Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel United Against Iran Deal, So Should Those Who Claim to Be Its Friends

This morning during a Senate hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to pour cold water on the notion that friends of Israel are obligated to oppose the pact. Citing a Washington Post op-ed titled “How the Iran deal is good for Israel, according to Israelis who know what they’re talking about,” Kerry treated the piece that cites the opinions of a few retired officials that agree with him as proof that his claim that the result of his two years of negotiating with Iran would benefit the Jewish state as well as the United States. A similar piece in the Forward by J.J. Goldberg quotes some of the same figures. Taken together, they seem to make a strong case that the pro-Israel community ought to either sit out the Iran deal fight in Congress or even support the agreement. But the two articles leave out a couple of important facts about Israeli opinion about the Iran deal. One is that most of those quoted are either disgruntled former officials who hold a grudge against Prime Minister Netanyahu for not keeping them in office, or ideological opponents of the man who has won three consecutive elections. The other is that while Netanyahu’s political foes in the Knesset are as sharply critical of the prime minister as the Obama administration, they have joined him in forming a united front against the Iran deal as a deadly threat to the country’s future. That’s a point that any American that claims to be a friend of Israel needs to consider before they consider backing the administration’s push for détente with the Islamist regime.

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This morning during a Senate hearing on the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to pour cold water on the notion that friends of Israel are obligated to oppose the pact. Citing a Washington Post op-ed titled “How the Iran deal is good for Israel, according to Israelis who know what they’re talking about,” Kerry treated the piece that cites the opinions of a few retired officials that agree with him as proof that his claim that the result of his two years of negotiating with Iran would benefit the Jewish state as well as the United States. A similar piece in the Forward by J.J. Goldberg quotes some of the same figures. Taken together, they seem to make a strong case that the pro-Israel community ought to either sit out the Iran deal fight in Congress or even support the agreement. But the two articles leave out a couple of important facts about Israeli opinion about the Iran deal. One is that most of those quoted are either disgruntled former officials who hold a grudge against Prime Minister Netanyahu for not keeping them in office, or ideological opponents of the man who has won three consecutive elections. The other is that while Netanyahu’s political foes in the Knesset are as sharply critical of the prime minister as the Obama administration, they have joined him in forming a united front against the Iran deal as a deadly threat to the country’s future. That’s a point that any American that claims to be a friend of Israel needs to consider before they consider backing the administration’s push for détente with the Islamist regime.

As Jeffrey Goldberg, who has been the administration’s unofficial mouthpiece on Israel issues and their dutiful amanuensis when it comes to smears of Netanyahu, noted in The Atlantic last week, the man that Washington desperately wanted to win the Knesset election in March has turned on Obama. Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog was the darling of the White House earlier this year as the administration moved heaven and Earth in a failed attempt to influence the Israeli electorate to reject Netanyahu’s bid for a third straight term as prime minister. As Goldberg wrote, Herzog’s line on the Iran negotiations last winter was that he trusted Obama to get a “good deal” with Tehran. But rather than continuing his effort to cozy up to the administration, Herzog now completely agrees with Netanyahu’s evaluation of the deal. As Goldberg wrote:

In a telephone call with me late last night, Herzog’s message was very different. The deal just finalized in Vienna, he said, “will unleash a lion from the cage, it will have a direct influence over the balance of power in our region, it’s going to affect our borders, and it will affect the safety of my children.”

Iran, he said, is an “empire of evil and hate that spreads terror across the region,” adding that, under the terms of the deal, Iran “will become a nuclear-threshold state in a decade or so.” Iran will take its post-sanctions windfall, he said, and use the funds to supply more rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon, more ammunition to Hamas in Gaza, and “generally increase the worst type of activities that they’ve been doing.”

The other major figure in the Israeli opposition, Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid Party has also chimed in with harsh criticism of the agreement with Iran. In fact, the administration has achieved something that is generally considered impossible: uniting the Zionist parties of the Knesset from right to left. Netanyahu, Lapid, and Herzog and the leaders of the other parties normally can’t agree on anything. But Obama and Kerry have brought them together to denounce a deal that all know makes their region more dangerous while also presenting an existential threat to Israel’s future.

As I noted earlier this week, there is nothing in the deal that will prevent Iran from using the vast windfall it gets from sanctions relief to help fund its terrorist auxiliaries and allies that face off against Israel. Both Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza can expect to get a share of the flood of cash that President Obama is allowing Tehran. Kerry’s claims that such transfers won’t be allowed are absurd since even National Security Director Rice conceded, it will be their money.

Nor is anyone of stature in Israel’s political establishment on either side of the left-right divide buying the idea that the loose restrictions that will soon expire can do anything to stop an Iranian bomb. Like American critics of the Iran deal, they consider the administration’s arguments that there are no alternatives to their appeasement policy short of war to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having discarded all the enormous political and economic leverage it held over Iran in 2013, it is disingenuous, if not completely dishonest of Obama and Kerry to say that theirs is the best option. Having effectively spiked a the chances that tougher sanctions would bring Iran to its knees when they began bowing to Iranian dictates in the talks, their current claim that opponents are warmongers has no credibility.

Some Israelis, Lapid in particular, do criticize Netanyahu for his strident opposition to Obama’s Iran strategy over the last two years. Seeking to make political hay out of this catastrophe for Israel, they argue that if Netanyahu had been nicer to Obama or at least not criticized him publicly, the U.S. might not have signed such a horrible deal.

This is nonsense. Netanyahu may have made some tactical mistakes in the last few months, in particular his decision to address Congress in March. He gave a great speech but it did nothing to stop Obama and even served the administration’s interests by diverting attention away from their policies and allowing Democrats to rally ’round their “insulted” president. But President Obama has been determined to create a new détente with the Islamist regime since the day he entered office. In doing so, he has discarded every other U.S. interest in the talks including the need to stop Iranian support for terrorism, its anti-Semitism, its determination to destroy Israel, its quest for regional hegemony and its ballistic missile program, in order to get a deal at any price. Netanyahu had no chance to alter Obama’s course.

But Israel’s rare political unity on the issue should influence Americans who care about the Jewish state. If Netanyahu, Herzog and Lapid all agree that the deal is terrible, no member of the Congress or the Senate who wishes to present themselves as friends of Israel should be allowed to get away with claiming that he knows better than these leaders, no matter how many disgruntled retired Israeli spooks can be assembled to contradict them.

Efforts by the administration’s left-wing allies to undermine the unity of the pro-Israel community should be dismissed out of hand. The deal is a clear and present danger to Israel’s future and should be treated as a litmus test of backing for Israel as well as reliability on U.S. security. All members of the House and Senate — especially those, like Senator Chuck Schumer that have staked their reputations as being guardians of Israel’s security — should be put on notice that they must choose between loyalty to Obama and what is right.

 

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How Obama Undermined the U.S.-Israel Alliance

With his nuclear deal with Iran still hanging in the balance, President Obama is trying to convince Congress and the American people that he hasn’t completely abandoned Israel. The latest sign that the administration is trying to rebuild relations with America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East is the story that the president is planning to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu back to the White House sometime this summer. If true, it’s a sign that Obama knows he’s in trouble in a negotiation where Iran appears to be insisting on a deal that is even more of a sham than the weak framework that was announced in April. But it also illustrates just how bad relations with Israel are that Obama is treating a meeting between the two leaders as a major concession. It is in that context that former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal proves instructive. Oren, whose forthcoming book Ally, about his four years dealing with the administration is due out next week, gets to the heart of the problem with the U.S.-Israel alliance. Though the Jewish state’s leaders have sometimes made mistakes, the Obama administration’s blunders were not similarly inadvertent miscalculations. To the contrary, they have been deliberately aimed at creating distance between the two allies to the detriment of both Israel’s security and U.S. influence and interests in the region.

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With his nuclear deal with Iran still hanging in the balance, President Obama is trying to convince Congress and the American people that he hasn’t completely abandoned Israel. The latest sign that the administration is trying to rebuild relations with America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East is the story that the president is planning to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu back to the White House sometime this summer. If true, it’s a sign that Obama knows he’s in trouble in a negotiation where Iran appears to be insisting on a deal that is even more of a sham than the weak framework that was announced in April. But it also illustrates just how bad relations with Israel are that Obama is treating a meeting between the two leaders as a major concession. It is in that context that former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s article in today’s Wall Street Journal proves instructive. Oren, whose forthcoming book Ally, about his four years dealing with the administration is due out next week, gets to the heart of the problem with the U.S.-Israel alliance. Though the Jewish state’s leaders have sometimes made mistakes, the Obama administration’s blunders were not similarly inadvertent miscalculations. To the contrary, they have been deliberately aimed at creating distance between the two allies to the detriment of both Israel’s security and U.S. influence and interests in the region.

Though he was Netanyahu’s envoy for four years, Oren is no apologist for the prime minister, a point that was underlined by his decision to run for the Knesset this year on the ticket of the Kulanu Party. Though that makes him a member of Netanyahu’s current slender governing majority, his views have always been more centrist on territory and settlements, something that comes through clearly in his memoir. Indeed, both Oren’s diplomatic skills and his decidedly unenthusiastic attitude toward Netanyahu’s Likud come through clearly in the Journal article. He even-handedly apportions some of the blame for tensions between Washington and Jerusalem to Netanyahu and his government.

But despite his desire to repair the damaged alliance, Oren can’t avoid the facts about an Obama administration that came into office determined to create more “daylight” between the two countries. Though Oren isn’t the first to note that the president believed that the U.S. had become too close to Israel during the administration of George W. Bush and that more distance would make peace possible. But Oren offers an eyewitness accounts of how the president and his foreign policy team undercut Israel’s position at almost every turn. That not only soured the alliance, it also had the unintended consequence of strengthening the conviction of the Palestinians that they don’t need to compromise or even to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state — no matter where its borders might be drawn — in order to get independence and peace.

Just as damaging is Obama’s decision to cease coordinating strategy with Israel. The president chose not to consult with the Israelis when it came to diplomatic endeavors relating to both the peace process and to the nuclear threat from Iran. At every key point in the last six years, Israel wound up being surprised, if not completely ambushed by Obama’s initiatives. That was true of Obama’s diplomatic attacks on Israel’s hold on Jerusalem and his attempt to establish the 1967 lines as the starting points for future peace negotiations, not to mention his discarding of Bush’s pledges that Israel could hold onto the West Bank settlement blocs (in exchange for which Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005). It also was the case with the secret negotiations with Iran that led to the interim nuclear agreement signed in November 2013. As Oren writes, it was these surprise attacks, as much as the misguided belief in daylight that degraded relations to their current low point.

While crediting the administration with some help, Oren’s book provides copious details of the animus for Israel that is the core explanation for everything that has gone wrong with U.S. policy in the Middle East in recent years. Loyal Jewish Democrats who have sought to rationalize or minimize the administration’s predilection for picking fights with Israel need to read Oren’s book carefully to understand just how wrongheaded their apologies for Obama have been. As our John Podhoretz wrote last week in the New York Post, the one thing you won’t get in Oren’s book is an attempt to draw the obvious conclusion about Obama’s ideology from all these slights and attacks.

As I noted last month, even now as he seeks to seduce the pro-Israel community into supporting his appeasement of Iran, the president continues to talk of his admiration for a mythical Israel of the past and his dislike of the real Israel of today whose people have rightly come to understand that the Palestinians don’t want peace. Obama’s disdain for the reality of an embattled yet vibrant democratic Israel has little or nothing to do with Netanyahu and everything to do with his own ideological affinity for its foes. As we face a future in which a U.S. seal of approval will be given to Iran’s becoming a threshold nuclear power and to its quest for regional hegemony, there’s little doubt that blame for the disasters that are likely to follow will belong to Obama.

Oren, however, is right when he seeks to remind Americans and Israelis of their mutual need for each other and the necessity of charting a new path for the alliance, a path that rejects Obama’s tactics of daylight and surprise attacks. That’s a message that all of the 2016 presidential contenders should take to heart. It’s also a message that those friends of Israel who helped elect Obama should remember before they try to elect another American leader who might further damage the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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Obama’s Ongoing Obsession with Netanyahu

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV Network that aired on Tuesday, President Obama said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position on Palestinian statehood undermines the credibility of his country.

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In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TV Network that aired on Tuesday, President Obama said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position on Palestinian statehood undermines the credibility of his country.

As The Hill reports

Netanyahu has recently expressed willingness to re-enter talks with Palestinians, but Obama said his stance contains “so many caveats, so many conditions, that it is not realistic to think that those conditions would be met any time in the near future.”

“The danger here is that Israel as a whole loses credibility,” Obama said….

