Commentary Magazine


Topic: Western Wall

Who Disturbs the Peace of Jerusalem?

United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon denounced what he called “provocations” at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount today. The implications of the statement were clear. The UN official was echoing the anger of Arabs who protested the fact that Jews used the holiday of Sukkot to make an annual trip to the compound which is the holiest spot in Judaism as well as the one considered the third holiest by Muslims. But the notion that Jews walking around on the plateau that rises above the Western Wall plaza is intrinsically “provocative” is more than unfair. It tells us pretty much everything we need to know about why an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere in sight.

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United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon denounced what he called “provocations” at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount today. The implications of the statement were clear. The UN official was echoing the anger of Arabs who protested the fact that Jews used the holiday of Sukkot to make an annual trip to the compound which is the holiest spot in Judaism as well as the one considered the third holiest by Muslims. But the notion that Jews walking around on the plateau that rises above the Western Wall plaza is intrinsically “provocative” is more than unfair. It tells us pretty much everything we need to know about why an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere in sight.

Palestinians are angry about the presence of Jews on the Temple Mount and in particular that of Moshe Feiglin, a right-wing member of the Knesset who is a fierce critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Feiglin’s appearance helps fuel Palestinian claims that Israel intends to demolish the mosques on the Temple Mount, a lie that has served to incite anti-Jewish riots and pogroms in the past. Arabs were doubly angered when Israeli police entered the area and discovered supplies of gasoline bombs, rocks, bottle rockets, and fireworks intended for more violence directed at Jews, including worshippers at the Western Wall. The police wound up locking some of the Arabs involved in this activity inside the Al-Aksa Mosque in order to forestall exactly the kind of riot and bloodshed they intended to ignite.

But the international community, in the person of the UN Secretary General, has no interest in protecting the right of Jews to worship at the Wall or to visit the Temple Mount (where they are forbidden to pray). Instead, he chided Israel to maintain the status quo there while also throwing in his condemnation of Jews who move into homes in Eastern Jerusalem.

In reply, Netanyahu rightly noted that Israel has defended free access to the holy places for all faiths. That is something that was unheard of before Jerusalem was unified under Israeli rule in June 1967.

But there is more beneath the surface of the story than the usual misunderstandings or the anti-Israel bias of the United Nations. The battle over Jerusalem’s holy places is a microcosm of the one over the fate of the entire country.

For Palestinians, the notion of sharing the Temple Mount or even Jerusalem remains anathema. To them, Israel’s decision to let the sacred enclosure remain in the hands of the Wakf, the Muslim religious authority, after the city’s unification means nothing. The supposedly moderate Palestinians, in the form of the Palestinian Liberation Organization led by Mahmoud Abbas, claimed the Israelis are trying to expel Arabs and Muslims from the Mount and the mosques.

That is the same lie Palestinian leaders used in 1929 to foment pogroms that killed dozens of Jews. Their purpose is to whip up anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims. But it also is a thin cover for their own agenda that involves expunging the Jewish presence from both the city and the country.

After all, it is not Israel that is demanding that Arabs be expelled from any part of Jerusalem that would remain in its hands after peace. But Palestinian leaders treat the eviction of Jews from all of the neighborhoods of Jerusalem that they hope to control in a divided city. They would, in fact, like to return to the “status quo” that existed in the city before 1967 when Jews were forbidden not only to visit the Temple Mount but also the Western Wall.

Though the international community and the UN pay lip service to the idea of a two-state solution that would end the conflict, any such resolution must involve sharing the holy city and places. But that is precisely what Palestinians refuse to do in Jerusalem. They treat Jewish worship and Jewish life as inherently illegitimate anywhere Palestinians reside.

Lest this be put down as merely heightened sensitivity about a particular spot, it is very much of a piece with the positions of Hamas, which remains more popular than Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party in the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip they already rule. Hamas still demands the eradication of Israel and the expulsion/slaughter of its Jewish population. So why should we be surprised that the PA and its official media dismiss any Jewish claims to the city or its holy spots and seek to gin up more religiously inspired violence over the fact that some Israelis took a walk on the Temple Mount?

It would be one thing if only Hamas or those Palestinians that can be dismissed as “extremists” sought to inflame passions over the Temple Mount. But when Abbas’s PLO does this, it illustrates the way all Palestinian factions—moderate as well as extreme—routinely attempt to hype blood libels about the mosques in order to keep the political temperature at fever pitch.

We don’t know yet whether this latest incident is a repeat of the PA’s exploitation of Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount that was the excuse for setting off the second intifada violence that Yasir Arafat had already planned to incite. But whether the harbinger of a third intifada or just routine violence, the real provocations on the Mount are not about Jews with nationalist views taking walks but rather about Arabs that seek a Jew-free Jerusalem.

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The Wall Compromise and the “Judaizers”

When Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed the creation of a pluralist prayer space at Jerusalem’s Western Wall last year, there was good reason for skepticism that the scheme would be stopped long before it became a reality. However, the Muslim Wakf that controls the Temple Mount overlooking the Wall hasn’t—at least not yet—tried to stop any construction in the area, as I feared they might. The Orthodox group that currently administers the Western Wall plaza   also seems content to let the plan go forward because Sharansky’s plan to create three separate sections allows them to retain control over the men’s and women’s sections. That would, at least in theory, shunt non-Orthodox Jews who want egalitarian services at the Wall into the Robinson’s Arch section that is currently not accessible from the main plaza.

This is a deft compromise that deserves to be put into effect as soon as possible. Israelis may not care much about religious pluralism, but the spectacle of women seeking to pray in the manner of Reform or Conservative Jews being arrested at the Wall undermines the notion that it belongs to all of the Jewish people rather than just the Orthodox and hurts Israel’s image among non-Orthodox Jews in America. But the announcement that the Robinson’s Arch area that will be set aside for the egalitarians will be administered by the City of David Foundation is causing some to wonder whether the Israeli government is backing away from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to support Sharansky’s pluralist vision. The Foundation has run the City of David archeological park outside the Old City walls. It is identified with the nationalist/settler cause and is assumed, not unreasonably, to support the Orthodox in the debates about pluralism.

This move contradicts Sharansky’s plan that sought to place the egalitarian prayer space at the Wall under the control of a pluralist council. As such, the involvement of the City of David Foundation casts doubt on the future of the plan to change the Wall plaza. If those fears are confirmed, the Israeli government should revoke the Foundation’s control of the area. But criticisms of the move haven’t been limited to worries about pluralism. Left-wing activist Emily Hauser wrote today in the Forward not merely to condemn the decision about the Wall but to slam the Foundation as “Judaizers” who should not be allowed near any of Jerusalem’s holy sites. But while supporters of pluralism may see her article as validating their concerns, they should be wary of conflating the argument about the Wall with Hauser’s agenda that seeks to divide Jerusalem. While leftists may distrust the Foundation’s motivation in rescuing ancient Jewish sites in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, they need to remember there is no such thing as “Judaizing” Israel’s ancient capital.

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When Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed the creation of a pluralist prayer space at Jerusalem’s Western Wall last year, there was good reason for skepticism that the scheme would be stopped long before it became a reality. However, the Muslim Wakf that controls the Temple Mount overlooking the Wall hasn’t—at least not yet—tried to stop any construction in the area, as I feared they might. The Orthodox group that currently administers the Western Wall plaza   also seems content to let the plan go forward because Sharansky’s plan to create three separate sections allows them to retain control over the men’s and women’s sections. That would, at least in theory, shunt non-Orthodox Jews who want egalitarian services at the Wall into the Robinson’s Arch section that is currently not accessible from the main plaza.

This is a deft compromise that deserves to be put into effect as soon as possible. Israelis may not care much about religious pluralism, but the spectacle of women seeking to pray in the manner of Reform or Conservative Jews being arrested at the Wall undermines the notion that it belongs to all of the Jewish people rather than just the Orthodox and hurts Israel’s image among non-Orthodox Jews in America. But the announcement that the Robinson’s Arch area that will be set aside for the egalitarians will be administered by the City of David Foundation is causing some to wonder whether the Israeli government is backing away from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to support Sharansky’s pluralist vision. The Foundation has run the City of David archeological park outside the Old City walls. It is identified with the nationalist/settler cause and is assumed, not unreasonably, to support the Orthodox in the debates about pluralism.

This move contradicts Sharansky’s plan that sought to place the egalitarian prayer space at the Wall under the control of a pluralist council. As such, the involvement of the City of David Foundation casts doubt on the future of the plan to change the Wall plaza. If those fears are confirmed, the Israeli government should revoke the Foundation’s control of the area. But criticisms of the move haven’t been limited to worries about pluralism. Left-wing activist Emily Hauser wrote today in the Forward not merely to condemn the decision about the Wall but to slam the Foundation as “Judaizers” who should not be allowed near any of Jerusalem’s holy sites. But while supporters of pluralism may see her article as validating their concerns, they should be wary of conflating the argument about the Wall with Hauser’s agenda that seeks to divide Jerusalem. While leftists may distrust the Foundation’s motivation in rescuing ancient Jewish sites in eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, they need to remember there is no such thing as “Judaizing” Israel’s ancient capital.

Many Israelis are opposed to efforts to create space for Jews to live in what are now predominantly Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. But treating the area in Silwan that the group rescued from neglect and transformed into an archeological park that allows visitors to see the remnants of King David’s Jerusalem as an “illegal settlement” is outrageous. It is one thing to support a two-state solution and even to imagine that parts of Jerusalem will be part of a putative Palestinian state. But when Jews employ the term “Judaizers” to denigrate those who honor the Jewish history of the city they are adopting the language of anti-Zionism, not peace.

It should be remembered that all of Israel is the product of similar efforts to recover the history of the ancient homeland of the Jewish people that had been either erased or forgotten during centuries of foreign rule. That’s why Palestinian nationalism has always sought to deny Jewish history, especially in Jerusalem. It’s disturbing that some on the left have remained silent about the shocking vandalism of artifacts by the Wakf while condemning the efforts of those who have worked to preserve and protect the ancient Jewish heritage of the city.

The Sharansky plan for the Western Wall is worth fighting for, and if the City of David Foundation is an obstacle to that effort they should not be allowed to administer Robinson’s Arch. But their work at the City of David deserves praise, not condemnation. Whatever American Jews think about the peace process, they should avoid confusing their justified concerns about pluralism and the Wall with arguments about dividing Israel’s capital. Jerusalem is a city of both Jews and Arabs, but its ancient history is proof of Jewish ties that run deep in its history as well as the hearts of Jews everywhere.

