Commentary Magazine


Topic: West Bank

West Bank Reality: Arab, Not Jewish Hate

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is planning on using the United Nations to publicize what he characterizes as violations of Arab rights in Jerusalem and settler violence in the West Bank. According to Abbas, the chutzpah of some Jews to demand the right to pray on part of their faith’s holiest site — the Temple Mount — is intolerable. But aside from his push to declare all of those parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 as exclusive Palestinian property (a stand that would include the Western Wall as well as the Temple Mount in the Palestinian state he wants to create), Abbas is trying to focus the world on what he says is a campaign of outrages by Jews living in the West Bank against their neighbors. The latest example is an incident in which a mosque was defaced and cars vandalized in an Arab village by what appears to have been settlers.

Such instances are outrageous and should be punished. But those who commit such crimes are a tiny minority of even the Jewish population in the territories. The Israeli government, settler groups as well as the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people condemn these occurrences. But as shameful as they are, to pretend, as most mainstream media outlets do, that it is Jewish violence that is the everyday occurrences in the West Bank, let alone the most serious threat to the peace, is beyond absurd. Evidence for just how wrong this assumption is can be found throughout the year as the number of instances of violent attacks, lethal stone throwing and sundry other forms of terrorism that result not just in damaged windshields but wounded and dead Jewish bodies. Just last night, infiltrators near his home in the Jordan valley killed an Israeli. Last weekend, Arab terrorists shot a nine-year-old Israeli girl in a settlement. And yet you can bet that the U.N. and its sundry agencies dedicated to delegitimizing Israel will take up Abbas’ complaints rather than investigating the wave of anti-Jewish violence or ask what role the PA media plays in inciting these attacks.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is planning on using the United Nations to publicize what he characterizes as violations of Arab rights in Jerusalem and settler violence in the West Bank. According to Abbas, the chutzpah of some Jews to demand the right to pray on part of their faith’s holiest site — the Temple Mount — is intolerable. But aside from his push to declare all of those parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 as exclusive Palestinian property (a stand that would include the Western Wall as well as the Temple Mount in the Palestinian state he wants to create), Abbas is trying to focus the world on what he says is a campaign of outrages by Jews living in the West Bank against their neighbors. The latest example is an incident in which a mosque was defaced and cars vandalized in an Arab village by what appears to have been settlers.

Such instances are outrageous and should be punished. But those who commit such crimes are a tiny minority of even the Jewish population in the territories. The Israeli government, settler groups as well as the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people condemn these occurrences. But as shameful as they are, to pretend, as most mainstream media outlets do, that it is Jewish violence that is the everyday occurrences in the West Bank, let alone the most serious threat to the peace, is beyond absurd. Evidence for just how wrong this assumption is can be found throughout the year as the number of instances of violent attacks, lethal stone throwing and sundry other forms of terrorism that result not just in damaged windshields but wounded and dead Jewish bodies. Just last night, infiltrators near his home in the Jordan valley killed an Israeli. Last weekend, Arab terrorists shot a nine-year-old Israeli girl in a settlement. And yet you can bet that the U.N. and its sundry agencies dedicated to delegitimizing Israel will take up Abbas’ complaints rather than investigating the wave of anti-Jewish violence or ask what role the PA media plays in inciting these attacks.

The prevailing narrative of evil settlers attacking innocent Palestinians is popular precisely because it dovetails with the frame of reference through which Israel’s critics view the conflict. When they choose to notice the far more frequent instances of Arab violence against Jews, the victims are reported as being “settlers” — even when the targets are children — so as to make the point that they had it coming in some way. The settlers are seen as the possessors of stolen property, not people whose rights to live in the heart of the Jewish homeland are actually guaranteed by international law. If the media were to put settler violence in the context of the siege of attacks with which they have to live, the relatively small number of such incidents would be rightly seen as proof of the restraint and law-abiding nature of the vast majority of Jews living in the territories rather than as evidence of their incorrigible and hateful character.

More to the point, were the media to focus as they should on the drumbeat of incitement of hate against Israel and Jews that comes not from Palestinian outliers but the government that is the Jewish state’s supposed peace partner — Abbas’s PA — the notion that an accord merely requires an Israeli territorial retreat would be seen as a transparent fiction.

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Palestinians Build a Settlement

Though it was entirely unintentional, the New York Times deserves credit today for pointing out the hypocrisy of critics of Israel’s settlement building. No, the paper hasn’t reversed its policy of treating the presence of Jews in the heart of their ancient homeland as wrong or an obstacle to peace that is reflected on its news pages as much as it is on their editorial page. What they did was something more subtle than that and will require some context for their readers to understand. They published a feature about the Palestinians doing something that Israel hasn’t tried in more than two decades, the building of an entirely new city in the West Bank.

