Commentary Magazine


Topic: Middle East peace process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Pointless Israel Spats Illustrate Spite, Not Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama Pursuing His Ideological Ambition to Weaken Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Worry About Iran, Not Israeli Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Jewish Left’s War on Israeli Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of this is simply untrue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Did Bibi Win? Realism, Not Racism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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If Bibi Loses, the Next Defense Minister Still Wants to Bomb Iran

Most American coverage of the Israeli election continues to center on the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his possible replacement by a Labor-led coalition that will steer the Jewish state away from confrontation with the United States. If Netanyahu loses tomorrow, there’s no doubt that it will greatly please the Obama administration. The president and his foreign-policy team regard the Israeli leader as public enemy No. 1 both because of their personal antipathy for him and his willingness to challenge their desire to create détente with Iran. But just as the White House’s expectations for a more pliable Israeli negotiating partner with the Palestinians may be unrealistic, so, too, is their confidence about Labor’s attitude about Iran. As a Times of Israel interview makes clear, the opposition’s designated candidate for defense minister, former general Amos Yadlin, is every bit the hawk about stopping and, if necessary, bombing Iran, as Netanyahu has been.

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Most American coverage of the Israeli election continues to center on the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his possible replacement by a Labor-led coalition that will steer the Jewish state away from confrontation with the United States. If Netanyahu loses tomorrow, there’s no doubt that it will greatly please the Obama administration. The president and his foreign-policy team regard the Israeli leader as public enemy No. 1 both because of their personal antipathy for him and his willingness to challenge their desire to create détente with Iran. But just as the White House’s expectations for a more pliable Israeli negotiating partner with the Palestinians may be unrealistic, so, too, is their confidence about Labor’s attitude about Iran. As a Times of Israel interview makes clear, the opposition’s designated candidate for defense minister, former general Amos Yadlin, is every bit the hawk about stopping and, if necessary, bombing Iran, as Netanyahu has been.

It bears repeating that the image of Netanyahu as an extremist that is often the keynote of American press coverage betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the realities of Israeli politics. Though after three terms and nine years as prime minister Netanyahu may have outlasted his expiration date for the Israeli public, the general dissatisfaction with him should not be mistaken for disagreement with this policies on either the Palestinians or Iran. To the contrary, polls show that there is little support for more concessions to a Palestinian Authority that has repeatedly rejected chances for peace, let alone to the even more implacable Hamas in Gaza. Nor is there much of a constituency for complacency about the peril about the prospect of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Netanyahu’s problems in the election stem from anger about his foolish decision to call an election when he didn’t need to do so and the fact that many voters want more attention paid to economic and domestic issues that the prime minister has sidelined while highlighting security threats.

Though his Zionist Union opponents have criticized Netanyahu’s confrontational tactics with the Obama administration, they have been falling over themselves to make the public think there isn’t much difference between them on security issues. That is largely the case since it is unlikely that either Isaac Herzog or Tzipi Livni (who represented Netanyahu in the peace talks the past two years) will be able to offer the Palestinians any more than the prime minister. Indeed, Herzog has been eager to declare that he wouldn’t divide Jerusalem, as Obama wants him to do.

Assuring the Israeli public that his government wouldn’t be any less tough than that of Netanyahu was the reason Herzog brought Amos Yadlin onto his ticket and designated him as the likely defense minister in the next government. Yadlin, a former head of intelligence for the Israel Defense Forces, is, like many in the old left-dominated army establishment, a stern critic of Netanyahu. But if Obama and his team are reading what Yadlin is saying they might be a little less enthusiastic about the prospect of a new Israeli government. That is especially true of his rhetoric on Iran:

“Are we at the juncture where [all options have failed and] we have to choose between two very problematic alternatives: to accept an Iranian bomb, or to do what it takes so they don’t have a bomb? In English, ‘the bomb or the bombing?’ We have to ask ourselves constantly if we have reached this juncture? Have we exhausted all the other options to stop Iran?”

Many in Washington — “in the ‘belt,’” as Yadlin calls it from his days as military attaché to the US — “are at this juncture and are willing to accept a nuclear Iran. They believe in containment and deterrence.”

Do “they” include President Obama or his cabinet?

Yadlin skirts the question. “You’ll find them among the strategists and among the government officials. I still belong to those who believe that President Obama won’t let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon.” …

Readers who discern distinctively Netanyahu-esque rhetoric in this list of US-Israeli differences on Iran are not mistaken. When it comes to the scale of the danger, the precariousness of trusting in American assurances, and the intentions of the ruling ayatollahs in Tehran, one might be forgiven for labeling Yadlin something slightly more hawkish than the catch-all “centrist.”

And that’s only natural, Yadlin explains.

“The goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and the desire to reach an agreement that will push Iran back as much as possible is not an issue of disagreement between Israel’s [political] parties.”

This is a key point. There really isn’t any genuine disagreement between Israel’s mainstream parties (Labor and Likud) on the basic issues of war and peace. Neither can offer a Palestinian leadership that is not interested in peace anything that will tempt them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. And both are adamantly opposed to appeasement of Iran. Labor may speak kindly about the administration whereas Netanyahu is no longer bothering with pretending that he trusts the president. But when it comes to opposing the sort of concessions the U.S. is making to Iran, Yadlin is every bit the hawk that Netanyahu has been.

All of which means that no matter who wins tomorrow, tension between an American government determined to embrace Iran and to push for territorial concessions to the Palestinians and Israel’s government will continue.

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Malley’s Rise and Obama’s Blame-Israel Policy

Back in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama was being careful about quashing any notion that he was hostile to Israel or friendly to its foes. So when it was revealed that Robert Malley was a foreign-policy advisor to his campaign, he was quickly canned. But Malley, who served in the Clinton administration and then subsequently acted as an apologist for Yasir Arafat, had met with Hamas, and was a persistent critic of Israel’s governments (those led by Labor as well as Likud), is back. Last year, after President Obama was reelected, Malley joined his National Security Council. This week, we learned that Malley has gotten a promotion and will now head the Middle East desk at the NSC. As much as any of the rumors floating around Washington about the president’s intention to resurrect the dead-in-the-water Middle East peace process, this appointment indicates that the administration is not only determined to make another push but that all the pressure and the inevitable blame for its failure will be placed on Israel.

