Commentary Magazine


Topic: Yasser Arafat

Bill Clinton: Bibi Derangement Syndrome’s Patient Zero

Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

Read More

Ever since leaving office, Bill Clinton’s fabrications about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have only become more fanciful and self-serving, the consistent element of which is his adamant refusal to tell the truth. But there’s another common thread to Clinton’s world of make believe: he is patient zero of the ensuing epidemic of Bibi Derangement Syndrome.

The latest episode of Clinton’s condition took place at the Harkin Steak Fry in Iowa, when Clinton was goaded into defending his Middle East policy by a pro-Palestinian activist. Caleb Howe has the transcript of the video captured by C-Span cameras:

Activist: If we don’t force [Netanyahu] to make peace, we will not have peace.

Clinton: Wait, wait, wait. First of all, I agree with that. But in 2000, Ehud Barak, I got him to agree to something that I’m not sure I would have gotten Rabin to agree to, and Rabin was murdered for giving land to the Palestinians.

Activist: I agree. But Netanyahu is not the guy.

Clinton: So, they got … I agree with that, but we had, I had him a state, they would have gotten 96% of the West Bank, land swap in Gaza, appropriate water rights … and East Jerusalem! Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.

And by the way, don’t forget, both Arafat and Abbas later said they would take it. They said, they said, ‘we changed our minds, we want it now’ and by then they had a government wouldn’t give it to them.

Let’s unpack this. First of all, Clinton agrees that Netanyahu must be forced by the U.S. to make peace. Presumably Clinton doesn’t agree with Samantha Power that the U.S. should invade Israel to force this peace, but he never says exactly which gun he’d prefer be held to Bibi’s head. (Perhaps holding up weapons resupply during wartime, as President Obama has done?)

He also agrees with the protester that Netanyahu is “not the guy” with whom such a peace agreement can be signed. This will likely not make Israelis too happy, because they know from experience that when Clinton doesn’t want an Israeli prime minister in office, he jumps right into the elections to try to arrange his preferred outcome.

In 1996, this meddling took the form of Clinton pretty much openly campaigning for Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres. In 1999, this meant Clinton’s advisors helping to run Ehud Barak’s campaign. The first time he was nearly successful–if memory serves, many Israelis went to sleep with Peres leading the election returns and woke to prime minister-elect Netanyahu. The second time he was successful.

But all along it was personal animus that guided Clinton–a deeply dangerous and thoroughly irresponsible way to conduct foreign policy, which helps explain why Clinton’s foreign policy was such a mess. Say what you will about George W. Bush’s case for regime change in Iraq, but it rested on more than “There’s something about this guy I just don’t like.” The same cannot be said for Clinton.

Indeed, it wasn’t as though Netanyahu was intransigent on matters of peace with the Palestinians. Once in office, Netanyahu too struck deals with Arafat. He agreed to the Wye River accords despite his belief that Clinton went back on a promise to free Pollard, and he agreed to redeploy troops from Hebron while continuing to implement Oslo.

Next, we have Clinton’s assertion that giving Palestinians sovereignty in East Jerusalem is “Something that hasn’t even been discussed since I left office.” This is obviously untrue. During the Bush presidency, Ehud Olmert made such an offer to Mahmoud Abbas, who walked away. Not only that, but even Netanyahu has hinted at a willingness to divide Jerusalem.

That also undercuts the latter part of that claim by Clinton, that Abbas regretted saying no but by the time he wanted such a deal it was off the table. It was not off the table; it was offered, again, to Abbas directly.

So is anything Clinton said true? Actually, there is a kernel of truth–no doubt purely accidental–in what he said about Barak and Rabin. But it further undermines his point. Rabin was far from the two-state-cheerleader the left makes him out to be. He was far more reluctant to consider dividing Jerusalem and establishing a fully independent Palestinian state than his later successors–including Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi now is to the left of where Rabin was then on pretty much all the main issues.

So is Barak, of course, which was Clinton’s point. But the real story here is the fact that you can’t simply jump from Rabin to Barak: Netanyahu was in between, and he played a significant role by forcing the right to accept and implement Oslo in order to govern and by showing the Israeli right could be talked into withdrawing from territory, even places as holy and significant as Hebron. The rightist premiers that followed Barak continued withdrawing from territory and offering peace plans to the Palestinian leadership.

When it comes to Israel, liberal politicians tend to fall into one of two categories: either they’re ignorant of Israeli history and politics, or they assume their audience to be. For Clinton it’s almost surely the latter, which makes it all the more ignoble.

Read Less

A Rabbi Upsets the Church of Liberalism

Last week, Rabbi Richard Block caused a bit of a stir by announcing he was canceling his subscription to the New York Times. It caused a stir because of who he is: “a lifelong Democrat, a political liberal, a Reform rabbi, and for four decades, until last week, a New York Times subscriber,” as he wrote in Tablet.

Read More

Last week, Rabbi Richard Block caused a bit of a stir by announcing he was canceling his subscription to the New York Times. It caused a stir because of who he is: “a lifelong Democrat, a political liberal, a Reform rabbi, and for four decades, until last week, a New York Times subscriber,” as he wrote in Tablet.

Every so often, someone surprises and offends the intelligentsia by revealing they don’t read the Times. National Review’s Jay Nordlinger wrote the definitive column on the subject back in 2004 (reprinted online at NRO a few years ago). Because Block represented a somewhat prominent liberal defector, the true believers of the religion of liberalism were aghast.

Perhaps no one took this more personally than Chemi Shalev, columnist for Haaretz. Most of Shalev’s column is pretty silly, accusing Block of intellectual retreat because he no longer will give his money to the house organ of the Church of Liberalism. This is, essentially, the I know you are but what am I response to Block, since the Times’s extreme ideological rigidity and enforced narrative conformity are precisely what Block objects to about the newspaper. But Shalev’s column–actually, one sentence of the column–is interesting for two reasons.

The first is the extent to which the rise of conservative and pro-Israel alternative media has slowly driven the left mad. Shalev writes:

Really, Rabbi Block? You won’t miss the New York Times? You’ll make do with Fox News and the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Free Beacon, because they report on Israel in the way you deem acceptable? You’ll give up the Times because they upset you on Gaza?

It’s the third sentence there, of course, that is the interesting one. Can you imagine, Shalev asks, someone giving up the Times? What will they read, the Washington Free Beacon? This is supposed to be an insult directed at the Free Beacon, but of course a Haaretz columnist taking a shot at the reporting chops of the Beacon is actually punching up. (Sample piece from today’s Haaretz: Sefi Rachlevsky’s argument that the country’s Orthodox Jewish schools are putting Israel in danger of transforming the Jewish state into “the world of ISIS.” Haaretz tweeted out a link to the article, writing: “Israel needs humanistic science education, not religious – or else it will become like ISIS.”)

The other reason that line is interesting is because it offers an opportunity to point something out about the Wall Street Journal. Shalev includes the Journal with Fox and the Beacon, presumably to impugn the objectivity of its reporting. Shalev, in other words, has no idea what he’s talking about. As everybody knows, the Journal’s editorial page is conservative but its reporting–as the data make explicitly clear–is not. There is a view among many leftists that if the editors of a publication are reliably supportive of Israel, the entire publication isn’t to be trusted. It would be shame if Shalev subscribed to this mania.

But more importantly, the summer war with Gaza made clear that when it comes to reporting on the conflict in the Middle East, no one holds a candle to the Journal. It was by far the most important newspaper to read, at least outside of Israel, to understand the complex web of diplomacy before and during the war. Adam Entous, in particular, was head and shoulders above any of his peers.

Entous had two major scoops during the war, in addition to excellent general reporting. The first told the story of how the alliance between Israel and Egypt’s new strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi formed after the Egyptian military overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in a coup. The story explained how Egypt’s policies changed toward Gaza, how Israel’s assessment of Sisi developed, and how and why the ceasefire diplomacy during the war took shape.

The second was the major scoop that the Obama administration had downgraded its military cooperation with Israel during the war and even withheld a missile shipment in order to tie Israel’s hands and force it to accept a ceasefire opposed not just by Israel but by the Arab states in the immediate vicinity who understood the deal would benefit Hamas and its benefactors, Qatar and Turkey.

Meanwhile, the Times was making a fool of itself. It wasn’t just biased; it was, as the better reporting elsewhere showed, creating a version of events so far removed from reality as to make the reader wonder which war the Times was covering. This wasn’t altogether surprising: the Times Jerusalem bureau chief has had a disastrous tenure and does not appear to be at all familiar with the basic geography of the country she covers and the municipality out of which her bureau is based. And the Times’s Gaza correspondent was apparently using a photo of Yasser Arafat as his Facebook profile picture.

In sum, the point is not about bias: that’s nothing new. The point is that if you read the Times’s war coverage you did not learn anything about the war. You simply read proofread versions of Hamas press releases. I can’t speak for Rabbi Block, but I get the impression he’s not canceling his Times subscription because he can’t deal with inconvenient facts. I imagine he’s canceling his subscription because he is seeking out the facts, and this summer proved he’d have to go elsewhere for them.

Read Less

Israel Now Criticized for Wanting Peace

Because there are only so many complaints that can be lodged at Israel (thought the well does seem bottomless at times), it was perhaps inevitable that the criticism of the Jewish state would produce some strange narratives. Those who feel compelled to oppose whatever Israel is doing at any given time are going to have to latch on, occasionally, to counterintuitive accusations. And a recent critique of Israeli policy fits that bill.

Read More

Because there are only so many complaints that can be lodged at Israel (thought the well does seem bottomless at times), it was perhaps inevitable that the criticism of the Jewish state would produce some strange narratives. Those who feel compelled to oppose whatever Israel is doing at any given time are going to have to latch on, occasionally, to counterintuitive accusations. And a recent critique of Israeli policy fits that bill.

Portraying Israel as the warlike aggressor gets increasingly ridiculous, as Hamas initiates each round of violence with indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians in much of the country, including Israel’s major port city, its capital, and the area near its major international airport. Additionally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has exhibited restraint, attempting to stave off the need for a limited ground incursion, which has now commenced, with repeated attempts at a truce. And that, apparently, is the new objection to Israel’s actions.

BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel reports on two consecutive efforts by Israel to get Hamas to “yes” in talks for a truce:

“There were talks, and they were a step in the right direction, but to declare that a cease-fire agreement was reached is premature,” said one Palestinian official currently in Cairo on the delegation. “Hamas has made it clear that their demands have not yet been met, and there are further discussions to be held.” This appeared to echo previous concerns when a cease-fire deal was announced by Israel on Tuesday, despite claims from Hamas that it had not been consulted and would not have accepted the offer.

Chief among the demands of Hamas, he said, was that Egypt open its Rafah crossing with Gaza, and Israel ease the naval blockade of Gaza.

