Commentary Magazine


Topic: Yasir Arafat

Whitewashing Abbas Leads to Violence

How far can you go to foment violence and encourage terrorism while still being considered a hero of peace by the Obama administration? Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has long pushed the envelope on this question but has arguably gone further in his condolence letter to the family of Mu’taz Hijazi, a slain terrorist, in which he described the man who attempted to murder a Jewish activist last week as a “Shahid” or martyr and said that “he rose to heaven while defending our people’s rights and holy places” and described his death while fighting Israeli soldiers as “an abominable crime” carried out by “terror gangs of the Israeli occupation army.” But rather than merely express outrage about this astonishing statement, the administration should be taking a lesson from history and realize that its coddling of Abbas and his support for violence such as that practiced by Hijazi is playing a role in worsening the conflict.

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How far can you go to foment violence and encourage terrorism while still being considered a hero of peace by the Obama administration? Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has long pushed the envelope on this question but has arguably gone further in his condolence letter to the family of Mu’taz Hijazi, a slain terrorist, in which he described the man who attempted to murder a Jewish activist last week as a “Shahid” or martyr and said that “he rose to heaven while defending our people’s rights and holy places” and described his death while fighting Israeli soldiers as “an abominable crime” carried out by “terror gangs of the Israeli occupation army.” But rather than merely express outrage about this astonishing statement, the administration should be taking a lesson from history and realize that its coddling of Abbas and his support for violence such as that practiced by Hijazi is playing a role in worsening the conflict.

Abbas’s praise of Hijazi doesn’t come out of the blue. It was the PA leader, after all, that helped incite the attack on Rabbi Yehuda Glick by claiming he and others who advocated for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount should be resisted by all means. In doing so Abbas was following the same game plan for whipping up Arab hatred by falsely claiming Jews were intent on destroying the mosques on the Mount, a tactic that has been used by predecessors such as Haj Amin el-Husseini, the ally of the Nazis that incited anti-Jewish pogroms in the 1920s and ’30s.

Whatever one may think of those who wish to alter the status quo on the Temple Mount where Jewish prayer is now prohibited or those who support Jewish building in areas of east Jerusalem, the notion that Palestinians should feel free to attack them is incompatible with any notion of peace. That Abbas should encourage such attacks with intemperate language and then follow such statements up with extravagant praise for those who took his advice marks him as someone who is not only not a true partner for peace but also very much part of the problem negotiators are seeking to solve.

But this is part of the story about the Middle East that you almost never hear about from the Obama administration or its apologists in the media, such as The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Goldberg made headlines last week when he quoted “senior administration officials” lobbing vulgar insults at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. But in the same piece and others, Goldberg has justified the administration’s attitude toward Netanyahu by saying he has been insufficiently supportive of Abbas, whom he described as “the best interlocutor Israel is going to have despite his many flaws.” The president and Secretary of State Kerry have gone further by praising Abbas’s alleged courage and his supposed dedication to the cause of peace. Clearly these testimonials are incompatible with Abbas’s behavior. His role in the recent disturbances goes beyond mere “flaws” and illustrates just how desperate he is to compete with his Hamas rivals for the support of a Palestinian people that is not reconciled to Israel’s existence whether or not its borders include Jerusalem or Jews are prohibited from stepping foot on the Temple Mount, as the PA has urged.

This is significant not just because Abbas’s fomenting of violence and paeans to those who try to kill Jews is despicable. It is important because it is part of a pattern by which the U.S. and even some Israelis become so attached to both a Palestinian leader and the concept of negotiations with him that they decide to ignore what he is doing or his ultimate goals.

This was the same routine practiced by the Clinton administration throughout the post-Oslo years in the 1990s when Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat also sought to stoke hatred of Jews and Israelis and supported terror. When critics of the Oslo process brought up evidence of Arafat’s actions they were dismissed as enemies of peace. Any attention paid to Arafat’s “flaws” was considered to be a distraction from the need to concentrate on advancing peace negotiations. The result was that rather than being a model of Palestinian government building a future of peace, the PA Arafat built, including its schools and media, was an engine of hate and violence. Peace became even less likely. That became apparent after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed giving the Palestinians a state and independence in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, when Arafat rejected the offer and answered it with a terrorist war of attrition known as the Second Intifada.

That tragedy that took more than 1,000 Jewish lives and that of many more Palestinians soured most Israelis on the peace process, a conclusion that was only solidified after Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza led to the establishment of a Hamas terror state there. Afterward, even veteran peace processors like Dennis Ross admitted they had erred by not paying closer attention to what Arafat did and said rather than their hopes for him.

Obama, Kerry, and their supporters are repeating the same mistake now with Abbas. Rather than focusing their anger and contempt at Netanyahu for defending Jewish rights, they should be signaling Abbas that there must be consequences for his abandonment of even the pretense of a pursuit of peace. If, instead, they keep praising him despite his egregious misconduct, they will be encouraging the Palestinians with the implicit message that the U.S. has no problem with more violence. If so, blame for the blood that will be shed will belong to those who made more excuses for Abbas.

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What Peace Looks Like … And Requires

One of the oft-repeated clichés of the Middle East is that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is just a matter of determination on the part of both sides, and intermediaries like the United States, to keep pushing compromise until a treaty is signed. As proof of the ability of common sense and persistence to solve even the most intractable conflicts, we are always told to look to Ireland where, after a centuries-long dispute, the long “troubles” over British attempts to hold onto that country were ended by first a partition of the island and then decades later by a Good Friday agreement brokered by the United States. Today, the success of that peace process was on display when the Irish republic’s president came to London on a state visit where Queen Elizabeth treated him as an equal.

Taken in a historical context, this is an inspiring moment that would have seemed impossible a century ago. Indeed, it was not thought likely even a generation ago as Northern Ireland was racked by riots and sectarian conflict over its future. The violence in Ulster seems to be a thing of the past and even if it is not impossible for that powder keg to be reignited at some point, the transformation of the relationship between the two countries and peoples is not to be underestimated. As the New York Times notes today, the main points of contention between Dublin and London these days are worries in Ireland that Britain may leave the European Union, something that would complicate the extensive ties between the two nations.

But those who cite this as a reason for optimism about the Middle East are doing a grave disservice to the parties there, especially the Palestinians. If Ireland has achieved peace it is because the leaders of the Irish nation made hard choices that the Palestinians have, to this day, never been able or willing to do. Why that is so is a short history lesson that those who persist in placing blame for the lack of peace on Israel need to learn. 

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One of the oft-repeated clichés of the Middle East is that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is just a matter of determination on the part of both sides, and intermediaries like the United States, to keep pushing compromise until a treaty is signed. As proof of the ability of common sense and persistence to solve even the most intractable conflicts, we are always told to look to Ireland where, after a centuries-long dispute, the long “troubles” over British attempts to hold onto that country were ended by first a partition of the island and then decades later by a Good Friday agreement brokered by the United States. Today, the success of that peace process was on display when the Irish republic’s president came to London on a state visit where Queen Elizabeth treated him as an equal.

Taken in a historical context, this is an inspiring moment that would have seemed impossible a century ago. Indeed, it was not thought likely even a generation ago as Northern Ireland was racked by riots and sectarian conflict over its future. The violence in Ulster seems to be a thing of the past and even if it is not impossible for that powder keg to be reignited at some point, the transformation of the relationship between the two countries and peoples is not to be underestimated. As the New York Times notes today, the main points of contention between Dublin and London these days are worries in Ireland that Britain may leave the European Union, something that would complicate the extensive ties between the two nations.

But those who cite this as a reason for optimism about the Middle East are doing a grave disservice to the parties there, especially the Palestinians. If Ireland has achieved peace it is because the leaders of the Irish nation made hard choices that the Palestinians have, to this day, never been able or willing to do. Why that is so is a short history lesson that those who persist in placing blame for the lack of peace on Israel need to learn. 

Apologists for the Palestinians claim that they have chosen peace with Israel via the Oslo Accords as well as the subsequent negotiations in which they have engaged. But in point of fact, first Yasir Arafat and now Mahmoud Abbas have steadfastly refused to accept the half a loaf of independence and freedom that a peace agreement would entail. They’ve refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or agree to its legitimacy no matter where its borders are drawn. Most of all, they have refused to face down their domestic opponents, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They have instead competed with them for the title of the most anti-Israel.

Had the leaders of Ireland’s early 20th century revolt against British rule done the same, today’s state visit would be unthinkable. What happened in 1922 was that the a majority of the Irish Republican party led by underground hero Michael Collins embraced a compromise peace agreement with Britain that fell far short of their dreams of a united Irish republic. They swallowed hard and accepted a partition that left six of the country’s 26 counties under British rule including a couple in which the country’s Protestant minority was not in the majority. More than that, the democratically elected Irish government (something that can no longer said to be true of Abbas who is currently serving in the ninth year of a four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority) put the question of war and peace in the hands of their people. A majority backed the peace treaty and when the IRA, under Eamon de Valera, did not accept the outcome of the ballot box, a bloody civil war resumed in which the pro-peace faction backed by the British prevailed.

Neither Arafat nor Abbas has ever shown any sign of being to act as Collins did in realizing that a truncated Palestinian state was better than none at all. Neither were they prepared to risk their lives as he did (he was assassinated during the Irish Civil War); nor have they, perhaps for good reason, trusted the Palestinian people to back the cause of peace against those preaching war to the death against the Jews.

The reason for this is, of course, rooted in the very different natures of these two conflicts. It was difficult for many Britons to accept the loss of their first colony. But the reason why they were eventually able to reconcile themselves to the compromise of 1922 was that the purpose of the various Irish rebellions they had put down over the centuries was not the annihilation of the British state. The Irish wanted self-determination but they had no ambition to plant their flag over London or any part of England, Scotland, or Wales. But, though many observers continue to act as if the only point of the conflict in the Middle East is the dispute over the West Bank, Palestinians see all of Israel, and not just settlements over the old “green line,” as their patrimony. Irish nationalism was about the revival of Celtic culture and self-determination on their island. Palestinian nationalism was created as a reaction to Zionism and unfortunately has never outgrown the obsession with seeking to eradicate any Jewish state.

Peace between Palestinians and Israelis is not impossible, at least in theory. It would require Israelis to accept a Palestinian state, a position the overwhelming majority of them, including their supposedly right-wing government, have already accepted. But it also requires the Palestinians to do as the Irish did and give up their maximalist dreams and be willing to put down domestic opposition to peace, even if it means a civil war of their own. Until that happens, dreams of a Middle East version of Anglo-Irish reconciliation are not within the realm of the possible.

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Obama Setting Israel Up to Take the Blame

Yesterday’s meeting between President Obama and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas brought no surprises. In contrast to the frosty reception that greeted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks ago, Abbas basked in Obama’s praise. In his public remarks the president also chose to emphasize those elements of the U.S.-sponsored framework for Middle East peace that conform to some of the Palestinians’ demands, such as a state along the 1967 borders with mutually agreed territorial swaps. But though the president also said that the Palestinians needed to take risks for peace, there was none of the heavy-handed pressure or criticism of Abbas that Netanyahu received. Nor was there even a mention of the need for Abbas to say the two little words that would guarantee a surge of Israeli support for concessions to the Palestinians: “Jewish state.”