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Back in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama was being careful about quashing any notion that he was hostile to Israel or friendly to its foes. So when it was revealed that Robert Malley was a foreign-policy advisor to his campaign, he was quickly canned. But Malley, who served in the Clinton administration and then subsequently acted as an apologist for Yasir Arafat, had met with Hamas, and was a persistent critic of Israel’s governments (those led by Labor as well as Likud), is back. Last year, after President Obama was reelected, Malley joined his National Security Council. This week, we learned that Malley has gotten a promotion and will now head the Middle East desk at the NSC. As much as any of the rumors floating around Washington about the president’s intention to resurrect the dead-in-the-water Middle East peace process, this appointment indicates that the administration is not only determined to make another push but that all the pressure and the inevitable blame for its failure will be placed on Israel.

That a veteran foreign-policy hand that served Bill Clinton would get a job in the Obama administration is hardly a surprise. But Malley is no ordinary ex-Clinton staffer.

As part of the White House staff, Malley joined the president at the 2000 Camp David Summit where then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak tried, with Clinton’s urging, to bring the conflict to an end. To do so, he offered Palestinian Authority leader Yasir Arafat independence and sovereignty on terms that no previous Israeli government had ever considered. He put on the table terms that would create an independent Palestinian state in Gaza, most of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem. But Arafat stunned both Barak and Clinton by saying “no.” He repeated that refusal in the waning days of the Clinton administration in January 2001 even after Barak tried to sweeten the already generous terms. Mahmoud Abbas repeated that refusal when Ehud Olmert offered even better terms in 2008 and again when the Palestinian leader refused to negotiate with current Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Malley understands the reason why the Palestinians refused to make peace. As he admitted in a New York Times op-ed he wrote with Hussein Agha, Palestinians have never let go of their demand for a “right of return” that is incompatible with Israel’s survival as a Jewish state. That’s why neither Arafat nor Abbas is capable of accepting any peace deal that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But the significant thing to remember about this NSC appointment is that in the aftermath of Camp David, Malley defended Arafat. Bill Clinton has spent the years since that disaster publicly blasting Arafat for saying no to a golden opportunity to make peace and costing him a Nobel Peace Prize in the bargain. Malley thought it was “simplistic” to simply blame Arafat because he believed it wrong to expect any Palestinian leader to simply end the conflict on terms that provide Israeli security or grants legitimacy to a Jewish state. To Malley’s thinking, the fact that Arafat replied to Barak’s unprecedented and generous peace offer with not only a “no,” but also a terrorist war of attrition known as the Second Intifada was understandable if not necessarily commendable.

His record makes it clear that Malley isn’t merely unsympathetic to the Jewish state but that he views the quest for a two-state solution on any basis that could provide for Israel’s long-term survival as something that Western leaders should not try to impose on the Palestinians.

Thus, putting Malley in a position of influence isn’t merely harmful symbolism as was the case with the 2008 campaign. Rather, by putting him in charge of the Middle East desk at the NSC, the administration is ensuring that any effort to promote the peace process will be predicated solely on pressure on Israel to make concessions on security and its rights while the Palestinians will not be expected to do anything.

That doesn’t sound very different from the American role during the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative. Despite Abbas blowing up the talks by signing a unity pact with Hamas and ditching the talks to go to the United Nations in violation of the PA’s Oslo commitments to gain recognition for the Palestinians, President Obama still blamed it all on Israel. But now that Malley’s role is even more defined there will be no doubt that U.S. policy will be focused exclusively on pressuring Israel. Rather than it being Israel that lacks real faith in a fair two-state solution, with Malley helping to run our Middle East policy it will be the U.S. that will be undermining the admittedly slim hopes for an end to the conflict.

But Malley’s appointment isn’t merely another indication of the president’s antipathy for Israel’s government. It is also a gesture of contempt for pro-Israel Democrats that defended Obama’s bona fides on Israel in both 2008 and 2012. As the president uses his final two years in office to hammer Israel and further undermines the minimal chances for peace by giving the Palestinians license to stonewall negotiations, those friends of Israel would voted for the president should remember how they were suckered.

Even more importantly, as Americans view the drama of the Middle East over the course of the last 22 months of the Obama presidency, they would do well to remember that in an administration that will be consistently blaming Israel for the lack of peace (whether it is led by Benjamin Netanyahu or Isaac Herzog) the person whispering these conclusions in the president’s ear is the same guy that was offering alibis for a terrorist murderer like Yasir Arafat.

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Bibi Was Ready for Peace, Abbas Wasn’t

When the Middle East peace talks collapsed last spring, the Obama administration made no secret of its willingness to blame Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. According to both Kerry and President Obama, it was Netanyahu’s actions on settlements and refusal to accommodate the Palestinians that undermined the effort. Even for those not privy to inside information this made no sense and it was even contradicted by the testimony of Tzipi Livni, one of Netanyahu’s main rivals for power. But now a new document has surfaced detailing just how far Netanyahu was willing to go to make peace. But don’t expect this to change the minds of an administration that has, from its first moments in 2009, sought to distance the U.S. from the Jewish state. But it does provide even more evidence for those who are capable of being persuaded by facts that it remains the Palestinian refusal to make peace on even the most favorable terms that prevents the end of the conflict. That means the talk about a new U.S. initiative in the waning months of the Obama presidency is doomed no matter how much pressure is placed on the Israelis.

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When the Middle East peace talks collapsed last spring, the Obama administration made no secret of its willingness to blame Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for the failure of Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative. According to both Kerry and President Obama, it was Netanyahu’s actions on settlements and refusal to accommodate the Palestinians that undermined the effort. Even for those not privy to inside information this made no sense and it was even contradicted by the testimony of Tzipi Livni, one of Netanyahu’s main rivals for power. But now a new document has surfaced detailing just how far Netanyahu was willing to go to make peace. But don’t expect this to change the minds of an administration that has, from its first moments in 2009, sought to distance the U.S. from the Jewish state. But it does provide even more evidence for those who are capable of being persuaded by facts that it remains the Palestinian refusal to make peace on even the most favorable terms that prevents the end of the conflict. That means the talk about a new U.S. initiative in the waning months of the Obama presidency is doomed no matter how much pressure is placed on the Israelis.