“We do not understand the reports currently in the media, they are misleading,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the group had agreed not to speak to media until a cease-fire was officially announced. He added that it was his suspicion that someone from the Israeli delegation leaked information to the BBC, in the hopes that announcing a cease-fire deal would pressure Hamas into agreeing to the offer already on the table.

Israel tried to get a ceasefire–not just a temporary humanitarian ceasefire, but a cessation of the current round of violence–on Tuesday, but couldn’t get Hamas to sign on. They tried again, and the Palestinians accused Israel of leaking news of an agreement in order to pressure Hamas to accept the truce. The Israelis, in other words, stand accused of being too aggressively peace-minded.

There was a similar complaint, though concerning a different era, in the July 12 edition of the Economist. The magazine ran a book review on Ahron Bregman’s latest history of the post-1967 conflict. According to the review, Bregman–who served in the Israel Defense Forces during its first Lebanon war and subsequently left Israel “unhappy about the country’s policy towards the Palestinians,” according to the Economist–accuses then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak of manipulating the U.S. and Yasser Arafat into the peace process. From the review:

In 1999 Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Barak, lured Mr Clinton, Mr Bregman suggests, into one failed summit after another, providing Mr Barak with enough cover to allow him to claim that Israel had no partner for peace.

After persuading Mr Clinton to tempt President Assad to Geneva in March 2000 with the promise of ground-breaking proposals, says the author, Mr Barak back-pedalled on an earlier Israeli promise of a full withdrawal. Hours before the summit was due to start, Mr Barak insisted that Israel should keep a sliver of land, 400 metres wide, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. Mr Assad withdrew.

Four months later Mr Barak persuaded Mr Clinton to try again, cajoling a wary Yasser Arafat to negotiate a final settlement at Camp David.

Yet Barak didn’t walk away from the deal on the table; Arafat did. Bregman seems to paint Barak as a serial flake, ending the prospect of peace with Syria and “cajoling” Arafat to a peace summit in order that Barak’s grand gamble would fail, forever tarnishing his legacy and beginning the end of his career as a potential premier and heralding the descent of his Labor Party into near-irrelevance.

No one looks very intelligent claiming that Israel is run by warmongers. So the new plan is to condemn Israel for its enthusiasm for peace negotiations. Israelis have long known that whatever they do, they’ll be criticized for it, and this appears to be just the latest iteration of Israel’s opponents’ fundamental hypocrisy.

Read Less

Barghouti and the PA Succession Question

The Tower magazine calls attention to the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion’s latest survey, which finds that Marwan Barghouti would be the popular pick if presidential elections were to be held for the Palestinian leadership. Barghouti, a founder of an Arafat-era paramilitary wing of Fatah, is currently serving life sentences in Israeli prison for his role in several murders, though he is believed to be behind even more terrorist attacks than those for which he was convicted.

Two things about Barghouti have remained constant over his career: he is soaked in the blood of innocents, and he is exceedingly popular among Palestinians. The two are, obviously, not unrelated. Such a result is of course troubling, but it should be noted that, according to the poll, the Palestinians are merely choosing one terrorist over other terrorists. The problem goes much deeper: the pipeline for Palestinian leadership remains greased with blood.

An understandable reaction to the poll will be: So what. Mahmoud Abbas is now in the tenth year of his four-year term, so immediate succession doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue right now, and Barghouti is in prison anyway.

But there are a few differences this time around. First, the Hamas-Fatah unity deal means it’s more likely that there will actually be elections in the near future. Second, Salam Fayyad’s exit means there isn’t at least a competing pipeline to leadership. Had Fayyad stayed on, he probably couldn’t win an election himself, but he might have staffed the bureaucracy with future contenders who were also reformers, and he might have effected some sort of change in the governing culture. Third, it is not out of the question that Israel would release Barghouti in some sort of prisoner exchange if the Israeli government thinks he’d be a preferable successor than the others in the race.

Read More

The Tower magazine calls attention to the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion’s latest survey, which finds that Marwan Barghouti would be the popular pick if presidential elections were to be held for the Palestinian leadership. Barghouti, a founder of an Arafat-era paramilitary wing of Fatah, is currently serving life sentences in Israeli prison for his role in several murders, though he is believed to be behind even more terrorist attacks than those for which he was convicted.

Two things about Barghouti have remained constant over his career: he is soaked in the blood of innocents, and he is exceedingly popular among Palestinians. The two are, obviously, not unrelated. Such a result is of course troubling, but it should be noted that, according to the poll, the Palestinians are merely choosing one terrorist over other terrorists. The problem goes much deeper: the pipeline for Palestinian leadership remains greased with blood.

An understandable reaction to the poll will be: So what. Mahmoud Abbas is now in the tenth year of his four-year term, so immediate succession doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue right now, and Barghouti is in prison anyway.

But there are a few differences this time around. First, the Hamas-Fatah unity deal means it’s more likely that there will actually be elections in the near future. Second, Salam Fayyad’s exit means there isn’t at least a competing pipeline to leadership. Had Fayyad stayed on, he probably couldn’t win an election himself, but he might have staffed the bureaucracy with future contenders who were also reformers, and he might have effected some sort of change in the governing culture. Third, it is not out of the question that Israel would release Barghouti in some sort of prisoner exchange if the Israeli government thinks he’d be a preferable successor than the others in the race.

It’s interesting to note just how similar these stories have been throughout the post-intifada years. Contemplating the Abbas-Barghouti rivalry in the debate over succeeding Yasser Arafat, the New York Times noted in late 2004:

While it is not certain that Israel would release Barghouti if he won the election, the fact remains that whatever the outcome, he will present the Palestinians and Israelis with very difficult options. If he wins but is not set free, the Israelis and the Bush administration would be seen as depriving the Palestinians of democratic choice — something they have advocated as part of enabling Palestinians to create a democratic and responsible political system.

In such an event, Barghouti would become as much a symbol of Palestinian democracy and resistance as Arafat was the embodiment of the Palestinian nationalist movement.

If he loses the election, he will nevertheless have split the vote to the extent of depriving Abbas of a clear mandate to marginalize his radical Islamic opponents, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and to negotiate with the Israelis and Americans for a lasting settlement from a position of popular strength. And there is the additional possibility that a third candidate, like Barghouti’s cousin Mustafa, a human-rights activist, could emerge as the marginal winner.

Palestinians have always found Abbas somewhat underwhelming, and Barghouti has always presented this complicated challenge to Israeli political strategy. But the Israelis must also ponder whether their preference for Barghouti is worth releasing an arch-terrorist. Their dealings with Arafat may have convinced them that just because a Palestinian leader has the credibility to lead doesn’t mean he will. Yitzhak Rabin famously dismissed concerns about how Arafat would get his people in line as long as he actually did. In the end, Arafat was a coward, and Israelis have to wonder if Barghouti is as well.

This all demonstrates, once again, the steep hill to climb to strike a just and lasting peace deal with the Palestinians. It rests on the remote possibility that someone like Abbas or Barghouti would transform themselves into a Mandela or even a Michael Collins. It’s not impossible, sure, but no one would advise holding your breath.

The real path to peace would be a transformation of Palestinian society that didn’t elevate whichever candidate killed the most innocent men, women, and children. And such a society needs a government that doesn’t promote violence and hate; a government that provides services instead of no-show jobs; a government that empowers its own people rather than subjugates and steals from them; a government that allows real political competition so the people have a choice instead of a mirage of democracy or accountability.

If Marwan Barghouti is the best option to succeed Abbas and lead the Palestinian government, then Abbas is destined to leave the Palestinian Authority no better than he found it.

Read Less

Fallout from Kerry’s Debacle Continues

The violence initiated by Yasser Arafat after his rejection of the Clinton-brokered peace deal was a worst-case scenario not only for those whose lives were now in danger in the Middle East but for Western negotiators and supporters of the peace process. It presented them with the nightmarish lesson that there is risk in negotiating; the failure of talks could mean years of war.

But this year’s failed talks pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry are demonstrating another way peace talks aren’t necessarily risk-free: the deterioration of relations between the PA and Israel. As the talks collapsed, Mahmoud Abbas went ahead with a unity deal with Hamas, which immediately raised questions about Israeli support and the sharing of intel with the previously Hamas-less government. And today Haaretz sheds light on the nasty business of the blame game, with a letter apparently written by Israel’s national security advisor to Western governments:

Read More

The violence initiated by Yasser Arafat after his rejection of the Clinton-brokered peace deal was a worst-case scenario not only for those whose lives were now in danger in the Middle East but for Western negotiators and supporters of the peace process. It presented them with the nightmarish lesson that there is risk in negotiating; the failure of talks could mean years of war.

But this year’s failed talks pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry are demonstrating another way peace talks aren’t necessarily risk-free: the deterioration of relations between the PA and Israel. As the talks collapsed, Mahmoud Abbas went ahead with a unity deal with Hamas, which immediately raised questions about Israeli support and the sharing of intel with the previously Hamas-less government. And today Haaretz sheds light on the nasty business of the blame game, with a letter apparently written by Israel’s national security advisor to Western governments:

Attached to the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by Haaretz, is a 65-page document that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat submitted to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on March 9, three weeks before Israel was to release the final batch of Palestinian prisoners. In it, Erekat proposed a strategy for the PA during the final month of negotiations and after April 29, when the talks were originally scheduled to end before their premature collapse.

Erekat recommended applying to join various international conventions, informing the U.S. and Europe that the Palestinians wouldn’t extend the talks beyond April 29, demanding that Israel nevertheless release the final batch of prisoners, intensifying efforts to reconcile with Hamas to thwart what he termed an Israeli effort to sever the West Bank from Gaza politically, and various other diplomatic and public relations moves.

Over the past month, the PA has implemented most of Erekat’s recommendations. This, Cohen wrote in his letter, shows that even while the Palestinians were talking with Washington about the possibility of extending the peace talks, they were actually planning to blow them up, and had been planning to do so even before Abbas met with U.S. President Barack Obama on March 17. …

The document also shows that the Palestinians planned in advance to take unilateral steps in defiance of the commitment they made when the talks were launched in July 2013, he wrote.

The Israeli leadership’s decision to share that information was apparently made in response to the Palestinians’ attempt to blame Israel for the stalled negotiations. Leaking the letter to the press is also a good way to push back on the craven and self-discrediting efforts by Martin Indyk’s team to blame Israel in order to settle old scores. The blame game is, of course, far better than an intifada, which was Arafat’s answer to an offer of peace and mutual coexistence. But that doesn’t make it any less unpleasant.

It’s worth pointing out that the letter isn’t necessarily the smoking gun it appears to be; the Palestinians will no doubt claim that it was a fall-back list of options in case talks fell apart, which they always do. But that’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy, since the talks usually end with the Palestinians walking away.

Yet that’s really a side issue here. The larger implications of this have to do with the fact that Kerry’s obsessive and badly mismanaged drive for a deal that was not in the offing has consequences for just about everyone but Kerry. He and Indyk can turn their attention elsewhere as they hit the Israelis with a sneering parting shot, but their gamble has left the Israelis and Palestinians worse off and scrambling to pick up the pieces.