The story went on to say, “the president suggested Palestinian officials and others might not see Netanyahu as a reliable negotiating partner.”

Now that is rich. Palestinian officials don’t see Israel as a reliable negotiating partner. If only our president was able to distinguish the fire brigade from the fire.

I’ve written before that Mr. Obama is quite simply anti-Israel. There’s no need here to recapitulate the case I’ve made to prove that proposition. For now, I simply want to comment on the president’s obsession with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

It is striking how much Mr. Netanyahu seems to occupy Obama’s thoughts, and how much the Israeli Prime Minister has become the target of the president’s petty rage. One gets the sense that a psychological drama is playing itself out on the world stage; that Mr. Obama sees in Mr. Netanyahu qualities that Obama himself lacks — leadership, moral clarity, toughness and fortitude, and a passion to publicly defend the nation he leads. This may have left the president smoldering with resentment. In addition, Obama isn’t used to being stood up to and pushed back on, which Netanyahu is willing to do.

But beyond all that, it tells us a very great deal about the president that he is so eager to criticize Netanyahu while he is so solicitous and delicate when it comes to the Iranian leadership. Mr. Obama is bending over backwards to get a nuclear arms deal — a truly awful nuclear arms deal — with one of the most malevolent regimes on earth, even as he routinely castigates America’s greatest ally and one of the most magnificent nations in history. When it comes to Obama’s approach to Israel versus the enemies of Israel, we are seeing a stunning moral inversion.

There is something deeply wrong and troubling going on here.

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Why Won’t Obama and the Palestinians Push on Netanyahu’s Open Door?

Israel’s critics didn’t need much prompting to damn the latest government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu. But his appointment of tough-minded figures from his own party and inner circle to hold key foreign policy posts (as I pointed out here and here), has led to an increase of lamentations about the Israelis putting a fork in any hope for a two-state solution. But if they were listening closely to the prime minister’s statements in the last week, they would see he’s leaving the door wide open for a new round of peace. Earlier this week, Netanyahu stated his willingness to enter into talks about defining settlement blocs that would be kept by Israel and leaving open the possibility of settlement freezes elsewhere and with it the possibility of territorial compromise. Today, he doubled down on that by saying the “general idea” behind the 2002 Arab peace initiative was “a good idea.” But we didn’t have to wait long to learn that the Palestinians want no part of any new negotiations with the Israelis. The reason for that tells us more about their intentions than whether or not Netanyahu is being sincere.

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Israel’s critics didn’t need much prompting to damn the latest government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu. But his appointment of tough-minded figures from his own party and inner circle to hold key foreign policy posts (as I pointed out here and here), has led to an increase of lamentations about the Israelis putting a fork in any hope for a two-state solution. But if they were listening closely to the prime minister’s statements in the last week, they would see he’s leaving the door wide open for a new round of peace. Earlier this week, Netanyahu stated his willingness to enter into talks about defining settlement blocs that would be kept by Israel and leaving open the possibility of settlement freezes elsewhere and with it the possibility of territorial compromise. Today, he doubled down on that by saying the “general idea” behind the 2002 Arab peace initiative was “a good idea.” But we didn’t have to wait long to learn that the Palestinians want no part of any new negotiations with the Israelis. The reason for that tells us more about their intentions than whether or not Netanyahu is being sincere.

Netanyahu’s last minute pronouncement before the March election that a Palestinian state wouldn’t be created on his watch is still held against him by those urging a two-state solution. His subsequent explanation when he walked it back after winning was that all he was saying was that given the Palestinians refusal to talk or recognize Israel as a Jewish state, there was no way a peace deal could ever be concluded. He was right about that, but his bluntness about this obvious fact made it appear that he was opposed to a two-state solution in principle when his conduct during his previous three terms in office makes it clear that he has consistently shown a readiness to talk about the possibility.

So there should be no surprise that now that he’s safely back in office, he’s sending signals to Washington and the Arabs that they should try him. The settlement bloc proposal would, if the Obama administration or the Palestinians were serious about making incremental progress toward peace, be of special interest to them.

The question of the blocs has been part of the reality of the peace talks for the past 15 years. Israel’s retention of them was implicitly endorsed in a letter signed by President George W. Bush as part of Israel’ agreement to completely withdraw from Gaza. And even President Obama implied that Israel would keep them when he endorsed the concept of territorial swaps in the context of his advocacy of using the 1967 lines as the basis for future peace talks.

It is true that defining them would allow Israel to go on building there thus putting a stop to the pointless controversies with the Obama administration that have erupted every time homes are built in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem or built-up communities close to the 67 lines. But defining them would also make it clear that all the settlements that are not included in the blocs are essentially on the table for withdrawal. That means a settlement freeze in areas that amount to most of the West Bank. It would also be a clear signal that a two-state solution in which the Palestinians would control that territory was theoretically in reach.

But the Palestinians want no part of it. Instead they repeated their old, tired demands for negotiations that would start on the basis of a complete Israeli withdrawal from all of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem as well as the release of another batch of convicted terrorists. Moreover, even if an Israeli government was weak or insane enough to agree to negotiations in which they would be committing themselves to giving up all their chips in advance, that still doesn’t seem to be enough to persuade the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas, to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

The Palestinians say they won’t recognize Israel’s rights to any part of the West Bank or the parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967. For them, it is a zero-sum game in which they view the retention of any land by Israel, even in the context of a peace that would give them a state as intolerable. That is only understandable in the context of their repeated refusals of statehood and sovereignty over almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem. They said no in 2000, 2001, and 2008, and refused to talk two states even when Netanyahu agreed to a U.S. framework for such a deal in 2013 and 2014.

The key point here is that if Obama were as dedicated to peace and defending Israel as he keeps telling us he is, he wouldn’t be lecturing the Israelis to live up to his ideas about them but prodding the Palestinians to take advantage of this opening. The president won’t because he is far too obsessed with scolding the Israelis than in recognizing thata Palestinian political culture that makes peace impossible is the real obstacle to an end of the conflict.

American critics of Netanyahu can be as cynical as they want about him and his flip-flopping about two states. But if they aren’t willing to push on the door he has opened for them, then their laments about his opposition to peace must be labeled as being far more insincere than anything he has said or done.

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Israelis Try Realism; Obama and the Palestinians Don’t Like It.

For all of the talk we’ve been hearing for the last week about how Israel’s new government can’t possibly function, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be catching a lot more flack about the likelihood that his appointees will implement changes than about their supposed inability to act. The latest item to provoke international outrage is the appointment of Dore Gold, a respected scholar and veteran diplomat to the post of director general of the foreign ministry. The problem with Gold, according to left-wing critics and the Palestinians is that he has an annoying tendency to see the situation as it is and not through the rose-colored glasses of some of the inveterate peace processors that preceded him in the post. As with Netanyahu’s re-election, the losers in that contest that are warning Israelis the country will pay a heavy price for not doing as Washington orders. But what both the prime minister and his long-time adviser bring to the table is a much-needed sense of realism to the task of representing Israel to the world that their opponents lack.

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For all of the talk we’ve been hearing for the last week about how Israel’s new government can’t possibly function, Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be catching a lot more flack about the likelihood that his appointees will implement changes than about their supposed inability to act. The latest item to provoke international outrage is the appointment of Dore Gold, a respected scholar and veteran diplomat to the post of director general of the foreign ministry. The problem with Gold, according to left-wing critics and the Palestinians is that he has an annoying tendency to see the situation as it is and not through the rose-colored glasses of some of the inveterate peace processors that preceded him in the post. As with Netanyahu’s re-election, the losers in that contest that are warning Israelis the country will pay a heavy price for not doing as Washington orders. But what both the prime minister and his long-time adviser bring to the table is a much-needed sense of realism to the task of representing Israel to the world that their opponents lack.

There is no question that the divvying up of the political spoils in the new coalition is not an edifying spectacle even by the debased standards of Israeli politics. As the Times of Israel’s Haviv Retting Gur points out, the motivation for many of the ministerial appointments has to do with Netanyahu’s efforts to sideline potential opponents. But while those who predict that this scheme can’t possibly last will eventually be right, Netanyahu has outlasted a generation of would-be successors and counting on his streak ending seems a foolish bet. It’s not clear how much, if anything, this government will accomplish in domestic politics since its slim 61-59 majority will always be in question. But on diplomacy, Netanyahu has the opportunity to change things up, and it is a shift that is long overdue.

Gold replaces a Nissim Ben-Shitrit, a diplomatic veteran with a half-century’s worth of experience. Some who believe an honored professional has been pushed out in favor of a prime ministerial crony sees this as outrageous. But the problem here is the assumption that the foreign ministry knows what it’s been doing. As I pointed out last week when writing about new deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely’s attempt to get the ministry to answer Palestinian arguments rooted in rights rather than merely talking about security and a belief in peace, too many of those charged with representing Israel are locked into an outdated and unrealistic Oslo mindset about the peace process. The result is that even though the country has clearly moved on from a policy that failed disastrously, much of the foreign affairs bureaucracy acts as if it has not.

For those who remember the classic British television shows, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, permanent civil servants working in Israel have often played the same game with underqualified and outmatched politicians assigned to supervise them. But by putting Dore Gold, a man who can match anyone in the ministry for knowledge of the situation and who has the confidence of the prime minister, in charge there, that bureaucracy can now be mobilized to help the government rather than ensuring that it will fail.

Nor is it unprecedented for a new government to attempt to clean house in the foreign ministry when a new minister takes office. Left-wingers like Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni, ensured no opposition by appointing someone they trusted. Netanyahu, who retains the foreign minister portfolio for the time being, is doing the same but to even better effect because his man actually has a clear head about Palestinian intentions rather than illusions about a peace deal the other side has no interest in as Peres and Livni did.

The problem with much of Israeli diplomacy during the last 20 years has not been due to a lack of effort given to promoting the peace process. Rather, Israel’s diplomats have often been so heavily invested in the notion of peace that they failed to treat the conflict as one in which both sides, and not just the Palestinians, had rights. This has been a particular problem for Likud governments, which has often handed the foreign ministry over to coalition allies or saddled with leaders like Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former partner and now rival who was clearly unsuited to the task and wound up doing little to change the culture of the ministry.

Contrary to the criticisms of left-wing politicians quoted in the New York Times who want Netanyahu to surround himself with people who agree with Obama about the Middle East, the prime minister did well to name a sober thinker like Gold who doesn’t try to imagine the Middle East as he’d like it to be but instead sees it as it really is.

Instead of cravenly bowing to U.S. dictates, Netanyahu wants his diplomats to stand up for its country and to speak truth to an American government whose view of the region is distorted by their fantasies about both the Palestinians and their new Iranian negotiating partners. Israel must continue to thread the needle between the need to be open to the possibility of peace, however unlikely, and avoiding being sucked down the rabbit hole into talks that are set up to fail and for which it will always be blamed for the failure no matter what the Palestinians do. Rather than seeking to demonize Gold, Netanyahu’s critics should give him credit for seeking to align his country’s diplomatic corps with a strategy based in the reality of Palestinian intransigence. In the long run, truth is always a better foundation for foreign policy than fiction.

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The Tipping Point Between Israel’s Image and the Right to Security

The news earlier this week that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had canceled a plan put forward by Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon to ban Palestinians from certain West Bank bus routes that serve settlements landed like a lead balloon in the international media. The scheme was never implemented but was, as Israeli President Ruben Rivlin put it, something that that has “no place being heard or said.” Indeed, even the official shelving of the idea set off a round of attacks on the Jewish state echoing the same “apartheid state” canards that the country’s representatives and friends have been working so hard to expose as lies. Yet while Israel’s supporters might well ask where Yaalon had parked his brains when treating the notion seriously, it would behoove both friends and critics to understand why such a noxious proposal would even be considered. The ever-present threat of terrorism didn’t justify or excuse anything that would essentially enshrine segregation. But it does explain how such a thing could even be discussed.

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The news earlier this week that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had canceled a plan put forward by Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon to ban Palestinians from certain West Bank bus routes that serve settlements landed like a lead balloon in the international media. The scheme was never implemented but was, as Israeli President Ruben Rivlin put it, something that that has “no place being heard or said.” Indeed, even the official shelving of the idea set off a round of attacks on the Jewish state echoing the same “apartheid state” canards that the country’s representatives and friends have been working so hard to expose as lies. Yet while Israel’s supporters might well ask where Yaalon had parked his brains when treating the notion seriously, it would behoove both friends and critics to understand why such a noxious proposal would even be considered. The ever-present threat of terrorism didn’t justify or excuse anything that would essentially enshrine segregation. But it does explain how such a thing could even be discussed.

