Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinians

Gaza Flotilla Activists Brought Hate, Not Aid

We all knew that the latest Gaza flotilla that attempted to land on the coast was a publicity stunt rather than an actual effort to bring assistance to the Palestinians. After all, international organizations can ship genuine humanitarian aid into Gaza via the Israeli land route. But instead they chose to try and run the naval blockade put in place to ensure that shiploads of non-humanitarian supplies like Iranian-supplied weapons don’t reach the terrorist Hamas government. But it turns out that all these so-called human rights advocates were bringing to Gaza was moral support for the right of the Islamist regime there to oppress Palestinians and wage war on Israel. After the Swedish-registered ship Marianne was detained and brought to Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon dismissed the effort by revealing that the Navy discovered “there was no aid on the board” after examining the vessel. When queried about this by the Washington Post, members of the so-called Freedom Flotilla Coalition claimed Yaalon was wrong and sent a photograph to prove it. What did they bring? Two cardboard boxes.

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We all knew that the latest Gaza flotilla that attempted to land on the coast was a publicity stunt rather than an actual effort to bring assistance to the Palestinians. After all, international organizations can ship genuine humanitarian aid into Gaza via the Israeli land route. But instead they chose to try and run the naval blockade put in place to ensure that shiploads of non-humanitarian supplies like Iranian-supplied weapons don’t reach the terrorist Hamas government. But it turns out that all these so-called human rights advocates were bringing to Gaza was moral support for the right of the Islamist regime there to oppress Palestinians and wage war on Israel. After the Swedish-registered ship Marianne was detained and brought to Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon dismissed the effort by revealing that the Navy discovered “there was no aid on the board” after examining the vessel. When queried about this by the Washington Post, members of the so-called Freedom Flotilla Coalition claimed Yaalon was wrong and sent a photograph to prove it. What did they bring? Two cardboard boxes.

According to one member of the group, the two boxes contained a solar panel and a nebulizer. I’m sure Gazans appreciate the gesture and, it’s likely that, as they’ve done before, the Israelis will ensure that any genuine aid packages will reach Gaza. After all, even on days when Hamas is shooting rockets at Israeli cities, convoys of up to 500 trucks pass through the border bringing food and medicine to the Palestinians. Israel also supplies the water and electricity that Palestinians in Gaza use.

That’s why talk of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a lie. There is no shortage of supplies needed to keep Palestinians in Gaza alive. What Hamas wants, and what these faux human rights activists want to give it, is a shot in the arm for a propaganda war against Israel that will reinforce the legitimacy of the Islamist regime that brutally oppresses its own people and uses them as human shields in order to conduct terrorist operations.

But it is no more of a lie than the claim that the point of this flotilla was humanitarian aid. That’s not just because the activists didn’t actually bring much, if any, aid material with them. It’s because the whole point of the exercise is to claim that efforts of both Israel and Egypt to isolate the Hamas terrorists that run Gaza are illegitimate.

The talk of bringing help to the Palestinians in Gaza is a sham that extends beyond the two cardboard boxes on the so-called aid ship. The Palestinians already have an entire United Nations refugee agency — UNRWA — devoted to them while the uncounted millions of other refugees around the world must make do with sharing one to tend to their needs. UNRWA operates in Gaza with Israeli cooperation, despite the fact that it is a highly political group that is not only dedicated to preventing refugee resettlement — the normal task of a refugee aid group — but also allows Hamas to use their facilities and schools for storing armaments.

What Gaza needs is not a ship with or without superfluous aid material but a government that isn’t a terrorist organization. It needs foreign friends who genuinely care about the plight of Palestinians caught in the grip of such Islamist tyrants. But instead it gets people whose main purpose is providing moral encouragement and public relations stunts aimed at undermining Israel’s legitimacy and supporting Hamas’ war on the existence of the Jewish state.

The paltry two boxes of assistance on the Marianne don’t amount to much for the poor of Gaza. Yet there is a reason why flotillas go to Gaza rather than Syria, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week, where hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions have been made refugees. The flotilla activists don’t bother bring real aid to Gaza because the point of the flotilla wasn’t to promote “freedom” for the strip since their effort is aimed at bolstering Hamas and shaming the world into recognizing it. No, the “freedom” they are after is one that would allow Hamas to freely import weapons and construction materials that could be used to build fortifications and terror tunnels into Israel, such as the one that Hamas boasted about reconstructing this week.

You don’t need to bring actual aid if your goal is waging war on the existence of the sole Jewish state in the world. For that, you only need to be immersed in the anti-Semitic zeitgeist of a movement that thinks helping Hamas is a humanitarian gesture.

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It’s Not France, But an Obama Diktat That Israel Fears

With Western nations concentrating on finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran this month, efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been relegated to the diplomatic back burner. Even President Obama, who made the creation of a Palestinian state a priority from his first moment in office appears to have accepted that further efforts on that front will have to wait until after his cherished new entente with Tehran is safely signed and then ratified by Congress (or saved by a presidential veto). But Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister was in the Middle East this past weekend giving Israelis a sneak preview of what they can expect once appeasement of Iran is checked off on the West’s to-do-list. Once the dust settles on Iran, France is expected to propose a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would seek to impose a framework on future negotiations with the Palestinians. Such a framework would likely make the 1967 lines the basis of talks and treat Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem a foregone conclusion making it unlikely that the Palestinians would budge an inch on any vital issue. Israel would not have greeted this news happily under any circumstances, but it so happened that Fabius arrived just after a series of terror attacks on Jews that illustrated just how dangerous any such unilateral concessions on Israel’s part would be.

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With Western nations concentrating on finalizing a nuclear deal with Iran this month, efforts to restart the Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been relegated to the diplomatic back burner. Even President Obama, who made the creation of a Palestinian state a priority from his first moment in office appears to have accepted that further efforts on that front will have to wait until after his cherished new entente with Tehran is safely signed and then ratified by Congress (or saved by a presidential veto). But Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister was in the Middle East this past weekend giving Israelis a sneak preview of what they can expect once appeasement of Iran is checked off on the West’s to-do-list. Once the dust settles on Iran, France is expected to propose a resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would seek to impose a framework on future negotiations with the Palestinians. Such a framework would likely make the 1967 lines the basis of talks and treat Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Jerusalem a foregone conclusion making it unlikely that the Palestinians would budge an inch on any vital issue. Israel would not have greeted this news happily under any circumstances, but it so happened that Fabius arrived just after a series of terror attacks on Jews that illustrated just how dangerous any such unilateral concessions on Israel’s part would be.

On Friday, one Israeli was killed and another wounded in a shooting attack in the West Bank applauded by Hamas. On Sunday, a West Bank Palestinian stabbed an Israeli policeman in Jerusalem in another of what are actually fairly routine incidents of terror. Though the Netanyahu has recently relaxed security measures intended to forestall such attacks, Palestinian assaults on Israelis are so commonplace that U.S. newspapers like the New York Times mention them only in passing and sometimes not all.

While a two-state solution would be ideal and is favored, at least in principle, by most Israelis, terror incidents highlight why large majorities regard the prospect of a complete withdrawal from the West Bank or a partition of Jerusalem are seen as madness. It’s not just that the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly shown that it has no intention of ever recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Nor that Hamas, though it might endorse a continuation of the cease-fire along the Gaza border is utterly committed to war to destroy Israel. It’s also that both the PA and its Hamas rivals routinely broadcast hate and sympathy for terrorists who slaughter Jews. It is that culture of violence and rejection of coexistence still governs Palestinian politics making a two-state solution impossible even if their leaders were prepared to try to make peace.

As President Obama’s fruitless attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction showed over the last six years, more initiatives aimed at pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians actually lessened the chances of peace rather than strengthening them. That’s because each such gesture that demonstrated the unfortunate daylight that Michael Oren wrote about in his memoir only convinced the Palestinians that they need only wait for the West to deliver Israel’s surrender to them on a silver platter. That’s as true today as it has ever been.

The danger here is not just of French or European meddling that will encourage the Palestinians to keep refusing to return to direct negotiations with Israel. It’s that a proposal put forward in the next few months (assuming that Iran is off the table by then) will give President Obama a chance to demonstrate whether the off-the-record comments of administration aides that predict a U.S. abandonment of Israel at the UN are accurate. Obama has been sending clear signals to Israel and its supporters — even as he seeks to disarm their justified alarm at his Iran entente — that this administration intends to take at least one more shot at bludgeoning the Netanyahu government into submission,

Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s warning to Fabius that Israel will never accept a “diktat” on matters that concern its security was entirely justified. In response, Fabius said diktat wasn’t a word that was part of his French vocabulary. But it’s not a French initiative that worries Netanyahu but the very real possibility of an Obama diktat that lurks behind it. Though President Obama may not speak German, Netanyahu is right to fear that the lame duck in the White House understands the word all too well.

