for Hamas will only hasten the day when that intifada will start with its consequent massive shedding of blood on both sides.

Those who have spoken of Hamas, as having evolved to the point where it is a legitimate political force and not a terror group should have had lost their illusions about the group amid the rocket launches and the discovery of the tunnels. But the revelation about the coup attempt should remove any doubt as to the Islamists’ intentions. The Obama administration, which has been eager to push Israel to do something to allow Hamas a way out of the conflict, should realize that the coup should end its illusions about Palestinian unity and the ability of Abbas to make peace while partnering with the terrorists.

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“Parallel States” Plan for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is a Recipe for Disaster

I have long argued that the Oslo framework holds back the two-state solution by tying each side to a rigid set of parameters that “everybody knows” and yet nobody seems to want. The process can be disrupted and reshaped without giving up on the idea of two states for two peoples. In fact, I imagine a bit of creativity would help things along.

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I have long argued that the Oslo framework holds back the two-state solution by tying each side to a rigid set of parameters that “everybody knows” and yet nobody seems to want. The process can be disrupted and reshaped without giving up on the idea of two states for two peoples. In fact, I imagine a bit of creativity would help things along.

With that said, solutions that are radically different are not automatically preferable just because of their radicalism. At Tablet, Mathias Mossberg has published an adaptation from the new book on the conflict he edited, One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States. It is a long read, but interesting and imaginative. It is also, however, deeply misguided, unrealistic, and a formula for trouble as far as the eye can see.

Mossberg’s basic idea is one of “Parallel States,” in which both Israel and the Palestinian territories would become part of one state structure but divide sovereignty among the individuals of this modified “condominium” based on religion, ethnicity, or personal preference. It’s worth reading the whole piece to see how Mossberg has fleshed out the plan, but here is the crux:

In a Parallel States structure, one Israeli state and one Palestinian would both cover the whole area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. In such a scenario, military, political, and economic barriers would be lifted, and a joint security and defense policy, a common and equitable economic policy, and joint and harmonized legislation would replace existing divisions. Such a structure would allow both for an independent Palestinian state and for Israel to be both Jewish and democratic at the same time. It would bring an end to occupation and would permit free movement over the whole area for both peoples, as well as providing a vision for an end of conflict.

There are a few points to make in response. The first is that the bureaucracy such a structure would create would be a nightmare–it would make the current Israeli bureaucracy look like a floating libertarian utopia in comparison. How to adjudicate a neighborly dispute when each is a “citizen” of a different state authority on the same land? What if someone changes citizenship, since personal choice is an option here? Which law applies to their past contracts? Employment terms? Accumulated physical and intellectual property?

Second, Mossberg relies on a few tropes to sign the two-state solution’s death certificate, such as discredited demographic time bomb fears and the idea that settlements contribute to a state of affairs that is making a Palestinian state in the West Bank virtually impossible, which is not remotely true and glosses over the lack of outward expansion of the settlements over the last decade-plus. Any solution to the conflict that’s based on false premises, as Mossberg’s is, should raise red flags immediately.

Third, Mossberg doesn’t–at least in this lengthy essay–really grapple with the toughest obstacles. Here is his section on security:

Security and defense would be of paramount importance in a Parallel States structure, as well as in a more conventional two-state structure. This poses particularly vital questions, in that security is a basic need for each side in existential and concrete ways. To craft a common Israeli-Palestinian security strategy, outlining how Israelis and Palestinians could cooperate and ultimately join forces in a common security system, covering external borders as well as internal order, is a challenge that should not be underestimated.

A joint external security envelope, with a high degree of cooperation on external security and with joint or coordinated external border control, has to be envisaged. It is worth noting, though, that already today there are elements of an internal security structure that contains separate institutions and security forces, but also a high degree of coordination.

Yes, it would be a challenge. How might it be solved? Not with academic platitudes, that’s for sure.

Fourth, Mossberg all but cheers the end of the Westphalian order. This strikes me as a mistake. Just because the nation state is struggling in the modern era does not mean it deserves to perish. It’s true that Mossberg is not removing sovereignty when he removes the nation state. But it would be a step backward in global order–possibly with major repercussions elsewhere.

Finally, there is the reason we are having this discussion, at least according to Mossberg: Gaza. The recent Gaza war, he says, probably signals the end of the traditional two-state solution. But his Parallel State structure calls for the erasure of borders. Israel and the PA in the West Bank have established some very constructive avenues for security cooperation, though they would be challenged significantly by this state condominium-esque arrangement.

Gaza, on the other hand, is a different entity entirely. Yet Mossberg mostly treats Gaza as a question of economic integration, with not nearly enough energy devoted to the much greater question of security. Gaza is led by Hamas. The terrorist group won’t disappear just by having its official authority taken away. How could Hamas be integrated into a borderless Israeli-Palestinian state project? The answer is: it couldn’t, not in a way that would enable the survival of the state structure.

If the answer is, then, that Hamas has to be routed and replaced in Gaza, then that seems to be an argument for the rejuvenation of the two-state solution, not its abandonment. In any case, the Parallel States structure is not the answer.

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The Price in Palestinian Lives of Israel’s Gaza Pullout

Last week, I noted that Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza has cost the lives of more Israeli soldiers than remaining in Gaza would have. But no less significant is the fact that Israel’s pullout has cost the lives of far more Palestinians than remaining in Gaza would have.

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Last week, I noted that Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza has cost the lives of more Israeli soldiers than remaining in Gaza would have. But no less significant is the fact that Israel’s pullout has cost the lives of far more Palestinians than remaining in Gaza would have.

Here, too, a comparison to the second intifada is instructive. According to B’Tselem’s statistics, 1,727 Palestinians were killed in Gaza between September 2000, when the intifada began, and the August 2005 pullout. Since then, the numbers have soared. Another 1,271 Palestinians were killed between the pullout and December 2008, when the first Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began; 1,391 were killed during that war, and 481 between then and the start of the current war. That’s 3,143 Palestinian fatalities in total, and Palestinians claim another 1,600 or so have been killed during this war. So even if you assume, which I do, that B’Tselem’s numbers are exaggerated (it tends to believe Palestinian reports far too uncritically), the trend is undeniable: Since the pullout, Israeli-Palestinian fighting has produced more than twice as many Palestinian fatalities as the peak years of the second intifada did.

Moreover, as in the case of Israeli fatalities, this increase represents a sharp contrast to the trend in the West Bank, which the Israel Defense Forces still control: There, Palestinian fatalities have fallen from 1,491 between September 2000 and August 2005 to 395 in the nine years since August 2005, meaning annual fatalities have fallen by more than 85 percent (they haven’t dropped to zero because neither has Palestinian terror; terror attacks still kill Israelis every year, but the level is dramatically lower than at the height of the intifada).

The question is why Palestinian fatalities in Gaza have risen so sharply. The anti-Israel crowd will doubtless cite this fact as “proof” that recent Israeli premiers are even more bloodthirsty than “the butcher of Beirut,” as they fondly dubbed Ariel Sharon, the prime minister during the second intifada. But anyone not convinced that Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu are simply monsters who like eating Palestinian children for breakfast will have to consider the obvious alternative: Palestinian casualties have soared because the IDF’s departure from Gaza allowed terrorist organizations to entrench their rockets, tunnels, and explosives among the civilian population in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.

In the current war, Palestinians have stored rockets in schools and launched them from hospitals and from amid civilian houses. They have built cross-border tunnels to attack Israel that pass under civilian houses and emerge straight into a mosque. They have booby-trapped civilian houses and even health clinics. In short, by embedding their war material among the civilian population, Hamas and other terrorist organizations have made it impossible for the IDF to target them without also hitting civilians.

This Hamas strategy increases Palestinian casualties in another way as well: by magnifying the impact of any Israeli strike. Precision bombs can sometimes take out a building without touching the ones next to it. But precision strikes don’t work when the building they hit is booby-trapped or serves as a rocket warehouse; in that case, secondary explosions will create a much broader swathe of destruction. And Israel has no way of knowing when a target has been booby-trapped; Hamas doesn’t provide it with maps.

Problems like this didn’t arise when the IDF still controlled Gaza, because it could take preventive action to keep Hamas from entrenching war material in civilian areas to begin with. And that’s precisely why counterterrorism operations in the IDF-controlled West Bank have produced vastly lower Palestinian casualties.

Hamas certainly isn’t going to abandon its “dead baby strategy” voluntarily; conducting operations from amid a civilian population so as to maximize civilian casualties has proven wildly successful in turning the world against Israel. The conclusion is thus inescapable: Should the IDF ever leave the West Bank, the pullout won’t just result in more dead Israelis. It will certainly result in more dead Palestinians as well.

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IDF Fatalities Destroy Last Remaining Justification for Gaza Pullout

Has anyone noticed that the last remaining justification for Israel’s unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip has just disappeared? Proponents’ claims that the pullout would bring peace, security, and international support have long since been disproven; what it actually brought was 16,500 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza–including 13,800 before the current war began–and unprecedented international vitriol every time Israel tried to fight back (see the current anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe or the infamous Goldstone Report). Yet disengagement supporters still had one trump card to play: “At least our soldiers aren’t dying in Gaza anymore.” And to many Israelis, that gain was worth the terrible price.

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Has anyone noticed that the last remaining justification for Israel’s unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip has just disappeared? Proponents’ claims that the pullout would bring peace, security, and international support have long since been disproven; what it actually brought was 16,500 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza–including 13,800 before the current war began–and unprecedented international vitriol every time Israel tried to fight back (see the current anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe or the infamous Goldstone Report). Yet disengagement supporters still had one trump card to play: “At least our soldiers aren’t dying in Gaza anymore.” And to many Israelis, that gain was worth the terrible price.

But now, Israeli soldiers are once again dying in Gaza, at a rate that wipes out all the gains of the previous few years. Here are the figures, compiled from B’Tselem statistics:

Between the start of the second intifada, in September 2000, and the pullout in August 2005, 87 Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza. Over the next eight years, it’s not true that no soldiers died in Gaza, but military fatalities did drop significantly: Altogether, 33 soldiers were killed either in Gaza or in southern Israel by fire from Gaza.

Even that “achievement” is actually an indictment of the disengagement, because in the West Bank, which Israel didn’t quit, military fatalities fell far more sharply: from 136 between September 2000 and August 2005 to just 13 in the subsequent nine years. But since Operation Protective Edge began earlier this month, even this meager gain has disappeared: 53 soldiers have so far been killed in or by attacks from Gaza, and the number will likely continue climbing as the operation progresses. In other words, Gaza has now claimed 86 military fatalities from Israel since the pullout–almost identical to the 87 it claimed during the second intifada–even as military fatalities have fallen sharply in the West Bank.

