Commentary Magazine


Topic: Yasir Arafat

The Orwellian Peace Process

We are indebted to George Orwell for the observation that the corruption of public life begins with the corruption of language, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the “peace process” — whose very name has proved Orwellian.

The “peace process” has so far produced three wars. The first occurred in 2000, after Israel offered the Palestinians a state on all of Gaza and virtually all of the West Bank. Yasir Arafat rejected the offer, returned home to a hero’s welcome, and commenced a barbaric terror war, quaintly named an “intifada,” waged in Israeli restaurants, discos, hotels, schools, and buses. In 2005, Israel removed every soldier and settler from Gaza to enable the Palestinians to demonstrate their willingness to live “side by side in peace and security”; the result was a rocket war against Israel from new forward positions. In 2008, Israel offered a state on 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem; the “peace partner” rejected the offer. A month later, a new war in Gaza became necessary to bring the rockets to a halt.

In 2003, the Palestinians agreed to a three-phase “Performance-Based Road Map” and then failed to perform Phase One — dismantling terrorist groups and infrastructure — much less Phase Two. The result was that their “performance” was waived and the U.S. pushed immediate Phase Three final-status negotiations. The failure to abide by the Road Map was called “accelerating” it.

“Peace process,” “peace partner,” “intifada,” “side by side in peace and security,” “accelerating” — these are all Orwellian terms designed to mask the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected a state in order to pursue the Orwellian “right of return” — an alleged “right” not given to the millions of other 20th century refugees (including the 820,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands), much less to those whose refugee status resulted from their decision to reject a two-state solution in 1948 and start a war instead.

Even the term “refugee” is Orwellian, since it has been deemed to mean not only the 700,000 people who left the area in 1948 (a large proportion of whom moved out to make way for the invading Arab armies) but also three generations of descendants who have never lived in Israel. It is a definition not applied in the case of any other refugees. The rest of the world’s refugees decrease each year as they are resettled in other countries; only in the case of the Palestinians does the number of “refugees” increase every year — by definition.

The Obama administration has not been in office long but has already made its own Orwellian contribution. Six weeks after he took office, Benjamin Netanyahu met with Barack Obama and offered immediate negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions; Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer. The administration is now trying to get Abbas to agree to “proximity talks” — the Orwellian description of a non-talk process in which the Palestinians employ George Mitchell to convey their demands for pre-negotiation concessions to the nearby State of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, reflecting a national consensus, has said a two-state solution will require that one of the two states be recognized as Jewish (which means no “right of return”) and that the other be demilitarized (to avoid a “peace agreement” that simply repositions the parties for a new war). Those are the minimal requirements for a true peace process rather than an Orwellian one, but they have been rejected by the “peace partner” Palestinians.

We are indebted to George Orwell for the observation that the corruption of public life begins with the corruption of language, and nowhere has that been more evident than in the “peace process” — whose very name has proved Orwellian.

The “peace process” has so far produced three wars. The first occurred in 2000, after Israel offered the Palestinians a state on all of Gaza and virtually all of the West Bank. Yasir Arafat rejected the offer, returned home to a hero’s welcome, and commenced a barbaric terror war, quaintly named an “intifada,” waged in Israeli restaurants, discos, hotels, schools, and buses. In 2005, Israel removed every soldier and settler from Gaza to enable the Palestinians to demonstrate their willingness to live “side by side in peace and security”; the result was a rocket war against Israel from new forward positions. In 2008, Israel offered a state on 100 percent of the West Bank and Gaza (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem; the “peace partner” rejected the offer. A month later, a new war in Gaza became necessary to bring the rockets to a halt.

In 2003, the Palestinians agreed to a three-phase “Performance-Based Road Map” and then failed to perform Phase One — dismantling terrorist groups and infrastructure — much less Phase Two. The result was that their “performance” was waived and the U.S. pushed immediate Phase Three final-status negotiations. The failure to abide by the Road Map was called “accelerating” it.

“Peace process,” “peace partner,” “intifada,” “side by side in peace and security,” “accelerating” — these are all Orwellian terms designed to mask the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected a state in order to pursue the Orwellian “right of return” — an alleged “right” not given to the millions of other 20th century refugees (including the 820,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands), much less to those whose refugee status resulted from their decision to reject a two-state solution in 1948 and start a war instead.

Even the term “refugee” is Orwellian, since it has been deemed to mean not only the 700,000 people who left the area in 1948 (a large proportion of whom moved out to make way for the invading Arab armies) but also three generations of descendants who have never lived in Israel. It is a definition not applied in the case of any other refugees. The rest of the world’s refugees decrease each year as they are resettled in other countries; only in the case of the Palestinians does the number of “refugees” increase every year — by definition.

The Obama administration has not been in office long but has already made its own Orwellian contribution. Six weeks after he took office, Benjamin Netanyahu met with Barack Obama and offered immediate negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions; Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer. The administration is now trying to get Abbas to agree to “proximity talks” — the Orwellian description of a non-talk process in which the Palestinians employ George Mitchell to convey their demands for pre-negotiation concessions to the nearby State of Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu, reflecting a national consensus, has said a two-state solution will require that one of the two states be recognized as Jewish (which means no “right of return”) and that the other be demilitarized (to avoid a “peace agreement” that simply repositions the parties for a new war). Those are the minimal requirements for a true peace process rather than an Orwellian one, but they have been rejected by the “peace partner” Palestinians.

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The Escalation of U.S.-Israel Tensions Continues

Secretary of State Clinton, in the context of the decision by Israel to approve 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, said yesterday, “We are engaged in very active consultations with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process.”

Here we go again. It is Israel that has to “demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process” — despite the fact that over the decades no nation on earth has given away more tangible assets or offered to give up more of its land for peace than Israel. That was the case with the Sinai Desert, the oil-rich land that Israel returned to Egypt in 1978 in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. For those keeping track, the Sinai desert is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel in 1967. This was the case in 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all the territories in the West Bank and Gaza to Yasir Arafat, who rejected the offer and instead began a second intifada. And it was the case in Gaza in 2005, when Israel withdrew and did what no other nation — not the Jordanians, not the British, not anyone — has done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial, as Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has written; it is existential. The Palestinian leadership has yet to make its own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. Until that happens, issues like building new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem — whatever you think of the idea and the timing of the most recent announcement — are at most peripheral matters. Yet the Obama administration has chosen to make the issue of the settlements not only of central importance; it has (as the Jerusalem Post story says) “led many to believe that US-Israeli ties may be at their lowest point in history.”

What is the end game for the Obama administration? It could well be that Obama and his team are simply amateurish, reacting emotionally rather than strategically. It may be that there is an unusual animus toward Israel within the administration. Or it may be that, as Jeffrey Goldberg reports, Obama wants to “force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for [Benjamin] Netanyahu to take into his government [Tzipi] Livni’s centrist Kadima Party” in the hopes of creating a “stable, centrist coalition” that is the “key to success.”

If that’s the case, then, as Noah Pollack argues here, Obama is in for a rude awakening. Inserting himself into the affairs of Israel to this degree, via this method, would be quite astonishing. And it’s worth recalling that in order to justify his timid early words regarding the Iranian suppression of liberty in the aftermath of the June 12 elections, Obama declared, “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling … in Iranian elections.” There’s that old double standard again. When it comes to our ally Israel, like our Latin American ally Honduras, meddling seems to be a habit. With Iran we need to speak with solicitousness, with respect, and with words of assurance.

Tough on your friends and weak on your adversaries isn’t a winning formula in international affairs, or in life, as Barack Obama will (hopefully) soon discover during his tenure as president. Unfortunately, there is quite a cost to our nation in the process. Let’s hope that it’s Mr. Obama’s learning curve that accelerates and not tensions between America and Israel.

Secretary of State Clinton, in the context of the decision by Israel to approve 1,600 new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, said yesterday, “We are engaged in very active consultations with the Israelis over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process.”