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The Big Problem in Jerusalem Isn’t the Jews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trying to Help Real Jews Within the Constraints of a Real State

My initial reaction to the latest move in the ongoing conflict over the Western Wall resembled Jonathan’s: I thought the new platform erected at the Robinson’s Arch section of the Wall was an asinine decision which, however well-intentioned, would only upset large swathes of American Jewry. But my view changed after reading this Jerusalem Post column by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, who serves as executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis.

What Schonfeld explained is that Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett was trying–with some success, in her view–to address the real needs of real-life Conservative and Reform Israelis. And what she understood is something too many American Jews fail to understand: that Israel is a real-world country with real-world constraints, not a fantasyland where ideal solutions can be magically implemented overnight. Thus in trying to bridge the gap between these citizens’ real needs and the country’s real constraints, modest steps that can be implemented quickly are often better than doing nothing, even if they don’t provide an ideal solution.

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My initial reaction to the latest move in the ongoing conflict over the Western Wall resembled Jonathan’s: I thought the new platform erected at the Robinson’s Arch section of the Wall was an asinine decision which, however well-intentioned, would only upset large swathes of American Jewry. But my view changed after reading this Jerusalem Post column by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, who serves as executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis.

What Schonfeld explained is that Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett was trying–with some success, in her view–to address the real needs of real-life Conservative and Reform Israelis. And what she understood is something too many American Jews fail to understand: that Israel is a real-world country with real-world constraints, not a fantasyland where ideal solutions can be magically implemented overnight. Thus in trying to bridge the gap between these citizens’ real needs and the country’s real constraints, modest steps that can be implemented quickly are often better than doing nothing, even if they don’t provide an ideal solution.

Schonfeld was quite clear that the new platform wouldn’t satisfy her if that were the government’s final offer. But as an interim solution–which is how Bennett explicitly defined it–she deemed it a major step forward. Though the Sharansky plan, which involves developing the Robinson’s Arch site more fully into a coequal extension of the existing Western Wall Plaza, might be preferable, she recognizes that such a major project would take years to complete (if it happens at all). Meanwhile, there are real Israeli Jews with real needs that have to be taken care of–and Bennett was trying to address those needs within the limits of what could be done right now, in time for next week’s Rosh Hashanah holiday.

As Schonfeld explained, Masorti Jews (the Israeli branch of the Conservative movement) have been quietly holding egalitarian prayer services at Robinson’s Arch for 12 years. But until now, they had no permanent place of worship there, so holding services meant “carrying prayer books, tables and Torah scrolls in and out of the site on their backs without cover from rain or sun.” Now, they will at least have a permanent site with its own ark, Torah scrolls and prayer books, one that can accommodate a sizable number of people. As she put it, “With the government’s construction of this platform, 450 egalitarian worshippers will now be able to pray comfortably at one time in several minyanim.” That’s a real improvement for the real Masorti Jews living in Israel, and consequently, Schonfeld welcomed it, even though she still hopes for additional progress in the future.

As religious services minister, that’s exactly what Bennett is supposed to do: address the real religious needs of real Israelis as best he can within the constraints of what can realistically be done quickly at one of the world’s holiest and most sensitive sites. Perhaps he could have done a better job explaining himself to Americans. But if American Jews find a genuine effort to help real live Masorti Jews objectionable, it may be because, as I’ve written before, too many of them still have trouble accepting a flesh-and-blood state with all its inherent constraints and flaws, rather than the utopia of their dreams, which no real state could ever be.

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The Wall Between Israel and the Diaspora

Perhaps there are some in Israel’s government that thought they were being clever this past weekend when Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett announced what he hailed as an interim solution for the conflict at Jerusalem’s Western Wall over the right of non-Orthodox women to hold prayer services at the site. Earlier this year Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed a far-reaching compromise that would vastly expand the plaza in order to provide a third and theoretically equal space at the Kotel for non-Orthodox services. That would reinforce the idea that the place is a national shrine for all Jews and not, as it has been in practice since it was liberated in 1967, an open-air Orthodox synagogue whose norms reflect the sensibilities of the Haredi world in which a group like the Women of the Wall protest group is seen as provocateurs rather than merely practicing another variant of Judaism. But it is highly unlikely that Sharansky’s ambitious plan will be realized anytime soon, if ever. Which means that those wishing to have egalitarian services will have to be satisfied with Bennett’s idea in which they will be shunted to a temporary platform that doesn’t even touch the Wall away from the main Plaza at the Robinson’s Arch archeological site.

Bennett says his plan is intended as a goodwill gesture toward the non-Orthodox (who make up approximately 90 percent of American Jewry, though an infinitesimal percentage of Israelis) on the eve of the High Holidays next week. Perhaps he’s sincere about that, but this latest chapter in the long-running battle over prayer at the Kotel illustrates once again that the Wall is more than a metaphor when it comes to Diaspora-Israel relations. Many, if not most Israelis, see the Women of the Wall in the way our Evelyn Gordon does in her September 2013 COMMENTARY article on the subject: as part of a splinter group that is attempting to make a left-wing political point undermining Israel’s image rather than seeking redress for a genuine grievance. Non-Orthodox Jews see the issue as one that highlights Israel’s lack of Jewish religious pluralism. Neither seems to understand the other side, let alone listen to each other. That’s why, contrary to Bennett’s expectations, and coming as it does on the eve of the one time of the year when the bulk of the non-Orthodox will be gathered in synagogues, what he has done will only deepen the long-simmering resentment among Reform and Conservative Jews about the non-recognition of their rabbis as well as the way the Women of the Wall are routinely treated. At a moment when the Netanyahu government needs to rally the support of these Jews on the peace process with the Palestinians and the looming conflict with Iran, this was an unforced error.

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Perhaps there are some in Israel’s government that thought they were being clever this past weekend when Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett announced what he hailed as an interim solution for the conflict at Jerusalem’s Western Wall over the right of non-Orthodox women to hold prayer services at the site. Earlier this year Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky proposed a far-reaching compromise that would vastly expand the plaza in order to provide a third and theoretically equal space at the Kotel for non-Orthodox services. That would reinforce the idea that the place is a national shrine for all Jews and not, as it has been in practice since it was liberated in 1967, an open-air Orthodox synagogue whose norms reflect the sensibilities of the Haredi world in which a group like the Women of the Wall protest group is seen as provocateurs rather than merely practicing another variant of Judaism. But it is highly unlikely that Sharansky’s ambitious plan will be realized anytime soon, if ever. Which means that those wishing to have egalitarian services will have to be satisfied with Bennett’s idea in which they will be shunted to a temporary platform that doesn’t even touch the Wall away from the main Plaza at the Robinson’s Arch archeological site.

Bennett says his plan is intended as a goodwill gesture toward the non-Orthodox (who make up approximately 90 percent of American Jewry, though an infinitesimal percentage of Israelis) on the eve of the High Holidays next week. Perhaps he’s sincere about that, but this latest chapter in the long-running battle over prayer at the Kotel illustrates once again that the Wall is more than a metaphor when it comes to Diaspora-Israel relations. Many, if not most Israelis, see the Women of the Wall in the way our Evelyn Gordon does in her September 2013 COMMENTARY article on the subject: as part of a splinter group that is attempting to make a left-wing political point undermining Israel’s image rather than seeking redress for a genuine grievance. Non-Orthodox Jews see the issue as one that highlights Israel’s lack of Jewish religious pluralism. Neither seems to understand the other side, let alone listen to each other. That’s why, contrary to Bennett’s expectations, and coming as it does on the eve of the one time of the year when the bulk of the non-Orthodox will be gathered in synagogues, what he has done will only deepen the long-simmering resentment among Reform and Conservative Jews about the non-recognition of their rabbis as well as the way the Women of the Wall are routinely treated. At a moment when the Netanyahu government needs to rally the support of these Jews on the peace process with the Palestinians and the looming conflict with Iran, this was an unforced error.

It cannot be emphasized enough that most American Jews who are angry about this situation haven’t the slightest idea why most Israelis are so indifferent to their complaints about pluralism. It bears repeating that in a country in which there is no formal division between religion and state and rabbis are paid by the government, the question of who is a rabbi is a political issue. As such, so long as supporters of the various religious parties (of which Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi represents the views of the modern Orthodox and is least hostile to the sensibilities of most American Jews) are a major force in Israeli politics and hold the balance of power in their hands while those affiliated with non-Orthodox denominations are a fraction of a percent (it used to be said that they were outnumbered by Scientologists), the influence of the latter will be minimal. The majority of Israeli Jews have plenty of complaints about the Orthodox rabbinate and their monopoly on life cycle events, but what they want is civil marriage and divorce. Securing equal rights for the Conservative and Reform movements—which are both seen as foreign implants—is rather low on their priority list.

But Israelis are just as obtuse about the hard feelings of American Jews about pluralism and Women of the Wall. It may strike them as unreasonable for Americans to demand equality for movements that are marginal in Israeli society or to give the Women of the Wall the right to pray in the manner of Conservative and Reform Jews in the women’s section at the Kotel with Torah scrolls, prayer shawls, and singing out loud. But if they are serious about strengthening ties with the Diaspora, especially with the non-Orthodox, then they must treat these complaints seriously. Conservative and Reform Jews believe their denomination is no less valid and deserving of equal treatment under the law in the State of Israel as the Orthodox. When the Jerusalem police ignore the rulings of Israeli courts mandating the right of the Women of the Wall to pray as they like at the Kotel (while sometimes arresting or roughing up the women) or allow mobs orchestrated by the Haredim to keep them away from it at the time of their monthly services, they take it as a personal affront rather than viewing the incidents as the work of marginal troublemakers.

No matter where you come down on the justice of this dispute, there’s no doubt that what Bennett has done is a blunder as far as Israel-Diaspora relations are concerned, though it must be conceded that he has probably helped himself with religious Israeli voters, which is his main interest. Instead of throwing them a bone, as Bennett says he intended to do with this proposal, his idea that will shunt Conservative and Reform Jews out of sight of the main plaza will be viewed as tangible proof of the Israeli government’s disdain for the non-Orthodox. It would have been far better for the government to do nothing while they pondered how to implement Sharansky’s idea than to give Conservative and Reform rabbis an opening to blast the government in High Holiday services. Given that their own interests are at stake with the necessity to mobilize American Jewry against pressure on Jerusalem on the peace process and the nuclear threat from Iran, it shouldn’t have been too much to ask Israel’s Cabinet to avoid giving such offense in the week before Rosh Hashanah.

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A Teachable Moment for American Jews?

As Jonathan Tobin noted yesterday, the Palestinian Authority has voiced vehement opposition to Natan Sharansky’s plan to build an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall. But I think it’s too soon to call this an “impassable obstacle,” as he does; there’s an important step that needs to be taken first: a thorough survey of American Jews asking whether, in light of this opposition, they favor proceeding with the plan. By this, I don’t just mean a telephone poll of 500 or 1,000 random Jews; ideally, I’d like every Reform or Conservative congregation in America to discuss this question with its membership–for two reasons.

