Commentary Magazine


Topic: Yossi Beilin

Barak Pulls a Sharon

As Evelyn has noted, and in a move that surprised nobody except members of his own party, Ehud Barak today took a page from Ariel Sharon’s playbook, splitting from the ideologically founded movement he was leading to create a new centrist political party. Along with four other Labor members, the new party — it still doesn’t have a name — will remain committed to the current government, while in all likelihood the remaining members of Labor will, sooner or later, leave the coalition.

Before we dismiss the new party as yet another soon-forgotten splinter in Israeli politics, it’s worth considering the electoral reality Ehud Barak currently faces. When Sharon broke from Likud in 2005, he founded Kadima as a new centrist faction that would approve the disengagement from Gaza. Although he was joined by a few Labor icons like Shimon Peres and Chaim Ramon, many people saw in Kadima an incoherent collection of mostly moderate right-wingers and a few from the left. After Sharon’s stroke-induced departure from politics in early 2006, most people thought the party wouldn’t survive the next election.

They were wrong. Two leaders later, Kadima’s 28 seats is the largest single faction in the Knesset. This despite having few ranking members with serious governing experience, and despite the disgrace of its second leader, Ehud Olmert, and its finance minister, Avraham Hirschson, on corruption charges.

Why has Kadima survived? The answer should give pause to those who think Ehud Barak is on his last legs as an Israeli politician. For despite being essentially a Likud spin-off, Kadima has survived on the strength of a fairly large base of voters who traditionally saw themselves on the left — not the peace-process left of Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, but rather the enlightened, heavily Ashkenazic, traditionally social-leaning yet nationalist left of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. These are the voters who turned to Kadima in droves after the intifada made security more pressing, and more plausible, than peace — people who could never vote Likud for cultural reasons, even if they embraced most of its principles.

Nobody stands to lose more votes to Barak’s new party than Kadima. For if disaffected Laborites turned to Kadima as the closest expression of their political will, they may find a far more congenial home in the new party. As former IDF chief of staff and current defense minister, Barak suddenly embodies the pro-security, classic-Labor stance that neither the more dovish, pro-business, still-in-Labor types nor Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, can hope to offer. To emphasize this, he’s taken with him a top former IDF general, Matan Vilnai. And he’s declared that his party “will follow David Ben-Gurion’s legacy.”

Much of how this turns out depends on the kind of people Barak can pull together around himself before the next election. If former-Labor people in Kadima start defecting to his new party, Israeli politics may see a major shift on the center-left. Barak’s personality has historically made it hard to keep the loyalty of those around him. But the field is open for him. Stay tuned.

As Evelyn has noted, and in a move that surprised nobody except members of his own party, Ehud Barak today took a page from Ariel Sharon’s playbook, splitting from the ideologically founded movement he was leading to create a new centrist political party. Along with four other Labor members, the new party — it still doesn’t have a name — will remain committed to the current government, while in all likelihood the remaining members of Labor will, sooner or later, leave the coalition.

Before we dismiss the new party as yet another soon-forgotten splinter in Israeli politics, it’s worth considering the electoral reality Ehud Barak currently faces. When Sharon broke from Likud in 2005, he founded Kadima as a new centrist faction that would approve the disengagement from Gaza. Although he was joined by a few Labor icons like Shimon Peres and Chaim Ramon, many people saw in Kadima an incoherent collection of mostly moderate right-wingers and a few from the left. After Sharon’s stroke-induced departure from politics in early 2006, most people thought the party wouldn’t survive the next election.

They were wrong. Two leaders later, Kadima’s 28 seats is the largest single faction in the Knesset. This despite having few ranking members with serious governing experience, and despite the disgrace of its second leader, Ehud Olmert, and its finance minister, Avraham Hirschson, on corruption charges.