Here we go again. It is Israel that has to “demonstrate the requisite commitment to the [peace] process” — despite the fact that over the decades no nation on earth has given away more tangible assets or offered to give up more of its land for peace than Israel. That was the case with the Sinai Desert, the oil-rich land that Israel returned to Egypt in 1978 in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. For those keeping track, the Sinai desert is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel in 1967. This was the case in 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all the territories in the West Bank and Gaza to Yasir Arafat, who rejected the offer and instead began a second intifada. And it was the case in Gaza in 2005, when Israel withdrew and did what no other nation — not the Jordanians, not the British, not anyone — has done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and Hamas used Gaza as its launching point.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial, as Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has written; it is existential. The Palestinian leadership has yet to make its own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. Until that happens, issues like building new Jewish homes in East Jerusalem — whatever you think of the idea and the timing of the most recent announcement — are at most peripheral matters. Yet the Obama administration has chosen to make the issue of the settlements not only of central importance; it has (as the Jerusalem Post story says) “led many to believe that US-Israeli ties may be at their lowest point in history.”

What is the end game for the Obama administration? It could well be that Obama and his team are simply amateurish, reacting emotionally rather than strategically. It may be that there is an unusual animus toward Israel within the administration. Or it may be that, as Jeffrey Goldberg reports, Obama wants to “force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for [Benjamin] Netanyahu to take into his government [Tzipi] Livni’s centrist Kadima Party” in the hopes of creating a “stable, centrist coalition” that is the “key to success.”

If that’s the case, then, as Noah Pollack argues here, Obama is in for a rude awakening. Inserting himself into the affairs of Israel to this degree, via this method, would be quite astonishing. And it’s worth recalling that in order to justify his timid early words regarding the Iranian suppression of liberty in the aftermath of the June 12 elections, Obama declared, “It’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling … in Iranian elections.” There’s that old double standard again. When it comes to our ally Israel, like our Latin American ally Honduras, meddling seems to be a habit. With Iran we need to speak with solicitousness, with respect, and with words of assurance.

Tough on your friends and weak on your adversaries isn’t a winning formula in international affairs, or in life, as Barack Obama will (hopefully) soon discover during his tenure as president. Unfortunately, there is quite a cost to our nation in the process. Let’s hope that it’s Mr. Obama’s learning curve that accelerates and not tensions between America and Israel.

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How Many Lives Is Biden’s Pride Worth?

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

What prompted this morning’s violence in Jerusalem’s Old City? Though the stone-throwing and disruptions resulted in only eight Israeli security personnel being wounded and a similar number of Palestinian casualties, the context of the American diplomatic offensive against the Jewish state must be seen as an incentive for the Palestinians to do their own part to ratchet up the pressure. While the Obama administration is using its hurt feelings about the announcement of building homes in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem to put the screws to the Netanyahu government, the Palestinians have their own game to play here. And since Washington has decided to go all out to falsely portray the Israelis as the primary obstacle to peace, it should be expected that the supposed victims of the new housing — Palestinians who are in no way harmed by the building of new apartments — will seek to keep events churning.

The rumors filtering through the Islamic world about supposed “threats” to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount are clearly efforts to foment violence — reminiscent of the bloody 1929 riots which led to Arab pogroms against Jews living in Jerusalem and Hebron and of the fake controversy over Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount, which Yasir Arafat used as cover for launching the second intifada. The Jerusalem Post reports that busloads of Arabs are heading to the capital to “protect” the Temple Mount against mythical Jewish attempts to undermine the mosque’s foundations. They appear to be referring to this week’s rededication of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, whose destruction by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948 was a symbol of the expulsion of Jews from the Old City. The mere act of reasserting the Jewish presence there is viewed as an affront by a Muslim world that still refuses to accept Israel’s legitimacy.

The point here is that while the Obama administration’s huffing and puffing about the insult given by Vice President Joe Biden last week may be about an effort to undermine the Netanyahu government, their decision to brand all Jewish building in the city as illegal and as reason for American rage means something very different to the Palestinians. The ultimatum delivered to Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton, in which she demanded that the housing plan be rescinded, is viewed by many Palestinians as American support — not only for their ambitions for a redivided city but also for the expulsion of the Jews from all of East Jerusalem.

Even more to the point, the attacks on Israel emanating from Washington in both on- and off-the-record interviews with administration officials, may be tempting the Palestinians to do more than throw stones. An isolated Israel looks like a vulnerable Israel to the Palestinians, and that has always served as an incentive to further violence. And since neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have any intention of following up Clinton’s demands by actually negotiating for peace in good faith, they may decide that now is the perfect moment to exploit Obama’s rage by raising the stakes with a mini intifada or with acts of terrorism, since they may think Washington will now oppose any Israeli counterattack or retaliation.

Biden may have had a genuine beef with Netanyahu for the blunder over the timing of the announcement but does this man, who has always touted himself as “Israel’s best friend in the Senate,” really want an argument over his injured pride to serve as the excuse for a new round of bloodshed? Do those left-wing American Jews, like the J Street lobby, who are now calling for more pressure on Jerusalem understand the possible cost of their signal to the Palestinians that Israel’s democratically elected government has lost its only ally? Those Americans who are heedlessly stoking the fires of resentment against Israel may soon have more to answer for than merely prejudicial attacks against Netanyahu.

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Palestinians Take the Measure Of Obama

Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

The Hurva Synagogue, which is in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, has been rebuilt and has been rededicated, and in response, Hamas has called for a “day of rage.” Why? I don’t know why. The Hurva Synagogue does not sit atop the Temple Mount; it’s not near the Temple Mount. Rumors that the rebuilding has affected the Temple Mount are being spread by people who want to create violence and death in the holy city.

But alas, Goldberg knows full well why Hamas is calling for violence and death: “The Hurva holds special meaning for Jews because it was destroyed in 1948 by the Arab Legion, which went on to expel the Jews from the Old City. The fact that Hamas — and even some in Fatah — are protesting this rededication means that we might still be at square one, which is to say, where Arafat was in 2000, when he denied the historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem.”  He warns that “this is about denying the right of Judaism to exist in its holiest city.”

Hmm, now where could the Palestinians have gotten the notion that they could engage in such behavior with impunity? Why do we suppose they haven’t a fear in the world that they might lose the adoring glances of the Obami and the security of “proximity talks,” whereby they avoid, as the Netanyahu government has offered, direct negotiations? Well it might have something to do with the perception that “Israel’s last line of defense against false claims and promises — the United States — has made itself indistinguishable from the United Nations and Amnesty International and all the other NGOs and religious denominations that have declared a virtual war against the Jewish state.”

Oh, but as Goldberg would explain, Hurva is completely different from an apartment complex! Oh really? Well, the housing complex at the center of the storm is not one that even Yasir Arafat would have made a claim for (before he revealed negotiations to be a sham and returned to the business of killing Jews). Who can say that the Palestinians have misread the situation? On the contrary, they can spot daylight when they see it. The State Department’s spokesman offered some tepid criticism of the Palestinians’ call to violence:

I would say that we also have some concerns today about the tensions regarding the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. And we are urging all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to remain calm. We’re deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions that we see. And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement.

But there was no “condemnation.” That kind of language and bully-boy tactics are reserved, of course, for Israel. The Palestinians may not be interested in peace, but they aren’t fools. They’ve figured out what’s fair game in the Obama era.

Jeffrey Goldberg writes:

The Hurva Synagogue, which is in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, has been rebuilt and has been rededicated, and in response, Hamas has called for a “day of rage.” Why? I don’t know why. The Hurva Synagogue does not sit atop the Temple Mount; it’s not near the Temple Mount. Rumors that the rebuilding has affected the Temple Mount are being spread by people who want to create violence and death in the holy city.

But alas, Goldberg knows full well why Hamas is calling for violence and death: “The Hurva holds special meaning for Jews because it was destroyed in 1948 by the Arab Legion, which went on to expel the Jews from the Old City. The fact that Hamas — and even some in Fatah — are protesting this rededication means that we might still be at square one, which is to say, where Arafat was in 2000, when he denied the historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem.”  He warns that “this is about denying the right of Judaism to exist in its holiest city.”

Hmm, now where could the Palestinians have gotten the notion that they could engage in such behavior with impunity? Why do we suppose they haven’t a fear in the world that they might lose the adoring glances of the Obami and the security of “proximity talks,” whereby they avoid, as the Netanyahu government has offered, direct negotiations? Well it might have something to do with the perception that “Israel’s last line of defense against false claims and promises — the United States — has made itself indistinguishable from the United Nations and Amnesty International and all the other NGOs and religious denominations that have declared a virtual war against the Jewish state.”

