Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gaza

Destroying International Law by Tying the West’s Hands

In the four days since the UN Human Rights Council published its report on last summer’s war in Gaza, commentators have pointed out numerous ways in which it is bad for Israel, the Palestinians and the prospects of a two-state solution. But focusing solely on the local consequences obscures the fact that this report is part of a broader campaign with much more ambitious goals: depriving the entire West of any conceivable weapon – military or nonmilitary – against terrorist organizations and thereby leaving it no choice but capitulation. And though the UN report captured all the attention, the assault on nonmilitary means was also active this week. Read More

In the four days since the UN Human Rights Council published its report on last summer’s war in Gaza, commentators have pointed out numerous ways in which it is bad for Israel, the Palestinians and the prospects of a two-state solution. But focusing solely on the local consequences obscures the fact that this report is part of a broader campaign with much more ambitious goals: depriving the entire West of any conceivable weapon – military or nonmilitary – against terrorist organizations and thereby leaving it no choice but capitulation. And though the UN report captured all the attention, the assault on nonmilitary means was also active this week.

On the military side, the goal was already clear last week, thanks to an interview by Israel’s Channel 2 television with international law expert William Schabas, who headed the HRC’s Gaza inquiry until being forced out in February over a conflict of interests. “It would be a very unusual war if only one side had committed violations of laws of war and the other had engaged perfectly,” he declared. “That would be an unusual situation and an unusual conclusion.”

In other words, it’s virtually impossible for any country fighting terrorists to avoid committing war crimes, however hard it tries, because as currently interpreted by experts like Schabas, the laws of war are impossible for any real-life army to comply with. Thus, a country that wants to avoid international prosecution for war crimes has no choice but to avoid all wars; its only option is capitulation to the terrorists attacking it.

The report ultimately issued by Mary McGowan Davis, who took over the inquiry after Schabas resigned, achieved his goal through a neat trick: replacing the presumption of innocence – the gold standard for ordinary criminal proceedings – with a presumption of guilt. As Benjamin Wittes and Yishai Schwartz noted in their scathing analysis for the Lawfare blog, despite admitting that Hamas routinely used civilian buildings for military purposes, the report nevertheless concluded that any attack on a civilian building is prima facie illegal absent solid proof that the building served military purposes.

But as the report itself admits in paragraph 215, in a quote attributed to “official Israeli sources,” such proof is virtually impossible to produce, because “forensic evidence that a particular site was used for military purposes is rarely available after an attack. Such evidence is usually destroyed in the attack or, if time allows, removed by the terrorist organisations who exploited the site in the first place.”

In short, it’s impossible for any country to comply with the laws of war when fighting terrorists, because it will be presumed guilty unless proven innocent, and the only evidence acceptable to prove its innocence is by definition unobtainable. And lest anyone miss the point – or labor under the delusion that this precedent won’t be applied to other countries as well – Davis underscored it in a subsequent interview with Haaretz. Asked what solution international law does offer “to a situation in which regular armies of democratic countries fight against terror organizations in the heart of populated areas,” she replied scornfully, “My job is not to tell them how to wage a war.” The claim that “international law needs to develop standards that more accurately deal with military operations” is unacceptable, she asserted; the only acceptable changes are “to make protection of civilians stronger” and thereby make waging war even more impossible.

But the self-appointed interpreters of international law are targeting nonmilitary tools against terrorism no less vigorously, as another development this week made clear. Responding to a bill approved by Israel’s cabinet last week to allow jailed terrorists on hunger strike to be force-fed, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political affairs declared that such legislation would be “a contravention of international standards.” The Israel Medical Association’s ethics chairman similarly declared the bill a violation of international law, saying force-feeding has been defined as a form of torture.

Yet letting hunger-striking prisoners die in detention is equally unacceptable to the self-appointed experts. So what solution does that leave? MK Michal Rozin of the left-wing Meretz party put it perfectly: “Instead of force-feeding them, which humiliates them and puts their lives at risk, we must address their demands.” After all, if you can neither force-feed them nor let them die, capitulation is the only option left.

Thus the bottom line is the same as that emerging from the UN’s Gaza inquiry: International law leaves democracies no options in the face of determined terrorists except capitulation. You can’t fight them, because then you’re guilty of war crimes. But you also can’t arrest and jail them, because they can simply start a hunger strike, which entitles them to a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The result, as Prof. Amichai Cohen perceptively noted in a report submitted to Davis’ commission, is that these self-appointed experts are destroying the very idea of international law with their own two hands. Because why should Israel – or any other country – make an effort to comply with international law “if the international system itself does not recognize [the effort’s] efficiency?”

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Gaza is Broke But Still Preparing for War

If you believe the reporting of the New York Times, some people in Gaza are fed up with what passes for a government in the strip. The decision of the Hamas terrorists who run Gaza as an independent Palestinian state in all but name to impose new taxes on their beleaguered subjects was not received with much pleasure. It turns out the levies are required for the Islamist group to pay their 40,000 employees. Though food, medicine and other supplies are shipped into Gaza every day by Israel, a fact that debunks claims of a humanitarian crisis, there’s no question that times are hard for the people who live there. But the cash shortage in Gaza hasn’t changed Hamas’s priorities. One of their main complaints is that a shortage of construction materials caused by Israel has made reconstruction of homes destroyed in last summer’s war impossible. But that hasn’t stopped Hamas from building a new road near the border with Israel in order to facilitate future terror attacks.

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If you believe the reporting of the New York Times, some people in Gaza are fed up with what passes for a government in the strip. The decision of the Hamas terrorists who run Gaza as an independent Palestinian state in all but name to impose new taxes on their beleaguered subjects was not received with much pleasure. It turns out the levies are required for the Islamist group to pay their 40,000 employees. Though food, medicine and other supplies are shipped into Gaza every day by Israel, a fact that debunks claims of a humanitarian crisis, there’s no question that times are hard for the people who live there. But the cash shortage in Gaza hasn’t changed Hamas’s priorities. One of their main complaints is that a shortage of construction materials caused by Israel has made reconstruction of homes destroyed in last summer’s war impossible. But that hasn’t stopped Hamas from building a new road near the border with Israel in order to facilitate future terror attacks.

The construction is going on directly across the border from Nahal Oz, the Israeli kibbutz that was the target of Hamas terror tunnels during last summer’s war. While there have been steady reports of Iran helping to fund Hamas efforts to rebuild both the tunnels and the Islamists’ fortified strongholds inside the strip, a Hamas official actually said over the weekend that the purpose of the work being done on the Palestinian side of the border was “to create for ourselves convenient opportunities to attack the Zionist enemy.”

Hamas lost its main source of income when Egypt shut down the smuggling tunnels through which it brought in construction materials, luxury items as well as arms and cash to operate. Moreover, much of the money that comes into the strip is from the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank but which also pays 70,000 no show employees in Gaza. The inability to square that expenditure with the funds used for Hamas’ largely duplicate force of civil servants was one of the sticking points in the implementation of last year’s Fatah–Hamas unity agreement.

But the juxtaposition of the heartrending Times story about shortages in Gaza with other reports detailing Hamas’s preparations for another terror war should alarm those who purport to care about the plight of the people of the strip. With discontent rising against their rule (in contrast to their popularity in the West Bank, whose people suffer under a different group of tyrants but which didn’t pay the cost of last summer’s pointless fighting), the possibility of another outbreak this summer must be consider possible if not probable. Focusing Palestinians on hatred of Israel is a convenient way of distracting them from the corruption and misplaced priorities of an Islamist ruling group that is willing to fight to the last civilian in order to continue its war on Zionism.

As broke and as isolated as they may be, Hamas still thinks it won the war for international public opinion because so many Palestinians died or were made homeless by Israeli efforts to stop the firing of thousands of rockets on its cities and towns. Moreover, the message they have gotten since last summer from the United States is that the Obama administration is doing its best to put daylight between Washington and Jerusalem. That’s a standing invitation for Israel’s foes to attack because they assume the Israelis will be left to face them alone.

It is imperative for the Obama administration to speak clearly now that if, motivated by the need to distract their subjects and subsidized by Iran as well the fact that they are beset by inroads recently made by ISIS in Gaza, Hamas feels like having another go at the Israelis, the United States won’t shut down the resupply of arms and ammunition as it did during last summer’s war. Just as important, the U.S. and all those who claim to worry about the situation in Gaza must denounce the use of aid materials for war preparations. Though the plight of Gaza is a rallying cry for Israel’s critics, the reality of life there illustrates the toxic nature of a Palestinian political culture that prizes hostility to the Jews over bettering the lives of Arabs. Gaza’s friends should demand an end to the rule of Hamas. Until that happens, there’s not much hope for the hapless people who must live under their rule, and another Gaza Strip war looms large.

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Two Demonstrations and the Problem with Two States

Yesterday, a small left-wing fringe group organized demonstrations in three Israeli cities to protest the ongoing blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. In Jerusalem, the protest brought out a few dozen persons in front of the prime minister’s residence where they freely paraded with signs and apparently held forth in front of a rapt press corps eager, as always, to find Jews willing to criticize their country’s government. No one interfered with them and when they were done spouting off about the supposed injustices being done to a terrorist government that had rained down thousands of missiles on Israeli cities and used tunnels to try and conduct murder raids on civilians, they went home having encountered no interference from Israeli authorities. But a group in Gaza that tried to hold a protest earlier that day about the Hamas regime’s lack of interest in rebuilding the strip after the war they launched last summer wasn’t so lucky. And therein hangs a tale of why the push for a two-state solution that remains a priority of the Obama administration is based more on fantasy than reality.

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Yesterday, a small left-wing fringe group organized demonstrations in three Israeli cities to protest the ongoing blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. In Jerusalem, the protest brought out a few dozen persons in front of the prime minister’s residence where they freely paraded with signs and apparently held forth in front of a rapt press corps eager, as always, to find Jews willing to criticize their country’s government. No one interfered with them and when they were done spouting off about the supposed injustices being done to a terrorist government that had rained down thousands of missiles on Israeli cities and used tunnels to try and conduct murder raids on civilians, they went home having encountered no interference from Israeli authorities. But a group in Gaza that tried to hold a protest earlier that day about the Hamas regime’s lack of interest in rebuilding the strip after the war they launched last summer wasn’t so lucky. And therein hangs a tale of why the push for a two-state solution that remains a priority of the Obama administration is based more on fantasy than reality.

The Gaza demonstration involved 400 persons and took place in a neighborhood that was destroyed in last summer’s fighting. Its purpose appeared to be to promote more reconstruction of homes in the strip as well as to call for the ever-elusive Palestinian unity at a time when Gaza is ruled by Hamas while the West Bank remains under the thumb of Fatah. It also must be understood in the context of what’s been going on in Gaza as Hamas has been reportedly rapidly rebuilding their terror tunnel infrastructure on the border with Israel while also replenishing their rocket arsenal. Both of these endeavors are being conducted with the material and financial help of Iran and are clearly the priority of the Gaza government over the rebuilding of homes wrecked in Hamas’s unnecessary war.