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UN Gaza War Report Leaves No Room for Israeli Self-Defense

After months of anticipation, the report by the United Nations Human Rights Council about last summer’s Gaza war is out today and its contents are no surprise. While the UNHRC acknowledged that Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns were acts of terrorism, it concentrated most of its fire on Israel’s attempts to defend its territory and citizens. The UNHRC not only described Israeli actions as “disproportionate and indiscriminate” but also considers the blockade of Gaza to be a violation of Palestinian human rights and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. But while the toll of Palestinian civilian deaths was a tragedy, the UN Gaza war report is predictably skewed not just in terms of its mischaracterization of what were, in fact, highly restrictive rules of engagement that often put Israel Defense Forces personnel in danger, but also seeming to grant Hamas impunity to wage a terror war against Israel’s existence. In effect, what the UNHRC is doing is to create rules that allow Hamas to hide amid a civilian population, using them as human shields, and then to claim those trying to stop terror are the real criminals. The United States must not only reject this dangerous precedent, but it ought to withdraw from a biased UN agency that seems to exist largely to single out the Jewish state for unfair treatment.

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After months of anticipation, the report by the United Nations Human Rights Council about last summer’s Gaza war is out today and its contents are no surprise. While the UNHRC acknowledged that Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns were acts of terrorism, it concentrated most of its fire on Israel’s attempts to defend its territory and citizens. The UNHRC not only described Israeli actions as “disproportionate and indiscriminate” but also considers the blockade of Gaza to be a violation of Palestinian human rights and should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. But while the toll of Palestinian civilian deaths was a tragedy, the UN Gaza war report is predictably skewed not just in terms of its mischaracterization of what were, in fact, highly restrictive rules of engagement that often put Israel Defense Forces personnel in danger, but also seeming to grant Hamas impunity to wage a terror war against Israel’s existence. In effect, what the UNHRC is doing is to create rules that allow Hamas to hide amid a civilian population, using them as human shields, and then to claim those trying to stop terror are the real criminals. The United States must not only reject this dangerous precedent, but it ought to withdraw from a biased UN agency that seems to exist largely to single out the Jewish state for unfair treatment.

The UNHRC takes the view that the large number of Palestinians who were killed by Israeli fire around or in their homes is, almost by definition, proof that the IDF misbehaved. Just as wrongheaded is the claim that Israel’s efforts to warn Palestinians to leave specific areas or even specific structures is insufficient to ward off charges of war crimes. But as this feature by Willy Stern published this month by the Weekly Standard shows, the legal process by which IDF strikes are approved is geared toward saving civilian lives goes beyond any notion of what international law requires. Indeed, the Israeli rules, which often endanger Israeli soldiers and allow terrorists to escape simply because of the possibility that civilians might be harmed, are such that they go well beyond the practices what other Western nations, including the United States in its conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq observe.

But when one boils down the UN report to its essentials, it comes to this: The only sort of Israeli action in Gaza that might pass the HRC’s test would be if Israeli soldiers knocked on every door and politely asked if there were any terrorists there and then left if they were told there weren’t. The fact that Hamas deliberately fires its rockets amid and from civilian structures places those in those buildings in harm’s way. Israel tries to warn civilians to leave and even goes to extreme measures such as firing duds at buildings in order to get noncombatants to evacuate them. But Hamas made it clear to civilians that those fleeing the fighting would be considered collaborators if they didn’t stay put. That’s a death threat that Gazans rightly treat as more worrisome than the prospect of being caught in a firefight involving the Israelis. The UNHRC standard is damaging to Israel, but it also hurts the Palestinians since it effectively leaves them at the mercy of the Islamist tyrants that have seized control of Gaza.

Moreover, asking the Israelis not to use heavy weapons in urban areas essentially gives Hamas a further incentive to dig in, as it did, in residential neighborhoods and then dare the Israelis to try to root them out. The results of such actions are sometimes tragic. Though any such deaths are awful, given the scale of the fighting initiated by Hamas, a death toll of even the number of civilians claimed by the UNHRC (other reports place the number of civilians much lower since the UN wrongly allows the Palestinians to declare many Hamas personnel to be noncombatants) is actually quite low. As I noted last week, the fact that other reports and even the verdict of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States is that Israel not only acted properly but also constituted a model for the conduct of armed forces in asymmetrical conflicts illustrates the UNHRC’s bias.

But the main question to be asked here is how a war launched by a terrorist organization operating an independent Palestinian state in all but name can be defended against by the victims of their attacks without incurring some civilian casualties. The point is not just that Hamas’s goal is to kill as many Jewish civilians as possible while the IDF goes to extreme lengths to avoid such deaths. Rather, it is that once a terrorist group sets up operations in an area under its control, sovereign nations attacked by these killers must have the right to conduct defensive operations intended to halt rocket fire and the use of tunnels for kidnapping and murder. If the soldiers of such nations are to be deemed war criminals for using heavy weapons or for mistakes that inevitably happen in the heat of battle amid the fog of war, then what the UNHRC is doing is to create rules that give the terrorists impunity.

Moreover, if blockades of areas run by such terrorists bent on destroying their neighbors — the purpose of Hamas’s “resistance to Israel is not to adjust its borders in the West Bank, but to eliminate the Jewish state — are also illegal, then such criminal groups will likewise be granted impunity to set up such states and conduct wars without fear of international sanctions. That Israel’s blockade of Gaza ensured that food and medical supplies continued to flow into the strip even during the war proves how absurd the UN standards are when applied to Israel.

It is that last phrase that is the operative concept at work here. We know that the UN would not dare label any military operation such as the one conducted by Israel as illegal were it carried out by any other nation. The UNHRC largely ignores real human rights crises elsewhere in the world (including next door to Israel in Syria where hundreds of thousands have died) in order to concentrate its condemnations on the Jewish state. The fact that the chair of this commission who guided it for most of its life was a bitter critic of Israel and issued statements prejudging its outcome made this bias even more explicit.

In the end, the UNHRC report does nothing to clarify how nations should conduct wars. But it does tell us everything we need to know about the need for civilized nations to cease supporting an agency that purports to speak in the name of human rights but instead bolsters hate.

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The Prospect of Profits Won’t Buy Middle East Peace

There are some things that are so obvious that perhaps it takes an intellectual to think that stating them constitutes penetrating insight. Perhaps that’s why some are treating the release of a new report on the costs of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the potential benefits of a stable two-state solution by the Rand Corporation as a profound contribution to the discussion about peace. The report is being extolled by some on the left as yet another sign of the Israeli government’s poor judgment since it has supposedly chosen investment in West Bank settlements and the military over decisions that could lead to a deal that would bring the country greater prosperity. But the problem with this formulation is that the history of the last hundred years, and even of the opening years of the 21st century, shows that while Israelis have always hoped that peace could be built around economic cooperation, Palestinian Arabs have always viewed the standoff with the Jews as a zero-sum conflict into which financial considerations have never been allowed to intrude.

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There are some things that are so obvious that perhaps it takes an intellectual to think that stating them constitutes penetrating insight. Perhaps that’s why some are treating the release of a new report on the costs of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the potential benefits of a stable two-state solution by the Rand Corporation as a profound contribution to the discussion about peace. The report is being extolled by some on the left as yet another sign of the Israeli government’s poor judgment since it has supposedly chosen investment in West Bank settlements and the military over decisions that could lead to a deal that would bring the country greater prosperity. But the problem with this formulation is that the history of the last hundred years, and even of the opening years of the 21st century, shows that while Israelis have always hoped that peace could be built around economic cooperation, Palestinian Arabs have always viewed the standoff with the Jews as a zero-sum conflict into which financial considerations have never been allowed to intrude.