After Netanyahu nixed his dumb idea, Yaalon attempted to defend it by claiming it wasn’t technically segregation on the basis of origin. But that excuse doesn’t fly. The plan would require West Bank Palestinians with permits to work inside Israel to use a few designated checkpoints in order to board buses. That would mean they wouldn’t ride on routes that served the settlements thus ensuring that only Jews or Israeli Arabs heading to Jewish communities over the green line in the heart of the West Bank would be on those buses.

But even if it shouldn’t have gotten as close to implementation as it apparently did, the impetus for it wasn’t a function so much of prejudice as fear. The settlements that exist in the middle of the West Bank, as opposed to the majority of them in blocs that are close to the 1967 lines are more or less under constant siege. While random terror attacks on Jewish targets in Jerusalem are a constant, the instances of rock throwing, firebombs, sniping or stabbings in which Jews are targets of Arab violence are a daily affair. Just as many on the left believe the only way for the two communities to live in peace is complete separation, so, too, does the settler community believe the only way to ensure their security is to keep Arabs away from them.

As Yaalon said the following to the Knesset in defense of the plan last fall:

“I have not prohibited Arabs in Judea and Samaria from traveling on public transportation and have no intention to do so,” Yaalon told parliament at the time, but added that “you don’t have to be a security expert to realize that when you have 20 Arabs in a bus driven by a Jew, and maybe two or three other [Jewish] passengers and a soldier carrying a weapon, you are guaranteed a terror attack.”

He might be right about that. But as much as Israelis, even those living in the settlements, are entitled to do whatever is possible to ensure their safety, they need to mindful of where the tipping point between security and damage to the country’s international image lies. Suffice it to say that anything that smacks of discrimination in this manner does grievous damage to the state’s image abroad and undermines its just claim to being the only democracy in the Middle East.

Despite the lies that the Palestinians broadcast and which are picked up by anti-Semites and Israel-haters elsewhere, the Jewish state has no official segregation. Inside Israel, Arabs vote, serve in the Knesset and in every possible government post. Though relations between the communities are soured by the war on Israel’s existence that the Arab and Muslim worlds have been waging on it since its inception, Israeli Arabs enjoy full rights and freedom.

West Bank Palestinian Arabs are in a different position, but it is one largely of their own choosing. They could have accepted independence and peace at any time in the last 15 years since Israel has repeatedly offered them a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. If they had, the current argument about buses would be moot. But they have refused each time because their leaders lack the will or the ability to make peace. Even today, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, lauded as an advocate of peace by President Obama and other world leaders, refuses to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Even if one advocates for withdrawal of some of the outlying settlements that would not be included in Israel in the event of a peace deal, the idea that the residents of these communities should be subjected to murder and terror with impunity is abhorrent.

That is something that should be taken into account by those who rightly criticize Yaalon’s idea. But even more than that, they need to remember that such an idea only became thinkable because of many years of Palestinian violence whose only purpose is to kill Jews and destroy Israel, not to adjust its borders or to merely deny them their right to live in the heart of their ancient homeland. Those comparing the plight of Palestinians to that of African-Americans in the segregated South are forgetting the fact that American blacks were not trying to destroy America, just claim their equal rights as citizens. Those who sought to keep blacks separated from whites were not defending their existence as Israelis must nor were they subjected to the kind of terror that Jews have been.

We should condemn any scheme, even one born out of self-defense, that smacks of legal segregation. But those who do so should always remember that this situation was created by and perpetuated by an unceasing Palestinian war of terror that must end if peace is ever to be possible.

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Not Pro-Peace? Judge Palestinians By the Same Standard as the Israelis

Less than a week after his new government was sworn in, European and American critics are once again lambasting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His appointment of Interior Minister Sylvan Shalom as the head of the country’s negotiating team in potential talks with the Palestinians is being panned as emblematic of the coalition’s inability to make peace. Shalom is a hawkish member of Likud and has in the past stated his opposition to a Palestinian state. Coming a day after Netanyahu reaffirmed the country’s commitment to opposing the redivision of Jerusalem on the 48th anniversary of its unification during the Six Day War, the naming of, as far his critics are concerned, the misnamed Shalom seemed to solidify the government’s international image as opposed to peace. But there are two problems with this point of view. One is that both Netanyahu and Shalom have committed themselves to negotiate in good faith. The other is that whatever one might think of the Israelis, it’s fair to ask why foreign critics don’t judge Palestinian negotiators by the same standard applied to Israelis.

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Less than a week after his new government was sworn in, European and American critics are once again lambasting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His appointment of Interior Minister Sylvan Shalom as the head of the country’s negotiating team in potential talks with the Palestinians is being panned as emblematic of the coalition’s inability to make peace. Shalom is a hawkish member of Likud and has in the past stated his opposition to a Palestinian state. Coming a day after Netanyahu reaffirmed the country’s commitment to opposing the redivision of Jerusalem on the 48th anniversary of its unification during the Six Day War, the naming of, as far his critics are concerned, the misnamed Shalom seemed to solidify the government’s international image as opposed to peace. But there are two problems with this point of view. One is that both Netanyahu and Shalom have committed themselves to negotiate in good faith. The other is that whatever one might think of the Israelis, it’s fair to ask why foreign critics don’t judge Palestinian negotiators by the same standard applied to Israelis.

There’s little doubt that the Obama administration has no expectation that the Netanyahu government will give them what they want in terms of concessions to entice the Palestinians back to the table. The State Department dismissed Shalom’s appointment with what Foreign Policy termed “a shrug” as if to indicate that the president and Secretary of State John Kerry don’t really care who Netanyahu designates for the job of negotiator.

Like most members of his party, Shalom has been a skeptic about the peace process. He has said he will vigorously pursue a deal with the Palestinians and has a reputation as a pragmatist. But some people are suggesting, as the Times of Israel pointed out, that his true mission is to sabotage the talks. That is hardly likely since Netanyahu has never closed the door to negotiations in any of his previous three terms in office. No matter his positions on the shape of a potential deal, the prime minister views the continuation of talks as being in his best interests in terms of both domestic politics and the country’s foreign policy.

But while others are lamenting the comparison between Shalom and his predecessor in this role, Tzipi Livni, it should be pointed out that having an ardent advocate of a two-state solution leading the Israeli delegation at the talks didn’t make a bit of difference. The Palestinians blew up the talks last year when Fatah signed a unity pact with Hamas and decided to pursue recognition at the United Nations in an end run around the peace process. Though a bitter critic and rival of Netanyahu, Livni confessed that it was not the prime minister who torpedoed Kerry’s initiative. Rather, she said, it was Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas who showed once again that he was incapable of making peace even if he wanted to do so.

That’s a key point that Western Israel-bashers consistently forget. Israel has already offered the Palestinians statehood and almost all of the territory they demanded three times between 2000 and 2008 and refused to talk seriously to Livni last year in what amounts to a fourth “no” to peace. Were they to come to the talks prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn they would find that no Israeli government would be able to resist taking them up on a two-state solution. But they can’t or won’t, a fact that renders the identity of the Israeli negotiators a piece of meaningless trivia.

But even if you want to be cynical about Shalom’s commitment to the process, it bears asking why the same people who think him insufficiently devoted to peace have no problem accepting and even praising Palestinians who do far worse. PA negotiator Saeb Erekat has regularly denounced Israel and engaged in libelous attacks on it while always denying it the right to be a Jewish state. His boss, PA leader Abbas, embraces and honors terrorists with Jewish blood on their hands, and has also incited Palestinians to attack Jews in order to compete with Hamas for popularity with a public that links bloodshed with political legitimacy. There has never been a Palestinian negotiating team that hasn’t stated positions that are far more extreme than anything Shalom ever said, yet never are they denounced as obstacles to peace.

Unlike with the Israelis, no one says Erekat’s belief in the “right of return” disqualifies him for the talks even though that marks him as a man that will never accept Israel’s existence. But Shalom’s skepticism is treated as proof that Israel won’t negotiate. Instead of worrying about the Israelis, who have already shown they’ll trade land for the hope of peace (and got terror instead), it’s time for the international community to start holding the Palestinians accountable. Until they do, they’ll never have an incentive to start talking in good faith.

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Israel Needs Court Reform and Less Sexism

Israel’s new government was sworn in yesterday amid last minute wrangling among Prime Minister Netanyahu’s supporters and coalition allies. It was not an edifying spectacle and may well heave earned opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s characterization of the new cabinet as something of a “circus” though he might well have said the same thing about the formation of virtually every other Israeli government dating back to the state’s founding. No matter whether the right or the left is in charge, the country’s political system makes it impossible for major parties to form majorities on their own and empowers small factions at the expense of the rest of the country. Politics makes change difficult if not impossible. Yet that’s not the only thing about Israel that needs reform even if a key advocate of another necessary change in the new government is being both unfairly demonized as well as being subjected to sexist attacks. Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s new Minister of Justice has become the piñata of the Jewish left as well as Israel-bashers. Despite this, her critics are not only underestimating her; they are also ignoring the fact that she’s right about altering some aspects of Israel’s judiciary that are out of whack.

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Israel’s new government was sworn in yesterday amid last minute wrangling among Prime Minister Netanyahu’s supporters and coalition allies. It was not an edifying spectacle and may well heave earned opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s characterization of the new cabinet as something of a “circus” though he might well have said the same thing about the formation of virtually every other Israeli government dating back to the state’s founding. No matter whether the right or the left is in charge, the country’s political system makes it impossible for major parties to form majorities on their own and empowers small factions at the expense of the rest of the country. Politics makes change difficult if not impossible. Yet that’s not the only thing about Israel that needs reform even if a key advocate of another necessary change in the new government is being both unfairly demonized as well as being subjected to sexist attacks. Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s new Minister of Justice has become the piñata of the Jewish left as well as Israel-bashers. Despite this, her critics are not only underestimating her; they are also ignoring the fact that she’s right about altering some aspects of Israel’s judiciary that are out of whack.

Shaked is the subject of a profile in today’s New York Times that, for once, does justice to a non-leftist Israeli subject. Other than Netanyahu, Shaked is easily the most visible member of the new government as far as the international media is concerned. The reasons for this are obvious. First, she is young and attractive. But she is also a leader of the Jewish Home Party, the faction to the right of Likud on the Israeli political spectrum. As such her strong views on peace with the Palestinians and the right of Israelis to live in the territories have put a bull’s eye on her back and the country’s leftist-dominated media has been freely firing away at her.

Superficially, this may remind Americans of the way Sarah Palin was skewered by the liberal media when she was the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate in 2008. But the comparisons to Palin don’t hold up. Unlike that brittle and not quite-ready-for-prime-time politician, Shaked combines brilliant political skills with astonishing focus and competence. A secular Jew who was the leading vote getter in a primary dominated by national religious members, the 39-year-old Shaked has risen quickly to the top of Israeli politics. She has made some mistakes, like re-posting an incendiary article about Palestinian civilians on Facebook that she quickly deleted but not before it became a cause célèbre. She has also been subjected to the sort of chauvinistic abuse that always is directed at attractive women who are conservative, both in the United States and Israel and which prompts many of the Palin analogies.

Unlike the former governor of Alaska, there’s plenty of substance to Shaked, a former computer engineer who served a stint as an aide to Netanyahu before breaking with the prime minister and helping to form the Jewish Home Party with another Bibi protégé, Naphtali Bennett. Now that she’s become Justice Minister the attacks on her are starting to be less about her looks and more about her hopes to change some aspects of the country’s judiciary. But they are no less unfair than the cracks from leftists about her more worthy of being a calendar model than a Cabinet minister.

At the top of Shaked’s agenda is a plan to change the way judges are appointed in Israel. She also wants to put in some theoretical limits on the power of the country’s Supreme Court to override the will of the Knesset. This is being widely represented as nothing less than a putsch by fanatic right-wingers who want to destroy both democracy and the independent judiciary. That’s the sort of rhetoric that feeds into prejudicial attitudes about the Israeli right in the United States and it is as misleading as much of the rest of the mainstream media’s coverage of Israel. As Haviv Rettig Gur notes in an informative Times of Israel feature, the notion that Shaked is trying “to strangle” Israel’s high court says more about the unwillingness of the country’s political elites to discuss serious questions than it does about her ideas.

What most Americans don’t know about the Israeli Supreme Court is that its members more or less dictate the nominations of all judges in the country. In effect, the members of the court not only get to name their successors but also those on lower benches. . All she wants to do is to expand the committee that makes the selection to include members of Knesset so as to inject some diversity of opinion in the process. Imagine such a set up in the United States and you’ll quickly see why Shaked wants the liberal-dominated court not to have such untrammeled power.