In contrast, had the Israel Defense Forces remained in Gaza, military fatalities would almost certainly have registered a decline similar to that in the West Bank, because Hamas wouldn’t have been able do either of the two things that are now costing so many soldiers their lives: smuggle in vast quantities of sophisticated weaponry or build an extensive network of attack tunnels.

The bottom line, therefore, is that the last remaining “achievement” of the Gaza pullout has proved as chimerical as all its other vaunted achievements: The pullout hasn’t saved soldiers’ lives; it has almost certainly cost them.

To be clear, I never liked the argument that saving soldiers’ lives was worth the cost of incessant rocket fire on the south; soldiers are supposed to put their lives on the line to protect civilians, not the other way around. But I understand why it was so persuasive to many Israelis: Almost every Israeli has a father, husband, brother, or son in the army, while far fewer have relatives and friends in rocket-battered southern communities; thus many Israelis felt they personally benefited from the tradeoff, even if other Israelis were paying the price.

Now, however, even that illusion is gone: By quitting Gaza, not only has Israel gotten 16,500 rockets and mortars on its country, but it hasn’t saved the life of a single soldier. In fact, it has almost certainly lost more soldiers than it would have had it stayed.

Israel may have no choice but to reoccupy Gaza someday. But whether it does or not, one thing is crystal clear: It would be insane to repeat this experiment in the West Bank.

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Hamas and the New Middle East

The spiraling conflict between Israel and Hamas may be part of an unfortunately regular pattern, but the recent events were also an indication of the new Middle East. That was clear earlier this week when Haaretz’s Barak Ravid published the tick-tock of how the attempts to strike a truce collapsed. Secretary of State John Kerry was getting ready to pick up nuclear diplomacy with his Iranian interlocutors in Vienna when he offered to take a temporary diversion to the Middle East. But, each for their own reasons, “Egyptians and Israelis both politely rejected that offer, telling Kerry they are already in direct contact and didn’t need American mediation.”

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The spiraling conflict between Israel and Hamas may be part of an unfortunately regular pattern, but the recent events were also an indication of the new Middle East. That was clear earlier this week when Haaretz’s Barak Ravid published the tick-tock of how the attempts to strike a truce collapsed. Secretary of State John Kerry was getting ready to pick up nuclear diplomacy with his Iranian interlocutors in Vienna when he offered to take a temporary diversion to the Middle East. But, each for their own reasons, “Egyptians and Israelis both politely rejected that offer, telling Kerry they are already in direct contact and didn’t need American mediation.”

According to Ravid, the Israelis expected a visit from Kerry to be interpreted as pressure on Israel, a lesson probably learned from Kerry’s time as secretary of state thus far. The Egyptians, on the other hand, wanted to prove they could still play the role of mediator. But while that certainly could be true, it seems incomplete. The Egyptians, apparently, excluded Hamas from early deliberations to craft the truce. Whether the Egyptian leadership truly wanted a truce or not, it’s clear they were most concerned that the truce not undermine the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas or the Israeli leadership in favor of Hamas. As Avi Issacharoff writes in the Times of Israel:

Hamas wants this in order to bring an end to the blockade on Gaza, open the Rafah Border Crossing, and in many ways to ensure its own survival.

On Tuesday morning, many people in Israel raised an eyebrow at Hamas’s rejection of the Egyptian ceasefire. But if we examine the crisis from the prism of Egypt-Hamas relations, we can see things differently.

Cairo offered the organization the same language it rejected from the outset: quiet for quiet. But for Hamas, the big problem was the way the Egyptian ceasefire was presented: At the same time that Razi Hamid, Hamas representative in Gaza, received the Egyptian document, the initiative was already being published in the Egyptian media.

This was a humiliation for Hamas, since no one thought to consult with its leadership. And still, as even senior Hamas officials admit, there is no other mediator in the region. Just like real estate agents who have a monopoly on a certain area, Egypt has a monopoly on Israel-Hamas relations.

At the very least, the Egyptian leadership does not seem to be in any rush to see Hamas given any breathing space. And neither does Abbas, whose leverage over Hamas has become all the more important in light of the recent unity deal between Hamas and Fatah.

Abbas, arguably, had the most to lose in the continued Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Hamas was able to essentially shut down the country, sending Israelis fleeing to bomb shelters and disrupting air travel and Israel’s economic activity and productivity. This is where Hamas’s relative weakness works to its advantage among its own people. Israel may have superior firepower, and both Israel and Fatah may have the United States in their corner, but Hamas can bring life to a (temporary) standstill in Israel at a moment’s notice. They can make the argument that Abbas’s cooperation with Israel and his participation in the peace talks has done nothing to bring about the ostensible goal of an independent Palestine.

Hamas doesn’t care about that, having made clear its objective has nothing to do with a two-state solution but with a genocidal war against the Jewish state. As such, its ability to disrupt and sabotage any attempts at a peaceful solution are crucial to its own raison d’être. By the same token, then, any weakening of Hamas helps both Abbas and any prospects, however remote, for a negotiated solution.

So while Egypt’s “failure” to step in and constructively play the role of mediator has been lamented, the priorities of the new regime in Cairo are actually geared much more toward those of the West. The defeat of Hamas, its diplomatic isolation, and the depletion of its terrorist capabilities are not just beneficial to Israel but also to Egypt, the Palestinian Authority structure in the West Bank, and America and its allies’ desire to limit Iranian influence in the region.

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For Israel, a Little Disengagement Can Go a Very Long Way

It was news in 2006 when Hezbollah was hitting Haifa with rockets from Lebanon: Israel’s third largest city was now suddenly in reach of the Iranian terror proxy. Today, Haifa is being struck by rockets once again. But this time they are not coming from the northern border, but rather from far to Israel’s south in Gaza. Indeed, the warning sirens have even been heard in Nahariya to the north of Haifa. Almost the entirety of Israel is within reach of rockets from the small Gaza enclave.

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It was news in 2006 when Hezbollah was hitting Haifa with rockets from Lebanon: Israel’s third largest city was now suddenly in reach of the Iranian terror proxy. Today, Haifa is being struck by rockets once again. But this time they are not coming from the northern border, but rather from far to Israel’s south in Gaza. Indeed, the warning sirens have even been heard in Nahariya to the north of Haifa. Almost the entirety of Israel is within reach of rockets from the small Gaza enclave.

Prior to Israel’s 2005 evacuation from Gaza, when that move was being debated in the Knesset, several of Israel’s parliamentarians scoffed at the idea that retreat from Gaza would bring further rocket fire or greater insecurity. Rather, they insisted that this move was essential for bringing safety to the communities bordering Gaza. At the time Kadima MK Meir Shitrit scoffed “There is an argument according to which there will be a threat … a threat on the Negev communities, I have never before heard such a ridiculous argument.” Similarly, Meretz’s Ran Cohen declared “The disengagement is good for security. The right-wing people stood here and talked about kassams flying from here to there. I’m telling you … if we don’t get out of the Gaza strip in two or three years, maybe after one year, the range will reach Ashkelon!” How grateful most Israelis would be if Hamas rockets had only gotten as far as Ashkelon. As it is, more than seventy percent of the country is now under Hamas’s rocket barrage.

Yet, as much as disengagement from Gaza has been a security disaster for Israel, it is not at all clear what a feasible strategy for success might look like.

The prospect of permanently redeploying the IDF in the strip and sending Israel’s sons to police the backstreets of Gaza’s slums is virtually unthinkable. Equally, an attempt to overthrow Hamas and reinstate the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority there could also quickly unravel. Another alternative might be to permanently station Israel’s military along Gaza’s Philadelphi Corridor on the Egyptian border, so giving Israel greater ability to prevent the smuggling of weaponry into the strip. That, however, would mean that Israel would become solely responsible for Gaza’s borders, whereas at least as things currently stand the military blockade of Gaza is given added legitimacy by the fact that the Egyptians also help maintain it; not that one would know this from the popular discourse on the subject.

This question of legitimacy is no small matter for Israel in its handling of the threat from Gaza. A permanent Israeli presence in Gaza could easily become the source of much international condemnation. But that has to be contrasted with the existing scenario where, in addition to the necessity a constant military blockade of Gaza, there is a pattern of intensive conflicts breaking out every two or three years. These see a high casualty rate—albeit far lower than the figures for other similar conflicts—and that in turn causes a level of hysterical condemnation from parts of the media, the UN, and the streets of Europe, that greatly undermines Israel’s international standing.

It is with all this in mind that Israelis turn their gaze to low lying Samarian hills of the West Bank that overlook Israel’s densely populated central region, where the country’s international airport and the bulk of its energy infrastructure is situated. If a small-scale disengagement from Gaza can bring almost the entire country within range of Hamas rockets, then what might withdrawal from the West Bank bring? As Prime Minister Netanyahu noted on Friday, the West Bank could quickly become 20 Gazas. Even with the Iron Dome missile defense system, at present Israelis find themselves scurrying in and out of bomb shelters every few hours. How long can people realistically live like that? Besides, with every Iron Dome interception of a cheaply made kassam rocket costing tens of thousands of dollars, a war of attrition could quickly become completely unsustainable for the Israelis.

Preventing infiltration by militants attempting to breach Gaza’s border with Israel has proven a difficult and resource consuming task. The winding West Bank border is far longer and much closer to large population centers than the Gazan border is. And given that Iranian supplied anti-tank missiles have been fired at civilian traffic from Gaza, it is quite conceivable that similar attacks could emanate from a Palestinian controlled West Bank. After all, with the sheer volume of weaponry that has made its way beneath Gaza’s border with Egypt, it is highly likely that far more could cross undetected over the far lengthier Jordanian border with the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s words on Friday about not relinquishing control of territory west of the Jordan River will likely make sense to a growing number of Israelis. A little disengagement from Gaza has put almost the entire country within reach of Hamas rockets; what might a dramatically larger disengagement from the West Bank lead to?

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Does Obama Want 20 More Gazas?

Speaking today, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed not to cease Israel’s military operations against Hamas terrorists until his country’s people are “assured of quiet” as they coped with a weeklong rocket barrage from Gaza. But in explaining his position, he raised an important question that transcends the immediate confrontation: does the U.S. really expect Israel to tolerate a situation in which this battle will be duplicated on the West Bank?