Abbas didn’t miss the significance of that omission, which was foreshadowed by Secretary of State Kerry’s complaint last week about the necessity of making the Palestinians make a statement signaling the end of their war to destroy Israel. As the New York Times noted in a story published today, the president seems to be at pains to “right the balance” in the negotiations. Apparently, the White House has come to the conclusion that Secretary Kerry’s efforts to revive the peace process have been too focused on measures intended to convince Israelis that the Palestinians are finally ready for peace or guarantee their security in the event a deal is struck. The president appears to think it’s time to shift back to the combative tone he struck toward Israel during most of his first term prior to his election-year Jewish charm offensive. Even though the Israelis have shown that they will accept Kerry’s framework that reportedly includes a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, Obama’s intention seems to be aimed at placing the onus for the potential failure of the talks squarely on the Israelis.

That’s good news for Abbas who has made it clear he has no intention of agreeing to the framework. But it begs the question of whether Obama is more interested in venting his spleen at Netanyahu or brokering peace.

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Yesterday’s meeting between President Obama and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas brought no surprises. In contrast to the frosty reception that greeted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu two weeks ago, Abbas basked in Obama’s praise. In his public remarks the president also chose to emphasize those elements of the U.S.-sponsored framework for Middle East peace that conform to some of the Palestinians’ demands, such as a state along the 1967 borders with mutually agreed territorial swaps. But though the president also said that the Palestinians needed to take risks for peace, there was none of the heavy-handed pressure or criticism of Abbas that Netanyahu received. Nor was there even a mention of the need for Abbas to say the two little words that would guarantee a surge of Israeli support for concessions to the Palestinians: “Jewish state.”

Abbas didn’t miss the significance of that omission, which was foreshadowed by Secretary of State Kerry’s complaint last week about the necessity of making the Palestinians make a statement signaling the end of their war to destroy Israel. As the New York Times noted in a story published today, the president seems to be at pains to “right the balance” in the negotiations. Apparently, the White House has come to the conclusion that Secretary Kerry’s efforts to revive the peace process have been too focused on measures intended to convince Israelis that the Palestinians are finally ready for peace or guarantee their security in the event a deal is struck. The president appears to think it’s time to shift back to the combative tone he struck toward Israel during most of his first term prior to his election-year Jewish charm offensive. Even though the Israelis have shown that they will accept Kerry’s framework that reportedly includes a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state, Obama’s intention seems to be aimed at placing the onus for the potential failure of the talks squarely on the Israelis.

That’s good news for Abbas who has made it clear he has no intention of agreeing to the framework. But it begs the question of whether Obama is more interested in venting his spleen at Netanyahu or brokering peace.

Israelis will, no doubt, be surprised to learn that the administration thinks it has spent the last few months tilting the diplomatic playing field in their direction. After all, it was the Jewish state that paid a high price in terms of U.S. pressure that demanded the release of more than 100 terrorist murderers in order to persuade Abbas to come back to the negotiating table. And it was Israel that was the prime focus of pressure from Kerry throughout the first months of the talks as the secretary threatened it with a new intifada and growing economic boycotts if they failed to make sufficient concessions to the Palestinians in statements that appeared to justify such acts.

Kerry included in his framework the Jewish state demand as well as more concrete measures aimed at ensuring that the new Palestinian state would not pose a security threat to Israel. In doing so Kerry was rightly seeking an agreement that would actually bring a conclusion to the conflict rather than a pause before the Palestinians resumed it on more advantageous terms. But that was apparently too much for both the Palestinians and their friend in the White House. Thus, rather than using this visit by Abbas to pressure him to say those two little words and to recognize that peace must be final, the president appears to have employed it as a signal to Israel to back off lest it be blamed for the collapse of the talks.

The president is being assisted in this gambit by a liberal mainstream news media that knows how to pick up on administration cues. The headline on the Times article, “Jewish State Declaration is Unyielding Block to a Deal,” made it clear that Washington wants to leave no doubt that even though it is Abbas that is the one who is saying “no” to a peace framework, they blame the Jews for asking him to do something unreasonable.

Abbas’s refusal to take the steps necessary to make peace is nothing new when you consider that he and his predecessor Yasir Arafat have already turned down three Israeli offers of peace and statehood. This has been a consistent pattern for the PA. As the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl noted on Sunday, Abbas thinks he can get away with this because the Obama administration has no intention of pressuring him or holding him accountable for Palestinian incitement, terror connections, or diplomatic intransigence.

If the president were genuinely interested in pursuing peace he would be hammering the Palestinians for their behavior and making it clear they would pay a high price for saying no to Kerry’s framework. Instead, he has given Abbas carte blanche to maintain the same obdurate stance he has taken since he took over the PA from his longtime boss Arafat.

What will this accomplish? It won’t advance the cause of peace. But it will make it easier for Israel’s critics to blame Netanyahu for the inevitable collapse of Kerry’s effort and serve to rationalize the violence and the boycotts the secretary threatened the Jewish state with. All Obama is doing is setting up Israel to take the fall for a fourth Palestinian “no” to peace.

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Lying About Abbas Won’t Bring Peace

With Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas meeting today with President Obama, the focus on the Middle East peace process has shifted, at least for the moment, away from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his alleged shortcomings. But while Netanyahu’s most recent meeting with the president was preceded by an Obama interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg in which the Israeli was lambasted and Abbas praised, there was no such ambush for the Palestinian. Most everybody in Washington and a great many Israelis are at pains to paint Abbas in the best possible light. When Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon accurately described the Palestinian as someone who would never be a partner for a final peace agreement, Cabinet colleague Tzipi Livni and Israeli President Shimon Peres both spoke up in his defense.

Livni, who has at times criticized Abbas herself, did not specifically refute any of Yaalon’s points but preferred instead to say that his shortcomings and record were irrelevant to the task at hand and must be put aside. Peres spoke in the same vein saying that Abbas was a “good partner” and that the point of the talks was to move ahead toward peace regardless of the obstacle. That seems much in line with the American approach that is to never directly criticize Palestinian incitement and the refusal of Abbas and his fellow Fatah members to give up their hopes of flooding Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

In short, peace process advocates believe the only way to plow ahead to an agreement is to keep the pressure up on Netanyahu to give the maximum while treating Abbas with kid gloves, all the while fearing to offend him or to give his enemies within Fatah, not to mention Hamas and Islamic Jihad rivals, any ammunition with which to attack him as soft on the Israelis. Anything else, they tell us, risks blowing up the process leaving no hope for peace.

But the problem here isn’t so much the double standard for Netanyahu or even the blatant dishonesty involved in American and Israeli officials attesting to the sincerity and good intentions of the Palestinian leader. It’s that this theory of peace negotiating has already been tried and failed with disastrous results.

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With Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas meeting today with President Obama, the focus on the Middle East peace process has shifted, at least for the moment, away from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his alleged shortcomings. But while Netanyahu’s most recent meeting with the president was preceded by an Obama interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg in which the Israeli was lambasted and Abbas praised, there was no such ambush for the Palestinian. Most everybody in Washington and a great many Israelis are at pains to paint Abbas in the best possible light. When Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon accurately described the Palestinian as someone who would never be a partner for a final peace agreement, Cabinet colleague Tzipi Livni and Israeli President Shimon Peres both spoke up in his defense.

Livni, who has at times criticized Abbas herself, did not specifically refute any of Yaalon’s points but preferred instead to say that his shortcomings and record were irrelevant to the task at hand and must be put aside. Peres spoke in the same vein saying that Abbas was a “good partner” and that the point of the talks was to move ahead toward peace regardless of the obstacle. That seems much in line with the American approach that is to never directly criticize Palestinian incitement and the refusal of Abbas and his fellow Fatah members to give up their hopes of flooding Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

In short, peace process advocates believe the only way to plow ahead to an agreement is to keep the pressure up on Netanyahu to give the maximum while treating Abbas with kid gloves, all the while fearing to offend him or to give his enemies within Fatah, not to mention Hamas and Islamic Jihad rivals, any ammunition with which to attack him as soft on the Israelis. Anything else, they tell us, risks blowing up the process leaving no hope for peace.

But the problem here isn’t so much the double standard for Netanyahu or even the blatant dishonesty involved in American and Israeli officials attesting to the sincerity and good intentions of the Palestinian leader. It’s that this theory of peace negotiating has already been tried and failed with disastrous results.

I know it’s hard for many in the mainstream media to think back as far as last week or last month (ancient history in the news business), let alone 10, 15, or 20 years back. But the theory of negotiating with the Palestinians that is being employed by both the Obama administration and Israelis like Livni and Peres, was already tried in the 1990s.

Throughout that decade, critics of the Oslo process tried to point out that Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat was using his new power at the Palestinian Authority to undermine any chances for peace. But Palestinian incitement, Arafat’s duplicitous statements about peace in which he appeared to back compromise when speaking to Israelis and Westerners while promising in Arabic to Palestinian audiences to continue the struggle for Israel’s destruction, and the connections between Fatah and terror were all ignored by the U.S. and many in Israel. Even when they were forced to concede that these things were true, merely to speak of them was regarded as proof of insufficient dedication to peace.

It was only in retrospect that some of the veterans of that unfortunate era realized they had made a terrible mistake. Rather than interpreting American and Israeli forbearance as a reason to do what was necessary to make peace, Arafat (with his top aide Abbas always nearby) saw it as a reason to dig his heels in even deeper and to continue playing a double game. When the peace process collapsed after Arafat refused Ehud Barak’s two offers of statehood including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and responded with a terror war of attrition, the illusion that peace could be bought by turning a blind eye to Palestinian misbehavior and intransigence was shown to be a myth. Some of those peace process advocates and negotiators, like Dennis Ross, subsequently admitted that they should have been tougher on Arafat. But those involved need to admit that the problem wasn’t so much the lack of pressure on Arafat but the reality of a Palestinian political culture that simply allowed no room for peace.

What is going now is nothing less than a repetition of the same dynamic. Abbas is a bit more presentable than Arafat and his pro-peace statements are more convincing than those of his old boss. But they are balanced by the double-dealing that Arafat turned into an art form. And he is drawing the same erroneous conclusions about how far he can go as Arafat did.

The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl points this out in an excellent column today in which he dares to tell the truth about Abbas:

The Palestinian president — who was elected to a four-year term in 2005 and has remained in office for five years after its expiration — turned down President George W. Bush’s request that he sign on to a similar framework in 2008. In 2010, after Obama strong-armed Netanyahu into declaring a moratorium on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, Abbas refused to negotiate for nine of the designated 10 months, then broke off the talks after two meetings.

Diehl also understands how the refusal to judge Abbas by the same standards as Netanyahu is making peace impossible:

Why does Abbas dare to publicly campaign against the U.S. and Israeli position even before arriving in Washington? Simple: “Abbas believes he can say no to Obama because the U.S. administration will not take any retaliatory measures against the Palestinian Authority,” writes the veteran Israeli-Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. Instead, Abbas expects to sit back if the talks fail, submit petitions to the United Nations and watch the anti-Israel boycotts mushroom, while paying no price of his own.

The point here is that we have already seen this movie and know the ending. If the president is sincere about wanting to broker peace, he needs to lay it on the line and make sure Abbas knows that the U.S. will blame him–and not an Israel that has already signaled that it will, albeit with misgivings, agree to Kerry’s framework–for the collapse of the talks. But if the president continues to double down on a policy of letting the Palestinians off the hook, it is laying the groundwork for a repeat of the same disaster that ended the Oslo process. The resulting bloodshed should be blamed primarily on Abbas. But Obama, and those Israelis who continue to lie about Abbas for what they believe is the sake of peace, will also bear some responsibility.