More controversial is Shaked’s plan to allow the Knesset the right to overturn rulings of the High Court. Put into an American context, that sounds like a dangerous plan to do away with judicial review, the legal concept that allows the U.S. Supreme Court to guard constitutional principles against transitory and often wrong-headed political decisions made by the executive or the legislative branches. But the thing to remember about Israel is that there is no written constitution for the court to guard against a partisan Knesset. The court’s rulings can sometimes be as arbitrary and partisan as those of any Knesset. The ideal solution would be to create a constitution something that most Israelis understand is necessary but also impossible due to politics. Subjecting the court to political majorities as she suggests, sounds like an even worse idea than the current system. But at least Shaked is confronting basic issues that need addressing, which is more than can be said for her left-wing critics who merely defend an unsatisfactory status quo and smear those advocating for change as opponents of democracy.

In a government with only a two seat 61-59 majority, Shaked’s reforms may not have a chance. But those who think she will flop and fade out the way Palin did may be making a serious mistake. While it’s impossible to predict Israeli politics, Shaked may be the sort of politician who can not only help change the country but also cure it of some of the sexist attitudes that persist in its culture and politics.

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Bibi’s Coalition and Obama’s Temptation

This time President Obama didn’t keep Prime Minister Netanyahu waiting. The administration kept the Israeli leader waiting for days before the president made a begrudging congratulatory call after Netanyahu’s decisive election victory in March. But the day after Netanyahu finally pulled together a razor-thin 61-vote coalition to official take office for his fourth term in office, the White House issued a prompt, if businesslike statement congratulating him. But unlike the election which disappointed the administration’s hopes for a Netanyahu defeat, it’s likely that Obama isn’t entirely displeased by the fact that the prime minister was forced to accept a narrow right-wing government rather than the broader coalition he sought. Just as in 2009, when the president hoped for Netanyahu’s government to quickly fall, Washington is hoping that their Israeli nemesis will soon be out of power. As I wrote yesterday, that may not happen. More important, the question now is if the administration will have learned its lessons from six years of failed attempts to undermine Netanyahu. If instead of backing off they try again to topple him, all that will be accomplished is strengthening the prime minister.

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This time President Obama didn’t keep Prime Minister Netanyahu waiting. The administration kept the Israeli leader waiting for days before the president made a begrudging congratulatory call after Netanyahu’s decisive election victory in March. But the day after Netanyahu finally pulled together a razor-thin 61-vote coalition to official take office for his fourth term in office, the White House issued a prompt, if businesslike statement congratulating him. But unlike the election which disappointed the administration’s hopes for a Netanyahu defeat, it’s likely that Obama isn’t entirely displeased by the fact that the prime minister was forced to accept a narrow right-wing government rather than the broader coalition he sought. Just as in 2009, when the president hoped for Netanyahu’s government to quickly fall, Washington is hoping that their Israeli nemesis will soon be out of power. As I wrote yesterday, that may not happen. More important, the question now is if the administration will have learned its lessons from six years of failed attempts to undermine Netanyahu. If instead of backing off they try again to topple him, all that will be accomplished is strengthening the prime minister.

In the aftermath of the Israeli election and the agreement on a framework nuclear deal with Iran that Netanyahu opposed, the administration has sent signals about wanting to patch over its differences with Israel. The latest Jewish charm offensive is being led by Vice President Biden rather than Obama and may well succeed in helping to defuse Jewish opposition to the Iran deal. Most American Jewish organizations and their leaders are too timorous to launch a tough campaign to stop Obama’s appeasement of Iran. But the Israeli government isn’t fooled. Instead rightly listening more closely to the thinly veiled threats emanating from senior administration figures about isolating Israel at the United Nations in the next year. That almost certainly won’t happen until the Iran deal is safely signed this summer and then ratified one way or another via a Congressional vote mandated by the toothless compromise passed today by the Senate.

Netanyahu, who has also been informed he won’t be allowed into Obama’s presence until the nuclear deal is finished, realizes that although the administration is concentrating on getting its way on Iran, his turn will soon come. Given the inherent weakness of his coalition, it’s likely the administration views the right-wing cast of the new coalition as an invitation to pressure on the prime minister.

Netanyahu understands that yet another round of futile peace talks with the Palestinians present no real danger to Israel. That’s because, as they have repeatedly demonstrated over the past 15 years, neither the “moderates” of Fatah running the Palestinian Authority nor the extremists of Hamas ruling Gaza will ever sign a peace deal with Israel. But if Netanyahu bends to American demands for talks or gestures aimed at enticing the Palestinians back to the table, some in his coalition, particularly the Jewish Home party, will bolt. That could force new elections if the Zionist Union opposition sticks to its refusal to accept Netanyahu’s standing invitation to join the government. If Netanyahu refuses to offend his right-wing allies and doesn’t budge, then Obama can lower the boom on the Israelis at the UN, leading to a crisis that might also oust the prime minister. Or so the administration may think.

It looks like a foolproof plan for Obama to finally get rid of a head of government that he has seen as a thorn in his side for his entire term of office. But just as past attempts to topple Netanyahu failed, so, too, may this one and for the same reason.

Every previous fight picked with Israel by the administration has backfired. The reason for that is Obama has always staked out ground that enabled Netanyahu to rally the support of Israeli public opinion, whether it was defending the unity of Jerusalem or forcing the Jewish state back to the 1967 lines. No matter what provocation Washington puts forward for a decision to abandon Israel at the UN, it will seen by seen by most Israelis as a craven betrayal by their sole superpower ally. Though some will blame Netanyahu for worsening the relationship with the U.S., it’s likely that such a turn of affairs will be blamed more on Obama’s animus for the Jewish state than on the prickly prime minister’s lack of tact.

Moreover, provoking a crisis in the U.S.-Israel relationship might make it easier for Netanyahu to go back to the electorate with confidence in another victory. It could also place pressure on Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog to accept Netanyahu’s offer of the post of foreign minister. Despite Herzog’s rhetoric about support for the peace process, that won’t bring an agreement with the Palestinians any closer. Heightened tension between the U.S. and Israel will only goad the PA to be even more obdurate about refusing to make peace on terms that won’t guarantee the destruction of the Jewish state.

Obama’s only hope of outlasting the prime minister in office is to leave Israel alone and let the internal tensions of coalition politics undermine Netanyahu. Yet after more than six years of thirsting for his downfall, it’s not likely that the president can resist the temptation to try and knock him off. The one thing such a course of action will guarantee is Netanyahu’s job security. So long as the U.S. is applying unfair pressure on Israel, the prime minister will always be able to count on keeping his majority in the Knesset and a grip on the support of the public. That’s a lesson Obama has yet to learn.

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Is One Vote Enough? Bibi Will Survive.

The conventional wisdom about the formation of Israel’s new government is that it can’t possibly survive. Due to former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s decision earlier this week to refuse to re-join Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet, what was expected to be a solid 67-vote majority for the next government was reduced to a slender 61-vote total in the 120-member Knesset. After last minute hardball negotiations with the Jewish Home Party, Netanyahu scraped in just before the deadline for the end of the negotiations with a coalition that is likely to be as fragile as it may be fractious. But Netanyahu’s legion of critics in both the U.S. and Israel shouldn’t get too excited. Though the smart money is betting that this coalition won’t last out the year, no one should assume that anyone other than him would be running Israel for the foreseeable future.

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The conventional wisdom about the formation of Israel’s new government is that it can’t possibly survive. Due to former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s decision earlier this week to refuse to re-join Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet, what was expected to be a solid 67-vote majority for the next government was reduced to a slender 61-vote total in the 120-member Knesset. After last minute hardball negotiations with the Jewish Home Party, Netanyahu scraped in just before the deadline for the end of the negotiations with a coalition that is likely to be as fragile as it may be fractious. But Netanyahu’s legion of critics in both the U.S. and Israel shouldn’t get too excited. Though the smart money is betting that this coalition won’t last out the year, no one should assume that anyone other than him would be running Israel for the foreseeable future.

The responsibility for this state of affairs is being widely blamed on Netanyahu’s arrogance and bad judgment. There is some truth to this since the prime minister was foolish to think he would make things much better when he decided to go to new elections only two years after winning a second consecutive (and third overall) term in 2013.

The coalition he had forged in 2013 with a combination of right wing and centrist parties was at cross-purposes with itself. In Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni he hadn’t so much formed a Cabinet of rivals as a dysfunctional therapy group. But the assumption that he could easily assemble a new government from Likud’s traditional right wing and religious party partners was a trifle over-optimistic. Indeed, in the last days of the campaign, it seemed as if he was doomed to defeat. But a last day surge back in his direction enabled Netanyahu to score a decisive victory with Likud winning the most seats of any party in the last decade. That set up what looked to be a set of difficult negotiations with Likud breakaway Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party as well as the right-wing partners in his last government, Lieberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and Naphtali Bennett’s Jewish Home.

The assumption was that eventually these parties and the religious factions would fall in line and sign up for the next government. Some thought if that didn’t work out, Netanyahu would be able to bring in Yitzhak Herzog and his Labor-led Zionist Union Party to make a unity government that embraced rightist, centrist and left wing parties.

But those calculations didn’t count on both Lieberman and Herzog coming to the conclusion that their future prospects would best be served by staying out of the government. Being Netanyahu’s junior partner allowed Lieberman to claim the foreign ministry but it also undermined the rationale for his party’s existence and led to a drastic diminution of its numbers. Just as Lapid had belatedly recognized that being co-opted by the prime minister would be the death of his centrist faction, so, too, did Lieberman also realized that another stint in the Cabinet would be the end of his party even if it did advance the nationalist principles that he claimed to advocate.

Similarly, Herzog recognized that while a national unity government might be in the nation’s best interests in a time of crisis, that wouldn’t give his Labor colleagues the opportunity to blast everything the prime minister was doing. With an eye on the next elections whenever they might occur, he sought to enhance his credibility with the public by staying in the opposition.

Thus, while it might make some sense to blame this standoff on Netanyahu’s prickly personality and the dismissive way he treats friends as well as foes, that factor may not really be the reason the prime minister was only able to amass 61 votes for his new Cabinet. Even if he were far more charming or loyal than he is, Netanyahu wasn’t going to be able to persuade either Lieberman or Herzog to act against their own political interests. The problem is not so much Netanyahu as it is an electoral system that has never yet produced a result that enabled any of the country’s leading parties to form a government on their own. That left the prime minister dependent on Bennett who exacted a stiff price for joining the government just before the six-week period for forming a government expired.

With only 61 votes, Netanyahu is now vulnerable to the whims of any one of his partners. If offended or just for the fun of it, any one of them can topple the government. So it’s hardly surprising that a lot of savvy observers think the rickety edifice won’t stand and that Netanyahu will be forced to call new elections before too long. That would expose him to another uncertain bout with the voters and the next time he might not do as well as the last.

But predictions of the beginning of the end for Netanyahu are premature.

First, narrow coalitions have survived in Israel before and this one may do the same. Though those outside of the government may hope for its collapse, everyone on the inside of it has a vested interest in its survival in the short term. None are likely to do better in a new election. Nor would Netanyahu’s partners stand to benefit if he were forced to come to terms with Herzog. That’s especially true of Bennett, who is the main beneficiary of Lieberman’s defection.

A collapse generated by an unexpected squabble or controversy is certainly possible. But it is just as likely that at some point, Lieberman will come to the conclusion that being in the opposition isn’t boosting his prospects of surviving the next election. Herzog may also decide that it might serve his interests to become foreign minister and deputy prime minister (Netanyahu’s standing offer to him) prior to the next vote in order to boost his prestige and gravitas.

So even if Netanyahu’s Cabinet does come to blows in the coming months and new elections are the result, President Obama, American Jewish left-wingers and all the many other members of the “I hate Bibi” club need to prepare themselves for another bitter truth. The political map of Israel shows no sign of a radical change in the near future. The political left may persuade itself that it is gradually gaining ground on the Likud and its natural partners on the right. But the truth is that so long as Labor is tied to the failed  policies of its past that depended on a non-existent Palestinian desire for peace, it won’t be leading an Israeli government. The odds are, another election will yield the same result as the last three with Netanyahu on top and a rotating cast of characters filling out his Cabinet. Even if his 61-vote government doesn’t survive, Netanyahu will.

