Commentary Magazine


Topic: Middle East peace process

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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Obama Shouldn’t Oppose Effort to Hold Palestinians Accountable

For six years, the Obama administration has tried in vain to give the Palestinian Authority what it wanted. It has undermined Israel’s negotiating position at every turn and treated PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a champion of peace even though he has repeatedly turned down opportunities to end the conflict. But by thumbing his nose at the U.S. at the United Nations Security Council with a doomed effort to pass a one-sided resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood and then heading to the International Criminal Court to pursue specious human-rights cases against Israel, Abbas may have finally gone one step too far. The new Congress can and probably will enact sanctions against the PA. The question is will the administration, which is the injured party in this nasty breakup, seek to prevent Congress from doing the right thing and holding the Palestinians accountable?

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For six years, the Obama administration has tried in vain to give the Palestinian Authority what it wanted. It has undermined Israel’s negotiating position at every turn and treated PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a champion of peace even though he has repeatedly turned down opportunities to end the conflict. But by thumbing his nose at the U.S. at the United Nations Security Council with a doomed effort to pass a one-sided resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood and then heading to the International Criminal Court to pursue specious human-rights cases against Israel, Abbas may have finally gone one step too far. The new Congress can and probably will enact sanctions against the PA. The question is will the administration, which is the injured party in this nasty breakup, seek to prevent Congress from doing the right thing and holding the Palestinians accountable?

The end-run around the U.S.-sponsored peace process is not the first time the PA has flouted its commitment to negotiations under the 1993 Oslo Accords. For two decades, the PA, first under the leadership of Yasir Arafat and now of Abbas, has treated that famous peace deal and its follow-up agreements as merely pieces of paper to be discarded at will. It has sponsored terrorism, fomented hate for Israel and Jews, and refused to negotiate or even accept peace offers from Israel that offered them all they could reasonably hope for including an independent state in almost all the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem.

But in spite of these outrageous actions, the U.S. has not pulled the plug on the generous aid package that the PA received all these years. That has happened largely because the Clinton and Obama administrations have been so committed to the myth of Oslo that they have chosen to whitewash the PA. The Bush administration did the same thing once Abbas replaced Arafat. That did not advance peace but it allowed the Palestinians to think they would never be held accountable for their actions. Though legislation has been passed that would have cut off aid, presidential waivers were always exercised to prevent it from being enforced.

The same lessons applied in spades to the negotiations over the Palestinians’ decision to go to the UN. As even Tzipi Livni, who hopes to topple Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in the March elections, told the New York Times last month, Abbas walked away from the talks even after the U.S. offered a framework that would have given them what they wanted and was okayed by the Israelis. Once the effort to get a UN resolution that would have given the Palestinians a state without having first made peace with Israel was in motion, the Obama administration made more noises about its reluctance to veto this destructive and pointless effort than exercising pressure on the PA.

But now that the PA is heading to the International Criminal Court for more mischief against Israel—a move that even warranted a stiff condemnation from the State Department—there can no longer be any doubt that the basis for U.S. aid to the Palestinians has been exploded.

Fortunately the leadership of the new Republican Congress seems to understand this and they are likely to pass new legislation that will seek to force an end to further subsidies for the PA. Given that it is President Obama’s policies and efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction that have been undermined by the PA, it stands to reason the White House ought not to try to obstruct this effort. Yet, still besotted with their unrealistic dreams of making Middle East peace, the president and Secretary of State Kerry may argue that cutting off the PA will hurt the prospects for future negotiations.

What they need to come to grips with is the fact that Abbas is no more inclined to ever make peace with Israel than are his Hamas rivals. While it’s doubtful that the PA would ever actually sign an agreement that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, if the peace process is ever to be revived it can only happen when the Palestinians realize that the U.S. will not continue to subsidize an entity that is dedicated to obstructing peace.

If Obama and Kerry wish to fight an aid cutoff the Palestinians have given them very little room to maneuver or arguments with which to stop the GOP. Indeed, given the disillusionment about the PA among congressional Democrats, it’s likely that any legislation about the Palestinians might be passed with a veto-proof majority. House Speaker John Boehner and new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shouldn’t hesitate about pushing forward such legislation. If Obama and Kerry are smart, they will realize that this will strengthen their hands in future talks with the Palestinians, not weaken them.

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The Palestinian UN Flop and the Status Quo

Supporters of the Palestinians are lamenting the flawed strategy that led them to force a vote in the United Nations Security Council on statehood for them yesterday. The outcome was foreordained. The resolution endorsing statehood and mandating Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank within two years failed to gain the nine votes needed for adoption. That allowed the Obama administration to avoid having to veto the measure. In response the Palestinians say they will go to the International Criminal Court to seek other ways to harass Israel. But no one should be fooled by this charade. While U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power chided the Israelis about seeing the vote as a “victory for an unsustainable status quo” it is not the Jewish state that wanted to avoid both peace and the possibility of change. It is the Palestinian Authority that is desperate to keep things as they are, not the Israelis.

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Supporters of the Palestinians are lamenting the flawed strategy that led them to force a vote in the United Nations Security Council on statehood for them yesterday. The outcome was foreordained. The resolution endorsing statehood and mandating Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank within two years failed to gain the nine votes needed for adoption. That allowed the Obama administration to avoid having to veto the measure. In response the Palestinians say they will go to the International Criminal Court to seek other ways to harass Israel. But no one should be fooled by this charade. While U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power chided the Israelis about seeing the vote as a “victory for an unsustainable status quo” it is not the Jewish state that wanted to avoid both peace and the possibility of change. It is the Palestinian Authority that is desperate to keep things as they are, not the Israelis.

The text of the resolution betrayed its true purpose. Some of the Palestinians’ supporters claim that the resolution was a reasonable attempt to force Israel to negotiate peace. But what Powers rightly characterized as the resolution’s “deeply unbalanced” nature, made it clear that this entire episode was merely a stunt. By seeking a UN diktat that would have required Israel to withdraw from territory without requiring the Palestinians to make first make peace, the resolution did nothing to advance a spirit of compromise or make such a state a reality.

As even Tzipi Livni, one of the leaders of the new coalition seeking to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel’s March election told the New York Times’ Roger Cohen earlier this month, it was PA head Mahmoud Abbas who sabotaged the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. Livni, who represented Israel in the talks, said Netanyahu had agreed to continue the process on the basis of a U.S. proposal on borders, refugees, security, settlements and Jerusalem. But as he did when Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians everything they had asked for, Abbas refused to negotiate and instead sought to torpedo the initiative by going to the UN. This marked the fourth time the Palestinians had refused to accept proposals for statehood in the last 15 years.

That means that instead of negotiating on the basis of a statehood framework pushed by a sympathetic American administration that could have given them what they supposedly desire, the Palestinians preferred to push for a UN resolution that could never have passed and which undermined the chances of ever arriving at a two-state solution to the conflict.

Why do the Palestinians prefer to flop at the UN to conducting negotiations that are already tilted in their favor by the Obama administration? The answer is obvious. Because accepting statehood under such circumstances would require them to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as the nation state of the Jewish people, no matter where its borders are drawn. They won’t do this because that would mean the end of the conflict and the whole point of Palestinian nationalism since its inception was not so much to grant sovereignty over part of the country to Arabs but to deny it to the Jews. Rather than accept a state that would be obligated to live in peace with a Jewish state, the Palestinians much prefer to engage in sterile debates in international forums that go nowhere but do advance the cause of Israel’s demonization.