Oh, but as Goldberg would explain, Hurva is completely different from an apartment complex! Oh really? Well, the housing complex at the center of the storm is not one that even Yasir Arafat would have made a claim for (before he revealed negotiations to be a sham and returned to the business of killing Jews). Who can say that the Palestinians have misread the situation? On the contrary, they can spot daylight when they see it. The State Department’s spokesman offered some tepid criticism of the Palestinians’ call to violence:

I would say that we also have some concerns today about the tensions regarding the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. And we are urging all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to remain calm. We’re deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions that we see. And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement.

But there was no “condemnation.” That kind of language and bully-boy tactics are reserved, of course, for Israel. The Palestinians may not be interested in peace, but they aren’t fools. They’ve figured out what’s fair game in the Obama era.

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False Moral Equivalence and Its Defenders

Jackson Diehl, in a recent posting, wrote about the fact that in his State of the Union address, President Obama failed to mention Israel, the Palestinians, or the Middle East peace process, which was one of his most high-profile diplomatic initiatives during his first year. “For those reading tea leaves,” Diehl wrote, “and there are many in the Middle East — the president has offered a few signs recently that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have moved down his list of priorities.” Diehl thinks that’s a wise idea.

As I argued in a column earlier this month, the history of Israeli-Arab diplomacy clearly shows that only peace efforts that originate with the parties themselves have succeeded. Or, as former secretary of state James A. Baker III once put it, we “can’t want peace more than the parties” themselves. Baker, a master of Middle East diplomacy, once publicly gave Israelis and Palestinians the White House phone number and invited them to call when they were serious about pursuing negotiations. In a more subtle way, Obama may be doing the same thing.

I agree that having the U.S. try to impose a solution is the wrong way to proceed. But where I disagree with Diehl is in his “pox on both your houses” approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This is an almost reflexive habit among many people in the foreign-policy establishment and the political class. The Israelis and Palestinians are equally to blame for the tension and lack of progress. Both sides have made mistakes. Neither has done all it should. Both are equally culpable. Call us when you’re serious.

This account is not only wrong; it is fanciful. It ignores so many things that bear on this matter, such as the fact that in 2005, Israel did what its critics had been demanding of it: unilaterally return land to the Palestinians. (This is something that no Arab nation has ever done, even when, for example, Jordan occupied and annexed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt.) It came in the form of offering the Palestinians self-rule in Gaza. Israel took this “chance for peace” — and in response it was on the receiving end of thousands of rocket and mortar attacks.

It isn’t the first time. In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians virtually all the territory they had asked for. He would accept certain districts in East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state. And he was willing to grant the so-called “right of return” to 100,000 Palestinians and compensate the rest. In response, Yasir Arafat began a second intifada, one that was bloodier and more violent than the first.

Israel has shown that when it deals with Arab nations that are not committed to its destruction — see Jordan and Egypt — it is prepared to make enormous concessions. In fact, in returning the Sinai Desert to Egypt, Israel returned land three times its size — territory that accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in the 1967 war of aggression by Arab states. Israel also offered to return all the land it captured during the Six-Day War in exchange for peace and normal relations; that offer was summarily rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and issued their infamous “three no’s” edict: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

I’ve written previously about the false equivalence between the actions of Israel and the Palestinians:

It … ignores what Israel is: democratic and lawful, willing to grant rights to its Arab citizens, willing to hold itself accountable for its mistakes, a country of bustling energy, entrepreneurial spirit, and a thriving civil society. Israel is among the most admirable and impressive nations in the world, and that we have ever seen. And all of this despite living in a region that for the most part despises her and in some instances wants to destroy her.

The truth is that the people of Israel ache for peace; they have done as much as any people on earth to secure it. And for anyone to say that we in America want it more than they do is offensive. They cannot do it alone, and for Israel to offer concessions to nations bent on its destruction would be to sign a death warrant.

The Palestinian people have endured enormous suffering and hardship for more than half a century. But that has to do with the fact that other Arab nations have used the Palestinians as pawns in their own malignant games, and with Palestinians leadership, which has never made its inner peace with the Jewish state. That is at the core of this conflict; and until that burning hatred for Israel is finally extinguished, there is simply no chance for lasting peace.

Why this truth is overlooked so often, by so many, is a curious and troubling thing.

Jackson Diehl, in a recent posting, wrote about the fact that in his State of the Union address, President Obama failed to mention Israel, the Palestinians, or the Middle East peace process, which was one of his most high-profile diplomatic initiatives during his first year. “For those reading tea leaves,” Diehl wrote, “and there are many in the Middle East — the president has offered a few signs recently that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have moved down his list of priorities.” Diehl thinks that’s a wise idea.

As I argued in a column earlier this month, the history of Israeli-Arab diplomacy clearly shows that only peace efforts that originate with the parties themselves have succeeded. Or, as former secretary of state James A. Baker III once put it, we “can’t want peace more than the parties” themselves. Baker, a master of Middle East diplomacy, once publicly gave Israelis and Palestinians the White House phone number and invited them to call when they were serious about pursuing negotiations. In a more subtle way, Obama may be doing the same thing.

I agree that having the U.S. try to impose a solution is the wrong way to proceed. But where I disagree with Diehl is in his “pox on both your houses” approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This is an almost reflexive habit among many people in the foreign-policy establishment and the political class. The Israelis and Palestinians are equally to blame for the tension and lack of progress. Both sides have made mistakes. Neither has done all it should. Both are equally culpable. Call us when you’re serious.

This account is not only wrong; it is fanciful. It ignores so many things that bear on this matter, such as the fact that in 2005, Israel did what its critics had been demanding of it: unilaterally return land to the Palestinians. (This is something that no Arab nation has ever done, even when, for example, Jordan occupied and annexed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt.) It came in the form of offering the Palestinians self-rule in Gaza. Israel took this “chance for peace” — and in response it was on the receiving end of thousands of rocket and mortar attacks.

It isn’t the first time. In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians virtually all the territory they had asked for. He would accept certain districts in East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state. And he was willing to grant the so-called “right of return” to 100,000 Palestinians and compensate the rest. In response, Yasir Arafat began a second intifada, one that was bloodier and more violent than the first.

Israel has shown that when it deals with Arab nations that are not committed to its destruction — see Jordan and Egypt — it is prepared to make enormous concessions. In fact, in returning the Sinai Desert to Egypt, Israel returned land three times its size — territory that accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in the 1967 war of aggression by Arab states. Israel also offered to return all the land it captured during the Six-Day War in exchange for peace and normal relations; that offer was summarily rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and issued their infamous “three no’s” edict: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

I’ve written previously about the false equivalence between the actions of Israel and the Palestinians:

It … ignores what Israel is: democratic and lawful, willing to grant rights to its Arab citizens, willing to hold itself accountable for its mistakes, a country of bustling energy, entrepreneurial spirit, and a thriving civil society. Israel is among the most admirable and impressive nations in the world, and that we have ever seen. And all of this despite living in a region that for the most part despises her and in some instances wants to destroy her.

The truth is that the people of Israel ache for peace; they have done as much as any people on earth to secure it. And for anyone to say that we in America want it more than they do is offensive. They cannot do it alone, and for Israel to offer concessions to nations bent on its destruction would be to sign a death warrant.

The Palestinian people have endured enormous suffering and hardship for more than half a century. But that has to do with the fact that other Arab nations have used the Palestinians as pawns in their own malignant games, and with Palestinians leadership, which has never made its inner peace with the Jewish state. That is at the core of this conflict; and until that burning hatred for Israel is finally extinguished, there is simply no chance for lasting peace.

Why this truth is overlooked so often, by so many, is a curious and troubling thing.

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RE: Abbas Still Says No

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

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Damascus Reverts to Form

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding. Read More

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding.

“What Obama said about peace was a good thing,” he said. “We agree with him on the principles, but as I said, what’s the action plan? The sponsor has to draw up an action plan.”

Notice what he’s done here? He’s portraying himself as though not only Netanyahu but also Barack Obama were less interested in peace than he is. It should be obvious, though, that Assad isn’t serious. He supports terrorist organizations that kill Americans, Israelis, Iraqis, and Lebanese — not exactly the sort of behavior one associates with leaders who agree with Barack Obama “on the principles.” Yet he’s blaming the United States for his own roguish behavior, because the U.S. does not have an “action plan.”