For those who care to remember what actually happened in the spring of 2014, the facts aren’t in much dispute. After several months of Palestinian stonewalling in the peace talks, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas blew them up by signing a unity deal with Hamas. He then compounded that folly by ignoring his obligations under the Oslo Accords and heading to the United Nations in a vain attempt to gain recognition for Palestinian independence at the world body. That Obama and Kerry chose to ignore these actions and instead blame it all on Netanyahu was a clear measure of their disdain for the prime minister and his country.

But even Livni, who despises Netanyahu and is working to defeat him in the Knesset Elections this month told the New York Times last year that it was the Palestinians who derailed any chance of peace by stonewalling the talks at crucial moments. Given that the same PA turned down offers of peace and independence in almost all the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008, this is a hardly a surprise. The political culture of the Palestinians makes it impossible for Abbas to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.

But in spite of these facts, Americans still speak of the intransigent Abbas as a champion of peace and Netanyahu as an obstacle to it. This document will hurt Netanyahu with his right-wing base but it undermines the narrative about his opposition to peace. This latest evidence reported today in Yediot Aharonoth shows that Netanyahu told the Palestinians he was prepared to go as far as the Obama administration had been urging him to do with respect to borders, settlements and Jerusalem. But, as they had three times before, the PA wanted no part of peace even on the terms Obama wanted. Why? Palestinian nationalism is still intrinsically tied to rejection of a Jewish state on any terms that allow for its survival. Until that changes, peace remains just a dream.

That’s why the next Obama peace push will fail as miserably as the last one. When it does, the president will blame Netanyahu or whoever is in power in Israel. But it will be just as much of a lie then as it was in 2014.

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More Bad Advice From a False Prophet

After a career that stretches back to Israel’s birth, 91-year-old Shimon Peres is a revered national institution. His multifaceted work in helping to build the state and especially its defense establishment demands respect and admiration. So, too, does a record of public service that saw him serve in virtually every key position of responsibility in the Israeli government. Thus, when Peres speaks, he deserves a hearing. But as much as he should be considered the last of the country’s living founding fathers, his past performance as a prophet is as bad as his resume is impressive. Thus, when Peres tells us today that European Jews shouldn’t panic, that Middle East peace will happen in his lifetime, and that, far from worrying about Iran, we should think the Islamist regime’s days are numbered, these predictions should be dismissed as not only wrong, but dangerously wrong. The problem with Peres is not just that his optimism is foolish, it’s that all too many people in the corridors of power in Washington and Western Europe think he knows what he’s talking about.

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After a career that stretches back to Israel’s birth, 91-year-old Shimon Peres is a revered national institution. His multifaceted work in helping to build the state and especially its defense establishment demands respect and admiration. So, too, does a record of public service that saw him serve in virtually every key position of responsibility in the Israeli government. Thus, when Peres speaks, he deserves a hearing. But as much as he should be considered the last of the country’s living founding fathers, his past performance as a prophet is as bad as his resume is impressive. Thus, when Peres tells us today that European Jews shouldn’t panic, that Middle East peace will happen in his lifetime, and that, far from worrying about Iran, we should think the Islamist regime’s days are numbered, these predictions should be dismissed as not only wrong, but dangerously wrong. The problem with Peres is not just that his optimism is foolish, it’s that all too many people in the corridors of power in Washington and Western Europe think he knows what he’s talking about.

Peres served as the headliner at a Times of Israel event held Sunday night in New York and if his hosts were hoping that he would say something faintly newsworthy, the former Israeli president didn’t disappoint. He opposed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s calls for aliyah from Europe as being “political,” claiming that in doing so he was making Israel “a land of fear” rather than one of “hope.” Not satisfied with that astounding claim, he went on to claim that peace would soon break out in the Middle East, said he “trusted” President Obama to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, opposed any “unilateral” acts against Tehran by the U.S. or Israel, and predicted that the Islamist regime in Iran would fall: “In 10-15 years, Iran will be out of water and thus out of ayatollahs, in my judgment.”

To which friends of Israel as well as supporters of the West can only say “amen,” even as they shake their heads in disbelief at the absurdity of much of what Peres said.

We might dismiss this as just a little more of the same optimism Peres has been selling for the last 25 years. Such statements are very popular, especially with American Jews who dislike being confronted with the intractability of the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as the awful scenarios that the Iranian nuclear program forces us to contemplate and he has done a brisk business peddling these notions among credible Western audiences for a long time.

But as ridiculous as Peres’s pie in the sky sermons may be, they are neither harmless nor without cost to Israel.

It should not be forgotten that this is the same man who not only promoted the Oslo Accords but also predicted in their aftermath that if everyone just tried hard enough, a “New Middle East” would soon arise that would allow Israel and its neighbors to become a new Western Europe. To those who asked him at the time why he was ignoring the reality of Palestinian rejectionism, support for terror, and the rise of fundamentalist Islam, he insouciantly replied that they were akin to those who “looked at the back of an airline ticket” and saw the disclaimers about crashes and other catastrophic outcomes. We should, he said, just trust the pilot and set back and enjoy the ride to peace. As the history of the following two decades proved, Peres wasn’t just wrong, he was willfully blind.

The cost of his mistaken policies wasn’t just paid in terms of the casualties that Israel suffered from the Palestinian terror offensives that Oslo enabled. It was also in a mindset in both Jerusalem and Washington that saw holding the Palestinians accountable for their incitement to violence and violations of the Accords as unhelpful to peace. Thus, when the inevitable explosions happened, both Israel and the United States were unprepared for what would follow and, to some extent, unwilling to face the reality that Peres had urged us to treat as details that would soon disappear.

The point here isn’t to point out his mistakes or to wonder at how his reputation as a wise man survived the implementation of some of the least-wise policies any sovereign state has ever devised and lived to tell the tale about. It’s that as long as Peres’s impressive Nobel Prize reputation survives intact, people listen to him and take his predictions and counsel seriously.