Why has Kadima survived? The answer should give pause to those who think Ehud Barak is on his last legs as an Israeli politician. For despite being essentially a Likud spin-off, Kadima has survived on the strength of a fairly large base of voters who traditionally saw themselves on the left — not the peace-process left of Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid, but rather the enlightened, heavily Ashkenazic, traditionally social-leaning yet nationalist left of David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin. These are the voters who turned to Kadima in droves after the intifada made security more pressing, and more plausible, than peace — people who could never vote Likud for cultural reasons, even if they embraced most of its principles.

Nobody stands to lose more votes to Barak’s new party than Kadima. For if disaffected Laborites turned to Kadima as the closest expression of their political will, they may find a far more congenial home in the new party. As former IDF chief of staff and current defense minister, Barak suddenly embodies the pro-security, classic-Labor stance that neither the more dovish, pro-business, still-in-Labor types nor Kadima’s leader, Tzipi Livni, can hope to offer. To emphasize this, he’s taken with him a top former IDF general, Matan Vilnai. And he’s declared that his party “will follow David Ben-Gurion’s legacy.”

Much of how this turns out depends on the kind of people Barak can pull together around himself before the next election. If former-Labor people in Kadima start defecting to his new party, Israeli politics may see a major shift on the center-left. Barak’s personality has historically made it hard to keep the loyalty of those around him. But the field is open for him. Stay tuned.

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Why Bother?

As I observed on Friday, onlookers and officials could barely muster the forced smiles and rote expressions of optimism that normally accompany the “beginning” of (OK, the never-ending, fruitless) direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The New York Times confesses:

There is little confidence — close to none — on either side that the Obama administration’s goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met. … Yossi Beilin, for example, who left politics in 2008 after years as a leftist member of Parliament and government minister, said Friday that the Obama administration was wrong to set a one-year goal without consequences.

“I think this is a huge mistake by the U.S. administration,” he said by telephone. “There is not a chance in the world that in a year — or two or three — peace can be achieved. The gap between the sides is too big. Netanyahu did not come to power to divide Jerusalem or find a solution to the Palestinian refugees.

And now even the mainstream media don’t bother to conceal the PA’s game:

[Mahmoud Abbas] was hoping that the Obama administration would impose a solution, which he imagined would push Israel to yield more land and authority to him than the Netanyahu government favored.

That is why the Palestinians wanted only indirect talks brokered by the Americans. But Mr. Abbas failed to obtain what he sought, and the administration pushed him toward direct talks. He has agreed only from a position of weakness, he and others say.

Abbas did not disappoint, threatening “that the new round of Middle East peace talks announced Friday by the Obama administration could be over as soon as they begin if Israel continues new construction on the West Bank.” Bibi has already said he will not extend the moratorium. Abbas, you see, is already planning his escape route from the talks.

Umm, did the Obama team not realize all this? And really, what is the point? As one canny observer put it:

Nothing good has ever come of decades of American meddling in the Israeli-Arab “peace process”—at best, it’s been a monumental waste of everyone’s time; at worst, it produced the Second Intifada—and nothing good can come of this latest and most farcical effort.

On the merits, the time and effort invested in the counterproductive “peace process” cannot be justified. But Obama persists, one can surmise, for reasons that have nothing to do with a “two-state solution.” (For that, as George Will correctly observes, is “delusional” at this point.)

Imagining his mere appearance on the stage and a huge amount of suck-uppery to Muslims would deliver the peace that has eluded his predecessors, Obama invested a huge amount of his personal credibility in brokering a deal. He elevated this issue to the top of his foreign-policy agenda. He strained our relationship with Israel to the breaking point. To give up now, as his domestic standing is crumbling, would be a blow — both personal and political — too great to endure. He is merely postponing a humiliation, and at the price of further fraying ties with Israel and provoking yet another intifada when talks inevitably end and Israel is fingered as the culprit.