The fact that there is some risk in negotiations doesn’t mean such negotiations should never take place: it would be courting disaster if a negotiated solution were permanently taken off the table. But neither should peace talks be seen as all upside, the way Western diplomats have tended to believe. Nor should they always focus on grand final-status deals just because an arrogant secretary of state like Kerry wants his Nobel. Kerry and Indyk may be used to others cleaning up their messes for them, but it’s clear both Israel and the Palestinians are getting tired of it.

Read Less

New York Times: Soft Spot for Khalidi?

There’s a brouhaha at Ramaz, the private Orthodox high school on the Upper East Side, around Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor at Columbia and promoter of the Palestinian hard line. Some students invited him to speak, but the head of the school didn’t like the idea and disinvited him. Khalidi has said nothing, but he doesn’t have to. He only benefits from these episodes, and it’s not the first time. In 2005, he was dropped from a New York City teacher ed program, with the same predictable result of turning him into a free speech martyr. This tableau seems destined to be repeated over and over again.

I’m not an officer, donor, trustee, student, teacher, or parent stakeholder at Ramaz, so I don’t care how many pretzels they have to twist over Rashid Khalidi. But I do care how the New York Times reported one aspect of the story this morning: “Critics have accused the professor of having had ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he has denied.” The reference here is to the activities of Khalidi when he resided in Beirut in the 1970s and up until Israel’s 1982 invasion. In those days, the PLO ran an exterritorial gangland, and was neck-deep in terrorism planned by Arafat and his mob.

Read More

There’s a brouhaha at Ramaz, the private Orthodox high school on the Upper East Side, around Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor at Columbia and promoter of the Palestinian hard line. Some students invited him to speak, but the head of the school didn’t like the idea and disinvited him. Khalidi has said nothing, but he doesn’t have to. He only benefits from these episodes, and it’s not the first time. In 2005, he was dropped from a New York City teacher ed program, with the same predictable result of turning him into a free speech martyr. This tableau seems destined to be repeated over and over again.

I’m not an officer, donor, trustee, student, teacher, or parent stakeholder at Ramaz, so I don’t care how many pretzels they have to twist over Rashid Khalidi. But I do care how the New York Times reported one aspect of the story this morning: “Critics have accused the professor of having had ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he has denied.” The reference here is to the activities of Khalidi when he resided in Beirut in the 1970s and up until Israel’s 1982 invasion. In those days, the PLO ran an exterritorial gangland, and was neck-deep in terrorism planned by Arafat and his mob.

Note this phrase: “Critics have accused…” Today’s article thus repeats a trope that appeared back in 2008, when the Times ran a piece on Khalidi prompted by his past association with Barack Obama:

He taught at universities in Lebanon until the mid-’80s, and some critics accuse him of having been a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mr. Khalidi has denied working for the group, and says he was consulted as an expert by reporters seeking to understand it.

Again, it’s the “critics” who “accuse him.”

Well, I’m a critic, but we critics didn’t just imagine Khalidi’s PLO affiliation. We were alerted to it by a parade of highly regarded journalists, including two from the New York Times. So here are the “critics” who first leveled the “accusation” (still more sourcing here):

• Joe Alex Morris Jr., reporting from Beirut for the Los Angeles Times on September 5, 1976, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a PLO spokesman.”

• James M. Markham, reporting from Beirut in the New York Times on February 19, 1978, quoted Khalidi and described him as “an American-educated Palestinian who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut and also works for the P.L.O.”

• A Pacifica Radio documentary, reporting in 1979 from Beirut, interviewed Khalidi “at the headquarters of the PLO in Beirut,” and described him as “an official spokesperson for the Palestinian news service Wafa,” “PLO spokesperson,” “official spokesperson for the PLO,” and “the leading spokesperson for the PLO news agency, Wafa.”

• Thomas Friedman, reporting from Beirut in the New York Times on June 9, 1982, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a director of the Palestinian press agency, Wafa.”

• Doyle McManus, reporting on rumored American-PLO contacts in the Los Angeles Times on February 20, 1984, quoted Khalidi and described him as “a former PLO official.”

• James Rainey, reporting on Khalidi’s connection to Obama for the Los Angeles Times on October 30, 2008, described him as “a renowned scholar on the Palestinians who in the 1970s had acted as a spokesman for Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization.” (As I noted at the time, the Los Angeles Times thus honorably stood by the 1976 reportage of its legendary, long-dead Beirut correspondent, Joe Alex Morris Jr.)

• Thomas W. Lippman, for thirty years a diplomatic, national security, and Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post, in a letter published in that paper on November 1, 2008, wrote that “Khalidi was indeed ‘a PLO spokesman.’ In the early years of the Lebanese civil war, Mr. Khalidi was the Beirut-based spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and his office was a stop on the daily rounds of journalists covering that conflict. As we used to say in the pre-electronic newspaper business: Check the clips.”

None of these people were or are “critics” of Rashid Khalidi, and two of them were reporting for the New York Times itself. So why does the Times repeatedly inform us that it is only Khalidi’s “critics” who have “accused” him, when in fact a raft of esteemed journalists who interviewed him in Beirut identified him as a PLO spokesman, as a fact? This is not another he-said she-said (or Jew-says Arab-says) question. As Thomas Lippman said: Check the clips.

This is another opportunity to urge the New York Times to get off its derriere and get to the bottom of the Khalidi story. It is unthinkable that a Brooklyn-born, Yale-educated U.S. citizen operated in PLO headquarters in Beirut in the late 1970s, and wasn’t known to the personnel of the U.S. embassy and the CIA station. That was over thirty years ago, so some documents must have been declassified. Can we get some investigative reporting here? Instead all we’ve ever read about Khalidi in the Times is the puff piece. How boring.

Read Less

The EU Offers Israel a Raw Deal

“The European Union gave a push to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Monday,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “pledging unprecedented aid to the two sides if they reach agreement on their final status.” The phrase “unprecedented aid” sounds like a great deal for both sides. Israel has repeatedly tried to strike a final-status agreement with the Palestinians at great cost and sacrifice, only to be rebuffed or met with violence every single time. Since Israel obviously already wants peace, this “aid” just sweetens the pot.

The Palestinians, too, might be tempted, since they depend so much on foreign aid. And for the EU as well it appears to have mostly upside: if there’s no deal, they don’t have to spend a dime of the promised aid, and if there is a deal, it would be well worth the cost. So: three (or even two) cheers for the EU? Not exactly. Widening the scope a bit reveals this to be something much closer to what the Journal reported around the Black Friday shopping rush: the deal is much less a bargain than the price tag would have shoppers believe. The Journal noted that companies long ago figured out that if they overinflated the initial price offering they could better lure bargain hunters amid all the competition. As a result:

Read More

“The European Union gave a push to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on Monday,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “pledging unprecedented aid to the two sides if they reach agreement on their final status.” The phrase “unprecedented aid” sounds like a great deal for both sides. Israel has repeatedly tried to strike a final-status agreement with the Palestinians at great cost and sacrifice, only to be rebuffed or met with violence every single time. Since Israel obviously already wants peace, this “aid” just sweetens the pot.

The Palestinians, too, might be tempted, since they depend so much on foreign aid. And for the EU as well it appears to have mostly upside: if there’s no deal, they don’t have to spend a dime of the promised aid, and if there is a deal, it would be well worth the cost. So: three (or even two) cheers for the EU? Not exactly. Widening the scope a bit reveals this to be something much closer to what the Journal reported around the Black Friday shopping rush: the deal is much less a bargain than the price tag would have shoppers believe. The Journal noted that companies long ago figured out that if they overinflated the initial price offering they could better lure bargain hunters amid all the competition. As a result:

In a 2012 presentation, Mr. Johnson, then still Penney’s CEO, said the company was selling fewer than one out of every 500 items at full price. Customers were receiving an average discount of 60%, up from 38% a decade earlier. The twist is they weren’t saving more. In fact, the average price paid by customers stayed about the same over that period. What changed was the initial price, which increased by 33%.

And so it is with the EU’s latest fit of magnanimity, at least with regard to Israel. That’s because the EU has been slowly, but unmistakably, seeking to punish Israel financially for the EU’s policy disagreements with the Israeli government. I wrote about this over the summer, when the EU released new guidelines intended to restrict grant access to Jews who lived in the West Bank or a large part of Jerusalem, the Jews’ eternal capital. The EU had not instituted a full-fledged trade boycott, to be sure. But it’s not clear if that was because EU officials oppose such a morally repugnant policy or because the denial of grants was a way to hurt Jewish Israelis without also damaging European economies. It was no less discriminatory, in other words; just unprincipled.

The EU’s behavior also gives tacit approval to more bigoted forms of boycotts on a continent with rising anti-Semitism. So when the EU says it can offer a major infusion of financial aid to Israel if it signs on the dotted line, it is not only proclaiming its belief that Israel can be bought but also to some degree offsetting the damage it is already trying to do to Israel’s economy. Perhaps in Brussels an offer of unprecedented financial aid is indistinguishable from a shakedown, but Israeli officials can tell the difference.

With regard to aid to the Palestinians, it might end up being more expensive for the EU than officials expect. The Oslo era saw Yitzhak Rabin sign a deal with Yasser Arafat, followed by Benjamin Netanyahu doing the same, followed by Ehud Barak making a generous offer to Arafat, followed by Ariel Sharon unilaterally disengaging from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, followed by Ehud Olmert offering Mahmoud Abbas the store, followed by Netanyahu accepting in principle the two-state solution and suggesting even that dividing Jerusalem would be on the table, and then willing to release terrorist murderers just to begin negotiations.

In other words, if you want a peace deal, talk to Ramallah; Jerusalem’s door is always open. So financial aid to the Palestinian Authority is a start–or, rather, a continuation, since they already receive such aid (which Israel fully supports). But all those years of rejection and/or violence in return for Israeli offers of peace should tell the Eurocrats something about the ability to induce the Palestinians to make peace. Each Palestinian rejection was followed by an eventual Israeli offer more generous than the last. The Palestinians have learned that all they have to do is keep saying no and eventually they’ll get whatever they want.

So the EU can offer generous financial aid. The Palestinians in all likelihood will reject the terms, but they won’t forget the EU offered them in the first place. The next time the EU wants to get involved, the offer will be sweeter, and after the Palestinians reject that one the next offer will be sweeter still. By that time, the EU’s financial action against Israel will have increased as well. The EU has begun rolling a snowball downhill. Good luck stopping it.

Read Less

In Syria, Partition Is Not the Answer

The Six-Day War in 1967 may have brought Israel victory over its Arab neighbors and shaped the modern Middle East, but it did nothing to stem the Palestinian desire to carry out terrorism against the Jewish state. Factions led by Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian terrorists consolidated on the Jordanian side of the Israel-Jordan boundary and used the area as a launching pad for anti-Israel violence. But as the movements picked up steam, the Palestinian encampments began behaving as a state within a state, brought Israeli retribution, and eventually destabilized Jordan enough for the Jordanian monarchy to force Arafat’s expulsion.