We need to start any discussion about this report or a two-state solution that the economic benefits of such an idea require more than merely the establishment of a Palestinian state along with the withdrawal of some or all of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank or even a re-partition of Jerusalem. The economic benefits of peace are real but they require more than merely a piece of paper. Just as Israel must be willing to cede territory and allow the Palestinians sovereignty over it, the Palestinians are going to have to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where the border between the two countries is drawn. To date, that is something that not even the supposed moderates of Fatah who run the West Bank are willing to do. The Hamas rulers of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza may be willing to temporarily observe cease-fires with Israel, but actual peace that would lead to cooperation and prosperity is nothing they care to contemplate.

Still, something so sensible as a peace that would increase the average per capita income of each Palestinian by $1,000 (a rise of 36 percent over current levels) and boost the average Israeli income by $2,200 (up by 5 percent) seems worth a try. That’s especially true when Rand tells us that another intifada that would put the Palestinians into a state of armed conflict with Israel would decrease Palestinian incomes by an average $1,130 and Israelis by $4,330.00.

Why then won’t they do it? The answer is simple. The Palestinians have always viewed this discussion as one in which they were being asked to sell their homes and national honor for money. And that is something that a majority of them have never been willing to do.

The Rand Report is brand new but this topic is not.

From the very beginnings of modern Zionism, optimists have always asserted that the building up required for the movement’s success would be an economic bonanza for the country and benefit their Arab neighbors as much as that of the returning Jews. They were right about that. Zionism transformed a backwater region into an economic powerhouse creating jobs and wealth that brought an influx of immigrants from neighboring Arab countries into Ottoman and then British-ruled Palestine. Each new instance of development, from the creation of an electricity grid to the building up of the cities was thought to provide advantages for both sides so great that it would be impossible for Arab leaders to continue to whip up hatred for the Zionists. But on that score, those optimists were dead wrong. Right-wing Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky warned his fellow Jews that Arabs would not be bought off by economics but instead must be fought until they ceased resisting the new reality. Labor Zionists, who commanded the support of more Jews up until Menachem Begin’s election as Israeli prime minister in 1977, disagreed. They thought Palestinian workers and peasants would unite with them to shake off the influence of Arab elites who were thought to be whipping up nationalist and religious outrage about the influx of so many Jews.

That hoped-for economic revolution never happened. But hopes that finance would prevail over hate never died. Support among Israelis and their foreign friends for the 1993 Oslo Accords was driven in no small measure by a belief that the economic benefits of peace would prevail over ancient hates. It would take years of terrorism that culminated in the second intifada for most Israelis to finally shake off their delusions about the Palestinians embracing peace and prosperity. That intifada was, after all, preceded by an Israeli peace offer that would have given them an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and Gaza.

That intifada not only cost the lives of more than a thousand Jews and many more Arabs but also nearly destroyed a Palestinian economy that seemed on the rise after Oslo. By choosing a terrorist war of attrition over peace with Israel and statehood, the Palestinian leadership didn’t merely set off a bloodbath, it set back the living standards of their people by decades. But rather than rise up against such a leadership, Palestinians instead began to turn more to Hamas, which offered an even more uncompromising view of the conflict. Since then American-trained economist Salam Fayyad tried to offer the Palestinian Authority more cooperation and a vision of good government, he soon realized that he was virtually a party of one.

Seen from that perspective, it’s no good telling Israelis that they’ll be better off with two states and Middle East peace. They know that but have already tried it and learned their potential peace partners have other ideas. We can hope that eventually the Palestinians will create a political culture that doesn’t regard violence against the Jews as praiseworthy and will embrace ideas like those Rand is offering them. Until then, this report, like so many others will remain moldering on the shelf as the Palestinians continue to pursue their dream of eliminating Israel.

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Israel-Saudi Cooperation Debunks Obama’s Foreign Policy Vision

President Obama came into office promising to change the world, a pledge that has largely been unfilled. But in one significant respect, he has achieved a truly revolutionary change. His misguided pursuit of détente with Iran has united two nations that were the most bitter of enemies only a few years ago: Israel and Saudi Arabia. But unfortunately for the administration, the rapprochement between two very different U.S. allies has only been achieved as a result of their mutual opposition to the president’s Middle East policy. So while the president can take credit for achieving something that was once unimaginable but in doing so, he has debunked some of the key assumptions about his view of the world.

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President Obama came into office promising to change the world, a pledge that has largely been unfilled. But in one significant respect, he has achieved a truly revolutionary change. His misguided pursuit of détente with Iran has united two nations that were the most bitter of enemies only a few years ago: Israel and Saudi Arabia. But unfortunately for the administration, the rapprochement between two very different U.S. allies has only been achieved as a result of their mutual opposition to the president’s Middle East policy. So while the president can take credit for achieving something that was once unimaginable but in doing so, he has debunked some of the key assumptions about his view of the world.

That Israel and Saudi Arabia are now united in seeking to derail Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is not a secret. But for the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry to share a stage at a Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington with a former top advisor to the government of Saudi Arabia confirms this amazing turnabout. As Eli Lake reports in Bloomberg, Dore Gold, a key advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and retired Saudi general Anwar Majed Eshki both largely agreed with each other on Iran. Both see Tehran as bent on achieving hegemony in the Middle East and must be stopped.

Despite the bellicose reputation of the Netanyahu government, it was actually the Saudi who sounded more extreme in his prescription for a solution to the problem. Eshki recommended a seven-point plan that starts with regime change in Iran as well as creating an independent Kurdistan form territory carved out of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. Gold endorsed neither proposal.

It must be noted that the two were not in complete accord on everything. The Saudi general said that Israel would have to accept the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative before cooperation between the two nations could be formalized. But if you want to know why Netanyahu spoke in praise of that proposal last week in which he said he liked the general idea behind it, you now understand why he’s changed his mind about something he once rightly dismissed as a stunt with no real substance. The Saudis have yet to recognize Israel’s existence, let alone endorsed its legitimacy. Moreover, as Lake points out, 12 years ago, Gold wrote a book detailing Saudi involvement in financing Palestinian terror and hatred.

But thanks to Obama, the behind-the-scenes relationship between Israel and the Saudi has now come out into the open.

The two nations have little in common. Israel is a vibrant democracy while the Saudi kingdom is a theocratic oligarchy with little freedom. But both understand that Obama’s Iran-centric foreign policy threatens their security. With the Iranians financing and providing military assistance to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria, its axis of influence is growing. Once it signs a deal with the United States and the rest of the West, it will become a threshold nuclear power and have two different pathways to a bomb, one by cheating and one by patiently waiting for Obama’s deal to expire. All that places Israel and the Gulf states in jeopardy, requiring them to begin working together on finding a way to put the region back into balance now that the president has destabilized it.

That America’s two key allies feel they have no choice but to begin tentatively working together to thwart U.S. policy isn’t merely ironic. It’s tangible evidence to the bad faith of an administration that has always been obsessed with appeasing enemies and discarding friends. But there is more to be unpacked from that CFR event than that obvious fact about the danger from Iran.

Obama came into office convinced that U.S. influence in the Middle East, as well as regional stability, revolved around one problem: the plight of the Palestinians. Resolving their conflict with Israel was the president’s top foreign policy from his first day in office. His belief that the U.S. was too close to Israel and that by establishing more daylight between the two allies, he could help broker an end to the long war between Jews and Arabs. To accomplish that goal, he picked fights with Israel, undermined its diplomatic position, and did his best to pressure the Israelis into making concessions that would please the Palestinians. The failure of this policy was foreordained since the Palestinians are still unable to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

But the events of the past six years have also shown that his focus on the Palestinians as the source of the problem was a disastrous mistake. The Arab spring, civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIS, and the Iranian nuclear threat proved that the Palestinians had little or nothing to do with the most serious problems in the region. Indeed, by forcing Israel and the Saudis to cooperate against Iran with little attention being paid to the dead end peace process with the Palestinians, Obama has effectively debunked the core idea at the heart of his foreign policy.

Israel-Saudi cooperation is certainly an example of how a president of the United States can create change. But it’s also proof of the bankruptcy of Obama’s dangerous vision for American foreign policy. His legacy won’t be so much an entente with Iran as it is the necessity of American allies having to band together to try to avoid the consequences of his disastrous misjudgments.

