Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Did Bibi Win? Realism, Not Racism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Settlement Data Once Again Shows Bibi’s “Hardline” Image Doesn’t Match Reality

According to official data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, housing construction in West Bank settlements fell by a whopping 52 percent last year–far greater than the 8 percent decline in construction nationwide. Moreover, the bureau said, settlement construction throughout Benjamin Netanyahu’s six years as prime minister has been significantly lower than it was under his predecessors: Overall, the number of housing starts in the settlements was 19 percent lower in 2009-2014 than it was in 2003-2008, under prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, while the number of housing completions was 15 percent lower.

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According to official data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, housing construction in West Bank settlements fell by a whopping 52 percent last year–far greater than the 8 percent decline in construction nationwide. Moreover, the bureau said, settlement construction throughout Benjamin Netanyahu’s six years as prime minister has been significantly lower than it was under his predecessors: Overall, the number of housing starts in the settlements was 19 percent lower in 2009-2014 than it was in 2003-2008, under prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, while the number of housing completions was 15 percent lower.

This, of course, doesn’t match the popular perception of Netanyahu: The accepted wisdom among international journalists and diplomats is that he’s a major backer of the settlements who has presided over massive building there. Indeed, just last year, President Barack Obama declared that “we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time”–a claim belied by the official data at the time and once again belied by the new statistics released yesterday. But it was nevertheless widely believed, because it fit the accepted narrative of Netanyahu as “hardline” and “right-wing.”

And this is just one example of a far broader problem: Too many international journalists and diplomats see Israel and its leaders through the prism of a preconceived narrative, and any facts that don’t conform to this narrative are simply ignored. Netanyahu is “right-wing,” so he must be building massively in the settlements, even if he isn’t. Israeli voters have elected him twice in the last six years, so the country must have become more right-wing, even if in reality–as I explained in detail in my article for COMMENTARY this month–most Israelis have moved so far to the left over the last two decades that they now hold positions formerly held only by the far-left Arab-Jewish Communist Party. Netanyahu is “hardline,” so he must be to blame for the failure of peace talks, even if in reality–as was evident from American officials’ own testimony at the time and confirmed by a leaked document just last week–Netanyahu was prepared to make dramatic concessions, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to budge.

And of course, settlement construction itself is another salient example of this problem. It is almost universally considered the major obstacle to peace. Yet as Elliott Abrams and Uri Sadot explained last year, the vast majority of settlement construction is in the major settlement blocs that everyone knows Israel will end up keeping under any deal with the Palestinians, so it doesn’t affect the contours of a deal at all. Annual construction in non-bloc settlements amounted to only a few hundred houses even in Netanyahu’s peak construction year. And since the non-bloc settlements already contain some 80,000 Israelis, the idea that a few hundred additional families would be a deal-breaker is fatuous even if you think the PA’s demand for a judenrein Palestine is legitimate and all these settlements should indeed be evacuated.

Over the last six years, while the Obama Administration was wasting its time and energy complaining about “aggressive” settlement construction that was actually far less aggressive than it was under Netanyahu’s predecessors, Israeli-Palestinian relations have deteriorated drastically. That outcome might have been averted had the administration focused on the real problems in the relationship rather than inflating the settlement issue out of all proportion.

But that’s the problem with bad facts; they usually produce bad policy. And it’s hard for journalists and diplomats to obtain good facts if they systematically ignore any data that conflicts with their preconceived narrative.

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Bibi Was Ready for Peace, Abbas Wasn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Professors of Propaganda at the University of Washington

Edward Alexander, author of the forthcoming Jews Against Themselves, reports on a program at the University of Washington that, even by the relatively low standards of contemporary humanities scholarship, is a travesty of scholarship.

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Edward Alexander, author of the forthcoming Jews Against Themselves, reports on a program at the University of Washington that, even by the relatively low standards of contemporary humanities scholarship, is a travesty of scholarship.

The Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington supports “cross disciplinary understanding, collaboration, and research.” In the service of that goal, it funds “cross disciplinary research clusters,” which “seed new collaborations between faculty and graduate students who share research interests.” Among the clusters presently funded is Palestine and the Public Sphere.

One notices right away that the project was chosen because of its cross disciplinary character, as it takes in a professor from the Department of English, another professor from the Department of English, and a third professor from the Department of English. So far, so good.

But there are further indications that the project will elevate our level of discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, only two of the three professors involved, Anis Bawarshi and Eva Cherniavsky, have signed on to the 2009 “Dear President Elect Obama” letter, which describes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times” and opines that a one state solution—that is the erasure of Israel as a Jewish state—is “almost certainly” the only hope. They do not straightforwardly say, as University of Pennsylvania professor and one-stater Ian Lustick has, that such a solution is almost certainly bound to entail “ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror [and] Jewish and Arab emigration” before Israel is brought to its knees. But we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

Speaking of Lustick, his piece appeared in the New York Times. Yet the very description of the research program, if we can call it that, assumes that “as mergers have transferred control of most major news outlets to a handful of mega-corporations,” criticism of Israel has been stifled. Admittedly, I am not a trained reader of English texts, as the organizers are, but I would think that the frequent appearance of such criticism in major media outlets makes this assertion borderline delusional. Even Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel has graced the pages of the Times. The Guardian, BBC, Bloomberg, and CNN have published Barghouti’s work.

But speaking of Omar Barghouti, the Palestine in the Public Sphere group decided the first way they could advance the cause of scholarly research was to invite Barghouti to speak. Because the way to show that you are concerned about elevating the scholarly discourse is to invite, on the first day of Israeli apartheid week, a figure whose sole claim to fame is setting a campaign to demonize Israel into motion. I am not as schooled in discourse analysis as even one English professor, much less three, but it seems to me that this sends a message.

Here’s a tip for those who worry about the defunding of public higher education. Call out people who use state institutions to advance propaganda campaigns under the guise of scholarship.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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