Arafat and his crew went to southern Lebanon, where they played the encore, once again creating a state within a state, destabilizing their sovereign host, and sparking regional armed conflict. Eventually Arafat would lose his base in south Lebanon as well, but there a new terrorist movement would sprout in his place. Hezbollah, fierce and bloodthirsty and determined to kill Jews, followed the script. First, the group developed and consolidated an area of influence. Then it began destabilizing its host state and sparking regional war.

This history, and the very clear pattern that has been established by combining weak states with transnational terrorist movements, should weigh heavily on the debate over what to do about the Syrian civil war. It’s why one scenario–partition–would likely only produce a brief spell of quiet as a prelude to more violence and state collapse. And it’s what should make Tom Friedman’s latest proposal, in which he anticipates a fragmented Syria and calls on the Obama administration to secure whatever part of that postwar state it can, a nonstarter:

Read More

The Six-Day War in 1967 may have brought Israel victory over its Arab neighbors and shaped the modern Middle East, but it did nothing to stem the Palestinian desire to carry out terrorism against the Jewish state. Factions led by Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian terrorists consolidated on the Jordanian side of the Israel-Jordan boundary and used the area as a launching pad for anti-Israel violence. But as the movements picked up steam, the Palestinian encampments began behaving as a state within a state, brought Israeli retribution, and eventually destabilized Jordan enough for the Jordanian monarchy to force Arafat’s expulsion.

Arafat and his crew went to southern Lebanon, where they played the encore, once again creating a state within a state, destabilizing their sovereign host, and sparking regional armed conflict. Eventually Arafat would lose his base in south Lebanon as well, but there a new terrorist movement would sprout in his place. Hezbollah, fierce and bloodthirsty and determined to kill Jews, followed the script. First, the group developed and consolidated an area of influence. Then it began destabilizing its host state and sparking regional war.

This history, and the very clear pattern that has been established by combining weak states with transnational terrorist movements, should weigh heavily on the debate over what to do about the Syrian civil war. It’s why one scenario–partition–would likely only produce a brief spell of quiet as a prelude to more violence and state collapse. And it’s what should make Tom Friedman’s latest proposal, in which he anticipates a fragmented Syria and calls on the Obama administration to secure whatever part of that postwar state it can, a nonstarter:

Thus, the most likely option for Syria is some kind of de facto partition, with the pro-Assad, predominantly Alawite Syrians controlling one region and the Sunni and Kurdish Syrians controlling the rest. But the Sunnis are themselves divided between the pro-Western, secular Free Syrian Army, which we’d like to see win, and the pro-Islamist and pro-Al Qaeda jihadist groups, like the Nusra Front, which we’d like to see lose.

That’s why I think the best response to the use of poison gas by President Bashar al-Assad is not a cruise missile attack on Assad’s forces, but an increase in the training and arming of the Free Syrian Army — including the antitank and antiaircraft weapons it’s long sought. This has three virtues: 1) Better arming responsible rebels units, and they do exist, can really hurt the Assad regime in a sustained way — that is the whole point of deterrence — without exposing America to global opprobrium for bombing Syria; 2) Better arming the rebels actually enables them to protect themselves more effectively from this regime; 3) Better arming the rebels might increase the influence on the ground of the more moderate opposition groups over the jihadist ones — and eventually may put more pressure on Assad, or his allies, to negotiate a political solution.

Friedman’s suggested course of action is unworkable more than it is unlikely. As I wrote in May, Bashar al-Assad’s forces are on pace to lose only parts of the country. Assad has enlisted the help of Hezbollah, and as a result will gain more control over land in Lebanon and be better able to entrench his loyalist power base. If the war ends in a stalemate, I wrote, the divided country would probably be a menacing presence from day one:

Such a division would collapse whatever nominal independence Lebanon has because the Assad regime, buoyed by its military alliance with Hezbollah, would control areas that border on Lebanon. It would give Syria renewed control over Lebanese territory and expand Hezbollah’s reach as well. That might be a fair trade for Assad, but it wouldn’t be for Western interests. If Assad loses territory in Syria’s north or east, those areas may become Islamist operating bases near American allies–Iraq and to some extent Jordan to the east and southeast, Turkey to the north. The latter is a NATO ally with a predilection for funding some Islamic terror groups while fighting others.

Again, the watchword here is destabilization. Jordan thought it could host Palestinian militants while still ruling over them. It was wrong. The Palestinians even briefly declared themselves independent of the monarchy before their expulsion. Lebanon had the same experience with the Palestinians and with Hezbollah. If al-Qaeda prospers in some part of Syria, it will probably follow the same pattern, first by securing a state within a state and then expanding, destabilizing the entire country.

That’s why Friedman’s advice to accept partition would be a long-term mistake. Unless the U.S. installs a puppet regime it is willing to go to war for in the moderate rebel section of the postwar partitioned Syria, those moderate rebels won’t fare much better against the al-Qaeda affiliates just because the West fabricated a “border.” The impulse to want to bring an end to the bloodshed is understandable, but pretend sovereignty and pretend peace won’t make that happen.

Read Less

The Bitter End of Bitterlemons

If the White House ceremony bringing together Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat to put their commitment to the Oslo process in writing marked a boost of forward momentum on the peace process, the Camp David Summit of 2000 did the opposite. Arafat’s rejection—predetermined, it turned out—of the peace agreement without a counteroffer, followed by his initiation of the intifada, constituted a major warning sign to peace processers that the two-state solution was slipping away, and maybe already had.

The practicality gap between support for the two-state solution in the abstract and getting the plan through Arafat, who had chosen terror over dialogue, seemed to be widening. Ehud Barak, the Labor prime minister representing Israel at Camp David, lost his bid for re-election in 2001, and the state hasn’t had a Labor prime minister since. Into this breach came Barak advisor Yossi Alpher, who founded an online magazine with former Palestinian Authority legislator Ghassan Khatib, called Bitterlemons. The webzine was in many ways ahead of its time as an online forum, and it attempted to create a digital Israeli-Palestinian dialogue track as the respective governments moved further from reconciliation. Yesterday, Laura Rozen reported the webzine is closing. From Alpher’s announcement:

We are ceasing publication for reasons involving fatigue–on a number of fronts. First, there is donor fatigue. Why, donors ask, should we continue to support a Middle East dialogue project that not only has not made peace, but cannot “prove” to our satisfaction–especially at a time of revolution and violence throughout the region–that it has indeed raised the level of civilized discussion? Why fight the Israeli right-wing campaign against European and American state funding and the Palestinian campaign against “normalization”?

These last two negative developments also reflect local fatigue. There is no peace process and no prospect of one. Informal “track II” dialogue–bitterlemons might be described as a “virtual” track II–is declining. Here and there, writers from the region who used to favor us with their ideas and articles are now begging off, undoubtedly deterred by the revolutionary rise of intolerant political forces in their countries or neighborhood.

Read More

If the White House ceremony bringing together Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat to put their commitment to the Oslo process in writing marked a boost of forward momentum on the peace process, the Camp David Summit of 2000 did the opposite. Arafat’s rejection—predetermined, it turned out—of the peace agreement without a counteroffer, followed by his initiation of the intifada, constituted a major warning sign to peace processers that the two-state solution was slipping away, and maybe already had.

The practicality gap between support for the two-state solution in the abstract and getting the plan through Arafat, who had chosen terror over dialogue, seemed to be widening. Ehud Barak, the Labor prime minister representing Israel at Camp David, lost his bid for re-election in 2001, and the state hasn’t had a Labor prime minister since. Into this breach came Barak advisor Yossi Alpher, who founded an online magazine with former Palestinian Authority legislator Ghassan Khatib, called Bitterlemons. The webzine was in many ways ahead of its time as an online forum, and it attempted to create a digital Israeli-Palestinian dialogue track as the respective governments moved further from reconciliation. Yesterday, Laura Rozen reported the webzine is closing. From Alpher’s announcement:

We are ceasing publication for reasons involving fatigue–on a number of fronts. First, there is donor fatigue. Why, donors ask, should we continue to support a Middle East dialogue project that not only has not made peace, but cannot “prove” to our satisfaction–especially at a time of revolution and violence throughout the region–that it has indeed raised the level of civilized discussion? Why fight the Israeli right-wing campaign against European and American state funding and the Palestinian campaign against “normalization”?

These last two negative developments also reflect local fatigue. There is no peace process and no prospect of one. Informal “track II” dialogue–bitterlemons might be described as a “virtual” track II–is declining. Here and there, writers from the region who used to favor us with their ideas and articles are now begging off, undoubtedly deterred by the revolutionary rise of intolerant political forces in their countries or neighborhood.

Khatib was a bit more willing to point fingers. In his own post on the closing of Bitterlemons, he wrote:

Two decades after the signing of the Declaration of Principles that many hoped would usher in the creation of a Palestinian state and independence, freedom and security, Palestinians and Israelis are barely conversational. The structures created by those agreements have atrophied, corrupted by an increasing imbalance in the Palestinian relationship with Israel. Every day, there is new word of land confiscations, arrests, demolitions, and legislative maneuvers to solidify Israel’s control. Israel’s political leaders are beholden to a tide of right-wing sentiment and Palestinian leaders are made to appear ever-smaller in their shrinking spheres of control.

We are now, it appears, at the lowest point in the arc of the pendulum, one that is swinging away from the two-state solution into a known unknown: an apartheid Israel.

The editors say they have had increasing trouble finding contributors to the site, but that may be less due to an unwillingness to engage and more to the proliferation of blogs and other media in the last decade. There is no lack of diversity of opinion in the Israeli press, so Bitterlemons began to need its contributors more than its contributors needed Bitterlemons.

The other hard truth for the Bitterlemons crowd is that the region’s major actors all seem less perturbed by the status quo than they do. Mahmoud Abbas refuses to even negotiate with Israel, amid reports that he and his family continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the population they are supposed to serve. Hamas in Gaza continues its quest to disrupt a deal–and why not? As the Economist reports, Saudi financiers are showering the Gaza Strip with cash to build fully-loaded public housing estates worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The largest–but not the only–Saudi donor expects to spend close to $500 million in the Strip by 2014 on such projects. The smuggling tunnels allow Gazan grocers to keep their shelves stocked while making a profit on the markup.

And when Yesha Council chairman Dani Dayan was interviewed by the Atlantic, he said European leaders have begun telling him to save his breath when he argues against the creation of a Palestinian state: they, too, believe that idea’s time has passed. This isn’t to argue against the two-state solution, but rather simply to acknowledge that what Alpher perceives as a deepening distrust and unwillingness to engage is really just an attempt by both sides to make the best of the status quo. Israelis and Palestinians are taking bitter lemons and making lemonade.