The mere fact that Peres is deprecating the obvious necessity to safeguard European Jewry in an era of rising anti-Semitism when their safety cannot be ensured by their governments is something that will be used to undermine the Zionist cause that he once served so well. His dismissal of the Iranian threat will be ammunition that the Obama administration will use to answer the cogent arguments against those sounding the alarm against its push for détente with a terror-supporting, genocide-threatening tyranny. As for peace with the Palestinians, surely even Peres should know better than to make such inane prognostications after Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas have turned down Israeli peace offers. But his sound bite will be resurrected not only to revive negotiations but also to buttress the efforts of those who will pressure Israel into dangerous concessions.

Shimon Peres’s lifetime of service to Israel may balance out the disastrous nature of some of the policies he advocated in the historian’s ledger. Prophets may never be honored in their own time, but unfortunately false prophets often are. So long as Peres is treated as an authority by the media and Western governments, his urging of more such fiascos on his successors is not only deplorable, it is downright dangerous.

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How Different Would Herzog Be From Bibi?

With a little more than a month to go before Israel’s Knesset election, there isn’t much doubt that the White House is hoping and praying that Israeli voters reject Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bid for a third consecutive term in office. With Obama using Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions only weeks before the vote and the prime minister speaking of his “duty” to inform the world about the mistaken policy being pursued by the administration, tensions between the two governments are at fever pitch. While the impact of Netanyahu’s speech on Israeli voters is a matter of speculation, he remains favored to win. But what will really change if Obama gets his wish and, instead, the Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog emerges from what is likely to be a protracted period of negotiations as Israel’s next prime minister? The answer is that while the atmospherics between Washington and Jerusalem will undoubtedly be a lot better, the substance of the arguments between the two governments won’t change much. Nor will, despite the assumptions on the part of Netanyahu’s many critics, Israel be any closer to peace under Herzog than it is under the incumbent.

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With a little more than a month to go before Israel’s Knesset election, there isn’t much doubt that the White House is hoping and praying that Israeli voters reject Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bid for a third consecutive term in office. With Obama using Netanyahu’s plan to speak to Congress on Iran sanctions only weeks before the vote and the prime minister speaking of his “duty” to inform the world about the mistaken policy being pursued by the administration, tensions between the two governments are at fever pitch. While the impact of Netanyahu’s speech on Israeli voters is a matter of speculation, he remains favored to win. But what will really change if Obama gets his wish and, instead, the Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog emerges from what is likely to be a protracted period of negotiations as Israel’s next prime minister? The answer is that while the atmospherics between Washington and Jerusalem will undoubtedly be a lot better, the substance of the arguments between the two governments won’t change much. Nor will, despite the assumptions on the part of Netanyahu’s many critics, Israel be any closer to peace under Herzog than it is under the incumbent.

To listen to Herzog and his new partner Tzipi Livni, who merged her defunct Hatnua Party with Labor to form what they call the Zionist Camp, the differences will be significant. Herzog has spoken of his commitment to the peace process. It’s likely that he would encourage a renewal of the talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry that collapsed last year after Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas.

But would the terms he is willing to offer Abbas differ from those that the Palestinians have already rejected?

Herzog has danced around the question of a divided Jerusalem. Though he is saying now that he wants to keep the city united, in the past he has endorsed the Geneva Initiative’s plans for a division. That waffling is in stark contrast to Netanyahu’s adamant refusal to partition Israel’s capital. But in practice, Herzog might still find himself locked in disputes with the Obama administration on Jerusalem. That’s because Obama considers the 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods built in parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 to be little different than the most hilltop encampments in the West Bank where Jews are living. To the administration, both are “settlements” and obstacles to peace. Any Herzog-Livni government would be a coalition with centrist parties, including relative hardliners like Avigdor Lieberman, and not Labor’s allies to the left or the Arab parties. It is inconceivable that any such government would agree, as the president almost certainly will demand, for a building freeze in Jerusalem.

Herzog is also deeply committed to a two-state solution, something that is music to Obama’s ears and will be the selling point used by Kerry when he tries to entice Abbas back to the negotiating table should Labor win. But here again, harsh reality will intrude on Obama’s fantasy about a change in the prime minister’s office being a guarantee of peace.

Abbas has already rejected a two-state deal that included a Palestinian state in Gaza, almost all the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem when Ehud Olmert offered him such an accord in 2008. He refused to even negotiate seriously with Netanyahu even though the prime minister accepted the two-state concept in 2009. Livni knows this because she was Netanyahu’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians for the past two years and has publicly complained that Abbas showed no interest in making a deal.

Will that change simply because Netanyahu isn’t in office? It’s theoretically possible, but given that the dynamic of Palestinian politics remains unchanged, it’s hard to see how things will be different. With Gaza still in the hands of Hamas and Abbas fearful of elections in the West Bank that he might lose (he is currently serving in the tenth year of a four-year term), it is highly unlikely. After years of avoiding being put in a position where he would have to commit political suicide by making peace, Abbas has no incentive to change now. So long as he and his people are unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it doesn’t matter if the Likud, Labor, or any other Zionist party leads Israel, the outcome will be the same.

One would also expect a change in tone in discussions about Iran if Netanyahu doesn’t win. Yet Obama would be mistaken to think that Herzog would be any happier with a deal that allows the Islamist regime to become a nuclear threshold state than Netanyahu has been. Despite the carping at Netanyahu from many in the security establishment, there has always been a consensus among Israeli mainstream figures about the serious nature of the nuclear threat from Iran. The mild-mannered Herzog may express his disagreement with Obama in more measured tones, but the divide between the two countries over the desirability of détente with Iran is not one that will disappear with a Labor-led government. The same holds true about Iranian adventurism in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and even Gaza.

Those hoping for a Netanyahu defeat shouldn’t get their hopes up too high. The latest polls still show the Likud leading Labor. Moreover, even if Labor ties the Likud or earns a slight edge, it won’t be easy for Herzog to put a new government together. Though he has a path to a 61-seat majority, it is a precarious one involving discarding his Meretz ally and the Arab parties and making deals with centrist parties that are more natural partners for Likud. For that to be considered likely, Herzog’s party, which just fired its campaign strategist (always a bad sign this close to the voting) will have to beat Netanyahu’s Likud handily, something that doesn’t seem particularly likely at the moment.

