Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benjamin Netanyahu

AP Editor Flunks Middle East 101

Those of us who write about Middle East politics sometimes joke that the mainstream press is desperately in need of an introductory course on the subject. And now, thanks to the latest effort by the Associated Press, we’re forced to ask: What happens when reporters take Middle East 101–and fail? The AP’s Middle East editor this week tackled the burning question: “Is Israel democratic?” If you know anything at all about the country, you know that this question requires a one-word answer: Yes. The AP, however, thought it was an essay test. And what a disaster it was.

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Those of us who write about Middle East politics sometimes joke that the mainstream press is desperately in need of an introductory course on the subject. And now, thanks to the latest effort by the Associated Press, we’re forced to ask: What happens when reporters take Middle East 101–and fail? The AP’s Middle East editor this week tackled the burning question: “Is Israel democratic?” If you know anything at all about the country, you know that this question requires a one-word answer: Yes. The AP, however, thought it was an essay test. And what a disaster it was.

The full headline to AP editor Dan Perry’s piece is “AP Analysis: Is Israel democratic? Not so clear.” Such baldly false smears are part and parcel of the debate, of course. For some reason it’s considered acceptable practice to merely make up stuff about Israel and pass lies off as truth. It comes with the territory of being the world’s one Jewish state. But the timing here is interesting. All that’s really changed regarding Israel is President Obama’s public attitude toward it, in which his hostility toward the country and its people are being broadcast instead of denied.

The Associated Press seems to be taking its cue from the president, “reassessing” its public posture toward Israel, and facilitating team Obama in their efforts to change the narrative. But it also does consumers of news on the Middle East a favor: anyone who doesn’t know Israel is clearly a democracy is obviously not a reliable source on the subject.

The AP also shows how much hedging and spinning needs to be done to even try to paint Israel as less than a democracy. Perry begins by calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “hardliner”–a common term employed by anti-Israel activists but one which has no basis in reality. Painting Netanyahu as a “hardliner” is especially useful if you’re trying to undercut his democratic credentials, however.

As Perry builds his argument, he is first forced to acknowledge that he has no case:

The displeasure felt in some quarters over his win has placed front and center the world community’s unwritten obligation to accept the results of a truly democratic vote. It is a basic tenet of the modern order which has survived the occasional awkward election result — as well as recent decades’ emergence of some less-than-pristine democracies around the globe.

For Israel, the argument is especially piquant, because its claim to be the only true democracy in the Middle East has been key to its branding and its vitally important claim on U.S. military, diplomatic and financial support. Israel’s elections, from campaign rules to vote counts, are indeed not suspect.

He then follows, of course, with “But.” It’s the “occupation,” as would be expected, but even here the AP can only build its case by making flatly false statements–and again we come back to Perry failing Middle East 101. He includes all of the West Bank and Gaza in his “analysis,” and stacks the deck thus:

Of the Arabs, only a third have voting rights. These are the “Israeli Arabs” who live in the areas that became Israel in the 1948-49 war, which established the country’s borders.

Does Perry believe Israel exists? It’s hard to tell, thanks to the scare quotes around “Israeli Arabs.” In fact, they are Israeli Arabs by definition–they are Arab citizens of Israel. Additionally, the Israeli war of independence did not establish “the country’s borders.” As the agreements and communiqués and subsequent negotiations made clear, no one considered the 1949 armistice lines to be permanent borders. This was not, by the way, an invention of Israelis who wanted to expand their territory at will; it was the position of the Arab states who wanted to regroup and then try again to eradicate the entire Jewish state.

And that’s the key fact that people who choose to fabricate Israel’s supposed nondemocratic nature must get around. Perry does so by calling the lines “borders,” which they manifestly are not and aren’t considered to be. But it’s important that they’re not borders, because once you acknowledge that fact you are describing not occupied territory but disputed territory, at least as far as international law is concerned. And it becomes even more difficult to tell Jews they can’t live there simply because they are Jews.

Such inconvenient facts appear throughout the piece. Perry paints Israel as the obstacle to peace; “The supposedly temporary arrangement shows no sign of a change — at least not one initiated by Israel,” we’re told. And yet a few paragraphs later we read:

Israel annexed East Jerusalem, and its approximately 200,000 Arabs can have voting rights if they choose. Most have rejected it–whether out of solidarity with the idea of Palestine or for fear of future retribution.

Retribution from whom? Not the Jewish state that offered those Arabs full voting rights. Retribution, instead, from the Palestinian government that continues to be opposed to peace and coexistence with the Jews. Perry then criticizes the security arrangement that currently prevails in the Palestinian territories, but also tells us that “The arrangement is a relic of the 1990s interim accords, which were meant to be succeeded by a final agreement by 1999.” In other words, they were agreed to by the Palestinians, and are being upheld by Israel.

No such article would be complete without some misleading scaremongering about settlements, such as: “Another four years of a Netanyahu government can be expected to add many thousands more settlers, complicating the prospects of a future pullout even more.”

As Evelyn Gordon explained two weeks ago, construction in the settlements has seen a steep drop. Additionally, she wrote, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics “settlement construction throughout Benjamin Netanyahu’s six years as prime minister has been significantly lower than it was under his predecessors.” More importantly, the construction has tended to be “up, not out”–it’s in towns Israel would keep as part of any final-status agreement and not expanding the borders of those towns, and therefore would not “complicat[e] the prospects of a future pullout even more.”

In sum, Israel’s democracy is so strong that even attempts to challenge that status can’t avoid confirming it. The only thing we ended up learning was that Middle East 101 is far too advanced for the AP.

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Yes, Mr. President, Time to Stop Pretending About the Middle East Peace Process

If only he really meant it. During his joint press conference yesterday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, President Obama addressed the tension between the United States and Israel by saying that American policy toward the Middle East must be rooted in reality. The remark was yet another White House jab at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pre-election comments about not allowing a Palestinian state to be created on his watch. The president said that Netanyahu’s statement, even after he had walked it back after his election victory, had changed the reality of the region and that the U.S. can’t base future strategy on events that couldn’t happen. Fair enough. But what the president failed to note was that this is exactly what he has been doing throughout his presidency with respect to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

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If only he really meant it. During his joint press conference yesterday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, President Obama addressed the tension between the United States and Israel by saying that American policy toward the Middle East must be rooted in reality. The remark was yet another White House jab at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pre-election comments about not allowing a Palestinian state to be created on his watch. The president said that Netanyahu’s statement, even after he had walked it back after his election victory, had changed the reality of the region and that the U.S. can’t base future strategy on events that couldn’t happen. Fair enough. But what the president failed to note was that this is exactly what he has been doing throughout his presidency with respect to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The president’s latest shot over Netanyahu’s bow was not meant to be subtle:

I am required to evaluate honestly how we manage Israeli-Palestinian relations over the next several years.  … What we can’t do is to pretend there’s a possibility of something that’s not there. And we can’t continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen at least in the next several years.  That is something that we have to, for the sake of our own credibility; I think we have to be able to be honest about that.

The unspoken threat there—made more explicit in comments leaked to the press by officials speaking without direct attribution—was that the U.S. would reevaluate its willingness to stand up for Israel at the United Nations and other international forums. By making it clear that he doesn’t believe the two-state solution is possible in the foreseeable future, Netanyahu had not merely offended Obama but gave him the opportunity to fundamentally change U.S. policy in a way that would tilt it even more toward the Palestinians and against the Jewish state.

The justification for such a switch will be to head off what Obama called the possibility of complications from Netanyahu’s candor:

That may trigger, then, reactions by the Palestinians that, in turn, elicit counter-reactions by the Israelis.  And that could end up leading to a downward spiral of relations that will be dangerous for everybody and bad for everybody.

That means Obama believes he must address Palestinian distress at Netanyahu’s foreclosing the possibility of their getting an independent state. The president is right about the possibility of a surge in violence, but not about its cause.

There’s not much secret that Obama’s reaction to Netanyahu’s statements stems largely from his anger about the prime minister’s decisive victory, coming as it did after he spoke to Congress in opposition to the president’s push for a dangerous nuclear deal with Iran. But the problem here is not so much the way the Israeli election demonstrated again what a sore loser the president can be. Rather, it is his determination to distort the facts about the conflict to conform to his pre-existing prejudices about both Israel and Netanyahu that makes his reaction so egregious. It is exactly his fixation on peace hinging on Israel’s acceptance of two states that is so inaccurate.

As we’ve noted here too many times to count, the obstacle to a two-state solution has never been Israel’s unwillingness to embrace it. Israeli governments offered the Palestinians statehood and independence in Gaza, a share of Jerusalem, and almost all of the West Bank three times between 2000 and 2008. They were turned down each time. And in spite of what Netanyahu said last week, he accepted the U.S. framework for talks offered by Secretary of State John Kerry and sent his rival Tzipi Livni to work with the Palestinians in talks that even she admitted were blown up by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s unwillingness to negotiate in good faith.

The roadblock to a two-state solution today is the same one that existed when Obama entered office in 2009: the inability of the Palestinian leadership to accept any agreement that would force them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. With Hamas running an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza and his own Fatah still committed to Israel’s eventual destruction, Abbas can’t make peace even if he wanted to do so.

The people of Israel understand this, and that is the reason why the parties of the left have been discredited by the failure of Oslo and the catastrophe of the withdrawal from Gaza that both illustrated that what they had done was to trade land for terror, not peace. Netanyahu’s election victories in 2009, 2013, and this month can be directly traced to the fact that Israelis have done exactly what Obama says he will now do: stop basing their country’s foreign policy on things that can’t happen. They know a two-state solution isn’t possible because they want it while the Palestinians continue to reject it.

Even worse, they also know that Palestinian violence is not a manifestation of frustration with Israel so much as it is based in the ideology of their national movement and indications that the West might abandon the Jewish state. If Hamas is getting ready for another war, as some think possible, it is due to their sense that Obama will leave Israel on its own, not because of Netanyahu’s statements.

If the president were truly interested in a reality-based strategy he would stop pushing the Israelis to do something that even Netanyahu knows most would embrace if it brought a chance for true peace. Instead, he should let the Palestinians know that he will only invest more U.S. effort in the peace process if they give up their century-long quest for Israel’s destruction.

But Obama, who before he was elected spoke about his antipathy for Netanyahu’s Likud and entered office under the delusion that the problem was too much closeness between the U.S. and Israel, is still fixated on Israel. He’s badly in need of a reality check, but if this last week is any indication, he’s just as reluctant to accept his own advice about not basing policy on fantasies as he has ever been.

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Obama’s Pointless Israel Spats Illustrate Spite, Not Strategy

A week has now passed since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected in a decisive win that deeply disappointed the Obama administration that made no secret of its desire that he be defeated. But rather than cut its losses, the White House continues to dig itself in deeper in a conflict with the Israelis with an interview in which President Obama expressed concern for the future of Israeli democracy all the while making it clear that he would like to invalidate the verdict of Israeli voters. But that was not all. The president also sent his chief of staff to speak at the conference of the left-wing J Street lobby. There, James McDonough brought an audience of critics of Israel to its feet by vowing that the U.S. would not cease its efforts to force the Netanyahu government to “end 50 years of occupation.” All of this stoking the fires of conflict forces us to ask why the president is so invested in this effort. The answer isn’t reassuring, especially for those who wanted to believe the president’s 2012 re-election pitch that claimed he was a true friend of Israel.

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A week has now passed since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected in a decisive win that deeply disappointed the Obama administration that made no secret of its desire that he be defeated. But rather than cut its losses, the White House continues to dig itself in deeper in a conflict with the Israelis with an interview in which President Obama expressed concern for the future of Israeli democracy all the while making it clear that he would like to invalidate the verdict of Israeli voters. But that was not all. The president also sent his chief of staff to speak at the conference of the left-wing J Street lobby. There, James McDonough brought an audience of critics of Israel to its feet by vowing that the U.S. would not cease its efforts to force the Netanyahu government to “end 50 years of occupation.” All of this stoking the fires of conflict forces us to ask why the president is so invested in this effort. The answer isn’t reassuring, especially for those who wanted to believe the president’s 2012 re-election pitch that claimed he was a true friend of Israel.