Read Less

Palestinian “President” Nears Record

Next week, Mahmoud Abbas will enter the 92nd month of his 48-month term, and now has Yasser Arafat’s record in sight. Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996, running essentially unopposed (his opponent was a 72-year old woman with no political party). In 2004, in the ninth year of his four-year term, he left office on account of death. His second-in-command was elected president less than two months later, running essentially unopposed (Hamas boycotted the election). Abbas is now midway through the eighth year of his own four-year term, almost certain to break Arafat’s record if he can just stay healthy.

Next month, Abbas plans to return to the UN to seek recognition of a virtual Palestinian state — having already rejected a real one back when he was actually in office. Khaled Abu Toameh writes that Abbas’s decision to return to the UN is a ploy to avoid internal problems and extort more funds from the U.S. and Europe. But rather than sinking more money into another Palestinian president who rejects a state if the price is recognition of a Jewish one in defensible borders, perhaps it is time for a long-overdue review of U.S. policy.

Read More

Next week, Mahmoud Abbas will enter the 92nd month of his 48-month term, and now has Yasser Arafat’s record in sight. Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996, running essentially unopposed (his opponent was a 72-year old woman with no political party). In 2004, in the ninth year of his four-year term, he left office on account of death. His second-in-command was elected president less than two months later, running essentially unopposed (Hamas boycotted the election). Abbas is now midway through the eighth year of his own four-year term, almost certain to break Arafat’s record if he can just stay healthy.

Next month, Abbas plans to return to the UN to seek recognition of a virtual Palestinian state — having already rejected a real one back when he was actually in office. Khaled Abu Toameh writes that Abbas’s decision to return to the UN is a ploy to avoid internal problems and extort more funds from the U.S. and Europe. But rather than sinking more money into another Palestinian president who rejects a state if the price is recognition of a Jewish one in defensible borders, perhaps it is time for a long-overdue review of U.S. policy.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said yesterday there would be no diplomatic progress as long as Abbas remains in power, citing the “slanderous” letter the PA sent last month to the EU and Abbas’s failure to respond to recent Israeli steps, which included: thousands of additional work permits; advances of about $50 million to pay PA salaries before Ramadan; an agreement with the Palestinian Energy Authority for more electric power substations in the West Bank; new infrastructure projects in Area C; and removal of additional roadblocks.

The issue is more fundamental, however, than Abbas’s decision to ignore the latest Israeli efforts. He once demanded a construction freeze, got one for ten months in the West Bank, and ignored that too. He received an offer of a state from Ehud Olmert, who begged him to accept it, and ignored that as well, rejecting the urgings of both Secretary Rice and President Bush. He ignored the personal request of President Obama last year to call off the grandstanding trip to the UN and return to negotiations. He published a New York Times op-ed, replete with distortions, seeking recognition of the “long delayed Palestinian state” not to end claims but to “pave the way” to “pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.”

Abbas does not have the political legitimacy to negotiate a peace agreement, nor the power to implement one even if he did. But the broader policy issue is this: Palestinian political culture has now produced a terrorist tyranny in Gaza and a faux democracy in the West Bank, unable even to hold local elections, lacking the civil, legal, and political institutions necessary to prevent the winner of its Potemkin presidential elections from serving as president-for-life. Why should the U.S. continue to support the creation of an already failed state?

Read Less

Palestinian Authority: 10 EU States to Approve Palestinian Embassies

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed yesterday that 10 European Union states have decided to upgrade their PLO missions to embassy status. He didn’t specify which countries had allegedly agreed to this (though some foreign publications have recently tossed out the names France, Spain, Greece, and Portugal as possibilities):

Around 10 EU countries are set to upgrade the status of Palestinian representative offices in their capitals in the near future, chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat declared on Sunday.

This would mean that Palestinian missions would move a step closer toward becoming embassies whose officials enjoy full diplomatic immunity. … A PA official told The Jerusalem Post that the decision to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state was designed to shift the conflict from one over ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ to one over an “occupied state with defined borders.”

There’s an air of believability to Erekat’s claim in light of Norway’s recent approval of a Palestinian embassy, but I have to admit I’m still a bit skeptical, especially since the names of the countries aren’t mentioned. For one thing, unlike the EU states, Norway isn’t a member of the Quartet that brokers peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Would EU members really want to risk the semblance of neutrality by taking steps toward the unilateral validation of Palestinian statehood? And less than a week after the EU definitively rejected Erekat’s call to recognize Palestine as a country?

Supposing Erekat’s assertion is accurate, this move seems to be more symbolic than practical: for the EU member states, it’s a way to show solidarity with the Palestinians, while delivering a public jab at Israel over settlement construction. For the Palestinian Authority, it’s pretty much a PR move, designed to build momentum for a possible UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood, as well as an easy way to get the words “Israeli occupation” peppered into the news cycle.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have some problematic consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As David Frum pointed out yesterday, this type of unilateral approach to Palestinian statehood serves only to delay the peace process:

From the beginning of the Obama administration, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate directly with Israel. Indirect discussions have stumbled along without result. Abbas has insisted he cannot talk without a settlement freeze. Then when he gets his settlement freeze, he explains he still cannot talk.

The beauty of the UN approach is that it provides a perfect excuse never to talk to Israel again.

The UN approach may never achieve anything. It may leave the Palestinian people stuck in a frustrating status quo. But anything is better than a deal that would require a Palestinian leader to acknowledge the permanence of Israel. Back in 2000, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton that signing a treaty with Israel would cost Arafat his life. Abbas seems to have reached the same conclusion.

Of course, obstructing the peace process with Israel may be exactly what Erekat is hoping for. The PA official recently wrote a column in the Guardian calling for Israel to recognize the Palestinian “right of return,” so, clearly, a two-state solution isn’t even on his radar.

Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed yesterday that 10 European Union states have decided to upgrade their PLO missions to embassy status. He didn’t specify which countries had allegedly agreed to this (though some foreign publications have recently tossed out the names France, Spain, Greece, and Portugal as possibilities):

Around 10 EU countries are set to upgrade the status of Palestinian representative offices in their capitals in the near future, chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat declared on Sunday.

This would mean that Palestinian missions would move a step closer toward becoming embassies whose officials enjoy full diplomatic immunity. … A PA official told The Jerusalem Post that the decision to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state was designed to shift the conflict from one over ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ to one over an “occupied state with defined borders.”

There’s an air of believability to Erekat’s claim in light of Norway’s recent approval of a Palestinian embassy, but I have to admit I’m still a bit skeptical, especially since the names of the countries aren’t mentioned. For one thing, unlike the EU states, Norway isn’t a member of the Quartet that brokers peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Would EU members really want to risk the semblance of neutrality by taking steps toward the unilateral validation of Palestinian statehood? And less than a week after the EU definitively rejected Erekat’s call to recognize Palestine as a country?

Supposing Erekat’s assertion is accurate, this move seems to be more symbolic than practical: for the EU member states, it’s a way to show solidarity with the Palestinians, while delivering a public jab at Israel over settlement construction. For the Palestinian Authority, it’s pretty much a PR move, designed to build momentum for a possible UN Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood, as well as an easy way to get the words “Israeli occupation” peppered into the news cycle.

But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have some problematic consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As David Frum pointed out yesterday, this type of unilateral approach to Palestinian statehood serves only to delay the peace process:

From the beginning of the Obama administration, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate directly with Israel. Indirect discussions have stumbled along without result. Abbas has insisted he cannot talk without a settlement freeze. Then when he gets his settlement freeze, he explains he still cannot talk.

The beauty of the UN approach is that it provides a perfect excuse never to talk to Israel again.

The UN approach may never achieve anything. It may leave the Palestinian people stuck in a frustrating status quo. But anything is better than a deal that would require a Palestinian leader to acknowledge the permanence of Israel. Back in 2000, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton that signing a treaty with Israel would cost Arafat his life. Abbas seems to have reached the same conclusion.

Of course, obstructing the peace process with Israel may be exactly what Erekat is hoping for. The PA official recently wrote a column in the Guardian calling for Israel to recognize the Palestinian “right of return,” so, clearly, a two-state solution isn’t even on his radar.

Read Less

RE: Dual Debacles in the Middle East

Jackson Diehl writes:

On November 15, 1988, Yasser Arafat proudly read a declaration by his Palestinian Liberation Organization unilaterally proclaiming “the establishment of the State of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem.” Shortly afterward the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to support the declaration; within months 93 governments had recognized the state of Palestine.

That state, of course, never came into existence. The PLO declaration, the United Nations vote, even the recognition by scores of countries, proved meaningless.

True enough. But it is not 1988. Obama is in the White House. The delegitimizers have been making the case for years that the Jewish state is illegitimate. So the reaction may be decidedly less blasé than it was more than 22 years ago. Diehl optimistically proclaims:

No country has taken steps to enforce the UN’s 1988 vote on Palestinian statehood — and none would be likely to in this case. In short, it’s hard to imagine how a state could be created without Israel’s agreement. Sanctions? Those are unlikely to win the support of either the United States or the European Union.

Is it so hard? And more important, would the Obama administration seek to find some “middle ground,” as occurred in the flotilla incident, perhaps abstaining on a “no settlement” resolution as some supposed compromise? The fact that this has not been an issue for 22 years tells us just how badly the Obama team has bollixed up Middle East diplomacy.

Jackson Diehl writes:

On November 15, 1988, Yasser Arafat proudly read a declaration by his Palestinian Liberation Organization unilaterally proclaiming “the establishment of the State of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem.” Shortly afterward the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to support the declaration; within months 93 governments had recognized the state of Palestine.

That state, of course, never came into existence. The PLO declaration, the United Nations vote, even the recognition by scores of countries, proved meaningless.

True enough. But it is not 1988. Obama is in the White House. The delegitimizers have been making the case for years that the Jewish state is illegitimate. So the reaction may be decidedly less blasé than it was more than 22 years ago. Diehl optimistically proclaims:

No country has taken steps to enforce the UN’s 1988 vote on Palestinian statehood — and none would be likely to in this case. In short, it’s hard to imagine how a state could be created without Israel’s agreement. Sanctions? Those are unlikely to win the support of either the United States or the European Union.

Is it so hard? And more important, would the Obama administration seek to find some “middle ground,” as occurred in the flotilla incident, perhaps abstaining on a “no settlement” resolution as some supposed compromise? The fact that this has not been an issue for 22 years tells us just how badly the Obama team has bollixed up Middle East diplomacy.

Read Less

Blocking Ricciardone

So the Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks Senator Brownback is wrong to put a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey, issuing an editorial averring that while “the Senator is free to criticize and oppose this nomination … Mr. Ricciardone deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor.” The editorial goes on to claim that Mr. Brownback’s hold on Mr. Ricciardone may “make Mr. Brownback feel good, but it undermines the executive’s ability to function and American foreign policy.”