But rather than merely let the 400 demonstrators have their say, Hamas acted in characteristic fashion for a tyrannical terrorist regime and brutally suppressed the protest. Hamas police entered the crowd and severely beat several demonstrators while arresting others in the guise of keeping the peace.

What have these two events to do with the two-state solution, support for which U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said today was the measure of the next Israeli government? Everything.

The point isn’t just that Israel is a working democracy where the views of even a splinter group that seemed to sympathize with a terrorist government in Gaza was allowed to protest in front of the prime minister’s house while Hamas runs a police state. It’s that the government in Gaza is for all intents and purposes the independent Palestinian state that President Obama and his administration continue to advocate as necessary to peace. But far from being a force for peace, the Iran-funded Hamasistan in Gaza was and remains a permanent threat to peace. More than that, and just like the actions of the supposedly more moderate Fatah in Gaza, the Hamas government is an undemocratic and brutal regime determined not only to suppress dissidents but to treat the welfare of ordinary Palestinians as being less important than their mission of fomenting an endless war against Israel. Nor should it be forgotten that the purpose of that war isn’t to speed an Israeli retreat from the West Bank but to “liberate” all of “occupied Palestine,” a term by which they mean pre-1967 Israel as well as the disputed territories beyond the “green line.”

Additionally, this Hamas-run Palestinian state was created by Israel taking a risk for peace when it removed every single soldier and settler from Gaza in 2005. But rather than this becoming a step toward peace, what Israelis soon learned was that former Prime Minister Sharon had traded land for terror, not peace.

These parallel demonstrations are a reminder of the contrast between the conduct of a free society, even though it remains under siege from foreign foes, and a terrorist state. But they also illustrate the absurdity of a call to repeat the Gaza experiment in the West Bank. A two state solution might be ideal but not under the current circumstances. That Obama continues to expect Israel to do such a mad thing speaks volumes about his lack of concern for the Jewish state’s security as well as of his poor grasp of the realities of the Middle East even after more than six years in the White House.

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Iran Funds the Building of New Terror Tunnels for Hamas

President Obama’s all-out effort to sell his deal with Iran has largely gained a sympathetic hearing in the press. But while Obama is trying to pretend to be on his guard about Iran’s ambitions and even, in a departure from recent statements, showing respect for Israel’s legitimate concerns about this, the Iranians are, once again, demonstrating their contempt for Western illusions. The point isn’t just that Iran’s understanding of their commitments under the yet-to-be-drafted deal differs markedly from what the United States has claimed. It’s that the underlying purpose of President Obama’s initiative—allowing Iran to “get right with the world” and to inaugurate a new era of cooperation with Tehran—is being undermined by Iranian actions that already demonstrate that they intend to redouble efforts to achieve their goal of regional hegemony and destabilization of U.S. allies. Even before the announcement of last week’s agreement, Iranian-backed Shia rebels were taking over Yemen. But now comes news that makes the president’s hopes for a more moderate Iran seem even more ludicrous: the Islamist regime is funneling money to Hamas in Gaza to help it rebuild the tunnels it hopes to use to launch new terror raids inside Israel.

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President Obama’s all-out effort to sell his deal with Iran has largely gained a sympathetic hearing in the press. But while Obama is trying to pretend to be on his guard about Iran’s ambitions and even, in a departure from recent statements, showing respect for Israel’s legitimate concerns about this, the Iranians are, once again, demonstrating their contempt for Western illusions. The point isn’t just that Iran’s understanding of their commitments under the yet-to-be-drafted deal differs markedly from what the United States has claimed. It’s that the underlying purpose of President Obama’s initiative—allowing Iran to “get right with the world” and to inaugurate a new era of cooperation with Tehran—is being undermined by Iranian actions that already demonstrate that they intend to redouble efforts to achieve their goal of regional hegemony and destabilization of U.S. allies. Even before the announcement of last week’s agreement, Iranian-backed Shia rebels were taking over Yemen. But now comes news that makes the president’s hopes for a more moderate Iran seem even more ludicrous: the Islamist regime is funneling money to Hamas in Gaza to help it rebuild the tunnels it hopes to use to launch new terror raids inside Israel.

As Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports:

Iran has sent Hamas’s military wing tens of millions of dollars to help it rebuild the network of tunnels in Gaza destroyed by Israel’s invasion last summer, intelligence sources have told The Sunday Telegraph. It is also funding new missile supplies to replenish stocks used to bombard residential neighbourhoods in Israel during the war, code-named Operation Protective Edge by Israel.

Much like the White House’s determination to ignore everything the Iranians have continued to say about eliminating Israel, not to mention its history of violating commitments, this effort isn’t influencing the administration’s determination to press ahead with the nuclear agreement. Everything that might distract us from embracing the possibility that Iran is changing and will use its nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is deemed irrelevant to the issue at hand by the president and his defenders. So no one should think the thought of Iran directly attempting to foment a new war between Israel and Hamas will lessen the president’s enthusiasm for what he clearly believes to be a legacy achievement.

But those who, unlike President Obama, are not already besotted with the notion of détente with Iran should think very seriously about what this means for the future of the Middle East.

Even if the Iranians observe the rather loose limits on their nuclear ambitions and do not cheat their way to a bomb—as they could easily do given their continued possession of their nuclear infrastructure and stockpile—it must be understood that the deal makes their eventual possession of a bomb inevitable once the agreement expires. But even if we are to, as the administration demands, ignore this certainty, we must confront just how much the economic boost the deal will give its economy and the legitimacy it will grant the regime will impact its efforts to spread its influence and sow the seeds of conflict between Arab and Jew as well as Sunni and Shia.

It is one thing to claim, as President Obama does, that he got the best deal with Iran that was possible. On its face, that assertion can sound reasonable even if it is given the lie by the fact that he spent the last two years discarding all of his political and economic leverage over the Islamist regime and making endless concessions that make it a threshold nuclear power. But it is not much of a secret that the president sees his diplomatic efforts as having a larger goal than a technical and rather insubstantial check on the nuclear program that he pledged to dismantle in his 2012 reelection campaign.

The ultimate goal of the negotiations is to end the 36 years of strife between Iran and the West that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the theocratic regime to power. After decades of supporting terrorism against the West and threatening Israel’s destruction, the president is laboring under the delusion that what he has done is to open up a chance for a true rapprochement with Iran. That’s the argument some of his cheerleaders like the New York Times’s Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof have been making. They have long campaigned for changing the West’s view of Iran from that of a rigid, tyrannical, aggressive, and anti-Semitic regime to one that Americans can feel comfortable doing business with and embracing. The images of a kind, friendly Iran these writers and others like them have worked so hard to promote is based on the notion that the differences between the countries are just politics. The president’s own assertions about Iran being a “complicated” country that is on some levels no different from the United States echoes these disingenuous claims.

But while Iran has political factions that contend for influence and is populated by many nice people who might want to be kind to visiting Americans, none of this changes the fact that its government and military have very different intentions. The real Iran is not the picture postcard version writers like Cohen and Kristof give us but the cold hard facts of Iranian arms shipments and financial support for terrorists in Gaza and its auxiliaries in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria. None of those “complicated” factions disagree about war on Israel or their nuclear goals.

This agreement will not just empower Iran’s nuclear efforts but will strengthen the regime economically in such a way as to make its replacement by more moderate forces unthinkable.

While Americans dream of an entente with exotic Persia, Iran’s leaders are busy preparing the way for violence. The Gaza terror tunnels and missiles are just the tip of the iceberg of Iranian efforts. The American seal of approval that the deal will give will make it easier for them to spread their influence, further isolating and endangering both moderate Arab governments and Israel. That is the cold, hard reality of Iranian power that defenders of this effort to appease Tehran must take into account. Senators pondering whether to vote to give themselves the right to approve the deal should be focused on events in Gaza and Yemen and not just the president’s empty promises about a new era of hope and change in the Middle East.

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Israeli Peace Gestures Not Only Don’t Work. They Make Things Worse.

For those Americans who care about Israel, this is a time of crisis. The Obama administration’s reckless pursuit of détente with Iran and its anger over the reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu has brought us to a critical moment in which it is now possible to imagine the United States abandoning Israel at the United Nations and taking steps to further distance itself from the Jewish state. Many in this country place most of the blame for the problem on Netanyahu because of his willingness to directly challenge the president on Iran and his statements about the two-state solution and the Arab vote prior to his victory that have undermined his reputation among non-Israelis. In response some well-meaning thinkers are proposing that the answer to the problem lies in gestures that Netanyahu could undertake that would both improve Israel’s image and lower tensions with the United States. But Netanyahu is right to not think the effort worth the bother. The recent history of the conflict illustrates that Israeli concessions intended to prove their devotion to peace don’t impress either the Arabs or foreign critics. In fact, they may make things worse.

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For those Americans who care about Israel, this is a time of crisis. The Obama administration’s reckless pursuit of détente with Iran and its anger over the reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu has brought us to a critical moment in which it is now possible to imagine the United States abandoning Israel at the United Nations and taking steps to further distance itself from the Jewish state. Many in this country place most of the blame for the problem on Netanyahu because of his willingness to directly challenge the president on Iran and his statements about the two-state solution and the Arab vote prior to his victory that have undermined his reputation among non-Israelis. In response some well-meaning thinkers are proposing that the answer to the problem lies in gestures that Netanyahu could undertake that would both improve Israel’s image and lower tensions with the United States. But Netanyahu is right to not think the effort worth the bother. The recent history of the conflict illustrates that Israeli concessions intended to prove their devotion to peace don’t impress either the Arabs or foreign critics. In fact, they may make things worse.

While President Obama has been spoiling for fights with Israel’s government since he took office in 2009, his temper tantrum about Netanyahu’s victory now threatens to make his previous tilt toward the Palestinians seem trivial. So it is hardly surprising that veteran peace processers would think the time is right for Netanyahu to do something to appease the president’s wrath. That’s the conceit of a Politico Magazine article jointly credited to former State Department official Dennis Ross and think tank figures David Makovsky and Ghaith Al-Omari that lays out a series of suggestions intended to calm things down and get Israel out of the presidential dog house as well as to calm the waters with both Europe and the Palestinians.

Ross, Makovsky, and Al-Omari are smart enough to realize that the time isn’t right to revive a peace process that is dead in the water. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected peace offers and show no sign that they are any more willing to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside one of their own no matter where its borders are drawn.

But they think it would be wise for Netanyahu to freeze building in settlements beyond the blocs that most concede would remain inside Israel in the event of a peace agreement. Allowing the Palestinians the right to build more in parts of the West Bank that would, at least in theory, be part of their state would calm the waters as would less confrontational rhetoric from Netanyahu. This would, they say, counter the campaign to delegitimize the prime minister and his nation and might prompt similar gestures from the Palestinians, such as a promise to avoid bringing their complaints to the United Nations instead of negotiating as they are committed to do under the Oslo Accords.

It all sounds very smart. Fair or not, Netanyahu is perceived as politically radioactive in Europe and, despite Israel’s popularity in the United States, President Obama’s efforts to turn both Iran and Israel into political footballs has undermined the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition. Gestures aimed at restoring Israel’s good name seem the only answer to a crisis of these dimensions.