But even if he does somehow win, the change will be one of personalities rather than on substance on the peace process. So long as the Arabs exercise their veto on peace, it really doesn’t matter who is prime minister of Israel. Neither Netanyahu nor Herzog will make peace with the Palestinians and there’s nothing Obama can do about it.

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We Have to Talk About Obama’s Ignorance

In the wake of the controversy over President Obama’s offensive labeling of anti-Semitic violence as “random,” it became clear that regardless of whether he chose his words carefully, he certainly chose his audience carefully. He was not challenged by his interviewer at Vox for his undeniably false characterization of the Paris attacks. And now, having given an interview to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, he has continued exposing his own ignorance in the hope that he would continue not to be called on it by his interviewers. He was in luck yet again.

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In the wake of the controversy over President Obama’s offensive labeling of anti-Semitic violence as “random,” it became clear that regardless of whether he chose his words carefully, he certainly chose his audience carefully. He was not challenged by his interviewer at Vox for his undeniably false characterization of the Paris attacks. And now, having given an interview to BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, he has continued exposing his own ignorance in the hope that he would continue not to be called on it by his interviewers. He was in luck yet again.

BuzzFeed has posted the transcript of the interview, and when the subject turns to Russia, Obama said this:

You know, I don’t want to psychoanalyze Mr. Putin. I will say that he has a foot very much in the Soviet past. That’s how he came of age. He ran the KGB. Those were his formative experiences. So I think he looks at problems through this Cold War lens, and, as a consequence, I think he’s missed some opportunities for Russia to diversify its economy, to strengthen its relationship with its neighbors, to represent something different than the old Soviet-style aggression. You know, I continue to hold out the prospect of Russia taking a diplomatic offering from what they’ve done in Ukraine. I think, to their credit, they’ve been able to compartmentalize and continue to work with us on issues like Iran’s nuclear program.

As people pointed out immediately, Obama is wrong about Putin and the KGB. Ben Judah, a journalist who recently wrote a book on Putin’s Russia, responded: “The interesting and informative thing about Obama’s view on Putin is how uninsightful and uniformed it is.”

Putin ran the FSB–the successor agency to the KGB–and the difference matters. But what also matters is the emerging pattern for Obama’s view of the world: he has no idea what he’s talking about. The president, as Sam Cooke sang, don’t know much about history. And it’s evident in each major area of conflict the president seeks to solve and ends up only exacerbating.

It is not my intention to run down a list of all Obama’s flubs. Everybody makes mistakes, and any politician whose words are as scrutinized as the president’s is going to have their share of slip-ups. Yes, Obama is a clumsy public speaker; but that’s not the problem, nor is it worth spending much time on.

The problem is that Obama tends to make mistakes that stem from a worldview often at odds with reality. Russia is a good example. Does it matter that Obama doesn’t know the basics of Vladimir Putin’s biography and the transition of post-Soviet state security? Yes, it does, because Obama’s habit of misreading Putin has been at the center of his administration’s failed Russia policy. And it matters with regard not only to Russia but to his broader foreign policy because Obama has a habit of not listening to anyone not named Jarrett. Obama appointed among the most qualified American ambassadors ever to represent the U.S. abroad in sending Michael McFaul to Moscow. But with or without McFaul, Obama let his own naïveté guide him.

Obama has also run into some trouble with history in the Middle East, where history is both exceedingly important and practically weaponized. The legitimacy of the Jewish state is of particular relevance to the conflict. So Obama was criticized widely for undermining that legitimacy in his famous 2009 Cairo speech, puzzling even Israel’s strident leftists. The speech was harder to defend than either his remarks to BuzzFeed or Vox because such speeches are not off the cuff; they are carefully scrutinized by the administration. When Obama could say exactly what he meant to say, in other words, this is what he chose to say.

It wasn’t the only time Obama revealed his ignorance of the Middle East and especially Israeli history, of course. And that ignorance has had consequences. Obama has learned nothing from the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a fact which was reflected quite clearly in his disastrous mishandling of the negotiations and their bloody aftermath. He didn’t understand Palestinian intentions, Israeli political reality, or the lessons from when the U.S. has played a beneficial role in the conflict in the past. The president can simply move on, but Israelis and Palestinians have to pay the price for his learning curve.

And the Vox errors echo throughout the president’s mishandling of the other great security challenge: Islamic terrorism. Such terrorism has contributed a great deal to the undoing of many of the gains in Iraq and the international state system. Here, for example, is a map tweeted out last week by Ian Bremmer, which shows, in his words, “Statelessness overlapping with radical Islam.” We can certainly argue over the chicken-or-egg quality to such an overlap, but the threat radical Islamic violence poses to global order is fairly obvious.

Yet it’s not just the history of Islam and of anti-Semitism that the president gets wrong when trying to spin away the threat of Islamist terror. He also created a firestorm with his faux history of the Crusades in order to draw a false moral equivalence that only obscures the threat.

In other words, it’s a comprehensive historical ignorance. And on matters of great significance–the major world religions, the Middle East, Russia. And the president’s unwillingness to grasp the past certainly gives reason for concern with Iran as well–a country whose government has used the façade of negotiations to its own anti-American ends for long enough to see the pattern.

They’re not just minor gaffes or verbal blunders. They serve as a window into the mind of a president who acts as if a history of the world before yesterday could fit on a postcard. We talk a lot about the defects of the president’s ideology, but not about his ignorance. The two are related, but the latter is lately the one causing a disproportionate amount of damage.