Thus, the real champion of a supposedly “unsustainable status quo” is not an Israeli government that has repeatedly sought to make peace on the dubious premise that territorial withdrawals will grant them security and legitimacy. Rather, it is a Palestinian leadership that is both incapable of unwilling to do anything more than foment hatred of the Jewish state. Advocates of a two-state solution must understand that its primary opponents are not really the Israeli right-wingers who publicly oppose such schemes but rather Palestinians who will do anything to avoid negotiating a deal that would provide them with sovereignty at the cost of ending their century-old war on Zionism.

That is deeply frustrating for both American and Israelis who would like to believe, despite the evidence of the last 20years of peace processing, that more concessions will somehow entice the Palestinians to end the conflict. But after a fourth diplomatic dead-end on statehood and the prospect of more UN stunts to come, it is time to place the blame for the lack of peace where it belongs: on the shoulders of a Palestinian leadership that would rather bloviate at the UN than negotiate a solution that would finally end this war.

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Who’s to Blame for Middle East Peace Stall?

It was once conventional wisdom among a certain segment of Western policymakers that the Arab-Israeli dispute was the root of instability in the Middle East. Diplomats, both in Washington and Europe, resisted fiercely President George W. Bush’s belief that the road to peace and stability in the Middle East didn’t necessarily go through Jerusalem. It may not have gone through Baghdad either, but the subsequent Arab Spring should have demonstrated unequivocally that the Middle East faces myriad problems, few of which have to do with Israel.

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It was once conventional wisdom among a certain segment of Western policymakers that the Arab-Israeli dispute was the root of instability in the Middle East. Diplomats, both in Washington and Europe, resisted fiercely President George W. Bush’s belief that the road to peace and stability in the Middle East didn’t necessarily go through Jerusalem. It may not have gone through Baghdad either, but the subsequent Arab Spring should have demonstrated unequivocally that the Middle East faces myriad problems, few of which have to do with Israel.

That said, for Secretary of State John Kerry and his European counterparts, the Arab-Israeli conflict holds huge importance and drains disproportionate resources. Despite European murmurings abut sanctions against Israel; diplomacy—the so-called peace process—remains the chief policy pillar.

While it’s a parlor game in the State Department and European Foreign Ministries to debate whose fault it is that the Middle East peace process is moribund, the answer often lies in the mirror. Kerry and his counterparts are doing generational damage to any hope to reach a diplomatic solution to the decades-old dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

The reason is this: the basis for diplomatic agreements is trust they will be respected and upheld. But, increasingly, Washington and even more so European capitals are signaling that diplomatic agreements are empty promises and that outside guarantees are meaningless.

This was shown most recently by acknowledgment that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have moved into southern Lebanon alongside Hezbollah, growing so bold as to take photos and tweet about their presence. The Iranian presence violates the terms of the truce that ended hostilities in 2006 between Lebanon and Israel, as well as United Nation’s guarantees. That said, such violations are nothing new: In order to achieve the ceasefire, the international community supposedly made the United Nations mandate in southern Lebanon more robust and guaranteed Israel that Hezbollah would not rearm and militarize the south to the point where the terrorist group could once again launch cross-border attacks such as that which sparked the 2006 war in the first place. Today, despite such guarantees, Hezbollah has rearmed to the tune of possessing well over 100,000 artillery pieces and missiles, according to conservative estimates.

These two violations, of course, show just how empty Western promises and guarantees have become when it comes to its quest for peace in the Middle East. But, recent U.S. and European approaches toward diplomacy undermine the very concept of diplomacy. The 1993 Oslo Accords were a diplomatic triumph, widely seen at the time as being on par with the 1978 Camp David Accords. The agreements, brokered in secret in Norway, paved the way for Israeli recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), set the stage for PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to return to Gaza the following year, and inaugurated two decades of direct talks between Israel and the newly created Palestinian Authority.

At the heart of the Oslo Accords was a Palestinian commitment to foreswear terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and commit to resolve outstanding conflicts through negotiation rather than unilateral actions.

And yet, in order to keep the diplomatic process alive, the Obama administration (and, to be fair, the second-term Bush administration and Clinton administration as well) soon showed a willingness to shift the goal posts. A comparison of declassified intelligence with congressional testimony shows that a senior Clinton administration official lied to Congress in order to keep diplomacy alive, even though the United States had clear proof that Arafat was directly complicit in terrorism. More recently, the Obama administration has reached out to Hamas, and even agreed to work with a Palestinian Authority incorporating Hamas, even though such action undercut the Palestinians’ commitment to foreswear terror and recognize Israel’s right-to-exist. Sure, Palestinians might be frustrated that Israeli negotiators don’t acquiesce to Palestinian demands. And Palestinian officials might even accuse Israel of violating agreements. After all, all diplomacy to date has been accompanied by he-said, she-said accusations, some of which might have merit, and some of which are more the result of differences in interpretations of the letter of the law. But, for any portion of the Palestinian Authority to turn its back on the commitment to foreswear terrorism and recognize Israel should void the Oslo Accords. In theory, Israel would be within its rights simply to return to the status quo ante, and end the Palestinian Authority completely. That’s not going to happen, but for anyone in Washington or Europe to acquiesce to such fundamental changes in Palestinian commitments regarding terrorism and Israel’s security sends the signal to both Israel and the Palestinians that Western guarantees are worthless, and no diplomatic commitment will last more than two decades. That makes reaching a final agreement almost impossible, if the object of an agreement is peace rather than a ceasefire to enable a new Palestinian entity to arm before a final Arab and Iranian push to annihilate Israel.

The Europeans, of course, are even more prone to show agreements to be worthless as shown by their willingness to recognize an independent Palestinian state, as blatant a violation of unilateral action as exists.

Throwing blame back and forth for the failure of diplomacy will not end any time soon, and both European and American officials will preach, preen, and seek to occupy a moral high ground. Alas, by transforming diplomacy into a job creation program for themselves, and ignoring that diplomacy isn’t simply talking, but involves immutable commitments and guarantees, they are—alongside the terrorists—largely to blame for the peace process nadir in which they have guided the parties.

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The World Won’t Listen to Livni If She Wins

In what has already been a topsy-turvy Israeli election campaign Hatnua Party co-leader Tzipi Livni caused an uproar when she bragged about her efforts to persuade Secretary of State John Kerry to “torpedo” the Palestinian effort to gain United Nations recognition for their independence. That led some on the Israeli right to accuse Kerry of trying to intervene in the elections because reportedly Livni told him that if the U.S. let a UN Security Council resolution pass it would help Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Knesset vote. But their outrage is to be expected. Everyone knows the Obama administration wants Netanyahu to lose and that Livni and her new partner, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, are looking for a little help from Washington. But what is of particular interest is that Livni actually thinks, as she said yesterday in an Israel Army Radio interview, “the world listens to me.” If she wins, she will soon find out that “the world” and even the Obama administration, doesn’t differentiate between Israeli politicians as much as she thinks.

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In what has already been a topsy-turvy Israeli election campaign Hatnua Party co-leader Tzipi Livni caused an uproar when she bragged about her efforts to persuade Secretary of State John Kerry to “torpedo” the Palestinian effort to gain United Nations recognition for their independence. That led some on the Israeli right to accuse Kerry of trying to intervene in the elections because reportedly Livni told him that if the U.S. let a UN Security Council resolution pass it would help Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Knesset vote. But their outrage is to be expected. Everyone knows the Obama administration wants Netanyahu to lose and that Livni and her new partner, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, are looking for a little help from Washington. But what is of particular interest is that Livni actually thinks, as she said yesterday in an Israel Army Radio interview, “the world listens to me.” If she wins, she will soon find out that “the world” and even the Obama administration, doesn’t differentiate between Israeli politicians as much as she thinks.