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Abbas and the False Hope of Peace

The dynamic of the Middle East peace process hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Americans and Israelis long for Palestinian leaders to enunciate moderate positions that might make peace possible but tend to misinterpret the mixed signals that are sent from Israel’s negotiating partners. They seize on ambivalent statements that give some inkling of a desire for peace but ignore those utterances that make it clear the Palestinians still have no interest in ending the conflict, especially those made in Arabic to very different audiences. That was what happened every time Yasir Arafat spoke in English when meeting with Americans or Israelis and the same is true for Mahmoud Abbas, his more presentable successor.

This dynamic was on display this weekend when Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected, met with a group of Israeli students. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas told the delegation of Israelis that he didn’t want to flood Israel with refugees or to re-divide the city of Jerusalem. Taken out of context and ignoring contrary statements from Abbas and other Palestinian leaders and you get the impression that this is a man ready to make peace. No doubt that will be the interpretation placed on these remarks by those seeking to push the Israeli government for more concessions to the Palestinians or to blame it for the ultimate failure of the current negotiations championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But a clear-eyed look at Abbas shows just how misleading that would be. Rather than moving closer to peace, Abbas is repeating the routine Arafat perfected in which Israelis and Americans are told what they want to hear while Palestinians get a very different message from their government.

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The dynamic of the Middle East peace process hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Americans and Israelis long for Palestinian leaders to enunciate moderate positions that might make peace possible but tend to misinterpret the mixed signals that are sent from Israel’s negotiating partners. They seize on ambivalent statements that give some inkling of a desire for peace but ignore those utterances that make it clear the Palestinians still have no interest in ending the conflict, especially those made in Arabic to very different audiences. That was what happened every time Yasir Arafat spoke in English when meeting with Americans or Israelis and the same is true for Mahmoud Abbas, his more presentable successor.

This dynamic was on display this weekend when Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected, met with a group of Israeli students. As the Times of Israel reports, Abbas told the delegation of Israelis that he didn’t want to flood Israel with refugees or to re-divide the city of Jerusalem. Taken out of context and ignoring contrary statements from Abbas and other Palestinian leaders and you get the impression that this is a man ready to make peace. No doubt that will be the interpretation placed on these remarks by those seeking to push the Israeli government for more concessions to the Palestinians or to blame it for the ultimate failure of the current negotiations championed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. But a clear-eyed look at Abbas shows just how misleading that would be. Rather than moving closer to peace, Abbas is repeating the routine Arafat perfected in which Israelis and Americans are told what they want to hear while Palestinians get a very different message from their government.

A shift on the Palestinian stance on refugees would mean a lot. As long as the PA holds onto its demand for the so-called “right of return” for refugees and their descendants, it means their goal remains Israel’s eradication. Similarly, recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn would also herald a redefinition of Palestinian nationalism from a creed rooted primarily in rejection of Zionism to one oriented toward developing their own nation.

But even in this seemingly positive statement, Abbas left himself plenty of wriggle room. Saying that he doesn’t wish to “flood” Israel doesn’t mean he’s renounced the right of return. How many Arabs constitute a flood? The answer is amorphous much in the same way previous comments by Abbas have hinted at a change without really delivering it. The point being that nothing short of a concrete renunciation of this longstanding demand means anything.

But let’s assume for a moment that Abbas is actually interested in giving up the right of return. If he were to make such an earth-shaking turnabout, is it remotely possible that he would do so while speaking to an Israeli audience rather than to a gathering of his own people in their own language? The answer is no.

As it was with Arafat, who would say to Western reporters he had chosen peace with Israel while telling Palestinians that all he had done was to sign a temporary truce that would be followed by more conflict, Abbas is also playing a double game. Far from echoing Abbas’s moderate statements to the Israeli students, the Palestinian media continues to broadcast and publish a never-ending stream of incitement against Jews and Israel in which terrorism is praised. Indeed, as Palestine Media Watch noted, Abbas has recently personally praised acts of terror against Israeli students.

The same point applies to his pledge not to divide Jerusalem since in the same address he told the Israelis that he would never allow Israel to control the Western Wall, let alone the Temple Mount in the capital’s Old City. In other words, even in the unlikely event of a peace treaty, worship at Judaism’s most sacred places would be dependent on Fatah goodwill rather than Jewish rights.

Another key obstacle to peace is the same one that deterred Kerry’s predecessors from attempting to revive the talks with Israel: Hamas. Though Abbas pretends that the terrorist rulers of Gaza will go along with any agreement he strikes with the Israelis, they continue to exercise a veto over peace that will deter him in much the same way Arafat knew that his signature on a treaty would be a death warrant.

So what is Abbas doing?

It’s not much of a mystery. The Palestinian leader is orchestrating a campaign aimed at diverting Western attention from a negotiating stance based on intransigence rather than moderation. Just as Arafat’s occasional statements about peace distracted both the Western media and the government of the United States from the actual policies he was pursuing as well as the rejectionist culture he had further entrenched via his media and the schools run by the PA, Abbas is trying to do the same thing. In this case, it is part of a game of chicken he’s been playing with Israel’s government to avoid blame for Kerry’s inevitable failure.

Israel should remain open to the possibility that someday the Palestinians will undergo the sort of sea change that will enable their leaders to embrace peace with Israel. But until that actually happens, both the Jewish state and its American ally should ignore Abbas’s deceptions.

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Sharon and the Great Leader Peace Myth

After almost eight years in a vegetative state it appears that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s long struggle for life may be at its end. According to Tel Hashomer Hospital’s spokesman, Sharon’s condition has deteriorated and sources are telling the Israeli press that his organs are failing, leaving little doubt about the ultimate outcome. When the end comes it is to be expected that most of the international press will center their obituaries on the more controversial aspects of his public career. As a military officer, a Cabinet minister, and then prime minister, Sharon was often viewed as a “bulldozer” with few fans outside of those who care about Israel’s security and many detractors, both at home an abroad. They will focus on the debate about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon and the building of Israel’s security fence in the wake of the Palestinian terror offensive known as the Second Intifada so as to besmirch his reputation as well as that of the Jewish state that he spent his life defending.

But as much as Sharon was the bête noire of the Israeli left as well as Israel-bashers in general, he will also be spoken of as an example of a leader who had the credibility and the guts to try to end the conflict with the Palestinians. Sharon’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza will be cited repeatedly by Middle East experts like Aaron David Miller not so much for his failure to devise a unilateral solution to the conflict but because it provides a contrast with what Miller and other members of the foreign-policy establishment consider Benjamin Netanyahu’s lackluster leadership. Having exited the scene years ago Sharon has now been elevated in the eyes of many of his country’s friends and critics (such as the National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn) if only because it allows them the opportunity to bash the man who occupies the office he once held. Though they will be right to say that no one on the current Israeli political scene has the mythic status that Sharon attained, the idea that peace might be possible if Sharon or someone like him were in the prime minister’s office is a fallacy.

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After almost eight years in a vegetative state it appears that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s long struggle for life may be at its end. According to Tel Hashomer Hospital’s spokesman, Sharon’s condition has deteriorated and sources are telling the Israeli press that his organs are failing, leaving little doubt about the ultimate outcome. When the end comes it is to be expected that most of the international press will center their obituaries on the more controversial aspects of his public career. As a military officer, a Cabinet minister, and then prime minister, Sharon was often viewed as a “bulldozer” with few fans outside of those who care about Israel’s security and many detractors, both at home an abroad. They will focus on the debate about the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon and the building of Israel’s security fence in the wake of the Palestinian terror offensive known as the Second Intifada so as to besmirch his reputation as well as that of the Jewish state that he spent his life defending.

But as much as Sharon was the bête noire of the Israeli left as well as Israel-bashers in general, he will also be spoken of as an example of a leader who had the credibility and the guts to try to end the conflict with the Palestinians. Sharon’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza will be cited repeatedly by Middle East experts like Aaron David Miller not so much for his failure to devise a unilateral solution to the conflict but because it provides a contrast with what Miller and other members of the foreign-policy establishment consider Benjamin Netanyahu’s lackluster leadership. Having exited the scene years ago Sharon has now been elevated in the eyes of many of his country’s friends and critics (such as the National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn) if only because it allows them the opportunity to bash the man who occupies the office he once held. Though they will be right to say that no one on the current Israeli political scene has the mythic status that Sharon attained, the idea that peace might be possible if Sharon or someone like him were in the prime minister’s office is a fallacy.

It is true that only someone with the security credentials that Sharon, who was a hero of several Israeli wars, possessed could have pulled off the Gaza withdrawal. Having been reelected in 1983 by running on a platform skewering Labor candidate Amram Mitzna’s proposal for abandoning Gaza, Sharon blew up the Likud Party and rammed the same proposal through the Knesset and implemented it despite the opposition of most of those who had supported him. That took not only guts but also the kind of self-confidence that perhaps only war heroes who have won landslide election victories possess.

Perhaps the aftermath of the Gaza withdrawal would have gone better or at least differently had Sharon not fallen ill. Like those who fantasize that the Oslo peace process might not have been such a failure if only Yitzhak Rabin had lived and forced the Palestinians to abide by the accords and rallied Israelis behind the deal, some will spin similarly unlikely, counter-factual scenarios about Sharon. Perhaps he would not have tolerated the Hamas coup in Gaza or not responded to the rain of missile fire that emanated from the Strip after the withdrawal with the same passivity that his successor Ehud Olmert displayed for almost three years before authorizing a counter-attack. But it is just as likely, if not more so, that Sharon would have been boxed in by the same unfortunate circumstances as Olmert. After all, Hamas had been shooting rockets at Israeli settlements in Gaza as well as southern Israel for years before the withdrawal without provoking a significant military response from Sharon’s government.

However, the real lesson to be drawn from this chapter of history is that the lack of great men with the vision to try something new is not what is preventing peace. From 2001 to 2005, Israelis and Palestinians were both governed by larger-than-life figures. Though it is unfair to compare Sharon, an honorable soldier and a veteran of democratic politics, to a terrorist murderer like Yasir Arafat, one must concede that if any leaders had the standing to sell peace to their respective constituencies, it was those two. What was lacking was not someone with the ability to convince Israelis to take risks but a Palestinian partner and a Palestinian people ready to accept the notion of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. If Israelis are skeptical about Secretary of State John Kerry’s current campaign to get them to again contemplate withdrawing from territory it is not because they lack leaders, a desire for peace, or are devoted to the cause of keeping settlements but because they think repeating Sharon’s Gaza fiasco in the far more strategic West Bank would be madness.

Netanyahu may seem like a small man when compared to Sharon just as Mahmoud Abbas may strike Palestinians as a pygmy when contrasted to Arafat. But what are needed in the Middle East are not great men so much as a sea change in Palestinian culture that will make peace possible. Until that happens, waiting for another Sharon or even another Arafat won’t hasten the end of the conflict.

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More Christmas Lies from Palestinians

It’s a Christmas tradition in Ramallah. Following the same pattern first established by his predecessor Yasir Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas uses his annual Christmas holiday message to claim that Jesus was a Palestinian and his group is following in his footsteps. But rather than a piece of harmless pandering to the West or a bizarre excess of holiday spirit, this ridiculous assertion tells us more about the Palestinians’ mindset and the prospects for peace than the optimism Secretary of State John Kerry has been slinging recently.

As the Times of Israel reports:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas released a Christmas greeting Monday, calling Jesus a “Palestinian messenger” and implying that Israel persecutes Christians.