“Assad said that while relations with the United States had improved,” Reuters reports, “issues such as continued U.S. sanctions against Syria were hindering any joint work towards peace in the Middle East.” Got that? If the United States doesn’t drop sanctions against Syria, Assad will continue burning the Middle East with terrorist proxies.

“The Syrian regime is temperamentally incapable of issuing a statement that doesn’t sound like a threat,” Lee Smith noted last week in the Weekly Standard. Assad sure knows how to say it, though. It’s rather extraordinary that he can actually threaten to murder people in so many countries while sounding as if he were asking why we all can’t just get along. At least Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bigoted and hysterical fulminations are honestly hostile. We best get used to Assad’s act, though, unless and until Obama and Sarkozy realize there’s nothing to be gained from politely “engaging” this man.

Assad backs terrorists and thugs who have killed Lebanon’s former prime minister, members of Lebanon’s parliament, American soldiers, and civilians as well as soldiers in Iraq and in Israel – all acts of war. Say what you will about former French President Jacques Chirac. Unlike with the generally improved Sarkozy, Chirac’s relationship with Syria’s fascist and terrorist government was appropriately terrible.

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Barack and the Boss

Yesterday, in endorsing Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen wrote on his website:

He speaks to the America I’ve envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that’s interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where “. . . nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone.”

It’s true that Obama speaks to the America Springsteen usually writes about. But I’m not sure what he’s referring to in this description. Springsteen’s America is a soot-covered wasteland of junked cars, violent townies, shotgun weddings, racist cops, closed factories, and endless unemployment lines. If you think Obama was tough on small town mentalities, consider the lyrics of Springsteen’s “Born to Run”:

Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

Wherever the tramps wound up, let’s hope they didn’t join the work force. Being out of work in this traumatized dystopia is paradise compared to what happens if you actually ever find a job:

Early in the morning factory whistle blows,
Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes,
Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light,
It’s the working, the working, just the working life.

Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain,
I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain,
Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life,
The working, the working, just the working life.

End of the day, factory whistle cries,
Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes.
And you just better believe, boy,
somebody’s gonna get hurt tonight,
It’s the working, the working, just the working life.

When, in 1980, Springsteen wrote

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember, Mary acts like she don’t care

who could blame him? It was less than a year after Jimmy Carter had gone on television and made a speech diagnosing the country as clinically depressed and spiritually bankrupt:

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us.

Springsteen took the nation’s pulse and wrote about it. The problem is that his sense of America–forged during the Carter years–has not changed since. Sure, he came out with an inspirational post-9/11 album. But that came and went as fast as Yasir Arafat’s blood donation to the victims.

Springsteen said in his Obama letter: “After the terrible damage done over the past eight years, a great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken.” But it’s hard to imagine what exactly he wants to reclaim. The last time Springsteen’s lyrics reflected any consistent sense of romance and adventure in connection with America was during the Nixon years. Personally, I’d love to see him make music like that again. But somehow I don’t think that’s what he’s getting at.

Yesterday, in endorsing Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen wrote on his website:

He speaks to the America I’ve envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that’s interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where “. . . nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone.”

It’s true that Obama speaks to the America Springsteen usually writes about. But I’m not sure what he’s referring to in this description. Springsteen’s America is a soot-covered wasteland of junked cars, violent townies, shotgun weddings, racist cops, closed factories, and endless unemployment lines. If you think Obama was tough on small town mentalities, consider the lyrics of Springsteen’s “Born to Run”:

Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
‘Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

Wherever the tramps wound up, let’s hope they didn’t join the work force. Being out of work in this traumatized dystopia is paradise compared to what happens if you actually ever find a job:

Early in the morning factory whistle blows,
Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes,
Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light,
It’s the working, the working, just the working life.

Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain,
I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain,
Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life,
The working, the working, just the working life.

End of the day, factory whistle cries,
Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes.
And you just better believe, boy,
somebody’s gonna get hurt tonight,
It’s the working, the working, just the working life.

When, in 1980, Springsteen wrote

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember, Mary acts like she don’t care

who could blame him? It was less than a year after Jimmy Carter had gone on television and made a speech diagnosing the country as clinically depressed and spiritually bankrupt:

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us.

Springsteen took the nation’s pulse and wrote about it. The problem is that his sense of America–forged during the Carter years–has not changed since. Sure, he came out with an inspirational post-9/11 album. But that came and went as fast as Yasir Arafat’s blood donation to the victims.

Springsteen said in his Obama letter: “After the terrible damage done over the past eight years, a great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken.” But it’s hard to imagine what exactly he wants to reclaim. The last time Springsteen’s lyrics reflected any consistent sense of romance and adventure in connection with America was during the Nixon years. Personally, I’d love to see him make music like that again. But somehow I don’t think that’s what he’s getting at.

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Where’s the Middle East?

Few magazine covers are more iconic than Time’s annual “Person of the Year” issue, which commemorates the individual who has had the greatest impact on world events, for better or worse. This year’s choice, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a decent one. Putin has reasserted Russia’s role in international affairs—Russia has played a frustrating role vis-à-vis Iran, and is vying for an increased role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking—while his domestic maneuvering has all but insured that he will be named prime minister upon leaving the presidency next year. For better or worse, Putin has been critically influential in world affairs, and will likely remain so for years to come.

But beyond selecting a “Person of the Year,” Time usually names a few runners-up, as well as roughly 15-30 “people who mattered.” In years past, Middle Eastern leaders have almost always fallen into these subsidiary categories. Last year—following Iran’s stubborn pursuit of nuclear weapons and critical support for terrorism in Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a runner-up. Ahmadinejad was also named a “person who mattered” in 2005, shortly after being elected. Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon shared the distinction of “person who mattered” with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in 2004, and with Hamas in 2002; Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat “mattered” in 2000; and Jordan’s Queen Noor “mattered” in 1999. If we factor in Time’s reported decision to forgo Osama Bin Laden as “Person of the Year” in 2001 in favor of Rudy Giuliani, and accept that 2003’s selection of the American soldier as “Person of the Year” was an explicitly Middle East-relevant story, 2007 is the first year in nearly a decade in which the Middle East has been entirely shutout.

While we should avoid placing too much weight on these distinctions, the absence of Middle Eastern leaders from the list of “people who mattered” suggests that the Middle East is sorely lacking in compelling figures. Consider this remarkably uninspiring roster: Ehud Olmert (severely unpopular in Israel); Mahmoud Abbas (weak and unpopular); Fouad Siniora (fears assassination and lives in his parliamentary office); King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (biggest accomplishment: brokering the failed—and costly—Hamas-Fatah truce); Hosni Mubarak (renewed crackdowns against liberal dissidents); King Abdullah II of Jordan (M.I.A.); and Bashar al-Assad (passively sticking with Iran). Indeed, none of these leaders inspires much excitement, for better or worse.

Of course, the absence of newsworthy Middle Eastern leaders is not necessarily a bad thing. One can hardly be too nostalgic for Yasir Arafat’s shared “Man of the Year” designation in 1993, or King Faisal’s “Man of the Year” designation in 1974 during the OPEC price hikes. Still, the absence of a single compelling Middle Eastern leader suggests that the region is directionless. In this way, Time’s failure to recognize the Middle East speaks volumes.

Few magazine covers are more iconic than Time’s annual “Person of the Year” issue, which commemorates the individual who has had the greatest impact on world events, for better or worse. This year’s choice, Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a decent one. Putin has reasserted Russia’s role in international affairs—Russia has played a frustrating role vis-à-vis Iran, and is vying for an increased role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking—while his domestic maneuvering has all but insured that he will be named prime minister upon leaving the presidency next year. For better or worse, Putin has been critically influential in world affairs, and will likely remain so for years to come.

But beyond selecting a “Person of the Year,” Time usually names a few runners-up, as well as roughly 15-30 “people who mattered.” In years past, Middle Eastern leaders have almost always fallen into these subsidiary categories. Last year—following Iran’s stubborn pursuit of nuclear weapons and critical support for terrorism in Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a runner-up. Ahmadinejad was also named a “person who mattered” in 2005, shortly after being elected. Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon shared the distinction of “person who mattered” with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in 2004, and with Hamas in 2002; Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat “mattered” in 2000; and Jordan’s Queen Noor “mattered” in 1999. If we factor in Time’s reported decision to forgo Osama Bin Laden as “Person of the Year” in 2001 in favor of Rudy Giuliani, and accept that 2003’s selection of the American soldier as “Person of the Year” was an explicitly Middle East-relevant story, 2007 is the first year in nearly a decade in which the Middle East has been entirely shutout.