One is that the new egalitarian section seems to matter more to American Jews than to Israelis, since Israel’s Reform and Conservative movements are so much smaller (about 7 percent of all Israeli Jews). Therefore, it’s only fair to get their input before making any decision. The more important reason, however, is that this could provide a genuine teachable moment in the kind of trade-offs Israelis face every day in dealing with the Palestinians, to which liberal American Jews–i.e. the majority of the American Jewish community–have lately grown increasingly unsympathetic.

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As Jonathan Tobin noted yesterday, the Palestinian Authority has voiced vehement opposition to Natan Sharansky’s plan to build an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall. But I think it’s too soon to call this an “impassable obstacle,” as he does; there’s an important step that needs to be taken first: a thorough survey of American Jews asking whether, in light of this opposition, they favor proceeding with the plan. By this, I don’t just mean a telephone poll of 500 or 1,000 random Jews; ideally, I’d like every Reform or Conservative congregation in America to discuss this question with its membership–for two reasons.

One is that the new egalitarian section seems to matter more to American Jews than to Israelis, since Israel’s Reform and Conservative movements are so much smaller (about 7 percent of all Israeli Jews). Therefore, it’s only fair to get their input before making any decision. The more important reason, however, is that this could provide a genuine teachable moment in the kind of trade-offs Israelis face every day in dealing with the Palestinians, to which liberal American Jews–i.e. the majority of the American Jewish community–have lately grown increasingly unsympathetic.

Most liberal American Jews have two main demands of Israel: They want it to recognize the non-Orthodox denominations, and they want it to make peace with the Palestinians, right now. The latter demand isn’t confined to fringe anti-Israel activists; it’s routinely voiced by long-time Israel supporters like Rabbi Eric Yoffie or Leon Wieseltier. So I’d like all these Jews to seriously consider this question: When these two primary demands conflict, what do you do–capitulate to the PA in the interests of “peace” and give up on being able to pray at the Western Wall in your own fashion, or insist on your rights at the Wall at the cost of further antagonizing the Palestinians, for whom modifications of the Western Wall Plaza are no less objectionable than new outposts in the heart of the West Bank?

Dilemmas no less wrenching confront Israel every day in dealing with the Palestinians, but because they don’t affect American Jews directly, the latter are often too quick to accuse Israel of being intransigent over a trivial point it should just concede in the name of peace. They deplore Israel’s refusal to agree to a border roughly along the 1967 lines, not understanding the enormous security risks this creates; they deplore Israel’s refusal to release murderers to woo the Palestinians to the negotiating table, not understanding the major role freed prisoners have repeatedly played in fomenting new terrorism; they deplore Israel’s reluctance to redivide Jerusalem, not understanding how unlikely it is that the city would remain open afterward, or how devastating a repartition would therefore be.

American Jews won’t understand the details of these issues any better after confronting their own Palestinian dilemma over the Western Wall. But just maybe, they’ll understand that dealing with the Palestinians isn’t quite so simple as they seem to think it is. And if so, the Palestinians will have done a great service to Israel’s relationship with American Jewry.

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Why Palestinians Block Wall Changes

As I predicted two months ago, the prospects that Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky’s fair-minded plan for changes at Jerusalem’s Western Wall will be implemented have run into an impassable obstacle. Sharansky’s plan was to create a third section of the Kotel that would create a space for egalitarian services that would remove a source of conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshipers. It has been met with generally good reviews among both Israelis and Diaspora Jews who don’t like the way this sacred place has become for all intents and purposes an open-air Orthodox synagogue rather than a place of pilgrimage for all Jews. But as nasty and as bitter as the infighting between Jewish factions may be, the real conflict in the city remains the one between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Post reports today that the Palestinian Authority’s religious affairs minister has said it will not permit Israel to change the entrance to the Temple Mount—which adjoins and looks down on the Wall Plaza—in order to expand the area where Jews may worship at the remnant of their ancient holy place. But the motivation of this veto isn’t pure spite. Just as they have used their power to set off violence and riots to protest even the most harmless alterations to the area in the last 20 years, Palestinian leaders are determined to stop Sharansky’s scheme in its tracks because they regard all of the Old City as not only theirs by right but a place that will be theirs in the event of any peace deal. Rather than this issue being a purely internecine conflict between women who wish to wear prayer shawls and read Torah and those Orthodox adherents who want to prevent them from doing so, the question of who is in charge at the Kotel still shrinks in significance when placed in the context of the Palestinian struggle to return to a period of history when Jews had no rights in Jerusalem.

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As I predicted two months ago, the prospects that Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky’s fair-minded plan for changes at Jerusalem’s Western Wall will be implemented have run into an impassable obstacle. Sharansky’s plan was to create a third section of the Kotel that would create a space for egalitarian services that would remove a source of conflict between Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshipers. It has been met with generally good reviews among both Israelis and Diaspora Jews who don’t like the way this sacred place has become for all intents and purposes an open-air Orthodox synagogue rather than a place of pilgrimage for all Jews. But as nasty and as bitter as the infighting between Jewish factions may be, the real conflict in the city remains the one between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Post reports today that the Palestinian Authority’s religious affairs minister has said it will not permit Israel to change the entrance to the Temple Mount—which adjoins and looks down on the Wall Plaza—in order to expand the area where Jews may worship at the remnant of their ancient holy place. But the motivation of this veto isn’t pure spite. Just as they have used their power to set off violence and riots to protest even the most harmless alterations to the area in the last 20 years, Palestinian leaders are determined to stop Sharansky’s scheme in its tracks because they regard all of the Old City as not only theirs by right but a place that will be theirs in the event of any peace deal. Rather than this issue being a purely internecine conflict between women who wish to wear prayer shawls and read Torah and those Orthodox adherents who want to prevent them from doing so, the question of who is in charge at the Kotel still shrinks in significance when placed in the context of the Palestinian struggle to return to a period of history when Jews had no rights in Jerusalem.

The problem is that in order for Sharansky’s plan to be implemented, alterations must be made to the Mugrabi Bridge that provides access to the Temple Mount from the Wall Plaza. Israel has sought to renovate the bridge in recent years, a move that would only benefit Muslims and the foreign tourists who visit the mosques on the hill (Jews are forbidden to pray there), but it has been prevented from doing so by the demands of the Muslim Wakf which administers the Temple Mount.

The issue here isn’t just preservation of an ancient site in pristine condition since the Temple Mount has already been the scene of massive vandalism committed by the Wakf, which is determined to ignore or bury the evidence of the Jewish origins of the place. The Wakf claims the Kotel is theirs and rejects Jewish sovereignty over any part of it or the city that surrounds it as well as any association with Judaism or the history of the Jewish people. Palestinian Authority leaders and their media have repeatedly claimed that the ancient temples were not built on the Mount where Muslim conquerors subsequently built mosques, just as they deny the associations of the Jews with the rest of their ancient homeland. The rejection of the Sharansky plan is a function of the desire of the PA to exercise control over the entire Old City.

The PA and the Wakf don’t want to stop the expansion of the areas where people can pray at the Wall only because they wish to discomfit the Jews but because they envision administering it themselves in the future.

The dispute between the Women of the Wall and Orthodox authorities is a significant issue that can poison the relationship between Israel and the vast majority of American Jews who affiliate with non-Orthodox denominations. But the PA’s pronouncement is a reminder that the real fight in Jerusalem is not between Jews. So long as Palestinians are determined to reverse the verdict of history and return Jews to a subordinate status in their ancient capital, the spat between Jewish factions will have to wait.

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Palestinians and the Western Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Deft Wall Compromise Will Never Happen

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

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

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

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

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

As Haaretz reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carping About Obama’s Israel Itinerary Misses the Point

The announcement of the itinerary of President Obama’s visit next week to Israel has produced a predictable kerfuffle. With every possible site rife with symbolism, the omission of some places of interest and the inclusion of others is the sort of thing to send the already hyperactive sensitivities of Israel’s supporters into overdrive. Given the history of the past four years during which the president has lost few opportunities to slight Israel and its government, it’s understandable that the decisions about the trip will be examined with a fine-tooth comb and that each element would be suspected as yet another example of Obama’s hostility.

But while I’ll admit I raised my eyebrows about some of the choices, carping about the schedule misses the point. The only real symbolism of this visit is that he will be there. Though there are strong disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem on some vital issues, the Obama trip remains a nightmare for Israel-bashers. There has been no U.S. president who has been less sympathetic to Israel than Obama in a generation. Yet he will be journeying to the Jewish state to unequivocally pledge his nation’s support for its security. If the tone of the foreign policy of his first term was set by his 2009 Cairo address where he pointedly snubbed Israel and treated the complaints of the Palestinians as morally equivalent to the Holocaust, it is to be hoped that the sight of showing respect for symbols of Jewish sovereignty over the land will be just as influential.

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The announcement of the itinerary of President Obama’s visit next week to Israel has produced a predictable kerfuffle. With every possible site rife with symbolism, the omission of some places of interest and the inclusion of others is the sort of thing to send the already hyperactive sensitivities of Israel’s supporters into overdrive. Given the history of the past four years during which the president has lost few opportunities to slight Israel and its government, it’s understandable that the decisions about the trip will be examined with a fine-tooth comb and that each element would be suspected as yet another example of Obama’s hostility.

But while I’ll admit I raised my eyebrows about some of the choices, carping about the schedule misses the point. The only real symbolism of this visit is that he will be there. Though there are strong disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem on some vital issues, the Obama trip remains a nightmare for Israel-bashers. There has been no U.S. president who has been less sympathetic to Israel than Obama in a generation. Yet he will be journeying to the Jewish state to unequivocally pledge his nation’s support for its security. If the tone of the foreign policy of his first term was set by his 2009 Cairo address where he pointedly snubbed Israel and treated the complaints of the Palestinians as morally equivalent to the Holocaust, it is to be hoped that the sight of showing respect for symbols of Jewish sovereignty over the land will be just as influential.

The most controversial aspect of the Obama itinerary is the decision for him to drop the seemingly obligatory visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. That smacks of a lack of respect or support for Israel’s claims to the Old City of Jerusalem as well as to Judaism’s holiest site. That he will go to the Church of the Nativity in Palestinian Authority-controlled Bethlehem while also avoiding any Muslim sites will also raise the hackles of some.

The other sore point will be the fact that the president will not address the Knesset but will instead give a major address to an audience largely composed of students—as was the case in Cairo—at Jerusalem’s convention center (though students from Ariel in the West Bank were not invited).