And, if Obama did not have the endless “peace process” to hide behind and to discuss with the increasingly irritated American Jewish community, what would there be to talk about? Oh, yes, the existential threat to Israel, the rise of a hegemonic-minded Iran, the drift of Turkey into the Islamist orbit, the rearming of Hezbollah, the abominable state of human rights in Muslim countries, and the failure of his administration to do much of anything about any of these issues. Just as Arab despots in the region point to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to distract “Arab street” from their own shortcomings, Obama has used the “peace process” like a gaudy bauble to dangle before American Jews, elite opinion makers, and the media. And to a large degree, he’s suceeeded in lulling them into a semi-catatonic state (and snagging himself a Nobel Peace Prize, which by the way, looks even more ludicrous now than at the time it was bestowed). Once the “peace process” charade ends, the focus would once again be on him and his failure to abate  — in fact his apparent effort to accelerate –the decline of American power in the region. And the president can’t have that, can he?

As I observed on Friday, onlookers and officials could barely muster the forced smiles and rote expressions of optimism that normally accompany the “beginning” of (OK, the never-ending, fruitless) direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The New York Times confesses:

There is little confidence — close to none — on either side that the Obama administration’s goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met. … Yossi Beilin, for example, who left politics in 2008 after years as a leftist member of Parliament and government minister, said Friday that the Obama administration was wrong to set a one-year goal without consequences.

“I think this is a huge mistake by the U.S. administration,” he said by telephone. “There is not a chance in the world that in a year — or two or three — peace can be achieved. The gap between the sides is too big. Netanyahu did not come to power to divide Jerusalem or find a solution to the Palestinian refugees.

And now even the mainstream media don’t bother to conceal the PA’s game:

[Mahmoud Abbas] was hoping that the Obama administration would impose a solution, which he imagined would push Israel to yield more land and authority to him than the Netanyahu government favored.

That is why the Palestinians wanted only indirect talks brokered by the Americans. But Mr. Abbas failed to obtain what he sought, and the administration pushed him toward direct talks. He has agreed only from a position of weakness, he and others say.

Abbas did not disappoint, threatening “that the new round of Middle East peace talks announced Friday by the Obama administration could be over as soon as they begin if Israel continues new construction on the West Bank.” Bibi has already said he will not extend the moratorium. Abbas, you see, is already planning his escape route from the talks.

Umm, did the Obama team not realize all this? And really, what is the point? As one canny observer put it:

Nothing good has ever come of decades of American meddling in the Israeli-Arab “peace process”—at best, it’s been a monumental waste of everyone’s time; at worst, it produced the Second Intifada—and nothing good can come of this latest and most farcical effort.

On the merits, the time and effort invested in the counterproductive “peace process” cannot be justified. But Obama persists, one can surmise, for reasons that have nothing to do with a “two-state solution.” (For that, as George Will correctly observes, is “delusional” at this point.)

Imagining his mere appearance on the stage and a huge amount of suck-uppery to Muslims would deliver the peace that has eluded his predecessors, Obama invested a huge amount of his personal credibility in brokering a deal. He elevated this issue to the top of his foreign-policy agenda. He strained our relationship with Israel to the breaking point. To give up now, as his domestic standing is crumbling, would be a blow — both personal and political — too great to endure. He is merely postponing a humiliation, and at the price of further fraying ties with Israel and provoking yet another intifada when talks inevitably end and Israel is fingered as the culprit.

And, if Obama did not have the endless “peace process” to hide behind and to discuss with the increasingly irritated American Jewish community, what would there be to talk about? Oh, yes, the existential threat to Israel, the rise of a hegemonic-minded Iran, the drift of Turkey into the Islamist orbit, the rearming of Hezbollah, the abominable state of human rights in Muslim countries, and the failure of his administration to do much of anything about any of these issues. Just as Arab despots in the region point to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to distract “Arab street” from their own shortcomings, Obama has used the “peace process” like a gaudy bauble to dangle before American Jews, elite opinion makers, and the media. And to a large degree, he’s suceeeded in lulling them into a semi-catatonic state (and snagging himself a Nobel Peace Prize, which by the way, looks even more ludicrous now than at the time it was bestowed). Once the “peace process” charade ends, the focus would once again be on him and his failure to abate  — in fact his apparent effort to accelerate –the decline of American power in the region. And the president can’t have that, can he?