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Obama Still Threatening Netanyahu

What does the State Department’s Wendy Sherman do with her spare time when not negotiating weak nuclear deals with rogue regimes? The same as the rest of the Obama foreign-policy team: threaten Israel with diplomatic isolation at the United Nations. Sherman issued some thinly veiled threats yesterday in remarks to a gathering of Reform movement leaders in which she made clear that the administration expects the next Israeli government to do its bidding with respect to supporting a two-state solution with the Palestinians. While there’s nothing new about this insistence, Sherman’s language followed the same pattern as other remarks issued by U.S. officials since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected last month. But like all such warnings that have been aimed at Jerusalem from Washington, the most striking aspect of this effort is how divorced these American staffers are from the reality of a peace process that the Palestinians have no interest in pursuing.

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What does the State Department’s Wendy Sherman do with her spare time when not negotiating weak nuclear deals with rogue regimes? The same as the rest of the Obama foreign-policy team: threaten Israel with diplomatic isolation at the United Nations. Sherman issued some thinly veiled threats yesterday in remarks to a gathering of Reform movement leaders in which she made clear that the administration expects the next Israeli government to do its bidding with respect to supporting a two-state solution with the Palestinians. While there’s nothing new about this insistence, Sherman’s language followed the same pattern as other remarks issued by U.S. officials since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reelected last month. But like all such warnings that have been aimed at Jerusalem from Washington, the most striking aspect of this effort is how divorced these American staffers are from the reality of a peace process that the Palestinians have no interest in pursuing.

Sherman, who holds the title of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, is best known for her work on nuclear non-proliferation in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. But her real claim to fame is as the person who naively gave away the store to the North Koreans that helped them get closer to a bomb in the 1990s and learned nothing from that experience before repeating the exercise in the last few years with Iran. She defended the Iran nuclear deal she helped negotiate and assured the Reform leaders that the pact would make Israel and the world safer. But that highly debatable conclusion is less newsworthy than Sherman’s effort to fire yet another shot over Netanyahu’s bow as he completed negotiations to form his next government.

According to the Times of Israel, Sherman warned that if the new government “is seen as stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution,” that “makes our job in the international arena that much tougher.” She went on to note that the U.S. had “repeatedly stood up against efforts to delegitimize Israel or single Israel out unfairly” and that this “would continue to be the case.” But then she added that Netanyahu’s pre-election statements about the unlikelihood of a two-state solution happening had “raised questions” about the premise of U.S. support.

While Sherman’s remarks can be read in a sympathetic manner as being basically supportive of Israel—and there’s little doubt that her audience heard it that way—the message to Netanyahu was clear: any more wavering about his dedication to two-state negotiations and all bets are off in the United Nations.

But while Sherman is right when she says that most American Jews are as obsessed with willing a two-state solution into existence as the president and Secretary of State Kerry, Israelis take a different view of things.

Most of them would also like a two-state solution that would allow them to cease having responsibility for areas that are dominated by Palestinian Arabs. But unlike the Obama administration and its American Jewish cheering section on the left, the majority of Israeli voters have paid attention to events in the region in the last 20 years and know that they don’t have a viable Palestinian peace partner. It doesn’t matter whether most Israelis share the conviction that two states for two peoples is the best possible solution to the conflict. That happens to be the case, but Israelis also understood what Netanyahu was talking about the day before his stunning election victory when he said that creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank under current circumstances was an invitation to a new round of terrorist attacks on Israel.

Israelis remember what happened when their government withdrew every last soldier and settler from Gaza in 2005. Instead of trading land for peace as they hoped (and as they had vainly attempted to do with the Oslo Accords), they wound up trading land for terror. Indeed, for all the talk about the necessity of creating a Palestinian state, what Israelis understand is that the Hamas-run strip is for all intents and purposes an independent Palestinian state. The notion of repeating this experiment in the far larger and more strategic West Bank strikes most Israelis, whether they voted for Likud and its allies or Netanyahu’s main opponents, the Labor-led Zionist Union, as nuts. A two-state solution wasn’t in the cards no matter who had won the Israeli election and it won’t be brought any closer or pushed off any further into the future no matter what Netanyahu says about the idea.

That’s been the basic problem with Obama administration Middle East policy since 2009. The president came into office obsessed with the notion that more distance between Israel and the United States would tempt the Palestinians to negotiate seriously. He’s gotten the distance he wanted and then some, but the Palestinians have never budged. They’re still refusing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has no real interest in being drawn into more talks where he’s faced with the choice of either saying no to peace (which he and his predecessor Yasir Arafat have repeatedly done even when a Palestinian state was offered the by the Israelis) or agreeing to something his people won’t accept. Hamas, backed up by an Iranian ally that has been empowered and embraced by Obama, exercises an effective veto on peace even if Abbas were willing or capable of signing a deal.

But that doesn’t stop the president from sending Sherman to intimate that if the Israelis don’t bow to his dictates the U.S. will no longer veto resolutions recognizing Palestinian independence without first forcing them to make peace with Israel. Clearly, that’s the direction toward which the lame duck administration is moving despite the recent talk of a Jewish charm offensive intended to disarm criticism of the president’s clear animus against the Israeli government. In the absence of significant pushback from a Democratic Party that is still in thrall to Obama, we may find out in the next 23 months whether Obama is bluffing.

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A Plea for Sanity in the Battle over Bibi

Last week, Bloomberg released a poll on partisan attitudes in the U.S. toward Israel that was immediately misunderstood by a vast swath of the commentariat. It wasn’t completely the commentators’ fault. They should have read it more carefully, but the poll was worded in such a way as to be more than useless; it was irresponsible. And while the poor polling question can excuse some of the confusion, it shouldn’t excuse the hysterical commentary it inspired in some quarters, though it was revealing to get an unfiltered look at what some pundits really think about Israel.

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Last week, Bloomberg released a poll on partisan attitudes in the U.S. toward Israel that was immediately misunderstood by a vast swath of the commentariat. It wasn’t completely the commentators’ fault. They should have read it more carefully, but the poll was worded in such a way as to be more than useless; it was irresponsible. And while the poor polling question can excuse some of the confusion, it shouldn’t excuse the hysterical commentary it inspired in some quarters, though it was revealing to get an unfiltered look at what some pundits really think about Israel.

One question in the poll found, as paraphrased by a Bloomberg reporter, that Republicans were “more sympathetic to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than to their own president, 67 percent to 16 percent, while Democrats are more sympathetic to President Barack Obama than to Israel’s prime minister, 76 percent to 9 percent.” The reporter’s choice of phrasing “than to their own president” (my italics) is telling, and was reflected in some of the more extreme responses to the poll.

But the question that confused people was as follows:

When it comes to relations between the U.S. and Israel, which of the following do you agree with more?

(Read options. Rotate.)

45            Israel is an important ally, the only democracy in the region, and we should support it even if our interests diverge

47            Israel is an ally but we should pursue America’s interests when we disagree with them

8            Not sure

Republicans were more likely to give the first answer, Democrats the second.

The problematic nature of the wording becomes clear as soon as you read the actual poll question. But reporting on the poll may have taken the form of a game of “telephone.” Bloomberg’s own report on its poll muddied the waters immediately, suggesting that the poll said that Republicans opted for supporting Israel in a zero-sum faceoff when our interests diverged with those of the Israelis. But that’s not what the question says. It’s not an either/or question.

For example: a few years ago then-Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave an interview to the Washington Post. During the course of the interview, Barak was asked about the Syrian civil war. He responded that the Assads should be removed from power if possible but only their innermost circle; stability should be prioritized over total revolution. Barak was clearly nervous about Syria being a repeat of Egypt, where a stability-minded dictator was removed and replaced (temporarily) with a president from the Muslim Brotherhood who intended to shift Egypt’s allegiances toward Israel’s (and the West’s) enemies in the region.

But that was not American policy at the time, at least on paper. Washington was leaning toward a wholesale power shift, with the caveat that it be brought about by negotiations.

According to the common interpretation of the Bloomberg poll, that meant that support for Israel should at that point disappear until the two were back on the same page. A similar conflict even arose over Ukraine. Should the disagreement over Ukraine have imperiled the alliance?

Of course not. Sometimes our interests diverge. Those times are the exceptions, not the rule. And it would be silly to suggest that “support” for Israel should be untenable at that time. Sometimes we disagree, it’s really as simple as that.

Additionally, not all conflicts can be weighed equally. For example: let’s say you believe it’s in America’s interest to have an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement that removes Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, ignores Israeli security needs in the West Bank, and includes a deal on refugees that would put Israel’s demographic future in question. The majority of Israelis would oppose those terms. Should Americans support it? Is it enough that it’s in America’s interest, in your opinion, or should Israeli sovereignty and self-determination predominate? Barack Obama thought it was in America’s interest to interfere in Israel’s election. Is it wrong for an American to disagree and to hold that Israel’s democratic process should be respected?

You get the point. Moreover, the American sympathy for Israel is based not only on mutual strategic interests but also on history, religion, politics–the works. What poll respondents are saying is that the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong enough to withstand the occasional argument.

But if you were looking to misread the poll, it would be easy to do so. Slate’s William Saletan wrote a bizarre column using the poll to attack Republicans as disloyal. What Republicans revealed when they invited Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress “against the will of a Democratic president” (His Majesty will not be pleased) and again by the Republicans surveyed in the Bloomberg poll is that “They have adopted Netanyahu as their leader.” Here’s Saletan’s conclusion:

That split points to a more fundamental challenge. Does a majority of the Republican Party identify more with Israeli interests than with American interests? When Israel’s prime minister speaks on the floor of Congress, do Republicans feel more allegiance to him than to their president? If so, will the feeling subside once Obama leaves office? Or does it signify an enduring rift in the fabric of this country?

So are Republicans permanent traitors taking orders from the Israeli government, or will they one day love their country again? Stay tuned!

The heated rhetoric around Netanyahu has lost all proportion. And it isn’t limited to the anti-Bibi guns on the left. Just before the Israeli elections, NRO’s Quin Hillyer wrote a column headlined “Israelis Should Send Obama a Message of Defiance.” The column had high praise for Netanyahu, and also included this strange concern:

Americans who love Israel will, of course, continue to love it regardless. But we fear that, without Netanyahu’s leadership, there will be less of Israel left to love.

If he was speaking figuratively, that plainly makes no sense. If he was speaking literally–as in, the other side would throw a fire sale on Israeli land–it ignores the reality on the ground as well as the more hawkish tendencies of Labor leader Isaac Herzog, to say nothing of the fact that Bibi himself presided over a two-track negotiating process with the Palestinians that he let one of his main political rivals lead.

Look, Netanyahu’s an eloquent spokesman for Western ideals and values, and it’s easy to see why English-speaking conservatives enjoy his leadership. But even while winning a convincing victory, his party still only won less than a quarter of the vote. Israel is a diverse country with diverse politics. Bibi is a product of Israel; Israel is not a product of Bibi.

Both sides should keep this in mind, but the left obviously needs this reminder more than the right. Because even at its most adulatory, American admiration for Netanyahu is not treasonous. And the simple fact that it’s being treated as if it were should serve as a much-needed wake-up call for American liberals.

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The Holocaust and History’s Many Lessons

Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

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Debate continues over the relevance of the Holocaust to today’s Iran crisis, in the wake of Yom HaShoah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about learning the lessons of history. Jonathan Tobin covered the Iran issue on Wednesday, and Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer takes up what he imagines to be the West’s perspective today. Pfeffer’s column is thoughtful and well worth reading. And he makes some very important points about how the West has clearly learned at least some lessons of the Holocaust, as demonstrated in some of its policies toward Jews and Israel. But there’s also another aspect of this that’s worth some consideration, and it has more to do with non-Jewish victims than with the Jews.

But first, one quibble. Pfeffer writes that the West would of course have noticed Netanyahu’s comment about Arab voters being bussed to the polls, and should have expected backlash. But in this lies a crucial point: it’s understandable to have been irked by the comment, but look at the double standard. When Iranian leaders make extreme comments the Obama administration dismisses them as intended for a domestic political audience, nothing more. The press isn’t exactly blameless here either. In fact, it should be central to the discussion.

When we talk about historical analogies and the Nazis, we often stress the comparison between regimes more than the comparison between reactions to the regimes by gullible Westerners. It’s not that we ignore the latter–we don’t–it’s just that we tend to focus on the evil party asserting its genocidal intent.