While we should avoid placing too much weight on these distinctions, the absence of Middle Eastern leaders from the list of “people who mattered” suggests that the Middle East is sorely lacking in compelling figures. Consider this remarkably uninspiring roster: Ehud Olmert (severely unpopular in Israel); Mahmoud Abbas (weak and unpopular); Fouad Siniora (fears assassination and lives in his parliamentary office); King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (biggest accomplishment: brokering the failed—and costly—Hamas-Fatah truce); Hosni Mubarak (renewed crackdowns against liberal dissidents); King Abdullah II of Jordan (M.I.A.); and Bashar al-Assad (passively sticking with Iran). Indeed, none of these leaders inspires much excitement, for better or worse.

Of course, the absence of newsworthy Middle Eastern leaders is not necessarily a bad thing. One can hardly be too nostalgic for Yasir Arafat’s shared “Man of the Year” designation in 1993, or King Faisal’s “Man of the Year” designation in 1974 during the OPEC price hikes. Still, the absence of a single compelling Middle Eastern leader suggests that the region is directionless. In this way, Time’s failure to recognize the Middle East speaks volumes.

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An Alarming (But Not Surprising) Poll

According to an American Jewish Committee poll, out yesterday, a whopping 70 percent of American Jewish Democrats favor the New York Senator in her presidential bid. This isn’t exactly a shock. But maybe it should be. Mrs. Clinton has a record of serious gaffes in regard to Israel: her engagement with activist Abdurahman Alamoudi, for example, an avowed supporter of Hamas and Hizballah, whose contributions she returned publicly in 2000. Or her infamous kiss of Yasir Arafat’s wife after Mme. Suha accused Israel of using poison gas to kill Palestinians. Clinton tried to bow out of that blunder with the excuse that the translation in her earphones at the West Bank event was different from and less offensive than what she learned later to be the truth about Mrs. Arafat’s remarks.

While Hillary now enjoys massive support among American Jews, it seems the truth about whether that support will help or harm them will only be learned later.

According to an American Jewish Committee poll, out yesterday, a whopping 70 percent of American Jewish Democrats favor the New York Senator in her presidential bid. This isn’t exactly a shock. But maybe it should be. Mrs. Clinton has a record of serious gaffes in regard to Israel: her engagement with activist Abdurahman Alamoudi, for example, an avowed supporter of Hamas and Hizballah, whose contributions she returned publicly in 2000. Or her infamous kiss of Yasir Arafat’s wife after Mme. Suha accused Israel of using poison gas to kill Palestinians. Clinton tried to bow out of that blunder with the excuse that the translation in her earphones at the West Bank event was different from and less offensive than what she learned later to be the truth about Mrs. Arafat’s remarks.

While Hillary now enjoys massive support among American Jews, it seems the truth about whether that support will help or harm them will only be learned later.

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Denial Spreads

Throughout the Muslim world, history is being retold. The most notorious example, of course, is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that the Holocaust is a “myth,” which has given new credibility to a conspiracy theory that has long circulated among Muslim publics. However, thanks to the constant attention the Western press has afforded Ahmadinejad’s lies, this is old news. Yet the Western media has failed to cover another distortion of history that is suddenly gaining traction even within the most liberal, Western-friendly of Muslim states: that Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem have no basis in reality, having been fabricated as part of a broader Zionist conspiracy.

This lie found a new venue yesterday in Istanbul, where the three-day Al-Quds International Forum opened. Within the Arab press, this was a top news item, with conference participants’ denials of Jerusalem’s Jewish historical ties a prominent theme. Al-Jazeera’s headline declared “International Al-Quds Forum Opens With a Call to Resist Judaization,” while the state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) similarly announced that “The Al-Quds Forum Calls for the Necessity of Liberating Jerusalem and Opposes Plans to Judaize It.” In fairness to the Western press, it’s a story that would have been easy to miss: the English-language headlines regarding the Al-Quds Forum were more benign, while Al-Jazeera English typically declined to mention it.

Whether or not it ever appears in the New York Times, make no mistake: this conference is deeply significant. The charge that Israel is “Judaizing” Jerusalem through archaeology or maintenance of religious sites is deeply rooted in Palestinian political discourse. Yasir Arafat and Hanan Ashrawi invoked the terminology of “Judaization” in 1996, after Israel opened Hasmonean Tunnel in the Old City, which revealed the foundations of the Second Temple. This past February, Palestinians used “Judaization” charges to protest Israel’s repair of an access ramp to the Mughrabi Gate, which leads to the Dome of the Rock; one Fatah spokesperson accused Israel of trying to replace the mosque with a “Jewish Temple.” At the time, these charges resonated sufficiently among Muslim publics that Israel installed webcams to prove that they were not damaging Muslim holy sites. The furor seemed to have cooled thereafter.

But conspiracy theories don’t die easily in the Middle East. The charge of Jerusalem’s “Judaization” has thus officially moved beyond the Palestinian territories. The Al-Quds Forum in Istanbul—and the overwhelmingly positive press it is receiving throughout the Muslim world—shows that denial of Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem has attained disturbing legitimacy.

Throughout the Muslim world, history is being retold. The most notorious example, of course, is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s claim that the Holocaust is a “myth,” which has given new credibility to a conspiracy theory that has long circulated among Muslim publics. However, thanks to the constant attention the Western press has afforded Ahmadinejad’s lies, this is old news. Yet the Western media has failed to cover another distortion of history that is suddenly gaining traction even within the most liberal, Western-friendly of Muslim states: that Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem have no basis in reality, having been fabricated as part of a broader Zionist conspiracy.

This lie found a new venue yesterday in Istanbul, where the three-day Al-Quds International Forum opened. Within the Arab press, this was a top news item, with conference participants’ denials of Jerusalem’s Jewish historical ties a prominent theme. Al-Jazeera’s headline declared “International Al-Quds Forum Opens With a Call to Resist Judaization,” while the state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) similarly announced that “The Al-Quds Forum Calls for the Necessity of Liberating Jerusalem and Opposes Plans to Judaize It.” In fairness to the Western press, it’s a story that would have been easy to miss: the English-language headlines regarding the Al-Quds Forum were more benign, while Al-Jazeera English typically declined to mention it.

Whether or not it ever appears in the New York Times, make no mistake: this conference is deeply significant. The charge that Israel is “Judaizing” Jerusalem through archaeology or maintenance of religious sites is deeply rooted in Palestinian political discourse. Yasir Arafat and Hanan Ashrawi invoked the terminology of “Judaization” in 1996, after Israel opened Hasmonean Tunnel in the Old City, which revealed the foundations of the Second Temple. This past February, Palestinians used “Judaization” charges to protest Israel’s repair of an access ramp to the Mughrabi Gate, which leads to the Dome of the Rock; one Fatah spokesperson accused Israel of trying to replace the mosque with a “Jewish Temple.” At the time, these charges resonated sufficiently among Muslim publics that Israel installed webcams to prove that they were not damaging Muslim holy sites. The furor seemed to have cooled thereafter.

But conspiracy theories don’t die easily in the Middle East. The charge of Jerusalem’s “Judaization” has thus officially moved beyond the Palestinian territories. The Al-Quds Forum in Istanbul—and the overwhelmingly positive press it is receiving throughout the Muslim world—shows that denial of Jewish historical ties to Jerusalem has attained disturbing legitimacy.

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Ignatius in Israel

David Ignatius, the Washington Post columnist, is in Israel, and I think it’s fair to say that his time in the region is not doing a whole lot to imbue his opinions with much in the way of perspective or wisdom. His column on Sunday presented a fawning portrait of Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, who has of late been tarnishing his legacy by arguing to anyone who will listen that the real threat to Israel is not from the regimes who implacably seek the country’s destruction, but from Israeli leaders who do not sufficiently accommodate, rhetorically and strategically, the leaders of Hamas, Syria, and Iran. (A sample bit of his wisdom on Iran: “We have to find creative ways to help them escape from their rhetoric.”) The only place Halevy has been taken seriously in recent memory is in David Ignatius’s column—I wonder if Ignatius himself knows this?