Obama’s decision to speak at a religious university in Cairo was fitting because it was the perfect symbol of Egyptian society. But the Knesset is living proof of Israel’s status as the sole real democracy in the region. But given the president’s belief that he knows what’s good for Israel better than its democratically elected leaders, it’s hardly surprising that he would have little interest in paying homage to that institution. However, to be fair, it is also possible that the motivation for the snub had more to do with Obama’s notoriously thin skin than his contempt for the country’s representative government. Unlike Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was repeatedly cheered to the echo when he addressed a joint meeting of Congress in 2011, the president knows there is every chance that he will be heckled or jeered by some members of the raucous and unruly parliament.

That said there will still be plenty for friends of Israel to cheer in the visit.

Obama will not only go to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial, he will also make a stop to Israel’s version of Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath on the tomb of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern Zionist movement. That will be a telling rebuke to the increasing chorus of those who wish to delegitimize Israel and its reason for being. Also important will be a visit to the Israel Museum where he will view the Dead Sea Scrolls, a telling reminder of Jewish history and claims to the land that no amount of Palestinian revisionism and propaganda can erase. This, as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s desire to show the president the new high-tech industries, helps establish the justice of Israel’s cause.

One element of the trip will be entirely self-serving. Obama will inspect an Iron Dome anti-missile battery. That will be a not-so-subtle reminder of his attempt to claim sole credit for the creation and funding of the vital defense system. However, Obama won’t bother to visit an Iron dome at its normal station but will instead take a look at one that will be towed to Ben-Gurion Airport to save him time.

Obama’s predilection for moral grandstanding and condescension is well known, and that means there is every chance he will say some things that will offend Israelis and give comfort to their enemies. But no matter what he says, his long awaited trip tangibly reaffirms the alliance between Israel and the United States that can’t be ignored.

For all of the tension between the two countries in the last four years and whatever disputes will ensue in the next four, even Barack Obama feels compelled to pay tribute to Israel and some of its most important national symbols. Those in the Muslim and Arab worlds as well as in Europe and elsewhere who have been encouraged by the distance that the Obama administration has sought to create between the U.S. and Israel will be upset by his presence in the country no matter what Obama says.

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On the Third Day

Jewish Ideas Daily continues its weeklong commemoration of the Six-Day War, with a summary of June 7, 1967, the day on which Israeli forces liberated the Old City of Jerusalem from the illegal 19-year-old Jordanian occupation. It was, in the words of an official Israeli remembrance, “a fundamental moment in the history of religious tolerance, opening the city of Jerusalem to worshippers of all faiths, permitting Jews to return to the Western Wall and other holy sites, and allowing Israeli Muslims and Christians to visit those sacred places in eastern Jerusalem from which they too had been barred since 1948.”

In Moshe Dayan, the latest addition to Yale University’s series on Jewish Lives (which will be published on June 18), Mordechai Bar-On offers this description of what happened:

That morning, Dayan gave instructions for troops to enter Jerusalem’s walled Old City. … [Col. Motta] Gur broke through the Lions’ Gate, one of eight gates into the Old City, crossed the compound of mosques on the Temple Mount, and from there descended to the Western Wall. Many of the paratroopers wept. … In the afternoon, Dayan strode through the Old City with General Rabin and General Narkiss. … Dayan inserted a note in a crack of the Western Wall, with three Hebrew words: Lu yehi shalom – “May there be peace.” He also briefly addressed the soldiers and gathered journalists who printed his words in every Israeli newspaper the next day:

“We have returned to our holiest site so as never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors, Israel stretches out its hand in peace, and the members of other religions may rest assured that all their religious rights and freedoms will be fully protected. We did not come to conquer the holy sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but to ensure the integrity of the city and to live there with others in brotherhood.”

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Jewish Ideas Daily continues its weeklong commemoration of the Six-Day War, with a summary of June 7, 1967, the day on which Israeli forces liberated the Old City of Jerusalem from the illegal 19-year-old Jordanian occupation. It was, in the words of an official Israeli remembrance, “a fundamental moment in the history of religious tolerance, opening the city of Jerusalem to worshippers of all faiths, permitting Jews to return to the Western Wall and other holy sites, and allowing Israeli Muslims and Christians to visit those sacred places in eastern Jerusalem from which they too had been barred since 1948.”

In Moshe Dayan, the latest addition to Yale University’s series on Jewish Lives (which will be published on June 18), Mordechai Bar-On offers this description of what happened:

That morning, Dayan gave instructions for troops to enter Jerusalem’s walled Old City. … [Col. Motta] Gur broke through the Lions’ Gate, one of eight gates into the Old City, crossed the compound of mosques on the Temple Mount, and from there descended to the Western Wall. Many of the paratroopers wept. … In the afternoon, Dayan strode through the Old City with General Rabin and General Narkiss. … Dayan inserted a note in a crack of the Western Wall, with three Hebrew words: Lu yehi shalom – “May there be peace.” He also briefly addressed the soldiers and gathered journalists who printed his words in every Israeli newspaper the next day:

“We have returned to our holiest site so as never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors, Israel stretches out its hand in peace, and the members of other religions may rest assured that all their religious rights and freedoms will be fully protected. We did not come to conquer the holy sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but to ensure the integrity of the city and to live there with others in brotherhood.”

You can listen here to the historic live broadcast of Voice of Israel Radio that day. The following is an excerpt:

Yossi Ronen: There is still shooting from all directions; we’re advancing towards the entrance of the Old City.

[Sound of gunfire and soldiers’ footsteps.]

[Yelling of commands to soldiers.]

[More soldiers’ footsteps.]

The soldiers are keeping a distance of approximately 5 meters between them. It’s still dangerous to walk around here; there is still sniper shooting here and there.

[Gunfire.]

We’re all told to stop; we’re advancing towards the mountainside; on our left is the Mount of Olives; we’re now in the Old City opposite the Russian church. I’m right now lowering my head; we’re running next to the mountainside. We can see the stone walls. They’re still shooting at us. The Israeli tanks are at the entrance to the Old City, and ahead we go, through the Lion’s Gate. I’m with the first unit to break through into the Old City. There is a Jordanian bus next to me, totally burnt; it is very hot here. We’re about to enter the Old City itself. We’re standing below the Lion’s Gate, the Gate is about to come crashing down, probably because of the previous shelling. Soldiers are taking cover next to the palm trees; I’m also staying close to one of the trees. We’re getting further and further into the City.

[Gunfire.]

Colonel Motta Gur announces on the army wireless: The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!

All forces, stop firing! This is the David Operations Room. All forces, stop firing! I repeat, all forces, stop firing! Over. […]

Command on the army wireless: Search the area, make sure to enter every single house, but do not touch anything. Especially in holy places. […]

Yossi Ronen: I’m walking right now down the steps towards the Western Wall. I’m not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I’m touching the stones of the Western Wall.

Soldiers: [reciting the ‘Shehechianu’ blessing]: Baruch ata Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam, she-hechianu ve-kiemanu ve-hegianu la-zman ha-zeh. [Translation: Blessed art Thou Lord God King of the Universe who has sustained us and kept us and has brought us to this day] […]

Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Baruch ata Hashem, menachem tsion u-voneh Yerushalayim. [Translation: Blessed are Thou, who comforts Zion and builds Jerusalem]

Soldiers: Amen!

[Soldiers sing “Hatikva” next to the Western Wall.]

Rabbi Goren: We’re now going to recite the prayer for the fallen soldiers of this war against all of the enemies of Israel […]

While the Six-Day War is remembered for its stunning brevity, it is also worth considering this observation, from “Six Days Remembered,” Anne Lieberman’s compelling day-by-day summary of the war: “By the last of the six days Israel has achieved a stunning military victory at an equally stunning price in Israeli lives. In terms of proportion of population, Israel loses more lives in six days than the U.S. would during all the years of war in Vietnam.”

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The EU’s Black-and-White World

In Wednesday’s post, I wrote that the European Union seems set to repeat its Cyprus error with the Palestinians. But perhaps that’s unsurprising. For in both cases, willful disregard of the evidence has subverted its policies.

In Cyprus, the EU effectively killed a peace plan by promising accession to Greek Cyprus regardless of the outcome of an April 2004 referendum, but to Turkish Cyprus only if both sides voted yes. Unsurprisingly, since Greeks had nothing to lose by holding out for more, 75 percent voted no, while Turks, having something to lose, voted yes. Indeed, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos openly opposed the plan, telling his countrymen they could get a better deal; so did the largest Greek Cypriot political party.

Subsequently, then-enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen accused Greek Cypriot leaders of “cheating” their way into the EU: they vowed support for reunification until accession was assured, then reversed course. But why did Europe deem their promises credible enough to justify sacrificing the accession card?

After all, evidence to the contrary wasn’t lacking. For instance, the Greeks refused to sign an earlier draft of the plan in December 2002 but were nevertheless offered membership later that month. They rejected another version in February 2003, yet the EU made no effort to postpone that April’s signing of the accession treaty, which made accession unstoppable. Indeed, Greek leaders repeatedly demanded more than the plan offered, while polls showed most Greeks opposing the requisite concessions.

The answer is that Europe viewed Cyprus in black and white: since Turkish Cyprus was created by Turkey’s 1974 invasion, it deemed Turkish Cypriots the villainous “occupiers” and Greek Cypriots the victims. Never mind that Turkey invaded in response to a war Greek Cypriots started by staging a coup, with backing from Athens, to create an all-Greek government and merge the island with Greece. Or that Greek Cypriots’ history of oppressing Turkish Cypriots gave the latter good reason to fear the coup and beg Ankara’s assistance, and Ankara good reason to intervene to protect them. Or that the war made thousands on both sides refugees.

Then, having assigned its roles, the EU simply assumed that the victims would “support peace” while the villains would oppose it, regardless of actual behavior. Thus in March 2004, while Papadopoulos and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart were both denouncing the plan’s latest draft, Verheugen still blamed Turkish Cyprus alone for the failed talks.

The Israeli-Palestinian parallels are obvious. Here, too, Europe ignores the fact that Israel conquered the territories in a defensive war, or that every previous Israeli withdrawal has exacerbated anti-Israel terror. It ignores repeated polls (see here and here) showing that Palestinians oppose two states if one of them remains Jewish. It ignores “moderate” Palestinian leaders’ unrelenting insistence on relocating all Palestinian “refugees” to Israel (here and here for instance), their claims that the Western Wall isn’t Jewish, their demand for judenrein territory. It even ignores their rejection of Israeli statehood offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Hence its growing support for recognizing “Palestine” without an agreement, thus killing any chance for negotiations.