But what lessons have Westerners learned from their own history? Here, it’s instructive to glance at Andrew Nagorski’s book Hitlerland. One of the stories he tells is of Chicago Daily News reporter Edgar Mowrer, who was reporting on Germany in the 1930s and even wrote an early book on the emergence of the Hitler era. Nagorski writes:

Yet even Mowrer wasn’t quiet sure what Hitler represented–and what to expect if he took power. “Did he believe all that he said?” he asked. “The question is inapplicable to this sort of personality. Subjectively Adolf Hitler was, in my opinion, entirely sincere even in his self-contradictions. For his is a humorless mind that simply excludes the need for consistency that might distress more intellectual types. To an actor the truth is anything that lies in its effect: if it makes the right impression it is true.” …

As for the true intentions of his anti-Semitic campaign, Mowrer sounded alarmed in some moments but uncertain in others. “A suspicion arises that Adolf Hitler himself accepted anti-Semitism with his characteristic mixture of emotionalism and political cunning,” he wrote. “Many doubted if he really desired pogroms.”

Well, we know how that story ends. The point is, proper historical reflection takes into account not only whether and how the current Iranian regime is animated by common principles with Nazi Germany but also whether we can really say we’ve learned the proper lessons from the past if we’re still dismissing unhinged rhetoric as play-acting for a domestic crowd. (We also should ask if play-acting for a domestic crowd is, in light of history, really as harmless as we sometimes make it out to be.)

Nonetheless, Pfeffer’s larger point about how the Jews have been welcomed in certain corners of the West–America being the shining example–is well taken. So is his point about America’s staunch pro-Israel policies.

Yet there is a difference between treating victims a certain way and preventing others from becoming victims. This is where, I think, many critics are coming from.

Pfeffer’s column has the bad luck to be timed just as the release of hundreds of pages of newly declassified documents, reported first by Colum Lynch yesterday at Foreign Policy, draws new attention to Western inaction during the Rwandan genocide. It’s a long story, and it doesn’t necessarily change the underlying dynamics all that much, though it does shift some more of the weight of the Clinton administration’s bystander role to Richard Clarke and Susan Rice.

Rice’s inclusion there should not be shocking. She is, after all, the official once quoted as cautioning Bill Clinton against recognizing the genocide for what it was because of the effect that could have on the Democratic Party’s electoral fortunes in the congressional midterms. Here’s Lynch introducing the revelation:

But the recently declassified documents — which include more than 200 pages of internal memos and handwritten notes from Rice and other key White House players — provide a far more granular account of how the White House sought to limit U.N. action. They fill a major gap in the historical record, providing the most detailed chronicle to date of policy instructions and actions taken by White House staffers, particularly Clarke and Rice, who appear to have exercised greater influence over U.S. policy on Rwanda than the White House’s Africa hands.

Just as relevant here is the sentence that comes next: “The National Security Archive and the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide obtained the documents during a two-and-a-half-year effort to amass long-secret records of internal deliberations by the United States, the U.N., and other foreign governments.”

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was a driving force in getting these documents released. That’s no coincidence. And Rwanda’s far from the only case of Western inaction. Not every mass killing amounts to genocide, but we’re seeing campaigns of ethnic violence and ethnic cleansing across the Middle East and Africa. The most recent example is the Yazidis of Iraq, which ISIS tried to exterminate. But the general treatment of Christians–Copts in Egypt, various Christian groups in Nigeria–suggests we are, unfortunately, far from seeing the end of such campaigns.

So has the West learned its lessons from the Holocaust? The honest answer is: some of them. It would be grossly unfair to claim they’ve learned nothing. But it would be wishful thinking to suggest they’ve learned everything.

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Can We Speak of Iran and the Holocaust?

In Israel this evening, the nation began observing Yom HaShoah, its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the ceremony at the Yad Vashem Memorial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke passionately about the failure of today’s democracies to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. In doing so, he directly compared appeasement of the Nazis with contemporary efforts to engage Iran and its nuclear threat via diplomacy. However, it is likely that much of what passes for liberal and enlightened opinion in both Europe and the United States will dismiss Netanyahu’s analogies as well as his warnings about the potential costs of the course of action pursued by President Obama and U.S. allies. Like his speech to Congress last month in which he attempted to warn about the perils of the nuclear deal that was concluded weeks later, the prime minister’s speech will be put down as apocalyptic rhetoric from an intemperate leader whose voice has long since ceased to be heeded by the White House. But as painful as it may be for Obama loyalists and other Netanyahu-bashers to admit, those who wish to ignore his points need to think carefully before brushing aside his remarks as over the top or inappropriate.

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In Israel this evening, the nation began observing Yom HaShoah, its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the ceremony at the Yad Vashem Memorial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke passionately about the failure of today’s democracies to learn the lessons of the Holocaust. In doing so, he directly compared appeasement of the Nazis with contemporary efforts to engage Iran and its nuclear threat via diplomacy. However, it is likely that much of what passes for liberal and enlightened opinion in both Europe and the United States will dismiss Netanyahu’s analogies as well as his warnings about the potential costs of the course of action pursued by President Obama and U.S. allies. Like his speech to Congress last month in which he attempted to warn about the perils of the nuclear deal that was concluded weeks later, the prime minister’s speech will be put down as apocalyptic rhetoric from an intemperate leader whose voice has long since ceased to be heeded by the White House. But as painful as it may be for Obama loyalists and other Netanyahu-bashers to admit, those who wish to ignore his points need to think carefully before brushing aside his remarks as over the top or inappropriate.

For the administration and its loyal press cheerleaders, Netanyahu isn’t so much the boy who cried “wolf,” as some would have it, as he is a Cassandra constantly predicting doom. Though they will in moments of lucidity concede that Iran is a state sponsor of terror, seeks regional hegemony, promotes anti-Semitism, and threatens Israel with destruction, they insist that the best way of dealing with this threat is via diplomacy. The president has, they tell us, gotten the best possible deal with Iran that will, at the very least, postpone or lessen the prospect of Iran getting a bomb. They contend that there are no alternatives to the nuclear deal short of a war that no one wants and whose outcome would be uncertain. More to the point, most people are so tired of promiscuous use of Holocaust comparisons that the rule of thumb in modern debate has become that the first person to mention it loses.

This is an absurd distortion of the situation since what Netanyahu and other critics of the Iran deal have called for is tougher diplomacy, backed by enhanced sanctions, not war. They have also pointed out, with justice, that the deal embraced by the president offers Iran two paths to a bomb: one by cheating on an agreement with gaping loopholes and no real accountability or monitoring, and the other by abiding by its terms and waiting patiently for it to expire all the while continuing their nuclear research.

But even if we take President Obama at his word when he says that what he has done is intended to forestall Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he has also made it clear that his real agenda is not so much to put the Islamist regime in a corner as it is to allow it to “get right with the world” and to transform itself into a government that is both trustworthy and peaceful. This is why the president views the Iran deal as his foreign-policy legacy. His goal here is not just nuclear restrictions but détente with Tehran.

And that is why Netanyahu’s rhetoric is entirely appropriate.

The problem with much of the debate about Iran is that it is premised on the assumption that the nuclear issue can be isolated from the rest of Iranian policies. President Obama says it is because he knows Iran won’t change that he wants to take every opportunity to limit the nuclear program that he pledged to dismantle when running for reelection in 2012. But if Iran won’t change, then we must confront the nature of the regime and that is something those who support the president’s appeasement of Tehran consistently refuse to do.

Netanyahu is not engaging in hyperbole when he speaks of the anti-Semitism that is integral to Iranian state policy as well as its sponsorship of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Nor is he exaggerating a whit when he talks of its oppression of religious minorities and vows to spread its Islamic revolution via proxies all the while crying “death to America” and “death to Israel.” Iran is not monolithic, but the consensus among its factions on the question of Israel’s elimination and the desirability of obtaining a nuclear weapon, with which that goal might be achieved or at least threatened, is not in question.

American liberals may be tired of Netanyahu and bored with talk of the peril from Iran. But they must understand that, at best, the deal Obama has struck will make Iran a threshold nuclear power. At worst, he has smoothed their path to a bomb. Once that is understood, the administration’s efforts to understand and even sympathize with Iran’s concerns must be seen as folly, not wisdom or good policy.

Netanyahu is right when he points out that talk about the horrors of the Holocaust and vowing “never again” is cheap when it is tethered to policies that essentially empower those who not only deny the reality of the Shoah but also seek the means to perpetrate a new one. Iran is not Germany but on a day when the lessons of history should be uppermost in our minds, the burden of proof lies with those defending appeasement of a government that seeks to complete the work Hitler started, not with those lamenting this disgraceful attempt to make a devil’s bargain with a violent hate-filled theocratic regime.

In the United States, we have built many monuments and museums about the Holocaust. But we forget that the only proper monument to the Six Million is a defensible Jewish state that exists to safeguard those that the Nazis failed to murder and their descendants. Remembering the Holocaust in such a way as to forget this vital truth is meaningless. Seen in that light, Netanyahu is sadly dead right to invoke the Holocaust in the context of Iran. It is his critics who should be rethinking their refusal to think seriously about the verdict of history, not the prime minister.

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What’s Wrong with Obama Walking in the Ayatollah’s Slippers?

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman performed a useful service for President Obama last week when he used his perch on the New York Times op-ed page to give the president a forum from which he could make a full-throated defense of his Iran nuclear deal. But speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program yesterday, he went further in defending the president as a leader with the greatness of spirit and the breadth of experience to see the world from the perspective of foreign antagonists. According to Friedman the main difference between Obama and, say, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Obama is able to walk in the shoes of the Iranians while Netanyahu can’t. If so, that is an asset, but Friedman is confusing understanding with empathy. Contrary to the stereotype of U.S. conservatives or Israelis that Friedman is propagating, critics of the deal don’t lack knowledge about what Iranians think or want. The difference between them and Obama is that he not only understands Iran’s demands; he seems to sympathize with them in a way that has led him to make a series of concessions that gave them what they want.

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New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman performed a useful service for President Obama last week when he used his perch on the New York Times op-ed page to give the president a forum from which he could make a full-throated defense of his Iran nuclear deal. But speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program yesterday, he went further in defending the president as a leader with the greatness of spirit and the breadth of experience to see the world from the perspective of foreign antagonists. According to Friedman the main difference between Obama and, say, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that Obama is able to walk in the shoes of the Iranians while Netanyahu can’t. If so, that is an asset, but Friedman is confusing understanding with empathy. Contrary to the stereotype of U.S. conservatives or Israelis that Friedman is propagating, critics of the deal don’t lack knowledge about what Iranians think or want. The difference between them and Obama is that he not only understands Iran’s demands; he seems to sympathize with them in a way that has led him to make a series of concessions that gave them what they want.

Here’s the gist of Friedman’s argument:

What really came through to me in the interview really is a couple things that really do show you the difference between him and Netanyahu. Obama is someone who has lived abroad, maybe more than any president in a long time. And because of that, he actually knows what America looks like from the outside in. And he can actually see America even to some point from the Iranian perspective. And it comes through when he says let’s remember we, the Unites States, back in the ’50s, we toppled Iran’s democratically-elected government. You know, there might be some reason these people actually want to get a weapon that will deter that from happening again.

Friedman is right that understanding your adversary is a vital tool for any world leader. It is possible that the president’s experience of living abroad in his youth is an asset in that it does help him understand the way foreigners view the United States. Perhaps that has aided his efforts to think seriously about Iran and to realize that it is a vast complex country with a government with competing factions vying for influence in an undemocratic structure, at the top of which sits a supreme leader who ultimately calls the shots.

No one who thinks about Iran policy should be ignorant of the narrative of their country’s modern history that the leaders of the Islamist regime have carefully propagated, though it’s more likely that that the president learned about this from leftist professors at Columbia University and not at the Indonesian school where he studied as a boy. As Friedman rightly notes, Iran’s rulers see their nuclear-weapons project as an insurance policy against any threat of regime change that might, as many of those Iranians who took to the streets in a “Green Revolution” in 2009 may have hoped, lead to a government that would allow them more freedom than their current theocratic masters with whom the president prefers to do business will ever allow.

Friedman contrasts what he claims is Obama’s nuanced view of Iran with the more simplistic understanding of the country that he attributes to Netanyahu. The latter, he says, views it as a country with no politics and where 85 million people get up every morning clamoring for a bomb to drop on the Jews. The president and Friedman see it as more complex and think the right sort of diplomacy will tip the balance toward more moderate factions and away from extremists.

That is an interesting scenario that most in the West would applaud. But it is also the point at which walking in another fellow’s shoes becomes wishful thinking about that other person wanting the same things you want. In the case of Iran such thinking is not a triumph of understanding. It is delusional.