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Drafting Diplomatic Alternatives for Israel

The one-day-old Israel Security Council, founded by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, seeks to fill a crucial gap in Israeli public discourse by crafting alternatives to accepted diplomatic dogmas.

JCPA chief Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, explained to reporters that Israel’s biggest international-relations problem is its inability to articulate what it actually wants. Any Palestinian Authority official can recite his goals: a Palestinian state, the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem. But “if someone asks an Israeli politician they say, ‘It’s complicated’ or ‘We want peace,’ or ‘a secure peace.’ The Palestinians have clear targets and we have only indistinct goals.”

What Gold didn’t mention, but is equally true, is that the same problem plagues Israel’s internal discourse. Virtually the only Israeli who ever articulated a clear diplomatic vision is the left-wing Yossi Beilin. And this remains the left’s best argument against the center-right. Whenever someone points out the Beilinite vision’s dangers, leftist politicians retort: “So what’s your solution?” And since center-right politicians have no real answer, they wind up adopting Beilinesque solutions once in office.

Granted, a “solution” shouldn’t be necessary. In real life, not all problems have instant solutions, and Israeli politicians should be capable of saying so — just as successive American presidents acknowledged that there was no instant solution to the Soviet problem, so the free world simply had to hold the line against Communist expansion until a solution became possible. This has the great advantage of being true: until the Arabs accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, no diplomatic solution will be possible.

But Israeli politicians have never succeeded in making this argument. Thus Gold and his colleagues, who represent a broad center-right spectrum, are wise to seek to craft an alternative vision.

The council’s second vital goal is to restore security, and especially Israel’s need for defensible borders, to the center of the diplomatic discourse. At a JPCA symposium on Israel’s security needs earlier this year, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a council member, noted that contrary to accepted dogma, high-trajectory weapons make defensible borders more important, not less.

The 2006 Second Lebanon War demonstrated one reason. The Israel Air Force destroyed all of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range missiles the first day, because these missiles are easier for intelligence to detect. But short-range missiles are almost impossible to detect and destroy by air; the only solution is to keep them out of range by physically occupying territory. That’s why Israel is currently unwilling to leave the West Bank, which is in rocket range of all its major cities.

But Dayan also cited another reason: Israel’s small population means a small standing army, so its defense depends on the reserves. But rocket fire could disrupt their mobilization, requiring the standing army to fight for longer before they arrive. Moreover, the air force might be too busy with the missile threat to help. Both factors make strategic depth critical.

If the council succeeds in changing the diplomatic discourse on these issues, it will make an invaluable contribution to Israel’s future. So wish it luck.

The one-day-old Israel Security Council, founded by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, seeks to fill a crucial gap in Israeli public discourse by crafting alternatives to accepted diplomatic dogmas.

JCPA chief Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, explained to reporters that Israel’s biggest international-relations problem is its inability to articulate what it actually wants. Any Palestinian Authority official can recite his goals: a Palestinian state, the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem. But “if someone asks an Israeli politician they say, ‘It’s complicated’ or ‘We want peace,’ or ‘a secure peace.’ The Palestinians have clear targets and we have only indistinct goals.”

What Gold didn’t mention, but is equally true, is that the same problem plagues Israel’s internal discourse. Virtually the only Israeli who ever articulated a clear diplomatic vision is the left-wing Yossi Beilin. And this remains the left’s best argument against the center-right. Whenever someone points out the Beilinite vision’s dangers, leftist politicians retort: “So what’s your solution?” And since center-right politicians have no real answer, they wind up adopting Beilinesque solutions once in office.