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Speaking today, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed not to cease Israel’s military operations against Hamas terrorists until his country’s people are “assured of quiet” as they coped with a weeklong rocket barrage from Gaza. But in explaining his position, he raised an important question that transcends the immediate confrontation: does the U.S. really expect Israel to tolerate a situation in which this battle will be duplicated on the West Bank?

Though the United States has expressed its support for Israel’s right of self-defense against a ceaseless rain of rockets aimed at its civilian population, the Obama administration remains resolute in refusing to draw any conclusions from these events.

As I noted earlier this week, the administration began the week by issuing a scathing denunciation of Israel’s government delivered by a top White House staffer in person at an Israeli forum. Even as the Islamist group’s rockets were landing all over the Jewish state, Philip Gordon, the White House coordinator for the Middle East praised Hamas’s Fatah partners in the Palestinian unity government and blasted Israel’s leaders for the lack of peace. He urged Israel to give up the West Bank as part of a two-state solution that would end the conflict.

As it happens, most Israelis agree that this would be the best option. But the reason why there isn’t much support for Washington’s suggestions is directly related to this week’s events. As Netanyahu stated, Israel’s current no-win situation vis-à-vis Hamas in Gaza is the result of a decision to take America’s advice about the value of territorial withdrawal. In 2005, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pulled every last Israeli soldier, civilian, and settlement out of the strip in a vain effort to make progress toward peace. While few Israelis have any desire to retake Gaza, they understand that Hamas is creating what is, for all intents and purposes, an independent Palestinian state in all but name.

In Gaza, Hamas has not only created a terrorist fortress where they can hide behind a large civilian population. It has dug itself innumerable tunnels where it stores armaments such as the missiles it shoots at Israeli cities as well as more than 1,200 more crisscrossing the border with Egypt.

As Hamas has proved this week, Israel’s attempts to limit the damage that the group can cause are complicated by their ability to increase the range of their rockets while also depending on the Jewish state’s reluctance to engage in an all-out war with its attendant suffering to root out the terrorist threat. But most Israelis assume that sooner or later, Hamas will stop shooting and they can get back to their normal lives.

But unless a sea change in Palestinian opinion happens that would make it possible for their leaders to accept an end to the conflict and a recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it’s difficult to imagine how any Israeli government could possibly agree to the American request that it replicate the Gaza experiment in the far larger and more strategically located West Bank.

Speaking for President Obama, Gordon said that Israel is wrong to deny Palestinians sovereignty over the West Bank as well as security and dignity. But the problem here is not Israeli reluctance to give up territory. They have done it before and, if given any reasonable assurance that it will not come back to haunt them, may do it again. Yet somehow no one in the administration thinks that what happened in Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal should inform their opinion of what would follow if they were to give up control of security in the West Bank. As Netanyahu rightly said, there is every possibility that, despite the administration’s faith in Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s dedication to peace, all such a withdrawal would mean is the creation of 20 more Gazas.

Israel’s critics see Netanyahu’s repeat of his pledge that he would not give up security control of the territory west of the Jordan River as intransigence. But it is a position that has majority support in Israel because, whether they like Netanyahu or support the settlements, they have seen what happens when Israel gives up territory to Palestinian groups that are still pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state or entrust their security to others.

More than any settlement or any statement by Netanyahu or even the clear reluctance of Abbas to sign a peace deal despite the blandishments of Obama, the rockets from Gaza are killing hopes of achieving a two-state solution in the foreseeable future. Gaza is not just a daunting military problem for Israelis or a challenge to those who wish to see the Palestinians live in peace without being pushed into destructive wars by Islamist leaders who are bent on fomenting more violence and opposing any progress toward reconciliation. It is a preview of what an independent Palestinian state would be. The rockets and the refusal to devote Palestinian resources to any effort but perpetuating the conflict is a guarantee that peace isn’t possible in the near or perhaps even the long term.

Though most Israelis long for peace and would pay dearly for it, the next time Obama chooses to reiterate his demand for an Israeli withdrawal, he should think about what happened this week. The citizens of the Jewish state will never allow the creation of another Gaza, let alone 20 more.

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For Want of a Camera

Last week’s incident in which two Palestinians were killed in the West Bank–allegedly by Israel Defense Forces soldiers who opened fire without provocation–is still under investigation. But the IDF continues to maintain that the video footage purporting to back this allegation was doctored.

As Jonathan Tobin noted on Wednesday, this isn’t inconceivable; such things have happened before. Even Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera recently admitted that Palestinians have been known to falsify evidence (though it doesn’t seem to stop her organization from treating every Palestinian claim as gospel truth). Nevertheless, the IDF’s claim would undeniably be more credible if it could produce its own footage showing what really happened.

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Last week’s incident in which two Palestinians were killed in the West Bank–allegedly by Israel Defense Forces soldiers who opened fire without provocation–is still under investigation. But the IDF continues to maintain that the video footage purporting to back this allegation was doctored.

As Jonathan Tobin noted on Wednesday, this isn’t inconceivable; such things have happened before. Even Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera recently admitted that Palestinians have been known to falsify evidence (though it doesn’t seem to stop her organization from treating every Palestinian claim as gospel truth). Nevertheless, the IDF’s claim would undeniably be more credible if it could produce its own footage showing what really happened.

But of course, it can’t–because one of the most technologically sophisticated armies in the world has somehow proven incapable of equipping its soldiers with the kind of simple cameras found on every cell phone. And so, day after day, week after week, it’s confronted with Palestinian allegations to which the only response it can offer is its soldiers’ unsupported testimony.   

A year ago, I thought the penny had finally dropped: The IDF announced with great fanfare that it had finally decided to train soldiers to film operations in the field. But it now turns out this vaunted project comprises all of 24 cameramen–24 people to provide round-the-clock coverage of the entire West Bank plus the Gaza border. It’s a joke. And not a very funny one.

There’s no reason why every single soldier couldn’t be equipped with a small, wearable camera that would operate automatically. This would have the additional benefit of cutting down on real abuses, from which no army is completely immune. Indeed, several Western countries have experimented with policemen wearing such cameras, and they have generally led to reductions in both real brutality and false claims of brutality.

But what seems like a no-brainer to me evidently isn’t so obvious to Israel’s chronically public-diplomacy-challenged government and army. Otherwise, they would have done something about it by now.

Consequently, this is an issue on which American Jewish help is badly needed. Jewish groups and individuals frequently meet with Israeli officials, both in the U.S. and in Israel, but it probably never occurs to them to raise a minor issue like IDF cameras at those meetings. If they thought of it at all, it would doubtless seem too obvious to need saying.

Unfortunately, it isn’t. And therefore, U.S. Jews would be doing Israel a big service if they started raising this issue at every single meeting with Israeli government officials or army officers. If Israeli leaders keep hearing about it from American Jews, maybe they’ll finally realize how important it is.

Or maybe they still won’t. But it’s worth a try–because waiting for them to figure it out on their own certainly isn’t working.

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Do Unilateralists Own Israel’s Future?

Israel’s economy minister and leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, has publicly written to Prime Minister Netanyahu advocating that Israel formerly annex key areas of the West Bank so as to bring the 440,000 Israelis who live there fully under Israeli sovereignty. Of course at the moment it is hardly conceivable that the Israeli government would implement these moves—Bennett himself has previously said that there would need to be elections to provide the necessary support in the Knesset—but with some members of Likud theoretically supportive of the plan, this may come to loom increasingly large on Israel’s political agenda.   

The latest debacle that has been the U.S. attempt to bring about a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has convinced many of the need to consider what the other options might be. Following the second intifada, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon similarly judged there to be no partner for a negotiated peace, Israel began to implement a program of unilateral disengagement. That policy was stopped in its tracks, most immediately by the stroke suffered by Sharon, but also on account of the barrage of rockets that have spewed out of Gaza, the harrowing test case for unilateral disengagement. Since then that approach has been filed away, although it is still occasionally referenced as a last resort by some commentators. In its place, those on the right have begun instead to talk about full or partial unilateral annexation of the West Bank. The most far-reaching incarnation of this strategy is presented by Caroline Glick in her new book The Israeli Solution which not only advocates for fully incorporating all of the West Bank into the Jewish state, but also absorbing all the Palestinians living there. 

In addition, there has been talk about various hybrids of current options. At the time of Sharon’s passing, one such option was suggested by former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren: that to avoid the ongoing headache of policing the Palestinians, Israel should still consider a unilateral withdrawal from much of the West Bank. However, Oren also recognized that under such an arrangement Israel would retain most settlements. Another hybrid proposal was recently offered by Hillel Halkin in Mosaic, in what he called his “Two-State-Minus” plan. This proposal advocates creating a Palestinian entity that wouldn’t quite function as an entirely independent state, but that would rather exist in federation with Israel.

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Israel’s economy minister and leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, has publicly written to Prime Minister Netanyahu advocating that Israel formerly annex key areas of the West Bank so as to bring the 440,000 Israelis who live there fully under Israeli sovereignty. Of course at the moment it is hardly conceivable that the Israeli government would implement these moves—Bennett himself has previously said that there would need to be elections to provide the necessary support in the Knesset—but with some members of Likud theoretically supportive of the plan, this may come to loom increasingly large on Israel’s political agenda.   

The latest debacle that has been the U.S. attempt to bring about a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has convinced many of the need to consider what the other options might be. Following the second intifada, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon similarly judged there to be no partner for a negotiated peace, Israel began to implement a program of unilateral disengagement. That policy was stopped in its tracks, most immediately by the stroke suffered by Sharon, but also on account of the barrage of rockets that have spewed out of Gaza, the harrowing test case for unilateral disengagement. Since then that approach has been filed away, although it is still occasionally referenced as a last resort by some commentators. In its place, those on the right have begun instead to talk about full or partial unilateral annexation of the West Bank. The most far-reaching incarnation of this strategy is presented by Caroline Glick in her new book The Israeli Solution which not only advocates for fully incorporating all of the West Bank into the Jewish state, but also absorbing all the Palestinians living there. 

In addition, there has been talk about various hybrids of current options. At the time of Sharon’s passing, one such option was suggested by former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren: that to avoid the ongoing headache of policing the Palestinians, Israel should still consider a unilateral withdrawal from much of the West Bank. However, Oren also recognized that under such an arrangement Israel would retain most settlements. Another hybrid proposal was recently offered by Hillel Halkin in Mosaic, in what he called his “Two-State-Minus” plan. This proposal advocates creating a Palestinian entity that wouldn’t quite function as an entirely independent state, but that would rather exist in federation with Israel.