Anyway, Ignatius has followed up Sunday’s column with a piece today that meditates on the need, in order to advance the peace process, for the development of Palestinian security forces capable of arresting terrorists and imposing law and order in the Palestinian territories—obviously, an altogether important matter. Ignatius writes that “The Palestinian Authority simply doesn’t have the people, the training, or the equipment to maintain order in the territories. Why is this so? The answer, in part, is that the Palestinians haven’t built up their security forces because the Israelis haven’t permitted them to do so.”

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David Ignatius, the Washington Post columnist, is in Israel, and I think it’s fair to say that his time in the region is not doing a whole lot to imbue his opinions with much in the way of perspective or wisdom. His column on Sunday presented a fawning portrait of Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, who has of late been tarnishing his legacy by arguing to anyone who will listen that the real threat to Israel is not from the regimes who implacably seek the country’s destruction, but from Israeli leaders who do not sufficiently accommodate, rhetorically and strategically, the leaders of Hamas, Syria, and Iran. (A sample bit of his wisdom on Iran: “We have to find creative ways to help them escape from their rhetoric.”) The only place Halevy has been taken seriously in recent memory is in David Ignatius’s column—I wonder if Ignatius himself knows this?

Anyway, Ignatius has followed up Sunday’s column with a piece today that meditates on the need, in order to advance the peace process, for the development of Palestinian security forces capable of arresting terrorists and imposing law and order in the Palestinian territories—obviously, an altogether important matter. Ignatius writes that “The Palestinian Authority simply doesn’t have the people, the training, or the equipment to maintain order in the territories. Why is this so? The answer, in part, is that the Palestinians haven’t built up their security forces because the Israelis haven’t permitted them to do so.”

This is absurd. For starters, the last time Israel gave the Palestinians a free hand in developing their security forces, Yasir Arafat flagrantly violated every restriction the Oslo rules had put on the Palestinian security services, and then used the services to launch a terror war against Israel. Even Ignatius must admit that the Israelis have a right to be a bit skeptical of going down that road again. Here is how my friend Daniel Polisar, president of the Shalem Center, described that state of affairs:

Arafat guaranteed the loyalty of his troops, and especially the highest-ranking officers, by establishing the kind of command and control structure that had characterized his previous 25 years of rule, and which for good reason is preferred by military dictators anxious to prevent the rise of competitors. Though the Gaza-Jericho agreement limited the Palestinian police to four branches, coordinated in each district by a single command, Arafat set up multiple forces that competed with one another: By the summer of 1995, there were nine intelligence services operating in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as additional units with various responsibilities. There was no authority coordinating these forces on a regional basis, nor was there a clear hierarchy within each branch: The only thing that was unambiguous was that all top officers reported directly to Arafat, who was commander in chief of the PA police—and who continued wearing his trademark uniform to symbolize his authority as a military ruler. The multiplicity of units created endless turf wars, leading the various organizations to keep tabs on one another and to pass this information on to Arafat. Moreover, this Byzantine system made it possible for Arafat to order attacks against political opponents while publicly denying any involvement.

Today, if there is one thing in which the PA is still awash, it is manpower (a massive percentage of Palestinian men are employed in various PA security sinecures), security expertise, and weaponry. Not to mention money, as more foreign aid is lavished per capita on the Palestinians than on any group of people anywhere in the world—and by a huge margin. But none of the problems that Ignatius cites have much relation to the real Palestinian internal security problem.

Arafat’s goons did not work toward establishing a Palestinian state. They didn’t serve the Palestinian people or attempt to impose law and order. These men worked for Yasir Arafat, and only for Arafat, in order that he could more thoroughly solidify his corrupt autocracy. The things Ignatius mentions—Israeli security concessions, or the latest package of aid money, or American support—have all been tweaked and modified and adjusted countless times. A competent security service, be it police or military, must be possessed of a unity of purpose and must show dedication to a mission. It is precisely these cultural components that have been so elusive when it has come to the role that Palestinian security services have played in the many abortive attempts at creating a Palestinian state. The only Arab security forces in recent history that have displayed any such qualities are those of Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah.

On this matter David Frum should have the last word:

Hey, here’s a wild suggestion: What if we tried the other way around? What if we said to the Palestinians—OK, you want the benefits of peace? A state, a well-paid civil service supported by lavish foreign aid, jobs at the United Nations for the nephews of your president for life? Great. Make peace. Your soldiers want to be trusted? Great. First let them show themselves trustworthy.

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Walt and Mearsheimer’s “Realism”

In the voluminous debate surrounding the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby book, there has been little engagement with the authors’ arguments purely from the perspective of foreign policy strategy. The authors believe that America would be wise to abandon the security architecture that has defined its policy in the Middle East for roughly the past forty years—that is, a dissolution of the alliance with Israel in exchange for policies tilted more favorably to the Arab states. They write, for example, that “Pro-Israel forces surely believe that they are promoting policies that serve the American as well as the Israel national interest. We disagree. Most of the policies they advocate are not in America’s or Israel’s interests and both countries would be better off if the United States adopted a different approach.”

This idea is presented as a novel one, but actually, it resembles the contours of American policy in the pre-1967 and -1973 war era. This was an era in which American indifference to Israel’s security, instead of producing harmony and goodwill in the region, encouraged war—not the kind of small skirmishes we see today between Israel and terrorist groups, but full-scale state vs. state conflicts. In the absence of a powerful foreign patron who guaranteed Israeli security, the Arab states were convinced that they could destroy the Jewish state, or at least that there wouldn’t be serious drawbacks in attempting to do so. Thus there were major wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, and the latter sparked one of the most problematic Middle East-related crises America has ever confronted, in the form of the Arab oil embargo.

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In the voluminous debate surrounding the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby book, there has been little engagement with the authors’ arguments purely from the perspective of foreign policy strategy. The authors believe that America would be wise to abandon the security architecture that has defined its policy in the Middle East for roughly the past forty years—that is, a dissolution of the alliance with Israel in exchange for policies tilted more favorably to the Arab states. They write, for example, that “Pro-Israel forces surely believe that they are promoting policies that serve the American as well as the Israel national interest. We disagree. Most of the policies they advocate are not in America’s or Israel’s interests and both countries would be better off if the United States adopted a different approach.”

This idea is presented as a novel one, but actually, it resembles the contours of American policy in the pre-1967 and -1973 war era. This was an era in which American indifference to Israel’s security, instead of producing harmony and goodwill in the region, encouraged war—not the kind of small skirmishes we see today between Israel and terrorist groups, but full-scale state vs. state conflicts. In the absence of a powerful foreign patron who guaranteed Israeli security, the Arab states were convinced that they could destroy the Jewish state, or at least that there wouldn’t be serious drawbacks in attempting to do so. Thus there were major wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, and the latter sparked one of the most problematic Middle East-related crises America has ever confronted, in the form of the Arab oil embargo.

Since the solidification of America’s alliance with Israel in the 1970′s, there has not been a single war between Israel and an Arab state—only “sub-conventional” conflicts with terror groups, such as the one we saw last summer in Lebanon, which have been far less destabilizing to the region. American military and diplomatic support have sent an unmistakable message to the Arab states: Stop launching wars to destroy Israel—they won’t work.

Fine, a skeptic might say—the U.S.-Israel alliance has promoted a certain kind of stability. But wouldn’t the U.S. derive other important benefits from a pro-Arab stance? Walt and Mearsheimer clearly believe this, but I don’t think there’s any evidence for the idea. Many western countries, France being the most prominent among them, have adopted, as central pillars of their foreign policies, favoritism toward the Arabs at the expense of Israel. These relationships, however, have been marked above all not just by their utter fruitlessness for the western states, but by the Arab betrayal of those states.

In pursuit of advantageous relationships with the Arab-Muslim world, France befriended (among others) three of the Middle East’s most consequential figures: Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Yasir Arafat. Along with arms sales and the provision of nuclear reactors, Jacques Chirac and other French leaders made a point of maintaining an extravagant friendship with the Iraqi dictator; Khomeini, after his expulsion from Iran in 1977, was provided a compound in suburban Paris from which to foment the Iranian revolution (and was flown to Tehran to assume power in 1979 in an Air France jet); and in ways large and small France promoted Arafat and the PLO (and even Black September) against Israel for decades.