Livni, who is running for the Knesset on her fourth different political party in the last decade, scored a coup when she managed to persuade Herzog not only to run a joint ticket with her party but also to “rotate” the prime ministership between the two if they won. Considering that polls showed Hatnua wouldn’t win a seat on its own, that shows she’s better at driving good bargains for her party than she was for her country during her time as foreign minister under Ehud Olmert or as lead negotiator with the Palestinians under Netanyahu the last two years.

Though her eclectic and often changing positions on the issues have placed her all over the political map, her main claim to fame in the past few years has been as the Israeli politician that American and European leaders have hoped would topple the much disliked Netanyahu. Indeed, during the first two years of the Obama administration, the White House wrongly thought Livni would soon replace him as prime minister. So it’s hardly surprising that Livni would attempt to play that card again so as to convince Israeli voters that their country’s growing diplomatic isolation is purely the result of Netanyahu’s bad judgment and that it would all change if only Livni were in power.

But whatever her chances of helping to topple the prime minister, she’s wrong if she thinks the international community will be substantially friendlier to a government that she helped run than the one she just left. The reasons for this should be obvious even to her.

Livni is, after all, a veteran Israeli politician, who served in senior positions in the governments led by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert as well as having a dual role as Minister of Justice and chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians under Netanyahu over the past two years. Though she has often garnered more sympathetic international press coverage than the notoriously prickly Netanyahu that has never translated into any actual support for her positions from foreign governments.

The problem for Livni is that while the differences between her and Netanyahu on the peace process can appear huge in an Israeli political context, they are actually insignificant when seen from the perspective of what the Palestinians and the international community are demanding of the Jewish state. Like Netanyahu, Livni believes the Palestinians must accept Israeli security guarantees, acknowledge that Israel will retain Jewish Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs in the West Bank as well as recognize it as the nation state of the Jewish people, ending the conflict for all time.

Had Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas been willing to accept those terms he might have signed a peace treaty with Israel when Livni and her boss Olmert offered him a state in Gaza, almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 when she was foreign minister. Indeed, had he been really willing to make peace, he would have cut a deal with Livni in the peace talks sponsored by Kerry that Abbas blew up last spring. As with every previous peace initiative, the Palestinians were unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. Like many another politician, Livni may believe her own public relations spin about her ability to dazzle foreign leaders. But it is hard to believe that after her own bitter experiences with Abbas, she really thinks he is a peace partner as she and Herzog claim.

This is no small point because although the defeat of Netanyahu would be greeted with relief in Washington and every European capital, Israel’s dilemma would not be materially altered. Not even Herzog and Livni could withdraw from the West Bank on terms that Abbas, worried as he is about competition from Hamas, could accept, continuing the diplomatic stalemate. That will mean the next Israeli government would be subjected to the same sort of pressure to make unilateral concessions that no Israeli coalition could ever live with. Indeed, after the failure of Sharon’s experiment with withdrawal in Gaza (something that happened while Livni was in his Cabinet), no sane Israeli wants to risk a repeat of that fiasco with a new Hamasistan in the far more strategic West Bank.

As unpopular as Netanyahu may be abroad, Israel was not particularly beloved under other leaders either. Though the meme of Israel becoming too nationalist, insular and intolerant is a popular one and is repeatedly endlessly on op-ed pages, the world’s quarrel with Israel is one that cuts across mainstream political lines in the Jewish state. Those who wish it to make unilateral concessions to Palestinians who are not interested in peace won’t like Livni’s stipulations about a potential treaty any more than they do those of Netanyahu. Especially since it was her who was negotiating on his behalf when Abbas was refusing to budge an inch, as Kerry knows all too well. The growing chorus of support boycotts of Israel will not be stifled by a Herzog/Livni led coalition. Nor will a slightly more accommodating Israeli government appease the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

As for the Obama administration, there is no question that there will be jubilation in the White House and the State Department if Netanyahu loses. It would be nice to think that Washington would then back Livni in talks with Abbas, but the Palestinians inability to make peace will inevitably frustrate the president and Kerry and lead them to behave as they have always done and blame the Israelis.

There may be reasons for Israelis to choose a new prime minister but the notion that Livni will magically erase the country’s diplomatic isolation is a delusion that rests upon her hubris and mistaken belief in the dubious magic of her personality. No rational person who has been paying attention to the way the world interacts with and judges Israel over the past 20 years of peace processing should take such a fanciful idea seriously.

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Israel’s Critics Shouldn’t Count on Hillary or the Palestinians

In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

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In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

The Hillary problem is one that every liberal interest group shares with the Jewish critics of Israel. The former secretary of state is a political chameleon who assumes whatever political positions are necessary to advance her agenda. Though a favorite of Wall Street types and someone who is believed to have more moderate and realistic views on foreign policy than President Obama, there are clear signs she will run to the left in the next year in order to steal some of Elizabeth Warren’s thunder and to forestall the liberal favorite from thinking about an insurgent run for the presidency. Though big money contributors will hope that her fake populism (“corporations don’t create jobs”) is just an act, and a poor one at that, they don’t know for sure what will happen if she ever wins the White House. The same is true of the J Street crowd.

As the Times Magazine article notes, Clinton has given them some reason for hope in the past. There was her famous embrace of Suha Arafat after the terrorist’s wife had just accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary also played a key role in some of the nastiest fights with Israel that Obama picked during his first term over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. But they also remember that Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000 as if she was a member of one of Likud’s right wing factions and stuck to that line throughout her time in Congress. And, as the Times points out, Clinton understands that there are a lot more votes to be won and cash to be raised by supporting the Jewish state than by bashing it with the J Streeters even in a Democratic Party with a growing anti-Israel faction.

Which is the true Hillary? Their guess is as good as yours. Privately, Hillary may be a J Street fan at heart. But it’s hard to imagine her or her husband/consigliere going to war with AIPAC, which despite the misleading slanders about it is peopled with a huge contingent of ardent pro-Israel Democrats as well as Republicans,

A more astute observation would be to point out that there is no real Hillary position on any issue, only momentary political advantages to be won so context-free predictions about her behavior if she is elected president are a waste of time.

But the real dilemma facing these “liberal Zionists” has nothing to do with American political calculations.

The reason why their views are so out of touch with most Israeli voters in the past few elections is that the latter have been paying attention to the decisions and actions of the Palestinians during the last 20 years of the peace process while the “liberal Zionists” have been studiously ignoring them. Israelis know they have repeatedly offered the Palestinians peace and have been turned down every time. They may not like the settlements or even Prime Minister Netanyahu but outside of the far-left, few think the Palestinians will make peace in the foreseeable future because they haven’t given up their anti-Zionist ideology in which their national identity is inextricably tied to the war on Israel’s existence.

That’s why most American politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans, are sympathetic to Israel and want no part of J Street plots to pressure it into making concessions that would endanger the Jewish state’s security while not bringing peace any closer.

Though they lament Israel’s turn to the right, their real problem is with a Palestinian political culture and a Palestinian people that won’t play the role assigned them in the liberal morality play in which the Jewish state can make peace happen by themselves. In other words, their focus on getting Obama or Clinton or somebody else to hammer Israel is pointless since even if the ticket of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni defeat Netanyahu in March, there’s no reason to think the Palestinians will be any more likely to make peace than with the current government.

Just as discouraging for J Street supporters is the fact that they are losing ground among Jewish leftists to less agonized critics of Israel such as Jewish Voices for Peace. JVP has little sympathy for Zionism and enamored the BDS — boycott, divest and sanction — movement that seeks to promote economic warfare against Israel. JVP scorns Israel as a colonial apartheid state. That position has more appeal to some segments of the left where Jewish identity and particularism is also viewed with hostility. Instead of supplanting AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community as they hoped when Obama was elected president, J Street finds itself lacking the clout and support of the mainstream group while being squeezed from the left by open Israel-haters.