Then there have been the suggestions not to push for a final resolution of all disputes, but rather for a semi-negotiated semi-agreement. Nicholas Casey has recently written in the Wall Street Journal about the prospect of scaling back objectives and instead settling for a managing of the situation, as opposed to aiming for a definitive solution. Casey references a proposal by Shlomo Avineri who has suggested that the two sides reach an agreement on those matters that they can, with Israel transferring control of more territory to the Palestinians. Under this scenario the impossibly difficult final-status issues would be put aside and the two parties wouldn’t be obliged to recognize each other. Of course the problem here is that without the Palestinians having recognized either Israel or an end to their grievances, both the campaign of violence and the delegitimization of Israel internationally would likely continue.

There are two obvious problems with almost all of the unilateral proposals. One is security, the other is international opinion. Those plans that call for a near complete withdrawal from the West Bank risk recreating Gaza on a massive scale and on the strategically important high ground overlooking Israel’s population centers and vital infrastructure. Bennett’s plan of annexing Israeli controlled area C of the West Bank may seek to overcome this problem, but in reality it might simply lead to the creation of multiple mini-Gazas throughout the West Bank. And while this proposal may extend Israel’s sovereignty to territory inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Israelis, it is doubtful the international community would recognize this, just as they refuse to recognize the Israeli annexation of eastern Jerusalem or the Golan Heights. Of course unilateral withdrawal doesn’t solve this problem either, with the international community still wedded to the preposterous position that Israel continues to be the occupying power in Gaza.

The proposal that seeks to address both of these problems is Caroline Glick’s one-state solution. Presumably if Israel was to not only annex the territory but also extend full citizenship to all the Palestinians living there, then depending on the Palestinian reaction, international protest might be more manageable. Many object to this plan on demographic grounds. It may in fact be true that there has been significant Palestinian falsification of census data. Yet even if Glick is correct in saying that Jews would maintain a two-thirds majority, there are still serious questions to be asked about how so many Arabs could be assimilated into a Jewish state, and in the event that they all exercised their right to vote would Zionist parties still be able to hold the Knesset? None of these proposals is by any means flawless.

It is probably unwise to make forecasts here, but assuming international pressure was to considerably intensify, and with a negotiated way out unlikely, it is conceivable that something would eventually give and either left or right might implement their version of a unilateral plan.  

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Stats Debunk Demographic Threat to Israel

Figures released today show that Israel’s demographic situation continues to move in a direction that is positive for the future of the Jewish state, quite in contravention to the prevailing wisdom about Israel’s impending demographic peril. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has released the birthrate figures for 2013, revealing that the Jewish birthrate is continuing to rise as the Muslim birthrate is continuing to decline. While population projections are by their nature often inaccurate on account of the myriad unforeseeable variables, it seems that this is a front on which Israelis can afford to feel some optimism. Yet, despite the growing body of evidence to the contrary, there is no shortage of voices warning Israel of imminent demographic doom. This is a central tenet of the doctrine of the Israeli left, and it is also a threat with which President Obama has increasingly been seeking to panic Israel.

The latest statistics show that in 2013 there were a total of 127,101 Jewish births, as opposed to 34,766 births to Muslim families. This means that in 2013 the Jewish birthrate increased by 1.3 percent while among Muslims the birthrate fell by 5.5 percent. The growing Jewish birthrate is in large part being driven by the religious sector, however it is also being boosted by Russian immigrants whose own birthrate is now closer to the Israeli average. Overall, the percentage of Israel’s population that is not Jewish has risen in recent years, with Arab Israelis now constituting just under 21 percent of the population. Yet with the Arab birthrate subsiding, and with that of the Jews continuing to trend upward, within pre-1967 Israel it appears that the Jewish character of the state will remain strong. That, however, is without considering the situation in the West Bank.

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Figures released today show that Israel’s demographic situation continues to move in a direction that is positive for the future of the Jewish state, quite in contravention to the prevailing wisdom about Israel’s impending demographic peril. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics has released the birthrate figures for 2013, revealing that the Jewish birthrate is continuing to rise as the Muslim birthrate is continuing to decline. While population projections are by their nature often inaccurate on account of the myriad unforeseeable variables, it seems that this is a front on which Israelis can afford to feel some optimism. Yet, despite the growing body of evidence to the contrary, there is no shortage of voices warning Israel of imminent demographic doom. This is a central tenet of the doctrine of the Israeli left, and it is also a threat with which President Obama has increasingly been seeking to panic Israel.

The latest statistics show that in 2013 there were a total of 127,101 Jewish births, as opposed to 34,766 births to Muslim families. This means that in 2013 the Jewish birthrate increased by 1.3 percent while among Muslims the birthrate fell by 5.5 percent. The growing Jewish birthrate is in large part being driven by the religious sector, however it is also being boosted by Russian immigrants whose own birthrate is now closer to the Israeli average. Overall, the percentage of Israel’s population that is not Jewish has risen in recent years, with Arab Israelis now constituting just under 21 percent of the population. Yet with the Arab birthrate subsiding, and with that of the Jews continuing to trend upward, within pre-1967 Israel it appears that the Jewish character of the state will remain strong. That, however, is without considering the situation in the West Bank.

The scaremongering that both Obama and Kerry engage in, to say nothing of the Jewish left in America and Israel, argues that Israel’s demographic predicament must factor in the entire population west of the Jordan River so as to include the Palestinians. This itself is a questionable proposition. Certainly in the case of Gaza there is no reason the population there should be included in Israel’s demographic situation. Israel pulled out of the strip entirely in 2005 and the claim made by some on the left that Israel guarding Gaza’s borders against terrorism constitutes a continuation of the occupation is unconvincing. 

When it comes to the West Bank the matter is slightly more complicated. The Haaretz-J Street-Beinart mantra, that has now been adopted by Obama too, is that Israel cannot maintain a presence in the West Bank and remain both a Jewish and democratic state. This is also misleading. The democracy argument is particularly flimsy because the Palestinians are supposed to be able to vote in their own elections. The fact that the Palestinian Authority never holds any is beside the point.

That said, even if Israel were to have to include the West Bank Palestinians in the demographic equation, things are still nowhere near as bleak as is often suggested. As Uri Sadot wrote in Foreign Policy in December, if one were to take an upper estimate of the number of Arabs in the West Bank (some claim over of 2.5 million people) and add it to the number of Arabs in Israel, then these people would still constitute less than a third of the overall population. Yet it is increasingly being suggested that the Palestinian Authority may have grossly misled the international community about the number of Palestinians that actually live in the West Bank. A 2006 study by academics at Bar Ilan University made a strong case for the belief that the PA may have inflated its population statistics by up to a million people by double-counting certain groups and including Palestinians living overseas. This would have the advantage of not only damaging Israeli morale, but more importantly it allows the PA to extract more funds from the international community on the grounds it has this much larger population to provide for.

Caroline Glick, in her latest book The Israeli Solution, points out that the declining birthrate that we see among Arab Israelis is in actual fact in line with trends across the Arab world, and is consistent with a similar trend among Palestinians living in the West Bank. As Glick observes, there is now parity between Jewish and Palestinian birthrates, with both having an average of 2.98 births per woman. For Palestinians this is a sharp decrease from the 4.25 births per woman seen in 2000, while Jewish Israeli birthrates have picked up from 2.6 births in 2000. Project this pattern forward and the demographic threat becomes a myth. And in addition it should be recalled that Israel has regularly boosted its demographic lead with waves of Jewish immigration. Given the worsening economies and anti-Semitism in both Europe and South America, there is no reason to think that immigration will not continue to supplement the Jewish population in Israel.

In 1987 Thomas Friedman gave Israel twelve years until the demographic bomb went off. We’re still waiting. Those, such as Obama, who attempt to use demographics to alarm Israel into rushing into territorial concessions that could be strategically reckless simply don’t have the stats to backup their threats.  

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The Attack on Israeli Democracy and AIPAC

One of the most disgraceful conceits of American Jewish life is the pose of martyrdom adopted by critics of Israel. American Jews who publicly berate Israel’s government and those Americans who support the Jewish state never stop telling us that what they are doing is courageous. They claim the Jewish establishment seeks to silence them all the while freely shouting their message from the rooftops to the applause of the mainstream media. To disassociate oneself from Israel is a guarantee of a platform for your views on the op-ed pages of major newspapers like the New York Times if not a lucrative book contract. But if you dare to call out such persons, watch out. You stand a fair chance of being demonized or shunned by the chattering classes.

That’s the lesson to be learned from an exchange centering on the conduct of the rabbis at Manhattan’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. As I wrote on Monday, Rabbis Rolondo Matalon and Felicia Sol joined with other fashionable New York liberals last week to denounce New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his support for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The prominent letter writers were outraged at the ultra-liberal mayor’s willingness to embrace the umbrella pro-Israel group that they maliciously and falsely denounced as a right-wing group that does not speak for American Jews. This was too much for a group of BJ congregants who wrote a letter to their rabbis to express their pain at the spectacle of their synagogue’s spiritual leaders aligning themselves against an organization whose sole mission is to support the democratically-elected government of Israel. For their pains, the group was subjected to a scathing denunciation in today’s Haaretz by writer Peter Beinart, who was himself one of the signatories along with Matalon and Sol, of the letter to de Blasio.

Beinart’s diatribe against the BJ congregants is interesting for two reasons. One, it shows again that while blasting Israel and AIPAC wins you praise in the media, speaking up against such slanders can earn you the sort of opprobrium that can make you very unpopular, especially on New York’s Upper West Side. But just as important was the argument Beinart made. He claimed the congregants were employing Orwellian language when they said it was appropriate for American Jews to back the verdict of Israeli voters. As far as Beinart is concerned the fact that the West Bank is not a democracy renders that argument false. To speak of support for Israeli democracy is therefore in Beinart’s view emblematic of a culture of dishonesty and “euphemism” on which the pro-Israel lobby is built.

But in this case it is Beinart who is playing Orwellian tricks with language. In doing so, this self-proclaimed Zionist is not only seeking to delegitimize the majority of Israelis who have ignored his advice about what to do about the West Bank but also willfully misrepresents the nature of the conflict.

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One of the most disgraceful conceits of American Jewish life is the pose of martyrdom adopted by critics of Israel. American Jews who publicly berate Israel’s government and those Americans who support the Jewish state never stop telling us that what they are doing is courageous. They claim the Jewish establishment seeks to silence them all the while freely shouting their message from the rooftops to the applause of the mainstream media. To disassociate oneself from Israel is a guarantee of a platform for your views on the op-ed pages of major newspapers like the New York Times if not a lucrative book contract. But if you dare to call out such persons, watch out. You stand a fair chance of being demonized or shunned by the chattering classes.