As I noted yesterday, one motive for the conflict with Israel is the disagreement over the Iran nuclear negotiations. The president clearly is not willing to get past his anger about Netanyahu speaking to Congress in opposition to the deal that the U.S. is offering the Iranian regime. With the talks moving into their final stages, it seems likely that Iran will sign an accord, especially since, that country’s so-called “hard-liners” appear to be thrilled with the concessions that their nation has forced out of an Obama administration so fixated on its goal of détente with the Islamist regime that it is willing to retreat from every principle it went into the talks to defend.

Suppressing criticism of the deal has become the top foreign policy priority for the White House and that means keeping the extravagant concessions made to Iran secret for as long as possible. As our Max Boot noted earlier, the administration bizarrely claimed today that Israel was spying on U.S. negotiators with Iran and sharing the information with an entity that the president considers a hostile power — Congress — while admitting that it knows this is true because of U.S. spying on Israel.

But while the nuclear issue and Obama’s acquiescence to Iran’s quest for regional hegemony is a huge part of the current tangle with Israel, that does not completely account for the administration’s bold talk about reviving the dead-in-the-water peace process.

This has, after all, been a constant theme since the president took office in January 2009 determined to make a correction from what he felt was the Bush administration’s coziness with Israel. Throughout the last six years, with only a one-year break for a re-election campaign Jewish charm offensive, President Obama has picked numerous fights with Netanyahu government over settlement building and borders as well as the status of Jerusalem. The goal throughout has been to persuade Israel to take “risks for peace” involving retreating from the West Bank and dividing Jerusalem.

This struggle has been undertaken in the name of saving Israel from itself because as the president noted in his Huffington Post interview, he wanted to preserve Israel’s democracy. But, like his admirers among the crowd at J Street, at no point has the president chosen to hold the Palestinians accountable for their consistent rejection of Israeli peace offers or efforts to torpedo talks, such as the end run around negotiations and unity pact with Hamas that blew up the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry last year.

Nor is there any answer to the widespread concern voiced by Israeli voters about what would happen if their country heeded Obama’s advice and withdrew from the West Bank, whether to the 1967 lines or not. After the example of Gaza, from which Israeli pulled out every last soldier and settler and which was then transformed into a vast terror base from which rockets are rained down on Israeli cities, why should Israelis believe a pullout from the West Bank end any differently.

Moreover, when McDonough speaks of “ending occupation,” Palestinians hear something very different from Americans. When Fatah and Hamas talk about occupation they are referring not just to parts of the West Bank that even most Israelis would happily exit in exchange for true peace, but all of the country, including those parts that were not taken in the 1967 war. When such a high official uses language that is routinely employed by Hamas, albeit for different purposes, why should anyone be surprised if those terrorists regard the White House temper tantrum as a green light for a repeat of last summer’s bloody and pointless war? If Obama was prepared to cut off arms resupply for the Israeli army during that conflict, what might he do next time?

One may disagree with Netanyahu on many things and even fervently advocate for a two-state solution and still understand that White House pressure on Israel about the Palestinians in the absence of any sign that the PA will ever make peace on any terms is utterly irresponsible. Until PA leader Mahmoud Abbas or his Hamas rivals have change their minds about refusing to agree to any deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, a return to the table isn’t merely pointless, it’s an invitation to more mayhem as the Palestinians raise the ante in hopes that the U.S. will abandon its Israeli ally.

From January 2009 to the present, the conflict between Israel and the United States has never been connected to any real chance of peace or ending the conflict in a manner that is consistent with American pledges about ensuring the Jewish state’s security. At this point, it is time for even those that have rationalized and apologized for Obama’s penchant for attacking Israel to face up to the fact that his behavior requires a better explanation than an alleged desire to save it from itself. Nor is the argument about Iran enough to justify what we are witnessing. Nothing about the current argument can be traced to U.S. security needs. Rather, its motive seems more about personal anger and vague ideological assumptions about Israel and the Palestinians that have no connection to reality.

That is a sobering thought that should motivate even those Democrats who are no fans of Netanyahu to begin speaking up against an administration policy that seems rooted in spite, not strategy.

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Spies Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones

The Wall Street Journal rattled some teacups with its article today claiming that Israel is spying on the American team negotiating with Iran and sharing the results with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It should be noted that in the article itself Israeli officials deny that they were spying on the U.S.; they say they got their information from spying on the Iranians and from information freely shared with them by the French, who are more interested in keeping the Israelis informed than the Americans are. Whether the Israeli defense is true or not I don’t know. But either way there is nothing particularly shocking going on here.

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The Wall Street Journal rattled some teacups with its article today claiming that Israel is spying on the American team negotiating with Iran and sharing the results with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It should be noted that in the article itself Israeli officials deny that they were spying on the U.S.; they say they got their information from spying on the Iranians and from information freely shared with them by the French, who are more interested in keeping the Israelis informed than the Americans are. Whether the Israeli defense is true or not I don’t know. But either way there is nothing particularly shocking going on here.

As a general matter, let us stipulate that allies should minimize the extent to which they spy on each other, if only because such revelations can be embarrassing and damaging. But the reality is that almost everyone does it. The only notable exception I’m aware of is the “Five Eyes”—the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada—which have been closely cooperating in intelligence matters since World War II. The U.S. certainly spies on allies such as France and Germany, as we discovered from Edward Snowden’s leaks.  And they spy on us.

For that matter the U.S. also spies on Israel. In fact it was through such spying that Israel discovered the alleged Israeli spying. As the Journal notes: “The White House discovered the [Israeli] operation, in fact, when U.S. intelligence agencies spying on Israel intercepted communications among Israeli officials that carried details the U.S. believed could have come only from access to the confidential talks, officials briefed on the matter said.”

So U.S. officials are in no position to be pointing fingers at Israel. If the Journal account is to be believed, the administration is less upset by the Israeli espionage than by the Israelis sharing what they discovered with legislators: “The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.”

Let me get this straight: The administration believes that it must at all costs keep not only close allies such as Israel in the dark about the negotiations but also lawmakers who have a duty to ratify treaties. The only grounds I can see for the administration stance is that Obama is preparing to reach a generous deal with Iran that he knows will upset lawmakers and allies, and he is trying to keep the terms a secret until it is a fait accompli in the hopes of ramming it through using executive prerogative alone. This is well within the president’s power to do but it is hardly a wise way to proceed with such a momentous agreement.

One suspects that the Israeli espionage may have leaked out now for the same reason that the administration insists on pummeling Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly in public: as a way to delegitimize the Israeli position (which also happens to be the majority position of both houses of Congress) in the Iran debate. This is a dangerous game that Obama is playing. At stake is nothing less than Israel’s security as well as that of other American allies located near Iran—to say nothing of US interests in the region.

Is Israel supposed to sit blind, deaf, and dumb while this is going on? While it would be better if Israel didn’t feel compelled to spy on the U.S. (just as it would be better if the US didn’t feel compelled to spy on Israel), this is not an instance such as the Jonathan Pollard case, which was just stupid spying, disrupting the alliance for no good reason. (Pollard was providing “nice to have” information not “must have” information.) This is a matter of survival for the Jewish State. So, while Netanyahu has made some missteps in his dealing with Obama, such as challenging his negotiating position before Congress, this is an instance where Israeli actions are understandable: If the U.S. refuses to share what could be life or death information with Israel, the Jewish State will get its information however it can. If it were put in a similar position, the U.S. or any other nation would act in the same way.

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Obama Pursuing His Ideological Ambition to Weaken Israel

Why do the president and his advisers, when given the choice of how to interpret Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about a Palestinian state, choose the one that heightens tensions with Israel? Why the constant refrain that “We cannot pretend those comments were never made”? Why the inability to get over the fact that Netanyahu won (and in important respects Obama lost) the Israeli election? Why not move to repair relations?

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Why do the president and his advisers, when given the choice of how to interpret Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments about a Palestinian state, choose the one that heightens tensions with Israel? Why the constant refrain that “We cannot pretend those comments were never made”? Why the inability to get over the fact that Netanyahu won (and in important respects Obama lost) the Israeli election? Why not move to repair relations?

Part of the answer is undoubtedly the personal pettiness of Mr. Obama and his apparently unquenchable hated for the Israeli prime minister. But something more, something deeper, is going on here, too.

The president is using Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments to achieve an end he has clearly wanted all along: the weakening of the Jewish state. Mr. Obama is the product of a progressive milieu, including in the academy, where hostility to Israel is widespread.

As president, there have been constraints on how much Mr. Obama could do to undermine Israel. But the president has seized upon comments by Mr. Netanyahu leading up to the Israeli election to advance his agenda – in this case, considering reversing decades of U.S. policy by turning to the United Nations to impose a two-state solution. (This is only one piece in a much larger puzzle.)

For Mr. Obama, the comments by the Israeli prime minister were less an offense than an opportunity – and opportunity, in the president’s mind, to put Israel in its place. This explains the unprecedented and unceasing attacks aimed at Mr. Netanyahu. The president and his White House are galvanized as never before; they are on a mission.

The fact that the mission itself is terribly misguided and pernicious doesn’t seem to slow the president down one bit. He is a man in a hurry. And people who are in a hurry often act recklessly.

Mr. Obama is in the grip of a temper tantrum to be sure. But to focus on that, rather than the ideological project behind his actions, is to miss the full picture. Barack Obama is using the last few years of his presidency to further his left-wing ambitions in all sorts of ways, including inflicting massive damage on our relations with America’s most reliable ally and one of the most estimable nations on earth.

For those of us who love America and Israel, this is a sad and shameful period. It’s one that will thankfully pass — but between now and then, great and unnecessary harm is being done.

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Worry About Iran, Not Israeli Democracy

The White House temper tantrum about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisive re-election win isn’t quite over. Though the president finally forced himself to call to congratulate the prime minister, the conversation appears to have been more of a lecture from the president about peace process and the supposed threat to Israeli democracy. In doing so, Obama, who discussed the call with the Huffington Post, is attempting to set the tone for U.S.-Israel relations until he leaves office. His threats about abandoning Israel at the United Nations and exerting brutal pressure on it to make concessions to the Palestinians are going to be presented as an attempt to save Israel from itself and in so doing preserve its democracy. That’s a clever tactic meant to disarm his critics, but the president’s assumptions about Israeli society are not only incorrect, they are a diversionary tactic meant to distract us from Obama’s real foreign policy priority these days: détente with Iran. Far from defending Israeli democracy, his goal is to overturn its verdict.

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The White House temper tantrum about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisive re-election win isn’t quite over. Though the president finally forced himself to call to congratulate the prime minister, the conversation appears to have been more of a lecture from the president about peace process and the supposed threat to Israeli democracy. In doing so, Obama, who discussed the call with the Huffington Post, is attempting to set the tone for U.S.-Israel relations until he leaves office. His threats about abandoning Israel at the United Nations and exerting brutal pressure on it to make concessions to the Palestinians are going to be presented as an attempt to save Israel from itself and in so doing preserve its democracy. That’s a clever tactic meant to disarm his critics, but the president’s assumptions about Israeli society are not only incorrect, they are a diversionary tactic meant to distract us from Obama’s real foreign policy priority these days: détente with Iran. Far from defending Israeli democracy, his goal is to overturn its verdict.

The president’s concerns about Netanyahu’s pre-election vow about not allowing the creation of a Palestinian state on his watch are presentable as a reasonable defense of what even most Israelis think is the ideal solution to their country’s conflict with the Arab world. But the reason why a clear majority of Israelis supported Netanyahu and parties likely to back him was that few of them outside of the far left believe there is any reasonable hope for a two-state solution in the foreseeable future. They weren’t convinced of the danger of further territorial concessions by Netanyahu’s rhetoric but by the actions of the Palestinians and the culture of hatred for Israel and Jews that pervades their society.

The president treats the repeated rejections of Israeli offers of statehood by the Palestinians and the support for terrorism even by the supposedly moderate leaders of the Palestinian Authority as irrelevant. Israelis do not. Nor are they interested in replicating what happened in Gaza after Israel’s 2005 withdrawal — which now constitutes an independent Palestinian state in all but name and a massive base for terrorism — in the more strategic West Bank. That’s an opinion shared even by many of those who supported Netanyahu’s opponents. Until a sea change in Palestinian politics that will allow its leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn occurs, Israelis will reject two states in practice rather than in principle and no amount of White House bullying will change that.