It is no exaggeration to say that France’s Middle East politics are exemplary of the kind of foreign policy Walt and Mearsheimer claim will best serve American interests. But what, after all, did France gain for all its legendary favoritism toward the Arab world? Absolutely nothing—except, I suppose, revenue from arms sales during the Iran-Iraq war (overtly to Saddam Hussein and covertly to Khomeini). France, as with so many Western countries, has found it difficult to convince Middle East thugs to return its affections.

The same goes for the United States: after helping the mujahideen drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, the U.S. gained the strange benefit of becoming its erstwhile allies’ next target. And the American-Saudi alliance, while providing the benefit of a certain level of oil security, carries with it immense costs in the form of Saudi Arabia’s project to export Islamic radicalism.

At its core, The Israel Lobby relies on a bizarre rendering of realist foreign policy, one that promotes an ahistoric theory of how stability is achieved in the Levant, and an equally ahistoric prediction of American benefits derived from alignment with the Middle East’s catalogue of gangsters, dictators, and Islamists. Walt and Mearsheimer advertise themselves above all as foreign policy scholars—but that, too, remains in serious doubt.

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Where Is Nelson Mandela?

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an open letter from the Elie Wiesel Foundation, originally released July 11, signed by 51 Nobel laureates, including Wiesel, the Dalai Lama, and a host of other luminaries, decrying the various British boycotts of Israel. These boycotts, the statement read, “glorify prejudice and bigotry.”

But there is one man, reputed to know more about the horrific effects of “prejudice and bigotry” than anyone on earth, missing from the collection of signatories. The absence of his name is made even more conspicuous by the presence of another name: that of Frederick Willem de Klerk, the last apartheid-era President of South Africa, who ably helped his country transition into multi-racial democracy. (No doubt the “Israel is apartheid” crowd will use his presence for their propaganda purposes. The presence on the list of Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian novelist and playwright, should complicate their attempt.) The missing name, of course, belongs to Nelson Mandela. And its absence is not all too surprising. Mandela has long been a friend of tyrants, from Fidel Castro to Muammar Qaddafi to Yasir Arafat. In the current issue of Azure, I explore the theme of Mandela’s support for these autocrats within the larger context of the troubling direction in which his political party—the African National Congress—is taking South African foreign policy.

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Over the weekend, the New York Times published an open letter from the Elie Wiesel Foundation, originally released July 11, signed by 51 Nobel laureates, including Wiesel, the Dalai Lama, and a host of other luminaries, decrying the various British boycotts of Israel. These boycotts, the statement read, “glorify prejudice and bigotry.”

But there is one man, reputed to know more about the horrific effects of “prejudice and bigotry” than anyone on earth, missing from the collection of signatories. The absence of his name is made even more conspicuous by the presence of another name: that of Frederick Willem de Klerk, the last apartheid-era President of South Africa, who ably helped his country transition into multi-racial democracy. (No doubt the “Israel is apartheid” crowd will use his presence for their propaganda purposes. The presence on the list of Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian novelist and playwright, should complicate their attempt.) The missing name, of course, belongs to Nelson Mandela. And its absence is not all too surprising. Mandela has long been a friend of tyrants, from Fidel Castro to Muammar Qaddafi to Yasir Arafat. In the current issue of Azure, I explore the theme of Mandela’s support for these autocrats within the larger context of the troubling direction in which his political party—the African National Congress—is taking South African foreign policy.

Say an ill word about Nelson Mandela and you become, in the eyes of the mainstream media, international glitterati, and pop culture stars, a heretic of all that’s right and good in the world. But no one is immune from criticism, not even someone who spent 27 years of his life languishing in prison for the ideals of non-racialism and democracy. And if that’s the standard for sainthood, why are figures like Armando Valladares (who spent 22 years in a Cuban gulag suffering conditions far worse than those Mandela faced), Vladimir Bukovsky, and Natan Sharansky not given the same hagiographic treatment as Mandela? One cannot help concluding that the nature of the regime behind the imprisonment—whether a right-wing authoritarian one in the case of South Africa, or a left-wing totalitarian one like the Soviet Union or Cuba—affects the attention paid to the prisoner. And so I am left asking the same question Nat Hentoff posed four years ago, regarding Mandela’s silence in the face of Robert Mugabe’s destruction of Zimbabwe: “Where is Nelson Mandela?”

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Two Mayors

With Mayor Bloomberg now making eyes at the presidency, there are three New Yorkers running for the office—and two of them are in the race because of 9/11.

Rudy Giuliani, who remains unpopular in the city he brought back from the brink of economic and social collapse (a recent Daily News poll showed New Yorkers favored Bloomberg over Giuliani as mayor by 56 percent to 29 percent, or nearly two to one), has been running as America’s Mayor, the leader who emerged from the smoke of the fallen towers.

Giuliani had been preparing for that moment since 1993, when he took office months after the tower bombing, which took pride of place in his first State of the City address. Later, he was widely mocked for constructing a bunker for the city’s new Office of Emergency Management, and for expelling Yasir Arafat from Lincoln Center. He’d also been preparing the city. Imagine the same attack in the terribly different New York of 1989—first violence erupting elsewhere while the police are at the towers, and later an out-migration of businesses and citizens.

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With Mayor Bloomberg now making eyes at the presidency, there are three New Yorkers running for the office—and two of them are in the race because of 9/11.

Rudy Giuliani, who remains unpopular in the city he brought back from the brink of economic and social collapse (a recent Daily News poll showed New Yorkers favored Bloomberg over Giuliani as mayor by 56 percent to 29 percent, or nearly two to one), has been running as America’s Mayor, the leader who emerged from the smoke of the fallen towers.

Giuliani had been preparing for that moment since 1993, when he took office months after the tower bombing, which took pride of place in his first State of the City address. Later, he was widely mocked for constructing a bunker for the city’s new Office of Emergency Management, and for expelling Yasir Arafat from Lincoln Center. He’d also been preparing the city. Imagine the same attack in the terribly different New York of 1989—first violence erupting elsewhere while the police are at the towers, and later an out-migration of businesses and citizens.

While his stump speech touches on the return of order to what’s been famously dubbed the ungovernable city, Giuliani’s been loath to connect his role after the attack with the rest of his mayoralty. Before the towers fell, his local approval rating had dropped below 40 percent. So he’s quarantined his shining hour from his time in office by treating 9/11 as Americans largely understood it: The moment when Everything Changed.

It’s a bad idea. Outside of New York, Giuliani’s widely considered a great mayor. What’s more, the strategy exposes him to swift-boating. Already, Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice and Dan Collins (husband of Times editorial board head Gail Collins) have published Grand Illusion, a harsh critique of Giuliani’s reputation as terror fighter. The International Association of Fire Fighters has put out a video that paints him as an ill-prepared coward, and even the Onion has joined the attack.

Though Bloomberg spent a then-record $74 million (nearly $100 per vote!) of his own money in 2001, it wasn’t until Giuliani endorsed him shortly after 9/11 that he emerged as more than just another rich man indulging a Quixotic mid-life crisis. Though he deserves a share of the credit for New York’s recovery from it, Bloomberg rarely mentions the attack that elected him.

There’s a reason for his reticence. Nearly seven years later, nothing has been built at Ground Zero, largely because Bloomberg instead developed parts of the city a safe distance from his predecessor’s oversized shadow, still looming over the site. Bloomberg’s silence is mirrored by a mayoralty and now a presidential run entirely without a foreign policy, an omission which will prove damaging as he faces increased national scrutiny.

As in 2001, Bloomberg is again a longshot candidate sidestepping the primaries to come in late with money to spend (and spend well) in pursuit of an office for which he’s expressed no particular vision. Should Giuliani win the Republican nomination, expect Bloomberg to claim that a few weeks of symbolism aside, it’s Mayor Mike who deserves the credit for the city’s post-attack fortunes.

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Past and Present in Gaza

What happened in June in the Gaza Strip was not only a Hamas “coup” against Fatah. Hamas managed to overrun the coastal area thanks to the backing of a majority of the Gaza Strip’s 1.3 million residents. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that fewer than 15,000 Hamas militiamen succeeded in defeating the more than 50,000 gunmen and policemen belonging to Fatah?