Well, in this fight, sign me up with Senator Brownback. To begin with, the idea that American foreign policy is somehow undermined by the lack of an ambassador in Ankara is quaint. If America needs to communicate with the Turks, there are plenty of avenues, from phone calls to e-mail to the dozens of other American government officials based in Turkey.

But beyond that, if Mr. Ricciardone isn’t a nominee worth using every parliamentary procedure available under the rules to block, who is? This blog understands this perhaps better than any other forum; it was at CONTENTIONS that Joshua Muravchik posted, back in May 2007, a report of Mr. Ricciardone’s preposterous claim, as American ambassador in Cairo, that “[h]ere in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech.”

That post prompted a memorable New York Sun editorial headlined “Recall Ricciardone,” reporting:

In the same television interview, Mr. Ricciardone was asked how he could watch the execution of Saddam Hussein. He replied, “Personally, I’m against execution in principle. My personal reaction is that it is abominable.” It was a strange reply, since the ambassador hadn’t been asked for his personal views of the death penalty.

The interviewer also asked whether the ambassador had heard the Egyptian song “I hate Israel,” whose lyric include “I love Yasser Arafat” and “I hate Ehud Barak.” The ambassador’s response, according to the transcript on the embassy’s Web site, was “Yes. I also watched his latest movie on a web site.” He went on to say, according to the transcript, “It is sort of interesting. I enjoyed it.”

An earlier Sun editorial, in 2004, “Ricciardone’s Return,” described the diplomat’s clumsy and counterproductive performance on the Iraq front.

Anyway, I share the concern of the folks at the Journal about undermining American foreign policy. I just think that confirming Mr. Ricciardone is way more likely to undermine American foreign policy than Mr. Brownback’s hold on him will.

So the Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks Senator Brownback is wrong to put a hold on the nomination of Frank Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey, issuing an editorial averring that while “the Senator is free to criticize and oppose this nomination … Mr. Ricciardone deserves an up-or-down vote on the floor.” The editorial goes on to claim that Mr. Brownback’s hold on Mr. Ricciardone may “make Mr. Brownback feel good, but it undermines the executive’s ability to function and American foreign policy.”

Well, in this fight, sign me up with Senator Brownback. To begin with, the idea that American foreign policy is somehow undermined by the lack of an ambassador in Ankara is quaint. If America needs to communicate with the Turks, there are plenty of avenues, from phone calls to e-mail to the dozens of other American government officials based in Turkey.

But beyond that, if Mr. Ricciardone isn’t a nominee worth using every parliamentary procedure available under the rules to block, who is? This blog understands this perhaps better than any other forum; it was at CONTENTIONS that Joshua Muravchik posted, back in May 2007, a report of Mr. Ricciardone’s preposterous claim, as American ambassador in Cairo, that “[h]ere in Egypt as in the U.S., there is freedom of speech.”

That post prompted a memorable New York Sun editorial headlined “Recall Ricciardone,” reporting:

In the same television interview, Mr. Ricciardone was asked how he could watch the execution of Saddam Hussein. He replied, “Personally, I’m against execution in principle. My personal reaction is that it is abominable.” It was a strange reply, since the ambassador hadn’t been asked for his personal views of the death penalty.

The interviewer also asked whether the ambassador had heard the Egyptian song “I hate Israel,” whose lyric include “I love Yasser Arafat” and “I hate Ehud Barak.” The ambassador’s response, according to the transcript on the embassy’s Web site, was “Yes. I also watched his latest movie on a web site.” He went on to say, according to the transcript, “It is sort of interesting. I enjoyed it.”

An earlier Sun editorial, in 2004, “Ricciardone’s Return,” described the diplomat’s clumsy and counterproductive performance on the Iraq front.

Anyway, I share the concern of the folks at the Journal about undermining American foreign policy. I just think that confirming Mr. Ricciardone is way more likely to undermine American foreign policy than Mr. Brownback’s hold on him will.

Read Less

Will’s Formula for Peace: Stop the Process

George Will has been on a roll, writing one blockbuster column after another on Israel and what he correctly dubs the “mirage” that passes for a “peace process.” He gives some context:

Since 1967, faced with unrelenting Palestinian irredentism, Israel has been weaving the West Bank into a common fabric with the coastal plain, the nation’s economic and population center of gravity. Withdrawal from the West Bank would bring Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport within range of short-range rockets fired by persons overlooking the runways. So, the feasibility of such a withdrawal depends on how much has changed since 1974, when Yasser Arafat received a standing ovation at the United Nations when he said Israel had no right to exist.

Thirty-six years later, Israelis can watch West Bank Palestinian television incessantly inculcating anti-Semitism and denial of Israel’s right to exist. Across the fence that has substantially reduced terrorism from the West Bank, Israelis see Ramallah, where Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, lives and where a square was recently named in honor of Dalal Mughrabi. In 1978, she, together with 11 other terrorists, hijacked an Israeli bus and massacred 37 Israelis and one American. Cigarette lighters sold on the West Bank show, when lit, the World Trade Center burning.

But undaunted by reality, Obama’s self-grandiosity — and frenzy to deflect attention from his failure to devise an effective Iran policy — once again comes to the fore. Substituting bumper-sticker sloganeering for careful analysis, the president demands not just talks “but ‘comprehensive’ solutions to problems, [which] may yet make matters worse by presenting its own plan for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Barack Obama insists that it is ‘costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure,’ although he does not say how.”

The left (the rest of the left, for Obama is very much their man in this regard) is infatuated with negotiations because the hope springs eternal that Israel can be bludgeoned into submission or ostracized if it resists. That also explains why Gen. David Petraeus’s ill-chosen words, which Will recites – “Israeli-Palestinian tensions ‘have an enormous effect on the strategic context’” — have been adopted as watchwords on the left. You see, if Israel is a national security liability, rather than an asset, the pummeling is not only justified but essential. (It is also nonsensical, as Will points out: “As though, were the tensions to subside, the hard men managing Iran’s decades-long drive for nuclear weapons would then say, ‘Oh, well, in that case, let’s call the whole thing off.’”)

Will gets to the nub of the matter: “The biggest threat to peace might be the peace process — or, more precisely, the illusion that there is one. The mirage becomes the reason for maintaining its imaginary ‘momentum’ by extorting concessions from Israel, the only party susceptible to U.S. pressure.”

In this regard, the Israeli government, by mouthing the same platitudinous phrases and offering a moratorium before partaking in another peace-process charade, has done itself no favors. The calculation, no doubt, is born out of necessity: the desire to avoid irreparable injury to the already bruised relationship with the U.S. requires complicity in the peace-process scam.

OK, so the Israeli government believes there is no alternative, but what has been the excuse for pro-Israel (the real pro-Israel ones, I mean) American Jewish groups? Why are they fixated, obsessed, and distracted by the non-peace process while the Iran nuclear program marches apace? Force of habit, perhaps. It is what they have been doing since Oslo (and before that); they have no other script. They also are, as we’ve much discussed, in the business of trying to get along as best they can with those in power. If those in power are determined to process the peace, then, by gosh, they are too. But even their ardor has cooled, and the lowering of expectations has become obvious. Sometimes one simply can’t keep up the pretense.

It would be a refreshing and important development if American Jewish leaders adopted Will’s approach: utter candor. The peace process is destructive, masks continued bad behavior by the Palestinians, and promotes animosity between the U.S. and Israel. Let’s get on with what matters: Iran. It would be bracing, brave, and clarifying. That it is also inconceivable tells you much about the state of mainstream American Jewish organizations and why so many of them teeter on the verge of irrelevance.

George Will has been on a roll, writing one blockbuster column after another on Israel and what he correctly dubs the “mirage” that passes for a “peace process.” He gives some context:

Since 1967, faced with unrelenting Palestinian irredentism, Israel has been weaving the West Bank into a common fabric with the coastal plain, the nation’s economic and population center of gravity. Withdrawal from the West Bank would bring Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport within range of short-range rockets fired by persons overlooking the runways. So, the feasibility of such a withdrawal depends on how much has changed since 1974, when Yasser Arafat received a standing ovation at the United Nations when he said Israel had no right to exist.

Thirty-six years later, Israelis can watch West Bank Palestinian television incessantly inculcating anti-Semitism and denial of Israel’s right to exist. Across the fence that has substantially reduced terrorism from the West Bank, Israelis see Ramallah, where Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, lives and where a square was recently named in honor of Dalal Mughrabi. In 1978, she, together with 11 other terrorists, hijacked an Israeli bus and massacred 37 Israelis and one American. Cigarette lighters sold on the West Bank show, when lit, the World Trade Center burning.

But undaunted by reality, Obama’s self-grandiosity — and frenzy to deflect attention from his failure to devise an effective Iran policy — once again comes to the fore. Substituting bumper-sticker sloganeering for careful analysis, the president demands not just talks “but ‘comprehensive’ solutions to problems, [which] may yet make matters worse by presenting its own plan for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. Barack Obama insists that it is ‘costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure,’ although he does not say how.”

The left (the rest of the left, for Obama is very much their man in this regard) is infatuated with negotiations because the hope springs eternal that Israel can be bludgeoned into submission or ostracized if it resists. That also explains why Gen. David Petraeus’s ill-chosen words, which Will recites – “Israeli-Palestinian tensions ‘have an enormous effect on the strategic context’” — have been adopted as watchwords on the left. You see, if Israel is a national security liability, rather than an asset, the pummeling is not only justified but essential. (It is also nonsensical, as Will points out: “As though, were the tensions to subside, the hard men managing Iran’s decades-long drive for nuclear weapons would then say, ‘Oh, well, in that case, let’s call the whole thing off.’”)

Will gets to the nub of the matter: “The biggest threat to peace might be the peace process — or, more precisely, the illusion that there is one. The mirage becomes the reason for maintaining its imaginary ‘momentum’ by extorting concessions from Israel, the only party susceptible to U.S. pressure.”

In this regard, the Israeli government, by mouthing the same platitudinous phrases and offering a moratorium before partaking in another peace-process charade, has done itself no favors. The calculation, no doubt, is born out of necessity: the desire to avoid irreparable injury to the already bruised relationship with the U.S. requires complicity in the peace-process scam.

OK, so the Israeli government believes there is no alternative, but what has been the excuse for pro-Israel (the real pro-Israel ones, I mean) American Jewish groups? Why are they fixated, obsessed, and distracted by the non-peace process while the Iran nuclear program marches apace? Force of habit, perhaps. It is what they have been doing since Oslo (and before that); they have no other script. They also are, as we’ve much discussed, in the business of trying to get along as best they can with those in power. If those in power are determined to process the peace, then, by gosh, they are too. But even their ardor has cooled, and the lowering of expectations has become obvious. Sometimes one simply can’t keep up the pretense.

It would be a refreshing and important development if American Jewish leaders adopted Will’s approach: utter candor. The peace process is destructive, masks continued bad behavior by the Palestinians, and promotes animosity between the U.S. and Israel. Let’s get on with what matters: Iran. It would be bracing, brave, and clarifying. That it is also inconceivable tells you much about the state of mainstream American Jewish organizations and why so many of them teeter on the verge of irrelevance.