But Obama’s concerns for Israeli democracy have more resonance than his promotion of a peace process that everyone knows is dead in the water. Netanyahu’s foolish remarks about wanting his base to turn out to balance the votes of Israeli Arabs is being used to present him as not only a racist but a threat to his country’s survival. But the huffing and puffing, especially from liberal Jews, many of whom, like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who generally only trot out their religious credentials to bash Israel, tells us less about Israel than about the ignorance about the Jewish state that prevails among much of the American chattering classes that are following the president’s lead.

Whatever one may think about Netanyahu and his overheated campaign rhetoric, his comments about Arab votes simply reflected the reality of a democratic system that remains under assault from both within and without. No one in the government attempted to obstruct the efforts of Israeli Arabs to vote. Nor were their votes stolen. The rights of those Arab voters who backed the Joint Arab List that won 13 seats last week (many Arabs vote for mainstream Israeli parties, some of whom including the Likud have Arab Knesset members) were not violated. If they are marginalized, as some claim, it is not because Netanyahu and his voters are racist but because they support the Palestinian war on the Jewish state. The goals of those elected on that list have somehow not penetrated to the consciousness of many Americans that are so concerned about them. The list is an alliance of three parties, one Communist, one Islamist and radical Arab nationalist, that differ on just about everything but not the destruction of Israel. That is something they all support. The Islamists and the nationalists also support terrorism against the state they are elected to serve in the Knesset. Is it any wonder that Israelis worry about the rise of such a list or that Netanyahu would urge them not to let it determine the outcome of the elections by themselves turning out in big numbers as they did?

What Obama and other critics of Netanyahu want is not to preserve Israel’s democratic system that is not under attack from the Likud but to punish the voters for choosing a party and a candidate that contradicts their ignorant assumptions about the Middle East. Israel’s leftists can’t seem to persuade voters to back them but they have convinced some Americans that the right of the majority of Israelis to determine their nation’s fate should be superseded by a U.S. president that has little affection for them.

More to the point, the more Obama and his liberal cheering section in the press pour on the opprobrium on Netanyahu, the less attention we’re paying to the Iran talks that are reportedly moving toward a conclusion in Switzerland. Almost by default, Netanyahu has become the most articulate opponent of the administration’s embrace of détente with an Iranian regime that even Obama concedes continues to spew anti-Semitism and threats about Israel’s destruction. Selling an Iran deal that, at best, grants the Islamist regime the status of threshold nuclear power now seems to require Netanyahu’s delegitimization rather more than desultory efforts to justify an indefensible surrender of U.S. principles and Obama’s campaign promise. Those who play along with this ruse out of a misguided belief that Israeli democracy is in danger are helping the president isolate the Jewish state, not defending it.

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Will Democrats Challenge Obama on Israel?

During the weeks leading up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Iran, the White House orchestrated a media campaign to persuade Democrats that the speech was an effort to inject partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship. Though Netanyahu was foolish to walk into that trap, the charge was somewhat misleading since it was President Obama who used this as a wedge to break up an otherwise solid bipartisan consensus in favor of more sanctions on Iran. But now that the administration is threatening to isolate Israel in the wake of Netanyahu’s re-election victory, the question arises whether the president’s efforts to rally Democrats behind him on Iran will stop them from criticizing his decision to increase tensions with the Jewish state. The answer to that question will tell us whether the Democrats, once a wall-to-wall stronghold of pro-Israel sentiment, have been sufficiently influenced by the president’s stands to the point where he needn’t worry about any significant pushback about his threats from within his party or its likely next presidential candidate.

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During the weeks leading up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress on Iran, the White House orchestrated a media campaign to persuade Democrats that the speech was an effort to inject partisanship into the U.S.-Israel relationship. Though Netanyahu was foolish to walk into that trap, the charge was somewhat misleading since it was President Obama who used this as a wedge to break up an otherwise solid bipartisan consensus in favor of more sanctions on Iran. But now that the administration is threatening to isolate Israel in the wake of Netanyahu’s re-election victory, the question arises whether the president’s efforts to rally Democrats behind him on Iran will stop them from criticizing his decision to increase tensions with the Jewish state. The answer to that question will tell us whether the Democrats, once a wall-to-wall stronghold of pro-Israel sentiment, have been sufficiently influenced by the president’s stands to the point where he needn’t worry about any significant pushback about his threats from within his party or its likely next presidential candidate.

In the past few days, the White House temper tantrum about its least favorite foreign leader’s stunning election victory has escalated from mere petulance at the setback to threats about acquiescing or supporting resolutions at the United Nations Security Council. That changes the dynamic about the debate over Israel in a fundamental way.

Throughout the first six years of the Obama presidency it was possible for Democrats to claim with varying success that the administration had not undermined the alliance with Israel. But in the last two years, the president has become increasingly belligerent toward America’s sole democratic ally in the Middle East. He wrongly blamed Netanyahu for the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative even though it had been the Palestinians who blew up the talks by making an end run around the negotiations to the United Nations and by signing a unity pact with Hamas. The White House not only unfairly criticized Israel for its measures of self-defense during last year’s war against Hamas but also cut off the resupply of ammunition to the Israel Defense Forces during the fighting.

Yet that was just a foretaste of the bitterness that would come as the president violated his campaign pledges and began an effort to appease Iran that would allow it to keep its nuclear program. If Netanyahu’s Iran speech was the last straw for Obama, the president’s anger about the prime minister’s re-election sent him over the edge. Using Netanyahu’s statements about his unwillingness to create a Palestinian state under the current circumstances, the White House is now openly threatening to “re-evaluate” its approach to the peace process. But by that they don’t mean re-thinking Obama’s obsessive blaming of Israel and absolving the Palestinians of all responsibility for their decisions that have made peace impossible. Instead, they seem to be indicating that in the final two years of the Obama presidency with no need to bow to political pressures, the president will finally be able to vent his hostility to Netanyahu and begin a process of brutal pressure designed to thwart the will of the Israeli electorate and force the country into dangerous concessions even as he barters its security in order to create a new détente with Iran.

At this point it would seem incumbent on leaders of the Democratic Party to speak up to restrain the president from carrying out these threats. Though many of them don’t like Netanyahu and also resent the obvious closeness between the prime minister and some Republican leaders, their complaints about partisanship infecting the U.S.-Israel relationship have become self-fulfilling prophecies. With polls showing a distinct split between the parties in which Republicans are clearly more likely to be strongly supportive of Israel than the Democrats, the Obama-Netanyahu spat has become the wedge by which elements of the anti-Israel left have been able to assert with some justice that they are making inroads against the heretofore bi-partisan pro-Israel consensus.

Particular focus will fall on Hillary Clinton as she prepares for her coronation as the Democrats’ 2016 presidential campaign. In the past she has veered between strident criticism of Israel (a point that was emphasized during her four years as Obama’s secretary of state) and returning to the sort of standard pro-Israel rhetoric that was part of her persona as a senator from New York from 2000 to 2008. Clinton would like to continue to claim that she is strong supporter of Israel without the distraction of having to take a stand on Obama’s actions. But the statements from the White House may have made that impossible.

The bottom line is that neither Clinton nor any other leading Democrat can pretend that their backing for Israel cannot be questioned if they stay silent about Obama’s threats. Even worse, were they to equivocate or back the president as he isolates Israel at the United Nations or cuts back on military aid — a stance that is sure to tempt Hamas or Iran’s ally Hezbollah to resume rocket attacks and other forms of terrorism — it would place them outside the pro-Israel consensus that they have long claimed to uphold.

It’s one thing for them to blame Netanyahu for supposedly being too close to Republicans. It is quite another for Democrats to assert that they can be neutral about an administration that is seeking to isolate Israel while simultaneously embracing a vicious anti-Semitic Iranian regime that continues to threaten the Jewish state with annihilation.

Though there is a growing constituency on the left that is hoping to legitimize anti-Israel stands, including support for boycotts and divestment as well as pressure on the Jewish state to bow to Palestinian demands that have been rejected by the Israeli people at the ballot box, Clinton is making a mistake if she thinks she can avoid having to choose between the pro-Israel community and Obama’s stands. The same applies to other Democrats. If Obama doesn’t step back from the brink, Democrats must decide whether they wish to truly abandon support for Israel to the Republicans or if they are prepared to openly fight a president who appears on the brink of trashing an alliance still supported by the majority of Americans.

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The Crisis Has Exploded

Today, the president of the United States told the prime minister of Israel he was reassessing America’s “options” with regard to Israel in light of remarks Benjamin Netanyahu made about potential Palestinian statehood and an election-day Facebook post urging Israeli right-wingers to go to the polls on Monday to counter a surge in Israeli Arab voters.

The crisis in the relationship we discuss in our new editorial statement has entered a new and potentially unprecedented phase.

It may well be that the president is going to present American Jews with a choice over the coming months no American president should ask us to make—to become parties to and participants in his effort to create what, in 2009, he called “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel.

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Today, the president of the United States told the prime minister of Israel he was reassessing America’s “options” with regard to Israel in light of remarks Benjamin Netanyahu made about potential Palestinian statehood and an election-day Facebook post urging Israeli right-wingers to go to the polls on Monday to counter a surge in Israeli Arab voters.

The crisis in the relationship we discuss in our new editorial statement has entered a new and potentially unprecedented phase.

It may well be that the president is going to present American Jews with a choice over the coming months no American president should ask us to make—to become parties to and participants in his effort to create what, in 2009, he called “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel.

First, to the two-state issue. There’s simply no question Netanyahu was willfully and purposefully misunderstood late last week when hostile reporters announced he had withdrawn his support for a two-state solution. That was not true. What he said was this: “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to radical Islam against the state of Israel.” The key word is “today.” Today. He did not say never. He said such a state was impossible today, and that is simply a statement of fact. So when, in a television interview this afternoon, he told Andrea Mitchell that yes, he believed in the two-state solution, he was saying nothing new. Any minimally fair interpretation of Netanyahu’s remarks makes that clear. We are told Netanyahu reiterated the point in the phone call with the president, and that he was told Obama didn’t believe him.

[UPDATE: In response to this piece, some have claimed I distorted Netanyahu’s view because he replied “indeed” when an interviewer asked whether he was saying there would be no Palestinian state during his premiership. But that “indeed” is entirely of a piece with the “today” comment—one can support the two-state solution as the only theoretical answer to the problem and still be pretty sure no such solution is in the cards for another four years. It was the Palestinians who walked away from the table in 2013, not Israel; and Gaza’s ruling Hamas party wasn’t even involved in the talks. Netanyahu’s own stated principles for a Palestinian state—that it renounce terror, recognize the Jewish state as a Jewish, forego the so-called “right of return”—would have been the basis for any negotiation, even by the Center-Left coalition, and the Palestinians are so far away from any such acknowledgments the issue of statehood was barely raised during the Israeli election campaign.]

The fact that the president is using the twisting of Netanyahu’s words as one basis for a reassessment of the relationship is the purest evidence yet of his hanging-judge cast of mind when it comes to Israel and its prime minister. He is looking for any excuse to come down hard on the foreign politician Obama loathes the most—and to create that “daylight” for which he is so eager.

Now to the question of Arab voters. Let me stipulate for the purposes of this discussion that the Facebook post was a terrible mistake, since it has had deleterious consequences and was entirely unnecessary. It came only a few hours before the polls closed and, as we now know, the size of Likud’s victory on Monday was so decisive nothing Bibi said so late could have done much to boost Likud’s enormous 200,000 margin over the second-place Zionist Union coalition. Let me stipulate as well that concerned American Jews have every right to feel what Likud did was wrong, although I think it is important to note no effort was made to suppress a single Arab vote but rather to frighten potential Likud voters with the prospect of a strong showing by the state’s non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Arab parties—to get them not to waste a vote on a smaller right-wing party but to go with Bibi instead.

But fine. If you want to hate what Netanyahu said, hate it. Here’s the thing: How the prime minister of Israel talks about Israeli citizens who possess equal rights under the law and have their own means of redress under the law if they are mistreated should have no basis whatever in the “assessment” of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel. The president has spent years making very nice patter with Turkey’s Erdogan and other foreign leaders whose treatment of minorities do not deserve mention alongside Israel’s and whose suffering small sub-populations have no means of achieving redress.