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More Water Won’t Solve the Middle East Conflict

Yesterday’s New York Times front-page feature about the amazing advances made in desalinization by the state of Israel provided some hope for those who believe that global warming and the prospect of more droughts leaves humanity with a grim future. Only a few years ago, Israelis were concerned about the question of how they could continue to grow their first world economy with a growing population in a country where there simply wasn’t enough water. What followed was a major investment in technology and enactment of sensible policies about water use that led to this startling fact. As the Times states, “More than 50 percent of the water for Israeli households, agriculture and industry is now artificially produced.” Though water is expensive, the prospect that the country will run out is gone. In a region that is in desperate need of Israel’s expertise, you would think this development would lead to better relations with the Palestinians and the Arab world. But what is missing from the Times’ story is the fact that there is little sign of any interest in cooperation on the part of Israel’s antagonists. As much as they ought to take advantage of the Jewish state’s advances, such concerns are always secondary to their main priority: fighting Israel.

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Yesterday’s New York Times front-page feature about the amazing advances made in desalinization by the state of Israel provided some hope for those who believe that global warming and the prospect of more droughts leaves humanity with a grim future. Only a few years ago, Israelis were concerned about the question of how they could continue to grow their first world economy with a growing population in a country where there simply wasn’t enough water. What followed was a major investment in technology and enactment of sensible policies about water use that led to this startling fact. As the Times states, “More than 50 percent of the water for Israeli households, agriculture and industry is now artificially produced.” Though water is expensive, the prospect that the country will run out is gone. In a region that is in desperate need of Israel’s expertise, you would think this development would lead to better relations with the Palestinians and the Arab world. But what is missing from the Times’ story is the fact that there is little sign of any interest in cooperation on the part of Israel’s antagonists. As much as they ought to take advantage of the Jewish state’s advances, such concerns are always secondary to their main priority: fighting Israel.

The story of how Israel revolutionized its production and use of water is another proud chapter in the country’s history. In the past couple of decades as attacks on Israel’s legitimacy have multiplied, we haven’t heard much about Jews making the desert bloom. That old line about the rebirth of this old land under the care of a returned people has been treated as an outdated cliché by biased journalists who preferred story lines that reinforced the libels about Israel being an apartheid state. That theme was also part of the narrative about water.

To the extent that water has been mentioned much in the news, it generally served as another point of attack as Palestinian claims that Israel was “stealing” their water in the West Bank was often reported as fact rather than a political talking point. As even the Times notes in its feature, Israel continues to supply the Palestinians with more water than it is required to do under the Oslo Accords. Israel shares the mountain aquifer that runs through the West Bank with the Palestinians. But the Palestinians position is that they are entitled to all of it, not just their share. The underlying problem of that discussion has always been the assumption that all of the territory is “Palestinian land’ to which Israel has no legitimate claim. But even if you think Israel ought to cede much of that territory if the Palestinians are ever willing to make peace, the problem with this argument is that the Arabs still don’t recognize Israeli rights to any water except the sea into which they have been trying to push the Jews ever since they began returning to their ancient homeland.

It might make sense for Israelis and Arabs to cooperate about water. But if water remains an issue that exacerbates the conflict rather than solving it, it’s not because the Israelis aren’t willing to share their expertise or even some of the water they are desalinizing or treating for further use. It’s because water, like economic development, has always been beside the point to Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims.

Most of the early leaders of the modern Zionist movement believed that conflict with the Arabs would be solved or rendered marginal by the realization that the Jewish revival would be an economic godsend to their Arab neighbors. Every major advance in the history of the country’s development in the past century such as the creation of its power grid, the growth of industry or agricultural advances were at least initially hailed as harbingers of cooperation if not peace. But the conflict worsened. That was not because these things did not hold the potential to bridge the divide between the two peoples but because the Arabs were less interested in development than they were in ensuring that there should never be a Jewish state in any part of the country. Indeed, sabotaging economic advances was viewed as a laudable Arab goal even if that meant that the plight of their people would suffer as a result.

For all that has changed in the last century, the decisions that have been made by both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and their Hamas rivals that rule Gaza as an independent Palestinian state in all but name illustrate that this basic equation remains the same. So long as the former remains incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and the latter is implacably committed to a terrorist war whose aim is Israel’s eradication, no technological or scientific innovation by Israel will ease relations between the two peoples.

Israel’s friends should be celebrating its water solutions and it is to the credit of the Times, whose generally biased coverage aims usually to back up the false narrative of it as an oppressor, that it would highlight this story. But let no one think this miracle produced by Jewish brains, skill and determination will play much of a role in ending the conflict. Israel’s enemies don’t care that it is a role model for the world (including the United States) on water any more than any of its other laudable achievements have caused them to drop their prejudicial belief that only the Jews should not have the right to sovereignty in part of their homeland. Until the Palestinians are willing to concede that a Jewish state is legitimate and must be accepted, they will continue to fight it even if it means they must be poor, hungry or thirsty.

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What the Palestinian Soccer Attack Meant

In the end, the Palestinians backed down on their attempt to get Israel expelled from FIFA, international soccer’s ruling body. Former terrorist Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian soccer federation, told the FIFA Congress today that, under pressure from other countries, he withdrew the request for a vote on Israel’s expulsion. For the moment, that ends the threat the Jewish state will be thrown out of the governing body of the world’s most popular sport. That’s a great relief to Israelis who were rightly concerned about the possibility of a step that would be an emotional blow to the country as well as a highly symbolic move that would accelerate the movement to isolate it. But no one should think this marks the end of the campaign against Israeli soccer. More to the point, it’s important to unravel the origins of this dispute and what it means. The effort to kick the Israelis out of world soccer is just one more indication that the Middle East conflict isn’t about borders or settlements but a desire to wipe Israel off the map.

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In the end, the Palestinians backed down on their attempt to get Israel expelled from FIFA, international soccer’s ruling body. Former terrorist Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian soccer federation, told the FIFA Congress today that, under pressure from other countries, he withdrew the request for a vote on Israel’s expulsion. For the moment, that ends the threat the Jewish state will be thrown out of the governing body of the world’s most popular sport. That’s a great relief to Israelis who were rightly concerned about the possibility of a step that would be an emotional blow to the country as well as a highly symbolic move that would accelerate the movement to isolate it. But no one should think this marks the end of the campaign against Israeli soccer. More to the point, it’s important to unravel the origins of this dispute and what it means. The effort to kick the Israelis out of world soccer is just one more indication that the Middle East conflict isn’t about borders or settlements but a desire to wipe Israel off the map.

In the end, as Ben Cohen predicted here earlier this week, the corruption scandal that has devastated FIFA may have played a role in the pressure exerted on the Palestinians to stand down. With the entire structure of world soccer tottering, the last thing FIFA needed was a boycott of Israel that might have triggered counter-measures by friends of the Jewish state and embroiled it in a dispute that would have done it little good.

Moreover, the core dispute between Israel and those in charge of Palestinian soccer had already been resolved before the FIFA Congress convened. The Israeli government offered to set up a process by which Palestinian soccer players could move more easily between the West Bank and Gaza as well as between the territories and Israel. The difficulties players encounter is an annoyance but was caused by the constant threat of Palestinian terrorism directed against Israel. Moreover, on top of that the Israelis also offered to make it easier to import soccer equipment into the West Bank and to help facilitate the construction of sports facilities for Palestinians. Those moves, which went above and beyond what reasonable observers, would expect Israel to make under the circumstances. But the resolution of the transit issue wasn’t the Palestinian goal since they persisted in their expulsion effort even after these concessions were offered.

This is important because it shows that this dispute is no different from any other element of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Every time Israel makes a concession, whether by setting up the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords, offering statehood as it first did in 2000 or withdrawing from all of Gaza, it not only gets no credit. Israel’s willingness to be compromise only seems to generate more hostility from its foes and their foreign cheerleaders.

The problems of athletes was only a pretext for another straightforward effort to ostracize the Jewish state and stemmed from a political culture that regards the war on Zionism to be indistinguishable from the assertion of Palestinian identity. Indeed, after Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian soccer federation announced at the FIFA Congress that he was backing off on the expulsion effort, his Israeli counterpart Ofer Eini asked him to join him on the podium and shake hands. Rajoub refused and went on to insist on what was really the core demand that he was shooting for: Forcing the Israelis to disband five youth teams that exist in West Bank settlements.

It’s instructive to note that of the five teams, only one (in Kiryat Arba) is located in a place that is not in a Jerusalem suburb or settlement bloc close to the 1967 lines that everyone, even President Obama, concedes would remain part of Israel in the event that a peace deal was ever signed. But what the Palestinians want is to delegitimize these players as well as all those in Israel. Doing so does nothing for Palestinian sports but it does advance an agenda whose only purpose is to falsely brand Israel a pariah state.