Granted, a “solution” shouldn’t be necessary. In real life, not all problems have instant solutions, and Israeli politicians should be capable of saying so — just as successive American presidents acknowledged that there was no instant solution to the Soviet problem, so the free world simply had to hold the line against Communist expansion until a solution became possible. This has the great advantage of being true: until the Arabs accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, no diplomatic solution will be possible.

But Israeli politicians have never succeeded in making this argument. Thus Gold and his colleagues, who represent a broad center-right spectrum, are wise to seek to craft an alternative vision.

The council’s second vital goal is to restore security, and especially Israel’s need for defensible borders, to the center of the diplomatic discourse. At a JPCA symposium on Israel’s security needs earlier this year, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a council member, noted that contrary to accepted dogma, high-trajectory weapons make defensible borders more important, not less.

The 2006 Second Lebanon War demonstrated one reason. The Israel Air Force destroyed all of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range missiles the first day, because these missiles are easier for intelligence to detect. But short-range missiles are almost impossible to detect and destroy by air; the only solution is to keep them out of range by physically occupying territory. That’s why Israel is currently unwilling to leave the West Bank, which is in rocket range of all its major cities.

But Dayan also cited another reason: Israel’s small population means a small standing army, so its defense depends on the reserves. But rocket fire could disrupt their mobilization, requiring the standing army to fight for longer before they arrive. Moreover, the air force might be too busy with the missile threat to help. Both factors make strategic depth critical.

If the council succeeds in changing the diplomatic discourse on these issues, it will make an invaluable contribution to Israel’s future. So wish it luck.

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The Perils of Freelance Diplomacy

Shaul Mofaz has spent the past two weeks hawking his peace plan overseas. He has met with Obama administration officials Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and Jeffrey Feltman; U.S. congressmen; UN officials; and the American, Turkish, Russian, Egyptian, and Jordanian ambassadors to Israel. But unless you follow Israeli politics closely, you’re probably wondering, “Who?”

And that’s the point: Mofaz isn’t a member of Israel’s government or even a party leader; he’s the No. 2 man in the largest opposition party, Kadima — which has yet to even discuss his plan. In other words, the plan he’s marketing abroad is one he hasn’t yet managed to sell even to his own party, much less to the Israeli public; moreover, he occupies no post that would enable him to implement it.

Nor is this unprecedented: other freelance Israeli diplomats have received equal or greater attention overseas. Yossi Beilin, for instance, met with high-ranking officials worldwide about his Geneva Initiative (a proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement) in 2003, though he held no public office at the time. And when he did run for the Knesset three years later, the party he headed won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence from Israel’s public.

Were these foreign officials merely wasting their time, nobody would care. But this behavior has two pernicious effects.

First, it feeds the illusion among overseas governments that they don’t have to contend seriously with the positions of actual Israeli governments elected by actual Israeli voters; they can just sit and wait until the inconvenient incumbents are replaced by their pet opposition politician. Barack Obama’s failure to realize that treating Israel’s capital as a “settlement” would bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than weaken him, since Netanyahu’s positions on Jerusalem in fact reflect those of Israel’s majority, is a classic example of the pitfalls of such illusions.

In reality, people freelance precisely because they are unable to convince their own public to put them in power. Beilin, for instance, went freelance after failing to make it into the Knesset in 2003; Mofaz is freelancing now because he lost Kadima’s leadership contest last fall. And there is no reason to believe such freelancers will be more electable in the future.

Second, international backing for freelancers can panic Israeli governments into moves that undermine the world’s stated goals. Global enthusiasm for the Geneva Initiative, for instance, helped push Ariel Sharon to unilaterally quit Gaza: he considered Geneva disastrous and wanted to distract attention from it. Yet the disengagement, which Palestinians considered a victory for terror, led to Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007, both of which complicated peacemaking efforts.