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Obama’s Hollow Threats of Revenge on Bibi

The latest twist in the long-running feud between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a new stage. After days of ill-concealed umbrage about the prime minister accepting an invitation to speech to a joint session of Congress about Iran sanctions without so much as a by your leave from the administration, the White House decided to fire its own shot across the bow of Israel’s government. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that the president and his staff think Netanyahu “spat” in the president’s face with his actions and vowed “there would be a price” to be paid for his effrontery. But whatever one may think about the decision to accept the invitation — and I think it was a mistake — Obama’s threats shouldn’t impress anyone in either country. After six years of insults, provocations and staged spats aimed at Israel by the Obama administration that did nothing to advance U.S. interests or the cause of Middle East peace, it’s not clear that they can do much to hurt Netanyahu that would not hurt the president more.

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The latest twist in the long-running feud between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a new stage. After days of ill-concealed umbrage about the prime minister accepting an invitation to speech to a joint session of Congress about Iran sanctions without so much as a by your leave from the administration, the White House decided to fire its own shot across the bow of Israel’s government. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that the president and his staff think Netanyahu “spat” in the president’s face with his actions and vowed “there would be a price” to be paid for his effrontery. But whatever one may think about the decision to accept the invitation — and I think it was a mistake — Obama’s threats shouldn’t impress anyone in either country. After six years of insults, provocations and staged spats aimed at Israel by the Obama administration that did nothing to advance U.S. interests or the cause of Middle East peace, it’s not clear that they can do much to hurt Netanyahu that would not hurt the president more.

Though his American fans are thrilled with the idea of Netanyahu addressing Congress and rallying it to the cause of stopping Iran, the prime minister did the White House a favor by accepting Boehner’s invitation without going through the normal protocol of consulting with the State Department and/or the White House. Instead of the focus being on Obama’s illogical opposition to any pressure on an Iranian regime that has been stonewalling him and running out the clock in nuclear negotiations, attention has been focused on the prime minister’s chutzpah. There is already a strong majority in both Houses of Congress for more sanctions on Iran, a step that would strengthen Obama’s hand in negotiations, and the controversy over Netanyahu’s appearance gives some weak-willed Democrats an excuse to do the president’s bidding and sink the proposed legislation.

Obama’s claim that he is willing to impose more sanctions if diplomacy fails, as he supposedly told Netanyahu, rings false. This administration opposed every major piece of sanctions legislation against Iran including the ones that it now boasts of having brought Iran to the table. Nor is there much chance that Obama would ever admit failure. The rumors that the current talks will be extended for a third time in June, despite the president’s promises a year ago that the negotiations would be finite in length so as to prevent the Iranians from playing their favorite delaying games, gives the lie to the administration’s credibility on this issue. Obama’s goal in the talks is not so much preventing the Islamist regime from becoming a threshold nuclear power — an objective that went out the window with the signing of the interim pact in November 2013 — as it is to create an entente with Tehran that would give a U.S. seal of approval to Iran’s ambition for regional hegemony while ending 35 years of confrontation between the two countries.

But Obama’s dire threats of revenge on Israel are just as insubstantial as his promises about Iran.

The talk of Netanyahu and his country paying a “price” is mere administration bluster whose purpose is to cover up their own agenda of détente with a nation that has repeatedly threatened Israel with annihilation. As he has shown over the last six years, the White House has the power to poison relations with its sole democratic ally in the Middle East if it so chooses. This is the same White House, after all, that just a couple of months ago used journalist Jeffrey Goldberg to hurt insults like “coward” and “chickenshit” at Netanyahu. Obama has consistently tilted the diplomatic playing field in favor of the Palestinians (though without it being enough to get them to actually negotiate in good faith, let alone make peace), undermined Israel’s position in Jerusalem in a way no predecessor had dared, wrongly blamed Netanyahu for the collapse of peace talks although it was the Palestinian Authority that torpedoed them and even cut off the flow of ammunition resupply during the war with Hamas last summer.

It is true that the U.S. could do far worse than that. Obama could seek to hold up all military aid despite Congressional protests. It could also cease opposing Palestinian attempts to use the United Nations to make an end run around the peace process, further isolating the Israelis. Administration sources speak of Secretary of State John Kerry’s hurt feelings after doing so much to protect Israel’s interests around the world leaving open the possibility that he won’t be so eager to play that role in the future.

But as Obama has already concluded prior to the current Palestinian campaign at the United Nations, any abandonment of Israel in international forums will hurt the U.S. as much as the Jewish state. Obama and Kerry aren’t opposing the Palestinian attempt to gain UN recognition without first making with Israel to be nice to the Israelis. They’re doing it because they rightly concluded that ending the peace process would damage U.S. interests and prestige and lead to further instability and violence in the region. Obama would, in effect, be cutting off his nose to spite his face if he were to allow his feud with Netanyahu to go that far. Although his antipathy for Israel and its government is no secret, he has already shown that he’s not interested in going down that path.

So what can we expect over the next two years if Netanyahu is re-elected? It was already a given that there would be plenty of tension and conflict between the two allies. If, as is almost certain, Obama signs a weak nuclear deal with Iran or allows the talks to go on indefinitely, they were bound to be worse anyway. There will be more insults lobbed at Jerusalem and attempts will be made to squeeze the Israelis at every turn. But any revenge from Obama over Netanyahu’s speech will do more to create the impression that his foreign policy is a failure than real damage to Israel’s strategic position. The prime minister would do well to stay home and to lobby quietly and effectively for Congress to raise the pressure on Iran. But even if he does give the speech, the U.S.-Israel alliance is sufficiently strong to withstand Obama’s assault on it. Blowing smoke about revenge is as close to a real rupture in relations with Israel as Obama and his staff will get.

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Abbas in Paris: Hypocrisy Isn’t Progress

The presence of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at today’s unity rally in Paris probably seemed quite natural to those whose knowledge of his activities is limited to the statements praising him as a champion of peace from President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. But the baggage Abbas, who was given an unusually prominent place in the front rank of the march symmetrically balancing the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the other side of French President Francois Hollande, carried a great deal of baggage to the event in terms of his own association with terrorism and fomenting of hate against Jews. The instinct of the news media is to embrace Abbas’s presence there along with that of Netanyahu as proof that the march was a transcendent kumbaya moment that will mark a turning point in the struggle against terror and anti-Semitism. But the question more sober observers will struggle with is whether Abbas’s poor record on these issues does more to undermine progress than the symbolism did to advance it.