So even those who are furious with Netanyahu should really take a breath and a close look and consider this point carefully: The Arab-vote business is a pretext. American presidents, this one especially, typically do not revisit special strategic relationships based on election-day maneuvers in a democracy, however unpleasant they might find them. In my view, Obama is hoping once again to use liberal Jewish disaffection in the United States with Netanyahu as a wedge to give him space to make a major policy pivot from the special relationship—one for which he has hungered since he came into office.

Hovering over and above and behind all this is, of course, the negotiation with Iran—and Netanyahu’s standing to criticize it as the most influential foreign leader outside the United States with a view of it. Pummelling Bibi now and compelling him to take whatever steps he can to mollify the president before Obama announces he will accede to moves against Israel in various international fora has the added advantage to the president of raising the stakes on further Netanyahu criticism of an Iran deal to a level Bibi may not be willing to risk.

We may be hard upon a great moment of testing for American Jews. Are they going to fall for this? Are they going to allow themselves to be used as a wedge against Israel in hostile territory like the United Nations? Are they going to provide more ammunition to the president and his effort to still his critics only weeks before the United States might be announcing its acquiescence to the gravest existential threat the Jewish people have faced since the Holocaust?

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Two States: In Principle? Yes. Now? No.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement today claiming that he still favors a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians isn’t likely to persuade his detractors that he wants peace. The day before his decisive victory in Tuesday’s election, he vowed that there would be no Palestinian state established on his watch. This provoked a torrent of international criticism and served as justification for Obama administration threats to abandon Israel at the United Nations. But while Netanyahu can certainly be accused with some justice of being a cynical flip-flopper, this episode doesn’t justify the claims that Israel wasn’t negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians during the past few years. Nor is it entirely illogical. In fact, the two statements show that Netanyahu is very much in tune with the views of most Israelis. They support a two-state solution with the Palestinians in principle. But they also know that isn’t a realistic option under the current circumstances.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement today claiming that he still favors a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians isn’t likely to persuade his detractors that he wants peace. The day before his decisive victory in Tuesday’s election, he vowed that there would be no Palestinian state established on his watch. This provoked a torrent of international criticism and served as justification for Obama administration threats to abandon Israel at the United Nations. But while Netanyahu can certainly be accused with some justice of being a cynical flip-flopper, this episode doesn’t justify the claims that Israel wasn’t negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians during the past few years. Nor is it entirely illogical. In fact, the two statements show that Netanyahu is very much in tune with the views of most Israelis. They support a two-state solution with the Palestinians in principle. But they also know that isn’t a realistic option under the current circumstances.

Let’s concede that Netanyahu’s comments about not allowing the creation of a Palestinian state while he was prime minister was a brazen attempt to lure voters away from right-wing allies in order to boost his Likud Party totals. But whether this was necessary or not, it must be accepted that it helped him and that it was not unfair of critics to conclude that he was retracting his 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech in which he accepted a two-states as the basis for peace. But his subsequent effort in an interview with NBC’s Andrew Mitchell to claim that he still favors such a solution is, while seemingly inconsistent, actually correct.

Whatever he may have said on Monday, the left’s talking point about the campaign proving that Netanyahu had been lying for six years doesn’t hold water. Whether you like the prime minister or loathe him, the fact remains that Netanyahu did freeze settlement building at President Obama’s behest. He also sent his recent electoral opponent Tzipi Livni to negotiate peace with Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas. As we now know, documents have revealed that he went a long way toward accommodating Kerry’s ideas for a framework during those talks and even Livni concedes that it was Abbas who torpedoed them by never negotiating in good faith. Had Abbas been serious about a two state solution at any point during the last six years he could have said he was willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state but he refused to do so no matter where its borders might be drawn. He also continued to assert that he could never give up the right of return for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. Both stands are reflective of the fact that Palestinian nationalism has always been inextricably tied to the war on Zionism. Assuming he wanted to, Abbas is incapable of abandoning these stands and surviving. Hamas has no interest in such a scenario.

Moreover, Palestinian actions during the last 20 years of peace processing have convinced the overwhelming majority of Israeli voters, including many who voted for Netanyahu’s opponents, that neither Abbas nor his Hamas rivals ruling in Gaza have any interest in signing a peace agreement that will end the conflict for all time. Even if you want to ignore what happened in the 1990s when Yasir Arafat was running the Palestinian Authority and it set out on a course of fomenting hatred and subsidizing terrorism, Abbas’s record is not better. In 2008, he rejected Ehud Olmert’s offer of independence and a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem just as Arafat had done in 2000 and 2001. Even worse, after Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, the strip has become an independent Palestinian state in all but name and transformed into a base for terrorism by its Hamas rulers.

Under those circumstances and with the PA refusing to hold elections about of fear that the corrupt kleptocracy that runs the West Bank might be replaced by their Islamist rivals, it’s little wonder most Israeli voters think Netanyahu was right when he warned that two states now meant another Hamasistan next to the Jewish state’s population centers.

A two state solution in which a demilitarized Palestinian state lives peacefully next to Israel with both Jews and Arabs free to live unmolested on either side of the border is the ideal solution to the conflict. But until a sea change in the Palestinian political culture happens to make that an actual possibility rather than merely a fantasy, no rational Israeli government would consent to a complete withdrawal from the territory.

Is it possible to oppose a two-state solution under the current circumstances but to be for it in principle? Netanyahu’s detractors would argue that it isn’t. What’s more they claim that his vow and his “Hamasistan” comments show that he merely wants to preserve the status quo.

But this reflects the basic myth that has been the foundation of the mistaken policies pursued by the Obama administration. Like some on the Jewish left, they’ve wrongly assumed that the only thing that is missing for peace to become a reality is a willingness on Israel’s part to take risks to achieve it. But Israel has been taking such risks for 20 years and has discovered that it traded land for terror, not peace. That realization has rendered the Israeli left unelectable and given Netanyahu a fourth term in office. Even if Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union had beaten the Likud on Tuesday, he was no more likely to create a Palestinian state than Netanyahu.

It’s long past time for the United States to stop pretending that Palestinian intransigence and terror are the real obstacles to peace. Peace will happen when the Palestinians decide they are ready for a two state solution that has always been favored more by Israelis than Arabs. Until that happens, it can remain a theoretical goal but one that, like Netanyahu, sensible Israelis will not choose to pursue under the present circumstances.

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The Jewish Left’s War on Israeli Democracy

Faced with a crushing defeat, Isaac Herzog, the leader of Israel’s loyal opposition congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his victory and vowed that he and his Zionist Union would prevail in the future. That is the way to behave in a democracy even when there are plenty of hard feelings about things said and done in the campaign — as there were in Israel — and clear differences between the rival factions. Once the voters have their say, the politicians must abide by their verdict. But Netanyahu’s foreign left-wing critics feel no such compunction. As American author and columnist Peter Beinart writes in today’s Haaretz, he and his liberal pals aren’t interested in following Herzog’s example. Instead, they plan on waging a war on Israeli democracy in which they will try to brand those entrusted by Israelis with their government as pariahs and to support actions by both the U.S. government and the Palestinians to undermine the Jewish state. By demonstrating such contempt for democracy, he is not only seeking to further divide American Jews from Israelis but is materially aiding those who seek its destruction.

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Faced with a crushing defeat, Isaac Herzog, the leader of Israel’s loyal opposition congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his victory and vowed that he and his Zionist Union would prevail in the future. That is the way to behave in a democracy even when there are plenty of hard feelings about things said and done in the campaign — as there were in Israel — and clear differences between the rival factions. Once the voters have their say, the politicians must abide by their verdict. But Netanyahu’s foreign left-wing critics feel no such compunction. As American author and columnist Peter Beinart writes in today’s Haaretz, he and his liberal pals aren’t interested in following Herzog’s example. Instead, they plan on waging a war on Israeli democracy in which they will try to brand those entrusted by Israelis with their government as pariahs and to support actions by both the U.S. government and the Palestinians to undermine the Jewish state. By demonstrating such contempt for democracy, he is not only seeking to further divide American Jews from Israelis but is materially aiding those who seek its destruction.

Beinart claims his position is one taken out of love for Israel, which he has consistently stated must be saved from itself. But the distinction to be drawn here is not between supporters and critics of Netanyahu. Opposing the prime minister is not the same as opposing Israel. As a vibrant democracy, Israelis can and do disagree with their politicians. Though the parties that will likely make up Netanyahu’s next government will have won the votes of a clear majority of the voters, those who sought his defeat at the polls are entitled to a fair hearing and to gain the support of those living outside the country who agree with them. But what Beinart is suggesting goes far beyond that or anything that bears a faint resemblance to the normal give and take of democracy.

To the contrary, he plans to not only support possible actions by the Obama administration to “punish” Israel for re-electing Netanyahu, he seeks to organize an effort by American Jews to do the same via support for the Palestinians anti-Israel diplomatic campaign, boycotts of Israeli products and even efforts to deny Israeli politicians with whom he disagrees the right to visit the United States.

This is a disgraceful plan of action. But what is most lamentable about it and the likely applause it will receive in the mainstream liberal press is that it is rooted in sheer, willful ignorance about the realities of the Middle East that Israeli voters recognize and which Beinart strains with all his might to ignore.

The first few sentences of Beinart’s Haaretz piece give away the game. In it he says American Jewish organizations have said that Israel needs to be given sufficient U.S. support and a respite from terror so that it will eventually feel safe enough to “take risks for peace.” He goes on to claim that, “this election was not fought in the shadow of terror” and that the Obama administration had not exerted pressure on Israel’s government since it had not “punished” Israel for not meekly obeying the president’s demands about far reaching territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

All of this is simply untrue.

First, to claim that Israel has not taken repeated risks for peace in the last two decades is an assertion of such astonishing mendacity that it makes it difficult to treat the rest of Beinart’s argument seriously or to give him credit, as I would prefer to do, for having good intentions. The last several governments of Israel have made repeated territorial withdrawals (including a couple made by one led by Netanyahu during his first term as prime minister), allowing the creation and the empowerment of the Palestinian Authority and then withdrawing every last soldier, settler and settlement from Gaza in 2005. But these gestures not only didn’t help bring peace, they resulted in the creation of terror bases from which Palestinians have launched suicide bombers and rockets at Israel’s cities. Israel traded land for peace and got only terror.

Israel’s governments have also repeatedly offered the Palestinians statehood and independence in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem only to be turned down in 2000, 2001 and 2008. Even under the last government Israel tried to negotiate peace with the Palestinians and even Tzipi Livni, one of Netanyahu’s leading opponents in the election, verified that it was the Palestinians that blew up the talks. That was made even clearer by the documents that were recently revealed showing Netanyahu had gone further than anyone had known in accommodating the Obama administration’s demands in the talks (something that proved an embarrassment for the prime minister during the campaign).

Just as false is Beinart’s claim that the election was not fought in the shadow of terror. I know seven months is a long time in journalism but are we really supposed to have already forgotten last summer’s 50-day war in which Hamas rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and sent terrorists through tunnels into the Jewish state hoping to kill and kidnap as many Jews as possible? Apparently Beinart has forgotten it. But Israel’s voters have not. When Netanyahu spoke of his unwillingness to let the West Bank become another Hamasistan, he may have sneered but Israelis know all too well this is a possibility. They also regard the rise of ISIS and the way Hezbollah operates freely in Syria as well as Lebanon as a deadly threat. Not to mention the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israelis agree with the prime minister (including Herzog and his party) about the Iranian nuclear threat and the foolishness of the Obama administration’s attempt to appease Tehran.

Last, his belief that Obama has been soft on Israel is just as absurd. For six years (with only a respite provided by his 2012 re-election campaign Jewish charm offensive), the president has picked endless and ultimately pointless fights with Israel over settlements and especially Jerusalem. He’s tilted the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians direction on territory and the status of Israel’s capital. Even worse, the administration not only unfairly criticized Israel during last summer’s Gaza war but also ordered a cutoff of the flow of arms being resupplied during the fighting.

It’s true he could have gone further and ruptured the alliance completely or joined the efforts of Europeans to isolate Israel at the United Nations, measures that Beinart is urging him to take now. But even Obama understood that to do so was not only politically unpopular but bad policy since it would undermine U.S. influence as much as it would hurt Israel.

Thus the entire premise of Beinart’s argument is false. Israel has taken repeated risks for peace and it does still live under the shadow of terror. And it has no credible partner for peace since the Palestinian Authority still refuses to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn or renounce the right of return for the descendants of the 1948 refugees.