But as logical as that sounds, such a course of action not only wouldn’t improve Israel’s image, they would probably further damage it.

How can that be?

Because the recent history of the conflict teaches us that gestures even more far reaching than those suggested for Netanyahu have the opposite effect on both the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders.

Back in 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasir Arafat an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Arafat turned him down flat and then launched a terrorist war of attrition known as the Second Intifada. After it began, I heard then Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, an ardent peace processor, take some consolation from this depressing turn of events by saying that at least after this, no one in the world could fairly accuse Israel again of being the one responsible for the breakdown of the peace process. But, contrary to his predictions, Israel’s willingness to give so much and Palestinian terrorism only increased the level of vituperation against the Jewish state both in the Arab and Muslim worlds and in Europe. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry about Ben-Ami’s naïveté.

The same thing happened after Ariel Sharon withdrew every last Israeli soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in 2005. Instead of proving for the whole world that Israel was ready to once again trade land for peace, that grand gesture did nothing to improve the country’s image. Nothing, not the destruction of the green houses left behind by the Israelis for the Palestinians nor the conversion of Gaza into a terrorist base and then a Hamas-run independent state-in-all-but-name altered the conviction of a hostile world that the trouble was all the fault of the Israelis.

Indeed, it should be understood that the same dynamic was in place even before Barak and Sharon’s gestures since the Oslo Accords themselves in which Israel brought Arafat back into the country, empowered him, and led to withdrawals that gave the Palestinians functional autonomy did little to improve Israel’s image. As our Evelyn Gordon wrote in a prescient COMMENTARY article published in January 2010, by signaling its willingness to withdraw from some territory, the Israelis did not convince anyone of their good intentions. To the contrary, such concessions reinforced the conviction that Israel was a thief in possession of stolen property. The reaction from the Palestinians and hostile Europeans was not gratitude for the generosity of the Israelis in giving up land to which they too had a claim but a demand that it be forced to give up even more. Land for peace schemes and a belief in two states on the part of Israelis has always led most Palestinians to believe that their goal of forcing the Jews out of the entire country was more realistic, not less so.

The same dynamic applies to Netanyahu’s gestures. It was he who endorsed a two-state solution and then backed up his statement with a settlement freeze in the West Bank for ten months. But Netanyahu got no credit for this or any concessions in return from the Palestinians.

Netanyahu would do well to lower the tone of his rhetoric. A cautious leader, he has been rightly accused of carrying a small stick while speaking very loudly. But the expectation that settlement freezes or similar gestures will ease tensions with President Obama is a pipe dream. Even worse, along with Obama’s hostility, these moves may only encourage Hamas to see it, as they have always viewed such gestures, as weakness and an invitation to another round of violence such as the one that led to thousands of rockets being launched from Gaza at Israeli cities.

The diplomatic isolation of Israel that Obama is contemplating is a serious problem. But Israelis have had enough of futile unilateral gestures and rightly so. They have accomplished nothing in the past. Nor will they ameliorate the animosity for Israel in the Muslim and Arab worlds as well as Europe that is rooted more in anti-Semitism than in complaints about the location of the borders of the Jewish state. Until a sea change occurs in Palestinian political culture, Israel’s leaders would be wise to make no more concessions that will only whet the appetite of the terrorists for more Jewish blood. Nor should Netanyahu be under the illusion that President Obama will react with any more generosity toward Israel in the next two years than he has in the previous six. Far from staving off destruction as Ross and his friends think, their advice will likely lead to more diplomatic problems as well as more violence. Just as doctors are advised by their Hippocratic oaths to do no harm, so, too, should Israel’s prime minister be wise enough to eschew a repetition of the mistakes that he and his predecessors have made in the not-so-distant past.

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The Election that Didn’t Happen Matters Far More than the One that Did

In the West, where regular elections are taken for granted, what interested people about yesterday’s Israeli ballot was the outcome. But in the Middle East, many were envious of the very fact that it took place. Nowhere was this truer than among Palestinians, who haven’t had an election in 10 years – not because Israel is preventing them from doing so, but because their own leadership is. And anyone who actually cares about the peace process ought to be far more worried by the Palestinian election that didn’t happen than by the outcome of the Israeli one that did.

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In the West, where regular elections are taken for granted, what interested people about yesterday’s Israeli ballot was the outcome. But in the Middle East, many were envious of the very fact that it took place. Nowhere was this truer than among Palestinians, who haven’t had an election in 10 years – not because Israel is preventing them from doing so, but because their own leadership is. And anyone who actually cares about the peace process ought to be far more worried by the Palestinian election that didn’t happen than by the outcome of the Israeli one that did.

A veteran Palestinian journalist from Ramallah summed up the prevailing sentiment succinctly. “We say all these bad things about Israel, but at least the people there have the right to vote and enjoy democracy,” he told Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh before the election. “We really envy the Israelis. Our leaders don’t want elections. They want to remain in office forever.”

Ghanem Nuseibeh, an East Jerusalem Palestinian now living in Britain, put out an illuminating series of tweets throughout Election Day, including, “Over a million Arabs take part in Middle East’s most democratic elections today”; “The Arabs in Israel are the only Middle East Arab group that practices true democracy”; and “Israel is secure not because it will elect Bibi or Buji, but because of what it is doing today.” He was rooting for Isaac Herzog (“Buji”) and deplored Benjamin Netanyahu, but after acknowledging that his candidate had lost, he nevertheless tweeted, “Israel is the world’s most vibrant democracy” …. “If an Arab country had the same wide spectrum of political parties as Israel does, it would be fighting a civil war unseen in human history.”

Astoundingly, even Hamas in Gaza issued numerous tweets urging Israeli Arabs to vote for the Arab parties’ Joint List. One can only imagine what Gaza residents must have felt at seeing Hamas urge Palestinian Israelis to exercise a right Palestinians in Gaza are denied by their own Hamas-run government.

The absence of Palestinian elections can’t be blamed on “the occupation,” since said “occupation” didn’t prevent elections for the Palestinian Authority from being held in both 1994 and 2005/2006. Rather, it’s entirely the choice of the Palestinians’ own rival governments – Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Both have steadfastly refused to call new elections for fear of losing power.

Nor is the vote the only right Palestinians’ own governments deny them. They are also deprived of other basic civil rights like freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Both Hamas in Gaza and the PA in the West Bank routinely arrest and intimidate journalists; consequently, a recent study found, fully 80% of Palestinian journalists say they self-censor. Palestinians also face arrest even for Facebook posts criticizing their respective governments.

But aside from the fact that this denial of basic civil rights is bad in general, it has real implications for the peace process. Here, another of Nuseibeh’s Election Day tweets is instructive: “Neither the PA nor Bibi want peace. Difference is Israel can remove its own obstacle for peace, through free elections.”

Even if one disputes his assessment of Netanyahu, Abbas or both, his basic point is unarguable: If Israelis see a chance for peace and consider their own prime minister an obstacle to it, they can unseat him – an option they’ve in fact exercised in the past. Palestinians have no such option.

But the problem goes deeper than that – because Abbas, now in the 11th year of his four-year term, also lacks the democratic legitimacy needed to make the kind of concessions any peace agreement would entail. Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid summed up the issue bluntly in a lecture to the Limmud UK conference in December: Abbas, he told his shocked audience, will never be able to make peace with Israel, because he currently represents nobody except himself, his wife and his two sons.

And this does much to explain what most Western leaders consider the deplorable outcome of yesterday’s Israeli vote. As a poll taken last week showed, fully 64% of Israeli Jews agree that “no matter which party forms the next government the peace process with the Palestinians will not advance because there is no solution to the dispute,” and an identical 64% believe “the Palestinian leadership will not show greater flexibility and readiness for concessions” if Herzog replaces Netanyahu. In other words, Israelis saw no reason to vote for a premier more enthusiastic about pursuing peace talks because they saw no answering enthusiasm from the Palestinian side. Had they faced a new Palestinian government that did show interest in making peace, I suspect Israelis would choose Herzog over Netanyahu by a large majority.

Thus if Western leaders are serious about wanting Israeli-Palestinian peace, working to rectify the lack of Palestinian democracy would be far more productive than wringing their hands over the choices made by Israel’s democracy. For precisely because Israelis can always change their minds again in a few years, the Palestinian democracy deficit is far more detrimental to the prospects for peace than the outcome of any Israeli election ever could be.

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Sorry Peter Beinart: Young Americans Still Haven’t Turned Against Israel

This summer, toward the end of Israel’s Gaza offensive, Peter Beinart found something to smile about in an otherwise hard time—an apparent drop in support for Israel among young Americans. Beinart had been predicting since 2010 that U.S. opinion would grow less tolerant of Israel, but American support for Israel in 2013, as measured by Gallup, matched an all-time high. Now, though, a Gallup poll was showing that only 25 percent of younger U.S. respondents considered Israel’s actions in Gaza justified. Fifty-one percent considered them unjustified. Israel was losing America’s millennials, and so we could expect that, with each new conflict, “the American mood [would] incrementally shift.”

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This summer, toward the end of Israel’s Gaza offensive, Peter Beinart found something to smile about in an otherwise hard time—an apparent drop in support for Israel among young Americans. Beinart had been predicting since 2010 that U.S. opinion would grow less tolerant of Israel, but American support for Israel in 2013, as measured by Gallup, matched an all-time high. Now, though, a Gallup poll was showing that only 25 percent of younger U.S. respondents considered Israel’s actions in Gaza justified. Fifty-one percent considered them unjustified. Israel was losing America’s millennials, and so we could expect that, with each new conflict, “the American mood [would] incrementally shift.”

As I pointed out, previous dramatic declines in American support for Israel, as indicated by this poll or that poll, had been followed by recovery. But Beinart was nonetheless confident that this time the anti-Israel cake would bake at last, at least for the young. And Beinart was far from the only commentator to take this position.

It is therefore of some interest that Gallup is out with a new poll. Here is Lydia Saad, a senior editor: some “six months [after the poll on Gaza], young Americans’ broad sympathies toward the Israelis vs. the Palestinians are the same as a year ago.” Approximately 57 percent of 18-29 year olds surveyed both years said that they sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians in the conflict. Sympathy with the Palestinians has also held steady at about 23 percent.

Compare this year to 2005, the year anti-Israel activists started Israeli apartheid week, a period devoted to demonizing Israel, mainly on college campuses, which is in full swing as I write. That year, support for Israel among 18-29 year olds stood at 51 percent. Ten years of a relentless campaign against Israel, specifically targeting the young, has not had its intended effect. It is perhaps for this reason, along with the wearying sameness of the distortions trotted out year after year, that Israeli apartheid week is getting almost no coverage in the United States this year. Look it up now, and the best known media outlet focusing on it is Iran’s Press TV.