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The presence of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at today’s unity rally in Paris probably seemed quite natural to those whose knowledge of his activities is limited to the statements praising him as a champion of peace from President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. But the baggage Abbas, who was given an unusually prominent place in the front rank of the march symmetrically balancing the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the other side of French President Francois Hollande, carried a great deal of baggage to the event in terms of his own association with terrorism and fomenting of hate against Jews. The instinct of the news media is to embrace Abbas’s presence there along with that of Netanyahu as proof that the march was a transcendent kumbaya moment that will mark a turning point in the struggle against terror and anti-Semitism. But the question more sober observers will struggle with is whether Abbas’s poor record on these issues does more to undermine progress than the symbolism did to advance it.

Why question Abbas at all?

Though the Obama administration and all of Europe treats him as a hero of peace, his personal record as well as that of his government gives the lie to such assurances. His critics will bring up his long service as a deputy to arch terrorist Yasir Arafat as well as his doctoral thesis denying the truth of the Holocaust. But we don’t have to go back to the period preceding his service as president of the PA (an office in which he is currently serving in the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected). Since taking over the PA after Arafat’s death, Abbas has not only turned down peace offers and refused to negotiate seriously with Israel, he has repeatedly stated that he will never accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. He has also continued to support the “right of return,” which is inconsistent with Israel’s existence though at times he has said things to the English and Israeli press that contradicts those given to his own people.

Moreover, rather than standing in unity with the world against terrorism, Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas terrorists last year, an act that blew up the peace talks Secretary of State Kerry worked to keep alive.

But even more than that, Abbas has in recent months personally incited his people to commit acts of violence as part of an effort to falsely convince them that the mosques on the Temple Mount are in danger. Abbas’s praise of a terrorist who tried to assassinate a rabbi advocating Jewish prayer rights on the Mount as someone who went straight to heaven tells us all we need to know about the PA. This is, of course, in addition to the steady drumbeat of incitement against Jews and Israel on the official PA media controlled by Abbas. Indeed, had the Charlie Hebdo and kosher market murderers committed their acts in Israel, there is little doubt that Abbas would have honored them by naming a square or some edifice after them. It is also certain that had they been captured alive after taking part in an act of terrorism, he would have supported taking Israeli hostages in order to free them in a prisoner exchange, after which he would have greeted them as heroes as he has terrorists who committed equally heinous crimes against Jews.

One may say that, to use Francois de La Rochefoucauld’s memorable phrase, Abbas’s presence at the rally is a classic case of hypocrisy being “the homage vice pays to virtue.” But any good that might come from the symbolism of Abbas being there also reminds us that it will take more than one rally, however impressive it might have been, to defeat Islamist terror. What France and the world need to do to defeat terror is to acknowledge that the problem lies not so much in the few who commit these acts but in the vast number of people in the Muslim and Arab worlds that either rationalize or support such acts. Progress will come not when Mahmoud Abbas marches in Paris but when he stops supporting it at home. Until then, inviting him to such events only undermines the purpose of the rally.

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Who Derailed Middle East Peace? Ross and Obama Should Look in the Mirror.

On yesterday’s New York Times op-ed page, former veteran State Department Middle East hand Dennis Ross made a strong case for the world to stop “giving the Palestinians a pass” for actions intended to derail the peace process. In doing so Ross is taking up the cudgels for the position of the Obama administration against that of its European allies on the question of tolerating a Palestinian diplomatic offensive at the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. Both he and the administration are correct that the Palestinian Authority is sabotaging peace by abandoning negotiations and seeking instead to use international pressure to brand Israel as a pariah. But what Ross leaves out of his argument is as interesting as what he says. The proof that his position is correct lies in the history of his own failures and that of the administrations he served as they wrongly appeased the Palestinians and instead pressured Israel.

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On yesterday’s New York Times op-ed page, former veteran State Department Middle East hand Dennis Ross made a strong case for the world to stop “giving the Palestinians a pass” for actions intended to derail the peace process. In doing so Ross is taking up the cudgels for the position of the Obama administration against that of its European allies on the question of tolerating a Palestinian diplomatic offensive at the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. Both he and the administration are correct that the Palestinian Authority is sabotaging peace by abandoning negotiations and seeking instead to use international pressure to brand Israel as a pariah. But what Ross leaves out of his argument is as interesting as what he says. The proof that his position is correct lies in the history of his own failures and that of the administrations he served as they wrongly appeased the Palestinians and instead pressured Israel.

Ross deserves credit for mentioning some facts that are almost never mentioned in either the news or opinion pages of the Times. Namely, that the Palestinians rejected three clear offers of peace and independence in 2000, 2001, and 2008 that would have given them a state in almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem, and Gaza. The first two were turned down flat by Yasir Arafat while his successor Mahmoud Abbas fled the negotiating table rather than be forced to give an answer to the third. He might have added that Abbas refused to discuss a U.S. framework along the same lines in 2014 and blew up those talks that had been painstakingly nurtured by Secretary of State John Kerry.

But in discussing the Europeans’ foolish insistence on backing a Palestinian diplomatic gambit whose only purpose is to avoid peace negotiations rather than jumpstart them, Ross ought to mention the sorry history of U.S. diplomatic efforts that were based on the same wrongheaded premise.

Ross served as a U.S. diplomat for decades and was a principal architect of the Clinton administration’s Middle East policies and subsequently advised candidate Barack Obama and then assumed a major State Department post in his administration. The keynote of both Clinton and Obama’s attitudes toward the Palestinians was a desire to whitewash the Palestinian Authority’s violations of its peace pledges in the Oslo Accords and a predilection to pressure the Israelis instead of the other side. Though some criticized Ross as too disposed to take Israeli attitudes into account, that was in the context of administrations that were dedicated to tilting the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction. Even he admitted that the Clinton administration had made a mistake when it decided not to take Arafat’s undermining of the peace process and the PA’s fomenting of hatred against Israel and Jews seriously.