Read Less

Democratic Mideast Negotiator Joins Mosque Opponents

Joining the ranks of those whom his Democratic colleague have deemed bigots, Aaron David Miller tells us that he doesn’t like the idea of the Ground Zero mosque. And he knows a thing or two about monstrously misplaced symbolism:

If there is one lesson to be learned from the controversy over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, it is that messing with memory, particularly traumatic memory of the first order, is akin to messing with Mother Nature: It rarely ends well, no matter how good the intention.

I learned this the hard way 12 years ago, when my idea of inviting Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to visit the Holocaust museum in Washington proved to be a disaster. There is great danger in misappropriating memory and attempting to link it to another agenda or to a tragic historical experience seared in the minds of millions.

His narration of his own experience with disastrous symbolism is refreshingly honest. (“Inviting Arafat to the museum, one of the dumbest ideas in the annals of U.S foreign policy, created a perfect storm. … How I could have believed such an invitation would head any way but south is beyond me.”) And because of this episode,  Miller — unlike the intentionally obtuse left punditocracy — grasps what the Ground Zero mosque is about:

The number of Americans killed on 9/11 was exceeded by only one day in our nation’s history: Sept. 17, 1862, during the battle of Antietam. The events of Sept. 11 are in many ways still untouchable. The risks of linking that day to anything else or confusing it with another issue are vast. However worthy the benefits of promoting interfaith dialogue and greater understanding among Christians, Muslims and Jews, the reality is that the payoff will be small. We meddle in our tragic memories and those of others at our peril.

And let’s be honest: there is no chance any interfaith “dialogue” is going to come of this. It was intended as and certainly has become a provocative act. If you don’t believe me, take the word of two Muslims:

New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it’s not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as “Fitna,” meaning “mischief-making” that is clearly forbidden in the Koran.

The Koran commands Muslims to, “Be considerate when you debate with the People of the Book” — i.e., Jews and Christians. Building an exclusive place of worship for Muslims at the place where Muslims killed thousands of New Yorkers is not being considerate or sensitive, it is undoubtedly an act of “fitna.”

The Ground Zero mosque debacle is much worse than Miller’s gaffe, and with far more serious consequences. After all, it’s one thing for a negotiator to make hash out of an Arafat visit; it’s another for the president to reveal that he is utterly clueless about Americans’ sentiments, values, and concerns.

Who would have thought that we’d elect a president who couldn’t go to Israel or Ground Zero without risking boos and catcalls? Yes, it’s come to that.

Joining the ranks of those whom his Democratic colleague have deemed bigots, Aaron David Miller tells us that he doesn’t like the idea of the Ground Zero mosque. And he knows a thing or two about monstrously misplaced symbolism:

If there is one lesson to be learned from the controversy over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, it is that messing with memory, particularly traumatic memory of the first order, is akin to messing with Mother Nature: It rarely ends well, no matter how good the intention.

I learned this the hard way 12 years ago, when my idea of inviting Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to visit the Holocaust museum in Washington proved to be a disaster. There is great danger in misappropriating memory and attempting to link it to another agenda or to a tragic historical experience seared in the minds of millions.

His narration of his own experience with disastrous symbolism is refreshingly honest. (“Inviting Arafat to the museum, one of the dumbest ideas in the annals of U.S foreign policy, created a perfect storm. … How I could have believed such an invitation would head any way but south is beyond me.”) And because of this episode,  Miller — unlike the intentionally obtuse left punditocracy — grasps what the Ground Zero mosque is about:

The number of Americans killed on 9/11 was exceeded by only one day in our nation’s history: Sept. 17, 1862, during the battle of Antietam. The events of Sept. 11 are in many ways still untouchable. The risks of linking that day to anything else or confusing it with another issue are vast. However worthy the benefits of promoting interfaith dialogue and greater understanding among Christians, Muslims and Jews, the reality is that the payoff will be small. We meddle in our tragic memories and those of others at our peril.

And let’s be honest: there is no chance any interfaith “dialogue” is going to come of this. It was intended as and certainly has become a provocative act. If you don’t believe me, take the word of two Muslims:

New York currently boasts at least 30 mosques so it’s not as if there is pressing need to find space for worshippers. The fact we Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith and in Islamic parlance, such an act is referred to as “Fitna,” meaning “mischief-making” that is clearly forbidden in the Koran.

The Koran commands Muslims to, “Be considerate when you debate with the People of the Book” — i.e., Jews and Christians. Building an exclusive place of worship for Muslims at the place where Muslims killed thousands of New Yorkers is not being considerate or sensitive, it is undoubtedly an act of “fitna.”

The Ground Zero mosque debacle is much worse than Miller’s gaffe, and with far more serious consequences. After all, it’s one thing for a negotiator to make hash out of an Arafat visit; it’s another for the president to reveal that he is utterly clueless about Americans’ sentiments, values, and concerns.

Who would have thought that we’d elect a president who couldn’t go to Israel or Ground Zero without risking boos and catcalls? Yes, it’s come to that.

Read Less

Blatant Bias

Anyone who still doubts the magnitude of the UN Human Rights Council’s anti-Israel bias should read this Jerusalem Post expose on the man appointed to head the council’s latest probe of Israel, German jurist Christian Tomuschat.

Tomuschat’s panel will investigate compliance with the Goldstone Report, which accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during last year’s war in Gaza and ordered each to investigate and try its own perpetrators. Thus essentially, Tomuschat is charged with determining whether Israel and Hamas have properly investigated and prosecuted the Goldstone Committee’s allegations.

So here’s what the Jerusalem Post discovered about him. First, he co-authored a brief for Yasser Arafat in 1996 on what legal strategies Palestinians should pursue against Israel — including, incidentally, one they later used with regard to Israel’s security barrier: asking the UN General Assembly to seek a judgment against Israel from the International Court of Justice. Questioned by the Post, Tomuschat confirmed his involvement in the brief but “could not recall” whether Arafat commissioned it.

That’s a distinction without a difference — because whether or not he worked specifically for Arafat, he did work, either voluntarily or for pay, for one party to the current case: the Palestinians. In most legal systems, that would disqualify him from serving as a judge. But not in the HRC’s system.

Second, Tomuschat has already asserted, in a 2002 paper, that states can never properly investigate their own militaries. In his words: “There is little hope that the judicial system of the state concerned will conduct effective investigations and punish the responsible agents. Nowhere have excesses committed by security forces been adequately punished.”

So the man charged with deciding whether Israel’s legal system has adequately investigated its military’s actions in Gaza has already publicly concluded that no legal system ever can. That, too, would suffice to disqualify him in most courts.

Finally, Tomuschat has already asserted that civilian casualties can never be justified as collateral damage of a legitimate military attack. In that same 2002 paper, he wrote: “If a state strikes blindly against presumed terrorists and their environment, accepting that together with the suspects other civilians lose their lives, it uses the same tactics as the terrorists themselves.” Then, lest anyone miss the point, he said in a 2007 interview that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists constitute “state terrorism” because they sometimes cause civilian casualties.

So the man charged with determining whether Israel’s legal system correctly applied international law to specific incidents publicly rejects a major premise of said law: that civilian casualties aren’t crimes if they result unintentionally from proportionate strikes on legitimate military targets. Just this month, for instance, a Korean probe into American soldiers’ Korean War killings of 138 Korean civilians concluded that most were legal because they stemmed from “military necessity.”

In most legal systems, someone who publicly rejected a major principle of the relevant legal code would be disqualified — especially when one side (Israel) has based all its decisions on that principle. But not in the HRC’s system.

The HRC’s legal system, it seems, has only one sacrosanct principle: against Israel, anything goes.

Anyone who still doubts the magnitude of the UN Human Rights Council’s anti-Israel bias should read this Jerusalem Post expose on the man appointed to head the council’s latest probe of Israel, German jurist Christian Tomuschat.

Tomuschat’s panel will investigate compliance with the Goldstone Report, which accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during last year’s war in Gaza and ordered each to investigate and try its own perpetrators. Thus essentially, Tomuschat is charged with determining whether Israel and Hamas have properly investigated and prosecuted the Goldstone Committee’s allegations.

So here’s what the Jerusalem Post discovered about him. First, he co-authored a brief for Yasser Arafat in 1996 on what legal strategies Palestinians should pursue against Israel — including, incidentally, one they later used with regard to Israel’s security barrier: asking the UN General Assembly to seek a judgment against Israel from the International Court of Justice. Questioned by the Post, Tomuschat confirmed his involvement in the brief but “could not recall” whether Arafat commissioned it.

That’s a distinction without a difference — because whether or not he worked specifically for Arafat, he did work, either voluntarily or for pay, for one party to the current case: the Palestinians. In most legal systems, that would disqualify him from serving as a judge. But not in the HRC’s system.

Second, Tomuschat has already asserted, in a 2002 paper, that states can never properly investigate their own militaries. In his words: “There is little hope that the judicial system of the state concerned will conduct effective investigations and punish the responsible agents. Nowhere have excesses committed by security forces been adequately punished.”

So the man charged with deciding whether Israel’s legal system has adequately investigated its military’s actions in Gaza has already publicly concluded that no legal system ever can. That, too, would suffice to disqualify him in most courts.

Finally, Tomuschat has already asserted that civilian casualties can never be justified as collateral damage of a legitimate military attack. In that same 2002 paper, he wrote: “If a state strikes blindly against presumed terrorists and their environment, accepting that together with the suspects other civilians lose their lives, it uses the same tactics as the terrorists themselves.” Then, lest anyone miss the point, he said in a 2007 interview that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists constitute “state terrorism” because they sometimes cause civilian casualties.

So the man charged with determining whether Israel’s legal system correctly applied international law to specific incidents publicly rejects a major premise of said law: that civilian casualties aren’t crimes if they result unintentionally from proportionate strikes on legitimate military targets. Just this month, for instance, a Korean probe into American soldiers’ Korean War killings of 138 Korean civilians concluded that most were legal because they stemmed from “military necessity.”

In most legal systems, someone who publicly rejected a major principle of the relevant legal code would be disqualified — especially when one side (Israel) has based all its decisions on that principle. But not in the HRC’s system.

The HRC’s legal system, it seems, has only one sacrosanct principle: against Israel, anything goes.

Read Less

Upgrade What?

The headline reads, “US Upgrades PA Diplomatic Recognition“:

The US State Department announced that the diplomatic recognition of the Palestinian Authority in the US will be upgraded to the status of “delegation general” Israel Radio reported Friday.

This will allow the Palestinian envoys in Washington to display the Palestinian flag and provide social benefits for their employees.

Palestinian representative to the US in Washington Maen Areikat said that the step equates Palestinian diplomatic status in the US to that of Canada and many other countries in western Europe.