In other words, Hillary would be a fool to throw in with a group that is divorced from the political realities of the United States, Israel or the American Jewish community. Though the group and its “liberal Zionist” backers grow more out of touch with the facts on the ground in the Middle East as well as within the Democratic Party they will have to comfort themselves with sympathetic coverage in the Times.

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The Palestinians’ UN Charade Collapses

In the end, there wasn’t much suspense about the Obama administration’s decision whether to support a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing a Palestinian state. After weeks of pointless negotiations over proposed texts, including a compromise endorsed by the French and other European nations, the wording of the proposal that the Palestinians persuaded Arab nations to put forward was so outrageous that even President Obama couldn’t even think about letting it pass because it would undermine his own policies. And the rest of the international community is just as unenthusiastic about it. In a very real sense this episode is the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nutshell: the world wants to do something for the Palestinians but their leaders are more interested in pointless shows than in actually negotiating peace or doing something to improve the lives of their people.

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In the end, there wasn’t much suspense about the Obama administration’s decision whether to support a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing a Palestinian state. After weeks of pointless negotiations over proposed texts, including a compromise endorsed by the French and other European nations, the wording of the proposal that the Palestinians persuaded Arab nations to put forward was so outrageous that even President Obama couldn’t even think about letting it pass because it would undermine his own policies. And the rest of the international community is just as unenthusiastic about it. In a very real sense this episode is the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nutshell: the world wants to do something for the Palestinians but their leaders are more interested in pointless shows than in actually negotiating peace or doing something to improve the lives of their people.

The resolution that was presented to the Security Council was so extreme that Jordan, the sole Arab nation that is currently a member, didn’t want anything to do with it. But, after intense lobbying by the Palestinian Authority representative, the rest of the Arab nations prevailed upon Jordan and they put it forward where it will almost certainly languish indefinitely without a vote since its fate is preordained.

The terms it put forward were of Israeli surrender and nothing more. The Jewish state would be given one year to withdraw from all of the territory it won in a defensive war of survival in 1967 where a Palestinian state would be created. That state would not be demilitarized nor would there be any guarantees of security for Israel which would not be granted mutual recognition as the nation state of the Jewish people, a clear sign that the Palestinians are not ready to give up their century-long war against Zionism even inside the pre-1967 lines.

This is a diktat, not a peace proposal, since there would be nothing for Israel to negotiate about during the 12-month period of preparation. Of course, even if the Palestinians had accepted the slightly more reasonable terms proposed by the French, that would have also been true. But that measure would have at least given the appearance of a mutual cessation of hostilities and an acceptance of the principle of coexistence. But even those concessions, let alone a renunciation of the “right of return,” was not possible for a PA that is rightly fearful of being supplanted by Hamas. So long as Palestinian nationalism remains wedded to rejection of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn, no one should expect the PA to end the conflict or actually make peace.

Though many of us have been understandably focused on the question of how far President Obama might go to vent his spleen at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government, that petty drama is, as it has always been, a sideshow distraction from the real problem at the core of the Middle East peace process: Palestinian rejectionism.

Though the administration has tirelessly praised PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a champion of peace in order to encourage him to live up to that reputation, he had other priorities. Rather than negotiate in good faith with the Israelis, Abbas blew up the talks last year by signing a unity pact with Hamas that he never had any intention of keeping. The purpose of that stunt, like the current UN drama, isn’t to make a Palestinian state more likely or even to increase Abbas’s leverage in the talks. Rather, it is merely a delaying tactic, and a gimmick intended to waste time, avoid negotiations, and to deflect any pressure on the PA to either sign an agreement with Israel or to turn it down.

That’s not just because the Palestinians wrongly believe that time is on their side in the conflict, a dubious assumption that some on the Israeli left also believe. The reason for these tactics is that Abbas is as incapable of making peace as he is of making war.

This is not just another case of the Palestinians “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” in Abba Eban’s immortal and quite accurate summary of their actions over the years. It’s that they are so wedded to unrealistic expectations about Israel’s decline that it would be inconceivable for them to take advantage of any opening to peace. That is why they turned down Israeli offers of statehood, including control of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem, three times and refused to deal seriously with a fourth such negotiation with Netanyahu last year.

And it’s why the endless quarrels between Obama and Netanyahu over the peace process are so pointless. No matter how much Obama tilts the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction or how often he and his supporters prattle on about time running out for Israel, Abbas has no intention of signing a peace agreement. The negotiations as well as their maneuverings at the UN and elsewhere are nothing but a charade for the PA and nothing Netanyahu could do, including offering dangerous concessions, would change that. The sooner Western leaders stop playing along with their game, the better it will be for the Palestinian people who continue to be exploited by their leaders.

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Writing a Better UN Resolution Won’t Work

European and American diplomats have spent the last week locked in negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian Authority over a draft resolution that may be presented tomorrow to the United Nations Security Council. The measure will be an attempt to get UN recognition for a Palestinian state in the lands taken by Israel in the Six-Day War and to force the Jewish state to accept this diktat. But the effort expended trying to modify the resolution so as to make it a genuine step toward peace is a waste of time. If the Palestinians wanted to negotiate peace with Israel, the conflict would have ended a long time ago. The purpose of this exercise is not to jumpstart negotiations; the purpose is to help the Palestinians avoid them while placing intolerable pressure on Israel to make dangerous concessions.

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European and American diplomats have spent the last week locked in negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian Authority over a draft resolution that may be presented tomorrow to the United Nations Security Council. The measure will be an attempt to get UN recognition for a Palestinian state in the lands taken by Israel in the Six-Day War and to force the Jewish state to accept this diktat. But the effort expended trying to modify the resolution so as to make it a genuine step toward peace is a waste of time. If the Palestinians wanted to negotiate peace with Israel, the conflict would have ended a long time ago. The purpose of this exercise is not to jumpstart negotiations; the purpose is to help the Palestinians avoid them while placing intolerable pressure on Israel to make dangerous concessions.

In theory, the work of the Americans and the Europeans, especially the French, after whom the current draft is being called, is laudable. Knowing that the Palestinians intend to push hard for a resolution at the Security Council, the diplomats have reacted instinctively and sought to create a draft that will do as little harm as possible. In practice that means they have tried to include language that would call for the parties to recognize each other and even hinted at a text that would recognize in some way that Israel is a Jewish state. They’ve also sought to make it require the two sides to negotiate peace before Israel would be forced to withdraw to the 1967 lines and allow a sovereign Palestinian state to be created in the West Bank and part of Jerusalem.

On the surface, that sounds fair to most people. After all, Israel’s position all along has been that it is willing, even eager to negotiate peace with the Palestinians and even the supposedly “hard line” Netanyahu government has said that it was willing to accept a two-state solution. But contrary to the conventional wisdom of the mainstream media, it has never been Israel or Netanyahu that was the obstacle to negotiations or peace. The Palestinians turned down Israeli offers of peace and statehood including Gaza almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008 and blew up the talks with Netanyahu last year because PA leader Mahmoud Abbas feared being put in a position where he would have to either accept an accord or formally turn it down.

What Abbas wants is to avoid being put in such a difficult position again. That is why he has undertaken an end-run around the peace negotiations sponsored by the U.S. The purpose of the stunt is not to jumpstart more talks but to avoid them altogether.