As I wrote earlier this month, Rajoub is no former jock or veteran sports executive but rather someone who earned his prestigious post by taking part in and planning terror attacks as well as serving as an aide to Yasir Arafat. For the Palestinians, sport is, like every other aspect of society, just another venue for pursuing their goal of eradicating Israel. Rajoub said himself that “resistance” — which Palestinians define as the effort to destroy Israel and not force it out of the West Bank — will continue. Rajoub’s stand is part of a general campaign among Palestinians to stamp out all efforts to foster co-existence even as Israelis try to reach across the divide between the two peoples.

It is to be hoped that FIFA will continue to refuse to be co-opted into the war on Israel, but optimism about that may be unfounded. The effort to ostracize Israel is fueled by a rising tide of anti-Semitism throughout Europe and Asia. If, at a future FIFA Congress, a secret ballot vote is taken on expelling Israel, there’s no telling whether it would succeed. But before that happens, the United States and other Western countries that claim to support peace should send a clear message to the Palestinians that they will pay a price in terms of aid and diplomatic support if they persist in such efforts. The failure to do so will not only ensure future soccer disputes but also explains why the Palestinians believe there is no cost attached to their obstruction of peace talks and support for terrorism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vatican Recognition of Palestine Won’t Bring Peace Closer

Israel’s critics will celebrate the news today that the Vatican will recognize Palestinian statehood as a rebuke of the Jewish state’s government and policies. The move is line with the international community’s push for Palestinian statehood. It also is part of the Vatican’s efforts to appease the Arab and Muslim worlds as part of a campaign to improve the plight of embattled and dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East. As such, its impact will be mostly symbolic though it will certainly be considered yet another blow to Israel’s uphill efforts to maintain good relations with European countries that are increasingly hostile to Jerusalem. But the one thing we can be sure it won’t do is to improve the chances for peace. By granting the Palestinians official recognition without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, Pope Francis and the Church have only made it less likely that this will ever happen.

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Israel’s critics will celebrate the news today that the Vatican will recognize Palestinian statehood as a rebuke of the Jewish state’s government and policies. The move is line with the international community’s push for Palestinian statehood. It also is part of the Vatican’s efforts to appease the Arab and Muslim worlds as part of a campaign to improve the plight of embattled and dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East. As such, its impact will be mostly symbolic though it will certainly be considered yet another blow to Israel’s uphill efforts to maintain good relations with European countries that are increasingly hostile to Jerusalem. But the one thing we can be sure it won’t do is to improve the chances for peace. By granting the Palestinians official recognition without first requiring them to make peace with Israel, Pope Francis and the Church have only made it less likely that this will ever happen.

It should not be forgotten that the Catholic Church has undergone a remarkable transformation in the last generation with regard to its attitude toward Jews, Judaism and the state of Israel. The historic efforts of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II created a revolution in Jewish-Catholic relations that consigned the disrespect and tolerance for anti-Semitism to the past. The Second Vatican Conference in 1961 broke with the past in terms of rejecting the myth of Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus and set the Church on the path of reconciliation with Judaism. Pope John Paul II continued that effort and under his tutelage Catholic educational efforts discarded the contempt for Judaism that had formerly characterized the Church’s attitude. He added to that legacy when the Vatican formerly recognized Israel in 1993, putting an end to the Church’s official opposition to Zionism that was rooted in a belief that the Jews were cursed to wander and had forfeited the right to their historic homeland.

Since then relations between the Jewish state and the church have not always been rosy. Disputes that stemmed from the anti-Israel attitudes of Palestinian Christians have continued to pop up. As part of an effort to ingratiate itself with Arab countries, the Church has also adopted policies that were hostile to Israel. It’s effort to wrongly blame the Israelis for the decline in the Palestinian Christian community — a trend that is the result of the growing influence of Islamists — has been particularly egregious. But despite all of that, it would be a mistake to consider the Church or the Vatican a particularly avid foe of Israel. Catholics around the world and especially those in the United States have become some of the Jewish state’s best friends and most staunch allies.

Moreover, it is likely that Pope Francis considers his gesture toward the Palestinians to be one intended to encourage peace. The pontiff seems to consider it an effort to be even-handed between the two parties to the conflict and is probably entirely sincere in his hopes that this move will jumpstart the moribund peace process.

But, for all of his good will, the pope is mistaken to think that giving the Palestinians such recognition will advance the peace process. To the contrary, by granting them official status in this way only encourages Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to continue to stonewall efforts to make peace.

After all, if Abbas’s real goal been an independent Palestinian state, he could have had one in 2000, 2001 when his former boss Yasir Arafat rejected an Israeli offer of statehood including almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Abbas rejected an even better offer in 2008 and then refused to negotiate seriously in 2013 and 2014 even after the Israelis had accepted an American framework whose goal was a two state solution.

The Palestinian campaign to get recognition from the United Nations and other countries is motivated by a desire to avoid peace talks, not to make them more successful. The Palestinians want a state but not one that is prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside it, not matter where its borders are drawn. By telling the Palestinians, the Church recognizes his faux state; it is making it easier for Abbas to refuse to negotiate. To the extent that this recognition grants the Palestinians rights to all of the disputed 1967 territories, the Vatican and other European states that have done the same thing, is prejudging negotiations that should be conducted by the parties, not outsiders.

Just as important, the Church ignores the fact that an independent Palestinian state in all but name already exists in Gaza under the tyrannical rule of Hamas terrorists. Which “Palestine” is the Church recognizing? Hamasistan or Fatah’s corrupt kleptocracy that Abbas presides over? With Hamas growing more popular, the prospect of it gaining power in an independent West Bank makes an Israeli withdrawal a fantasy rather than a viable policy option.

While no one should question the pope’s good intentions, the Vatican move will only serve to make peace less likely and do nothing for Middle East Christians who are under unbearable pressure from Islamists, not Israel. In this case, being even-handed undermines the already dwindling hopes for a two state solution.

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Hamas Victory Explains Israel’s Stand

In the wake of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election victory, Israel is once again being urged to go back to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and make concessions that will grant it independence in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. Most of those calling for Netanyahu to implement a two-state solution ignore the fact that the Palestinians already have functional independence in Gaza because to do so would be to admit that the Hamas-run independent state that exists there in all but name is the true face of Palestinian nationalism. But, as the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the notion that it’s the alleged moderates of Fatah that run the PA in the West Bank rather than Hamas that has the support of most Palestinians was given the lie again by a much-watched student election at Bir Zeit University. The victory of the Hamas slate in the student election held there last month illustrates that any concessions forced on Israel in the West Bank might soon lead to another Hamas government there.

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In the wake of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election victory, Israel is once again being urged to go back to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and make concessions that will grant it independence in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. Most of those calling for Netanyahu to implement a two-state solution ignore the fact that the Palestinians already have functional independence in Gaza because to do so would be to admit that the Hamas-run independent state that exists there in all but name is the true face of Palestinian nationalism. But, as the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the notion that it’s the alleged moderates of Fatah that run the PA in the West Bank rather than Hamas that has the support of most Palestinians was given the lie again by a much-watched student election at Bir Zeit University. The victory of the Hamas slate in the student election held there last month illustrates that any concessions forced on Israel in the West Bank might soon lead to another Hamas government there.

The Times story is rich with irony since it leads with the tale of how a young Palestinian woman who was considered to be immodestly dressed became the poster girl for Hamas supporters. The point was, even those Palestinians whose behavior would mark them down for persecution by the Islamist movement should it ever get the same kind of control over the West Bank that it currently has in Gaza were standing up to back them.

The Bir Zeit election may be dismissed as meaningless but in a Palestinian political world where elections are few and far between (PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is currently serving the tenth year of the four-year-term as president to which he was elected in 2005), it is the moral equivalent to the quadrennial Iowa Straw poll.

That Hamas doesn’t allow the same kind of student elections in Gaza or any free expression of any kind makes the student campaign for them seem counterintuitive. But anyone who thought Palestinian politics is about logic hasn’t been paying attention to the last century of history. While Hamas appears to have run a better campaign on the campus, the real reason that it prevailed was the impression that it was fighting Israel while Fatah was not. Even if most Palestinians don’t want to live in an Islamist state such as the repressive tyranny that exists in Gaza, Hamas’ popularity hasn’t suffered as a result of the disastrous war they started last summer. To the contrary, even secular West Bank Palestinians seem to prefer a party committed to war against Israel to a Fatah leadership that waffles between a stand in favor of negotiations and making it clear that they will never agree to any deal.