That’s the lesson to be learned from an exchange centering on the conduct of the rabbis at Manhattan’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. As I wrote on Monday, Rabbis Rolondo Matalon and Felicia Sol joined with other fashionable New York liberals last week to denounce New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his support for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The prominent letter writers were outraged at the ultra-liberal mayor’s willingness to embrace the umbrella pro-Israel group that they maliciously and falsely denounced as a right-wing group that does not speak for American Jews. This was too much for a group of BJ congregants who wrote a letter to their rabbis to express their pain at the spectacle of their synagogue’s spiritual leaders aligning themselves against an organization whose sole mission is to support the democratically-elected government of Israel. For their pains, the group was subjected to a scathing denunciation in today’s Haaretz by writer Peter Beinart, who was himself one of the signatories along with Matalon and Sol, of the letter to de Blasio.

Beinart’s diatribe against the BJ congregants is interesting for two reasons. One, it shows again that while blasting Israel and AIPAC wins you praise in the media, speaking up against such slanders can earn you the sort of opprobrium that can make you very unpopular, especially on New York’s Upper West Side. But just as important was the argument Beinart made. He claimed the congregants were employing Orwellian language when they said it was appropriate for American Jews to back the verdict of Israeli voters. As far as Beinart is concerned the fact that the West Bank is not a democracy renders that argument false. To speak of support for Israeli democracy is therefore in Beinart’s view emblematic of a culture of dishonesty and “euphemism” on which the pro-Israel lobby is built.

But in this case it is Beinart who is playing Orwellian tricks with language. In doing so, this self-proclaimed Zionist is not only seeking to delegitimize the majority of Israelis who have ignored his advice about what to do about the West Bank but also willfully misrepresents the nature of the conflict.

AIPAC’s position and that of the overwhelming majority of the American people is that Israel’s people have the right to govern themselves and not have solutions to the conflict with the Palestinians imposed on them from the outside. But in Beinart’s twisted reasoning, backing the verdict of the overwhelming majority of Israeli voters who elected the current government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu—and gave parties that share Beinart’s views only a small percentage of their votes—is somehow anti-democratic. Since Israelis believe they have no choice but to stay in the West Bank until the Palestinians are ready to make peace, Beinart has adopted the ludicrous and hypocritical position that they have no claim on the word democracy.

Attempts to create a Palestinian democracy faltered in the last decade. Gaza fell under the despotic rule of Hamas. In the West Bank, Israel’s supposed peace partner Fatah has as little interest in liberty as their Islamic rivals. Current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected. None of this is Israel’s fault. Israel would welcome the creation of a real democracy as opposed to an Islamist dictatorship or a Fatah kleptocracy posing as one. But, as Beinart knows, that isn’t in the cards, whether or not Israel withdraws from the West Bank.

More to the point, three times in the last generation Israel has offered to withdraw from almost all of the West Bank and even a share of Jerusalem in order to create a Palestinian state. Three times they were turned down because Yasir Arafat and his successor Abbas could not bring themselves to sign a treaty that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn or to renounce the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. Even the supposed “right-wing government” that Beinart and his fellow letter-writers so despise is now negotiating with the PA and has reportedly expressed its willingness to withdraw from 90 percent of the West Bank and make territorial swaps to create a Palestinian state. No one, except perhaps Secretary of State John Kerry, expects the Palestinian response to be positive. If Israeli voters have rejected Beinart’s pleas to withdraw from the West Bank regardless of the dangers, it is because they have been paying attention to the events of the last 20 years during which the Jewish state has continually sought to trade land for peace and received only terror in return.

The point here is not so much that Beinart is out of touch with both Israeli opinion and the reality of Palestinian intransigence, but that in order to justify his stand he is willing to trash the idea that Israeli democracy matters. The position of AIPAC is not that it seeks to justify perpetual Israeli rule in all of the West Bank. It is one of support for the right of Israel’s democratic government to wait until the Palestinians are ready to make a genuine peace before risking a repeat of what happened in Gaza when the Jewish state withdrew every settlement and soldier.

Rather than Israel’s defenders engaging in dishonesty, it is Beinart and his colleagues who have twisted the truth in this debate. The question in the Middle East is not whether Israel will let the West Bank become a democracy but whether the one true democracy in the region—Israel—will continue to exist. AIPAC and its supporters stand with the people of Israel in their efforts to defend their country. Those like Beinart, the BJ rabbis, and the assorted anti-Zionists who joined with them to denounce de Blasio have placed themselves in opposition not so much to AIPAC but the people of Israel and echoed the arguments of those in the BDS movement that wage economic war on the Jewish state. If they wish to truly renew and cleanse Jewish life as they claim, they should look in the mirror before casting aspersions on either Israel or its defenders.

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Foreign Troops Won’t Solve Peace Tangle

Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest trip to Israel is already over, but his continued effort to sell his plan on security arrangements to the parties seems to be getting nowhere. The plan, which is predicated on importing foreign troops into the West Bank and the Jordan River crossings in the aftermath of a two-state peace deal being reached, doesn’t please either the Israelis or the Palestinians. But while the Israeli government is continuing to talk to Kerry about the scheme in spite of the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu is less than thrilled with his idea, the Palestinians appear to have rejected it out of hand.

The Israelis have good reason to worry about placing their security in the hands of other nations, a point that was re-emphasized to the country yesterday when an Israeli soldier patrolling the northern border with Lebanon was shot and killed by a terrorist sniper. Terrorism has continued despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers and the supposed commitment of Lebanese Army troops to the cause of keeping the border quiet. But despite Israel’s obvious misgivings about the scheme, it is the Palestinians who are most upset by it even though its purpose is to clear the way for the independent state they want. The reasons for their respective positions tell us all we need to know about likely futility of Kerry’s pursuit of an agreement at this point in time.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest trip to Israel is already over, but his continued effort to sell his plan on security arrangements to the parties seems to be getting nowhere. The plan, which is predicated on importing foreign troops into the West Bank and the Jordan River crossings in the aftermath of a two-state peace deal being reached, doesn’t please either the Israelis or the Palestinians. But while the Israeli government is continuing to talk to Kerry about the scheme in spite of the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu is less than thrilled with his idea, the Palestinians appear to have rejected it out of hand.

The Israelis have good reason to worry about placing their security in the hands of other nations, a point that was re-emphasized to the country yesterday when an Israeli soldier patrolling the northern border with Lebanon was shot and killed by a terrorist sniper. Terrorism has continued despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers and the supposed commitment of Lebanese Army troops to the cause of keeping the border quiet. But despite Israel’s obvious misgivings about the scheme, it is the Palestinians who are most upset by it even though its purpose is to clear the way for the independent state they want. The reasons for their respective positions tell us all we need to know about likely futility of Kerry’s pursuit of an agreement at this point in time.

Those arguing in favor of Kerry’s idea point to the relative success of international peacekeepers in maintaining border security on two of Israel’s former war fronts.

Along the border between the Israeli Negev and the Egyptian Sinai where once the two countries’ main armored forces faced off in four wars, the international observer force has had little to do. Indeed, when problems arise, as was the case during the last year, when the since-deposed Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo gave Islamist terrorists the freedom they needed to try to cause trouble for the Jewish state, the Egyptian Army cooperated fully with the Israel Defense Forces.

The same is true along the border between the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and Syria. Indeed, though at times the Syrian civil war has threatened to spill over into Israel, the frontier between these two bitter enemies has been largely peaceful since the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War some 40 years ago.

But neither situation is comparable to what would happen in the West Bank. Egypt and Syria are both sovereign nations and however much antipathy they may have for Israel, their national identity is not bound up in rejection of the legitimacy of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn, as is the case with the Palestinians. The main Palestinian forces, both in Hamas-controlled Gaza and in the Fatah-led West Bank, aren’t merely hostile to Israel; their legitimacy is predicated on a struggle not to evict Israel from a particular piece of land but to its eventual destruction. That’s why even the moderates of the Palestinian Authority who wish to go on talking with Israel still refuse to recognize it as the Jewish state or give up the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees: because doing so would end the conflict for all time.

Writing in Haaretz, Steven Klein argues the better comparison would be to the success of peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo where the existence of those two nations was guaranteed by the presence of NATO peacekeepers that ensured that their Serb foes would have to give up claims to their territory. But as nasty as the conflicts between Bosnian Muslims and the Kosovars against the Serbs were, it should be remembered that unlike the long history of Palestinian Arab rejection of Israel, neither group sought Serbia’s annihilation, merely the right to break away from the largest of the post-Yugoslav states and determine their own future.

If Mahmoud Abbas rejected Kerry’s scheme saying that it “looked like a plan drafted by Israel,” it is because however much it might constrain Israeli self-defense, its premise remains a future in which the Palestinian state would be essentially demilitarized and prevented from allowing foreign forces hostile to Israel to enter its territory (the very acts that set off the 1967 Six-Day War that led to the current situation).

As for the Israelis, as Klein notes, the very notion of placing Israel’s security in foreign hands is anathema to Israel’s government. Klein is wrong to think of Netanyahu’s Likud as being uniquely hostile to such ideas because of the writings of Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the movement from which the Israeli nationalist camp sprung, since Labor Zionist icons like David Ben Gurion were just as leery of such schemes. While the “American bayonets” that Klein envisages as the solution to the Middle East conflict are not as likely to behave as badly as the UN forces currently in Lebanon or be as feckless as their predecessors that fled the border with Egypt in 1967 when that country’s dictator Gamel Abdul Nasser told them to leave, Israelis are right to worry about placing so much reliance on even as friendly an ally as the U.S.

But the key to the problem isn’t so much the technical difficulties of a scheme or the fact that a war-weary American public isn’t likely to be enthusiastic about placing U.S. troops in harm’s way in the West Bank or to be more pro-active about keeping the peace there than are peacekeepers elsewhere in the region. Rather, it is the same basic problem that has always been the greatest obstacle to peace: the Palestinian refusal to give up their war on Israel rather than merely accepting a temporary truce that would allow them to continue the conflict on more favorable terms in the future. Until a sea change in Palestinian political culture occurs that enables leaders like Abbas to sign a peace deal without fear of losing power to more radical factions like Hamas, Kerry’s plans will remain irrelevant details.