The point is, even if the draft produced by the French and the Obama administration were to include language about mutual recognition of “Palestine” and a specifically Jewish state of Israel and stating that a withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem would have to be preceded by talks between the parties, that wouldn’t motivate the Palestinians to negotiate peace. Indeed, once they have the force of a UN resolution mandating Israel’s complete withdrawal from the territories they would be officially absolved of any need to talk. They would then merely sit back and wait until the two-year deadline expired and then demand, with the support of the rest of a world that is irredeemably hostile to Israel, a complete Israeli withdrawal from all of the land including Jerusalem without paying for any of it in terms of mutual recognition, security guarantees, or any real assurance that they are prepared to end the conflict.

The reason why this is not an abstract point is that Palestinian nationalism remains inextricably tied to a war against Zionism that has lasted more than a century. Abbas, the supposed moderate, remains adamantly opposed to recognition of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn and continues to speak of a “right of return”—a measure that is synonymous with Israel’s destruction. Meanwhile his erstwhile partners/rivals, the Hamas terrorist group that operates an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, remain wedded not merely to the principle of Israel’s destruction but to waging active war upon it.

A Security Council resolution that will have the effect of binding international law will not merely further stiffen the resistance of either Hamas or Abbas’s Fatah to making the sort of concessions that are required for peace; it will embolden them never to do so. Indeed, that is why the wording of the final text doesn’t matter. So long as it contains language that demands that Israel withdraw from all of the land, there will be nothing to negotiate about. The Palestinians will simply demand everything and unless it is prepared to repeat the experiment of the Gaza withdrawal in the West Bank, Israel must say no and face mounting international isolation.

This may please some Americans, including the Obama foreign-policy team, which has always sought to pressure the Israelis into wholesale withdrawals regardless of the consequences for its security or its rights to what is disputed territory. But such a resolution is a guarantee that not only is peace impossible but that the process the U.S. has worked so hard to revive will be dead as well.

That is why the Obama administration should cease wasting time negotiating with the French over the language of the resolution and instead concentrate on ensuring that it does not get the nine voters in the Council that would force a vote. If it does come to a vote, the U.S. must, regardless of President Obama’s antipathy for Netanyahu, veto it. The alternative is the end of any hope for peace as well as of any U.S. influence over events.

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No UN Palestinian Veto? Obama’s Tempted.

This week push may come to shove on the long-simmering feud between President Obama and the Israeli government. With the Palestinians pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution that would unilaterally recognize their independence in the territory won by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, the administration must decide whether it is truly in its interests to facilitate an end run around the peace process it has sponsored by refusing to veto the measure just to demonstrate its pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu and or undermine his chances for reelection in the March elections. But while the stakes here are high for both Israel, whose isolation could be greatly increased by passage of such a resolution, and Netanyahu, the danger to Obama’s foreign policy and U.S. interests from such a vote is high as well. Just as important, the notion that passage of this resolution has anything to do with promoting peace is farcical.

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This week push may come to shove on the long-simmering feud between President Obama and the Israeli government. With the Palestinians pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution that would unilaterally recognize their independence in the territory won by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, the administration must decide whether it is truly in its interests to facilitate an end run around the peace process it has sponsored by refusing to veto the measure just to demonstrate its pique at Prime Minister Netanyahu and or undermine his chances for reelection in the March elections. But while the stakes here are high for both Israel, whose isolation could be greatly increased by passage of such a resolution, and Netanyahu, the danger to Obama’s foreign policy and U.S. interests from such a vote is high as well. Just as important, the notion that passage of this resolution has anything to do with promoting peace is farcical.

The Palestinian Authority’s motives for seeking to gain a Security Council vote on recognition of their independence are clear. They claim that the peace negotiations promoted by the U.S. over the years has not brought them closer to their declared goal of gaining a state and that only by having the international community force its hand will Israel ever be willing to retreat to the 1967 lines and let Palestinians enjoy sovereignty and self-determination. That is the argument behind the decisions of several European parliaments to adopt resolutions endorsing Palestinian statehood.

But it must be understood that this campaign is about avoiding a negotiated end to the conflict, not finding a shortcut to one. The Palestinians have, after all, been offered statehood in Gaza, almost all of the West Bank, and a share of Jerusalem three times by the Israelis in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Even Netanyahu’s government arrived at the negotiations sponsored by Secretary of State Kerry in the last year prepared to offer another two-state solution with a prominent advocate of this plan, Tzipi Livni, as their negotiator. But PA leader Mahmoud Abbas blew up those talks just as he fled the table in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him virtually everything he had asked for. The obstacle wasn’t Israeli settlements or intransigence, but the fact that Abbas knows it would be political suicide for him to sign any deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one, no matter where its borders were drawn.

What the Palestinians want, in other words, is a way to avoid negotiations that would obligate them in one form or another to end the conflict with Israel as the price of their independence. The problem with negotiations isn’t that the Israelis, even Netanyahu, have been intransigent, but that no matter how much Obama and Kerry tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, a solution must in the end require them to make peace. The UN resolution they want would merely obligate the Israelis to retreat from more territory without any assurances that what happened when they gave up every inch of Gaza in 2005—the creation of a terrorist Hamas state—would not happen again in the more strategic and larger West Bank.

Obama would savor the embarrassment this would cause Netanyahu, whose chances for reelection might be damaged by an open breach with the United States and the country’s increased isolation as the world demanded it give up land without offering it peace. But this would also mean the effective end of a major portion of the president’s foreign-policy focus: the achievement of a Middle East peace agreement. It would also mark the end of U.S. influence over either side to the confrontation as both Israelis and Palestinians would no longer need or have any desire to gravitate to the U.S.

The surge in Palestinian violence and the growing support for their statehood among European governments may cause Obama to feel more pressure to go along with Western European allies. Just as important, he may be dismayed by the thought that another veto that backs up a negotiated path to Palestinian statehood will be interpreted by Israelis as proving that Netanyahu has, contrary to his critics, not destroyed the alliance. The irony that a decision by the prime minister’s bitter American enemy would help undermine arguments for Netanyahu’s replacement has to worry Obama. But he should also be worried by the blowback from a failure to order a veto.

The president’s hard-core left-wing supporters might defend such a decision but it would be widely condemned by most Democrats, who will rightly see it as a cynical betrayal of principle motivated more by personal grudges than the national interest. It might also backfire in Israel since voters there would be entitled to say the non-veto was proof of Obama’s irremediable hostility to the Jewish state and might motivate many to back Netanyahu so as to demonstrate their unwillingness to be intimidated into accepting measures that would undermine their security and rights.

The optimal scenario for Obama is to avoid any vote on Palestinian independence in the Security Council that would destroy the peace process. But if he is in this difficult position, it’s largely the fault of his own efforts. After spending the last few years bending over backwards trying to demonstrate daylight between the positions of Israel and the United States, the Palestinians have come to believe that sooner or later the president will hand them the diplomatic victory they long for without being forced to pay any price for it. Doing so will be as much a blow to U.S. interests as it will be to Israel, but it’s hard to blame either the Palestinians or the Europeans for thinking that this time, Obama will really betray the Israelis simply in order to harm Netanyahu. If he does, it will mark a new low for an administration that has already turned undermining allies into an art form.

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Another Palestinian Sacrificed to Conflict

The death of Ziad Abu Ein is more than another statistic in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A member of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Cabinet, Abu Ein died after leading a demonstration that sought to break into land claimed by an Israeli settlement. The 55-year-old died in the aftermath of a clash he initiated with soldiers guarding the site. That was bad enough but, as is par for the course in this situation, the team of doctors who performed an autopsy on him split along national lines. A Palestinian doctor says he died from the blows he got from the soldiers. The Israeli doctors say he had heart disease and died from the stress caused by the incident. Predictably, the U.S. is calling for an inquiry into the incident but rather than get caught up in the question of which doctor is telling the truth, the real answer as to what killed Abu Ein is the commitment of his Fatah Party to perpetuating the conflict rather than accepting a compromise that would end it.