The EU has decided that Israelis are villainous, peace-hating “occupiers” and Palestinians are peace-loving victims. And never mind the facts.

In Wednesday’s post, I wrote that the European Union seems set to repeat its Cyprus error with the Palestinians. But perhaps that’s unsurprising. For in both cases, willful disregard of the evidence has subverted its policies.

In Cyprus, the EU effectively killed a peace plan by promising accession to Greek Cyprus regardless of the outcome of an April 2004 referendum, but to Turkish Cyprus only if both sides voted yes. Unsurprisingly, since Greeks had nothing to lose by holding out for more, 75 percent voted no, while Turks, having something to lose, voted yes. Indeed, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos openly opposed the plan, telling his countrymen they could get a better deal; so did the largest Greek Cypriot political party.

Subsequently, then-enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen accused Greek Cypriot leaders of “cheating” their way into the EU: they vowed support for reunification until accession was assured, then reversed course. But why did Europe deem their promises credible enough to justify sacrificing the accession card?

After all, evidence to the contrary wasn’t lacking. For instance, the Greeks refused to sign an earlier draft of the plan in December 2002 but were nevertheless offered membership later that month. They rejected another version in February 2003, yet the EU made no effort to postpone that April’s signing of the accession treaty, which made accession unstoppable. Indeed, Greek leaders repeatedly demanded more than the plan offered, while polls showed most Greeks opposing the requisite concessions.

The answer is that Europe viewed Cyprus in black and white: since Turkish Cyprus was created by Turkey’s 1974 invasion, it deemed Turkish Cypriots the villainous “occupiers” and Greek Cypriots the victims. Never mind that Turkey invaded in response to a war Greek Cypriots started by staging a coup, with backing from Athens, to create an all-Greek government and merge the island with Greece. Or that Greek Cypriots’ history of oppressing Turkish Cypriots gave the latter good reason to fear the coup and beg Ankara’s assistance, and Ankara good reason to intervene to protect them. Or that the war made thousands on both sides refugees.

Then, having assigned its roles, the EU simply assumed that the victims would “support peace” while the villains would oppose it, regardless of actual behavior. Thus in March 2004, while Papadopoulos and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart were both denouncing the plan’s latest draft, Verheugen still blamed Turkish Cyprus alone for the failed talks.

The Israeli-Palestinian parallels are obvious. Here, too, Europe ignores the fact that Israel conquered the territories in a defensive war, or that every previous Israeli withdrawal has exacerbated anti-Israel terror. It ignores repeated polls (see here and here) showing that Palestinians oppose two states if one of them remains Jewish. It ignores “moderate” Palestinian leaders’ unrelenting insistence on relocating all Palestinian “refugees” to Israel (here and here for instance), their claims that the Western Wall isn’t Jewish, their demand for judenrein territory. It even ignores their rejection of Israeli statehood offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Hence its growing support for recognizing “Palestine” without an agreement, thus killing any chance for negotiations.

The EU has decided that Israelis are villainous, peace-hating “occupiers” and Palestinians are peace-loving victims. And never mind the facts.

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Lessons of the Peace Process: The Missing Reflection

The final chapter of Dennis Ross’s 800-page book on the Oslo Process (The Missing Peace) is entitled “Learning the Lessons of the Past and Applying Them to the Future.” Among his lessons was a warning that the process can become “essentially an end in itself” — self-sustaining because there is never a right time to disrupt it. He concluded that less attention should have been paid to the negotiators and more to preparing their publics for compromise. With respect to the Palestinians, it is a lesson still unlearned.

The lessons the Bush administration drew from the Clinton experience were that Arafat was an obstacle to peace; the Palestinian Authority needed new leadership and democratic institutions; and peace could be achieved only in phases, not all at once. Bush endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002; arranged the three-phase Roadmap in 2003; assured Israel in 2004 of the U.S. commitment to defensible borders; facilitated the Gaza withdrawal in 2005; began moving the parties in 2006 to final status negotiations; and sponsored the Annapolis Process in 2007-08, which produced another Israeli offer of a state and another Palestinian rejection. In the meantime, the Palestinians elected Hamas — an inconvenient fact that peace processors simply ignore.

There were multiple lessons to be drawn from the successive failures of Clinton and Bush, but Obama did not pause to consider them. He appointed George Mitchell on his second day in office and sent him immediately to the Middle East on the first of an endless series of trips. He sought a total Israeli construction freeze and reciprocal Arab concessions — getting nothing from the Arabs but obtaining a one-time Israeli moratorium, which produced nothing. The administration has tried “proximity talks,” followed by “direct talks,” and now “parallel talks.”

The process has produced an endless supply of names for unproductive procedures, but not much else. It has become essentially an end in itself, and it is time, once again, to learn the lessons of the past so we can apply them to the future. Aaron David Miller and Jennifer Rubin have produced about seven between them.

But the most relevant lesson may be the one Obama disregarded when he rushed into his own peace process. In a December 2008 article, Obama’s erstwhile adviser Robert Malley urged him to slow down and reflect on “the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of U.S. mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests.”

The Palestinian goal seems less to obtain a state (they have repeatedly rejected one) than to reverse history: a return to the 1967 lines would reverse the 1967 war; a “right of return” would reverse the 1948 one; and controlling the Old City (aka East Jerusalem) would reverse the history before that. At the end of his book, Ross describes the Oval Office meeting where Arafat rejected the Clinton Parameters, with Arafat denying that the Temple ever existed in Jerusalem. Ten years later, the PA denies any Jewish connection to the Western Wall. Not only has the PA taken no steps to prepare its public for peace; its maps and media presume Israel does not exist.

In thinking about the recurring failures of the peace process, it is time to reflect on that.

The final chapter of Dennis Ross’s 800-page book on the Oslo Process (The Missing Peace) is entitled “Learning the Lessons of the Past and Applying Them to the Future.” Among his lessons was a warning that the process can become “essentially an end in itself” — self-sustaining because there is never a right time to disrupt it. He concluded that less attention should have been paid to the negotiators and more to preparing their publics for compromise. With respect to the Palestinians, it is a lesson still unlearned.

The lessons the Bush administration drew from the Clinton experience were that Arafat was an obstacle to peace; the Palestinian Authority needed new leadership and democratic institutions; and peace could be achieved only in phases, not all at once. Bush endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002; arranged the three-phase Roadmap in 2003; assured Israel in 2004 of the U.S. commitment to defensible borders; facilitated the Gaza withdrawal in 2005; began moving the parties in 2006 to final status negotiations; and sponsored the Annapolis Process in 2007-08, which produced another Israeli offer of a state and another Palestinian rejection. In the meantime, the Palestinians elected Hamas — an inconvenient fact that peace processors simply ignore.

There were multiple lessons to be drawn from the successive failures of Clinton and Bush, but Obama did not pause to consider them. He appointed George Mitchell on his second day in office and sent him immediately to the Middle East on the first of an endless series of trips. He sought a total Israeli construction freeze and reciprocal Arab concessions — getting nothing from the Arabs but obtaining a one-time Israeli moratorium, which produced nothing. The administration has tried “proximity talks,” followed by “direct talks,” and now “parallel talks.”

The process has produced an endless supply of names for unproductive procedures, but not much else. It has become essentially an end in itself, and it is time, once again, to learn the lessons of the past so we can apply them to the future. Aaron David Miller and Jennifer Rubin have produced about seven between them.

But the most relevant lesson may be the one Obama disregarded when he rushed into his own peace process. In a December 2008 article, Obama’s erstwhile adviser Robert Malley urged him to slow down and reflect on “the reasons for recurring failures, the effectiveness of U.S. mediation, the wisdom and realism of seeking a comprehensive, across-the-board settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even the centrality of that conflict to US interests.”

The Palestinian goal seems less to obtain a state (they have repeatedly rejected one) than to reverse history: a return to the 1967 lines would reverse the 1967 war; a “right of return” would reverse the 1948 one; and controlling the Old City (aka East Jerusalem) would reverse the history before that. At the end of his book, Ross describes the Oval Office meeting where Arafat rejected the Clinton Parameters, with Arafat denying that the Temple ever existed in Jerusalem. Ten years later, the PA denies any Jewish connection to the Western Wall. Not only has the PA taken no steps to prepare its public for peace; its maps and media presume Israel does not exist.

In thinking about the recurring failures of the peace process, it is time to reflect on that.

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The Five No’s

Jeffrey Goldberg writes wistfully about the “peace process”:

I wish the Israelis had taken serious steps to reverse the settlement process; and I wish that Hamas would go away; and I wish that the Palestinian Authority didn’t argue that the Jews have no connection to the Western Wall (talk about unhelpful!).

There is not much one can do about Goldberg’s latter two wishes. Hamas is not going to go away (even though the Palestinian Authority promised to dismantle it as part of Phase I of the Roadmap); Hamas controls half the putative Palestinian state — and the Palestinians elected it to control their legislature. Elections that might reverse that are not going to happen any time soon, if ever.

Nor is it possible to do anything about Goldberg’s third wish. The PA’s argument that Jews have no connection to the Western Wall is not a new one; it is the argument Yasir Arafat made directly to Bill Clinton in the Oval Office on January 2, 2001, while rejecting the Clinton Parameters. Ten years of unhelpful! The PA’s Ministry of Information “study” posted on its website this week announces that “no Muslim or Arab or Palestinian had the right to give up one stone” of the Wall. So this too is not going to change any time soon, if ever.

But at least Goldberg’s first wish came true: while Hamas was consolidating its power and the PA was asserting that there was no Jewish connection to the Western Wall, Israel took five serious steps to reverse the settlement process:

  1. At Camp David in July 2000, Israel offered the PA a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, which would have required the dismantlement of all settlements other than those adjacent to Jerusalem and/or necessary for defensible borders.
  2. In December 2000, Israel accepted the Clinton Parameters, which would have required the dismantlement of even more settlements.
  3. In 2005, Israel dismantled all 21 settlements in Gaza, giving the Palestinians the opportunity to “live side by side in peace and security”™ with Israel.
  4. In 2008, Israel made another offer of a state to the PA on all the West Bank (after land swaps) and Gaza, demonstrating again that it would dismantle settlements for peace.
  5. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement-building to meet the Palestinian precondition to negotiations for still another offer of a state.

Five serious steps, five Palestinian rejections.

I would re-phrase Goldberg’s first wish as “I wish the PA had responded to Israel’s five serious steps regarding settlements.” But the PA is not going to respond any time soon, if ever. The problem is not the settlements, or the problem would have been solved long ago. What part of five no’s do those arguing for a sixth step not understand?

Jeffrey Goldberg writes wistfully about the “peace process”:

I wish the Israelis had taken serious steps to reverse the settlement process; and I wish that Hamas would go away; and I wish that the Palestinian Authority didn’t argue that the Jews have no connection to the Western Wall (talk about unhelpful!).