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West Bank Reality: Arab, Not Jewish Hate

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is planning on using the United Nations to publicize what he characterizes as violations of Arab rights in Jerusalem and settler violence in the West Bank. According to Abbas, the chutzpah of some Jews to demand the right to pray on part of their faith’s holiest site — the Temple Mount — is intolerable. But aside from his push to declare all of those parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 as exclusive Palestinian property (a stand that would include the Western Wall as well as the Temple Mount in the Palestinian state he wants to create), Abbas is trying to focus the world on what he says is a campaign of outrages by Jews living in the West Bank against their neighbors. The latest example is an incident in which a mosque was defaced and cars vandalized in an Arab village by what appears to have been settlers.

Such instances are outrageous and should be punished. But those who commit such crimes are a tiny minority of even the Jewish population in the territories. The Israeli government, settler groups as well as the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people condemn these occurrences. But as shameful as they are, to pretend, as most mainstream media outlets do, that it is Jewish violence that is the everyday occurrences in the West Bank, let alone the most serious threat to the peace, is beyond absurd. Evidence for just how wrong this assumption is can be found throughout the year as the number of instances of violent attacks, lethal stone throwing and sundry other forms of terrorism that result not just in damaged windshields but wounded and dead Jewish bodies. Just last night, infiltrators near his home in the Jordan valley killed an Israeli. Last weekend, Arab terrorists shot a nine-year-old Israeli girl in a settlement. And yet you can bet that the U.N. and its sundry agencies dedicated to delegitimizing Israel will take up Abbas’ complaints rather than investigating the wave of anti-Jewish violence or ask what role the PA media plays in inciting these attacks.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is planning on using the United Nations to publicize what he characterizes as violations of Arab rights in Jerusalem and settler violence in the West Bank. According to Abbas, the chutzpah of some Jews to demand the right to pray on part of their faith’s holiest site — the Temple Mount — is intolerable. But aside from his push to declare all of those parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 as exclusive Palestinian property (a stand that would include the Western Wall as well as the Temple Mount in the Palestinian state he wants to create), Abbas is trying to focus the world on what he says is a campaign of outrages by Jews living in the West Bank against their neighbors. The latest example is an incident in which a mosque was defaced and cars vandalized in an Arab village by what appears to have been settlers.

Such instances are outrageous and should be punished. But those who commit such crimes are a tiny minority of even the Jewish population in the territories. The Israeli government, settler groups as well as the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people condemn these occurrences. But as shameful as they are, to pretend, as most mainstream media outlets do, that it is Jewish violence that is the everyday occurrences in the West Bank, let alone the most serious threat to the peace, is beyond absurd. Evidence for just how wrong this assumption is can be found throughout the year as the number of instances of violent attacks, lethal stone throwing and sundry other forms of terrorism that result not just in damaged windshields but wounded and dead Jewish bodies. Just last night, infiltrators near his home in the Jordan valley killed an Israeli. Last weekend, Arab terrorists shot a nine-year-old Israeli girl in a settlement. And yet you can bet that the U.N. and its sundry agencies dedicated to delegitimizing Israel will take up Abbas’ complaints rather than investigating the wave of anti-Jewish violence or ask what role the PA media plays in inciting these attacks.

The prevailing narrative of evil settlers attacking innocent Palestinians is popular precisely because it dovetails with the frame of reference through which Israel’s critics view the conflict. When they choose to notice the far more frequent instances of Arab violence against Jews, the victims are reported as being “settlers” — even when the targets are children — so as to make the point that they had it coming in some way. The settlers are seen as the possessors of stolen property, not people whose rights to live in the heart of the Jewish homeland are actually guaranteed by international law. If the media were to put settler violence in the context of the siege of attacks with which they have to live, the relatively small number of such incidents would be rightly seen as proof of the restraint and law-abiding nature of the vast majority of Jews living in the territories rather than as evidence of their incorrigible and hateful character.

More to the point, were the media to focus as they should on the drumbeat of incitement of hate against Israel and Jews that comes not from Palestinian outliers but the government that is the Jewish state’s supposed peace partner — Abbas’s PA — the notion that an accord merely requires an Israeli territorial retreat would be seen as a transparent fiction.

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Palestinians Build a Settlement

Though it was entirely unintentional, the New York Times deserves credit today for pointing out the hypocrisy of critics of Israel’s settlement building. No, the paper hasn’t reversed its policy of treating the presence of Jews in the heart of their ancient homeland as wrong or an obstacle to peace that is reflected on its news pages as much as it is on their editorial page. What they did was something more subtle than that and will require some context for their readers to understand. They published a feature about the Palestinians doing something that Israel hasn’t tried in more than two decades, the building of an entirely new city in the West Bank.

What’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing. If the planners of Rawabi own the land where they are constructing a town north of Ramallah, then why shouldn’t they build new homes and places of business for Arabs who want them? But the story about the effort and the travails of the planners—who are, ironically, under attack from Palestinians for their efforts to cooperate with Israel and Israeli businesses and contractors to get the job done—should remind us that doing so is no more of an obstacle to peace than the builders of homes for Jews.

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Though it was entirely unintentional, the New York Times deserves credit today for pointing out the hypocrisy of critics of Israel’s settlement building. No, the paper hasn’t reversed its policy of treating the presence of Jews in the heart of their ancient homeland as wrong or an obstacle to peace that is reflected on its news pages as much as it is on their editorial page. What they did was something more subtle than that and will require some context for their readers to understand. They published a feature about the Palestinians doing something that Israel hasn’t tried in more than two decades, the building of an entirely new city in the West Bank.

What’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing. If the planners of Rawabi own the land where they are constructing a town north of Ramallah, then why shouldn’t they build new homes and places of business for Arabs who want them? But the story about the effort and the travails of the planners—who are, ironically, under attack from Palestinians for their efforts to cooperate with Israel and Israeli businesses and contractors to get the job done—should remind us that doing so is no more of an obstacle to peace than the builders of homes for Jews.

The point about the West Bank that cannot be reiterated enough is that the conflict about ownership of the land is one in which both sides can muster arguments in their favor. Should the Palestinians ever reject their culture of violence and delegitimizing of Jewish rights to any part of the country, peace will be possible and the land will have to be divided, however painful that would be for both sides. Such a negotiation would be difficult but, assuming that the Palestinians were ever actually willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn, it would not be impossible. And since it is likely that if such a partition were ever to take place, Rawabi would be part of the Palestinian state, then why would Israelis complain that building on the site would make peace impossible?

Of course, Israelis aren’t making such a protest, any more than they speak out against the building going on in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem or any other place in the West Bank.

But when new homes are built in existing Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem or in those towns and communities in the major settlement blocs in the West Bank that everyone knows would be retained by Israel in the event of a peace accord, they are bitterly condemned by the Obama administration, the Europeans, and the liberal media.

In fact, Israel hasn’t done anything on the scale of Rawabi in many years. Outside of scattered hilltop camps with trailers, it hasn’t actually built a new settlement since the Oslo Accords. What Israel has done is added new housing developments to existing places. But the Arabs have done the same and in the case of Rawabi, they are seeking to expand their hold on the land by establishing new facts on the ground that strengthen their claims.

Of course, Israel’s critics assert that Arabs have a right to live in Rawabi while the Jews don’t have a right to live in “stolen land” on the West Bank. That argument rests on the fallacy that history began in 1967 when Israel came into the possession of the West Bank as a result of a defensive war. But in fact, the “West Bank” (a name for the territories of Judea and Samaria that only came into existence when the Kingdom of Jordan illegally occupied the land to differentiate it from their territory on the East Bank of the Jordan River) is part of a territory set aside by international authorities for a Jewish homeland where Jews, as well as Arabs, had rights. Though the international community has sought to abrogate Jewish rights there, they cannot be extinguished in this manner. The resolution of the dispute over the land requires a negotiation in which each side must be prepared to compromise rather than, as the Palestinian Authority continues to do, simply dictate.

Contrary to the claims of Israel’s critics, if both sides continue doing as they are now and building at the same pace, peace won’t be any easier or harder to reach in the future than it is now. The same boundaries will be there to be drawn with Jews and Arabs on Israel’s side and Arabs only on the Palestinian side (as Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly made clear), then as they are now. The building of new settlements, whether Jews or Arabs populate them, won’t stop peace if both peoples truly want it. Israel has already demonstrated that it is prepared to do so, as it has repeatedly offered and made territorial withdrawals while the Palestinians have never given up their maximalist demands that aim at Israel’s destruction, not coexistence. The reason the Palestinians focus on settlement building as a threat to their future is not because these places are actually obstacles to peace but because they are opposed to Jews living in anywhere in the country.

Rawabi also demonstrates the priorities of Israel’s foes. Many of them are, as the Times makes clear, opposed to it, because building it undercuts the attempt to boycott Israel. Much like the efforts to prevent the descendants of the 1948 refugees from being resettled so as to keep them as an issue to hold over Israel, they’d rather keep Palestinians from having a new town so long as it doesn’t mean doing business with Jews. 

If the Palestinians that will live in Rawabi and elsewhere in the West Bank truly want peace with Israel and to gain self-determination in exchange, they will get it. Moreover, if Palestinians persist in building on lands they are likely to keep and Israel keeps building in those places they will retain, it won’t put off peace by a single day. Let’s hope that, like its Jewish counterparts in Maale Adumim and Ariel, Rawabi will raise the quality of life for its inhabitants. Perhaps in doing so it will undermine the efforts of those Palestinians that continue to foment the hatred of Jews and Israel that remains at the core of the conflict.

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Why Won’t the Palestinians Accept a State?

Let’s assume for a moment that Secretary of State John Kerry actually succeeds in getting Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas to sit down and talk with Israel for the first time since George W. Bush was president. As I wrote earlier this week, if that happens that will be the result of American promises to back the Palestinians on various issues and probably also a pledge to put a time limit on the negotiations in order to heighten the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even if all that happens, most of the international media and virtually everyone in the foreign policy establishment seems to take it as a given that the primary obstacle to a deal will be Israel’s recalcitrance in making concessions. But that Netanyahu isn’t willing to deal is a myth, which is why so many in his coalition have been speaking up to talk about their opposition to a two-state solution.

As Haaretz reports today, various high level sources including a senior Cabinet minister are saying that Netanyahu is ready to give up more than 90 percent of the West Bank and evacuate “more than a few settlements” if Abbas is serious about peace deal that will truly end the conflict and give assurances about security. So the operative question for the region, as Kerry tries to pressure the parties to sit down prior to September, is whether Abbas is ready to take yes for an answer in the way that he wasn’t in 2008 when he turned down an offer of a state from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert.