The problem here is that there’s more here at play than political symbolism. There’s a reason why Abbas hasn’t allowed another election since he was first to put into office to succeed Yasir Arafat. He knows that if given a choice there’s every reason to think Palestinians might choose Hamas even though it is and would be a disaster for them. Even if they know that Gaza’s problems are the result of the Hamas takeover and that life there is awful because of the Islamist group’s rule, its stand in favor of endless war remains popular. Indeed, West Bank Palestinians who were not cynically used as human shields by the terrorists last summer may be more inclined to back Hamas than Fatah.

Of course, Abbas doesn’t make himself or his party more popular by engaging in his own brand of tyranny. Hamas supporters on Bir Zeit were arrested after their successful election campaign. Fatah’s corruption is another reason why Palestinians resent them but unlike in the past, Hamas’s track record in Gaza makes it difficult to argue that there is a rationale for the Islamist group based on an expectation of good government.

Some will claim that the unpopularity of Fatah and the belief in Hamas’s war strategy is Israel’s fault because it refuses to make peace and give the Palestinians a state. But this ignores the fact that Fatah has repeatedly refused Israeli offers of peace and independence in almost of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Even the so-called moderates refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. The dynamic of Palestinian politics has always given an advantage to any group that prioritized violence. Until a sea change in their culture occurs to change that, the peace process will be permanently stalled.

Israel withdrew every solider, settler and settlement from Gaza in 2005 and got more terror instead of peace. If it were to repeat the experiment in the West Bank as its foreign critics urge, the consequences would be incalculable. Even if Fatah were to remain in power, giving them sovereignty would place Israel’s security in jeopardy. If the West Bank were soon to fall into Hamas’s hands, it would mean a war that would make last summer’s fighting in Gaza look like a picnic.

Rather than an advertisement for Hamas’s appeal or even Fatah’s unpopularity, the Bir Zeit election is a warning to Israel of what might happen in the West Bank should it succumb to pressure and withdraw. Most Israelis may see a two state solution as the best option but not under the current circumstances. President Obama’s wishes notwithstanding, that’s something that no Israeli government will think of doing.

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Will International Soccer Kick Out Israel?

It’s only a matter of time before the Obama administration begins a campaign of pressure against Israel’s new government. Once the weak Iran nuclear deal is safely signed and then steered through Congressional approval courtesy of the equally weak bill, we can expect to see Washington’s open threats about abandoning the Jewish state at the United Nations put into action. But Jerusalem doesn’t need to wait until then to see how much progress the Palestinian campaign to isolate Israel has made. Though not as serious as the Palestinian Authority effort to obtain United Nations recognition for their independence without first having to make peace with Israel, the PA’s effort to get Israel expelled from FIFA — the body that governs international soccer — hits closer to home for most Israelis. Though the Israelis may decry this blatant effort to politicize sport, they are learning again that when it comes to the Jewish state, the rules are always different for Israelis than other countries.

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It’s only a matter of time before the Obama administration begins a campaign of pressure against Israel’s new government. Once the weak Iran nuclear deal is safely signed and then steered through Congressional approval courtesy of the equally weak bill, we can expect to see Washington’s open threats about abandoning the Jewish state at the United Nations put into action. But Jerusalem doesn’t need to wait until then to see how much progress the Palestinian campaign to isolate Israel has made. Though not as serious as the Palestinian Authority effort to obtain United Nations recognition for their independence without first having to make peace with Israel, the PA’s effort to get Israel expelled from FIFA — the body that governs international soccer — hits closer to home for most Israelis. Though the Israelis may decry this blatant effort to politicize sport, they are learning again that when it comes to the Jewish state, the rules are always different for Israelis than other countries.

FIFA President Sepp Blattner is coming to the region for talks with the Israeli and Palestinian soccer associations prior to his group’s congress scheduled to be held in Switzerland later this month. The controversial Blattner would probably like to avoid having his group entrapped in the morass of the Middle East conflict. But after recent UN votes that granted the Palestinians the right to participate in the world body’s agencies, they may feel they have the wind at their back. Given Obama’s threats and the international unpopularity of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government, they may think this is the perfect time to score a victory that will resonate throughout the soccer-mad international community.

The PA has actually been a member of FIFA since 1998 but its move against Israel has more to do with political timing than the currency of their complaints. Their case for expelling the Israelis rests on the notion that the Jewish state must give anyone who calls himself a soccer player the right to move between the Fatah-run West Bank and Hamas-run Gaza. That doesn’t take into account the security issue and the fact that the Palestinians have waged an off-and-on terror campaign against Israel. Since the Palestinians have always prioritized the struggle against Zionism over the demands of sport, it’s a bit much for them to expect Israel to do the same. But that, like their insistence that Israel shouldn’t allow clubs based in Jewish communities in the West Bank to compete, is a mere pretext, not a serious argument.

FIFA’s members include some of the worst tyrannies in the world. Its 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia. No thought is given to expelling Russia for its aggression against Ukraine. In 2022, it will be held in undemocratic and terror-supporting Qatar and other Gulf States, a result that may have been obtained by bribing of the FIFA selection committee. But given the current international climate; will anyone be very surprised if FIFA decides to expel Israel?

To put the soccer dispute into context, it should be remembered that in international tournaments such as the World Cup, Israel has been forced to play in regional competitions in Europe rather than Asia because Arab and Muslim countries won’t play against them. This violates the conventions of international sport but it has been allowed to continue because prejudice against Jews is always tolerated.

If anyone didn’t realize that sport was merely a political tool for the Palestinians, it should also be noted that the head of the Palestinian soccer federation isn’t an athlete or veteran sports figure but veteran terrorist Jibril Rajoub, one of Yasir Arafat’s top aides. Rajoub has graduated from leading and conspiring murderous attacks against Israelis to hobnobbing with the global sports elite. Rajoub labeled pleas for an official moment of silence at the Olympic Games for the victims of the 1972 Munich massacre as “racist.” He’s also denounced the United States and talked about using nuclear weapons against Israel.

Rajoub’s role in this farce should serve to remind Israel’s critics in the West that the point of efforts to isolate Israel and brand it as a pariah is not to change its policies but to destroy it. Let’s hope the global soccer community is wise enough to stay out of this despicable effort. But at a time of growing anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel, as well as the talk of abandoning Israel coming out of the Obama administration, anything may be possible.

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ISIS and the Stalingradization of Yarmouk

In 2009, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a conversation he had with a Kurdish leader who told him that his fellow Kurds had been cursed. Goldberg asked him to be more specific. Goldberg relates the response: “He said the Kurds were cursed because they didn’t have Jewish enemies. Only with Jewish enemies would the world pay attention to their plight.” It’s a principle proved over and over again, and the plight of the Palestinian residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp is yet our latest example.

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In 2009, Jeffrey Goldberg recounted a conversation he had with a Kurdish leader who told him that his fellow Kurds had been cursed. Goldberg asked him to be more specific. Goldberg relates the response: “He said the Kurds were cursed because they didn’t have Jewish enemies. Only with Jewish enemies would the world pay attention to their plight.” It’s a principle proved over and over again, and the plight of the Palestinian residents of the Yarmouk refugee camp is yet our latest example.

Yarmouk is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, not far from Damascus. The refugees, already struggling through Syria’s civil war, found themselves in an almost Stalingrad-like state this month when ISIS laid siege to the camp. CNN describes what happened next:

Besieged and bombed by Syrian forces for more than two years, the desperate residents of this Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus awoke in early April to a new, even more terrifying reality — ISIS militants seizing Yarmouk after defeating several militia groups operating in the area.

“They slaughtered them in the streets,” one Yarmouk resident, who asked not to be named, told CNN. “They (caught) three people and killed them in the street, in front of people. The Islamic State is now in control of almost all the camp.”

An estimated 18,000 refugees are now trapped inside Yarmouk, stuck between ISIS and Syrian regime forces in “the deepest circle of hell,” in the words of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. …

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says ISIS and the al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front control about 90% of the camp. The organization also claims that the Syrian government has dropped barrel bombs on the camp in an effort to drive out armed groups.

The plight of the Yarmouk camp isn’t exactly capturing the world’s attention. And a big reason for that, as even Israel’s critics are now acknowledging, mirrors the Kurdish complaint to Goldberg. The Palestinians of Yarmouk are cursed with three barbaric enemies, none of them Jews. And so the world yawns.