“As we Palestinians strive for our freedom two millennia later,” he wrote in a statement, “we do our best to follow his example. We work with hope, seeking justice, in order to achieve a lasting peace.”

This is a political version of replacement theology in which the Jews were viewed as having been superseded by Christians in their covenant with the Almighty. But this is not merely a matter of faith but an attempt to write the Jews out of their own history. Doing so isn’t just a swipe at the Netanyahu government but an attempt to depict the Palestinians as the true heirs to the Jewish nation that produced Jesus of Nazareth, and thus depict the six million Jews of Israel as colonial usurpers stealing the heritage of others. The use of this lie isn’t merely offensive, it also illustrates how deeply engrained the rejection of Israel’s legitimacy is in Palestinian culture.

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It’s a Christmas tradition in Ramallah. Following the same pattern first established by his predecessor Yasir Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas uses his annual Christmas holiday message to claim that Jesus was a Palestinian and his group is following in his footsteps. But rather than a piece of harmless pandering to the West or a bizarre excess of holiday spirit, this ridiculous assertion tells us more about the Palestinians’ mindset and the prospects for peace than the optimism Secretary of State John Kerry has been slinging recently.

As the Times of Israel reports:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas released a Christmas greeting Monday, calling Jesus a “Palestinian messenger” and implying that Israel persecutes Christians.

“As we Palestinians strive for our freedom two millennia later,” he wrote in a statement, “we do our best to follow his example. We work with hope, seeking justice, in order to achieve a lasting peace.”

This is a political version of replacement theology in which the Jews were viewed as having been superseded by Christians in their covenant with the Almighty. But this is not merely a matter of faith but an attempt to write the Jews out of their own history. Doing so isn’t just a swipe at the Netanyahu government but an attempt to depict the Palestinians as the true heirs to the Jewish nation that produced Jesus of Nazareth, and thus depict the six million Jews of Israel as colonial usurpers stealing the heritage of others. The use of this lie isn’t merely offensive, it also illustrates how deeply engrained the rejection of Israel’s legitimacy is in Palestinian culture.

However one approaches the narrative about Christianity’s origins, there is no doubt that the historical Jesus was a Jew, not an Arab. The only point of transforming him into a Palestinian Arab is to hijack the history of biblical-era Judaism in order to burnish the myth that current-day Jews have no place in the land of Israel. That this is a transparent and gross falsehood has not prevented this assertion from being a staple of Palestinian propaganda.

Just as false is the other part of Abbas’s message:

Abbas took the occasion to decry Israel’s security policies, saying, “this Christmas Eve, our hearts and prayers will be with the millions who are being denied their right to worship in their homeland.”

“We are thinking of our people in Gaza, trapped under siege, and of those who are prevented from worshiping in Bethlehem,” he said. “Our hearts and prayers are with the people of Al Dbayeh Refugee Camp in Beirut, along with all of our Palestinian refugees — Christians and Muslims uprooted from their hometowns in 1948 and who, since that time, have suffered the vicissitudes of a forced exile.”

The persecution of Christians in the Arab and Muslim world is widespread and has become the subject of increasing concern on the part of Western Christians, such as Britain’s prince of Wales. But the Palestinians have attempted, with the complicity of local Christian authorities desperate to curry favor with the Muslim majority, to deflect responsibility for the way Islamists have marginalized or forced Christians to emigrate from the territories to Israel. Though Christians remain a small minority in Israel, they have full rights even if the Jewish majority is still uncomfortable with the display of Christian symbols, as the Knesset’s reluctance to display a Christmas tree illustrated.

But here again Abbas is playing the rejectionist card by alluding to the descendants of the 1948 refugees that he claims are being prevented from worshipping in “their homeland.” The point of bringing those refugees to Israel isn’t to worship but to attempt to reverse the verdict of history on the events of 1948, another sign that Abbas is too weak to sign a peace deal that would end the conflict, even if he continues to insist that he wants a state along the 1967 lines. Moreover, no one should be fooled into thinking that the Christian Arab minority among Palestinians are equal partners with the Sunni Muslim majority. To them they are nothing more than dhimmi–a protected but unequal minority. For all of the tension between Jews and Arabs, it is only in democratic Israel that Christians have complete religious freedom in the region. The video released by the PLO (that Abbas heads) in which a Christian figure, whether the pope or Jesus, travels the land witnessing supposed Israeli atrocities before smashing through Israel’s security fence is more fodder along these lines.

We can hope that one day Abbas or one of his successors will mean what they say about peace on earth during the Christmas season. We’ll know that they are serious when they stop pretending that Jesus was a Palestinian. Until then, it’s clear that for the Palestinians, Christmas is just another day on the calendar whose purpose is to delegitimize Israel and to deny Jewish history and rights.

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Samantha Power’s World View

Straight news reporting often produces humorous understatement. The reporting on President Obama’s new nominee to serve as ambassador to the United Nations–a position Obama had earlier made a Cabinet-level post–and her controversial past statements certainly resulted in such understatement. One example was the Times of Israel’s write-up of the nomination, which began: “A decade-old video of Samantha Power calling for the US to shift Israeli military aid to Ramallah and to deploy forces to protect Palestinians from IDF troops may prove a hurdle in the UN envoy nominee’s confirmation process.”

It is fair to say that calling for the U.S. to impose a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by installing a U.S.-led military occupation of Israel is a controversial thing to say–not to mention uncommonly stupid, even in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which produces a tremendous amount of stupidity from Israel’s antagonists. Some will defend Power by saying she gave this quote back in 2002. That is not a defense, because that was when Israel was defending itself from the Palestinian terror campaign of the second intifada and Power was suggesting the introduction of the U.S. military on the side of the terror masters. But the quote is actually worse than it seems, and here it is in full:

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Straight news reporting often produces humorous understatement. The reporting on President Obama’s new nominee to serve as ambassador to the United Nations–a position Obama had earlier made a Cabinet-level post–and her controversial past statements certainly resulted in such understatement. One example was the Times of Israel’s write-up of the nomination, which began: “A decade-old video of Samantha Power calling for the US to shift Israeli military aid to Ramallah and to deploy forces to protect Palestinians from IDF troops may prove a hurdle in the UN envoy nominee’s confirmation process.”

It is fair to say that calling for the U.S. to impose a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by installing a U.S.-led military occupation of Israel is a controversial thing to say–not to mention uncommonly stupid, even in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which produces a tremendous amount of stupidity from Israel’s antagonists. Some will defend Power by saying she gave this quote back in 2002. That is not a defense, because that was when Israel was defending itself from the Palestinian terror campaign of the second intifada and Power was suggesting the introduction of the U.S. military on the side of the terror masters. But the quote is actually worse than it seems, and here it is in full:

I actually think in the Palestine-Israeli situation there’s an abundance of information and what we don’t need is some kind of early warning mechanism. What we need is a willingness to actually put something on the line in helping the situation. And putting something on the line might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import. It may more crucially mean sacrificing, or investing I think more than sacrificing, really billions of dollars not in servicing Israel’s military, but actually investing in the new state of Palestine; investing billions of dollars it would probably take also to support I think what will have to be a mammoth protection force, not of the old, you know, Srebrenica kind or the Rwanda kind, but a meaningful military presence.

Because it seems to me at this stage–and this is true of actual genocides as well, and not just major human rights abuses which we’re seeing there–but you have to go in as if you’re serious. You have to put something on the line. And unfortunately imposition of a solution on unwilling parties is dreadful, it’s a terrible thing to do, it’s fundamentally undemocratic. But sadly, we don’t just have a democracy here either, we have a liberal democracy. There are certain sets of principles that guide our policy–or they’re meant to anyway. And there, it’s essential that the same set of principles becomes the benchmark, rather than a deference to people who are fundamentally, politically destined to destroy the lives of their own people. And by that I mean what Tom Friedman has called “Sharafat.”

I mean, I do think in that sense that both political leaders have been dreadfully irresponsible, and unfortunately it does require external intervention which–very much like the Rwanda scenario, that thought experiment, if we had intervened early–any intervention is going to come under fierce criticism, but we have to think about lesser evils, especially when the human stakes are becoming ever more pronounced.

You should watch the video to see her snide laughter when she speaks of ignoring Jewish voters. But even with just this transcript, it’s difficult to decide what’s the worst of it. Is it her casual comparison of the IDF’s anti-terror campaign to the violence that led to Srebrenica or the Rwandan genocide? Is it her dismissal of the moral question surrounding admittedly “fundamentally undemocratic” actions as irrelevant because “liberal democracy” requires the invasion of allies with whom we disagree? Is it her endorsement of Tom Friedman’s moral equivalence between Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon?

It’s really a tough call, because it’s all so astoundingly ignorant and malicious. What is clear, however, is that such a person should not be anywhere near the levers of power–so of course then-Senator Barack Obama, with his scant knowledge of foreign affairs and his ideological rigidity, hired Power to advise him on foreign policy during the lead-up to the 2008 presidential election. She was dropped from the campaign for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster,” but that was always going to be temporary for someone whose intellect, such as it is, attracts such admiration from our president.

That was far from the only controversial statement Power has made, of course. The Washington Free Beacon has compiled its list of Power’s greatest hits, but the most relevant one, aside from the call to invade Israel, was her call for a public reckoning of the American behavior that has caused anti-Americanism around the world and a public apology tour (sound familiar?). Though I suppose the risk of appointing Power to be our ambassador to the United Nations is limited, at least, by the fact that her ideas about America are already so prevalent there. At worst, she’ll simply be redundant.

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Rewarding Terror Against Israel While Denouncing It Elsewhere

As Boston was mourning its victims of terror yesterday, a Parisian suburb was planning a gala fete for terrorists. Among those slated to be honored at tonight’s ceremony in St. Denis are Allam Kaabi, convicted of assassinating Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001, and Salah Hamouri, convicted of plotting to assassinate Israel’s former Sephardi chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef. Both are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who were released in 2011 as part of the exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

Though sponsored by a private organization, the ceremony is to be held in a building owned by the municipality, thus lending the town’s imprimatur to it. And, adding insult to injury, it’s slated to be graced by a representative of Amnesty International: Evidently, this self-styled human rights organization has no problem with targeted killings of Israeli civilians, though it objects vociferously to targeted killings of terrorists.

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As Boston was mourning its victims of terror yesterday, a Parisian suburb was planning a gala fete for terrorists. Among those slated to be honored at tonight’s ceremony in St. Denis are Allam Kaabi, convicted of assassinating Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001, and Salah Hamouri, convicted of plotting to assassinate Israel’s former Sephardi chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef. Both are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who were released in 2011 as part of the exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

Though sponsored by a private organization, the ceremony is to be held in a building owned by the municipality, thus lending the town’s imprimatur to it. And, adding insult to injury, it’s slated to be graced by a representative of Amnesty International: Evidently, this self-styled human rights organization has no problem with targeted killings of Israeli civilians, though it objects vociferously to targeted killings of terrorists.

I can’t conceive of any Western city lending its aegis to a ceremony honoring, say, al-Qaeda terrorists–at least, not without sparking a major outcry from its countrymen. But as this ceremony once again demonstrates, even people who find terrorism against anyone else beyond the pale are often willing to make an exception when the victims are Israelis. And that holds true far beyond France.

Indeed, nobody better demonstrates this truth than the great lady who was buried in London today. Eulogies for Margaret Thatcher justly lauded her as a friend to the Jewish people, a friend to Israel (she was the first British premier ever to make an official visit there), and an uncompromising opponent of terror. Yet despite all this, she had no qualms about making an exception for terrorists who targeted Israelis: In 1980, Thatcher abandoned her previous insistence that the PLO renounce terror and signed onto the EEC’s Venice Declaration, which called for involving the PLO in any Israeli-Arab peace process. Thereafter, her government maintained official contact with the PLO.