Since few think Abbas will ever be able to sign off on any accord that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it’s doubtful that Netanyahu will ever have to make good on these promises. But that hasn’t stopped right-wingers in his coalition from getting upset about the prospect of a pullback on the West Bank. But leaving aside the panic on the right, Netanyahu’s willingness to give up so much territory should focus the world on what it is exactly that the Palestinians want or are prepared to live with.

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Let’s assume for a moment that Secretary of State John Kerry actually succeeds in getting Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas to sit down and talk with Israel for the first time since George W. Bush was president. As I wrote earlier this week, if that happens that will be the result of American promises to back the Palestinians on various issues and probably also a pledge to put a time limit on the negotiations in order to heighten the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even if all that happens, most of the international media and virtually everyone in the foreign policy establishment seems to take it as a given that the primary obstacle to a deal will be Israel’s recalcitrance in making concessions. But that Netanyahu isn’t willing to deal is a myth, which is why so many in his coalition have been speaking up to talk about their opposition to a two-state solution.

As Haaretz reports today, various high level sources including a senior Cabinet minister are saying that Netanyahu is ready to give up more than 90 percent of the West Bank and evacuate “more than a few settlements” if Abbas is serious about peace deal that will truly end the conflict and give assurances about security. So the operative question for the region, as Kerry tries to pressure the parties to sit down prior to September, is whether Abbas is ready to take yes for an answer in the way that he wasn’t in 2008 when he turned down an offer of a state from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert.

Since few think Abbas will ever be able to sign off on any accord that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it’s doubtful that Netanyahu will ever have to make good on these promises. But that hasn’t stopped right-wingers in his coalition from getting upset about the prospect of a pullback on the West Bank. But leaving aside the panic on the right, Netanyahu’s willingness to give up so much territory should focus the world on what it is exactly that the Palestinians want or are prepared to live with.

As with Netanyahu’s ground breaking 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University where he formally embraced a two-state solution, we can expect his critics to dismiss these latest signals that his government is willing to make sacrifices for peace. We will be told that there is no point offering the Palestinians a state on terms they can’t accept.

Palestinians say they have been waiting for several decades to get a state. They could have had one in 1947 when Palestinian Arabs and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world disdained a United Nations partition plan that called for a Jewish state and an Arab one to be created in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Three times since 2000 they have continued to say no to offers that would have again divided the land and given them a chance for independence.

But if Abbas is again going to treat an offer of statehood that would give him more than 90 percent of the West Bank as nothing or insists on accepting nothing less than a militarized Palestinian state (something that Israel is already experiencing on its southern border in Hamas-run Gaza, which is an independent state in all but name), then we are entitled to ask why.

In speaking of taking these kinds of risks for peace, Netanyahu is going far beyond what most of his supporters think is reasonable. Yet if after all this time, the Palestinians are not willing to talk or stay at the table for more than a few days or weeks simply because they cannot get all of the West Bank or Jerusalem or even to accept demilitarization, then the world should draw conclusions about their intentions. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the obstacle to peace in the Middle East isn’t Netanyahu or Israeli settlements. It’s the hate and intransigence that drives the Palestinian political culture that makes it impossible for Abbas to ever sign a deal. Though I don’t expect most in the foreign policy establishment to acknowledge this fact, what will happen in the next couple of months is likely to reaffirm this basic fact.

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If “Problem” Is Zionism, Peace Isn’t West Bank Activists’ Goal

With President Obama due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, slanted pieces on the Jewish state found their way onto both the front page of the Sunday New York Times and the cover of its weekly magazine today. I’ll have more later on the newspaper story by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, which treats the erecting of homes for Jews in Jerusalem as an outrage that “complicates” the nonexistent hopes for peace with the Palestinians. But that piece is a model of objective journalism when compared to the magazine’s cover story. The title of the article, “Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?” promises an investigation into the chances of more Palestinian unrest and violence. But what author Ben Ehrenreich delivers is not so much an answer to that question as an argument about why it should happen and an affectionate portrait of some of those who are doing their best to see that it does.

Ehrenreich’s story centers on his experiences hanging out in the village of Nabi Saleh, where Palestinian organizers of violent demonstrations have been seeking out confrontations with a neighboring Jewish settlement and Israeli soldiers who guard it and nearby checkpoints every Friday afternoon. The weekly dust-ups have become a tourist attraction for leftist European anti-Israel activists (so much so that local Palestinian hosts for the foreign Israel-bashers are always ready with vegan meals). But, as with so much reporting from the Middle East, what it missing from this compendium of Palestinian derring-do and grievances is more interesting than what made it into the magazine.

In order to understand the piece, the first thing one needs to know is Ehrenreich’s personal point of view about this conflict. The second would be to examine the alternatives to confrontation that the heroes of his piece have no interest in pursuing.

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With President Obama due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, slanted pieces on the Jewish state found their way onto both the front page of the Sunday New York Times and the cover of its weekly magazine today. I’ll have more later on the newspaper story by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, which treats the erecting of homes for Jews in Jerusalem as an outrage that “complicates” the nonexistent hopes for peace with the Palestinians. But that piece is a model of objective journalism when compared to the magazine’s cover story. The title of the article, “Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?” promises an investigation into the chances of more Palestinian unrest and violence. But what author Ben Ehrenreich delivers is not so much an answer to that question as an argument about why it should happen and an affectionate portrait of some of those who are doing their best to see that it does.

Ehrenreich’s story centers on his experiences hanging out in the village of Nabi Saleh, where Palestinian organizers of violent demonstrations have been seeking out confrontations with a neighboring Jewish settlement and Israeli soldiers who guard it and nearby checkpoints every Friday afternoon. The weekly dust-ups have become a tourist attraction for leftist European anti-Israel activists (so much so that local Palestinian hosts for the foreign Israel-bashers are always ready with vegan meals). But, as with so much reporting from the Middle East, what it missing from this compendium of Palestinian derring-do and grievances is more interesting than what made it into the magazine.

In order to understand the piece, the first thing one needs to know is Ehrenreich’s personal point of view about this conflict. The second would be to examine the alternatives to confrontation that the heroes of his piece have no interest in pursuing.

Ehrenreich is a curious choice to write an in-depth piece on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle for the supposedly objective Times. If the piece seems incredibly skewed toward the point of view of the Palestinians, it’s no accident. Ehrenreich has never made any secret about his view about the State of Israel: he thinks Zionism is the moral equivalent of Nazism and believes the Jewish state should not exist. He stated as much in a 2009 op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times titled “Zionism is the problem.” In that piece he didn’t merely repeat the canard that Israel was an apartheid state but actually said the racist South African government compared favorably to the Jewish state.

The author thinks it’s an injustice to say that denying to Jews the same rights that no one would think to deny to every other people on the planet is anti-Semitism. True to the beliefs of his Marxist grandparents, he thinks all nationalisms are bad, but he sees the destruction of the one Jewish nationalism as a priority. The piece is a farrago of distortions, not the least of which is the notion that a single secular state to replace Israel could guarantee the rights or the safety of Jews there. But the main takeaway from it is that he has no interest in even arguing the merits of a two-state solution or lamenting the fading chances of such a deal. That’s because he agrees with Palestinians who continue to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of any Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

That’s why Ehrenreich’s paean to the demonstrators of Nabi Saleh is so patently disingenuous. The people of the village resent the existence of the neighboring Jewish community of Halamish that has been there for 36 years. They dispute ownership of a spring that exists between the two and may have a good case that one of their number actually owns it–though the article only tells us the Israeli government says the Jews have not been able to establish their rights to it. But their real issue—and Ehrenreich’s—is not about the water, the presence of more than a thousand Jews in their neighborhood or the security fence that separates the West Bank from pre-1967 Israel.

Though the ostensible purpose of the protests at Nabi Saleh is to get rid of the Jews in their midst as well as the checkpoints and security fences (which were erected in order to halt the Palestinian depredations of the last intifada in which more than 1,000 Jews were slaughtered by other “activists”) in the area, Ehrenreich’s piece is honest enough to avoid a claim that the path to peace is merely an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to the ’67 lines.

Indeed, his critique is not so much aimed at the settlers or soldiers (whose voices make only a cameo appearance in the article), but at the Oslo process itself that created the Palestinian Authority. Ehrenreich quotes with approval the condemnation of that peace accord as an outrage because it was predicated on the idea that the PA it created would be responsible for ending the conflict and stopping recurrences of terrorism. Of course, Yasir Arafat never had any intention of doing so, and actually subsidized terror groups with the money he got from European and American donors (at least that portion that he and his cronies didn’t steal).

The hero of Ehrenreich’s piece—Bassem Tamimi, a Fatah activist and holder of a no-show job from the Palestinian Authority—also makes no pretense about the morality of non-violence. He doesn’t think the suicide bombers were wrong, merely unsuccessful.

This is important because the whole idea of the legitimacy of the Nabi Saleh protests isn’t so much the supposed injustices that the villagers suffer (though almost all of the hardships recounted in the piece stem solely from a decision by them to seek out violent confrontation with Israelis rather than peaceful accommodation) as it is that they have no alternative to weekly sessions of taunting soldiers and throwing rocks at them.

That is the basic falsehood at the core of the piece. After all, if the Palestinian Authority that employs Tamimi really wanted to create an independent state, including Nabi Saleh, they could have accepted Israel’s offers of such a deal in 2000, 2001 or 2008. Saying yes to those proposals would have probably forced the removal of Halamish, leaving the Tamimi clan free to enjoy the spring on their own without the inconvenience or humiliation of having to share it or the area with the Jews.

Indeed, were the PA to go back to the table today—something that it has steadfastly refused to do ever since Mahmoud Abbas fled negotiations with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 rather than be faced with a decision about accepting peace—they might well get a similar offer that would answer the Tamimis’ property claims.

But they don’t, and not one of the protesters is calling on them to do so. The reason for this is simple. They don’t want a state alongside Israel regardless of where the lines are drawn. Like Ehrenreich, they want a Palestinian state instead of Israel.

That’s why pieces such as this one, which seem to be based on the idea that a lack of progress toward peace (i.e. the failure of Israel to make enough concessions to the Palestinians) leaves the Arabs with no alternative but to resort to another intifada, are so misleading. The alternative to an intifada, be it armed or disarmed, is to negotiate and to compromise. And that is something that the PA, its stone-throwing villagers and their foreign cheerleaders won’t do.

Ehrenreich’s bias is so deeply embedded in the piece that it is pointless to criticize anything but the decision to employ him to write it. But there was at least one sentence that shows the magazine’s editors are either so ignorant or so biased that they couldn’t even bother to clean up obvious mistakes.