I do not mean to say that we should not be concerned about these campaigns which may well, if they are not resisted, have the long-term effect of making Zionism a suspect, if not quite a dirty, word. But those who seized on one striking poll to predict that Israel had finally worn out its welcome with young Americans should be asked to comment on this one. It appears that when they hoped young Americans would pressure Israel into making unilateral concessions with a view to engaging nonexistent peace partners, they may have been indulging in wishful thinking.

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The “Flood Libel” Propagandists of 2015

The proliferation of online news outlets has democratized newsgathering, but it’s also updated the famous adage that “there’s a sucker born every minute” for the Internet age. And no circus attracts the suckers quite like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not only will people believe anything about Israel; their editors will let them write it. And as we learned yesterday, pretty much every year someone will fall for the impossibly preposterous accusation known as the “flood libel.”

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The proliferation of online news outlets has democratized newsgathering, but it’s also updated the famous adage that “there’s a sucker born every minute” for the Internet age. And no circus attracts the suckers quite like the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not only will people believe anything about Israel; their editors will let them write it. And as we learned yesterday, pretty much every year someone will fall for the impossibly preposterous accusation known as the “flood libel.”

There are moments when biased coverage of Israel goes beyond mere opinion. Last year, the good folks at Vox, a notoriously error-ridden site, declared the existence of a bridge connecting the West Bank and Gaza. It was not a maddening mistake; it was, rather, kind of endearing. It was adorable, in its own way. But that such a bridge does not exist is an easily verifiable fact.

Same goes for New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s claim in 2012 that prospective Jewish construction in the West Bank would bisect the West Bank and make physical contiguity impossible. As was subsequently pointed out (and corrected accordingly), this was not even close to being true and Rudoren would have known as much had she glanced at a map.

And this week we were treated to another version of this story, though it’s one we hear often enough. It’s a bit of a hazing ritual: the Palestinians find someone they haven’t yet sold this particular lie to and watch the magic unfold. The lie is this: that flooding in Gaza was caused by Israel opening dams in the South. Easily the most important part of this story is the fact that there are no such dams. They are the Gaza-West Bank bridge of this story. And yet, the story just keeps appearing because the Palestinians never run out of Western suckers.

One of the suckers this year was Vice News. To try to hide its ignorance, Vice offered up several paragraphs of false accusations from the Palestinians followed by this attempt at “balance”: “Israeli officials categorically denied they were to blame while speaking to VICE News on Monday.”

Other outlets were more honest and ethical in the aftermath of publishing the flood libel. As HonestReporting notes, the Daily Mail went with a bit of false balance but also, crucially, added a straight correction and admission of error: “An earlier version of this article stated that Israel had opened river dams in the south of the country, causing flooding in the Gaza strip. In fact, there are no dams in southern Israel and the flooding was caused by rain and drainage issues. We are happy to clarify this.”

According to HonestReporting, the Daily Mail piece also contained the following amazing sentence: “The flooding was today compounded after an Israeli power company cut electricity to two of Gaza’s major West Bank cities.”

And according to CAMERA, both Agence France Presse and Al Jazeera (shocking, I know) passed along the flood libel. AFP pulled its video, and Al Jazeera went the Vice route by pretending the existence of magical dams is somehow in dispute.

The flood libel is proof that sometimes people refuse to learn from others’ mistakes. See this post from Jonathan Tobin in December 2013 for a reminder that the flood libel is neither new nor surprising. IDF spokeswoman Libby Weiss understandably would rather news organizations first locate their unicorns before blaming those unicorns for goring the neighbor’s ox:

So why does this keep happening? Part of the frustration with reporters stems from their absolute laziness. The Internet has put so much information within arm’s reach, and yet reporters are taught that when it comes to Israel, the facts are optional. And that’s because the facts favor Israel.

If you were to draw a map of Israel, using Western news organizations’ reporting, you’d have one that showed Israel bisecting the West Bank while connecting it to Gaza via a bridge and holding parliamentary meetings in its capital of Tel Aviv. None of that is true, but that’s the picture that emerges from the media’s “reporting.”

There also appears to be a kind of modified Stockholm Syndrome at work. These reporters and the outlets they represent are constantly made to look like fools by Palestinian propaganda. But they also seem not to mind, because they sympathize so strongly with what the propagandists and terrorists are telling them.

If what I’m describing to you sounds an awful lot like an activist, not a journalist, well–that’s about right. And such activists play a key role in disseminating grist for the anti-Semitic mill. The first headline is the one that makes waves, especially in the Arab world and in Europe. If the follow-up is not a full retraction or correction, but rather a “balanced” piece in which Israel is permitted to deny the existence of things that plainly don’t exist, then it casts the Israeli government as a powerful entity engaged in a cover-up.

It would be bad enough if we were forced to admit that our media just can’t get the story right. But that’s naïve. The truth is, much of the time our media just won’t get it right. And that’s why the flood libel returns, year after year.

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What Keeps Palestinian Lovers Apart? It’s Their Leaders’ War, Not Israel

Who doesn’t sympathize with the plight of two lovers separated by a heartless bureaucracy? Certainly not Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times who, with the assistance of one of the paper’s stringers in Gaza, wrote a story published yesterday in which the star-crossed romance of a Gaza woman and a Nablus man serves to highlight Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians between the Hamas-run strip and the West Bank. The situation of teacher Dalia Shurrab and social media marketer Rashed Sameer Faddah is worthy of sympathy. But as much as the story Rudoren has written casts the Israelis as the villain of the piece, the real culprits are not to be found in the Jewish state. Palestinians who would like to see more liberal travel policies should address their anger to their leaders whose war on Israel is responsible for their inconvenience. Those who would like the borders of these areas to resemble the ones that separate Canada from the United States can’t at the same time support the ongoing war to extinguish the existence of the Jewish state.

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Who doesn’t sympathize with the plight of two lovers separated by a heartless bureaucracy? Certainly not Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times who, with the assistance of one of the paper’s stringers in Gaza, wrote a story published yesterday in which the star-crossed romance of a Gaza woman and a Nablus man serves to highlight Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians between the Hamas-run strip and the West Bank. The situation of teacher Dalia Shurrab and social media marketer Rashed Sameer Faddah is worthy of sympathy. But as much as the story Rudoren has written casts the Israelis as the villain of the piece, the real culprits are not to be found in the Jewish state. Palestinians who would like to see more liberal travel policies should address their anger to their leaders whose war on Israel is responsible for their inconvenience. Those who would like the borders of these areas to resemble the ones that separate Canada from the United States can’t at the same time support the ongoing war to extinguish the existence of the Jewish state.

There’s no doubt that Shurrab and Faddah appear to be innocent victims of a struggle that has nothing to do with the efforts of two individuals to find happiness. But when you are a citizen of an area ruled by a terrorist group pledged to fight a genocidal terrorist war against your neighbor, is it really fair to cry foul when the government of that country isn’t particularly interested in facilitating your travel?

Palestinians and their foreign supporters apparently think so. They believe that Israel should let Palestinians from Gaza come and go as they please and settle in the West Bank if they like. In a better and more peaceful world, that shouldn’t be a problem. Indeed, if the Palestinian Authority that runs the West Bank and/or the Hamas government in Gaza were ever prepared to make peace with Israel, it might be possible. As Rudoren points out, a commitment to facilitating free travel between the two Palestinian areas was part of the original Oslo Accords. That seems to paint the Israelis as not only hard-hearted but also treaty breakers. But the truth is a little more complicated than that.

Were Israel and the territories as peaceful as the Israelis who helped draft the Oslo Accords assumed they would be once their deal was signed then free passage might make sense. But the reality of Oslo was very different from the “New Middle East” fantasies popularized more than 20 years ago by Shimon Peres and others who championed the accords. Under PA leader and arch terrorist Yasir Arafat, both regions became hotbeds of terror and incitement. Free passage, which was a matter of course during the pre-Oslo period of Israeli rule, was impossible under those circumstances. Once Arafat turned down then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s two offers of statehood and independence in 2000 and 2001 and launched a terrorist war of attrition, it become even less likely. After Hamas seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007, even Western nations that were not sympathetic to Israel agreed that the area had to be kept in quarantine lest the terrorists exploit travel to further their bloody ends.

It is in that context that any restrictions on the ability of Palestinians to move between the West Bank and Gaza must be seen. It is true that Israeli authorities have adopted passport policies regarding the West Bank that are not liberal with respect to the ability of Palestinians to come and go as they please. But is there another country in the world locked in a mortal struggle against an adversary that would be more lenient with respect to such policies? The answer to that question is a resounding “no.”

The Palestinians and their foreign friends consider all of the West Bank and Jerusalem as sovereign Palestinian territory from which the Israeli must be evicted. But there has never been such a sovereign Arab state there and Jews have rights there as well. Even if the current Israeli government and its predecessors have signaled a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal from much of this land, that does not mean it has no right, in the absence of a peace treaty, to ensure that Palestinian travel from the Gaza terrorist enclave should be only allowed for humanitarian purposes such as visits to hospitals.

Perhaps one could argue weddings should also constitute such an exception. But does Israel really want to be put in the position of verifying that every Palestinian couple that seeks such a waiver is actually going to be married rather than part of a ruse that might be used to facilitate illegal action? Israel has enough problems dealing with the West Bank without becoming the moral equivalent of American immigration inspectors trolling for information to deny illegal immigrants green cards obtained under false pretenses.

But the bottom line of this issue is not about Israeli rules. It’s about a Palestinian people and its leadership that has consistently rejected every opportunity for peace including four times in the last 15 years. When the Palestinians are prepared to give up their dream of Israel’s extinction and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, free passage between peaceful countries won’t be an issue. Until then, Palestinian lovers stuck in the two areas should send their complaints to Fatah and Hamas and not to Israel via the New York Times.

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How to React to Algeria’s Diversion of Humanitarian Aid?

Within both the United States and Europe, foreign aid has become a feel-good operation more successful at creating jobs for bureaucrats and consultants in Washington and Brussels than in achieving real success among its targets. This shouldn’t surprise since so often the metric of success used by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is money spent rather than results achieved. A decade ago, for example, it emerged that 95 percent of the money which the United States spent to “fight” malaria in Africa was actually being spent on consultants, and only five percent was making it to Africa itself to counter Africa’s most deadly disease. Lots of malaria experts bought new cars, but it didn’t do the public health in Africa much good.

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Within both the United States and Europe, foreign aid has become a feel-good operation more successful at creating jobs for bureaucrats and consultants in Washington and Brussels than in achieving real success among its targets. This shouldn’t surprise since so often the metric of success used by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is money spent rather than results achieved. A decade ago, for example, it emerged that 95 percent of the money which the United States spent to “fight” malaria in Africa was actually being spent on consultants, and only five percent was making it to Africa itself to counter Africa’s most deadly disease. Lots of malaria experts bought new cars, but it didn’t do the public health in Africa much good.

For both the foreign or humanitarian aid industries, refugees have become a particular cash cow. The Palestinians have received more per capita in aid than any other people, but have little to show for it, except perhaps the inflated bank accounts of UNRWA officials and the tremendous mansions built by Palestinian politicians, from both Fatah and Hamas. And as for those with their hands out on behalf of their people? Let’s just say that Palestinian spokesmen like Hanan Ashrawi (a speech for whom I once handled while working at Yale University) don’t often fly economy class or stay at the Hampton Inn. The main victims of the refugee industry become the Palestinians themselves, who are used as diplomatic distractions and pawns for others’ enrichment.