This is a crucial point today because just as Arafat thought he could act with impunity because of the West’s bias against Israel, the same factor motivated Abbas to sandbag Kerry in the peace talks. Indeed, Obama and Kerry were so concerned about not ruffling the Palestinians’ feathers that they responded to Abbas’s decision to make peace with Hamas instead of Israel and to make an end run to the UN by blaming Israel for the problem. Abbas’s conclusion from this decision was entirely logical. If he could behave in such a manner and still be rewarded with praise for himself and attacks on Israel, why shouldn’t he believe that even more of this would yield the same result. But in leading him to this conclusion, Kerry was only making the same mistake that Ross and others in the Clinton and Obama administrations had previously committed.

As right as he may be about the Europeans today, it is churlish of Ross to stand in judgment about their blind behavior without owning up to his past errors and those of the Obama administration. If he wants to lead an effort to evaluate the mistakes that have doomed peace efforts, rather than focusing on the wrongheaded policies of the Europeans, Ross should be looking in the mirror and issuing mea culpas for his own mistakes and those of Obama.

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Israel Agrees: Time to Call Abbas’s Bluff

For the past 20 years, whenever some Americans have raised the question of whether U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority should be cut off, opponents have always trumped such calls by invoking a single point: the Israelis disagree. Even as the PA flouted its commitments under the Oslo Accords and acted in various ways that ought to, under U.S. law, mandate a halt to American aid, Israel’s various governments have always opposed such action. But in the wake of the PA’s failed attempt to get the United Nations Security Council to recognize their independence and decision to head to the International Criminal Court to further harass Israel, Jerusalem is preparing to ask Congress to finally enforce the law and end the flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his corrupt Fatah government. Though the Obama administration disagrees, Congress should do just that.

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For the past 20 years, whenever some Americans have raised the question of whether U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority should be cut off, opponents have always trumped such calls by invoking a single point: the Israelis disagree. Even as the PA flouted its commitments under the Oslo Accords and acted in various ways that ought to, under U.S. law, mandate a halt to American aid, Israel’s various governments have always opposed such action. But in the wake of the PA’s failed attempt to get the United Nations Security Council to recognize their independence and decision to head to the International Criminal Court to further harass Israel, Jerusalem is preparing to ask Congress to finally enforce the law and end the flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his corrupt Fatah government. Though the Obama administration disagrees, Congress should do just that.

Why were the Israelis so reluctant to turn off the spigot of American cash to the PA up until now? The answer is that for all of its flaws, every Israeli government has always rightly viewed the PA as a necessary evil. Though under both Yasir Arafat and his successor Abbas the Fatah-run Authority has helped foment hatred as well allying itself with terrorists (as it did with its unity pact with Hamas last year), and even financed its own terror groups during the second intifada, it still performed a number of useful tasks. Israel is denounced as an occupier by the world but the PA governs most of the West Bank (not to mention the fact that Hamas-ruled Gaza functions as an independent Palestinian state in all but name). Israel would not wish to have that responsibility thrust upon it. The PA’s massive security forces also provide valuable cooperation for Israel. Moreover, the Israelis also understand that they always need an interlocutor to help keep a lid on the conflict if not to solve it.

It was for those reasons that the Israelis have always sent mixed messages about U.S. aid to the Palestinians. On the one hand, they wanted the Americans to try and hold the Palestinians accountable for their commitments. But whether or not those efforts were successful, they never wanted the plug pulled on the aid for fear of causing the PA to collapse, something that would create a mess that the Israelis would be forced to clean up.

Since all these factors still apply, what could be motivating the Israelis to change their tune?

The key reason is that by blowing up the latest U.S. attempt to negotiate peace with an end run to the UN and its affiliated agencies, the Palestinians have come to believe they can conduct a diplomatic war on Israel with impunity. So long as the PA thinks it can keep receiving the subsidies it gets from the U.S. and the rest of the West without keeping their commitments, there will never be any motivation for them to make peace. Worse than that, if they are not held accountable for a strategy based on perpetual conflict, Abbas and his crew won’t be deterred from further efforts to foment terror against Israelis. Rather than the aid buying a modus vivendi and a low level of violence if not peace, its continuance has had the opposite effect in that the PA thinks it has a blank check to avoid peace and the freedom to carry on the conflict in any manner it chooses.

Throughout the more than 20 years of the PA’s existence, both Israel and the U.S. have treated the PA with kid gloves. Both have at times acquiesced to the whitewashing of PA policies that were not only detrimental to coexistence but also a clear threat to any hope of peace. But the latest Palestinian attempt to isolate Israel has taken this to a new level. If the PA is allowed to not only further isolate Israel internationally but is permitted to use the biased machinery of the ICC to brand it a pariah, it will be setting in motion a series of events that will only lead to more violence.

That is why Israel is withholding the tax revenues it normally passes along to the PA as well as advising Congress to put a halt to its generous aid. In response, Abbas’s aide Saeb Erekat has said the PA may just dissolve itself, ending security cooperation and saddling the Israelis with the unwanted and difficult burden of governing the West Bank. These are serious threats, but Washington should call the PA’s bluff immediately.

The notion that Abbas and his Fatah kleptocracy would simply go home and abandon the huge patronage scheme they have created on the West Bank is absurd. Abbas operates his Ramallah government for the sake of his party and cronies, not for Israel. Power and the ability to skim money from international aid is not a sideline for Fatah; it is their raison d’être. He needs the money he gets from Israel and international donors to keep his organization going. That is why it is reasonable to suppose that if he felt that there was a genuine threat to its existence, he would abandon his UN gambit even if he continued to talk about it for domestic purposes. Moreover, the security cooperation with Israel is as much if not more in Abbas’s interests as it is in that of the Jewish state. He relies on Israel to protect him against threats to his life and his government from Hamas and other terror groups backed by Iran. Without the Israelis, his future isn’t worth a shekel.

Having shown that appeasement of the PA doesn’t work, it’s time for both the U.S. and Israel to put the hammer to Abbas and remind him that the money he gets from American taxpayers comes at a price. While there are many Palestinians who might be willing to send the West Bank up in flames for the purpose of furthering their century-old war on Israel, the corrupt leaders of the PA have other priorities. It’s time for Congress, acting with the support of the Israelis, to remind him of that.

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