The status quo is far from ideal for Jews or Arabs but in the absence of such a peace partner, how can any reasonable person blame Israeli voters for refusing to take actions that would further empower the terrorists? Beinart is free to disagree with them but the notion that he has the moral right to judge them or to try to punish them for not doing as he says is as arrogant and contemptible as his efforts to aid those who wish to overturn the verdict of Israel’s voters by non-democratic means.

The vast majority of Americans rightly believe American policy should punish those who threaten the Jewish state not the people of Israel. Part of the reason for that is that they respect the right of Israelis to decide their own fate just as we prefer to decide ours. Those who seek to wage war on Israel’s re-elected leader reveal themselves to be not only out of touch with the realities of the Middle East but as foes of the principle of democratic rule.

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On Iran, Senate Democrats Must Choose Between Obama and Constitution

With a week to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration is hopeful but by no means certain it can get a deal. The president has offered the Islamist regime generous terms that will allow it to keep its nuclear infrastructure and reportedly will include a sunset clause that will end restrictions on its nuclear activity at some point in the not-too-distant future. But the administration’s main concern right now is ensuring that Congress doesn’t pass legislation that would allow it a a say on any agreement. As Politico reports, the White House is orchestrating a lobbying blitz on Senate Democrats in an effort to convince enough of them to prevent the bipartisan coalition supporting a bill that will require a Congressional vote on any agreement from prevailing. That leaves those wavering Democrats with an interesting choice: obey the president’s demand for party line loyalty or defend the legislative branch’s constitutional rights on an issue where most of them are unhappy with the direction of administration policy.

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With a week to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration is hopeful but by no means certain it can get a deal. The president has offered the Islamist regime generous terms that will allow it to keep its nuclear infrastructure and reportedly will include a sunset clause that will end restrictions on its nuclear activity at some point in the not-too-distant future. But the administration’s main concern right now is ensuring that Congress doesn’t pass legislation that would allow it a a say on any agreement. As Politico reports, the White House is orchestrating a lobbying blitz on Senate Democrats in an effort to convince enough of them to prevent the bipartisan coalition supporting a bill that will require a Congressional vote on any agreement from prevailing. That leaves those wavering Democrats with an interesting choice: obey the president’s demand for party line loyalty or defend the legislative branch’s constitutional rights on an issue where most of them are unhappy with the direction of administration policy.

At stake in this battle is the fate of the bill co-sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker and ranking member Robert Menendez that would require a Congressional vote on any Iran deal. This is separate from the bill put forward by Menendez and Republican Mark Kirk that would impose new and tougher sanctions on Iran. Both have large majorities already on record as supporting them but last month 11 Senate Democrats, including Menendez, signed a letter to the White House saying that despite eagerness on the part of the GOP to press ahead with passing the two bills, they would withhold their support until March 24.

However, that courtesy extended to the president by members of his party has not weakened the president’s determination to allow nothing to stand in the way of a deal with Iran, no matter the terms given Tehran or how long it will take. Not satisfied with being given until March 24, the White House is now using all the muscle it can muster to force the Democratic caucus to extend the delay on Corker-Menendez until the end of June when the third extension granted of the negotiations with Iran (that President Obama had promised Congress would not go past the summer of 2014) will end.

The outcome of this effort is by no means certain. At the moment, every one of the 54 Republicans in the Senate has said they will vote for the bill. If the 11 Democrats who said they would hold off until March 24 stick to their promise to support the measure that will leave them two short of a veto-proof majority. That leaves the White House scrambling to pick off some members of the group of 11 as well as hoping that no other Democrat joins the GOP in support of the bill.

There are two important elements of the administration lobbying effort.

One is that although they accused House Speaker John Boehner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of injecting partisanship into the debate about Iran, it is actually only the White House that is brandishing party loyalty as a weapon in this effort. Coming into 2015, there appeared to be broad bipartisan majorities in both Houses of Congress behind more sanctions on Iran. Nor was there much opposition to the notion of requiring a vote on an Iran deal as would seem to be required by the Constitution as well as the fact that the sanctions that would have to be lifted in order for a nuclear accord to go forward were passed by Congress and would need to be rescinded by the same bodies that enacted them.

The White House turned the Netanyahu invitation into a partisan spat by ginning up arguments claiming that the speech was an insult to the president. Though the effort to promote a Democratic boycott of the speech failed as badly as the president’s maneuvers intended to help Netanyahu’s opponents defeat him in this week’s election, the administration did succeed in persuading some Democrats to view the issue as a partisan matter rather than a consensus issue. The White House is now doubling down on this approach as March 24 approaches with an all-out lobbying effort aimed exclusively at Democrats led by senior cabinet officials.

Yet what is most interesting about this campaign is that the White House is not only refusing to defend its Iran stand on its merits. It is also expecting members of Congress to undermine the Constitution’s separation of powers in order to allow the president to negotiate and implement an Iran deal without being held to account by any scrutiny.

Reportedly, White House Chief of Staff James McDonough wrote to the Senate on Sunday night telling them in no uncertain terms that the president expected them to stay mum on the issue until the end of June. That means it not only wants no debate on the issue prior to the conclusion of negotiations but also no vote after a potential deal is signed. As I wrote last week, though the administration is already preparing to go the United Nations Security Council to lift economic sanctions on Iran, it is preparing to simply order non-enforcement of U.S. measures rather than ask Congress to vote to rescind laws that it has passed.

Just as important, the administration is doing its best to shut down discussion on the terms it has offered Iran. Their plan is to wait until Iran agrees to measures that amount to nothing short of appeasement of the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions — and a clear violation of the president’s 2012 re-election campaign pledges about any deal requiring the end of Iran’s nuclear program — and then hope that the stage managed celebration of what it will spin as a foreign policy triumph will obscure any debate about the issue.

It’s a smart strategy because the terms being offered Iran aren’t so much a “bad deal” as Netanyahu has rightly called it, as they are utterly indefensible. The proposed agreement that Iran has bludgeoned Obama into handing them is the product of a series of retreats from U.S. stands that will grant Western approval for Iran being left in possession of its nuclear infrastructure. The deal hinges on the notion that inspections will be stringent even though Iran has always evaded such measures previously. Just as ominous is the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency and Western intelligence agencies all think the Iranians have other secret nuclear facilities that won’t be seen. With such flimsy intelligence about Iran it’s hard to accept the president’s assurances that the U.S. will have at least year to head off an Iranian nuclear breakout. Even worse, the sunset provisions in the deal may allow Iran to eventually gain a weapon even if it does abide by the agreement.

Added together with the Constitutional arguments, the terms offered Iran make it imperative for Congress to at least defend its right to vote on such a treaty even if the president is pretending it is just an executive agreement. But it will be up to Senate Democrats to show us whether they value their partisan loyalty to the president more than their devotion to their Constitutional responsibilities or the need to stop Iran.

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U.S. Should “Re-Evaluate” Peace Process

Swallowing hard, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that President Obama would be calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory in yesterday’s Knesset election. But it’s likely that the conversation, which may be their first in months after Obama shut down direct communications with the prime minister after his decision to directly challenge the administration’s Iran policy in a speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this month will center on their disagreements and not on expressions of good will. Earnest said the president remains committed to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict that Netanyahu said he wouldn’t accept during the last days of his campaign. The spokesman said that would mean the U.S. would “re-evaluate our approach” to the conflict with the Palestinians. If so, it’s good advice since President Obama’s approach to the Middle East has been flawed since the day he took office.

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Swallowing hard, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that President Obama would be calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory in yesterday’s Knesset election. But it’s likely that the conversation, which may be their first in months after Obama shut down direct communications with the prime minister after his decision to directly challenge the administration’s Iran policy in a speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this month will center on their disagreements and not on expressions of good will. Earnest said the president remains committed to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict that Netanyahu said he wouldn’t accept during the last days of his campaign. The spokesman said that would mean the U.S. would “re-evaluate our approach” to the conflict with the Palestinians. If so, it’s good advice since President Obama’s approach to the Middle East has been flawed since the day he took office.

The talk of re-evaluating was, no doubt, intended as a warning to Israel not a sign of much-needed introspection. The White House is hoping that Netanyahu will see it as a warning that if he doesn’t do as he is told, the administration might cease defending Israel at the United Nations and instead join European efforts to isolate the Jewish state by recognizing Palestinian independence without first making them make peace with Israel and granting them sovereignty over borders that should be negotiated rather than imposed on the parties.

This is neither an idle threat nor one that wouldn’t hurt Israel. If the Palestinians were to realize their fantasy of getting the UN Security Council to pass a resolution recognizing their independence in the territories taken by Israel during the Six Day War, including Jerusalem, it would do more than to relieve them of any obligation to negotiate peace with Israel. It would also put the United Nations officially behind a campaign to isolate Israel that could do real damage to the Jewish state’s ability to defend itself.

The administration could also seek to cut back on military aid to Israel and pursue other efforts to downgrade the alliance.

But if that’s what Obama is contemplating as he prepares for the third act of his stormy relationship with Netanyahu, he needs to step back and think long and hard about the implications of a policy that would be based more in spite than in the interests of either the United States or the cause of peace.

Should the U.S. use Netanyahu’s comments about a two-state solution to abandon Israel at the UN, it will do more than create a diplomatic problem. Just as they have since January 2009, the Palestinians will interpret efforts by the administration to distance itself from Israel as an invitation to further intransigence and perhaps violence. In particular, Hamas, which has been rapidly re-arming after last summer’s war in Gaza, may think it time to start another terrorist offensive in which Israeli cities will be targeted by missiles. The Islamist group, under pressure from Egypt, which is held in as long regard by the administration as Israel, may hope that this time around President Obama will use the violence not only to heighten pressure on Israel but also to cut off arms re-supplies again.

As for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, a U.S. diplomatic offensive against Israel would remove any incentive on his part to budge from his past refusals to give up the right of return or to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. If progress toward peace, rather than venting his spleen at Netanyahu is the actual objective of U.S. policy these days, he might take a deep breath today and step back from the brink.

An honest re-evaluation of U.S. policy during the past six years would recognize that the key mistake made by President Obama has been his obsessive focus on pressuring Israel and pushing negotiations with a Palestinian leadership that has no interest in peace talks.

While his left-wing critics have claimed that Netanyahu’s statement about preventing a Palestinian state means he has been deceiving the world the past six years about his support for a two-state solution, the truth is that it is the Palestinians who have rendered that stand obsolete. During the years in which he did back two states and even observed a settlement freeze and agreed to U.S. frameworks about the talks, the Palestinians never once budged off their refusal to negotiate in good faith.

Indeed, Obama’s focus on opposing Israeli policies has been so myopic that he has failed to hold Abbas accountable for his actions such as signing a unity deal with Hamas terrorists or violating his Oslo Accords commitments not to make an end run around direct talks by going to the UN. It must be understood that Netanyahu’s rejection of a Palestinian state is as much a commentary on the refusal of the Palestinians to negotiate or to accept one as it is on the prime minister’s ideology. Most Israelis want peace and two states more than the Palestinians. But they understand that merely wishing for it won’t make it happen if the Arabs continue to say no.

A serious re-evaluation of America’s Middle East policy might be one that realized that until a sea change in Palestinian politics that will permit a leader like Abbas to make peace, an investment of U.S. time and energy on negotiations is a fool’s errand.

A U.S. abandonment of Israel in international forums will do American interests as much harm as it does the Jewish state since such actions will have the effect of marginalizing U.S. diplomacy and interests. But more than that, American signals that will be interpreted by Hamas and perhaps even Hezbollah that it is open season on Israel, could start wars that will further destabilize the Middle East.

A re-evaluation is in order but doing so should involve Obama’s admitting error more than Netanyahu. Much of the commentary about President Obama’s final two years in office have focused on his intention to do as he likes and build his legacy without regard to the political constraints imposed him by the bipartisan coalition backing Israel. But given the likely cost in blood that such a course may involve, the president might do well to consider that such a course of further pointless confrontation with the Netanyahu government may do more harm to his place in history than good.

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Can Americans Understand Israel’s Vote?