Alas, the Palestinians are not alone. I have written before about the Tindouf refugees camps over which the Polisario Front and its self-styled “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” rules with an iron fist. Tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees remain stranded in the desert with their voluntary return to Morocco prevented so that Algeria and the Polisario can profit off them. And almost a year ago, I wrote here how the Polisario Front and its Algerian backers were diverting and smuggling humanitarian aid.

Now it seems the European Union is catching on. Last month, Le Monde reported on a new report out of Brussels which confirms what has become obvious: Algeria has been actively colluding with the Polisario Front to divert international aid, using the remaining refugees as humanitarian pawns while enriching themselves. According to Le Monde, the diversion of humanitarian aid begins in the Algerian port of Oran, but assistance gets diverted along the almost 1,000-mile route into Tindouf. It’s really no different from how the North Koreans diverted food and fuel aid in the 1990s.

Alas, just as the State Department sought to bury talk of North Korean cheating, the Pentagon actually for a time thought it wiser to classify corruption rather than eliminate it, and the United Nations sought to bury investigation into its multi-billion-dollar oil-for-food corruption scheme, the European Commission is so far keeping its full report under wraps. In every case, the bureaucratic response is without fail to excuse corruption and protect the reputations of incompetent administrators even at the expense of helping those in need.

So what to do? The European Commission should release its full report. And, with proof of Algerian and Polisario embezzlement, it should also first demand restitution and reimbursement of the diverted funds—perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars over the years—from Algeria and, second, investigate and explain the failure of checks and balances that led the criminal scheme to continue for so long. Accountability should never be a dirty word. Foreign assistance should never be an entitlement, and it should never occur into perpetuity lest as with the cases of Tindouf, North Korea, and Gaza, it becomes an obstacle to conflict resolution rather than a solution to humanitarian crises.

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New Chair Can’t Salvage UN Gaza Travesty

When the United Nations Human Rights Council announced its plan to convene a commission to investigate last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas, it didn’t even bother pretending to be fair to the Jewish state. The UNHRC spends most of its time ignoring all of the most egregious violations of human rights and atrocities around the world and, instead, concentrates almost all of its energies on demonizing Israel and its efforts to defend its citizens against terrorist attacks. The commission it impaneled reflected that same bias. At its head was William Schabas, a Canadian law professor who had already denounced Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a war criminal and stated his belief that Hamas was not a terrorist group. Schabas bitterly resented the criticism that rained down on his head from those who considered the commission to be a kangaroo court. But rather than continue, he has now resigned, still insisting on his fitness to lead the effort. That is to be commended, but Israel ought not to be suckered into taking the UNHRC’s bait. Though it is possible that his successor might be a less egregious pick, Israel should stick to its decision not to cooperate with this travesty.

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When the United Nations Human Rights Council announced its plan to convene a commission to investigate last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas, it didn’t even bother pretending to be fair to the Jewish state. The UNHRC spends most of its time ignoring all of the most egregious violations of human rights and atrocities around the world and, instead, concentrates almost all of its energies on demonizing Israel and its efforts to defend its citizens against terrorist attacks. The commission it impaneled reflected that same bias. At its head was William Schabas, a Canadian law professor who had already denounced Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a war criminal and stated his belief that Hamas was not a terrorist group. Schabas bitterly resented the criticism that rained down on his head from those who considered the commission to be a kangaroo court. But rather than continue, he has now resigned, still insisting on his fitness to lead the effort. That is to be commended, but Israel ought not to be suckered into taking the UNHRC’s bait. Though it is possible that his successor might be a less egregious pick, Israel should stick to its decision not to cooperate with this travesty.

Israel was criticized for deciding not to play along with the UNHRC. It was asserted that by boycotting the panel, it was losing an opportunity to make its case to the world about its side of the story. The decision would, it was asserted, leave the field open for the Palestinians to paint the war as a tale of Jewish aggression against helpless Gaza civilians and completely ignoring the fact that Hamas not only used those people as human shields but also started the war by raining missiles down on Israeli cities and using tunnels to funnel terrorists across the border to kidnap and murder Israelis.

But anyone who has followed the UNHRC knows that no matter how much effort Israel puts into its defense the result won’t change. Schabas was an outrageous choice but he was merely the figurehead at the top of a UN structure that dictates an indictment of Israel, not its principle author.

It should be recalled that the UNHRC’s investigation of the 2008 war in Gaza—the Goldstone Commission—was a travesty that was focused almost entirely on delegitimizing Israeli self-defense while largely downplaying the actual war crimes committed by the Hamas rulers of Gaza. Ultimately Judge Richard Goldstone, the South African Jew who had been appointed to chair that commission, repudiated its findings. But that recantation came too late. The damage was already done. Whereas the UNHRC thought to put a more acceptable face on its Star Chamber investigation of Israel with Goldstone, naming Schabas showed it no longer thought it worth the bother to even put up a pretense of objectivity.

That’s why Schabas’s withdrawal changes nothing about the UNHRC’s prejudice or its methods. No one who is likely to be named to this post would be objective and anyone who was would quickly discover, as Goldstone eventually did, that the UNHRC’s staff has one objective with respect to Israel and it is not fairness or the truth.

But rather than focus solely on what is, in effect, a pro forma effort that will produce a raft of slanders and distortions no matter what evidence is presented to the panel, observers should be directing their attention to the UNHRC itself. Despite efforts to reform it, this agency remains one of the worst examples of UN bias against Israel and the Jews. Rather than helping to stem the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world, the UNHRC is aiding and abetting it. Rather than wring its hands about the likelihood of an unfair attack on Israel about the Gaza war, the United States ought to be pulling out of the UNHRC and leading efforts to isolate it so as to prevent the world body from doing even more damage. But since the Obama administration is led by a president who is infatuated with the UN and often enraged by the temerity of Israel’s leaders to both defend their country and to urge others to speak out against threats to its security—such as the Iranian nuclear threat—don’t expect common sense or courage from Washington on the UNHRC.

In the meantime, decent persons both here and elsewhere should be denouncing the UNHRC’s latest attempt to smear Israel, no matter who is at its head.

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Is Iran Preparing for a Two-Front War Against Israel?

The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

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The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

The aftermath of the dustup along the Lebanese border has been characterized mostly by renewed Israeli efforts to search for evidence of tunnels being dug across the border to facilitate more terror attacks. The construction equipment that has been reported in the vicinity of this week’s assault was widely assumed to be a sign that Hezbollah is preparing for more attacks perhaps this time aimed at killing and kidnapping civilians as well as soldiers.

The context was not just the usual tensions with the terror group but signs that Iran was upping the ante with Israel as it continued to refuse to budge in nuclear talks with the United States and its Western allies. Far from being separate issues, the ability of Iran to deploy its Hezbollah auxiliaries to pressure Israel must be understood as integral to its overall goal of seeking regional hegemony via the chaos in Iraq and the survival of its ally Bashar Assad in Syria.

Tensions with Hamas along Israel’s southern border should be seen in the same light.

Hamas has recently begun moving to renew its alliance with Iran after their split because they backed rival sides in the Syrian civil war. Assad’s victory was achieved with Iranian and Hezbollah help and Hamas has now conceded it made a mistake when it threw in with Saudi Arabia and Turkey to back the rebels.

But it too, has been using the respite since last summer’s war to rebuild. But the rebuilding has not been of the homes of Palestinians who were used as human shields by Hamas. Rather it has been rebuilding its military infrastructure of tunnels and shelters designed to protect its leaders, fighters and arsenal. Talk about international donors being slow to pay their pledges for the costs of rebuilding Gaza should be understood in the context of Hamas using as much of the aid as it can for its own purposes rather than to help those who languish under their despotic rule.

As for the residents of Gaza, Hamas isn’t completely neglecting them. As the Times of Israel reports, the ruling Islamist group has been operating camps for children in recent months. But the kids aren’t learning sports, fitness or arts and crafts. Some 15,000 teenagers have been undergoing terrorist training by the Izaddin al-Qassam, Hamas’s “military wing.” Many of them graduated the course yesterday.

Drills included weapons training and exercises simulating kidnapping IDF soldiers and infiltration into Israel through tunnels. Portraits of Israeli leaders were used in target practice for sniper training.

In case, the International Criminal Court is interested in investigating a real war crime as opposed to compiling charges against Israel for having the temerity to defend itself against terrorist assault, using children in this manner is an atrocity.

But the point of these two stories is that Israel must brace itself for a two-front war if Iran thinks it is in its interest to start one. That should cause President Obama to rethink his reckless pursuit of détente with Iran in which he has already sacrificed his former goal of dismantling their nuclear program. Further appeasement of Tehran will not bring peace to the region. To the contrary, Iran seems bent on expanding its reach and terrorism is the way to do it. With more daylight opening up between Washington and Jerusalem these days, the temptation for Iran to use the leverage it has acquired on Israel’s northern and southern borders may prove irresistible. If the U.S. wants to prevent such an outcome, it needs to be more realistic about the nature of its negotiating partner and more supportive of an ally that remains under siege from Islamist terrorists on two fronts.

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How the World Encourages Hamas to Recruit Child Soldiers

Hamas is currently recruiting thousands of Palestinians aged 15 to 21 into its new “Liberation Army” in Gaza, journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported today. So on top of the fact that it’s spending its money on a military buildup even as thousands of residents of Hamas-controlled Gaza remain homeless with no help in sight, half the age cohort Hamas seeks to recruit consists of people under 18, whom the United Nations and international human-rights groups define as children. Recruiting child soldiers is generally considered a gross violation of human rights. Yet far from condemning this behavior, the “international community” is actively encouraging it.

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Hamas is currently recruiting thousands of Palestinians aged 15 to 21 into its new “Liberation Army” in Gaza, journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported today. So on top of the fact that it’s spending its money on a military buildup even as thousands of residents of Hamas-controlled Gaza remain homeless with no help in sight, half the age cohort Hamas seeks to recruit consists of people under 18, whom the United Nations and international human-rights groups define as children. Recruiting child soldiers is generally considered a gross violation of human rights. Yet far from condemning this behavior, the “international community” is actively encouraging it.

After all, you don’t hear much about Hamas’s recruitment efforts from the UN, the EU, the media or major human-rights organizations. But if those child soldiers are someday killed fighting Israel, all of these bodies will vie over who can condemn Israel for “killing children” most vociferously. And it’s precisely that reaction that makes recruiting child soldiers a win-win for Hamas: By so doing, not only can it significantly expand its fighting forces, but it can also ensure that Israel suffers international vilification whenever a war breaks out–all without suffering any negative consequences to itself.