A truly nuanced view of Iran would incorporate the ideology that runs throughout the Islamist regime encompassing the worldview of both the so-called “moderates,” supposedly led by President Hassan Rouhani, and the hardliners, whose most prominent personality is the supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As much as there is certainly a political struggle between the two factions (though Rouhani has always been a faithful servant of the country’s extremist leaders), they don’t disagree about wanting a bomb. Nor do they differ much on the nation’s goal of regional hegemony or the desirability of obliterating Israel by any means possible. In that sense, Netanyahu’s supposedly more primitive grasp of the situation (a misnomer since the prime minister has devoted far more time to scholarship and writing about the Middle East than Obama has ever done, but never mind) is actually far closer to the truth.

The problem here isn’t that critics of Iran don’t get the motivations of those in power in Tehran. It’s that Obama and his foreign-policy team have bought into a myth about the potential for Iranian moderation that is rooted in their hopes for détente and completely divorced from recent history or Iran’s behavior. Having placed himself in the ayatollah’s slippers, President Obama has not only sought to gain a grasp of his prejudices; he has adopted them and treated them as normative and even worth defending. It is this mindset that caused him to assess his adversary in the talks and to discard the West’s enormous economic and political leverage and give in to Iran’s obdurate demands to keep its nuclear infrastructure rather than face them down.

This is not wisdom or understanding. It is folly and the sort of misplaced empathy with foes that has served as the rationale for every act of appeasement of tyrants throughout history.

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Iran’s Terrorist Allies the First to Benefit From Nuclear Deal

President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

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President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

The Channel 2 report detailed that Iran has increased its already considerable flow of weapons and cash to its Hezbollah auxiliaries as well as to Hamas. Most troubling is the news that it is not satisfied with helping Hamas rebuild its terror tunnels and replenish its rocket arsenal in Gaza but is also seeking to arm cells of the Islamist group operating in the West Bank. Like Russia’s sale of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran, these moves are part of the inevitable exploitation of Western weakness by an Iranian regime that understands that it has scored a huge victory in the nuclear negotiations. This is a trend that will get only more dangerous as their economy begins to recover after the sanctions disappear.

Administration apologists may claim that Iran’s actions can be seen as a warning to Israel not to act on its own against its nuclear infrastructure. But Tehran knows as well as anyone that the chances of Israel launching a strike against them while the U.S. is engaged in negotiations over their nuclear ambitions is virtually nil. A more realistic analysis of these actions would see them for what they are, more evidence of Iran’s desire to extend its control over the entire region via the actions of its terrorist friends. In particular, it is hoping to use its growing influence to support the most radical Palestinian factions in order to make war with Israel more likely. That is the context in which most Israelis see U.S. efforts to create a new détente between Iran and the West.

The Zionist Union document also illustrates that for all of the demonization of Netanyahu that has been pursued by the administration and its liberal media cheering section, even his most bitter rivals largely accept his positions.

Though Labor and its right-wing antagonists have sniped at each other on Iran as they do on all issues, the Zionist Union paper shares the Netanyahu government’s belief that the current agreement is flawed and must be revised. Though the Obama administration claims that there is no alternative to a negotiation in which they have made concession after concession, mainstream Israeli parties all seem to understand that the choice here is not between diplomacy and war but between weakness and strength that might persuade the Iranians that they can’t count on the U.S. folding on every point as it has in the past. As veteran U.S. peace processer Aaron David Miller—who is no fan of Netanyahu—wrote today in the Wall Street Journal, both Israelis and Arabs understand that what the U.S. is pursuing is an Iran-centric policy that prizes good relations with Tehran over those with its traditional allies.

By choosing not to demand that Iran change its behavior toward other nations, give up terrorism, or drop its calls for Israel’s destruction—a reasonable point considering that nuclear capability theoretically could give it the power to effectuate that scenario—the United States has flashed a green light to Iran for further adventurism in pursuit of its goal of regional hegemony. The president may pretend that the nuclear issue can be separated from other concerns about Iran, but those who must fear its behavior are not so foolish.

Liberal Democrats in Congress who have proved susceptible to administration talking points about Netanyahu and the Likud allying themselves with the Republicans need to take note of the fact that the same party that the White House was trying to help by means both fair and foul (indirect State Department contributions to anti-Netanyahu groups in Israel) takes more or less the same position on the Iran deal as the prime minister. Those who think hostility to Netanyahu should help them choose to override their instincts to back Israel’s position on the Iran deal should think again.

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Obama to Bibi: The Jerk Store Called, They’re Running Out of You!

After State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed Henry Kissinger and George Shultz’s critique of the Iran framework deal as “a lot of big words and big thoughts,” David Brooks responded by asking, “Are we in nursery school?” The evidence for answering that question in the affirmative continued to mount yesterday. Following on last month’s Twitter trolling of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (broadly criticized as mortifyingly undignified), the Obama administration did it again, proving once again the administration’s embarrassing immaturity and the fact that it is Obama who is keeping the public feud with Israel alive.

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After State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf dismissed Henry Kissinger and George Shultz’s critique of the Iran framework deal as “a lot of big words and big thoughts,” David Brooks responded by asking, “Are we in nursery school?” The evidence for answering that question in the affirmative continued to mount yesterday. Following on last month’s Twitter trolling of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (broadly criticized as mortifyingly undignified), the Obama administration did it again, proving once again the administration’s embarrassing immaturity and the fact that it is Obama who is keeping the public feud with Israel alive.

This time the White House tweeted out a picture that was expressly intended to mock Netanyahu’s famous bomb diagram at the UN in September 2012. At that time, Netanyahu used the picture to illustrate Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. The cartoon bomb appeared to backfire because it looked like something out of a Warner Bros. cartoon, no doubt leading the White House to hope an Acme anvil would drop out of the sky and onto the podium at that moment. But the illustration did at least draw attention to Netanyahu’s message, and succeeded in driving the conversation in the media.

Yesterday, the White House tweeted out the following picture:

whbomb

The “facts” in the diagram are mostly spin, though I don’t think anyone expects anything accurate out of the Obama administration’s press shop. The point of the diagram–the only point, since the picture isn’t actually informative and the president could have put out this information any number of ways–was to mock the Israeli prime minister on Twitter for something that happened in 2012.

Obama is essentially George Castanza finally coming up with what he believes is a great, though hilariously delayed, response to an earlier insult. Obama’s message to Bibi is: “The jerk store called, they’re running out of you!”

On a more serious note–though at this part we’ll surely lose the president and his spokespersons–does the Obama administration consider how this looks to the world? I doubt it. For example, the Russians just loved it–not because it was funny, but because the Kremlin-directed media expressed what appears to be Vladimir Putin’s uncontainable glee at watching the supposed leader of the free world (or at least Stephen Harper’s deputy leader of the free world, at this point) throw food at the Israeli prime minister in public.

If you’re an American adversary, you don’t even really have to do anything at this point. You can just sit and watch the Obama administration melt down under the weight of its own childish ignorance. Here’s Sputnik:

In three hours, the image had been retweeted nearly 700 times, with one user quipping “Apparently, the #WhiteHouse has hired #Netanyahu ‘s graphic design team.”

All in good fun. Except, you know, for the fact that the Obama administration apparently thinks a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is a big joke.

The last time the Obama administration did this was in early March. Its trolling then was more explicitly aimed at picking a fight with Netanyahu but, unlike this latest trolling, was at least above the intellectual maturity of a preschooler. The National Security Council tweeted out a column by Fareed Zakaria attempting to rebut Netanyahu. But the NSC’s tweet was more than just a link; it also added this administration’s trademark bitterness:

Yesterday’s trolling, ironically, actually confirmed Netanyahu’s success at controlling the conversation about Iranian nukes. The president has been trying to think of a comeback for two and a half years. And the picture, clearly, stuck in the minds of those who saw it.

If you’re thinking that, for an Ivy League-educated president of the United States, we’re sure using the word “trolling” an awful lot–well, yes. That’s one lesson of this whole affair. The president likes to troll allies on Twitter. Is there a better use of his time? I would imagine so.

But to realize that he would need a certain degree of self-awareness. It’s times like this the president’s tendency to hire young communications officials, inexperienced campaign hacks, and a Cabinet and inner circle of yes-men catches up with him.

The other lesson here is that it shows beyond all doubt (if anyone still had doubts) that Obama is the one who wants to keep this feud going, and publicly. At this point it’s obvious that Obama’s obsessive focus on Netanyahu’s campaign comments were merely a pretext to threaten to take action the administration was always planning on taking.

But this makes it crystal clear that when the administration gets all the mileage possible out of one manufactured controversy, and the prime minister hasn’t said anything they could harp on again, they’ll merely drop all pretense and just start taking potshots. Obama does not want this feud dropped, and he does not want reconciliation. He just wants to keep fighting. And our adversaries are just enjoying the show.

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Imagining a Jewish Conservatism

There is a remarkable expression of market economics in the Mishnah, the Jewish law book, in the discussion of fast days, and it’s worth revisiting when reading this month’s typically incisive Mosaic essay on Jewish conservatism. The Mishnah discusses the establishment of communal fast days when the rains don’t arrive by a certain point in the season in which they are needed. If the drought continues, the leaders declare three such fast days in two weeks, with the fasts taking place on consecutive Mondays and Thursdays. The mishnaic text reads:

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There is a remarkable expression of market economics in the Mishnah, the Jewish law book, in the discussion of fast days, and it’s worth revisiting when reading this month’s typically incisive Mosaic essay on Jewish conservatism. The Mishnah discusses the establishment of communal fast days when the rains don’t arrive by a certain point in the season in which they are needed. If the drought continues, the leaders declare three such fast days in two weeks, with the fasts taking place on consecutive Mondays and Thursdays. The mishnaic text reads:

Public fasts are not to be ordered to commence on a Thursday, in order not to raise the price of victuals in the markets; but the first fasts are to be on Monday, Thursday, and [the following] Monday; but the second three fasts may follow on Thursday, Monday, and [the following] Thursday. R. José says, “Even as the first fasts are not to be commenced on Thursday, so also are the second and last fasts not to commence on that day.”

Beginning an unscheduled fast on Thursday would raise prices just when people need to begin their grocery shopping for Shabbat. According to this logic the second fast can be a Thursday because it’s known in advance, giving shoppers time to prepare ahead of time and causing less havoc in the markets.

What we have here is a rather amazing case of Jewish law being set according to market economics and the principle of unintended consequences. You could call such ideas “conservative” or “classically liberal,” such as they are–but of course they preceded thinkers like Milton Friedman by almost two thousand years.

We’ll come back to Friedman in a moment, but first: this month’s fantastic Mosaic essay. In it, Eric Cohen argues for a Jewish conservatism as a political project in response to the threats–demographic, security, and otherwise–the Jews face today. A summary can’t really do the essay justice, so read the whole thing. Cohen talks about the role of the family in fostering continuity; the purpose of Jewish nationalism; the primacy of economics; and other conceptual areas of this political program. But he also says, as well he should, that: “What such an agenda would look like—its programmatic content—is a task for a separate essay and another occasion.”

Cohen’s purpose is to establish the principles, and he does so with great insight and erudition.

But we should still think about how to fill in the blanks, and also make one important distinction. Cohen’s essay is so valuable because it weaves together disparate elements into a “Jewish conservatism.” Yet part of any program of “Jewish conservatism” will also be conservatism as practiced by Jews. And for that, we really do have some idea how it would look.

Israel is the most obvious testing ground for Jewish conservatism. It is a country ever in the process of breaking free from its socialist shackles, but the seeds were planted earlier.

When we discuss the promotion of democracy abroad, we often hear objections like: “There are no Thomas Jeffersons and James Madisons in Iraq.” True. And what makes the United States and Israel such easy allies is the fact that Israel did have Thomas Jeffersons and James Madisons (though it needed more of them; it could have used a full constitution, for example). One such founder was Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Jabotinsky rejected socialism and had a fuller appreciation of individual liberty than virtually any other Israeli founding father. Here is Jabotinsky on representative democracy:

What is especially difficult to understand is the mentality of those who yearn for “leaders.” The situation was completely different and better in my youth. We believed that every movement was made of people of equal worth. Each one was a prince, each one was a king. When election time came, they chose, not people, but programs. Those who were chosen were nothing but the executors of the program. We, the masses, would follow them and listen to them, not because they were “leaders,” but specifically because they were our “servants”; when you, of your own free will, chose a group of people and order to them to work for you, you had to help them–or remove them. Because you were obeying not their will, but only your own will, which was expressed in the election. … This philosophy of my youth was perhaps a complete fiction (like all human philosophies), but I much prefer it; it had more genius and more noblesse, even though it bore the name, whose prestige has declined–democracy.