Read accounts of Israel’s elections in the mainstream liberal media today and you get a sense of the frustration and anger the Obama administration and its press cheering section feel about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisive victory. The fulminations in today’s New York Times editorial articulate this point of view with its denunciations of Netanyahu’s repudiation of a Palestinian state as well as dark warnings about the implications of his comments about Israeli voters needing to offset the impact of Arabs voting for anti-Zionist parties. But even if we leave aside the ad hominem attacks on Netanyahu in which he was denounced as both “craven” and a “demagogue,” the point of the piece was to essentially delegitimize the results. The question remains whether most Americans, including Jewish friends of Israel, will be as clueless as the Times about the reason for Netanyahu’s big win.

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Read accounts of Israel’s elections in the mainstream liberal media today and you get a sense of the frustration and anger the Obama administration and its press cheering section feel about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decisive victory. The fulminations in today’s New York Times editorial articulate this point of view with its denunciations of Netanyahu’s repudiation of a Palestinian state as well as dark warnings about the implications of his comments about Israeli voters needing to offset the impact of Arabs voting for anti-Zionist parties. But even if we leave aside the ad hominem attacks on Netanyahu in which he was denounced as both “craven” and a “demagogue,” the point of the piece was to essentially delegitimize the results. The question remains whether most Americans, including Jewish friends of Israel, will be as clueless as the Times about the reason for Netanyahu’s big win.

There should be no misunderstanding about the magnitude of Netanyahu’s victory. In the context of Israel’s multi-party system which encourages the growth of splinter parties and in which no party in its history has ever won a majority on its own, the Likud’s winning of 30 seats to its Labor-led Zionist Union rival’s 24 was an unexpectedly decisive result. Combined with the fact that his right wing and religious party allies more-or-less maintained their strength as a whole, the predominance of what Israelis call the “national camp” that has existed since the outbreak of the Second Intifada and the collapse of the Oslo Peace Accords is undiminished. Indeed, far from illustrating that the Likud represented the far right, the vote showed it to be smack in the center of the Israeli political spectrum.

How then do we explain Netanyahu’s comments about a Palestinian state and Arab voters that have been universally denounced in the West and seen, in the eyes of the Times editors, as proof that Israeli voters are vulnerable to scaremongering and racism?

It is true that Netanyahu needed to rally his base, large numbers of which were prepared to vote for smaller right wing parties rather than the Likud. The expectation was that pandering to that voter group would cause him to lose moderates. But it didn’t happen because few in Israel were that outraged about Netanyahu writing off the possibility of a Palestinian state. That’s not because they don’t want a two-state solution but because they know the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected one and the chance of sovereignty and peace.

Faced with two Palestinian dictatorships on either of their flanks — Islamist Hamas terrorists in Gaza and corrupt authoritarian Fatah in the West Bank — the prospect of territorial withdrawals to further empower either faction seems irrational to mainstream Israeli voters. Few in Israel outside of the far left expected the Netanyahu or even his rival Isaac Herzog would have the opportunity to sign a peace deal that would create a Palestinian state under any circumstances. Though the election had largely been fought on domestic and economic issues, Netanyahu’s late reminders to the public of their consensus on security helped turn a close election into what is by the standards of the Jewish state, a rout.

Similarly, Netanyahu’s remarks about Arab voters being mobilized by foreign-funded activists to vote didn’t alienate the average Israeli voter because they know that the prospect of a government put into office via the support of the avowedly anti-Zionist Arab parties (a coalition of Islamists, Communists and radical Arab nationalists that rationalize if not support terrorism) that oppose Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and its right to self-defense was a prospect that few contemplated with equanimity.

Simply put, his victory was not achieved by pandering to irrationality but because of the common sense of most Israeli voters who have a far better grasp of the realities of the Middle East than the editors of the Times. As I noted yesterday as the results were being counted, the impact of Netanyahu’s last minute appeals was due to the realism of the voters, not their racism.

But to note this begs the question as to whether Americans and their political leaders will be sufficiently influenced by the massive bias against Netanyahu in most of the media? No one can answer that question with absolute certainty but there are good reasons to be hopeful.

Unlike the sour grapes expressed by the editors of the Times and the sullen silence of the Obama administration (which has yet to congratulate Netanyahu on his stunning victory), most Americans actually do respect democracy. More to the point, they know that Israel is our only democratic ally in a Middle East where the administration’s priority has been to foster a spirit of détente with a vicious Islamist dictatorship in Iran. Just as they assume that they understand their local politics and problems better than the supposed experts in Washington, they assume that Israelis understand the Middle East better than Obama or the editors of the Times. Had they not thought so, support for Israel over the last few years or, in fact, the last generation, as a biased mainstream media consistently blasted Israel for defending its existence against terrorist threats, would not have remained so strong.

There have been some voices raised on the left that are essentially calling for Israel to become a partisan issue between Republicans (pro) and Democrats (con). That is a theme we heard a lot of during the weeks prior to Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on the Iranian nuclear threat and it is something that the administration seems to be encouraging despite its pro forma declarations of support for Israel. Yet the reaction to that speech illustrated that such efforts are bound to fall flat. The overwhelming majority of Republicans and what is still a clear majority of Democrats still support the alliance that is rooted in common values that are embedded in the political DNA of this country.

Doomsayers notwithstanding the overwhelming majority of Americans still back Israel and understand that asking them to make suicidal concessions is neither reasonable nor likely to strengthen America’s security. Though many assume that Americans, like Europeans, will eventually abandon Israel because of its refusal to do as Obama and the left demand, sympathy for Zionism and the Jewish state in the U.S. remains strong enough to withstand this challenge. That won’t change simply because the president and the liberal press don’t like Netanyahu or the outcome of a democratic election.

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The Israeli Left Hates the Israeli People

Israel’s left will be disappointed by last night’s election results. That is to be expected and no one could hold it against them. They have an alternative vision for advancing the welfare of their country and, for the moment at least, the opportunity to implement that vision has slipped from their grasp. What is less acceptable is the way in which some on Israel’s left seem to have reacted with uncontrolled outbursts of animosity and hatred. We might be able to understand their hatred for Netanyahu and the Likud. But their unashamed hatred for their own country is a different matter. Nothing encapsulates this attitude more than Gideon Levy’s piece in today’s Haaretz: Netanyahu deserves the Israeli People, and they deserve him. With an attitude like that you wonder if these people ever really had Israel’s best interests at heart.

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Israel’s left will be disappointed by last night’s election results. That is to be expected and no one could hold it against them. They have an alternative vision for advancing the welfare of their country and, for the moment at least, the opportunity to implement that vision has slipped from their grasp. What is less acceptable is the way in which some on Israel’s left seem to have reacted with uncontrolled outbursts of animosity and hatred. We might be able to understand their hatred for Netanyahu and the Likud. But their unashamed hatred for their own country is a different matter. Nothing encapsulates this attitude more than Gideon Levy’s piece in today’s Haaretz: Netanyahu deserves the Israeli People, and they deserve him. With an attitude like that you wonder if these people ever really had Israel’s best interests at heart.

Levy’s post-election musings read more like an adolescent “hope you’re both very happy together” rant, followed by an almighty slamming of the bedroom door. Of course, like most people who utter that phrase, Levy clearly has no desire to see Bibi or the Israeli public finding happiness. Rather, he insists that the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu heralds the way to Israel’s demise. “On Tuesday the foundations were laid for the apartheid state that is to come,” Haaretz’s prophet of doom warns.

As is often the case with Levy’s writing, this piece is rather incongruous. The ideas and propositions don’t exactly flow coherently from one to the next. And buried in that piece are such eloquent lines as “Dear Likud voters, what the hell do you say ‘yes’ to?” and “Piss off, dear world, we’re on our own. Please don’t interfere, we’re asleep, the people are with Netanyahu.” Apparently the language being employed by the Israeli left is now becoming almost as course and abusive as some of what’s been coming out of the left in America lately too.

Of course, what Levy and Israel’s left are confronting is the unbridgeable gap that exists between their own worldview and reality. While they claim to be the guardians of democracy, the only ones who can rescue the democratic system from the jaws of the neo-fascist Israeli right, it is clear that not only is the democratic system actually functioning just fine thank you very much, but time and again it is rejecting the left. Worse still, it is the very left wing parties who claim to be the heirs of Israel’s socialist past that are polling best in many of Israel’s affluent municipalities; whereas it is Netanyahu’s free market Likud that is winning in working class neighborhoods.

The people keep speaking and they keep rejecting the parties that claim to be the populist parties of the people and the democratic process. How to make sense of this? “This is the result of years’ worth of brainwashing and incitement” Levy insists, unconvincingly. No, it can’t be that Israelis made a rational assessment of the threats their country faces, weighed up the likely ability of the various candidates to meet those threats, and then submitted their well-considered votes accordingly. Nor could it be that the left failed to articulate its positions convincingly. And it certainly can’t be that what happened was what happens in most elections around the world; that the various sections of society simply voted in a way that they believed best advanced their own various interests. It’s obvious; that Netanyahu brainwashed everyone.

But perhaps even Levy isn’t really convinced by that claim. For elsewhere he states his feelings far more clearly when he states simply; “The nation must be replaced. Not another election for the country’s leadership, but general elections to choose a new Israeli people – immediately.” That’s it, Israel’s public falls so woefully short of being worthy of implementing Levy’s lofty ideals that it’d be better to just be rid of them and find a new public instead.

After that bombshell, it would be difficult to be surprised by anything else Levy writes. Yet he concludes his piece by arguing that the international community will ultimately punish Israel, and that that will be a good thing. “The only consolation is that another Netanyahu term will prompt the world to act. That possibility is our only refuge,” concludes Levy. But that statement is not so very far from the words of Haaretz’s former editor David Landau who notoriously told then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that “Israel wants to be raped by the United States.” For its own good you understand, to save Israel from itself.

If it wasn’t clear then, it should be very clear reading Levy’s piece now that, quite simply, much of the Israeli left hates its own country and just about all the people who live there.

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Netanyahu’s Historic Win — and Obama’s Humiliating Loss

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stunning victory yesterday — polls at the end of last week had people writing off his chances — means he will become only the second person to be elected prime minister for a third term (the other being Israel’s founder David Ben-Gurion). “King Bibi” has established himself as one of the dominant figures in the history of the modern state of Israel. Mr. Netanyahu is hardly a person without flaws. But for those of us who admire his toughness and moral clarity on world events — and who appreciate his obvious love for his nation and for ours — it was a splendid turn of events.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stunning victory yesterday — polls at the end of last week had people writing off his chances — means he will become only the second person to be elected prime minister for a third term (the other being Israel’s founder David Ben-Gurion). “King Bibi” has established himself as one of the dominant figures in the history of the modern state of Israel. Mr. Netanyahu is hardly a person without flaws. But for those of us who admire his toughness and moral clarity on world events — and who appreciate his obvious love for his nation and for ours — it was a splendid turn of events.

As for the current occupant of the White House, it was a disastrous one.

Barack Obama has an obsessive animosity when it comes to Prime Minister Netanyahu, which he has demonstrated time and again. So much so that Obama and his aides did everything they could to influence the Israeli election, from smearing Mr. Netanyahu — referring to him as a “coward” and a “chickens***” — to childishly elevating a difference over Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress into a foreign policy crisis to perhaps illegally funneling money to oust the sitting leader of Israel. We know that Jeremy Bird, who served as Obama’s deputy national campaign director in 2008 and his national campaign director in 2012, arrived in Israel in January to help unseat Mr. Netanyahu. This is all quite astonishing, even unprecedented. Benjamin Netanyahu may have won without the outside interference by Obama — but what Obama & Company did certainly helped.

I’m reminded of the self-inflicted “stunning setback” Mr. Obama suffered in 2009, when he and Mrs. Obama put their prestige on the line — they both flew to Copenhagen to make an appeal to the IOC — to get Chicago the 2016 Olympics. Chicago was eliminated on the first ballot. This time, the stakes were much higher and the damage done to Mr. Obama’s reputation far greater. .

There’s quite a pattern Mr. Obama has established in foreign policy during his presidency. He has failed in almost every instance, from his efforts at personal diplomacy to his policies. Remember the “new beginning” with the Arab and Muslim world? That claim now seems risible. Indeed, our relations with nation after nation — Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, China, Canada, Israel, India, Australia, Honduras, Brazil, Germany, and Great Britain, to name just a few — are worse now than they were when Mr. Obama was sworn in as president in 2009. As for Mr. Obama’s claim that al Qaeda was “decimated,” in congressional testimony recently, Mr. Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said that terrorism trend lines were worse “than at any other point in history.” And the terrorist group the president famously referred to as the “jayvee team” just last year is now the best-armed, best-funded terrorist group on earth, controlling “a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations.”