This was eight years before Yasir Arafat officially renounced terror in 1988 (that he was lying, as the post-Oslo carnage later proved, is a different story). Indeed, the PLO routinely shelled communities in northern Israel from its Lebanese strongholds throughout the early 1980s, which is why Israel went to war to oust it from Lebanon in 1982; and in 1985, Palestinians hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship and murdered a wheelchair-bound American just because he was Jewish. Yet none of this caused Thatcher to change her mind: In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, she justified engaging with a terrorist organization on the grounds that the PLO was “an important factor in the area.”

It’s hard to find a rational explanation for why so many people tolerate terror against Israelis even as they excoriate it against anyone else. But by so doing, they are undermining both the battle against terror and the universality of the most fundamental human right of all–the right to life. Because if it’s OK to murder Israelis for the sake of a cause, then it’s okay to murder anyone. All that’s left to argue about is the validity of the cause in question.

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Is This the End of Land for Peace?

The Camp David Accords aren’t even 35 years old, but the latest violence between Hamas and Israel shows the fallacy underlying the principle of land for peace. Bluntly speaking, “land for peace” is dead; any diplomatic effort to revive it is likely doomed to fail. That does not mean that there cannot one day be peace, but Hamas’s actions—long planned for with equipment acquired even under the embargo—show how territory ceded brings not peace, but greater violence and vulnerability.

Just a back of a napkin sketch:

The Camp David Accords aren’t even 35 years old, but the latest violence between Hamas and Israel shows the fallacy underlying the principle of land for peace. Bluntly speaking, “land for peace” is dead; any diplomatic effort to revive it is likely doomed to fail. That does not mean that there cannot one day be peace, but Hamas’s actions—long planned for with equipment acquired even under the embargo—show how territory ceded brings not peace, but greater violence and vulnerability.

Just a back of a napkin sketch:

  • 1956: The Eisenhower administration forces an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai; war erupts 11 years later, and six years after that at the cost of thousands of lives.
  • 1982: Israel completes its withdrawal from the Sinai after Camp David; three decades later, Egypt actively helps to arm terrorists dedicated to Israel’s destruction.
  • 1994: As the result of the Oslo Accords signed the previous year, Israel acquiesces to the creation of a Palestinian Authority. Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasir Arafat takes his diplomatic gains, but never abandons terrorism as his chief means of extracting concessions. Hundreds more die in terrorist attacks as Israelis for all practical purposes become less secure.
  • 2000: Israel leaves southern Lebanon, a withdrawal the UN certifies as complete. In response, Hezbollah fills the vacuum, and claims not only the Shebaa Farms/Har Dov, but also seven villages in Israel’s Galilee. Six year later, Hezbollah launches thousands of missiles deep into Israel.
  • 2005: Ariel Sharon, perhaps hoping to end his life as a dove rather than a warrior, unilaterally leaves the Gaza Strip. Almost immediately, terrorists begin their rocket barrage of Israel, striking not only at Sderot, but also at the Ashkelon Power Plant and, now, Tel Aviv.

Even the most dovish Israelis recognize the problem, and understand just what is at stake should Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank. Land for peace was good in theory, but not when Israel’s opponents seek land as the end goal, rather than peace.

Now more than ever Dore Gold’s “Defensible Borders” is a must read.

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Libel Suit Highlights Abbas Corruption

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will address the General Assembly of the United Nations today. In doing so he will resume his disastrous campaign to get the world body to enable him to avoid peace negotiations with Israel by recognizing Palestinian independence. Though he will get more applause than Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who will follow him at the podium, he will not succeed. There are many reasons why the so-called “diplomatic tsunami” flopped last year and why the same thing will happen at this session. But high on the list is the fact that the rest of the world knows that the PA doesn’t control all the territory it claims (Gaza is ruled by Hamas), survives only by foreign charity, and is utterly corrupt and dysfunctional. That corruption again came to the notice of the American media in the days prior to Abbas’s speech. That the issue was highlighted through an initiative undertaken by Abbas’s family rather than friends of Israel is ironic but telling.

The Blog of Legal Times reported earlier this week (h/t Politico), that Abbas’s son Yasser has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Foreign Policy magazine and author and COMMENTARY contributor Jonathan Schanzer for his June 2012 article “The Brothers Abbas,” about the way that Yasser and Tarek Abbas have become wealthy in the Palestinian territories through the use of their contacts and legal monopolies awarded to them by their father’s government, as well as from foreign aid from countries like the United States. The truth of Schanzer’s assertions is self-evident because of the circumstances of the Abbas family’s hold on such lucrative deals as the monopoly on selling American cigarettes and being awarded numerous public works contracts by the PA. But given the widespread corruption that began under his father’s predecessor Yasir Arafat, the only question to be posed about the lawsuit is why the Abbas clan would bother to sue in an American court when the only thing such a proceeding could possibly do is to shine a brighter spotlight on their shady activities.

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will address the General Assembly of the United Nations today. In doing so he will resume his disastrous campaign to get the world body to enable him to avoid peace negotiations with Israel by recognizing Palestinian independence. Though he will get more applause than Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who will follow him at the podium, he will not succeed. There are many reasons why the so-called “diplomatic tsunami” flopped last year and why the same thing will happen at this session. But high on the list is the fact that the rest of the world knows that the PA doesn’t control all the territory it claims (Gaza is ruled by Hamas), survives only by foreign charity, and is utterly corrupt and dysfunctional. That corruption again came to the notice of the American media in the days prior to Abbas’s speech. That the issue was highlighted through an initiative undertaken by Abbas’s family rather than friends of Israel is ironic but telling.

The Blog of Legal Times reported earlier this week (h/t Politico), that Abbas’s son Yasser has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Foreign Policy magazine and author and COMMENTARY contributor Jonathan Schanzer for his June 2012 article “The Brothers Abbas,” about the way that Yasser and Tarek Abbas have become wealthy in the Palestinian territories through the use of their contacts and legal monopolies awarded to them by their father’s government, as well as from foreign aid from countries like the United States. The truth of Schanzer’s assertions is self-evident because of the circumstances of the Abbas family’s hold on such lucrative deals as the monopoly on selling American cigarettes and being awarded numerous public works contracts by the PA. But given the widespread corruption that began under his father’s predecessor Yasir Arafat, the only question to be posed about the lawsuit is why the Abbas clan would bother to sue in an American court when the only thing such a proceeding could possibly do is to shine a brighter spotlight on their shady activities.

While Yasser Abbas may have a degree in civil engineering from Washington State University, the notion that firms that he is associated with have won tens of millions of dollars of contracts from his father’s government solely on the virtue of his expertise is ludicrous. The world knows that the Palestinian leadership has already stolen a large portion of the billions of dollars in aid from the European Union and the United States that have been lavished on the territories since the Oslo Accords were signed.

Some of that corruption takes the form of outright theft and bribery and the senior Abbas is believed, like his predecessor Arafat, to have socked away vast riches (perhaps as much as $100 million) in foreign back accounts. But much of it comes in the form of crony capitalism by which family members are given control of product distribution or construction businesses that live off the public purse. The idea that Schanzer has damaged Abbas’s reputation is the stuff of satire, not law.

It isn’t likely that the United States District Court where Abbas filed his suit will take it seriously. Or at least his father should hope so. Should the suit be allowed to go forward, it would give Foreign Policy and Schanzer the opportunity to dig deep into the PA’s finances and records and expose even more wrongdoing. That might even help give those fighting to make U.S. aid to the Palestinians dependent on ridding themselves of the sort of corruption that the Abbas clan and other ruling families there embody.

That’s something to remember today when you hear the senior Abbas, who is currently serving the eighth year of his four-year PA presidential term, blame all of his people’s problems on Israel.

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Myths and Facts About Talking to Terrorists

Tomorrow will be the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympic Massacre, and the New York Times started the commemoration early by publishing a piece of rank revisionism about the event on their op-ed page. Author Paul Thomas Chamberlain was given space today to argue that the reaction to the event set back efforts to talk to the Palestinians since, he claims, Americans wrongly attributed the terrorist atrocity to Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. He goes on to argue that similarly false conclusions about Hamas and Hezbollah are preventing us from advancing the cause of peace today.

Chamberlain is incorrect to assert that it is almost always a mistake to attempt to crush terrorists rather than to try to understand their grievances and make nice to them. But his problem is not merely conceptual. The notion that demonizing all advocates of a cause because of the actions of a bloodthirsty few may be defensible in some cases. But the example he chooses to bolster this case is actually false. As many Palestinians involved in the PLO subsequently admitted, Black September was not a dissident group within the Palestinian movement. Rather, it was set up by Arafat to do things that his Fatah party could not. Abu Iyad, Arafat’s chief of security and a founding member of Fatah, wrote that Black September was an “auxiliary” of Fatah, not a competitor, which could commit acts for which Arafat could deny responsibility. Had the United States accepted Arafat’s denial, it would have done exactly what he and the perpetrators of Munich wanted.

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Tomorrow will be the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympic Massacre, and the New York Times started the commemoration early by publishing a piece of rank revisionism about the event on their op-ed page. Author Paul Thomas Chamberlain was given space today to argue that the reaction to the event set back efforts to talk to the Palestinians since, he claims, Americans wrongly attributed the terrorist atrocity to Yasir Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization. He goes on to argue that similarly false conclusions about Hamas and Hezbollah are preventing us from advancing the cause of peace today.

Chamberlain is incorrect to assert that it is almost always a mistake to attempt to crush terrorists rather than to try to understand their grievances and make nice to them. But his problem is not merely conceptual. The notion that demonizing all advocates of a cause because of the actions of a bloodthirsty few may be defensible in some cases. But the example he chooses to bolster this case is actually false. As many Palestinians involved in the PLO subsequently admitted, Black September was not a dissident group within the Palestinian movement. Rather, it was set up by Arafat to do things that his Fatah party could not. Abu Iyad, Arafat’s chief of security and a founding member of Fatah, wrote that Black September was an “auxiliary” of Fatah, not a competitor, which could commit acts for which Arafat could deny responsibility. Had the United States accepted Arafat’s denial, it would have done exactly what he and the perpetrators of Munich wanted.

Only the most fawning of Arafat’s Western cheerleaders denies this. As historian Benny Morris wrote in his 1999 book Righteous Victims:

The establishment of Black September was secretly resolved upon at a Fatah congress in Damascus in August-September 1971 … It was based on Fatah’s existing special intelligence and security apparatus, Jihad al-Rasad, and on the PLO offices and representatives in the various European capitals. From early on there was cooperation with the PFLP. A number of Black September operations were clearly planned and carried out jointly by Fatah and PFLP personnel.

Thus, the principle prop of Chamberlain’s thesis that “failing to strengthen moderates within the P.L.O. and effectively locking the Palestinians out of the Arab-Israeli peace process, American officials sidelined potential peacemakers,” is not merely incorrect. It is a blatant falsehood.

If the use of Black September as a false front for Fatah seems familiar it is because it was not the last time Arafat tried that game. During the second intifada when his Hamas rivals were being seen by Palestinians as having more success at carrying out terrorist operations, the Palestinian Authority chief authorized the formation of new Fatah groups that could compete with the Islamists for the honor of killing the most Jews. The Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade was initially presented, like Black September, as a Fatah splinter not under Arafat’s control. But the world soon learned that not only had Arafat authorized it, but he was actually paying for the group’s activities with funds contributed by European donors to the PA.