There is not much one can do about Goldberg’s latter two wishes. Hamas is not going to go away (even though the Palestinian Authority promised to dismantle it as part of Phase I of the Roadmap); Hamas controls half the putative Palestinian state — and the Palestinians elected it to control their legislature. Elections that might reverse that are not going to happen any time soon, if ever.

Nor is it possible to do anything about Goldberg’s third wish. The PA’s argument that Jews have no connection to the Western Wall is not a new one; it is the argument Yasir Arafat made directly to Bill Clinton in the Oval Office on January 2, 2001, while rejecting the Clinton Parameters. Ten years of unhelpful! The PA’s Ministry of Information “study” posted on its website this week announces that “no Muslim or Arab or Palestinian had the right to give up one stone” of the Wall. So this too is not going to change any time soon, if ever.

But at least Goldberg’s first wish came true: while Hamas was consolidating its power and the PA was asserting that there was no Jewish connection to the Western Wall, Israel took five serious steps to reverse the settlement process:

  1. At Camp David in July 2000, Israel offered the PA a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, which would have required the dismantlement of all settlements other than those adjacent to Jerusalem and/or necessary for defensible borders.
  2. In December 2000, Israel accepted the Clinton Parameters, which would have required the dismantlement of even more settlements.
  3. In 2005, Israel dismantled all 21 settlements in Gaza, giving the Palestinians the opportunity to “live side by side in peace and security”™ with Israel.
  4. In 2008, Israel made another offer of a state to the PA on all the West Bank (after land swaps) and Gaza, demonstrating again that it would dismantle settlements for peace.
  5. In 2009, Israel declared a 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement-building to meet the Palestinian precondition to negotiations for still another offer of a state.

Five serious steps, five Palestinian rejections.

I would re-phrase Goldberg’s first wish as “I wish the PA had responded to Israel’s five serious steps regarding settlements.” But the PA is not going to respond any time soon, if ever. The problem is not the settlements, or the problem would have been solved long ago. What part of five no’s do those arguing for a sixth step not understand?

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Netanyahu’s Lieberman-Livni Trap

In an ideal world, a foreign minister who publicly repudiated his prime minister’s positions on a key foreign-policy issue from the podium of the UN General Assembly would be fired instantly. So why didn’t Benjamin Netanyahu fire Avigdor Lieberman when the latter repudiated his boss’s Palestinian policy in his UN address yesterday? There’s a two-word answer: Tzipi Livni.

Firing Lieberman would push his 15-man faction out of the coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a minority government. Even if such a government survived, it couldn’t accomplish anything. And it certainly wouldn’t have either the moral authority to conduct delicate and controversial negotiations or the political power to sell any deal to the public.

But the only possible replacement for Lieberman’s party is Kadima: the other non-coalition parties are five splinter factions, one far-left, one far-right, and three Arab. And Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni’s conditions for joining are so outrageous that even public humiliation by Lieberman is preferable.

When Netanyahu was elected last year, Kadima was actually his preferred coalition partner, because its views on many domestic issues resemble his. Since the “peace process” seemed to be going nowhere, he hoped Kadima would ally with his Likud to address crucial domestic problems that had been neglected for years as successive governments devoted themselves either to fruitless peace talks or to coping with the terror they inevitably spawned.

But in the ensuing coalition talks, Livni posed two unacceptable demands.

One was that she and Netanyahu should rotate the prime minister’s job, with each serving part of the term. Israel has had rotation governments before, when neither major party could form a coalition on its own. But in this case, the center-right bloc led by Netanyahu trounced Livni’s leftist bloc, 65 seats to 44. Thus Livni was essentially demanding that Netanyahu throw away his victory, overturn the will of the voters, and crown her prime minister instead — something no self-respecting politician could do.

Her second condition, however, was even worse: she demanded that during Netanyahu’s stint as prime minister, she, as foreign minister, should have sole and exclusive authority over Israeli-Palestinian talks. In other words, she wanted the elected prime minister to abdicate control over one of the most important issues in the government’s portfolio: negotiations that will determine Israel’s border, the status of its capital, security arrangements, and more.

That, too, is something to which no prime minister could consent — especially when Kadima’s views on the peace process are so radically opposed to Likud’s: The last Kadima-led government, in which Livni served as foreign minister, even offered to cede the Western Wall!

And if these were Livni’s demands when she knew Netanyahu had a viable alternative (the government he eventually formed), one can only imagine what her demands would be should Netanyahu oust Lieberman, leaving himself utterly dependent on her.

It’s a pity that Israel’s opposition leader is too egomaniacal, even by political standards, to be a viable partner. But in a reality where his only alternative is Livni’s exorbitant and dangerous substantive demands, Netanyahu has no choice but to swallow Lieberman’s insults and try to contain the diplomatic fallout.

In an ideal world, a foreign minister who publicly repudiated his prime minister’s positions on a key foreign-policy issue from the podium of the UN General Assembly would be fired instantly. So why didn’t Benjamin Netanyahu fire Avigdor Lieberman when the latter repudiated his boss’s Palestinian policy in his UN address yesterday? There’s a two-word answer: Tzipi Livni.

Firing Lieberman would push his 15-man faction out of the coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a minority government. Even if such a government survived, it couldn’t accomplish anything. And it certainly wouldn’t have either the moral authority to conduct delicate and controversial negotiations or the political power to sell any deal to the public.

But the only possible replacement for Lieberman’s party is Kadima: the other non-coalition parties are five splinter factions, one far-left, one far-right, and three Arab. And Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni’s conditions for joining are so outrageous that even public humiliation by Lieberman is preferable.

When Netanyahu was elected last year, Kadima was actually his preferred coalition partner, because its views on many domestic issues resemble his. Since the “peace process” seemed to be going nowhere, he hoped Kadima would ally with his Likud to address crucial domestic problems that had been neglected for years as successive governments devoted themselves either to fruitless peace talks or to coping with the terror they inevitably spawned.

But in the ensuing coalition talks, Livni posed two unacceptable demands.

One was that she and Netanyahu should rotate the prime minister’s job, with each serving part of the term. Israel has had rotation governments before, when neither major party could form a coalition on its own. But in this case, the center-right bloc led by Netanyahu trounced Livni’s leftist bloc, 65 seats to 44. Thus Livni was essentially demanding that Netanyahu throw away his victory, overturn the will of the voters, and crown her prime minister instead — something no self-respecting politician could do.

Her second condition, however, was even worse: she demanded that during Netanyahu’s stint as prime minister, she, as foreign minister, should have sole and exclusive authority over Israeli-Palestinian talks. In other words, she wanted the elected prime minister to abdicate control over one of the most important issues in the government’s portfolio: negotiations that will determine Israel’s border, the status of its capital, security arrangements, and more.

That, too, is something to which no prime minister could consent — especially when Kadima’s views on the peace process are so radically opposed to Likud’s: The last Kadima-led government, in which Livni served as foreign minister, even offered to cede the Western Wall!

And if these were Livni’s demands when she knew Netanyahu had a viable alternative (the government he eventually formed), one can only imagine what her demands would be should Netanyahu oust Lieberman, leaving himself utterly dependent on her.

It’s a pity that Israel’s opposition leader is too egomaniacal, even by political standards, to be a viable partner. But in a reality where his only alternative is Livni’s exorbitant and dangerous substantive demands, Netanyahu has no choice but to swallow Lieberman’s insults and try to contain the diplomatic fallout.

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Quick Reaction to the Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

With all the normal caveats — we don’t know what was said in private, etc. — there are a few takeaways from the just-concluded news conference.

1. It was noteworthy that Obama explicitly affirmed in his opening remarks that Israel and the United States share “national security interests [and] our strategic interests.” One of the worst aspects of the recent drama was the inference by administration officials that Israeli and U.S. strategic interests were diverging or even in conflict. It wasn’t very long ago that President Obama was saying that the Israeli-Arab conflict is costing American “blood and treasure.” For now, at least, the administration is avoiding such rhetoric and instead emphasizing the traditional features of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

2. At least publicly, Obama appears to be trying to put the nuclear non-proliferation treaty controversy to bed. As reported a long time ago by Eli Lake, and then finally over the weekend (finally) by the New York Times, the administration has been following what could be called a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Israeli nukes. After apparently promising the Israelis he would not do so, Obama recently endorsed the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, raising the prospect — it’s a little mind-blowing to think about it — that Israel’s nukes, rather than the Iranian nuclear program, would become a focal point of international attention. Today, Obama said the following in an obvious attempt to repair the damage and reassure the Israelis:

I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues [of Israel and the NPT]. … We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region…the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

The test will be what the administration does about all of this when its nuclear conference takes place.

3. Regarding the peace process: for starters, Obama endorsed Netanyahu as a partner for peace (yes, the president has set a very low standard): “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace, I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. … I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.” More important, he endorsed the commencement of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks before the settlement freeze expires in September. This is not a small issue. The Israelis want to move beyond proximity talks for several reasons, primarily because proximity talks prevent the Palestinians’ bluff from being called. So long as the administration plays the role of mediator, the peace process remains focused on settlements and Israel rather than Palestinian intransigence, incitement, etc.

There is no expectation that the Palestinians are prepared to make the big moves that would allow something like a two-state solution to happen; in fact, the Palestinians aren’t even prepared to make the small ones. Over the weekend, it was leaked to an Israeli paper that Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that Israel should maintain control over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The next day, Saeb Erekat announced that nothing of the sort had been offered. To anyone who follows the “peace process,” this is a familiar Palestinian dance.

And it is a dance that the proximity talks keep hidden. Move to direct talks, and the Palestinian position — rejectionism, inflexibility, political fractiousness, and paralysis — will come into stark relief. The fact that Obama endorsed moving to direct talks this summer should make Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad very nervous.

4. There was no mention of the Turkish demand that Obama ask Israel to apologize over the flotilla ambush. Presumably, Obama was wise enough to realize that this is something he should just stay out of.

5. All of this is smart politics for Obama. His hostility toward Israel over the past year and a half earned him nothing and alienated many of his Jewish and pro-Israel supporters. Obviously Obama would like this entire issue to move to the back burner in the run-up to the midterms.

With all the normal caveats — we don’t know what was said in private, etc. — there are a few takeaways from the just-concluded news conference.