Mr. Obama’s clumsy and malicious mishandling of relations with Israel, then, is but one brick in a wall of failure and infamy. The fact that Benjamin Netanyahu emerged victorious in his confrontation with Barack Obama — a confrontation whose root cause can be traced to Obama’s hostility not just to Netanyahu but to Israel (a point I’ve elaborated on here) — is a heartening development in a world that is increasingly chaotic and violent.

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U.S. Alliance Will Survive Barack-Bibi, Act 3

Though many in the U.S. media are foolishly reporting the expected outcome of the Israeli election as if it was a tie, it’s unlikely that anyone in the White House is in any doubt about the actual outcome. President Obama’s longtime nemesis Benjamin Netanyahu came from behind in the last week to lead his Likud Party to as clear a victory as was possible in Israel’s confusing parliamentary system. Though the haggling with smaller parties is just getting started and the possibility of a unity government with his Zionist Union rival Isaac Herzog is still possible, the results gave Netanyahu a clear path to a fourth term as prime minister. Yet with Obama and Netanyahu no longer speaking to each other and with the two governments at loggerheads over both the Middle East peace process and the Iran nuclear talks, the question arises as to how much damage the prime minister’s re-election will do to an alliance that is crucial for Israel’s future? The answer is that although relations will be tense until January 2017, the alliance will survive Act Three of the Barack-Bibi standoff.

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Though many in the U.S. media are foolishly reporting the expected outcome of the Israeli election as if it was a tie, it’s unlikely that anyone in the White House is in any doubt about the actual outcome. President Obama’s longtime nemesis Benjamin Netanyahu came from behind in the last week to lead his Likud Party to as clear a victory as was possible in Israel’s confusing parliamentary system. Though the haggling with smaller parties is just getting started and the possibility of a unity government with his Zionist Union rival Isaac Herzog is still possible, the results gave Netanyahu a clear path to a fourth term as prime minister. Yet with Obama and Netanyahu no longer speaking to each other and with the two governments at loggerheads over both the Middle East peace process and the Iran nuclear talks, the question arises as to how much damage the prime minister’s re-election will do to an alliance that is crucial for Israel’s future? The answer is that although relations will be tense until January 2017, the alliance will survive Act Three of the Barack-Bibi standoff.

The White House will say the right things about applauding Israeli democracy and working with anyone elected by the people of the Jewish state. But the president and his foreign policy team are bitterly disappointed with the prospect of Netanyahu’s re-election. It was always going to take a decisive win for Herzog, such as the four-seat advantage that the last opinion polls published last week before the election predicted, for the Labor leader to have a chance at putting together a coalition and that margin of victory evaporated as right-wing voters came home to Likud in order to save the prime minister. So the odds are, the administration is just going to have to stand by impotently and watch as its least-favorite foreign leader assembles a government for his fourth term in office.

Another 22 months of contention between Obama and Netanyahu will be problematic for the alliance. The president is poised to sign a framework with Iran over its nuclear program that will ensure that the Islamist regime becomes a threshold nuclear power and, just as important, gives U.S. acquiescence if not approval to Iran’s domination of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. That creates a far more dangerous Middle East and the real possibility of nuclear proliferation as Arab nations, which share Israel’s fears about Iran and the president’s feckless pursuit of détente with Tehran, begin thinking of their own deterrent.

Other than a risky and highly unlikely decision to launch a military strike on Iran on its own, there will not be much that Israel can do about this. But it can quietly support efforts by Congress to hold a weak Iran deal up to scrutiny and to hold the president and his new entente partners accountable. Expect a lot more sniping on this score between Washington and Jerusalem but barring Iran walking away from talks in which Obama appears to be giving them everything they could want, Netanyahu can’t be much of an obstacle to the president’s plans

But that won’t be the only issue on which the two governments will clash. The president and Secretary of State Kerry have also indicated that they will try to revive the dead-in-the-water peace process with the Palestinians. If so, we can expect the U.S. to repeat the same behavior that has characterized the first six years of the Obama presidency in which major pressure is brought to bear on Israel to make concessions while the Palestinians continue to refuse to make peace under any circumstances.

This will be difficult for Netanyahu, especially since he repudiated the two-state solution in the days leading up to the election. But Obama’s leverage here is limited. By opposing Israel’s effort to hold onto a united Jerusalem and the settlement blocs where most West Bank Jews live, the president has always been playing on Netanyahu’s turf and where he can turn disputes with Washington to his advantage. Netanyahu will stand his ground and not suffer for it at home while the Palestinians continue to stiff a president who has done everything in his power to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction.

It is true that Obama can up the ante on Netanyahu by abandoning a policy of supporting Israel in the United Nations as the Palestinians continue to violate their Oslo Accords obligation to negotiate rather than to attempt to gain recognition from the world body. But if that happens, it will create as many problems for him and the Democratic Party as it does for Israel.

It should be remembered that the 22-month period during which a re-elected Netanyahu will be forced to deal with Obama will coincide with the 2016 presidential election campaign. It is true that as a lame duck, he needn’t fear the voters even as he attempts to put more daylight between the U.S. and its only democratic ally in the Middle East. But Democrats who will be eager to hold onto the White House will not be happy if the president spends his last year in office alienating pro-Israel voters by venting his spleen at Netanyahu. Even if his liberal base has no affection for the prime minister, an overt tilt against Israel at the UN would probably place Obama at odds with Hillary Clinton who will be eager to demonstrate her pro-Israel bona fides. It will also give Republicans another stick to beat Democrats with as they seek to win back the White House.

What this boils down to is that as much as the president detests Netanyahu and has little love for his country, the infrastructure of the alliance, in Congress and the defense establishment is too strong for him to destroy. As he learned last summer when the Department of Defense was automatically transferring arms to Israel during the Gaza war, it takes more than a spat orchestrated by the White House to derail an alliance that has such broad bipartisan political support. As the president learned during the weeks leading up to Netanyahu’s controversial Iran speech to Congress earlier this month, even when the Israeli plays into their hands, the White House has shown a tendency to overplay their hand in a way that only helps the pro-Israel community.

More than all this, a re-elected Netanyahu will be in a position where time will be on his side. As the countdown for Obama’s exit from the White House begins, the prime minister will know that no matter who wins in 2016, they are likely to be far friendly to Israel than the current incumbent. He can afford to wait until January 2017 when he can count on a new relationship with an Obama successor who will be eager to prove his or her bona fides.

The months ahead will be difficult ones for Israel as Obama seethes about his foe’s victory. But as much as Obama has already undermined Israel’s security, his ability to do more damage is constrained by the realities of American politics than can neither be undone nor wished away.

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Why Did Bibi Win? Realism, Not Racism.

Within moments of the announcement of the exit polls, some of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics were claiming his likely win in today’s Knesset election was the result of a crude, racist appeal to voters. The justification for this charge was a speech made by Netanyahu and released only on social media because of restrictions on campaign appeals in the media, telling the country that left-wing groups funded by foreign money were busing Arab voters to the polls in order to elect a left-wing government led by his Zionist Union rival Isaac Herzog. Netanyahu’s opponents interpreted this as an appeal to racism. The statement was unfortunate because it made it seem as if the prime minister viewed Arab voters as somehow illegitimate. But the voters likely saw it in a different light. The prospect of a left-wing government that depended on the Joint Arab List was always unlikely. But a critical mass of voters viewed the prospect with alarm not because they’re racists but because a government that relied on the votes of anti-Zionists that favor Israel’s dissolution was something they considered a danger to the future of their country.

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Within moments of the announcement of the exit polls, some of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics were claiming his likely win in today’s Knesset election was the result of a crude, racist appeal to voters. The justification for this charge was a speech made by Netanyahu and released only on social media because of restrictions on campaign appeals in the media, telling the country that left-wing groups funded by foreign money were busing Arab voters to the polls in order to elect a left-wing government led by his Zionist Union rival Isaac Herzog. Netanyahu’s opponents interpreted this as an appeal to racism. The statement was unfortunate because it made it seem as if the prime minister viewed Arab voters as somehow illegitimate. But the voters likely saw it in a different light. The prospect of a left-wing government that depended on the Joint Arab List was always unlikely. But a critical mass of voters viewed the prospect with alarm not because they’re racists but because a government that relied on the votes of anti-Zionists that favor Israel’s dissolution was something they considered a danger to the future of their country.

Despite the expectation that dissatisfaction Netanyahu would lead to the end of his career, Netanyahu appears to have survived and will likely surpass David Ben Gurion as the country’s longest serving prime minister. Only a few days ago this was considered unlikely because the polls showed Herzog’s Labor-led party with a solid four-seat lead. But just as Netanyahu’s numbers were depressed in 2009 and 2013 because of the widespread belief that he couldn’t lose, the belief that he was finished had the opposite effect. A significant number of voters who might have gone for other right-wing parties such as Naphtali Bennet’s Jewish Home, went back to Likud in the final days in order to prevent a victory for the left.

But what those venturing opinions about the election must understand is that despite the hopes of the Israeli left and its foreign supporters (including one particular fan in the White House), the basic political alignment of the country remained unchanged. The center-right and religious parties retained a clear majority over the parties of the left. Likud’s natural allies outnumber those of the left. The only way for Herzog to become prime minister was to assemble an unlikely coalition of the left, secular and ultra-Orthodox parties. Even then, he might still need the support from the anti-Zionist Arab list composed of Communists, Islamists and radical Arab nationalists.

Contrary to the implications of Netanyahu’s statement, the increased turnout of Arab voters is a good thing for the country. Israeli Arabs should be invested in their country and take advantage of its democratic system. But the small gains by the Joint Arab List — which seems to have won 13 seats over the 11 won by the elements of its coalition, previously — won’t make much of a difference because the new Knesset members will remain in the minority. It is also a near certainty that the three factions will split once the dust settles from the election.

Even some of Israel’s friends in the United States may be asking themselves how is it possible for the Jewish state’s voters to give a majority to parties that are unlikely to agree to a two-state solution with the Palestinians. The answer is that unlike most Americans, Israel’s voters have been paying attention to the history of the conflict over the past 20 years and know that Herzog was no more likely to create a Palestinian state than Netanyahu. Nor is it fair to brand Netanyahu, who did not denigrate the right of Arabs to vote, a racist. There is no comparison between the efforts of minorities to vote in Western democracies or the United States and the desire of the Arab parties to destroy Israel. That’s because the Palestinian leadership, split between Hamas and Fatah, has consistently refused peace offers that would have given them independence. Most Israelis would like a two-state solution to happen but they know that under the current circumstances any withdrawal from the West Bank might duplicate the disastrous retreat from Gaza in 2005. Though Western journalists mocked Netanyahu’s comments about wanting to prevent a “Hamasistan” in the West Bank, the voters in Israel largely agreed.

That doesn’t make them racist or extreme. It means they are, like most Americans, realists. They may not like Netanyahu but today’s results demonstrates that there is little support for a government that would make the sort of concessions to the Palestinians that President Obama would like. They rightly believe that even if Israel did make more concessions it would only lead to more violence, not peace. Israel’s foreign critics and friends need to understand that in the end, it was those convictions have, for all intents and purposes, re-elected Netanyahu.

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Israeli Exit Polls: Netanyahu is Re-Elected

Exit polls aren’t official results but those just released by the Israeli media leave little doubt about the ultimate outcome of today’s elections. Though the last published opinion polls issued last week gave the Labor-led Zionist Union Party with a decisive four-seat edge over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, the exists just released minutes ago show the two leading parties neck and neck. Given that historically these polls tend to undercount the right and don’t include the very significant vote of soldiers on active service in the Israeli Army, which also tends to tilt to the right-wing parties, the likelihood is that the Likud will wind up with a plurality. But even if the two parties wind up tied with either 27 or 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, this almost certainly means that Netanyahu will lead the next government of Israel, a result that will be received with dismay in the White House and set off a deluge of hand-wringing columns about Israel’s future from the mainstream liberal press.