Indeed, all we have to do is look at Arafat’s record after Israel not only started talking to him but empowered the terrorist chieftain by handing the West Bank and Gaza over to Fatah via the 1993 Oslo Accords. Rather than seeking to bolster peace, he continued a policy of funding violence throughout the 1990s, a stance that culminated in his launching of a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada after he refused Israeli offers of an independent state including most of the West Bank, all of Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000 and 2001.

Far from being a marginalized peacemaker, he was always a terrorist more interested in successfully vying for the title of top spiller of Jewish blood against Palestinian competitors than gaining independence for his people.

That the Times would publish such a farrago of falsehoods is bad enough. But that its editors allowed Chamberlain to do so as to promote the notion that Hamas and Hezbollah are the moderates of today who must be embraced, lest more extreme elements predominate, speaks volumes about their editorial agenda. He complains that America has always allowed a “blanket charge of terrorism, coupled with absolute nonrecognition” of those committing such violence to undermine the search for peace. Yet what is really on display here is the willingness of foes of Israel to believe any lie, no matter how transparent, in order to legitimize those who use terror in their war to eliminate the Jewish state.

While there may be some historical examples of nationalist leaders who have employed terrorism on their way toward creation of democracies, Arafat is not one of them. Nor can any reasonable person argue that Hamas, which still proclaims its desire to eradicate the Jewish presence in Israel, let alone the state, or Hezbollah, which operates under the orders of Iran’s ayatollahs, are the democrats of the future.

If peace is to come to the Middle East, it will happen only when the Palestinians put away their historic love affair with violence and embrace not just the abstract concept of an end to the conflict but a willingness to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn. Those like Chamberlain and his enablers at the Times who ask us to reward the terrorists as President Nixon rightly refused to do after Munich are merely helping to put off the day that this transformation will occur.

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Why Palestinian Corruption Matters

In 2005, an extremely wealthy old friend of Yasir Arafat’s, Munib al-Masri, spoke about the missed opportunities he witnessed during Arafat’s time in power for an article in the Atlantic. Here is what he told the author of that piece, David Samuels:

With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land.

It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, a few hundred million dollars. Yet since that helicopter ride, according to a new Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. has given the Palestinians about $4 billion. They didn’t build the state, as al-Masri hoped.

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In 2005, an extremely wealthy old friend of Yasir Arafat’s, Munib al-Masri, spoke about the missed opportunities he witnessed during Arafat’s time in power for an article in the Atlantic. Here is what he told the author of that piece, David Samuels:

With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land.

It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, a few hundred million dollars. Yet since that helicopter ride, according to a new Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. has given the Palestinians about $4 billion. They didn’t build the state, as al-Masri hoped.

But as the report indicates, we had our own goals for the money:

• Combating, neutralizing, and preventing terrorism against Israel from the Islamist group Hamas and other militant organizations.

• Creating a virtuous cycle of stability and prosperity in the West Bank that inclines Palestinians toward peaceful coexistence with Israel and prepares them for self-governance.

• Meeting humanitarian needs and preventing further destabilization, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian security forces have made some strides, but most of the prevention of Hamas terrorism is due to the efforts of the various Israeli security forces. The other two goals are obviously total failures. And it’s not just our money going down the drain; according to the report, the Palestinians are “among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid.” So, the obvious question: Where does all the money go?

One answer is: Into the pockets of corrupt Palestinian leaders. That was the subject of a congressional hearing conducted by the House foreign affairs committee yesterday. Adam Kredo at the Washington Free Beacon has a good write-up of the testimony:

“Washington should simply acknowledge that there is a problem,” [Jonathan Schanzer] said. “The staff at the U.S. Consulate General in East Jerusalem reportedly knows that Palestinians believe their ruling elites are corrupt. But for reasons that are not entirely clear, the State Department has yet to issue a clear statement to address the issue, or what it intends to do about it.”

Elliott Abrams, a former national security adviser for George W. Bush, recounted the behind-the-scenes talks he had with Arab leaders who refused to support the P.A.’s corrupt institutions.

“I can tell you from my own experience, as an American official seeking financial assistance for the P.A. from Gulf Arab governments, that I was often told, ‘Why should we give them money when their officials will just steal it?” said Abrams, who noted that 82 percent of Palestinians believe their government is unethical. “Corruption is an insidious destroyer not only of Palestinian public finances but of faith in the entire political system.”

The extent of Abbas’ shady dealings has come to light in recent months, Schanzer revealed in his testimony.

Read the whole thing, including an earlier article from Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, detailing the degree to which Mahmoud Abbas’s corruption appears to extend to his sons.

The fact is, the Palestinians have absorbed enough–more than enough, actually–foreign aid to build the basic outlines, at the very least, of a functioning, accountable nation state. And while Arab states in the region don’t care much for their Palestinian brethren, even they are shocked and disturbed by the impression that the Palestinian leadership cares even less.

It’s doubtful American taxpayers would find this anything less than appalling—it’s their money. But the problem is deeper than that. Fatah has enabled Hamas’s rise over the years with its waste; its corruption bleeds it of public support, and its mismanaged funds prevent proper organization and security training, which makes a Hamas-Fatah civil war look about as evenly matched as a Globetrotters-Generals game.

So the corruption isn’t just about frustration, waste, and Palestinian poverty—though it is about those things too. It’s a legitimate security threat that is constantly undermining the peace process. In the age of the Arab Spring, there is simply no excuse to pretend this isn’t happening, or to make excuses for a government stealing from its citizens.

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Those Stupid Arafat Conspiracy Theories

I honestly can’t believe we’re expected to take seriously the Al Jazeera “scoop” about Yasir Arafat being murdered. Disgraceful innuendo-filled articles of the type being written by the AP and published by the Washington Post are reporting “evidence” to the effect that Arafat might have been poisoned with Polonium 210. The proof, such as it is, comes from unusual levels of Po 210 reportedly detected on Arafat’s clothing and toothbrush by a Swiss lab in the last few months.

But given how math works, and taking into account the isotope’s 138 day half-life, that’s inane.

The minimum amount of Po 210 that’s fatal when ingested is about 50 nanograms (ng). Alexander Litvinenko, widely thought to have been poisoned with the radioactive element by the Russians in 2006, ingested around 10,000 ng, or 200 times the minimum lethal dose. That’s a tiny amount, but nonetheless there was so much Polonium in Litvinenko’s system that his sweat left a car permanently unusable and his house uninhabitable for six months. As a diagnostic matter, it was obvious to doctors he had been poisoned.

None of that was true for Arafat. Doctors couldn’t tell by looking at him whether he had been poisoned and he was not irradiating entire cars and buildings. So he would have had to ingest less Po 210 than Litvinenko. Let’s peg the amount at 5,000 ng, which is 100 times more than the fatal dose but still half of what Litvinenko ingested. As you’re about to see, the math works out in such a way that the actual amount doesn’t matter as long as it’s kept reasonable.

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I honestly can’t believe we’re expected to take seriously the Al Jazeera “scoop” about Yasir Arafat being murdered. Disgraceful innuendo-filled articles of the type being written by the AP and published by the Washington Post are reporting “evidence” to the effect that Arafat might have been poisoned with Polonium 210. The proof, such as it is, comes from unusual levels of Po 210 reportedly detected on Arafat’s clothing and toothbrush by a Swiss lab in the last few months.

But given how math works, and taking into account the isotope’s 138 day half-life, that’s inane.

The minimum amount of Po 210 that’s fatal when ingested is about 50 nanograms (ng). Alexander Litvinenko, widely thought to have been poisoned with the radioactive element by the Russians in 2006, ingested around 10,000 ng, or 200 times the minimum lethal dose. That’s a tiny amount, but nonetheless there was so much Polonium in Litvinenko’s system that his sweat left a car permanently unusable and his house uninhabitable for six months. As a diagnostic matter, it was obvious to doctors he had been poisoned.

None of that was true for Arafat. Doctors couldn’t tell by looking at him whether he had been poisoned and he was not irradiating entire cars and buildings. So he would have had to ingest less Po 210 than Litvinenko. Let’s peg the amount at 5,000 ng, which is 100 times more than the fatal dose but still half of what Litvinenko ingested. As you’re about to see, the math works out in such a way that the actual amount doesn’t matter as long as it’s kept reasonable.

After having planned and launched Intifada II and been militarily defeated, Arafat died in November 2004. The Swiss lab had his clothing for a few months. so let’s round down to 7 years as the interval between his death and the tests. That’s 2556 days (one leap year) divided by a half-life of 138 equals about 18.5 iterations. Put everything together – 5000 ng/(2^18.5) – and the result is about 0.0135 ng of Po 210 that should have been detectable on Arafat’s possessions today. That’s 0.0000135 micrograms. Four zeros of padding.

If we double the dosage to what Litvinenko ingested, the amount left over today would double to 0.0000270 micrograms. Double the dosage again – so now it would be twice as much as received by Litvinenko, who was visibly poisoned and who leaked radiation across half of London – and the amount today should be 0.0000540 micrograms. There’s just no way to get a reasonable amount of Polonium left over because the denominator, representing halving every 138 days for 7 years, overwhelms everything else.

The conspiracy mongers, however, have found a solution. They simply assert that given how much Polonium was found at the Swiss lab, whatever the math says should have been the original amount, that’s ipso facto the amount Arafat ingested. QED. As Elder of Ziyon pointed out, that amount of Po 210 contradicts the only thing we do know, which is that Arafat died slowly in a not-obviously-poisoned condition. Al Jazeera has been trying to dodge the obvious point by blandly inventing the idea we just don’t know what Polonium poisoning looks like. The dearth of knowledge will be news to the Swiss lab investigator who flatly stated that “the clinical description of Chairman Arafat’s symptoms prior to his death is not compatible with Polonium poisoning.”

This tripe is the worst anti-Israel conspiracy theory since the tourism-destroying Zionist attack sharks, and more’s the pity. I was really looking forward to following Newsweek’s suggestion that I “get smarter in 2012″ by watching Al Jazeera. Now it turns out the network would rather indulge in feverish conspiracy mongering than carry out junior high school arithmetic before running stories. One begins to really worry that Hillary Clinton was wrong about Al Jazeera’s vaunted news ethics.

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Dig Up His Crimes Along With Arafat’s Body

An Al Jazeera documentary and a statement from Yasir Arafat’s widow has led to a decision by the Palestinian Authority to exhume the former leader of the PA and to conduct an investigation into the cause of his death in 2004. While Palestinians have often spoken of Arafat’s demise being the result of an alleged Israeli plot, were such a probe to be honest, the Jewish state would probably have nothing to fear. More to the point, any discussion of Arafat’s death will necessarily involve highlighting what he did before he expired in Lausanne, Switzerland. And that is not something the Palestinians or their apologists ought to welcome.

Arafat’s death at the age of 75 was something of a mystery and predictably fueled conspiracy theories. Suspicion that foul play was involved will only be heightened if Al Jazeera’s allegation is accurate that his clothes contained trace amounts of polonium, a radioactive substance generally associated with assassinations carried out by agents of the former Soviet Union and the current Putin regime in Russia. That  helps to remind us that of all the players in the Middle East drama at the time of his demise, Israel was probably the only one that had an interest in keeping him alive rather than putting an end to his pathetic misrule of the territories. Hamas, his Fatah underlings as well as the host of enemies Arafat made during his career as the world’s number one terrorist, are all far more likely suspects than Israel. However, if Arafat is to be dug up, the focus on the mystery of his death ought to also revive some interest in his criminal career that provides an appropriate context to his ignominious death.