Officials in Jerusalem have not responded officially to the US decision. Senior officials at the Prime Minister’s Office said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was aware of the decision in advance and that the move was apparently intended to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

For those who think this is a fruitless exercise and inapt timing (given Abbas’s recent indifference to halting incitement), this news is not welcome. (“Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem have expressed some disappointment that the US government has not emphasized the end of Palestinian incitement towards Israel.”) A knowledgable Israel hand e-mails:

The news stories that say the United States has upgraded the Palestinian Authority office in Washington are wrong, for there is no PA office.  There is a PLO office, one that requires a waiver twice each year to exist because of the PLO’s past links to terrorism.  The PLO is, according to the United Nations, the “sole legitimate voice of the Palestinian people,” but everyone knows that’s false; the PLO represents the ghost of Yasser Arafat, plus a whole bunch of his cronies. It would be far better to end the farce of having a PLO office — after all, who elected them? — and to try to establish a PA office, for any current and future Palestinian political development will take place through the PA.

But a peace deal and a PA government won’t be happening anytime soon unless Abbas and other Palestinian leaders stop inciting violence, give up the dream of a one-state solution (i.e., a demographic swamping of the Jewish state), and build some civil institutions capable of managing the Palestinians’ own affairs. Then maybe we can have a peace deal and can talk about flags.

The headline reads, “US Upgrades PA Diplomatic Recognition“:

The US State Department announced that the diplomatic recognition of the Palestinian Authority in the US will be upgraded to the status of “delegation general” Israel Radio reported Friday.

This will allow the Palestinian envoys in Washington to display the Palestinian flag and provide social benefits for their employees.

Palestinian representative to the US in Washington Maen Areikat said that the step equates Palestinian diplomatic status in the US to that of Canada and many other countries in western Europe.

Officials in Jerusalem have not responded officially to the US decision. Senior officials at the Prime Minister’s Office said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was aware of the decision in advance and that the move was apparently intended to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

For those who think this is a fruitless exercise and inapt timing (given Abbas’s recent indifference to halting incitement), this news is not welcome. (“Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem have expressed some disappointment that the US government has not emphasized the end of Palestinian incitement towards Israel.”) A knowledgable Israel hand e-mails:

The news stories that say the United States has upgraded the Palestinian Authority office in Washington are wrong, for there is no PA office.  There is a PLO office, one that requires a waiver twice each year to exist because of the PLO’s past links to terrorism.  The PLO is, according to the United Nations, the “sole legitimate voice of the Palestinian people,” but everyone knows that’s false; the PLO represents the ghost of Yasser Arafat, plus a whole bunch of his cronies. It would be far better to end the farce of having a PLO office — after all, who elected them? — and to try to establish a PA office, for any current and future Palestinian political development will take place through the PA.

But a peace deal and a PA government won’t be happening anytime soon unless Abbas and other Palestinian leaders stop inciting violence, give up the dream of a one-state solution (i.e., a demographic swamping of the Jewish state), and build some civil institutions capable of managing the Palestinians’ own affairs. Then maybe we can have a peace deal and can talk about flags.

Read Less

Re: Palestinian Democracy Requires Palestinian Democrats

Jonathan, you are undoubtedly correct that the current culture of Palestinian politics makes a peaceful Palestinian state highly unlikely. In the last 10 years, the peace-partner Palestinians have rejected three formal offers of a state – each of them on all of Gaza and substantially all of the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem. Call them the “Three Noes” – and it is not clear what part of them remains to be understood. A society without a single leader ready to endorse a two-state solution, if it requires recognition of a Jewish state with defensible borders, is not ready to live side by side in peace.

You are correct that more than elections are required for a democratic state, but the inability of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill even the most elementary requirement of such a state is nevertheless noteworthy. The PA has managed only one presidential election in the last 14 years – in 2005, two months after Yasser Arafat’s death, in which the winner (Arafat’s second-in-command) ran essentially unopposed. The 2006 legislative election was won by Hamas — the terrorist group the PA committed in 2003 to dismantle immediately as part of the Roadmap. In 2009, the PA postponed the scheduled presidential election for a year – and then called it off altogether. This month’s local elections, already boycotted by Hamas, were called off because Fatah said it needed first to resolve which party members would run; in other words, before they could hold an election, they first needed to decide who would win it.

Reuters reported yesterday that the nominal Palestinian president, about to begin the 68th month of his 48-month term, criticized the latest electoral cancellation:

“If what happened is allowed to pass, I tell you that this movement must say goodbye,” [an official who attended the Fatah meeting] quoted Abbas as saying, in remarks which were omitted from a broadcast version of the speech. …

“Even with competition, we managed to fail,” said Abbas, who had been on an official visit to Washington at the time of the cancellation. He expressed anger at being woken up early so he could order his cabinet in Ramallah to postpone the vote.

It is a nearly perfect picture of the peace process: the unelected Palestinian president, at the White House to discuss a peace agreement he has no power to implement (even assuming there is one he would actually sign), cranky at being woken up early to cancel elections once again.

A recent poll shows increasing popularity of Hamas in the West Bank, and a Palestinian analyst reports that it “will be difficult if not impossible to hold any other legislative or presidential elections in the foreseeable future.”  When you cannot even schedule an election, you are not ready for a state.

Jonathan, you are undoubtedly correct that the current culture of Palestinian politics makes a peaceful Palestinian state highly unlikely. In the last 10 years, the peace-partner Palestinians have rejected three formal offers of a state – each of them on all of Gaza and substantially all of the West Bank, with a capital in Jerusalem. Call them the “Three Noes” – and it is not clear what part of them remains to be understood. A society without a single leader ready to endorse a two-state solution, if it requires recognition of a Jewish state with defensible borders, is not ready to live side by side in peace.

You are correct that more than elections are required for a democratic state, but the inability of the Palestinian Authority to fulfill even the most elementary requirement of such a state is nevertheless noteworthy. The PA has managed only one presidential election in the last 14 years – in 2005, two months after Yasser Arafat’s death, in which the winner (Arafat’s second-in-command) ran essentially unopposed. The 2006 legislative election was won by Hamas — the terrorist group the PA committed in 2003 to dismantle immediately as part of the Roadmap. In 2009, the PA postponed the scheduled presidential election for a year – and then called it off altogether. This month’s local elections, already boycotted by Hamas, were called off because Fatah said it needed first to resolve which party members would run; in other words, before they could hold an election, they first needed to decide who would win it.

Reuters reported yesterday that the nominal Palestinian president, about to begin the 68th month of his 48-month term, criticized the latest electoral cancellation:

“If what happened is allowed to pass, I tell you that this movement must say goodbye,” [an official who attended the Fatah meeting] quoted Abbas as saying, in remarks which were omitted from a broadcast version of the speech. …

“Even with competition, we managed to fail,” said Abbas, who had been on an official visit to Washington at the time of the cancellation. He expressed anger at being woken up early so he could order his cabinet in Ramallah to postpone the vote.

It is a nearly perfect picture of the peace process: the unelected Palestinian president, at the White House to discuss a peace agreement he has no power to implement (even assuming there is one he would actually sign), cranky at being woken up early to cancel elections once again.

A recent poll shows increasing popularity of Hamas in the West Bank, and a Palestinian analyst reports that it “will be difficult if not impossible to hold any other legislative or presidential elections in the foreseeable future.”  When you cannot even schedule an election, you are not ready for a state.

Read Less

The Newspaper Column of the Day Award…

…goes to A. Barton Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Read it. Here are some excerpts:

What’s the real problem with Israel’s assault on the Gaza flotilla? It’s not the loss of life. Almost nobody cares about that. It’s not the suffering of Palestinians. When Palestinians suffer, the world shrugs.

Remember the worldwide condemnations, the protests across Europe and Asia, the stern rebukes from the world’s high councils in January of last year — when Hamas militants executed 54 members of the Fatah party and tortured 175 more for (allegedly) collaborating with Israel? You don’t? That’s because the killing and torture went on with almost no notice or comment.

How about the world’s outrage in November 2007, when Hamas gunmen killed seven civilians and wounded 80 more during a rally memorializing Yasser Arafat in Gaza? If you don’t remember the outrage, the marches in the street, the scathing U.N. resolutions, that’s because there weren’t any.

Nor did the world weep when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) suspended operations in Gaza after two staff members were caught in a Hamas-Fatah crossfire and killed. When Palestinian factional violence impedes humanitarian aid, well, tsk-tsk.

Last February, Amnesty International reported that numerous prisoners injured by an Israeli bombing of a prison were “shot dead in the hospitals where they were receiving treatment.” But they weren’t shot by Israelis, so nobody objected.

According to a report by Reuters, “An estimated 616 Palestinians have been killed in factional fighting since Hamas defeated Fatah” in January 2006.

World reaction? Shrug.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and none of the above is meant to excuse Israel’s clumsy, ill-orchestrated boarding of the Mavi Marmara. Nor is it meant to offer an unequivocal defense of the blockade, a legitimate point of contention….

The point is simply that those professing to be so broken up about the blockade and Israel’s enforcement of it have been remarkably subdued whenever suffering is inflicted by someone other than Jews….

…goes to A. Barton Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Read it. Here are some excerpts:

What’s the real problem with Israel’s assault on the Gaza flotilla? It’s not the loss of life. Almost nobody cares about that. It’s not the suffering of Palestinians. When Palestinians suffer, the world shrugs.

Remember the worldwide condemnations, the protests across Europe and Asia, the stern rebukes from the world’s high councils in January of last year — when Hamas militants executed 54 members of the Fatah party and tortured 175 more for (allegedly) collaborating with Israel? You don’t? That’s because the killing and torture went on with almost no notice or comment.

How about the world’s outrage in November 2007, when Hamas gunmen killed seven civilians and wounded 80 more during a rally memorializing Yasser Arafat in Gaza? If you don’t remember the outrage, the marches in the street, the scathing U.N. resolutions, that’s because there weren’t any.

Nor did the world weep when the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) suspended operations in Gaza after two staff members were caught in a Hamas-Fatah crossfire and killed. When Palestinian factional violence impedes humanitarian aid, well, tsk-tsk.

Last February, Amnesty International reported that numerous prisoners injured by an Israeli bombing of a prison were “shot dead in the hospitals where they were receiving treatment.” But they weren’t shot by Israelis, so nobody objected.

According to a report by Reuters, “An estimated 616 Palestinians have been killed in factional fighting since Hamas defeated Fatah” in January 2006.

World reaction? Shrug.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and none of the above is meant to excuse Israel’s clumsy, ill-orchestrated boarding of the Mavi Marmara. Nor is it meant to offer an unequivocal defense of the blockade, a legitimate point of contention….

The point is simply that those professing to be so broken up about the blockade and Israel’s enforcement of it have been remarkably subdued whenever suffering is inflicted by someone other than Jews….

Read Less

Increasing Arabs’ Clout in Congress: The NH-1 GOP Primary

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.’”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.’”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.