The piece describes last November’s fighting along the Gaza border as having started when “Israeli missiles started falling on Gaza” which activists hoped they could leverage into wider protests. You don’t need to be a fan of Israel or Zionism to note that the exchange was triggered by Hamas’s decision to unleash a massive rocket barrage on southern Israel. But correcting that slanted sentence or even just making a neutral reference to the violence was not something the editors thought worth the trouble.

One more point about the supposed non-violence of the Nabi Saleh demonstrators. The piece accepts the idea that throwing rocks and gasoline bombs at soldiers or settlers is a form of non-violent protest. It may be that these weapons seem less sinister to the foreign press than suicide bombing, but the notion that the use of such lethal force is consistent with the beliefs of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. is absurd.

Case in point is just the latest incident in which Palestinian stone throwing caused a car to crash into a bus in the West Bank leaving several people injured and a baby in critical condition. When Palestinian children, who are encouraged to provoke soldiers to fire on them outside Nabi Saleh, get hurt when those soldiers try to protect themselves from rocks and firebombs, it is considered an outrage. When Palestinians deliberately target Jewish children, those same activists consider it as justified resistance. Though Ehrenreich thinks settler violence is underreported, the ongoing story of Palestinian attacks on Jews in the territories gets even less coverage.

The Times often shrugs off accusations of bias against Israel, but this article’s publication and its prominent placement demonstrates just how virulent the problem remains.

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Money Alone Won’t Bail Out the West Bank

As I noted yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the road this week attempting to persuade Arab countries to give him money. Unfortunately for Abbas, his upgrade at the United Nations last month hasn’t made his panhandling act any more popular with those who voted to upgrade his status at the world body. In fact, the Palestinian Authority is broke. Though this isn’t the first time the PA has had cash flow problems, the current shortage is especially acute and enough to provoke a stern editorial from the New York Times blaming the problem primarily on Israel. But while Israel has withheld some tax revenue from Abbas, the problem in the West Bank goes a lot deeper than the current dispute between the Netanyahu government and the PA.

The Times is right that it is in no one’s interest that the PA collapse, but its call for more money from Israel, the United States, the Arab world and the international community to be poured into Abbas’s coffers misses the point about what is going on in the West Bank. No amount of foreign aid can fix a government and a society that is completely dysfunctional. The issue of the PA’s insolvency is directed related to its steadfast refusal to make peace. Though a Palestinian government that isn’t a basket case is needed to make a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict work, the issue here isn’t just that the PA is corrupt and incompetent. It is corrupt and incompetent in large measure because the political culture of Palestinian society is still more interested in perpetuating the conflict with Israel than in building a state.

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As I noted yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the road this week attempting to persuade Arab countries to give him money. Unfortunately for Abbas, his upgrade at the United Nations last month hasn’t made his panhandling act any more popular with those who voted to upgrade his status at the world body. In fact, the Palestinian Authority is broke. Though this isn’t the first time the PA has had cash flow problems, the current shortage is especially acute and enough to provoke a stern editorial from the New York Times blaming the problem primarily on Israel. But while Israel has withheld some tax revenue from Abbas, the problem in the West Bank goes a lot deeper than the current dispute between the Netanyahu government and the PA.

The Times is right that it is in no one’s interest that the PA collapse, but its call for more money from Israel, the United States, the Arab world and the international community to be poured into Abbas’s coffers misses the point about what is going on in the West Bank. No amount of foreign aid can fix a government and a society that is completely dysfunctional. The issue of the PA’s insolvency is directed related to its steadfast refusal to make peace. Though a Palestinian government that isn’t a basket case is needed to make a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict work, the issue here isn’t just that the PA is corrupt and incompetent. It is corrupt and incompetent in large measure because the political culture of Palestinian society is still more interested in perpetuating the conflict with Israel than in building a state.

Though the Arab and Muslim states that profess to support the Palestinians have done little to help them, throughout the nearly 20 years of its existence, the PA has been the recipient of vast sums of aid from Israel, the United States and the international community. For the most part, this money has been either stolen or wasted. The portion of it that did filter its way down to the Palestinian public was often spent on backing terrorist groups or on a vast scheme of public employment. That did little to develop the economy of the West Bank but it did serve to solidify the loyalty of those getting no-show or no-work jobs to first Yasir Arafat and then his successor Abbas.

In recent years, as the Times notes, there has been an effort by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to actually serve his people and to foster development as well as good government. The problem is that as much as the Americans and Israelis would like to help Fayyad, his efforts are still the exception to the rule. The unpopular Fayyad has little real influence over the PA’s future. He will also be sidelined if the Fatah-Hamas merger ever is brought to fruition.

More importantly, the failure of the West Bank economy is due to the refusal of Abbas to talk or make peace with Israel. Had he done so in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him statehood, things would be very different today. That is also true of Arafat’s refusal of Ehud Barak’s peace offers in 2000 and 2001. The second intifada that he launched ruined the West Bank’s economy.

The plain truth is that there is no assurance that the money that the United States, Israel or the Europeans are asked to hand over to Abbas will do anything more than prop up a failed regime. It may be that subsidizing failure is a better alternative than the chaos that would ensue if the PA completely collapsed, but it is not the answer to the problem.

What the PA really needs is not so much a handout as a sea change in its culture that would allow Abbas or a successor to end the conflict and to start the business of building a stable society that is not obsessed with violence against Israel. So long as that doesn’t happen, the Palestinians will continue to be beggars and the Israeli public will never support a withdrawal that might lead to the West Bank becoming a terrorist launching pad the way Gaza has become since 2005.

The PA’s bankruptcy is as much moral as it is financial. Until the Palestinians and those like the Times who want to help them realize this, aid to them will continue to be a case of throwing more money down the rabbit hole.

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Netanyahu’s Message Was No Blunder

The conventional wisdom about the Israeli government’s decision to allow new building projects in Jerusalem in the E1 area between the city and the Ma’ale Adumim suburb is that it was a blunder. Critics of Prime Minister Netanyahu claim the move has worsened relations with the United States, alienated European nations and heightened the country’s diplomatic isolation. Others claim that in doing so he has “distracted” the world from concentrating on the nuclear threat from Iran. Even worse, most of his detractors are sure that the only reason he did it was to appease more extreme members of his party so as to secure their support in the upcoming Knesset election. Seen in that light, calling it a blunder would seem to be charitable.

But like most pieces of conventional wisdom, the assumption that Netanyahu has hurt his country is not accurate. Even if shovels went in the ground in the E1 area tomorrow — something that actually won’t happen for a long time, if ever — Israel would be no more or less isolated than it was the day before the announcement. Nor would relations with the Obama administration be any better. All Netanyahu has done is to remind his country’s critics that Israel isn’t willing to lie down and accept the false narrative about the West Bank and Jerusalem that was swallowed whole at the United Nations last week. As Seth wrote earlier, this won’t change Israel’s relationship with Europe. The focus on the European and American positions on settlements has obscured the fact that the primary audience for this move is in Ramallah, not Paris, London or Washington. The E1 decision sends a necessary signal to the Palestinians lest they be deceived by their triumph in the General Assembly. What Netanyahu has done is to show Israel won’t give up an inch of territory unless the Palestinians return to the negotiating table and even then, only if they agree to end the conflict for all time.

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The conventional wisdom about the Israeli government’s decision to allow new building projects in Jerusalem in the E1 area between the city and the Ma’ale Adumim suburb is that it was a blunder. Critics of Prime Minister Netanyahu claim the move has worsened relations with the United States, alienated European nations and heightened the country’s diplomatic isolation. Others claim that in doing so he has “distracted” the world from concentrating on the nuclear threat from Iran. Even worse, most of his detractors are sure that the only reason he did it was to appease more extreme members of his party so as to secure their support in the upcoming Knesset election. Seen in that light, calling it a blunder would seem to be charitable.

But like most pieces of conventional wisdom, the assumption that Netanyahu has hurt his country is not accurate. Even if shovels went in the ground in the E1 area tomorrow — something that actually won’t happen for a long time, if ever — Israel would be no more or less isolated than it was the day before the announcement. Nor would relations with the Obama administration be any better. All Netanyahu has done is to remind his country’s critics that Israel isn’t willing to lie down and accept the false narrative about the West Bank and Jerusalem that was swallowed whole at the United Nations last week. As Seth wrote earlier, this won’t change Israel’s relationship with Europe. The focus on the European and American positions on settlements has obscured the fact that the primary audience for this move is in Ramallah, not Paris, London or Washington. The E1 decision sends a necessary signal to the Palestinians lest they be deceived by their triumph in the General Assembly. What Netanyahu has done is to show Israel won’t give up an inch of territory unless the Palestinians return to the negotiating table and even then, only if they agree to end the conflict for all time.

The Palestinian Authority tried the UN gambit in order to avoid negotiations with Israel that might place its leader Mahmoud Abbas back in the embarrassing position of having to flee from another Israeli offer of statehood. While he has no intention of ever being put on the spot in that matter again, Abbas may be under the impression that the Israelis can be hammered into more unilateral concessions by means of foreign pressure.

This is a common thread that runs throughout the history of the conflict in which the Palestinian Arab leadership has always thought they could evade their responsibility to deal directly with Israel. It is a belief that was encouraged by President Obama’s foolish decision at the outset of his administration that peace would be brought closer by creating more daylight between Israel and the United States. The fights Obama picked with Israel only served to make it even more difficult for Abbas to come to the table even if he had wanted to.

Had the Europeans behaved in a principled manner and rebuffed the UN upgrade as a clear violation of the Oslo Accords, as they should have, it could be argued that Netanyahu’s decision would have been a mistake. But since the Europeans abandoned the peace process that they had heretofore championed, it was necessary for Israel to remind Abbas that he should realize that the vote in New York wouldn’t mean a thing on the ground in the Middle East.

As for the idea–repeated today by the editorial page of the New York Times–that E1 will make the world less willing to restrain Iran, the notion that the U.S. or Europe can hold Israel hostage on that issue is nonsensical. Iran is as much a threat to the rest of the world as it is to Israel, a point that President Obama has made time and again. Nor is there any evidence that any concessions on settlements made by Israel would make the administration any less reluctant to take action on Iran than it otherwise would be.

Despite all the huffing and puffing about E1, the move has not changed a thing between Israel and the West. But it was exactly what the Palestinians needed to hear. Had Netanyahu failed to remind Abbas he will pay a price for ditching Oslo, that would have been the real blunder.

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