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An Al Jazeera documentary and a statement from Yasir Arafat’s widow has led to a decision by the Palestinian Authority to exhume the former leader of the PA and to conduct an investigation into the cause of his death in 2004. While Palestinians have often spoken of Arafat’s demise being the result of an alleged Israeli plot, were such a probe to be honest, the Jewish state would probably have nothing to fear. More to the point, any discussion of Arafat’s death will necessarily involve highlighting what he did before he expired in Lausanne, Switzerland. And that is not something the Palestinians or their apologists ought to welcome.

Arafat’s death at the age of 75 was something of a mystery and predictably fueled conspiracy theories. Suspicion that foul play was involved will only be heightened if Al Jazeera’s allegation is accurate that his clothes contained trace amounts of polonium, a radioactive substance generally associated with assassinations carried out by agents of the former Soviet Union and the current Putin regime in Russia. That  helps to remind us that of all the players in the Middle East drama at the time of his demise, Israel was probably the only one that had an interest in keeping him alive rather than putting an end to his pathetic misrule of the territories. Hamas, his Fatah underlings as well as the host of enemies Arafat made during his career as the world’s number one terrorist, are all far more likely suspects than Israel. However, if Arafat is to be dug up, the focus on the mystery of his death ought to also revive some interest in his criminal career that provides an appropriate context to his ignominious death.

It bears remembering that at the time he fell ill in his besieged compound in Ramallah, Israel had good reason to keep the old terrorist safe and sound. So long as Arafat was the face of Palestinian nationalism, his bloodthirsty reputation guaranteed the Jewish state a degree of sympathy that it lost once he was replaced by the more presentable Mahmoud Abbas, though the latter was no less obdurate in his refusal to make peace than his predecessor.

Arafat more or less invented modern international terrorism in the 1970s. But even after supposedly embracing peace with his historic handshake with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House Lawn in September 1993, Arafat had continued to promote and subsidize terror attacks against Israelis, Jews and Americans. When then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered him an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem at Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001, he turned the offers down flat. His answer to these peace initiatives was a terrorist war of attrition, the so-called second intifada that cost the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis and far more Palestinians.

In the aftermath of that debacle, Arafat was isolated and humiliated, living in the ruins of his compound in Ramallah after Israeli forces complied with American requests to spare the Palestinian leader. At this stage, he was unlikely to be able to do Israel any more harm, but both Hamas and his Fatah underlings had good reason to want him gone.

Hamas knew that without Arafat, their campaign to oust Fatah from Gaza and launch a long march to Palestinian power could never begin. Though Arafat ruled Fatah and the territories with an iron hand and the help of 17 separate and competing intelligence agencies, the mainstream Palestinian party and its terrorist thugs understood that recovery from the intifada required the imperious and corrupt Arafat to exit the stage. The bottom line is that a lot of people wanted Arafat dead. But Israel was the only party that had a vested interest in keeping him alive.

The puzzle of his death has so many pieces it is unlikely we will ever get to the bottom of the story, especially because Palestinian politics will require that Israel be branded as the guilty party even if all the evidence points in a different direction. The role of Suha Arafat, his much younger widow who has continued to live like a queen in Paris in the years since these events, is also complicated because, as Ha’aretz notes, she refused his doctors her permission for them to conduct a liver biopsy as he lay on his deathbed.

But no matter who was responsible for his death, there should be no doubt that the man who died in France November 2004 was responsible for the slaughter of countless thousands, the introduction of new and fiendish methods of terrorism and for preventing any hope of peace between the Palestinians and Israel. The Palestinians would do better to examine their own failed and distorted political culture that makes peace impossible rather than worry about who killed the man who put them in the impossible position in which they still find themselves.

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How History Weighs on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In September 1993, Yasir Arafat told one of recent history’s most significant lies. At the time, Arafat still resided where he certainly belonged: on the State Department’s terrorism list. But the date of the White House ceremony announcing the signing of the declaration of principles was nearing, and the Clinton administration had given up its earlier resistance to asking Yitzhak Rabin to shake the bloodstained hand of the committed murderer on the White House lawn so everyone could have their “historic” moment in the sun.

So Arafat wrote a letter. He would–scout’s honor–end his campaign to annihilate the Jewish people. “Our lawyers judged this written renunciation as sufficient grounds for the president to take Arafat and the PLO off the State Department’s terrorism list,” wrote Martin Indyk in his memoir of the Clinton administration’s Middle East diplomacy. The rest, as they say, is history.

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In September 1993, Yasir Arafat told one of recent history’s most significant lies. At the time, Arafat still resided where he certainly belonged: on the State Department’s terrorism list. But the date of the White House ceremony announcing the signing of the declaration of principles was nearing, and the Clinton administration had given up its earlier resistance to asking Yitzhak Rabin to shake the bloodstained hand of the committed murderer on the White House lawn so everyone could have their “historic” moment in the sun.

So Arafat wrote a letter. He would–scout’s honor–end his campaign to annihilate the Jewish people. “Our lawyers judged this written renunciation as sufficient grounds for the president to take Arafat and the PLO off the State Department’s terrorism list,” wrote Martin Indyk in his memoir of the Clinton administration’s Middle East diplomacy. The rest, as they say, is history.

I recount this story not to take a gratuitous swipe at the naïveté of the Clinton administration nor at the cavalier way Israeli security concerns were put in a box in the White House attic so Clinton could mug for the cameras. The point is that allowing Arafat to hijack and destroy the chances for peace cannot be so easily undone, even if we’ve learned something from these mistakes.

Aaron David Miller, a member of the Clinton team, is now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a regular columnist for Foreign Policy, and has used his perch to attempt to atone for the mistakes of the Clinton administration. It is an honorable and laudable act. And yesterday at the center, Miller moderated an interesting discussion between former Shin Bet director Ami Ayalon and former Obama campaign adviser Robert Malley. The event was ostensibly about how the old negotiations paradigm has become somewhat useless and the value of unilateralism in moving forward.

Malley described a strategy of “parallel unilateral steps.” Ayalon mostly agreed, but insisted “this is a friendly unilateralism, not an antagonistic unilateralism.” Neither, however, went on to describe in any great detail what your friendly neighborhood unilateralism would look like in practice. And Malley restated Miller’s own thesis, suggesting that it was difficult to understand how giving up the fiction of a bilateral peace process could possibly be more damaging than maintaining it, at this point.

But there are two problems here. First, Ayalon readily admitted that “we know the parameters” of a final deal, and those would be “the Clinton parameters… and all that was discussed in the last 20 years.” Because the “last 20 years” have been used by the Palestinian leadership to broadcast as loudly and as often as possible that they utterly reject this idea, it’s hard to imagine why Ayalon still thinks this is a workable plan. But his opening seems to be that Israel should conform to those parameters with or without Palestinian cooperation.

This may or may not be worth exploring–I’ve written about “coordinated unilateralism” before, though I’m not sure changing the tactics while keeping the same parameters of a final-status agreement is practical.

But Ayalon does have one revolutionary idea, and it’s one he has been drawing attention to recently. That idea is: treat Israeli settlers like human beings. As Ayalon wrote in the New York Times in April: “We have learned that we must be candid about our proposed plan, discuss the settlers’ concerns and above all not demonize them. They are the ones who would pay the price of being uprooted from their homes and also from their deeply felt mission of settling the land.”

Ayalon repeated this thesis yesterday. This is important, because among mainstream media outlets and left-of-center journalists you will not find such empathy toward the settlers. Nor will you find nuance or complexity.

For his part, Malley wants the settlers at the table too. This is in part because Malley wants everyone at the table–he’s long been a proponent of negotiating with Hamas. But that just makes those who would exclude the settlers look that much more ridiculous. (Among leftists, the idea that you would talk to Hamas but not Orthodox Jews makes perfect sense–which helps explain the marginalization of the Israeli left.)

But this raises an important question: Are you bringing settlers to the table as props, to display your empathy and humanity and ask them to sit there quietly as you pat them on the head? Or are you bringing them to the table to include them in negotiations? Malley, Ayalon, and Miller are all men of the left, so it’s encouraging to hear them talk like this, but the panel was not exactly balanced. And history is, once again, an obstacle–disrespect of the settlers and the whitewashing of violent Palestinian rejectionism have become ingrained elements of the peace process.

During the presentation, Ayalon said he believes “there is no peace without partners.” If that’s true, then based on the behavior of Israel’s “partner,” there is no peace.

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Friedman’s Clueless Middle East Twofer

After so many years of being wrong about the Palestinians being ready to make peace with Israel, it is difficult to take New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s Middle East advice columns seriously. But his latest effort in this genre contains some whoppers that got our attention even if they only provide more proof  the veteran writer is still hopelessly out of touch with reality.

Today’s “twofer” of Friedman gems starts out with praise for imprisoned Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti. Friedman gives a testimonial to Barghouti as an “authentic leader” and describes his call from prison for a new campaign of “non-violent” protest against Israel as just the ticket to bring peace. But what Friedman doesn’t understand is what makes Barghouti “authentic” to Palestinians is his role in the murder of Israeli civilians (for which he is currently serving five life sentences), not his notions about a switch to Gandhi-style activism.

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After so many years of being wrong about the Palestinians being ready to make peace with Israel, it is difficult to take New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s Middle East advice columns seriously. But his latest effort in this genre contains some whoppers that got our attention even if they only provide more proof  the veteran writer is still hopelessly out of touch with reality.

Today’s “twofer” of Friedman gems starts out with praise for imprisoned Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti. Friedman gives a testimonial to Barghouti as an “authentic leader” and describes his call from prison for a new campaign of “non-violent” protest against Israel as just the ticket to bring peace. But what Friedman doesn’t understand is what makes Barghouti “authentic” to Palestinians is his role in the murder of Israeli civilians (for which he is currently serving five life sentences), not his notions about a switch to Gandhi-style activism.

Friedman advises Palestinians to take up Barghouti’s plea for “non-violence” (which according to Friedman includes the throwing of lethal rocks at Israelis as well as a campaign of economic warfare against the Jewish state) but to accompany it with specific maps showing what peace terms they will accept from Israel. On the surface that makes sense, because as Friedman says, Israel would then be faced with a tangible peace proposal that it would likely accept. Yet Friedman ignores the reason why the Palestinians have never made such a practical proposal and are unlikely to do so now.

The problem from the Palestinian point of view with Friedman’s advice to throw rocks wrapped in maps showing possible territorial swaps is that to do so means recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state. And that is something no Palestinian leader has ever had the courage to do no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn or how many settlements would be uprooted.

Let’s remember that Barghouti’s mass murder spree took place in the immediate aftermath of an Israeli peace offer that was not much different from the scheme Friedman now thinks the Palestinians will accept. PA leader Yasir Arafat turned down Ehud Barak’s offers of a state in 2000 and 2001 and answered it with a terror war that cost more than 1,000 Israelis their lives courtesy of killers like his Fatah cohort Barghouti. Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas walked away from another such offer in 2008. With the Islamists of Hamas now joining Abbas in a new coalition, the odds that the PA will be able to accept a similar offer are zero.