Thus the proper response to freelance diplomats should be “first, convince your own public; then we’ll talk.” Granted, that would force world leaders to deal with actual Israeli positions rather than unelectable fantasies. But since Israel must ultimately approve any deal, a plan that can’t command an Israeli majority isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anyway.

Shaul Mofaz has spent the past two weeks hawking his peace plan overseas. He has met with Obama administration officials Dennis Ross, Dan Shapiro, and Jeffrey Feltman; U.S. congressmen; UN officials; and the American, Turkish, Russian, Egyptian, and Jordanian ambassadors to Israel. But unless you follow Israeli politics closely, you’re probably wondering, “Who?”

And that’s the point: Mofaz isn’t a member of Israel’s government or even a party leader; he’s the No. 2 man in the largest opposition party, Kadima — which has yet to even discuss his plan. In other words, the plan he’s marketing abroad is one he hasn’t yet managed to sell even to his own party, much less to the Israeli public; moreover, he occupies no post that would enable him to implement it.

Nor is this unprecedented: other freelance Israeli diplomats have received equal or greater attention overseas. Yossi Beilin, for instance, met with high-ranking officials worldwide about his Geneva Initiative (a proposed Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement) in 2003, though he held no public office at the time. And when he did run for the Knesset three years later, the party he headed won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence from Israel’s public.

Were these foreign officials merely wasting their time, nobody would care. But this behavior has two pernicious effects.

First, it feeds the illusion among overseas governments that they don’t have to contend seriously with the positions of actual Israeli governments elected by actual Israeli voters; they can just sit and wait until the inconvenient incumbents are replaced by their pet opposition politician. Barack Obama’s failure to realize that treating Israel’s capital as a “settlement” would bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than weaken him, since Netanyahu’s positions on Jerusalem in fact reflect those of Israel’s majority, is a classic example of the pitfalls of such illusions.

In reality, people freelance precisely because they are unable to convince their own public to put them in power. Beilin, for instance, went freelance after failing to make it into the Knesset in 2003; Mofaz is freelancing now because he lost Kadima’s leadership contest last fall. And there is no reason to believe such freelancers will be more electable in the future.

Second, international backing for freelancers can panic Israeli governments into moves that undermine the world’s stated goals. Global enthusiasm for the Geneva Initiative, for instance, helped push Ariel Sharon to unilaterally quit Gaza: he considered Geneva disastrous and wanted to distract attention from it. Yet the disengagement, which Palestinians considered a victory for terror, led to Hamas’s electoral victory in 2006 and its subsequent takeover of Gaza in 2007, both of which complicated peacemaking efforts.

Thus the proper response to freelance diplomats should be “first, convince your own public; then we’ll talk.” Granted, that would force world leaders to deal with actual Israeli positions rather than unelectable fantasies. But since Israel must ultimately approve any deal, a plan that can’t command an Israeli majority isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on anyway.

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Peres’s Poodle

I am always impressed by the particular fondness for critiquing the New York Times shared by writers on contentions. Without judging one way or another, from my perch here in Jerusalem all I can say is: If you think that’s bad, you should read Haaretz. Today there’s an editorial offering a fawning political eulogy for Yossi Beilin, the last remaining luminary of the Israeli far Left, whom Yitzhak Rabin famously called “Peres’s Poodle.” Beilin has just declared he is out of the race for leadership of Meretz, Israel’s peace party. According to a recent poll for the daily Yediot Aharonot, the peace camp in Israel has been so devastated by the sobering conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizballah of the last few years, that if an election were held today, Meretz would receive five seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset—half its strength from the heady early ’90’s. (More broadly, parties on the Left are expecting a drubbing, with the Likud the current heavy favorite. Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, too, is in freefall, with the poll giving them just twelve seats, as opposed to their current 29.)

But Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, reveals the extent of its disconnect with the Israeli public when it calls Beilin a “brave” leader who “managed to carry away the center of the political map and get it to adopt his political path.” Meretz now has, the editorial concludes, “an important role to play in setting the public agenda and in fighting for values which tend to be easily neglected because of a too-heavy security agenda.” Read the whole thing here.