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The death of Ziad Abu Ein is more than another statistic in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A member of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Cabinet, Abu Ein died after leading a demonstration that sought to break into land claimed by an Israeli settlement. The 55-year-old died in the aftermath of a clash he initiated with soldiers guarding the site. That was bad enough but, as is par for the course in this situation, the team of doctors who performed an autopsy on him split along national lines. A Palestinian doctor says he died from the blows he got from the soldiers. The Israeli doctors say he had heart disease and died from the stress caused by the incident. Predictably, the U.S. is calling for an inquiry into the incident but rather than get caught up in the question of which doctor is telling the truth, the real answer as to what killed Abu Ein is the commitment of his Fatah Party to perpetuating the conflict rather than accepting a compromise that would end it.

The big picture about the peace process tends to get lost whenever the rights and wrongs of specific incidents become the issue. In this case, the truth is not complicated but is still open to interpretation.

The Palestinian position is that Abu Ein died as result of brutality inflicted on him during the demonstration. Abu Ein and the demonstrators he led into a line of armed soldiers clearly invited a forceful response. Whether he took a blow to the chest or was hit by a tear gas canister, there is no question that those involved in the scrum were likely roughed up. Israeli soldiers may have used too much force or it may be that Abu Ein simply expired because his heart disease made him vulnerable to collapse when he tried to break through a line of armed soldiers.

It should also be remembered that when we speak of him being a Cabinet minister, this was not some bureaucrat in charge of the Palestinian treasury or some other responsible officeholder. He was in fact the Cabinet member in charge of staging provocations against both settlements and checkpoints in the West Bank. A convicted terrorist who took part in a bomb plot that resulted in the murder of two Israeli teenagers, he was eventually released in a prisoner exchange before becoming a PA official. His goal was to create violent confrontations and to generate Palestinian casualties that could be paraded before the world as evidence of Israeli cruelty. The only difference between this and other such violent demonstrations is that Abu Ein was the statistic rather than some anonymous Palestinian.

But no matter what happened when he led the charge into a line of soldiers or what we might think of his job or his background, the real reason for Abu Ein’s death can be attributed to the core ideology of the Palestinian national movement that he served in various violent capacities during his life.

Four times in the last 15 years, the Palestinian Authority Abu Ein served was given a chance to negotiate a peace deal that might have given them independence and statehood. Twice under Yasir Arafat’s leadership they turned offers of sovereignty over almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem, as well as Gaza down flat. Once Abbas fled the negotiations after receiving an even more generous offer. In the past year, Abbas stonewalled the negotiations and then blew them up so as to prevent getting even close to an agreement.

It is in that context that the discussions about settlements and the behavior of Israeli soldiers must be understood. The PA has demonstrated time and again that it doesn’t want peace or a two-state solution. What it wants is to keep the conflict just hot enough to prevent Abbas from being cornered into agreeing to peace but not so hot as to stop the Israelis from protecting him against his Hamas rivals or to force the U.S. and the Europeans from cutting off the flow of cash that allows the PA kleptocracy to exist.

Like the Palestinian children who are encouraged to pick fights with soldiers by flinging gasoline bombs and rocks in the hope the army will fire back, Abu Ein was sacrificed on the altar of the unending Palestinian war against the existence of Israel. Instead of blaming the Israelis, Palestinians need to look inward and ponder the political culture they have created that makes it impossible for their leaders to consider peace on any terms but the destruction of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. Until that changes, there will never be an end to such confrontations and the inevitable casualties that follow from them.

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Abbas Doubles Down on Right of Return

To listen to anyone in the Obama administration, Mahmoud Abbas isn’t just Israel’s best hope for a peace partner. From President Obama on down, the Palestinian Authority leader has been spoken of in almost heroic terms as a genuine moderate and a man who has shown himself willing to make real sacrifices for peace. This portrayal has always been sheer fiction but it has been bolstered by Abbas’s clever decision to speak in one manner to the Western and Israeli press while singing a very different tune to Arabic and Palestinian media. This was proved again last week when he told an Egyptian TV program (the transcript from which was published by Memri.org, that essential window into the Arab media) that not only would he never recognize Israel as a Jewish state but also insisted that “we cannot close the door to those who wish to return,” a clear allusion to a demand for the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

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To listen to anyone in the Obama administration, Mahmoud Abbas isn’t just Israel’s best hope for a peace partner. From President Obama on down, the Palestinian Authority leader has been spoken of in almost heroic terms as a genuine moderate and a man who has shown himself willing to make real sacrifices for peace. This portrayal has always been sheer fiction but it has been bolstered by Abbas’s clever decision to speak in one manner to the Western and Israeli press while singing a very different tune to Arabic and Palestinian media. This was proved again last week when he told an Egyptian TV program (the transcript from which was published by Memri.org, that essential window into the Arab media) that not only would he never recognize Israel as a Jewish state but also insisted that “we cannot close the door to those who wish to return,” a clear allusion to a demand for the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

In speaking in this manner, Abbas’s double game is effectively debunked by his own words. The so-called “right of return” is a touchstone of Palestinian rejectionism, based as it is on the notion that millions of descendants of the several hundred thousand refugees from the 1948 War of Independence should be allowed to return to pre-1967 Israel and effectively transform it into an Arab-majority nation. Such a demand is not only incompatible with the notion of peace; it is an explicit rejection of efforts to end the conflict. In effect, Abbas’s idea of a two-state solution is to have one Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of a divided Jerusalem in which no Jews will live and another inside Israel’s 1967 lines in which an Arab majority will dominate a Jewish minority.

Even more interesting is the fact that in this interview, Abbas claimed that there were “six million” such persons waiting to enter Israel. According to the Times of Israel, this was not an attempt by Abbas to echo the symbolism of the Holocaust by positing a population of so-called victims of Israel that is the same as the number of Jews killed by the Nazis. Instead, they think it is an attempt to claim that the refugees are as numerous as the current Jewish population of Israel, which amounts to approximately six million persons. They may be right about that but given Abbas’s background as a Holocaust denier (his doctoral thesis questioning the number of Jews killed in the Shoah is still being promoted by official Palestinian media), it’s hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But no matter why Abbas spoke of “six million” refugees, the number is bogus since it exceeds even the widely inflated claims of UNRWA, which has done its best to perpetuate and promote the narrative of refugee victimhood.

Why would Abbas embrace rejectionism in this manner even though President Obama still thinks he is a champion of peace?

Abbas is locked in a competition with his Hamas rivals/erstwhile coalition partners in which the only way to gain credibility on the Palestinian street is to attack Israel and pander to nationalist sentiment about its destruction. As the interview also makes clear, he’s also attempting to exploit the controversy over Israel’s proposed law officially declaring the country a Jewish state. But, as Abbas and even some of the law’s Israeli and Western critics know, a law that restates the obvious about Israel wouldn’t change a thing about the country’s identity or in any way diminish the rights of non-Jews there. Yet the propaganda value of branding Israel as an “apartheid state” is too great a temptation for Abbas to pass up.

The talk about refugees also directly contradicts Abbas’s statements made in a 2012 Israeli TV interview in which he disavowed the right of return and alluded to his own lack of interest in going back to his family’s home in Safed. It should also serve as a reminder that an equal number of Jews were forced to flee from their homes in the Arab and Muslim world after 1948. Any talk of compensation for Arab refugees should be balanced by an equal concern for the descendants of the Jews who were dispossessed by the Arab war against Israel.