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Exit polls aren’t official results but those just released by the Israeli media leave little doubt about the ultimate outcome of today’s elections. Though the last published opinion polls issued last week gave the Labor-led Zionist Union Party with a decisive four-seat edge over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, the exists just released minutes ago show the two leading parties neck and neck. Given that historically these polls tend to undercount the right and don’t include the very significant vote of soldiers on active service in the Israeli Army, which also tends to tilt to the right-wing parties, the likelihood is that the Likud will wind up with a plurality. But even if the two parties wind up tied with either 27 or 28 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, this almost certainly means that Netanyahu will lead the next government of Israel, a result that will be received with dismay in the White House and set off a deluge of hand-wringing columns about Israel’s future from the mainstream liberal press.

If you understand the basics of Israeli politics, the reason why Netanyahu will remain the prime minister is easy to understand. Even if Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union finished first with the expected four-seat margin, he was going to have a difficult time getting a coalition that commanded a majority of the Knesset since they would have had to rely on anti-Zionist Arab votes or Haredi or right-wing parties that are unlikely to want to sit in his Cabinet.

Despite all the talk of this election marking a revolutionary change, the results show a degree of political stasis. The right-wing parties held their own when compared to 2009 and 2013 and the left led by Herzog gained almost nothing. The ultra-Orthodox party kept their share of the vote. Even the Joint Arab list, which now appears to have attained the status of the country’s third largest party only gained two seats over the 11 its three components (Islamists, Communists and radical Arab nationalists) won separately in the previous two elections and will almost certainly split apart again within days of the votes being counted.

Centrist parties did fairly well even though Yesh Atid has gone down from the 19 seats they won last time. Those votes went to Kulanu led by Likud defector Moshe Kahlon. Every election provides a new success and Kulanu is this year’s winner of that role.

But the bottom line is that the electoral math makes it almost impossible for Herzog to form a government. Netanyahu’s natural coalition is there in place even if the negotiations will likely be long and difficult as the various parties barter in the competition for Cabinet posts.

What will also remain unchanged are the tense relations between the White House and the Israeli government. President Obama may have been counting on Netanyahu being defeated but, like it or not, the prime minister will not only get a fourth term but be there after the president leaves office in January 2017.

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Netanyahu Won’t Create a Palestinian State. Neither Will Herzog.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s last-minute appeals to right-wing voters set off a storm on Twitter among his left-wing and liberal critics. Though Netanyahu had publicly embraced the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict years ago and had offered statehood to the Palestinians in the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry, yesterday he vowed that such a thing would never happen if he were reelected. For those who refused to blame the Palestinians for repeatedly refusing such offers from Netanyahu and his predecessors, this is a chance to claim that the lack of peace is the prime minister’s fault after all. Even worse, some are now claiming that he had been tricking President Obama and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Are they right? Not really. Though Netanyahu may be justly accused of flip-flopping now, that doesn’t justify past Palestinian refusals of peace offers. More to the point, despite his continued embraced of the idea, the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog isn’t any more likely to sign a deal to create a Palestinian state than Netanyahu if he wins the election.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s last-minute appeals to right-wing voters set off a storm on Twitter among his left-wing and liberal critics. Though Netanyahu had publicly embraced the two-state solution to the Middle East conflict years ago and had offered statehood to the Palestinians in the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry, yesterday he vowed that such a thing would never happen if he were reelected. For those who refused to blame the Palestinians for repeatedly refusing such offers from Netanyahu and his predecessors, this is a chance to claim that the lack of peace is the prime minister’s fault after all. Even worse, some are now claiming that he had been tricking President Obama and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Are they right? Not really. Though Netanyahu may be justly accused of flip-flopping now, that doesn’t justify past Palestinian refusals of peace offers. More to the point, despite his continued embraced of the idea, the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog isn’t any more likely to sign a deal to create a Palestinian state than Netanyahu if he wins the election.

Both Netanyahu and Herzog and their principal supporters have been at pains to differentiate their stands on security issues. That fits Netanyahu’s narrative in which he depicts himself as the only thing standing between Israel and a left-wing government that would give away Jerusalem and allow the creation of another “Hamasistan” in the West Bank like the one in Gaza. By contrast, Herzog has encouraged the U.S. government (if not the Israeli people) to think of him as far more reasonable than Netanyahu on the peace process. Moreover, Herzog does talk as if he could actually entice the Palestinians to accept a two-state solution that would respect Israel’s security needs and recognize its legitimacy, thus ending the conflict.

But the truth about their differences is a lot less dramatic than either of them would have us believe.

Netanyahu is talking tough now that he needs center-right voters to abandon the small parties they have embraced because they assumed the Likud would lead the next government. So rather than appeal to moderates, he’s now telling them that if they want to avoid the nightmare of a terrorist run state in Jerusalem, they must vote for the Likud. But throughout his nine years as prime minister he has always shown a willingness to negotiate and even make concessions on settlements and territory. It was he who withdrew Israeli troops from Hebron during his first term. He froze settlement building in the West Bank during his second term though he got no credit from President Obama for doing so. And it was Netanyahu, despite his current impassioned denials, who made it clear to both the Americans and the Palestinians that he would agree to a Palestinian state on terms very similar to the generous offer made by his predecessor Ehud Olmert. If he is reelected, you can bet he will saunter back to the center as he has done before.

By contrast, for all of the expectations he has encouraged about making progress toward peace, Herzog has campaigned in Israel opposing the division of Jerusalem, a sine qua non for any agreement that Abbas would even think about discussing. Nor does he oppose building in the Jewish neighborhoods built in the city since the 1967 war. And he supports holding onto the same West Bank settlement blocs that the Obama administration has blasted Netanyahu for building up. Like Netanyahu, Herzog will demand that the Palestinians give up the right of return for the descendants of 1948 refugees.

But the real reason why neither man will sign a peace deal with Abbas has nothing to do with their respective and all-too-similar stands. Rather, it has to do with the unchanged political culture of the Palestinians that has prevented Yasir Arafat and then Abbas from accepting Israeli offers of statehood four times in the last 15 years. Until Palestinian nationalism stops being inextricably connected with a century-long war on Zionism, peace will never happen. And with Gaza still firmly under the control of Hamas, the already slim odds of Abbas feeling strong enough to make peace (assuming that he actually wants to) will remain zero. Moreover, most Israelis think a repeat of the disastrous 2005 withdrawal from Gaza would probably result in another Hamasistan in the West Bank.

Though President Obama and Secretary Kerry continue to labor under the delusion that pressure on Israel provides the magic formula for peace, the opposite is true. It is the Palestinians who need to change, not Israel. And Israelis, who once embraced the hope of Oslo, know it all too well. That’s why, to Netanyahu’s discontent, they are currently more interested in domestic issues rather than war and peace.

The real joke is not on Netanyahu for being a flip-flopper but on those who think either possible prime minister will make peace with a Palestinian leadership that is still unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

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Bibi, Inequality, and the Israeli Economy

The conventional wisdom about Israel’s elections is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lose tomorrow because he has not paid sufficient attention to domestic and economic issues while concentrating almost completely on the need to address security, specifically the nuclear threat from Iran. Considering that he has spent the last few days of campaigning speaking even more assertively about refusing to make concessions to the Palestinians, Netanyahu clearly disagrees with that conclusion. But that’s the point that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman makes in his pre-election column in which the economist and former Enron advisor (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto never tires of calling him) damns Netanyahu’s handling of the economy which he says has bred more inequality. There is some truth to Krugman’s analysis of what is wrong with Israel. But that answer to a very real inequality crisis is the opposite of what he thinks: more capitalism, not more statist economics. And that is why, despite his lack of emphasis on the issue, Netanyahu has a better grip on the problem than Krugman.

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The conventional wisdom about Israel’s elections is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will lose tomorrow because he has not paid sufficient attention to domestic and economic issues while concentrating almost completely on the need to address security, specifically the nuclear threat from Iran. Considering that he has spent the last few days of campaigning speaking even more assertively about refusing to make concessions to the Palestinians, Netanyahu clearly disagrees with that conclusion. But that’s the point that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman makes in his pre-election column in which the economist and former Enron advisor (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto never tires of calling him) damns Netanyahu’s handling of the economy which he says has bred more inequality. There is some truth to Krugman’s analysis of what is wrong with Israel. But that answer to a very real inequality crisis is the opposite of what he thinks: more capitalism, not more statist economics. And that is why, despite his lack of emphasis on the issue, Netanyahu has a better grip on the problem than Krugman.

Though references to Israel’s economy in the mainstream media often assume it is a mess, Krugman deserves some credit for pointing out that this is simply untrue:

Israel’s economy has performed well by the usual measures. It weathered the financial crisis with minimal damage. Over the longer term, it has grown more rapidly than most other advanced economies, and has developed into a high-technology powerhouse.

But, as Krugman is quick to point out, many Israelis are deeply disturbed by what they see as rising inequality with the people at the top doing well while poverty increases. But the main source of dissatisfaction is that the middle class is increasingly squeezed by the high cost of living, especially with regard to a shortage of affordable housing in the country’s main population centers.

But, as Krugman rightly notes, the sort of rhetoric that we are used to hearing about inequality from American liberals carrying on about the “one percent” who enjoy riches denied others doesn’t really apply to Israel.

At the other end, while the available data — puzzlingly — don’t show an especially large share of income going to the top 1 percent, there is an extreme concentration of wealth and power among a tiny group of people at the top. And I mean tiny. According to the Bank of Israel, roughly 20 families control companies that account for half the total value of Israel’s stock market. The nature of that control is convoluted and obscure, working through “pyramids” in which a family controls a firm that in turn controls other firms and so on. Although the Bank of Israel is circumspect in its language, it is clearly worried about the potential this concentration of control creates for self-dealing.

Still, why is Israeli inequality a political issue? Because it didn’t have to be this extreme. …

Meanwhile, Israel’s oligarchs owe their position not to innovation and entrepreneurship but to their families’ success in gaining control of businesses that the government privatized in the 1980s — and they arguably retain that position partly by having undue influence over government policy, combined with control of major banks.

Krugman is right about this. When Israel began to privatize its bloated and mismanaged government-run industries after it woke up to the reality that its founders’ belief in socialism was misplaced, what happened bore a resemblance to the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and with similar consequences: the creation of a very small class of moguls who benefitted from the windfall.

But the implication here is that somehow this is Netanyahu’s fault. He’s been prime minister a long time, but not that long. Most of the blame for the distribution of goodies to the elites belongs to the previous generation of Israeli leaders, especially Shimon Peres and the late Yitzhak Rabin.

But though Krugman complains that Israel doesn’t do enough for the poor, even he has to acknowledge that high poverty rates are mostly the function of the problems of the country’s Arab minority and its ultra-Orthodox Jewish population. Many Arabs remain trapped in a cycle of poverty that is rooted in the conflict over Israel’s existence and cultural problems that are seen in surrounding Arab countries. Many ultra-Orthodox men don’t choose to participate in the work force out of a misplaced belief that it is wrong for them to do so rather than to engage in religious studies.

Yet that doesn’t gainsay the fact that the country has a real problem with a cost of living and the lack of social mobility for the middle class. Angst about this is exacerbated by the country’s long embrace of egalitarian ideals. It is also true, as Krugman says, that there wasn’t much inequality up until the early 1990s. But that was because before that point Israel was operating on a socialist economic model that made it difficult for anyone to make money. If historically capitalism invented an awareness of poverty because before its appearance almost everyone was poor, the same applies to any discussion of income inequality In Israel prior to the reforms that were instituted.

But contrary to Krugman, the cure for this isn’t a retreat from capitalism. Netanyahu was primarily responsible for saving Israel’s economy in the early 2000s when, as finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s first government, he spearheaded reforms that helped make it possible for it to become the “Start-Up Nation” that is the envy of the world’s high-tech centers. As the primary advocate in Israel of what Krugman correctly calls “free market economics,” Netanyahu is competing against a generation of fellow politicians who remain mired in the rhetoric of entitlement and big-government solutions. Their talk pleases those who are nostalgic for the Israel that was egalitarian but was so economically backward that visitors were asked to bring jeans and consumer goods with them. That is a path to more problems, not greater and more widespread prosperity.

If the next Israeli government strays from free market policies, the result won’t do much to make it more egalitarian. But it will be poorer. And that is something that even Netanyahu’s critics won’t applaud.

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