That Hamas managed this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fatah has a long history of alienating its natural bases of support through incompetence, greed, and brutality, beginning in Jordan more than 40 years ago. The late King Hussein made the mistake of allowing Fatah chieftain Yasir Arafat to establish what was more or less a Palestinian state inside the Hashemite Kingdom more. Then, Arafat established several armed militias in Jordan and consistently sought to undermine King Hussein’s regime. Fed up with the increasing state of anarchy and lawlessness, the king finally ordered his troops to eliminate Arafat’s multiple militias. The result was a bloodbath that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians in what has become known in Palestinian history as Black September. Arafat eventually managed to escape Jordan disguised as a woman.
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What happened in June in the Gaza Strip was not only a Hamas “coup” against Fatah. Hamas managed to overrun the coastal area thanks to the backing of a majority of the Gaza Strip’s 1.3 million residents. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that fewer than 15,000 Hamas militiamen succeeded in defeating the more than 50,000 gunmen and policemen belonging to Fatah?

That Hamas managed this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fatah has a long history of alienating its natural bases of support through incompetence, greed, and brutality, beginning in Jordan more than 40 years ago. The late King Hussein made the mistake of allowing Fatah chieftain Yasir Arafat to establish what was more or less a Palestinian state inside the Hashemite Kingdom more. Then, Arafat established several armed militias in Jordan and consistently sought to undermine King Hussein’s regime. Fed up with the increasing state of anarchy and lawlessness, the king finally ordered his troops to eliminate Arafat’s multiple militias. The result was a bloodbath that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians in what has become known in Palestinian history as Black September. Arafat eventually managed to escape Jordan disguised as a woman.
Arafat and the remaining PLO forces then moved to Lebanon, a quiet and peaceful country, famous for its beautiful beaches and nightlife. The Lebanese hosts soon discovered that they too had committed a fatal mistake—one that would claim the lives of more than 100,000 people in a civil war that lasted for fiteen years. The PLO, which had established a state-within-a-state in Lebanon, was largely responsible for the outbreak of violence. (Many Lebanese I have met say that if they had the opportunity, they would set up a statue of Ariel Sharon in downtown Beirut to honor the man who expelled the PLO from their country in 1982.)

When Israel, with the backing of the U.S. and EU, allowed the PLO into the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, many Arabs knew that the Israelis would pay a heavy price. But now the Palestinians are also paying a heavy price for pinning their hopes on Arafat and Fatah, something perhaps not foreseen so clearly.

Instead of investing the billions of dollars that the international community poured on him for the welfare of his people, Arafat built a casino, paid for his wife’s shopping sprees in Paris, and bribed his aides with Mercedes cars and villas. Arafat’s corruption drove many Palestinians into the opens arms of Hamas, which finally won a majority in the January 2006 parliamentary election.

Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, hasn’t been any better. He, too, failed to deliver—first to his own people, and second to the Americans and Europeans, who were betting on him to remove Hamas from power. For the past eighteen months Abbas received tens of millions of dollars to “boost” his security forces ahead of a possible confrontation with Hamas. He also received thousands of rifles, large amounts of ammunition, and armored vehicles.

Abbas’s warlords and security commanders were the first to flee the Gaza Strip (with the help of Israel) when Hamas launched its offensive in June. They left behind weapons and thousands of disgruntled soldiers. The Palestinian public did not come out to defend Abbas and his security forces. On the contrary, hundreds of Palestinians joined Hamas in attacking and looting the large villas of Abbas, Arafat, Fatah warlord Muhammad Dahlan, and other top officials.

Now that Abbas’s authority has been restricted to the West Bank (some argue he’s in control of only some parts there), the Americans and Europeans are saying, essentially: “Let’s give Abbas and his PLO even more money and weapons.”

Logic says that when you deal with someone and you discover that he’s not honest and can’t deliver, you either demand that he change or you stop doing business with him. Abbas and the PLO haven’t changed.
It’s enough to take a quick tour of some West Bank cities to see that armed Fatah thugs are continuing to roam the streets, despite Abbas’s announcement that he has banned them from operating in public. Many Palestinians in the West Bank who are now on the payroll of the Americans and Europeans would tell you that they will vote for Hamas in protest against the ongoing corruption in Fatah and the state of anarchy and lawlessness. Unless the international community insists on reforms and good governance (something that is highly unlikely to happen under the current PLO leadership), it’s only a matter of time before the PLO is ousted from the West Bank, as well.

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M. Chirac’s Retractions

The “united” Western position on Iran unraveled somewhat last week when French President Jacques Chirac told reporters that if Iran were to get one nuclear bomb and “maybe a second one a little later, well, that’s not very dangerous.” Should the Iranians try to use them, he continued, “Tehran will be razed.”

The uproar was dismissed by the Élysée Palace as a “shameful campaign” by American news outlets intent on “using any excuse to engage in France-bashing”—an absurd accusation given a Le Monde editorial titled “a radical turning” and accusing Chirac of destroying French credibility. So reporters were summoned for a “retraction” interview the next day—but Chirac’s only retraction was to regret any insult he might have given Iran. Three times he called the Islamic republic “a great country.” As for his comment that “Tehran will be razed” should it launch a nuclear weapon: “I retract it, of course.” So long, nuclear deterrence: the “essential foundation”—to quote Chirac in 2001—at the “heart of our country’s security.”

What Chirac did not retract was his statement that a nuclear-armed Iran is “not very dangerous.” Rather, he confirmed it with a long rant: “the moment [a bomb] was launched, obviously [it] would be destroyed immediately. We have the means—several countries have the means—to destroy a bomb once they see a bomb-carrying rocket launch.” In fact, no country has an effective, let alone fool-proof, anti-missile system. Chirac himself stated his absolute opposition to the limited missile defense endorsed by President Clinton in 2000 and to the national missile-defense program begun by President Bush in 2001.

Chirac’s fatuity, clichés, and lies are not exactly surprising. He long ago proved where his sympathies lie in these matters by calling Saddam Hussein a “dear friend” and genuflecting before Yasir Arafat’s corpse. Sadly, Chirac’s behavior is part of a long tradition of French indifference to, indeed collaboration with, terrorism and Islamism—brilliantly exposed in David Pryce-Jones’s new book Betrayal, an expansion of his recent COMMENTARY article “Jews, Arabs, and French Diplomacy.”

As if to perfect the farcical quality of this episode in the waning days of his presidency, Chirac dismissed Iran’s nuclear program as a distraction from what he called the truly pressing “current problem” facing the world: the environment.

The “united” Western position on Iran unraveled somewhat last week when French President Jacques Chirac told reporters that if Iran were to get one nuclear bomb and “maybe a second one a little later, well, that’s not very dangerous.” Should the Iranians try to use them, he continued, “Tehran will be razed.”

The uproar was dismissed by the Élysée Palace as a “shameful campaign” by American news outlets intent on “using any excuse to engage in France-bashing”—an absurd accusation given a Le Monde editorial titled “a radical turning” and accusing Chirac of destroying French credibility. So reporters were summoned for a “retraction” interview the next day—but Chirac’s only retraction was to regret any insult he might have given Iran. Three times he called the Islamic republic “a great country.” As for his comment that “Tehran will be razed” should it launch a nuclear weapon: “I retract it, of course.” So long, nuclear deterrence: the “essential foundation”—to quote Chirac in 2001—at the “heart of our country’s security.”

What Chirac did not retract was his statement that a nuclear-armed Iran is “not very dangerous.” Rather, he confirmed it with a long rant: “the moment [a bomb] was launched, obviously [it] would be destroyed immediately. We have the means—several countries have the means—to destroy a bomb once they see a bomb-carrying rocket launch.” In fact, no country has an effective, let alone fool-proof, anti-missile system. Chirac himself stated his absolute opposition to the limited missile defense endorsed by President Clinton in 2000 and to the national missile-defense program begun by President Bush in 2001.

Chirac’s fatuity, clichés, and lies are not exactly surprising. He long ago proved where his sympathies lie in these matters by calling Saddam Hussein a “dear friend” and genuflecting before Yasir Arafat’s corpse. Sadly, Chirac’s behavior is part of a long tradition of French indifference to, indeed collaboration with, terrorism and Islamism—brilliantly exposed in David Pryce-Jones’s new book Betrayal, an expansion of his recent COMMENTARY article “Jews, Arabs, and French Diplomacy.”

As if to perfect the farcical quality of this episode in the waning days of his presidency, Chirac dismissed Iran’s nuclear program as a distraction from what he called the truly pressing “current problem” facing the world: the environment.

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