These statements ought to quiet those who continue to claim Abbas is a peace partner or, despite his repeated refusal to accept Israel peace offers, someone who is even remotely capable of signing an agreement that would end the conflict. Like his decision to blow up Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative earlier this year, Abbas’s only strategic imperative is to avoid making peace. His end-run around the negotiations and his futile decision to use United Nations agencies as a forum for Israel-bashing also demonstrate that his goal is to never again be boxed in where he will have to either explicitly turn down an Israeli offer or agree to a historic compromise.

While the Obama administration openly roots for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s defeat in the upcoming elections and issues vague threats about sanctions on Israel if he is reelected, the real obstacle to peace remains Abbas and his people’s political culture that makes ending the conflict impossible. Until the U.S. recognizes this and starts treating Abbas as the problem rather than a possible solution, U.S. Middle East policy will continue to be a clueless failure.

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Obama’s Threats Won’t Hurt Netanyahu

Few savvy observers took Secretary of State John Kerry at his word earlier this week when he piously proclaimed that the United States had no thought of attempting to intervene in Israel’s elections. The animus bordering on hatred felt by President Obama’s inner circle toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not exactly a secret. But it didn’t take long for a leak to an Israeli newspaper that is among the PM’s most rabid foes to dispel any doubts about the administration’s hopes that it could somehow derail his bid for a fourth term. The report from Barak Ravid, Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent that the White House held a meeting whose purpose was to plan possible future sanctions against Israel to punish it for continuing to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and West Bank settlement blocs, is a shot fired over Netanyahu’s bow. But the real question here is not so much Obama’s desire to see the prime minister defeated, as it is why anyone in the administration thinks this gambit will succeed now after the same tactics have failed repeatedly before.

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Few savvy observers took Secretary of State John Kerry at his word earlier this week when he piously proclaimed that the United States had no thought of attempting to intervene in Israel’s elections. The animus bordering on hatred felt by President Obama’s inner circle toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not exactly a secret. But it didn’t take long for a leak to an Israeli newspaper that is among the PM’s most rabid foes to dispel any doubts about the administration’s hopes that it could somehow derail his bid for a fourth term. The report from Barak Ravid, Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent that the White House held a meeting whose purpose was to plan possible future sanctions against Israel to punish it for continuing to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and West Bank settlement blocs, is a shot fired over Netanyahu’s bow. But the real question here is not so much Obama’s desire to see the prime minister defeated, as it is why anyone in the administration thinks this gambit will succeed now after the same tactics have failed repeatedly before.

The Haaretz report makes it clear that the administration is looking ahead to another two years of escalating confrontation with Israel. The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of interest in negotiating, let alone signing a peace agreement that would end the conflict. Nor do the construction of homes for Jews in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem or even in the settlement blocs that everyone (including President Obama) knows would remain inside Israel if peace were ever achieved constitute any sort of obstacle to a two-state solution. But the administration still clings to the illusion that the problem is Netanyahu and settlements rather than a Palestinian political culture that makes peace impossible and PA head Mahmoud Abbas’s incitement to violence. That means it is entirely possible that, as Ravid breathlessly predicts, the administration will no longer make do with bitter denunciations of Israeli actions in the future but will, instead adopt measures intended to punish the Jewish state. That might take the form of refraining from vetoing anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations Security Council or other actions intended to downgrade or undermine the alliance between the two countries.

But the notion that picking yet another fight with Netanyahu will hurt his chances of reelection tells us more about the administration’s continued inability to understand Israel than anything else. After all, President Obama has repeatedly tried to do this throughout his first six years in office. But every time the U.S. attempted to use Jewish building in Jerusalem to attack Netanyahu, the only result was that the prime minister’s political standing at home increased. Though the PM is under attack right now from both foes on the left and a crowded field of rivals on the right, there seems little reason to believe that his policies on Jerusalem or even on negotiations with the Palestinians has rendered him vulnerable. All the polls agree that Israeli voters appear poised to elect a Knesset that is even further skewed to the right than the existing government that was lambasted by American critics for being not interested in concessions to the Palestinians.

As even Ravid notes in the conclusion to his piece, Netanyahu always gains when he can portray himself as standing up to foreign pressure on security issues. The reason for that is that, unlike the Obama administration and Israel’s liberal critics abroad, the Israeli voting public has been paying attention to what the Palestinians have said and done during the last 20 years of peace processing. Israel has tried to trade land for peace and gotten more terror and no peace. At the present moment it is inconceivable that any Israeli government of any stripe would withdraw from the West Bank in order to make way for what could be an even larger and more dangerous version of the Hamas terror state that currently exists in Gaza.

It is true that the decimated Israeli left and their liberal American supporters such as the J Street lobby believe that the Jewish state must be saved from itself by heavy-handed U.S. intervention. Indeed, it is only by international pressure designed to thwart the verdict of Israeli democracy that their misguided agenda might be implemented. But it boggles the mind as to how anyone, either in Israel or the U.S., would think that the Israeli voting public would regard efforts to thwart their judgment in this manner as a good reason to vote against Netanyahu. Indeed, the commitment of the U.S. to a policy of heavy-handed pressure is the best argument for Netanyahu continuing in office since he is the country’s only major political figure with the experience and the tenacity to stand up to such treatment from the country’s sole superpower ally.

The three months between now and the election constitute a political eternity and Netanyahu cannot take his victory for granted even if the polls indicate he is the only possible choice for prime minister. But if Obama and his friends at Haaretz imagine such leaks will lead to Netanyahu’s downfall, it’s clear they have learned nothing from the past six years of such efforts.

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Why the U.S. Can’t Influence Israel’s Vote

The reaction from Washington to Israel’s decision to move to new elections in March was fairly circumspect. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the U.S. had no intention of trying to influence an “internal matter” and reaffirmed support for its ally, though he also said he hoped the next government would be one that could negotiate a peace accord with the Palestinians. But the subtext was obvious. As former peace processor Aaron David Miller wrote today in Foreign Policy, “thoughts of a new prime minister are now dancing in the heads” of President Obama and Kerry. The early vote gives the administration’s ceaseless quest to oust Benjamin Netanyahu from office one last chance. Yet with Netanyahu on track to emerge even stronger from the election that he is today, it might be time for Obama and Kerry to re-examine their argument with Jerusalem. The fact that they seem incapable of doing so speaks volumes about how out of touch Washington is from the realities of the Middle East.

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The reaction from Washington to Israel’s decision to move to new elections in March was fairly circumspect. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that the U.S. had no intention of trying to influence an “internal matter” and reaffirmed support for its ally, though he also said he hoped the next government would be one that could negotiate a peace accord with the Palestinians. But the subtext was obvious. As former peace processor Aaron David Miller wrote today in Foreign Policy, “thoughts of a new prime minister are now dancing in the heads” of President Obama and Kerry. The early vote gives the administration’s ceaseless quest to oust Benjamin Netanyahu from office one last chance. Yet with Netanyahu on track to emerge even stronger from the election that he is today, it might be time for Obama and Kerry to re-examine their argument with Jerusalem. The fact that they seem incapable of doing so speaks volumes about how out of touch Washington is from the realities of the Middle East.

From the moment that Netanyahu took office only weeks after Obama’s inauguration, the administration has been seeking the Israeli’s downfall. In his first months, Obama seemed to harbor hopes that Tzipi Livni might supplant him. But that idea flopped as Netanyahu outmaneuvered the former Kadima Party leader and gained strength every time Obama picked fights with the Israeli government on issues like Jerusalem where the prime minister represented the Israeli consensus. After a pause for a Jewish charm offensive designed to enhance Obama’s reelection prospects, the feud was back in force in the last year as he and Kerry chose to wrongly blame Netanyahu for the failure off their futile attempt to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.