Yet Friedman still thinks the Palestinians can make Israelis “feel morally insecure” about holding onto territory by another bout of rock throwing. But the reason why Israelis don’t “feel morally insecure” is because, unlike Friedman, they aren’t prepare to ignore the results of two decades of Middle East peace processing during which they have traded land and received terror instead of the peace pundits like the columnist promised. He’s right that Prime Minister Netanyahu believes the Palestinians won’t make peace because he “thinks it’s not in their culture.” The problem for Friedman is they have already proven many times that it isn’t.

What makes this discussion so pointless is that the Palestinians don’t need a change in tactics. They don’t have to throw rocks or promote boycotts even if those activities are more attractive to their foreign supporters than suicide bombings. All they have to do is negotiate. Netanyahu has already said he’d accept a two-state solution and, as Friedman understands, the vast majority of Israelis would support him if he were presented with a deal that ended the conflict. Just as in 1977 when Egypt’s Sadat went to Jerusalem, the Israelis are ready to deal. The problem is not whether the Palestinians realize how best to make Israelis “morally insecure” — a point that is as meaningless today as it was 35 years ago — but that, unlike Sadat, they aren’t actually willing to live in peace alongside the Jewish state.

The other whopper in Friedman’s column is his second suggestion: a proposal that Israel assist in the creation of a viable secular Palestinian state in the West Bank that would promote a free-market economy that would be a model to the Middle East. He thinks this is essential, because if violence erupts, the new Islamist leadership in Egypt will exacerbate it.

For years, Friedman has been promoting Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and “Fayyadism” as the coming wave of Palestinian politics. But Fayyad’s name isn’t mentioned once in Friedman’s column. That’s because the moderate, who is a favorite of both the U.S. and Israel, has no constituency among his own people and is being chucked out of office by Abbas to appease his new Hamas partners. Israel would like nothing better than a free market-trading partner in the West Bank led by a man such as Fayyad as opposed to another Islamist wasteland such as currently exists in Gaza. The problem is the Palestinians prefer Hamas to Fayyad or the advice of the clueless Friedman.

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The Palestinian Facebook Police

Some staffers and diplomats at the State Department with time on their hands are, no doubt, working hard right now to come up with a legal rationale for continuing U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority. The consummation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact earlier this week and the impending ouster of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad ought to make any further assistance to Mahmoud Abbas’s rogue regime legally and morally untenable. But in case apologists for keeping U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to terrorists pledged to Israel’s destruction are paying attention, even before the new unity government takes office there are plenty of reasons to think seriously about American subsidies for the corrupt and tyrannical PA.

While many Americans are obsessing about human rights elsewhere in the Arab world, it appears the American-funded PA is practicing its own brand of tyranny. The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports the Palestinian security forces are now monitoring Facebook posts by residents of the West Bank and taking those who make critical remarks about the PA’s leadership in for questioning. Because Palestinians know all too well the armed gunmen who report to Abbas and his underlings are Fatah thugs and not genuine law enforcement officers, the upshot of is only nice things are going to be said there about Abbas.

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Some staffers and diplomats at the State Department with time on their hands are, no doubt, working hard right now to come up with a legal rationale for continuing U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority. The consummation of the Fatah-Hamas unity pact earlier this week and the impending ouster of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad ought to make any further assistance to Mahmoud Abbas’s rogue regime legally and morally untenable. But in case apologists for keeping U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to terrorists pledged to Israel’s destruction are paying attention, even before the new unity government takes office there are plenty of reasons to think seriously about American subsidies for the corrupt and tyrannical PA.

While many Americans are obsessing about human rights elsewhere in the Arab world, it appears the American-funded PA is practicing its own brand of tyranny. The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reports the Palestinian security forces are now monitoring Facebook posts by residents of the West Bank and taking those who make critical remarks about the PA’s leadership in for questioning. Because Palestinians know all too well the armed gunmen who report to Abbas and his underlings are Fatah thugs and not genuine law enforcement officers, the upshot of is only nice things are going to be said there about Abbas.

The idea that the PA respected the human rights of those Palestinians who were placed under its care by the Oslo Accords was always something of a fantasy. But since the death of Yasir Arafat, many here have clung to the notion that Abbas was an improvement. But that was always more a matter of apparel than anything else, because Americans find it hard to believe a man who wears a suit to work like Abbas can be just as much of a despot as one who wore fatigues like Arafat.

Given the low standards set for human rights and governance by Abbas’s predecessor one might think Internet censorship is the least of the problems of ordinary Palestinians. But in the absence of a PA government that respects the rule of law, peace with Israel or even a civil Palestinian society will remain a distant dream.

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Sharansky: Reagan Right, Critics Wrong

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.” Read More

Ronald Reagan, who would have been 100 this Sunday, had an instinctive affinity for Jews and Israel. As an actor who spent decades in the heavily Jewish environment of Hollywood and who counted scores of Jews among his friends and colleagues, he moved easily in pro-Israel circles. Both as a private citizen and as governor of California, he was a familiar sight and a favored speaker at various functions for Israel.

“I’ve believed many things in my life,” Reagan states in his memoirs, “but no conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.”

Reagan inaugurated what Israeli journalists Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman termed the “Solid Gold Era” in U.S.-Israel relations. Even so — and this underscores the inevitability of disagreement between Israel and even the friendliest of U.S. presidents — he found himself engaged in a series of tiffs with the Israeli government.

The earliest friction concerned Israel’s destruction of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in June 1981. The U.S. voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to condemn the action and briefly held up delivery of some F-16 aircraft to Israel, but there were no permanent ramifications.

“Technically,” Reagan notes in his memoirs, “Israel had violated an agreement with us not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge. … I sympathized with [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Later in 1981, a bitter fight was played out in Congress between the White House and supporters of Israel over Reagan’s determination to follow through on the Carter administration’s decision to sell Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft (AWACS) to Saudi Arabia. The sale was finally approved by a narrow margin, but the confrontation left bruised feelings and egos on both sides.

Ironically, Israeli military leaders were never in the forefront of the AWACS opposition; according to Raviv and Melman, “the commanders of the Israeli air force — the officers most directly concerned — were willing to live with AWACS flying over Saudi Arabia. They did not see them as a serious threat to Israel’s security.”

The U.S.-Israel relationship was strong enough by then to survive a series of mini-crises during the Reagan era, including Washington’s dismay at the scope of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon; the failure of the so-called Reagan Plan, which called for a freeze on Israeli settlements and the eventual creation of a quasi-independent Palestinian entity; the visit by Reagan to a German cemetery that contained the remains of SS soldiers; the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Israel played a major role; the arrest and conviction of an American citizen, Jonathan Pollard, on charges of spying for Israel; and the administration’s 1988 decision to talk to the PLO after Yasir Arafat made the requisite noises about recognizing Israel.

Through it all, Reagan provided more military and financial aid to Israel than any of his predecessors. Washington also worked closer with Israel on the economic front, and in 1985 the administration signed a landmark Free Trade Area agreement, long sought by Israel, which resulted in a hefty boost in Israeli exports to the U.S.

Beyond the Middle East, the plight of Soviet Jews was bound to strike a sympathetic chord with someone as unbendingly anti-Communist as Reagan.

“The Soviet leaders,” recalled former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir,  “told me that every time they met with [Secretary of State George] Shultz, he raised the issue of Soviet Jewry.”

The Reagan administration was instrumental in gaining the release in 1986 of prominent Jewish dissident Natan Sharansky, imprisoned for nine years on trumped-up treason charges. Sharansky has written of his reaction when, in 1983, confined to a tiny cell in a prison near the Siberian border, he saw on the front page of Pravda that Reagan — much to the ridicule and outrage of American and European liberals — had labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”

As Sharansky describes it:

Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s “provocation” quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth — a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us. I never imagined that three years later I would be in the White House telling this story to the president. … Reagan was right and his critics were wrong.

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Hamas and History

In “Hamas, the Brotherhood and Egypt,” the Wall Street Journal makes a point similar to one I tried to make in my prior post: that the 2006 Palestinian election, won by Hamas, is a cautionary tale for those anxious to dismantle the Egyptian regime and hold elections with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood — and to do it prior to the establishment of the institutions necessary for a democratic process.

The Journal writes that Hamas should never have been given permission to participate in the Palestinian election:

[Condoleezza] Rice demanded that Israel accede to Hamas’s participation in the vote, on the theory that “we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.” Her State Department also argued that disarming Hamas was a long-term goal, not a precondition to their political participation.

But that is not quite the theory under which Secretary Rice was operating, nor the time frame she anticipated for achievement of her goal.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005, two months after the death of Yasir Arafat, having run essentially unopposed, and the U.S. was pressing him to meet the Phase I obligation under the Roadmap — dismantlement of Hamas and its infrastructure. An uncontested election gave Abbas no real mandate, however, and the Bush administration hoped a victory over Hamas in a free and fair election would give Abbas the legitimacy to do what Rice implied he had privately assured her: that if Hamas refused to acknowledge “one authority and one gun,” he would forcibly dismantle it.

In the election, the Palestinians chose Hamas, and in hindsight it was a historic U.S. mistake — compounded by the fact that the cognoscenti blamed George Bush for giving the Palestinians a choice, instead of blaming the Palestinians for the choice they made.

But at least Bush and Rice had the excuse that it seemed, at least to some, like a good idea at the time — and they did not have the lesson of history to warn them against it. Those who are in a rush to do it again a mere five years later — this time not in the Gaza Strip but in the most important Arab country in the Middle East, not with Hamas but with its even more dangerous parent organization, simultaneously ignoring history while congratulating themselves for getting on the right side of it, almost unanimous in their certitudes — have no such excuse.

They should pause and read Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Knesset, “Whither Egypt.”

In “Hamas, the Brotherhood and Egypt,” the Wall Street Journal makes a point similar to one I tried to make in my prior post: that the 2006 Palestinian election, won by Hamas, is a cautionary tale for those anxious to dismantle the Egyptian regime and hold elections with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood — and to do it prior to the establishment of the institutions necessary for a democratic process.

The Journal writes that Hamas should never have been given permission to participate in the Palestinian election:

[Condoleezza] Rice demanded that Israel accede to Hamas’s participation in the vote, on the theory that “we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.” Her State Department also argued that disarming Hamas was a long-term goal, not a precondition to their political participation.

But that is not quite the theory under which Secretary Rice was operating, nor the time frame she anticipated for achievement of her goal.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected president in 2005, two months after the death of Yasir Arafat, having run essentially unopposed, and the U.S. was pressing him to meet the Phase I obligation under the Roadmap — dismantlement of Hamas and its infrastructure. An uncontested election gave Abbas no real mandate, however, and the Bush administration hoped a victory over Hamas in a free and fair election would give Abbas the legitimacy to do what Rice implied he had privately assured her: that if Hamas refused to acknowledge “one authority and one gun,” he would forcibly dismantle it.

In the election, the Palestinians chose Hamas, and in hindsight it was a historic U.S. mistake — compounded by the fact that the cognoscenti blamed George Bush for giving the Palestinians a choice, instead of blaming the Palestinians for the choice they made.

But at least Bush and Rice had the excuse that it seemed, at least to some, like a good idea at the time — and they did not have the lesson of history to warn them against it. Those who are in a rush to do it again a mere five years later — this time not in the Gaza Strip but in the most important Arab country in the Middle East, not with Hamas but with its even more dangerous parent organization, simultaneously ignoring history while congratulating themselves for getting on the right side of it, almost unanimous in their certitudes — have no such excuse.

They should pause and read Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Knesset, “Whither Egypt.”

Read Less




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