When your nationalist movement has such men at the forefront, democracy and freedom are in the DNA of the state that eventually comes into being. Jabotinsky’s vision might not have been described as “conservative” then, but it sure is now. This focus on nationalism and democratic accountability is falling out of favor in the West, but any aspiring political program would do well to swim against that tide.

But we can get more specific than that, with examples, once the state was actually founded–actually, when the right finally won an election nearly thirty years after the founding of the country. Shedding the country’s socialist skin was not easy. But Israeli rightists were willing to take on the challenge, at least incrementally. Menachem Begin was the Likud’s first prime minister after the 1977 elections. He called on–you guessed it–Milton Friedman for assistance.

Avi Shilon’s biography of Begin probably has the best rundown of the Begin government’s economic plans. A brief summary is as follows.

Begin wanted Friedman’s help with his New Economic Reversal. Friedman called Begin’s reform plans as “daring as the raid on Entebbe.” Subsidies were eliminated. This was politically brave, since lower-income earners were a crucial voting bloc in Begin’s electoral triumph. Also cancelled were foreign-currency controls to open up trade and investment. In order to try to alleviate the deficit, Begin also raised the value-added tax.

But Begin still did not go far enough, and inflation hit. Shilon writes:

The desire to create a free market in an economy that had not known many changes since the establishment of the state was expressed, among other things, in the fact that the linkage mechanism that compensated wage earners for price increases and that had been in existence since the days of Mapai was not eliminated, thus negating the effect of the built-in mechanism of inflation, by which rising prices were supposed to reduce demand and inflationary pressures.

He was also hesitant to push a fuller privatization program. Additionally, he wouldn’t cut government spending where it needed to be cut to help manage the debt. “I want social justice without socialism,” he had said. It was a start, anyway.

Israel took a big step forward with the Economic Stabilization Program beginning in 1985. Though Labor’s Shimon Peres was prime minister that year, he was heading a national unity government at a time when Likud had the upper hand, and the program was overseen by the Likud finance minister, Yitzhak Moda’i. It was instituted to boost the shekel, and rein in government spending through various mechanisms. It also had the assistance of the Reagan administration.

The stabilization was successful. More such programs finally took place in 2003 when Benjamin Netanyahu, at the time the finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s government, instituted more reforms by cutting taxes and increasing privatization while keeping government spending in check. And of course we can’t forget Israel’s reputation as a “start-up nation,” in which the opportunity to take risks and innovate is a mark of pride.

Back in the U.S., many American Jews are already positively disposed toward market economics, which has given them unprecedented freedom and prosperity. But other issues, such as school choice and religious liberty, will play an increasingly significant role in their lives. On those issues, the conservative positions may become more attractive to practicing Jews.

I’ve deliberately left off support for Israel. Although these days the American right is far friendlier to Israel than is the left, there is nothing specifically “conservative,” just as there is nothing specifically “liberal,” about support for an ally and a fellow democracy like Israel. It ought to be part of any conservative political program, but I hesitate to say it’s conceptually conservative.

There are other examples I’m sure I’m missing, but it will only help to put meat on the bones of a Jewish conservatism that we have so many real-world examples of Jews practicing political conservatism. With that combination, a real Jewish conservatism can take shape.

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A Bad Nuclear Deal? Never Mind!

Rather than merely inveigh against the seeming betrayal of the U.S.-Israel alliance represented by President Obama’s pursuit of détente with Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is attempting to reason with the administration. It has issued a detailed list of shortcomings with the as-yet-unwritten deal with Tehran that illustrate just how flimsy are the assurances about the nuclear threat the administration has been giving the nation. The president has dismissed some of them but for the most part the White House has ignored, at least in public, the specific problems with the pact. But the New York Times editorial page, which continues to serve as the president’s chief cheerleader, did deign to notice the Israeli list today. And while the editors of the Times acknowledged that all of the Israeli points were troubling, their response was straight out of a classic Saturday Night Live comedy routine: Never mind. While this is quite a commentary on the poor reasoning of the deal’s chief advocates, it also illustrates that their boasts about the agreement’s worth are as hollow as the president’s assurances that it will stop Iran from getting a bomb.

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Rather than merely inveigh against the seeming betrayal of the U.S.-Israel alliance represented by President Obama’s pursuit of détente with Iran, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is attempting to reason with the administration. It has issued a detailed list of shortcomings with the as-yet-unwritten deal with Tehran that illustrate just how flimsy are the assurances about the nuclear threat the administration has been giving the nation. The president has dismissed some of them but for the most part the White House has ignored, at least in public, the specific problems with the pact. But the New York Times editorial page, which continues to serve as the president’s chief cheerleader, did deign to notice the Israeli list today. And while the editors of the Times acknowledged that all of the Israeli points were troubling, their response was straight out of a classic Saturday Night Live comedy routine: Never mind. While this is quite a commentary on the poor reasoning of the deal’s chief advocates, it also illustrates that their boasts about the agreement’s worth are as hollow as the president’s assurances that it will stop Iran from getting a bomb.

Though the Times terms the deal “surprisingly comprehensive,” the most interesting thing about the editorial is that it can’t dismiss the list of problems that Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz has produced. On each point, even the Times, which has been consistently and scathingly critical of the Netanyahu government on Iran as well as every other possible issue, admits the Israelis generally have a good argument.

The Times admits that eliminating Iran’s centrifuges, closing down the impregnable mountainside facility at Fordow, and mandating inspections anytime and anywhere would be preferable to what President Obama has accepted.

On other points, the Times notes Israel’s objections, but disingenuously claims that the agreement satisfies them. One such is the question of the stockpile of enriched uranium that, contrary to the expectations of even critics of the administration’s negotiating strategy, will not be shipped out of Iran and will instead remain under the regime’s control. The Times says that this stockpile, like the continued operation of the thousands of centrifuges that will continue to operate, means that “Iran can’t enrich material for nuclear weapons.” But that is not true since the stockpile can be easily and quickly reconverted to use for nuclear fuel. So, too, can any centrifuges that are being reconfigured for other uses.

Elsewhere, the Times merely engages in wishful thinking. That is especially true in its reaction to the Israelis pointing out that Iran has continued to stonewall the International Atomic Energy Agency on its past research on military use of nuclear material. The fact that the deal does not require Iran to tell the truth about this is a fatal flaw since without knowing how much progress they’ve made, all estimates about the time needed for a nuclear “breakout” are uninformed guesses. To this point, the Times merely breezily pretends that the written final version of the agreement will ensure that Iran does open up on this issue.

That is nonsense, since Iran has already learned that when faced with a refusal in a negotiation, the Obama administration always folds. And that is the entire point of both the editorial and the cogent criticisms that have been made about the deal.

It is true that, as the Times states, negotiations require compromises. But if the goal of this agreement is to ensure that Iran doesn’t either cheat its way to a bomb, or, as is just as likely, get one by abiding by a pact whose restrictions will expire in 15 years, then compromise that allows either scenario to happen is counter-productive.

The administration and the Times claims that to insist on any of the Israeli points would be to scuttle the deal. But all that tells us is that, as has been evident since the start of the negotiations, President Obama’s main purpose was to get a deal at any price, not to insist on one that would fulfill his campaign promises about eliminating Iran’s nuclear program. To claim that a deal that would fit Israel’s parameters is “unworkable” is merely to cravenly accept Iran’s frame of reference about the nuclear issue.

The Israeli objections are a viable alternative because they provide a path to a deal that would actually fulfill the avowed purpose of the negotiations. An agreement that would impose inspections, reduce Iran’s nuclear infrastructure to a bare minimum, and remove all possibility of their ever breaking out would do just that. So, too, would one that wouldn’t expire in a few years which, given the huge nuclear establishment left in place, almost guarantees that the Islamist regime will be in possession of a bomb sooner or later.

The gap between Israel and the United States is not so much about the details but as to goals. The administration and its supporters have abandoned the quest to stop Iran or decided that it’s just too heavy a lift to keep trying. Israel and rational critics of the president in Congress understand that the alternative is to demand a good deal or to ratchet up sanctions and isolation that would force Iran to give way. It is true that in the absence of a leader with the intestinal fortitude to push the Iranians hard and to credibly threaten force, that may be impossible.

But the Times editorial shows us there is no substantive debate about the shortcomings of the deal with Iran. If even the president’s most ardent backers seem to understand that it is a flimsy check on Tehran even if they continue to describe it with meaningless laudatory phrases about it being “groundbreaking” and even having “potential” (a piece of unintended comedy if ever there was one), then how can open-minded observers take their defense of it seriously?

Supporters of the administration understand that their only real talking point is one that claims that even a weak deal is better than none at all. That is not a compelling argument about any issue and certainly not one that involves giving a vicious, aggressive anti-Semitic regime the status of a threshold nuclear power.

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Obama’s Right

Whenever Barack Obama says, as he often does, that another war in the Middle East is the only alternative to the deal he is making with Iran, his critics immediately accuse him of setting up a straw man, which indeed he also often does. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the sternest and most effective critic of Obama’s deal, declares that the true alternative to it is not war but “a better deal.” So, too, leading domestic opponents like Senators Lindsay Graham and Tom Cotton.

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Whenever Barack Obama says, as he often does, that another war in the Middle East is the only alternative to the deal he is making with Iran, his critics immediately accuse him of setting up a straw man, which indeed he also often does. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the sternest and most effective critic of Obama’s deal, declares that the true alternative to it is not war but “a better deal.” So, too, leading domestic opponents like Senators Lindsay Graham and Tom Cotton.

Now I consider the agreement Obama has negotiated a dishonorable and dangerous product of appeasement, and so it pains me to side with him against political figures I admire and generally support. Nevertheless, I have to confess that I think he is right in arguing that the only alternative to a deal is war.

By this I do not mean that war is the only alternative to Obama’s deal alone. What I mean is that war is the only alternative to any deal the Iranians would be willing to sign–if, that is, the purpose is really to prevent them from getting the bomb. Obama keeps insisting that this is what his deal will accomplish. But it seems increasingly clear that he no longer thinks, if he ever did, that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would be so dangerous that it must be prevented at all costs from getting them.

Up until a few years ago, there was hardly any dissent from this conviction. Yet while just about every political leader and pundit throughout the West agreed that the threat of military force had to be “kept on the table” in order for peaceful means to succeed, most of them were confident that a judicious combination of carrots and sticks would do the trick and that military force would never need to be taken off the table and actually used.

There was, however, a small minority–myself included–who contended that the Iranians were so determined to build a nuclear arsenal that nothing, not sanctions and not the chance (in Barack Obama’s words) to “get right with the world,” could ever induce them to give up their pursuit of it. And since we were convinced that negotiations could accomplish nothing but buy the Iranians more time to forge ahead, we also thought that the sooner we bombed their nuclear facilities the better.

We were fully aware that such a course was very risky. It would almost certainly trigger Iranian retaliation against our troops in the region and against Israel, and it might well lead to the dire economic consequences that Iran could let loose by blocking the flow of oil. Yet in our view all this was as nothing compared with the nuclear arms race that an Iranian bomb would set off throughout the Middle East.

Even worse, there was also the high probability that Iran–once possessed of the means to make good on their openly and repeatedly stated dream of “wiping Israel off the map”–would either provoke the Israelis into a preemptive nuclear strike or try to beat them to the punch with a preemptive nuclear strike of its own. Either way, the casualties and the destruction would reach unimaginable heights.

Our position was summed up in the slogan “the only thing worse than bombing Iran is letting Iran get the bomb.” And to those like President Obama who charged us with warmongering, our response was that the choice was not between a negotiated settlement and war. It was between a conventional war now and a nuclear war later.

As for the Obama deal, if its purpose were really to prevent the Iranians from getting the bomb, it would be a total failure, if only because it leaves their nuclear infrastructure intact and gives them plenty of room to cheat. But judging by deeds rather than words, it is reasonable to conclude that what Obama is trying to do is not to keep Iran from getting the bomb but to further his quest for a detente, or even a de facto alliance, with Iran. Already we see the foreshadowing of such an alliance in his willingness to cooperate with the Iranians in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and his reluctance to take any steps in the Middle East (against their ally Syria, for example) that might displease them.

At this point, the slogan that best applies comes from Winston Churchill’s devastating comment on Neville Chamberlain’s pact with Hitler at Munich in 1938: “You were given a choice between dishonor and war. You have chosen dishonor and now you will get war”–and this time a nuclear war at that. Unless, that is, the Israelis were to choose conventional war now over nuclear war later. My guess is that they will, but it is just as likely that Obama, despite his repeated assurances that he “has Israel’s back,” will stop them by threatening to withhold the diplomatic support and the resupply of lost weaponry they would need. In that case God help us all.

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