As Miller writes, American governments have intervened in Israeli politics before in 1992 and 1996 when they openly supported Labor Party efforts to defeat the Likud. But Miller cautions against trying again in no small measure because the only possible alternative to Netanyahu might be the Jewish Home Party’s Naftali Bennett, who is very much to the right of the prime minister. While I think Netanyahu doesn’t have to worry about Bennett supplanting him for the moment, his point is well taken. As I wrote on both Monday and Tuesday of this week about the move to new elections, the balance of Israeli politics has dramatically shifted to the right and the next Knesset is likely to be one in which left-wing parties favored by the administration will be weaker.

This is a source of great frustration for the president who lamented in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly about Israelis no longer being willing to do the hard work to make peace. But in saying that, he didn’t examine fully why it was that Israelis felt that way. Israelis want peace more than ever especially in the aftermath of another conflict with Hamas that saw much of the country’s population spending the summer dashing to and from bomb shelters as thousands of rockets rained down on their heads.

But what they have noticed and what the administration and liberal American critics of Netanyahu are determined to ignore is the fact that the Palestinians have consistently rejected peace offers from Israel. Even their so-called moderate leader is unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and incites hatred and violence against Israel. With no peace partner in sight, Israelis rightly understand that the best they can hope for is an attempt to manage the conflict, not to solve it.

Unlike his predecessors and Kerry, Netanyahu isn’t driven to create a legacy by negotiating a peace accord. He knows that making more concessions to the Palestinians will lead, as did all the attempts by his predecessors to make peace, to more violence and suffering, not peace. Unlike the administration, Netanyahu grasps the fact that peace won’t be possible until the Palestinians undergo a sea change in their political culture that will enable them to give up their dreams of Israel’s destruction. That is why his party and its right-wing allies/rivals are likely to emerge victorious in March. Indeed, the latest polls show that the right led by Netanyahu will gain enough votes for a Knesset majority even without seeking a coalition with centrist or religious parties.

Yet for the U.S. the disillusionment of the Israeli electorate with the discredited peace process remains inexplicable or a function of what liberals claim is a drift toward extremism in the Jewish state. But instead of attempting to force Israel to make more dangerous concessions to a peace partner that doesn’t want peace, Washington should be signaling the Palestinians that if they truly do want independence, they are going to have lose their delusions about Israel’s impermanence. They must stop lauding PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as hero for peace even though he has become a primary obstacle to its achievement.

If the U.S. does stay out of the Israeli campaign it will not be because Obama and Kerry respect Israeli democracy—they do not—or oppose interventions of this sort. It will because the administration understands that Israelis hold their premise about the conflict to be utter bunk. But instead of resenting this, as both Obama and Kerry obviously do, they should be wondering what it is that the people of Israel know about the situation that they can’t grasp.

But if there is anything we’ve learned in the past six years about this president and his administration, it is that it is not overly fond of admitting mistakes or rethinking cherished, if failed, ideologies about the world. While Israelis rightly care about their essential alliance with the United States and don’t personally love Netanyahu, they know better than to trust Obama’s judgment rather than their own lying eyes.

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No “Legacy” Is Asset for Netanyahu

By firing two of his coalition partners from his Cabinet today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set in motion a chain of events that will likely result in new elections next March. Since polls show that both Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni would be badly weakened by a new vote and Netanyahu strengthened, the move seems likely to result in a more stable coalition. But though even his critics must give him credit for outsmarting Lapid and Livni, the end of this government is likely to engender a new round of Netanyahu-bashing in both the Israeli and the foreign press. The prime minister is good at politics, they will argue, but the decision to press forward with what most Israelis rightly consider unnecessary elections shows that he has accomplished nothing but political survival and lacks a legacy, such as a peace treaty with the Palestinians, to justify his long stay at the top. But while the critics will be right when they say Israel didn’t need another election, they’re wrong about Netanyahu’s legacy. As he heads toward his fourth term as prime minister, Netanyahu is showing that what his country needs is a competent leader not someone in search of a dubious place in history.

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By firing two of his coalition partners from his Cabinet today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set in motion a chain of events that will likely result in new elections next March. Since polls show that both Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni would be badly weakened by a new vote and Netanyahu strengthened, the move seems likely to result in a more stable coalition. But though even his critics must give him credit for outsmarting Lapid and Livni, the end of this government is likely to engender a new round of Netanyahu-bashing in both the Israeli and the foreign press. The prime minister is good at politics, they will argue, but the decision to press forward with what most Israelis rightly consider unnecessary elections shows that he has accomplished nothing but political survival and lacks a legacy, such as a peace treaty with the Palestinians, to justify his long stay at the top. But while the critics will be right when they say Israel didn’t need another election, they’re wrong about Netanyahu’s legacy. As he heads toward his fourth term as prime minister, Netanyahu is showing that what his country needs is a competent leader not someone in search of a dubious place in history.

As the Times of Israel reported, in speaking to his nation today, Netanyahu justified his decision to oust Lapid and Livni from office by saying:

“I believe that you, the citizens of Israel, deserve a new, better, more stable government, a broad-based government that can govern,” he said.

And in order to give Israelis that “unified and strong” government, Netanyahu said, “one needs a strong ruling party.”

That means more votes for Likud in order to assure the prime minister of a stronger base within the next coalition. With the parties of the left still marginalized by the aftermath of the Oslo disasters, Netanyahu is effectively competing only against his rivals/allies on, as he put it, on the “right” and the “center right.” Those parties will, if the polls are correct, have between them nearly a majority of the Knesset even before they seek coalition partners from either the religious parties or what remains of the centrists that were just ousted by Netanyahu.

As even those least enamored of Netanyahu must concede he has no credible rivals for the post of prime minister, either among his partners or the opposition. But what Netanyahu’s domestic and foreign critics don’t understand about his dominance of Israeli politics is that it is precisely his eschewing of a vainglorious try for a historic legacy that has earned him the confidence of his people.

This is in marked contrast to every other prime minister since Yitzhak Shamir left office in 1992. Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert all took stabs at unraveling the Gordian knot of Middle East peace with peace initiatives. But every one of these efforts, whether it was the Oslo Accords of Rabin and Peres, Barak’s Camp David offer of 2000, Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal, or the third offer of statehood to the Palestinians put forward at Annapolis, Maryland by Olmert, all failed spectacularly. Even worse, each of these efforts weakened Israel’s position for future negotiations while leading to more bloodshed and violence, rather than less.

President Obama and his foreign-policy team consider Netanyahu a cowardly failure (or a “chickensh*t” as he was famously labeled by anonymous senior administration officials) because he won’t match the follies of his predecessors and risk the country’s security with a new territorial withdrawal that could result in the creation of another terror state on Israel’s doorstep. But the people of Israel understand that Netanyahu’s willingness to say no to Obama is all that stands between them and another fiasco like Sharon’s Gaza gambit.

Netanyahu may never do anything that will earn him the applause of his liberal American critics that would be labeled a “legacy” even if it did nothing to achieve a lasting peace. That long-sought goal must await not another bold Israeli but a sea change in Palestinian political culture that will allow their leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But what Israeli voters value is his ability to stand up to his country’s friends as well as its foes and to avoid more such bold disasters. If he has a legacy it will have to rest on the fact that he presided over a period of unprecedented economic strength and an avoidance of the kind of mistakes that men who hunger for the applause of an amorphous posterity can’t seem to resist. What Netanyahu’s predecessors proved is that the last thing a nation under siege needs is a leader more concerned with legacy than the safety of its citizens. As Israelis prepare to elect him prime minister for a fourth time, his lack of such foolish ambitions is an obvious qualification, not a drawback.

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