Mehdi Hasan, who would never be mistaken for a Zionist shill, takes to the pages of the Guardian, which would never be mistaken for a pro-Israel bullhorn, to call out the hypocrisy. He explains the terrible condition of the camp and the horrors endured by its residents throughout the civil war. Then he (of course) engages in the requisite throat-clearing about Israel’s “crimes” and the “occupation of Palestine.”

But he finally gets around to his point:

Can we afford to stay in our deep slumber, occasionally awakening to lavishly condemn only Israel? Let’s be honest: how different, how vocal and passionate, would our reaction be if the people besieging Yarmouk were wearing the uniforms of the IDF?

Our selective outrage is morally unsustainable.

That is the first of three lessons of the story of Yarmouk: that the world cares about Palestinian suffering when it can be blamed on the Jews. For the sake of posterity, Hasan even runs down a list of atrocities perpetrated on the Palestinians by other Arabs. It’s not a new phenomenon, nor would anybody in his right mind try to deny it. At least Hasan wants to change it.

The second lesson is that the Palestinians and their advocates often have unexpected allies, and rather than embrace even a temporary alliance they live in denial. Hasan illustrates this as well when he writes:

So what, if anything, can be done? The usual coalition of neoconservative hawks and so-called liberal interventionists in the west want to bomb first and ask questions later, while the rest of us resort to a collective shrug: a mixture of indifference and despair. Few are willing to make the tough and unpopular case for a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict or, at least, a truce and a ceasefire, a temporary cessation of hostilities.

That is an Obama-level false choice hand in hand with a straw man. And it shows just how unwilling Hasan is to make common cause with people he dislikes politically. Neoconservatives are not nearly so pro-intervention in Syria as Hasan suggests (this is a common mistake that virtually every non-neoconservative who talks about the Syria conflict makes). But notice how quickly Hasan seems to change key: it’s a crisis, and has been a burgeoning disaster for years, and yet those who want to intervene are slammed as wanting to “ask questions later.”

Meanwhile, the negotiated track has failed. This is the reality: Assad has the upper hand, and ISIS has had success with their brutality, and neither one is ready to sit down at the table with representatives of Palestinian refugees to shake hands and end the war.

And that brings us to the third lesson, related to the second. Just as the Palestinians’ opponents are sometimes their best allies, the Palestinians’ friends often turn out to be anything but. There is no negotiated solution for the Palestinians of Yarmouk on the horizon because President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have already thrown them to the wolves.

The Obama administration, which happily hammers Israel for every perceived violation of Palestinian rights, has struck a bargain to reorder the Middle East by elevating Iran and its proxies, such as Assad. The plight of the Palestinians in Yarmouk does not interest this president and his team in the least. After all, it can’t be blamed on Israel.

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Another Palestinian Statehood Bid?

Just three months since the UN Security Council rejected a resolution on Palestinian statehood, it appears another such resolution is being drafted. Back in December the Palestinian bid was rejected outright with no cause for a U.S. veto, but since then the membership of the Security Council has altered to include nations far more likely to support such a resolution. Added to that is the fact that this somewhat toned down French proposal may well win wider backing. Not to mention the growing threats from the Obama administration to withhold America’s veto and abandon Israel at the UN.

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Just three months since the UN Security Council rejected a resolution on Palestinian statehood, it appears another such resolution is being drafted. Back in December the Palestinian bid was rejected outright with no cause for a U.S. veto, but since then the membership of the Security Council has altered to include nations far more likely to support such a resolution. Added to that is the fact that this somewhat toned down French proposal may well win wider backing. Not to mention the growing threats from the Obama administration to withhold America’s veto and abandon Israel at the UN.

The very fact that the French are even planning to submit this resolution so soon after a similar one was rejected is itself an outrageous move. The French had been working closely with the Palestinian Authority regarding December’s statehood bid at the Security Council. The French had lobbied without success in an effort to get the Palestinians to submit a bid that the Europeans on the council could actually vote for. Yet astonishingly, when the Palestinians stuck to their guns and put forward a typically uncompromising text, both France and Luxembourg went ahead and voted in favor of the resolution anyway.

Now France is doing things its own way. This resolution calls for the old 1949/1967 Jordanian armistice lines to be the basis for borders, as well as making part of Jerusalem a Palestinian capital, and finding a “fair” solution for Palestinian refugees. There are conflicting reports on whether the resolution will recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Either way, only the other day President Abbas reiterated before the Executive Committee of the PLO that he would never recognize the Jewish state. So will the Obama administration now be threatening to abandon the Palestinians at the UN as they did following Netanyahu’s comparably milder comments during the Israeli elections?

Whatever the French actually decide to put in the final version, the fact that any such resolution is being put forward by France is itself bizarre. It is often asked why, of all the pressing concerns in the world today, is it the very much not pressing matter of Palestinian statehood that is awarded so much prominence? But one might just as well ask why, of all countries, is it France that has become so taken with forcing a Palestinian state into existence. What possible national advantage could there be for France in seeing a particularly dubious incarnation of a Palestinian state established—not alongside but rather right in the middle of the Jewish state?

Well, for one thing France’s Hollande-led government is desperately unpopular right now. And for another, the country has a large Muslim population that appears to be growing in both size and fury. And that’s the point: this does nothing to significantly advance French interests internationally, but it could do a great deal to improve the prospects of Hollande’s government at home.

This relationship between France’s domestic predicament and its actions on the world stage for the Palestinians is particularly unsettling. Because on the French domestic scene, the situation for Jews is becoming progressively worse.  And as French Jewry is being murdered and hounded out of the country, many are choosing to take refuge in the State of Israel. And yet it is the security of that very Jewish refuge that the French government now seems committed to jeopardizing.

Whether Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius realize it or not, there has never been a worse time to pursue Palestinian statehood. Frankly, it appears that they don’t care. Yet if a small, unstable, financially unviable Palestinian state was imposed on the West Bank tomorrow, there’s a very real chance that it would be well on the way to becoming just another of the region’s Iranian satellites the day after. Worse still, since the French proposal—like the Obama administration—seems determined to make the 1949 armistice lines Israel’s easternmost border, and not the more defensible Jordan valley, there is a very real threat of Islamist groups such as ISIS infiltrating the area from the east.

It is hard to comprehend that at a time when the Middle East is so perilously unstable, permanent Security Council members are hellbent on pursuing a policy that if implemented would make it radically more unstable. Similarly, it is mystifying that at a time when the West’s allies in the region already have their backs against the wall, Western countries appear prepared to push them still further. And all for the sake of feeding the deranged obsession for achieving imminent Palestinian statehood, no matter the cost.

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Don’t Fall into Ratcheted Negotiation Trap on Iran

My recent book, Dancing with the Devil, examines both the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and the strategies U.S. adversaries use when sitting across the negotiation table from American diplomats. While the State Department has never conducted a lessons-learned review from past episodes of diplomacy with rogue regimes in general or Iran in particular, Iranian diplomats are negotiating straight from a well-established and successful playbook, one used successfully by Tehran in past rounds and also used to maximum advantage by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

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My recent book, Dancing with the Devil, examines both the history of American diplomacy with rogue regimes and the strategies U.S. adversaries use when sitting across the negotiation table from American diplomats. While the State Department has never conducted a lessons-learned review from past episodes of diplomacy with rogue regimes in general or Iran in particular, Iranian diplomats are negotiating straight from a well-established and successful playbook, one used successfully by Tehran in past rounds and also used to maximum advantage by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

Here’s how it goes: When the United States (or any other democracy) is making a big push for a final agreement, negotiate, extract compromises, and collect those final last-minute concessions while up against the wire. Then go home, and treat those concessions as a baseline for the start of new negotiations: What had been the last-minute deal suddenly becomes the opening position in a pattern that provides a distinct disadvantage to the party which wants the deal more.

Cases in point: On May 31, 2006, Condoleezza Rice announced the resumption of direct U.S. talks with Iran and the enhancement of the incentive package. It was supposed to be the final, leave-it-or-take-it moment to get Iran to negotiate seriously. Alas, that never happened. But because that had already been put on the table, the next time diplomats wanted to achieve the same aim, there simply was an inflation among incentives. Then, On September 15, 2006, the European Union dropped its demand that Iran comply with IAEA and Security Council demands for enrichment suspension. Some proponents of the current talks, the National Iranian American Council for example, say that diplomacy is the best option because Iran had continued to enrich uranium during periods of coercion. What they omit, however, is that it was actually periods of diplomacy which blessed that Iranian practice. It was during this period of diplomacy that Iran increased its centrifuge capacity from 164 to 3,000.