In fact, it’s a triple win for Hamas, because this tactic doesn’t only endanger the child soldiers themselves; it also endangers innocent 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds. After all, if Hamas is recruiting children this age into its “army,” then Israeli soldiers have to treat every male in that age range as a potential combatant. And in the fog of battle–where it’s often hard for soldiers to tell exactly who is shooting at them, especially since Hamas operatives don’t wear uniforms and frequently open fire from amid civilians–anyone who looks like a potential combatant is more likely to be killed. Thus Israel will be accused of killing even more children.

During last summer’s war in Gaza, for instance, the “official” UN statistics reported worldwide asserted that almost a quarter of the Palestinian fatalities–24 percent–were children. Most people, hearing a figure like that, are shocked and appalled, and immediately conclude that Israel was at best guilty of using excessive force and at worst of war crimes. Consequently, Hamas benefits when this figure is inflated; Alan Dershowitz aptly termed this Hamas’s “dead-baby strategy.”

But it only works because the UN, the media, human-rights groups, world leaders, and all the other sources people depend on for information collaborate with it.

One way they do so is by neglecting to mention that some of those children–we’ll probably never know how many–were actually killed by misfired Hamas rockets or secondary explosions of the weaponry Hamas routinely stores in civilian houses; all Palestinian casualties are automatically blamed on Israel. Another is by neglecting to provide comparative data that would illustrate the difficulty of preventing civilian casualties while fighting terrorists in a dense urban environment, like the fact that the proportion of children killed in U.S. airstrikes in Iraq was much higher, at 39 percent.

A third reason, however, is that the UN carefully doesn’t mention how many of those “children” were males aged 15, 16, or 17; it defines everyone under age 18 as a child and lumps them all together in one grand total. Given Hamas’s known habit of recruiting teenagers, at least some of those killed “children” were certainly either actual combatants or people Israeli soldiers had valid reason to suspect of being combatants. But you’d never know that from the UN, the media, human-rights groups, or world leaders.

You might call this the “dead teenager” variant of Hamas’s strategy: Fan international hatred of Israel by recruiting child soldiers whose deaths will be reported worldwide as “Israel kills innocent children.” And as long as the international community keeps collaborating with this strategy, Hamas will have every incentive to keep right on recruiting child soldiers.

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Which Palestinian State Do They Want?

In the last week, Islamist terror in Europe has at least temporarily distracted the continent from its habitual foreign-policy obsession: the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But in spite of the current focus on domestic terror, there can be little doubt that Europe’s parliaments and diplomats will soon be back campaigning to recognize a state of Palestine and for pressure on Israel to make unilateral concessions in order to make that state a reality. But as a story in today’s New York Times illustrates, those in the international community that are so intent to pretend that a Palestinian state already exists and is need of international recognition need to figure out which one they are backing. Is it the Hamas terrorist state in Gaza? Or the corrupt Fatah state in the West Bank?

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In the last week, Islamist terror in Europe has at least temporarily distracted the continent from its habitual foreign-policy obsession: the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But in spite of the current focus on domestic terror, there can be little doubt that Europe’s parliaments and diplomats will soon be back campaigning to recognize a state of Palestine and for pressure on Israel to make unilateral concessions in order to make that state a reality. But as a story in today’s New York Times illustrates, those in the international community that are so intent to pretend that a Palestinian state already exists and is need of international recognition need to figure out which one they are backing. Is it the Hamas terrorist state in Gaza? Or the corrupt Fatah state in the West Bank?

The Times focuses on one tragicomic example of the dysfunctional world of Palestinian politics. At the Beit Hanoun crossing point between Israel and northern Gaza, there are two Palestinian border checkpoints a half-mile apart. Those who seek to enter Gaza from Israel must pass through both, enabling both Fatah and Hamas to pretend to control the area. When Hamas sought to set up its own makeshift facility at the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority site, the system broke down and no one other than foreigners or Palestinians with emergencies was able to pass. Hamas backed down yesterday and the situation returned to normal but the anomalous situation remains as two governments attempt to carry on operations.

This was supposed to have been solved last year when PA leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas that would bring both areas under joint control. But the pact was more of a ruse intended to blow up the peace negotiations with Israel the PA had been forced into by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry than an actual attempt at unification. Though the two rival groups actually have much in common—principally a commitment to ongoing conflict with Israel and an aversion to recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn—they are bitterly divided by conflicting financial interests as well as ideologies.

Both lack democratic legitimacy. Hamas won elections but to speak of a terrorist group coercing a population to back them is antithetical to any notion of the rule of law. Though hailed as moderates by the international community, Abbas and Fatah are even worse in that respect, as they have shunned elections for years for fear of losing to Hamas because of the latter’s better credentials in terms of shedding Israeli blood. Abbas still calls himself PA president, but that is more a matter of courtesy than anything else since he is serving in the 10th year of a four-year term to which he was elected.

Both promote hate against Israel in their official media and schools making peace less likely with each generation of children more steeped in the violent language of the conflict and a sense that all violence against Jews is to be condoned than the one that preceded it. What the two also have in common is a corrupt political system. Both rule by distributing money to large numbers of no-show or no-work government employees. Spreading the wealth around in this manner means that a huge percentage of Palestinians are directly dependent on either the PA or Hamas. This frees up the elites of both groups to loot the vast sums donated to help the Palestinians by foreign governments for either personal use or to pay for terror activities. Thus while Fatah runs a kleptocracy that saps the economy of the West Bank and stifles development, the more religious Hamas thieves use their international aid for rockets and terror tunnels rather than personal enrichment. The former is despicable, but the latter is certainly more dangerous.

But the division between the two is real, as Hamas operates an independent state in all but name and Fatah runs most of the West Bank with Israel only intervening to try to hunt down terror suspects.

The point of drawing attention to this division is not just to understand that sovereignty over a single Palestinian state is a myth and would not be resolved by international recognition. Rather, it is to bring to the attention of the world that by empowering either or both, they are laying the foundation for generations of future conflict rather than peace.

The common Palestinian political culture both Hamas and Fatah share is one in which their national identity is inextricably tied up with a war against Zionism. Though Fatah can sound more moderate than Hamas, especially when its leader is addressing the international and Israeli press rather than domestic audiences, it is just as locked into the idea that making peace on any terms would be a betrayal of their basic principles.

Giving more power to either or both would be to ensure more war for the Middle East. In the case of the West Bank, that would mean a repeat of the experiment whereby Israel withdrew every last soldier, settler, and settlement and instead of getting peace, saw the strip transformed into a terrorist launching pad/fortress.

All of which takes us back to our original question. If European governments and their parliaments are so concerned about the wellbeing of ordinary Palestinians, instead of pouring more money directly into the hands of Fatah or indirectly to Hamas via aid groups, they should insist on reform of both. More to the point, they should refrain from creating one or two more terror states that will strengthen the very forces of Islamist intolerance that have brought bloodshed to their streets. Sympathy for the Palestinians is understandable. Seeking to further empower Hamas and/or Fatah is a prescription for chaos and violence.

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Israel’s Waiting Game

These days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel like Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show when, while he’s sitting on a beach, it suddenly starts to rain only on Truman. Once he steps out of the rain, it follows him until the rain-control glitch is fixed and the “sky” opens up, soaking Truman in the ensuing, and inescapable, downpour. But at least by that time he had incontrovertible proof that, yes, they were out to get him.

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These days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel like Jim Carrey’s character in the Truman Show when, while he’s sitting on a beach, it suddenly starts to rain only on Truman. Once he steps out of the rain, it follows him until the rain-control glitch is fixed and the “sky” opens up, soaking Truman in the ensuing, and inescapable, downpour. But at least by that time he had incontrovertible proof that, yes, they were out to get him.

Yesterday, the Times of Israel reported that ultra-Orthodox political leaders claimed to have been approached to join an alternative coalition with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and Labor, which would replace the current coalition. In other words, rearrange the government to exclude Likud. Lapid denies that such a move is afoot, and it’s likely the leaking of the story was meant more as a warning than an imminent threat.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem continues to simmer. More clashes in the city took place over the weekend, and an Arab driver of an Egged bus appeared to have committed suicide. There is no evidence to the contrary, but Palestinians nonetheless have circulated rumors that the Jews were somehow involved, raising the prospect of “retaliation” of some sort and now apparently an Arab Egged strike.

And then today Haaretz’s Barak Ravid got his hands on an internal European Union document that outlines sanctions against Israel that EU countries could take if Israel continues to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and makes land designations that confuse ignorant Eurocrats. It doesn’t matter that Israel isn’t doing quite what the EU accuses it of, nor that the EU is wrong about what will bring peace and what will prevent it.

The real news of the EU document is that the EU has foreclosed the possibility that facts and rationality will determine Israel-Europe relations. Brussels is getting quite serious about being completely unserious. Today’s EU “red lines” are just that–today’s. Once conceded, they’ll find some more demands to chip away at Israeli sovereignty and further restrict Jewish rights.

After Haaretz published the leak, the EU explained to Ravid that they were not ready to deploy that threat just yet, in an utterly unconvincing (perhaps intentionally so?) response:

“It certainly was not on the ministers’ table today and it was not at the heart of today’s discussion,” Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs said, adding that she had read the report in Haaretz. “There was certainly no question of isolating or sanctioning anybody, rather how can we re-motivate people to get into a dialogue again, how to start a positive process with the Israelis and Palestinians to re-launch a peace process.”

Nonetheless, the foreign ministers’ meeting ended with a formal condemnation of Israeli building of settlements over the Green Line and a hint regarding punitive measures against Israel.

“Recalling that settlements are illegal under international law, the EU and its Member States remain committed to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlement products,” read the announcement. “The EU closely monitors the situation and its broader implications and remains ready to take further action in order to protect the viability of the two-state solution.”

When it rains, it pours, and when it pours, the UN is usually there to toss a bucket of water as well. Today Assistant Secretary-General Jens Toyberg-Frandzen got in on the act, warning that more violence in and around Jerusalem “is never too far below the surface.” He was happy to place the blame on Israel for settlements etc. (the standard way to excuse Palestinian terrorism), doing his part to contribute to the conflict’s self-fulfilling prophecy: if you excuse Palestinian terrorism, there will be more of it. But on the bright side, the esteemed assistant secretary-general had some good news–sort of:

On a positive note, Toyberg-Frandzen said a UN-brokered agreement to get building materials into Gaza to rebuild the territory following this summer’s war between Israel and Hamas allowed 1,086 Gazans to purchase construction materials by Nov. 13. He said it is also encouraging that Israel plans to increase the number of trucks with construction materials entering Gaza from the current 300 to 800 daily.

Of course construction materials help Hamas in two ways: they either resell them at a premium to those who actually need them, or they take them for themselves to build terror tunnels and other threats to Israel. Again, that’s the supposed “positive note”: the UN is helping Hamas get back on its feet.

So what is Netanyahu to do? Not much, in fact. The numbers still favor his Likud party even if early elections are called. And there won’t be a national consensus over specific action because it’s unclear what action can or should be taken to put Jerusalem at ease. Mahmoud Abbas either can’t or won’t get Palestinians in Jerusalem to stop the violence, so there’s no partner on the Palestinian side. And there does not appear to be a way to dislodge the political right from its perch, so Israelis know that they are unlikely to find an alternative to Netanyahu who brings more upside without substantial downside as well.