I am always impressed by the particular fondness for critiquing the New York Times shared by writers on contentions. Without judging one way or another, from my perch here in Jerusalem all I can say is: If you think that’s bad, you should read Haaretz. Today there’s an editorial offering a fawning political eulogy for Yossi Beilin, the last remaining luminary of the Israeli far Left, whom Yitzhak Rabin famously called “Peres’s Poodle.” Beilin has just declared he is out of the race for leadership of Meretz, Israel’s peace party. According to a recent poll for the daily Yediot Aharonot, the peace camp in Israel has been so devastated by the sobering conflicts with the Palestinians and Hizballah of the last few years, that if an election were held today, Meretz would receive five seats in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset—half its strength from the heady early ’90’s. (More broadly, parties on the Left are expecting a drubbing, with the Likud the current heavy favorite. Olmert’s centrist Kadima party, too, is in freefall, with the poll giving them just twelve seats, as opposed to their current 29.)

But Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record, reveals the extent of its disconnect with the Israeli public when it calls Beilin a “brave” leader who “managed to carry away the center of the political map and get it to adopt his political path.” Meretz now has, the editorial concludes, “an important role to play in setting the public agenda and in fighting for values which tend to be easily neglected because of a too-heavy security agenda.” Read the whole thing here.

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Processing Peace

There is a cynical, realpolitik justification for the Annapolis “peace conference.” Some will claim that, even if the odds of success are negligible, it is important to go through the motions to provide cover to moderate Arab states so that they can assuage the supposed anger among their populace about the lack of attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli “issue.” It is this anger, some will claim, that is a leading force behind terrorist recruitment. If the U.S. shows that it is applying serious pressure on Israel for “peace,” then, so the argument goes, Arab states will reciprocate by helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.

That position has never made much sense to me. Are Islamic radicals attacking Pakistani government troops in the Northwest Frontier Province because they’re upset about the “nakba” (catastrophe), as Arabs label the creation of Israel?

To the extent that Israel plays into Muslim anger, it isn’t because of the lack of a Palestinian-Israeli accord; it’s because of the existence of the state of Israel, period. Even more than 60 years later, a lot of Muslims still have not reconciled themselves to the “Zionist occupation” of any portion of “Palestine.” Some kind of compromise solution, even if it could be reached by the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectual leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would hardly satisfy the radicals, who in turn would be sure to stir up the masses. It would just lead them to label Abbas, as so many already do, another “Zionist-crusader” stooge.

But of course the odds of even Abbas and Olmert—widely seen as moderates in their respective polities—reaching an accord anytime soon are slim to none. And there is a price to be paid for failure, as Bret Stephens makes clear today in his Wall Street Journal column. He notes that Abbas “fears Palestinians would ‘turn to Hamas after they see that Annapolis did not give them anything,’ according to an unnamed Palestinian official quoted in the Jerusalem Post.” Moreover, Stephens writes, “Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a political dove, predicts not only that Annapolis will fail, but that its failure will ‘weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas, and cause violence.’”

When even the longtime advocates of negotiation fret that the upcoming negotiations will be counterproductive, perhaps the Bush administration should rethink its newfound enthusiasm for peace processing.

There is a cynical, realpolitik justification for the Annapolis “peace conference.” Some will claim that, even if the odds of success are negligible, it is important to go through the motions to provide cover to moderate Arab states so that they can assuage the supposed anger among their populace about the lack of attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli “issue.” It is this anger, some will claim, that is a leading force behind terrorist recruitment. If the U.S. shows that it is applying serious pressure on Israel for “peace,” then, so the argument goes, Arab states will reciprocate by helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.

That position has never made much sense to me. Are Islamic radicals attacking Pakistani government troops in the Northwest Frontier Province because they’re upset about the “nakba” (catastrophe), as Arabs label the creation of Israel?