1. It was noteworthy that Obama explicitly affirmed in his opening remarks that Israel and the United States share “national security interests [and] our strategic interests.” One of the worst aspects of the recent drama was the inference by administration officials that Israeli and U.S. strategic interests were diverging or even in conflict. It wasn’t very long ago that President Obama was saying that the Israeli-Arab conflict is costing American “blood and treasure.” For now, at least, the administration is avoiding such rhetoric and instead emphasizing the traditional features of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

2. At least publicly, Obama appears to be trying to put the nuclear non-proliferation treaty controversy to bed. As reported a long time ago by Eli Lake, and then finally over the weekend (finally) by the New York Times, the administration has been following what could be called a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Israeli nukes. After apparently promising the Israelis he would not do so, Obama recently endorsed the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, raising the prospect — it’s a little mind-blowing to think about it — that Israel’s nukes, rather than the Iranian nuclear program, would become a focal point of international attention. Today, Obama said the following in an obvious attempt to repair the damage and reassure the Israelis:

I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues [of Israel and the NPT]. … We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region…the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

The test will be what the administration does about all of this when its nuclear conference takes place.

3. Regarding the peace process: for starters, Obama endorsed Netanyahu as a partner for peace (yes, the president has set a very low standard): “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace, I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. … I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.” More important, he endorsed the commencement of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks before the settlement freeze expires in September. This is not a small issue. The Israelis want to move beyond proximity talks for several reasons, primarily because proximity talks prevent the Palestinians’ bluff from being called. So long as the administration plays the role of mediator, the peace process remains focused on settlements and Israel rather than Palestinian intransigence, incitement, etc.

There is no expectation that the Palestinians are prepared to make the big moves that would allow something like a two-state solution to happen; in fact, the Palestinians aren’t even prepared to make the small ones. Over the weekend, it was leaked to an Israeli paper that Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that Israel should maintain control over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The next day, Saeb Erekat announced that nothing of the sort had been offered. To anyone who follows the “peace process,” this is a familiar Palestinian dance.

And it is a dance that the proximity talks keep hidden. Move to direct talks, and the Palestinian position — rejectionism, inflexibility, political fractiousness, and paralysis — will come into stark relief. The fact that Obama endorsed moving to direct talks this summer should make Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad very nervous.

4. There was no mention of the Turkish demand that Obama ask Israel to apologize over the flotilla ambush. Presumably, Obama was wise enough to realize that this is something he should just stay out of.

5. All of this is smart politics for Obama. His hostility toward Israel over the past year and a half earned him nothing and alienated many of his Jewish and pro-Israel supporters. Obviously Obama would like this entire issue to move to the back burner in the run-up to the midterms.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas’s] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

It took Barack Obama to turn an ex-president into a sleazy “bag man.”

What will it take for the left to break with the anti-Semites, racists, and Israel-bashers? “Democracy for America, the progressive group that grew out of Howard Dean’s campaign for president, is standing by its support for a House candidate who backs a radical single-state solution in the Middle East and suggested in an interview that Jewish Reps. Jane Harman and Henry Waxman should ‘pledge allegiance to this country as the country they represent.”

Will Obama take this opportunity to dump the witch hunt against CIA interrogators? Stephen Hayes recommends that he should: “The repercussions have been severe. CIA operators, already risk averse, are today far less willing to take risks in the field out of fear that a wrong decision, even a legal one that produced crucial intelligence, could send them to jail. Obama should also insist that the Justice Department aggressively investigate the alleged exposure of CIA officials by lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees. Photographs of officials were discovered in the cell of Mustafa Ahmed al Hawsawi and were reportedly provided by investigators working for the ACLU and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. John Rizzo, former CIA general counsel and a 30-year intelligence veteran, said that the breach was far graver than the leak of Valerie Plame’s name.”

It took a few weeks of criticism to reveal Peter Beinart’s vile attitudes toward his fellow Jews: Nathan Diament on Beinart’s latest outburst in the Israel-hating the New York Review of Books: “Peter goes way beyond debating substance and drifts into stereotyping and calumny, saying: ‘the same sort of settler fanatics who burn Palestinian olive groves also assassinated an Israeli prime minister. The same ultra-Orthodox hooligans who burn Christian holy books also attack Jewish women trying to pray at the Western Wall.’ He also slams Rav Ovadia Yosef and, apparently, anyone else in Israel who, we suppose, doesn’t agree with his view — or that of the editorial board of Ha’aretz — as to precisely what ought to happen.”

It took a year and a half of Obama’s presidency to ruin Blanche Lincoln’s career: “[Arkansas’s] larger bloc of conservative Democrats and independents upset over the perception that the incumbent is overly cozy with the unpopular President Obama, the Agriculture Committee chair and Delta farmer’s daughter finds her 18-year congressional career in grave jeopardy.”

It took a determined Jewish mom from Los Angeles to figure out it only took a $15 dollar solar cooker (made of cardboard and aluminum) to help protect “female [Darfur] refugees who were being ruthlessly subjected to physical and sexual brutality when they left the relative safety of their refugee camps.” She’s done more for human rights in Darfur — much more — than Obama and his embarrassingly ineffective special envoy have.

Have you noticed that Democrats aren’t so willing to take unpopular stands for this president on national security? “The Senate Armed Services Committee dealt a big setback to President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay when lawmakers stripped funding for a new prison in Illinois to hold the detainees. Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Friday told reporters the committee, in a voice vote, stripped $245 million that would have gone to buy and retrofit the Thomson prison in Illinois.”

Charles Hurt catches Obama taking responsibility for “zilch” at his BP oil-spill press conference: “It was yet another performance of the ‘full responsibility’ flimflam. … President Obama repeatedly took ‘full responsibility’ for the blundering efforts to clog up the geyser of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico coating everything in sight. At the same time, Obama repeatedly denied that his administration was complicit in allowing the catastrophe to happen in the first place, slow to realize the devastating nature of it, or ham-handed in the five-week effort to try to stem the toxic tide. In other words, Obama — as he often does — took ‘full responsibility’ for being awesome.”

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Obama Should Go to Israel!

During a meeting with Jewish Democrats it was suggested — by which participant(s) we don’t know — that Obama should visit Israel. I mused about such a trip earlier this month. Yes, let’s see Obama interact with the Israeli people and go to the Knesset. Let him give interviews to Israeli media. Let him conduct a press conference in Jerusalem.

I suspect that Obama won’t go anytime soon because of the prospect of such events and because of the White House’s inability to stave off protests, catcalls, and boos in a country where citizens are not shy about expressing their political sentiments. The fact that an American president might very well be booed in the Jewish state is indicative of the pathetic status of U.S.-Israeli relations.

Now, if you think I am exaggerating the prospect of an unfriendly welcome, consider that two “right-wing activists” (funny how the media never calls J Streeters “left-wing activists”) are threatening to disrupt the bar mitzvah of Rahm Emanuel’s son at the Western Wall “with catcalls and disgust.” (No, I don’t approve — the sins of the father shouldn’t be visited on his son.) That’s the child of his chief of staff — so imagine if Obama himself went. And then there is this to consider:

Another possible problem with Emanuel’s plan may be that the site sits beyond the historic Green Line, which used to separate Israel from Jordanian-controlled territory until the Six Day War of 1967. Since then, Israel has controlled all of the Old City of Jerusalem and its religious sites, but U.S. policy still classifies the area as “occupied territory” and officials are discouraged from spending time there other than for diplomatic duty and work assignments.

Recall that when Obama was in suck-up mode with American Jews (who gave him a pass for 20 years of listening to the anti-Semitic ravings of Rev. Wright) during the campaign, he went to the Wall, in which he touchingly placed a note. No, he didn’t at the time mention that he wanted to carve up Jerusalem. But now that it’s out in the open, wouldn’t it seem extraordinarily hypocritical (even for him) to go there? Yes, we’ve come to the point where a trip to the Wall by an American president becomes an act of gross hypocrisy. Tragic, really.

During a meeting with Jewish Democrats it was suggested — by which participant(s) we don’t know — that Obama should visit Israel. I mused about such a trip earlier this month. Yes, let’s see Obama interact with the Israeli people and go to the Knesset. Let him give interviews to Israeli media. Let him conduct a press conference in Jerusalem.

I suspect that Obama won’t go anytime soon because of the prospect of such events and because of the White House’s inability to stave off protests, catcalls, and boos in a country where citizens are not shy about expressing their political sentiments. The fact that an American president might very well be booed in the Jewish state is indicative of the pathetic status of U.S.-Israeli relations.

Now, if you think I am exaggerating the prospect of an unfriendly welcome, consider that two “right-wing activists” (funny how the media never calls J Streeters “left-wing activists”) are threatening to disrupt the bar mitzvah of Rahm Emanuel’s son at the Western Wall “with catcalls and disgust.” (No, I don’t approve — the sins of the father shouldn’t be visited on his son.) That’s the child of his chief of staff — so imagine if Obama himself went. And then there is this to consider:

Another possible problem with Emanuel’s plan may be that the site sits beyond the historic Green Line, which used to separate Israel from Jordanian-controlled territory until the Six Day War of 1967. Since then, Israel has controlled all of the Old City of Jerusalem and its religious sites, but U.S. policy still classifies the area as “occupied territory” and officials are discouraged from spending time there other than for diplomatic duty and work assignments.

Recall that when Obama was in suck-up mode with American Jews (who gave him a pass for 20 years of listening to the anti-Semitic ravings of Rev. Wright) during the campaign, he went to the Wall, in which he touchingly placed a note. No, he didn’t at the time mention that he wanted to carve up Jerusalem. But now that it’s out in the open, wouldn’t it seem extraordinarily hypocritical (even for him) to go there? Yes, we’ve come to the point where a trip to the Wall by an American president becomes an act of gross hypocrisy. Tragic, really.

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Barack Obama vs. Jerusalem Day

This was no ordinary Jerusalem Day celebrated in Israel today. This date on the Jewish calendar notes the anniversary of the unification of the city in 1967, when Israeli troops routed the Jordanian occupiers of the eastern, northern, and southern parts of the town, and of the Old City. In June 1967, the barriers that had divided Jerusalem since the 1949 armistice were torn down, and the Jewish people were reunited with their holiest places, from which they had been barred during that period. But while today’s ceremonies, displays, and parties were the usual mix of historic remembrance and recognition of contemporary achievements, there can be no denying the fact that a shadow hung over the festivities there as well as over the observances of the date elsewhere.

The problem is the knowledge that this is the first Jerusalem Day since President Barack Obama made it clear that a repartition of the city has become one of America’s priorities in the Middle East. Though no American government ever recognized Israel’s unification of Jerusalem or, indeed, even the fact that the city has been the country’s capital since 1949, Obama’s is the first administration to state explicitly that the Jewish presence in the parts of the city that the Jordanian occupiers vacated in 1967 is illegal and to actively oppose the building of Jewish housing even in existing Jewish neighborhoods in the city.