Israeli governments aren’t known for their stability. That was thought to only get worse as the two major parties lost their respective virtual monopolies on the right and left. But surprisingly enough, Israeli democracy is proving resilient. It turns out that Israelis are much harder to intimidate and bully than the Palestinians, the UN, and the EU thought.

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Wealthy Terrorists Don’t Need Foreign Aid

Last month, a group of international donors including the United States gathered in Cairo to make pledges to give financial aid to help rebuild Gaza in the wake of the war between Israel and Hamas this past summer. The amount pledged totaled $5.4 billion with the U.S. kicking in a few hundred million. The bulk of the money will go to aid organizations with the Palestinian Authority also getting a share. But while the world was told that all the money would be used for civilian purposes and to help those who lost their homes in the fighting, there was little doubt that the Hamas rulers of the strip would wind up getting their hands on a good deal of it. But the most curious thing about this exercise in international philanthropy was that no one thought to ask Hamas to pay for at least some of the damage they caused by igniting a bloody war. That’s the question that comes to mind today when you read that the Islamists have been named the world’s second-richest terrorist group.

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Last month, a group of international donors including the United States gathered in Cairo to make pledges to give financial aid to help rebuild Gaza in the wake of the war between Israel and Hamas this past summer. The amount pledged totaled $5.4 billion with the U.S. kicking in a few hundred million. The bulk of the money will go to aid organizations with the Palestinian Authority also getting a share. But while the world was told that all the money would be used for civilian purposes and to help those who lost their homes in the fighting, there was little doubt that the Hamas rulers of the strip would wind up getting their hands on a good deal of it. But the most curious thing about this exercise in international philanthropy was that no one thought to ask Hamas to pay for at least some of the damage they caused by igniting a bloody war. That’s the question that comes to mind today when you read that the Islamists have been named the world’s second-richest terrorist group.

According to Forbes Israel, Hamas is the runner-up to ISIS in the competition for the title of wealthiest terror organization. ISIS has $2 billion in assets while Hamas has only $1 billion. The former’s advantage is that it is now in control of some of Iraq’s oil flow and pulls in up to $3 million a day in revenue from that lucrative business. ISIS also was able to loot hundreds of millions from Mosul’s main bank when it seized that city. It also profits from the brisk trade in hostage ransoms with European nations anteing up large sums to save its citizens in ISIS’s hands. To its credit, the Obama administration has refused to play along, a principled policy that has led to the brutal murders of American captives.

Hamas has no oil fields or banks at its disposal. But it has something almost as good: An overpopulated strip of land where more than a million people live at their misery. Though Hamas long maintained an image as an efficient provider of social services to the people of Gaza, the reality is that it is—like its Fatah rivals in the West Bank—more akin to a mafia family than a government and rakes in money extorted or taxed from Gazans hand over fist. Hamas also profited handsomely from control of the smuggling tunnels that used to link Gaza to Egypt and also rakes in huge amounts of aid from its Gulf State patrons like Qatar.

Since Fatah now masquerades as a legitimate government and even a peace partner in the West Bank, it was not listed. But if it were, it’s likely that the considerable assets of this supposedly reformed terror group would also be considerable, considering the amount of money it and its leaders have looted from the billions in international aid that have poured into them since the 1993 Oslo Accords.

But the minutiae about which of these groups has the most cash ignores the more pertinent question about Gaza. While the West has committed itself to waging a half-hearted war to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS” in President Obama’s words, it has chosen to tolerate Hamas and let it remain in control of Gaza, even if it meant condemning a large civilian population to be used as human shields for its terror operations. And it has been allowed to save or re-invest its considerable fortune in rearming its cadres and rebuilding its defenses in the aftermath of the terrorist war it launched this year.

The world looks at the ruined homes of Gaza and rightly expresses its sympathy and its desire to help its people. But the problem with the international aid process is not merely that it is not likely to keep all of the billions coming in out of the clutches of Hamas. It is that so long as we are prepared to tolerate Hamas’s continued sovereignty over the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, more war and bloodshed is likely to ensue. The threat from ISIS as it seeks to overrun all of Iraq and Syria is one that the U.S. and its allies needed to address. But the danger of allowing terrorist groups to become rulers of populations is not limited to those places with oil. In the absence of a commitment to overthrow Hamas, money donated to Gaza is an investment in future war, not peace or humanitarian values. Its place on the list of wealthiest terror group mocks the West as much as it does the Palestinians who suffer under their rule.

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Ignore the UN Human Rights Farce

There will be those who will argue that Israel is once again shooting itself in the foot by announcing that it will not cooperate with the investigation being conducted into this past summer’s war with Hamas by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Critics of the decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu will say that by snubbing the inquiry, Israel is losing its chance to give input to the proceedings and ensuring that only its enemies will play a role in the final outcome. But the claim that Israel will have a fair chance to defend itself before the UNHRC is a joke. The UN agency has a long record of bias against Israel but by choosing a chairman of the panel that had already put himself down on record as a virulent opponent of Israel, it should have forfeited the respect of even those few who take the group seriously.

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There will be those who will argue that Israel is once again shooting itself in the foot by announcing that it will not cooperate with the investigation being conducted into this past summer’s war with Hamas by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Critics of the decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu will say that by snubbing the inquiry, Israel is losing its chance to give input to the proceedings and ensuring that only its enemies will play a role in the final outcome. But the claim that Israel will have a fair chance to defend itself before the UNHRC is a joke. The UN agency has a long record of bias against Israel but by choosing a chairman of the panel that had already put himself down on record as a virulent opponent of Israel, it should have forfeited the respect of even those few who take the group seriously.

It should be remembered that the last time the UNHRC appointed a commission to investigate an Israeli campaign in Gaza, it produced the Goldstone Commission, a compendium of one-sided libels aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s right of self-defense so egregious that even its chairman, South African jurist Richard Goldstone (who was chosen largely out of a desire to put a Jewish label on an anti-Israel product) eventually repudiated it.

This time the UNHRC hasn’t even bothered to pretend that it wanted fairness as it did with the appointment of Goldstone, and chose instead a Canadian law professor who has made a name for himself as an enemy of Israel. William Schabas has already gone on record saying that Hamas was not a terrorist organization and that Netanyahu should be indicted for war crimes. Yet he claims that he could still be impartial. As the Times of Israel reported, even Schabas admitted that his record indicates his bias:

“I do not hate Israel and do not want to engage in a debate regarding my previous positions on Israel,” Schabas told Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat in an interview. “I have had positions in the past concerning Palestine and Israel and they have nothing to do with my mission now. I will put my opinions aside during the investigation and they will have no bearing on it.”

But whether or not Schabas conquers his prejudices during the course of his work probing Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, there is no reason for anyone, in Israel or anywhere else, to take anything the UNHRC says seriously. Its membership is composed of countries that are themselves some of the worst human-rights violators in the world. In appropriating the banner of human rights, these tyrannies have long made a mockery of the concept and instead seem to prove that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the halls of the UN. The vast majority of its work has always been concentrated on efforts to smear Israel or otherwise deny its rights while at the same time ignoring some of the most egregious human-rights catastrophes going on elsewhere.

It should be remembered that the Gaza war began with a Hamas terrorist attack on Israeli teenagers and then escalated as the Islamist group rained down thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and used tunnels under the border to attempt murders and kidnappings. Israel fought back and did its best to silence the rockets and close the tunnels but found that just as it did in 2008-2009 in the war the Goldstone Commission investigated, Hamas used the civilian population as human shields. While, as with that war, many if not most of the fatalities were Hamas fighters, the international press and so-called human-rights groups put the onus for the tragedy on Israel rather than on the terrorist group.

But while Hamas’s war crimes deserve the scrutiny of the world, the UNHRC remains resolute in its lack of interest in doing anything about the mass slaughter in Syria where the Bashar Assad regime and some of his Islamist opponents have slaughtered more than 200,000 persons (as opposed to the 2,000 Gazans—civilians and terrorists—who died during the summer war).

As with Goldstone, nothing Israel does or says, no matter how transparent it tried to be about its operations, would influence the likes of Schabas or his UNHRC colleagues. Their only purpose is to use this conflict as an excuse for bashing the Israelis and judging them by a standard applied to no other country, let alone one at war. While Israel can’t stop this farce, it can and should refuse to grant it even the veneer of legitimacy.

Rather than questioning Israel’s refusal to play along with its enemies, a better topic of discussion would be why the United States continues to legitimize the UNHRC with its membership. Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s infatuation with the world body causes it to continue to treat the Human Rights Council as a legitimate institution. That should end. But even more important, the international press and decent people everywhere should refuse to treat the UNHRC or its probes as anything but a sick joke.

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State Department’s War on Israel Exposed

Last week, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, exposed the hypocrisy of Obama administration officials who criticized Israel for taking insufficient care to avoid harming civilians during the war in Gaza this past summer. But the State Department isn’t backing down. Despite Dempsey’s statement that Israel gone to “extraordinary lengths” and had done what they could to spare innocents, when asked about the issue on Friday at the daily State Department press briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki simply dismissed Dempsey’s avowal as irrelevant to the administration’s agenda.

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Last week, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, exposed the hypocrisy of Obama administration officials who criticized Israel for taking insufficient care to avoid harming civilians during the war in Gaza this past summer. But the State Department isn’t backing down. Despite Dempsey’s statement that Israel gone to “extraordinary lengths” and had done what they could to spare innocents, when asked about the issue on Friday at the daily State Department press briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki simply dismissed Dempsey’s avowal as irrelevant to the administration’s agenda.

Here’s the full exchange with Matt Lee of the Associated Press:

MATT LEE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yesterday, the ICC made its decision that there was no case to prosecute for war crimes in Gaza. But also yesterday – and you spoke about that very briefly here. But also yesterday, General Dempsey, who is no slouch when it comes to military things, told an audience in New York that the Israelis went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage during the Gaza war. And I’m puzzled, because I thought it was the position of the Administration – or maybe it was just the position of the State Department and the White House – that Israel was not doing enough to live up to its – what you called its own high standards. Back on August 3rd, there was the statement you put out after the UNRWA school incident, saying that the U.S. “is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling.” And that was some pretty fierce criticism. How do you reconcile these two apparent divergent points of view? When this statement came out, the United States was appalled? Did that just mean the State Department was appalled?

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT: No, that is the position of the Administration; it remains the position of the Administration. As we made clear throughout the summer’s conflict, we supported Israel’s right to self-defense and strongly condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks that deliberately targeted civilians, and the use of tunnels, of course, of attacks into Israel. However, we also expressed deep concern and heartbreak for the civilian death toll in Gaza and made clear, as you noted in the statement you pointed to, that we believed that Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties, and it was important that they held their selves to a high standard. So that remains our view and position about this summer’s events.