To the extent that Israel plays into Muslim anger, it isn’t because of the lack of a Palestinian-Israeli accord; it’s because of the existence of the state of Israel, period. Even more than 60 years later, a lot of Muslims still have not reconciled themselves to the “Zionist occupation” of any portion of “Palestine.” Some kind of compromise solution, even if it could be reached by the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectual leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would hardly satisfy the radicals, who in turn would be sure to stir up the masses. It would just lead them to label Abbas, as so many already do, another “Zionist-crusader” stooge.

But of course the odds of even Abbas and Olmert—widely seen as moderates in their respective polities—reaching an accord anytime soon are slim to none. And there is a price to be paid for failure, as Bret Stephens makes clear today in his Wall Street Journal column. He notes that Abbas “fears Palestinians would ‘turn to Hamas after they see that Annapolis did not give them anything,’ according to an unnamed Palestinian official quoted in the Jerusalem Post.” Moreover, Stephens writes, “Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a political dove, predicts not only that Annapolis will fail, but that its failure will ‘weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas, and cause violence.’”

When even the longtime advocates of negotiation fret that the upcoming negotiations will be counterproductive, perhaps the Bush administration should rethink its newfound enthusiasm for peace processing.

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Daniel Levy

Interviewed in the Sunday Telegraph, Daniel Levy—a former Israeli government staffer and policy analyst—was quoted as saying that Tony Blair, in his new capacity as special envoy to the Middle East, should negotiate with Hamas. Otherwise, Levy bluntly claimed, “he’ll fail.” Levy has now rectified the quote on his blog, claiming he meant something else:

My argument is that the policy of isolating and excluding Hamas cannot work. The important thing is to open meaningful channels of dialogue to Hamas. Whether that is initiated by Blair or others is secondary. In fact, it would be unlikely (and understandably so) for Blair to take the lead role in this respect.

While you’re busy parsing his equivocation, one thing should be said about Daniel Levy: his career as a peacemaker uniquely qualifies him to know what failure is. He served in the Barak government as head of Jerusalem affairs when Barak proposed to divide Jerusalem. He served with Yossi Beilin at the Ministry of Justice, and was part of the Israeli delegation at the Taba talks in 2001, when the most dovish delegation Israel could produce failed to charm its Palestinian counterparts. He’s been an analyst at the International Crisis Group and was a party to the Geneva accords. Given his past accomplishments and his recipe for peacemaking, it would be arrogant to doubt his wisdom. Then again, given what Levy views as success, Blair’s “failure”, in this case, might not be so bad.

Interviewed in the Sunday Telegraph, Daniel Levy—a former Israeli government staffer and policy analyst—was quoted as saying that Tony Blair, in his new capacity as special envoy to the Middle East, should negotiate with Hamas. Otherwise, Levy bluntly claimed, “he’ll fail.” Levy has now rectified the quote on his blog, claiming he meant something else:

My argument is that the policy of isolating and excluding Hamas cannot work. The important thing is to open meaningful channels of dialogue to Hamas. Whether that is initiated by Blair or others is secondary. In fact, it would be unlikely (and understandably so) for Blair to take the lead role in this respect.

While you’re busy parsing his equivocation, one thing should be said about Daniel Levy: his career as a peacemaker uniquely qualifies him to know what failure is. He served in the Barak government as head of Jerusalem affairs when Barak proposed to divide Jerusalem. He served with Yossi Beilin at the Ministry of Justice, and was part of the Israeli delegation at the Taba talks in 2001, when the most dovish delegation Israel could produce failed to charm its Palestinian counterparts. He’s been an analyst at the International Crisis Group and was a party to the Geneva accords. Given his past accomplishments and his recipe for peacemaking, it would be arrogant to doubt his wisdom. Then again, given what Levy views as success, Blair’s “failure”, in this case, might not be so bad.

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