So what will the next round bring? For Secretary of State John Kerry, getting the Iranians to the table might be a sign of progress. But if he had any sense of Iranian negotiating behavior, he would recognize a pattern. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sees him not as a friend, but rather a fiddle to play. Alas, Zarif has proven himself the maestro.

How to counter the problem? Iran must know that every deal on the table is the most generous deal they can ever expect. Every time talks break off, coercion (for example, banking sanctions must snap back to their full application) and the future incentives must lower considerably. With oil half of what it was last year–and, therefore, Iran’s income taking a significant hit–it’s time to let Tehran truly ponder what the road not taken would mean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can that be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peter Beinart’s Israeli Democracy Problem

Last week after Israeli voters once again rejected the candidates and the policies that he believes would be best for them, writer Peter Beinart had a temper tantrum. Instead of accepting the verdict of the democratic process as did the leaders of Israel’s loyal opposition, Beinart wrote in Haaretz that American Jews must begin a campaign aimed at invalidating the votes of Israelis and to begin a “pressure process” that would force them to bow to his demands that they make unilateral concessions to the Palestinians that the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the Jewish state believe are, at best, misguided. I wrote here that this rant showed Beinart’s contempt for the democratic process, and that the premises of his argument–that Israel had not taken “risks for peace,” that “the election was not fought in the shadow of terror,” and that the Obama administration had not exerted pressure on Israel–were not so much mistaken as blatantly false. In response he wrote yesterday in Haaretz to assert that I was mistaken about the obligation to respect democratic elections as well as to claim that I was a hypocrite because I had not supported efforts to prop up Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government. But his response not only fails to address the substance of my criticism; it is as disingenuous as his original argument.

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Last week after Israeli voters once again rejected the candidates and the policies that he believes would be best for them, writer Peter Beinart had a temper tantrum. Instead of accepting the verdict of the democratic process as did the leaders of Israel’s loyal opposition, Beinart wrote in Haaretz that American Jews must begin a campaign aimed at invalidating the votes of Israelis and to begin a “pressure process” that would force them to bow to his demands that they make unilateral concessions to the Palestinians that the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the Jewish state believe are, at best, misguided. I wrote here that this rant showed Beinart’s contempt for the democratic process, and that the premises of his argument–that Israel had not taken “risks for peace,” that “the election was not fought in the shadow of terror,” and that the Obama administration had not exerted pressure on Israel–were not so much mistaken as blatantly false. In response he wrote yesterday in Haaretz to assert that I was mistaken about the obligation to respect democratic elections as well as to claim that I was a hypocrite because I had not supported efforts to prop up Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government. But his response not only fails to address the substance of my criticism; it is as disingenuous as his original argument.

Beinart does not trouble himself to account for his staggeringly mendacious claims about Israel’s past attempts to negotiate peace or his comments about the threat from terrorism. Beinart shoves three Israeli offers of statehood to the Palestinians by non-Likud governments from 2000 to 2008 that they rejected, as well as their stonewalling during the talks last year, down the memory hole. With his no “shadow of terror” remark, he does the same for last year’s war with Hamas in which thousands of Hamas rockets rained down on Israeli cities and the fact that any Israeli schoolchild knows that the only thing preventing another campaign of suicide bombing is the West Bank security barrier, not forbearance by Hamas or Fatah killers. As for the last six years of President Obama’s sniping at Israel’s government, that is also too insignificant a detail for Beinart to notice.

These points are important because they illustrate that Beinart’s arguments are based on a willful disregard for the facts that have influenced Israeli voters to hand the last three elections to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his party despite the fact that neither he nor the Likud is all that popular.

Beinart is right when he says the fact that Israelis have elected a Knesset with a clear majority opposed to his policies does not obligate him to agree with their judgment. In fact, I stated as much myself. One can vocally oppose the policies of any government without exposing oneself to the charge of contempt for democracy. But Beinart isn’t content anymore to merely voice criticism, however uninformed or contemptuous of the facts he may have been. The point is, he explicitly wrote that what must now happen is for Americans to rise up and back measures by the U.S. government that will overturn the judgment of Israel’s voters. Instead of continuing to try and persuade them of the wisdom of his suggestions, he now says what he wants is for Israelis to be isolated, economically and politically, and to be treated as a pariah state. If that is not contempt for the democratic process as played out in Israel, I don’t know what else it can be called.

It is true that, in theory, the voters of one democracy are not obliged to respect the decisions of voters in other countries. But this is no mere policy dispute. He alleges that Israel is a “brutal, undemocratic and unjust power” because it has rightly decided that allowing the creation of another terrorist state on its borders—like the one it allowed to rise up in Gaza—is unwise. What he is doing is not disagreement but delegitimization.

He also argues that because the Arab residents of the West Bank are not allowed to vote in Israel’s elections, it cannot be said to be a democracy there. This again is a willfully misleading argument. If the people of the West Bank can’t vote in an election, it is due entirely to the fact that the leaders of the Palestinian Authority have consistently rejected offers of statehood and independence for their people because doing so would also require them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders would be drawn, next door. As he well knows, the majority of Israelis would have been happy to embrace a two-state solution. But the Palestinians have never been able to do so because it means ending the conflict with Zionism and their national identity has been inextricably tied to that war since its inception. If Israelis have, at least for the moment, given up on two states, it is not because they don’t think it’s a good idea, but because they recognize the Palestinians aren’t interested in it, something that Beinart refuses to accept despite ample proof.

The status quo is both anomalous and unsatisfactory, but its continuation is not due to Netanyahu’s decisions or statements. It is the work of the Palestinians. They have constructed this status quo just as they did the security barrier, which they forced a reluctant Israeli government to build to keep out terrorists. Asking Israelis to ignore these facts and to place their population centers next to another Hamasistan is neither consistent with affection for their existence nor reasonable. Nor is it something that was likely to happen even if Netanyahu had been defeated and replaced with Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog. Comparing Netanyahu to racist segregationists or any other evil figures in history tells us more about Beinart than the prime minister. When the political culture of the Palestinians changes to allow them to accept a state alongside Israel, they will get it. Until that happens, blaming Israel for Palestinian irredentism and hate merely denies agency to the Arab side of the conflict.

As for his claim that I’m being hypocritical because of my lack of support for Egypt’s short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government, that is mere sophistry.

It is true that the Brotherhood won an election after the fall of the Mubarak regime. But any comparison between the victory of a party advocating a totalitarian theocracy, whose ability to turn out its supporters or coerce others to do so bears little resemblance to the normal democratic process, and true democrats is absurd. The Brotherhood’s goal was to transform Egypt into another Gaza or Iran and to enact the usual Third World practice of “one man, one vote, one time” to ensure that its hold on power could never be endangered. A year after it came to power, tens of millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand its ouster and the military complied. That’s a sorry tale and one that shows how hard it is to create a democracy in a country with no democratic traditions or consensus about governance. Applauding the demise of an anti-democratic Islamist movement is not only consistent with belief in democracy; it was a precondition for any hope (albeit a very slim one) that Egypt will ever become a democracy.

Perhaps in Beinart’s fevered imagination, he thinks the Likud is analogous to the Brotherhood. This is a transparent libel of a party that has, since its inception, always abided by democratic norms in a way that Hamas’s Islamist ally has never done. What Beinart would like is for Israel’s people to rise up against the Likud as Egyptians did against the Brotherhood. If they did, Netanyahu’s government would fall. But not only have they failed to do so, they just gave him a third consecutive victory because, unlike Beinart, they have paid attention to what the Palestinians have done and said about peace.

That has to be frustrating for Beinart, but the answer for those who care about democracy to failure in an election is not an attempt to overturn the vote by foreign pressure but to work harder to give your ideas a fair hearing and to persuade Israelis to change their minds. Beinart has clearly tired of trying to do that and now places himself in the ranks of those seeking to treat its democratically elected government as pariahs. That is why, along with others, I have written that he has contempt for democracy. The charge stands.

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AP Editor Flunks Middle East 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Pointless Israel Spats Illustrate Spite, Not Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Worry About Iran, Not Israeli Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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