LEE: Okay. But I’m still confused as to how you can reconcile the fact that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – who knows a bit about how military operations work, I would venture to guess; I don’t know him, but I assume that he wouldn’t be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff if he was – if he didn’t –

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

LEE: — says that the Israelis essentially did the best that they could and lived up to – by extension lived up to their high standards by taking – by going to, quote, “extraordinary lengths” to limit the collateral damage.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the chairman’s team for his – more specifics on his comments. But it remains the broad view of the entire Administration that they could have done more and they should have taken more – all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties.

This stand tells us two things about the Obama administration.

The first is that facts played no part in its attacks on Israel at a time when thousands of rockets were raining down on Israeli cities and terrorists were using tunnels to cross the border to attempt kidnappings and murders of Jews. Hamas did its best to hide behind civilians in Gaza, something that was aided and abetted by an international press corps that was either too intimidated by the Islamists to report on their activities or to shoot videos of photos of armed terrorists or missile launches. But, as Dempsey rightly concluded, the Israelis were cautious about firing at positions embedded among civilians and adopted various strategies to keep collateral damage to a minimum. The fact that the U.S. Armed Forces sent a delegation to learn about the Israel Defense Forces’ policies so as to help Americans to improve their own record speaks volumes about the Pentagon’s views about criticisms of the Israelis.

Yet the State Department and the White House both sought to hammer the Israelis for every incident in which civilians were killed. The fact that the Israelis were every bit if not more scrupulous about this concern than American forces operating in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or Syria is not in dispute, certainly not by their U.S. commander.

The reason for these criticisms, which continue despite being contradicted by Dempsey, has to do with politics, not the ethics of war. The president and his foreign-policy team are determined to besmirch Israel and undermine its democratically elected government no matter what the circumstances. If the allegations are not supported by the facts, that doesn’t deter Psaki and her masters from continuing their broadsides since the objective is not to actually change the policies of the Israel Defense Forces. It is to pressure the Jewish state’s government to forgo the right of self-defense that she says the U.S. supports and to make concessions to the Palestinians that would make another round of even deadlier violence even more likely.

The second thing this bizarre clinging to discredited positions tells us is that there is little respect for military realities or the opinions of the country’s military professionals within the Obama administration. This has been reflected in the president consistently ignoring their advice in abandoning Iraq and planning to accelerate the withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as to his insistence on the idea that scattered bombing will stop ISIS.

Such a disconnect between the military and the administration is forgivable in peacetime. Though he has sought to flee from it, Obama is a wartime president. But, as this episode reveals, the war he prefers to fight is the political one against Israel, not the real one Islamists are waging against the United States and its allies.

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Dempsey Debunks U.S. Attacks on Israel

Over the course of this past summer’s war between Hamas and Israel, the Jewish state was subjected to bitter criticism from both the U.S. State Department and the White House. The Obama administration made it clear that it believed Israel’s counter-attack against Hamas missile attacks and terror tunnels was disproportionate. Civilian casualty figures were frequently cited to chide the Israelis for killing and wounding Palestinians. Some of us pointed out that Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties not only gave the lie to these accusations but also actually compared favorably to that of the U.S. military in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But don’t take my word for it. According to Reuters, earlier this week General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a New York audience that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilians casualties” in Gaza.

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Over the course of this past summer’s war between Hamas and Israel, the Jewish state was subjected to bitter criticism from both the U.S. State Department and the White House. The Obama administration made it clear that it believed Israel’s counter-attack against Hamas missile attacks and terror tunnels was disproportionate. Civilian casualty figures were frequently cited to chide the Israelis for killing and wounding Palestinians. Some of us pointed out that Israel’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties not only gave the lie to these accusations but also actually compared favorably to that of the U.S. military in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. But don’t take my word for it. According to Reuters, earlier this week General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a New York audience that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilians casualties” in Gaza.

The contradiction between Dempsey’s remarks and the blistering criticisms of Israeli behavior uttered by the State Department and White House is instructive. Dempsey not only undermined the credibility of anything said by the U.S. during the war. He also exposed the president’s political agenda against the Jewish state and its government, a point that was made clear in the recent controversy about “senior administration officials” telling The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that Prime Minister Netanyahu was a “coward” and a “chickenshit.”

Dempsey told the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York that the Israelis “did what they could” to avoid civilian casualties. In a war fought with a ruthless terrorist enemy that deliberately hid behind civilians and operating out of mosques, hospitals, schools, and public shelters, there is simply no way to prevent civilians from getting hurt. That’s a point the U.S. military readily understood even if the Obama administration chose to use the pictures of dead civilians as an opportunity to score points at the expense of the Israelis.

But Dempsey went further than sympathizing with his Israeli counterparts:

Dempsey said the Pentagon three months ago sent a “lessons-learned team” of senior officers and non-commissioned officers to work with the IDF to see what could be learned from the Gaza operation, “to include the measures they took to prevent civilian casualties and what they did with tunneling.”

The general said civilian casualties during the conflict were “tragic, but I think the IDF did what they could” to avoid them.

He said he thought his Israeli counterpart would look at lessons learned from the conflict to see what more could be done to avoid civilian deaths in future operations.

“The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They’re interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel,” Dempsey said.

The subtext to the administration’s attacks on the Israelis about Gaza is that the president has been deeply involved in ordering air strikes on terrorist targets throughout the Middle East. While there’s no doubt that the American military is as interested in avoiding harm to civilians as the Israelis, they know very well that many are killed or wounded when bombs are dropped on those responsible for terrorism. The only difference between the two conflicts is not in the character of the targets. There isn’t much difference between the Islamist killers of Hamas and those of al-Qaeda or ISIS. But the international media doesn’t pay nearly as much attention to such attacks when Israelis aren’t involved. Moreover, the media’s coverage of Gaza was incredibly one-sided as no pictures of Hamas fighters or missile launches were published or broadcast despite the army of journalists roaming the strip during the conflict.

But the issue is not merely the falsity of the American carping about Israeli actions. There’s little doubt the White House and the State Department were well aware of the U.S. military’s opinion of what was going on in Gaza or the fact that American actions ordered by Obama produce much the same results.

The American military is right to seek to learn the lessons of Gaza and to do what they can to emulate Israeli actions. But the real agenda at play in Washington on this issue has been a concerted effort by the Obama administration to undermine Israel’s right of self-defense in order to weaken its ability to stand up to U.S. pressure. Seen in that light, the real lesson to be culled from this episode is that everything that comes out of the mouths of the president’s foreign-policy team with respect to Israel should be considered false until proven otherwise.

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Sinai Terror Shows the Danger of Ungoverned Places

Egypt has given residents living along the Gaza border 48 hours’ warning before their homes will be demolished to make way for a 500-meter-wide buffer zone that will segregate the strip from the Sinai Peninsula. This move comes in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which over 30 Egyptian soldiers were killed by Islamist militants. Despite protestations from Hamas, Egyptian officials have stated that they believe the attack was carried out with the assistance of Palestinian operatives. As such, Egypt plans to create a buffer zone that will destroy some 680 homes—one can scarcely imagine the international reaction if Israel undertook such a security measure. However, it is a sign of how the Sisi government is becoming increasingly serious about ending the lawlessness that has plagued the Sinai in recent years.

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Egypt has given residents living along the Gaza border 48 hours’ warning before their homes will be demolished to make way for a 500-meter-wide buffer zone that will segregate the strip from the Sinai Peninsula. This move comes in the wake of last week’s terror attack in which over 30 Egyptian soldiers were killed by Islamist militants. Despite protestations from Hamas, Egyptian officials have stated that they believe the attack was carried out with the assistance of Palestinian operatives. As such, Egypt plans to create a buffer zone that will destroy some 680 homes—one can scarcely imagine the international reaction if Israel undertook such a security measure. However, it is a sign of how the Sisi government is becoming increasingly serious about ending the lawlessness that has plagued the Sinai in recent years.

When Israel withdrew from the Sinai as part of the peace agreement signed with Egypt in 1979, it had good reason to believe that the territory was being transferred to a nation state that was at least relatively stable and that could secure the border. But what we have witnessed across the region more recently is that it is in those geographic areas where states have failed or have become weak to the point of absence that terrorist groups have best been able to flourish. The story has been played out repeatedly from Afghanistan to Yemen, Libya to Somalia, and from southern Lebanon to Syria and northern Iraq. And today large parts of the Sinai have become just such an ungoverned vacuum where al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups have dug themselves in and established strongholds. There, jihadist groups have carried out a spate of attacks against Egyptian police and military personnel, and have repeatedly targeted the Arab Gas Pipeline, disrupting the supply between al-Arish, Jordan, Syria, and the wider region.

The problems in the Sinai have been dramatically compounded by the peninsula’s proximity to another area of unstable statelessness: Gaza. When Israel withdrew in 2005, Gaza was theoretically handed into the care of the Palestinian Authority, but as some on Israel’s right had already predicted, it did not take long before the power vacuum created by the absence of the IDF was replaced by the militiamen of Hamas. The same, of course, had already happened after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, as the non-state actor Hezbollah entrenched its position in the area, turning it into a kind of Iranian backed fiefdom.

Militant groups in the Sinai, and the relative weakness of the Egyptian state in this large sparsely populated area, would ultimately prove to be of huge strategic significance for Hamas, with smuggling along the Sinai-Gaza border providing Gaza’s Islamist rulers with their primary source of weaponry, which otherwise would have been kept out by the Israeli blockade. At the same time jihadist groups in Gaza provided training and assistance to militants in the Sinai, while they in turn would periodically fire missiles toward Eilat and Israel’s Negev border communities.

The Sisi government, however, with its fierce crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, finds itself squarely at odds with the Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot Hamas. Since the overthrow of President Morsi, the Egyptians have pursued a sustained and serious policy of eradicating the hundreds of smuggling tunnels around Rafah, and during this summer’s war in Gaza Egypt intensified its operations against militants operating close to that border. Indeed, it would appear that under Sisi there has been a concerted effort to reassert the power of the Egyptian state throughout the peninsula. Now, with the Egyptians convinced of the Gaza connection to this latest deadly attack on their troops, the authorities have closed the Rafah border crossing and advanced plans for the construction of deep water-filled trenches to block any restoration of terror tunnels.

Most importantly, the Gaza-Sinai experience must be instructive for both Israel and the wider region. Israelis already look to the turmoil in Syria and consider their good fortune given the failure of both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in their misguided efforts to hand over Israel’s Golan Heights buffer to Assad. Similarly, as the wider region becomes more tumultuous and not less, Israelis must be all the more wary of gambling their national security on further territorial withdrawals in the West Bank, not least at a time when the PA has already proved so ineffective at maintaining order in the few localities it is currently entrusted with. And given the weak position of the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, it would not be difficult to imagine ISIS rapidly spreading from northern Iraq to the West Bank hilltops overlooking Tel Aviv.

Desperate to appear as if it has any clout on the world stage, the EU will continue to push for Israeli concessions in the West Bank. Equally desperate to distract from its multiple failings throughout the region, the Obama administration will also increase its pressure on Israel to give ground. But as the Gaza-Sinai experience shows, creating another area of ungoverned lawlessness and instability on their doorstep is not an option Israelis can afford.

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