Though more than 200,000 Jews live in the eastern, northern, and southern sections of the city, which the media routinely incorrectly labels “East Jerusalem,” those Jewish neighborhoods there are, according to this administration, a violation of international law and an “insult” to America. U.S. diplomats have made it clear to the Israelis that any building that goes on in these neighborhoods of the capital is a “provocation” that is not only anathema to the United States but also a legitimate excuse for the Palestinian Authority to boycott the so-called proximity talks now going on (so named because Palestinian representatives will only allow themselves to communicate indirectly with Israeli negotiators rather than sit and speak directly with them). And though the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted that Israel will not be deterred from continuing to build the Jewish presence in the city, it is not exactly a secret that all such projects have been put on hold, in order to avoid escalating the tensions that are already apparent in the relationship with the White House.

It is worth repeating on this, of all days, that despite the unique connection between the Jews and Jerusalem (it was never the capital of any entity other than a Jewish kingdom), only in the 43 years of full Israeli sovereignty over the united city has there been freedom of worship for all faiths. (The Jordanians prevented Jews from worshipping at the Western Wall or at other Jewish shrines under their control from 1949 to 1967, just as any Jewish sites currently under the control of the Palestinian Authority have become no-go zones for Israelis.)

Moreover, Netanyahu couldn’t be more right when he notes, as he did again today in his Jerusalem Day speech, that Jews “are not foreign invaders” in their own capital. Yet that is exactly the implication of Obama’s stand. By turning the building of Jewish housing in the city’s Jewish neighborhoods into an international incident, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to demand anything less than the eviction of the Jews from the city; just as they demand of the Jews who live in settlements in the West Bank. Though it must be admitted that there was never any chance that the Palestinians would accept any peace deal under any circumstances, Obama’s ultimatum about freezing housing projects in Jerusalem has certainly ensured that peace is further away than ever.

The juxtaposition of a Jerusalem Day celebrated under tacit American protest ought to remind American friends of Israel who remain supporters of Obama that the man they elected president has done more to undermine the unity of the Jewish state’s capital than 43 years of Arab propaganda. Those who never wish to see the city divided again or to have Jews barred from parts of it must understand that this is exactly the direction in which the Obama administration is headed.

This was no ordinary Jerusalem Day celebrated in Israel today. This date on the Jewish calendar notes the anniversary of the unification of the city in 1967, when Israeli troops routed the Jordanian occupiers of the eastern, northern, and southern parts of the town, and of the Old City. In June 1967, the barriers that had divided Jerusalem since the 1949 armistice were torn down, and the Jewish people were reunited with their holiest places, from which they had been barred during that period. But while today’s ceremonies, displays, and parties were the usual mix of historic remembrance and recognition of contemporary achievements, there can be no denying the fact that a shadow hung over the festivities there as well as over the observances of the date elsewhere.

The problem is the knowledge that this is the first Jerusalem Day since President Barack Obama made it clear that a repartition of the city has become one of America’s priorities in the Middle East. Though no American government ever recognized Israel’s unification of Jerusalem or, indeed, even the fact that the city has been the country’s capital since 1949, Obama’s is the first administration to state explicitly that the Jewish presence in the parts of the city that the Jordanian occupiers vacated in 1967 is illegal and to actively oppose the building of Jewish housing even in existing Jewish neighborhoods in the city.

Though more than 200,000 Jews live in the eastern, northern, and southern sections of the city, which the media routinely incorrectly labels “East Jerusalem,” those Jewish neighborhoods there are, according to this administration, a violation of international law and an “insult” to America. U.S. diplomats have made it clear to the Israelis that any building that goes on in these neighborhoods of the capital is a “provocation” that is not only anathema to the United States but also a legitimate excuse for the Palestinian Authority to boycott the so-called proximity talks now going on (so named because Palestinian representatives will only allow themselves to communicate indirectly with Israeli negotiators rather than sit and speak directly with them). And though the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asserted that Israel will not be deterred from continuing to build the Jewish presence in the city, it is not exactly a secret that all such projects have been put on hold, in order to avoid escalating the tensions that are already apparent in the relationship with the White House.

It is worth repeating on this, of all days, that despite the unique connection between the Jews and Jerusalem (it was never the capital of any entity other than a Jewish kingdom), only in the 43 years of full Israeli sovereignty over the united city has there been freedom of worship for all faiths. (The Jordanians prevented Jews from worshipping at the Western Wall or at other Jewish shrines under their control from 1949 to 1967, just as any Jewish sites currently under the control of the Palestinian Authority have become no-go zones for Israelis.)

Moreover, Netanyahu couldn’t be more right when he notes, as he did again today in his Jerusalem Day speech, that Jews “are not foreign invaders” in their own capital. Yet that is exactly the implication of Obama’s stand. By turning the building of Jewish housing in the city’s Jewish neighborhoods into an international incident, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to demand anything less than the eviction of the Jews from the city; just as they demand of the Jews who live in settlements in the West Bank. Though it must be admitted that there was never any chance that the Palestinians would accept any peace deal under any circumstances, Obama’s ultimatum about freezing housing projects in Jerusalem has certainly ensured that peace is further away than ever.

The juxtaposition of a Jerusalem Day celebrated under tacit American protest ought to remind American friends of Israel who remain supporters of Obama that the man they elected president has done more to undermine the unity of the Jewish state’s capital than 43 years of Arab propaganda. Those who never wish to see the city divided again or to have Jews barred from parts of it must understand that this is exactly the direction in which the Obama administration is headed.

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Shut Up, Mr. Oren, J Street Explains

A reader alerts me to this item: it seems as though J Street’s president at Brandeis University doesn’t like upsetting students. (This would be news to the actual pro-Israel contingent there, who thought that J Street was all about provoking and challenging others.) Anyhow, his complaint: is “I’m not exactly thrilled that a representative of the current right-wing Israeli government will be delivering the keynote address at my commencement.” In case you thought it was directed at some party functionary, that is his way of referring to Ambassador Michael Oren, the representative of the elected government of Israel. The J Streeter thinks Oren is too “divisive.” He scrawls:

Despite its strong Jewish foundation, Brandeis has evolved into a university that prides itself on diversity, and its current student body reflects that pursuit. Even as a secular Jew of Israeli heritage, over the past four years I have often been agitated by the persistent questions, albeit half-serious, of my non-Brandeis peers: “Is there a Jewish studies requirement to graduate? I thought it was a rabbinical school.” If these queries bother me, I can only imagine what it must feel like for the half of Brandeis students who aren’t Jewish to answer these questions. Isn’t it possible that the selection of Oren is nothing but the icing on the cake, a silent confirmation that after four years of living and breathing Brandeis, these students really are outsiders in this community?

He seems to have confused “diversity” with “ridding the campus of pro-Israel voices.” He continues:

Oren is an undeniably controversial figure in a debate that is vibrant on our campus. Such speakers have a history of drawing protesters at Brandeis, something that now seems to be a likely feature of next month’s commencement. I will not be among the protesters and don’t believe that the ambassador’s selection warrants such demonstrations. Though I know that there were only the best of intentions in choosing the ambassador to speak, the University should have been more cognizant of the conflict that Oren’s selection would inevitably produce, particularly on a day that is supposed to represent unity and solidarity among a group of 800 graduating students.

Four years of vibrant college education has led him to conclude the highest idea is: don’t disturb anyone. Again, odd for J Street to take that view. But, he adds, “I sincerely hope that I’m getting worked up over nothing and his speech gives us broad advice completely unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Because that’s not a topic properly discussed on American campuses? Then what’s J Street doing there?

This is a microcosm of the “shut up”  attitude of the left. It’s not enough that J Street wants to turn over the Western Wall to the Palestinians. It’s not enough for them to oppose crippling sanctions or other effective means of dismantling the existential threat to the Jewish state from Iran. No, what they want to do is muzzle their opponents — a complaint they invariably invoke against the “Israel Lobby.” I wonder, would J Street prefer Stephen Walt as its speaker? Well, all of this is clarifying, if not a bit embarrassing, for J Street, which has been trying to mend faces with the Israeli government. That would be the “current right-wing Israeli government,” according to their man on campus.

A reader alerts me to this item: it seems as though J Street’s president at Brandeis University doesn’t like upsetting students. (This would be news to the actual pro-Israel contingent there, who thought that J Street was all about provoking and challenging others.) Anyhow, his complaint: is “I’m not exactly thrilled that a representative of the current right-wing Israeli government will be delivering the keynote address at my commencement.” In case you thought it was directed at some party functionary, that is his way of referring to Ambassador Michael Oren, the representative of the elected government of Israel. The J Streeter thinks Oren is too “divisive.” He scrawls:

Despite its strong Jewish foundation, Brandeis has evolved into a university that prides itself on diversity, and its current student body reflects that pursuit. Even as a secular Jew of Israeli heritage, over the past four years I have often been agitated by the persistent questions, albeit half-serious, of my non-Brandeis peers: “Is there a Jewish studies requirement to graduate? I thought it was a rabbinical school.” If these queries bother me, I can only imagine what it must feel like for the half of Brandeis students who aren’t Jewish to answer these questions. Isn’t it possible that the selection of Oren is nothing but the icing on the cake, a silent confirmation that after four years of living and breathing Brandeis, these students really are outsiders in this community?

He seems to have confused “diversity” with “ridding the campus of pro-Israel voices.” He continues:

Oren is an undeniably controversial figure in a debate that is vibrant on our campus. Such speakers have a history of drawing protesters at Brandeis, something that now seems to be a likely feature of next month’s commencement. I will not be among the protesters and don’t believe that the ambassador’s selection warrants such demonstrations. Though I know that there were only the best of intentions in choosing the ambassador to speak, the University should have been more cognizant of the conflict that Oren’s selection would inevitably produce, particularly on a day that is supposed to represent unity and solidarity among a group of 800 graduating students.

Four years of vibrant college education has led him to conclude the highest idea is: don’t disturb anyone. Again, odd for J Street to take that view. But, he adds, “I sincerely hope that I’m getting worked up over nothing and his speech gives us broad advice completely unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Because that’s not a topic properly discussed on American campuses? Then what’s J Street doing there?

This is a microcosm of the “shut up”  attitude of the left. It’s not enough that J Street wants to turn over the Western Wall to the Palestinians. It’s not enough for them to oppose crippling sanctions or other effective means of dismantling the existential threat to the Jewish state from Iran. No, what they want to do is muzzle their opponents — a complaint they invariably invoke against the “Israel Lobby.” I wonder, would J Street prefer Stephen Walt as its speaker? Well, all of this is clarifying, if not a bit embarrassing, for J Street, which has been trying to mend faces with the Israeli government. That would be the “current right-wing Israeli government,” according to their man on campus.

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