What’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing. If the planners of Rawabi own the land where they are constructing a town north of Ramallah, then why shouldn’t they build new homes and places of business for Arabs who want them? But the story about the effort and the travails of the planners—who are, ironically, under attack from Palestinians for their efforts to cooperate with Israel and Israeli businesses and contractors to get the job done—should remind us that doing so is no more of an obstacle to peace than the builders of homes for Jews.

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Though it was entirely unintentional, the New York Times deserves credit today for pointing out the hypocrisy of critics of Israel’s settlement building. No, the paper hasn’t reversed its policy of treating the presence of Jews in the heart of their ancient homeland as wrong or an obstacle to peace that is reflected on its news pages as much as it is on their editorial page. What they did was something more subtle than that and will require some context for their readers to understand. They published a feature about the Palestinians doing something that Israel hasn’t tried in more than two decades, the building of an entirely new city in the West Bank.

What’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing. If the planners of Rawabi own the land where they are constructing a town north of Ramallah, then why shouldn’t they build new homes and places of business for Arabs who want them? But the story about the effort and the travails of the planners—who are, ironically, under attack from Palestinians for their efforts to cooperate with Israel and Israeli businesses and contractors to get the job done—should remind us that doing so is no more of an obstacle to peace than the builders of homes for Jews.

The point about the West Bank that cannot be reiterated enough is that the conflict about ownership of the land is one in which both sides can muster arguments in their favor. Should the Palestinians ever reject their culture of violence and delegitimizing of Jewish rights to any part of the country, peace will be possible and the land will have to be divided, however painful that would be for both sides. Such a negotiation would be difficult but, assuming that the Palestinians were ever actually willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn, it would not be impossible. And since it is likely that if such a partition were ever to take place, Rawabi would be part of the Palestinian state, then why would Israelis complain that building on the site would make peace impossible?

Of course, Israelis aren’t making such a protest, any more than they speak out against the building going on in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem or any other place in the West Bank.

But when new homes are built in existing Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem or in those towns and communities in the major settlement blocs in the West Bank that everyone knows would be retained by Israel in the event of a peace accord, they are bitterly condemned by the Obama administration, the Europeans, and the liberal media.

In fact, Israel hasn’t done anything on the scale of Rawabi in many years. Outside of scattered hilltop camps with trailers, it hasn’t actually built a new settlement since the Oslo Accords. What Israel has done is added new housing developments to existing places. But the Arabs have done the same and in the case of Rawabi, they are seeking to expand their hold on the land by establishing new facts on the ground that strengthen their claims.

Of course, Israel’s critics assert that Arabs have a right to live in Rawabi while the Jews don’t have a right to live in “stolen land” on the West Bank. That argument rests on the fallacy that history began in 1967 when Israel came into the possession of the West Bank as a result of a defensive war. But in fact, the “West Bank” (a name for the territories of Judea and Samaria that only came into existence when the Kingdom of Jordan illegally occupied the land to differentiate it from their territory on the East Bank of the Jordan River) is part of a territory set aside by international authorities for a Jewish homeland where Jews, as well as Arabs, had rights. Though the international community has sought to abrogate Jewish rights there, they cannot be extinguished in this manner. The resolution of the dispute over the land requires a negotiation in which each side must be prepared to compromise rather than, as the Palestinian Authority continues to do, simply dictate.

Contrary to the claims of Israel’s critics, if both sides continue doing as they are now and building at the same pace, peace won’t be any easier or harder to reach in the future than it is now. The same boundaries will be there to be drawn with Jews and Arabs on Israel’s side and Arabs only on the Palestinian side (as Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly made clear), then as they are now. The building of new settlements, whether Jews or Arabs populate them, won’t stop peace if both peoples truly want it. Israel has already demonstrated that it is prepared to do so, as it has repeatedly offered and made territorial withdrawals while the Palestinians have never given up their maximalist demands that aim at Israel’s destruction, not coexistence. The reason the Palestinians focus on settlement building as a threat to their future is not because these places are actually obstacles to peace but because they are opposed to Jews living in anywhere in the country.

Rawabi also demonstrates the priorities of Israel’s foes. Many of them are, as the Times makes clear, opposed to it, because building it undercuts the attempt to boycott Israel. Much like the efforts to prevent the descendants of the 1948 refugees from being resettled so as to keep them as an issue to hold over Israel, they’d rather keep Palestinians from having a new town so long as it doesn’t mean doing business with Jews. 

If the Palestinians that will live in Rawabi and elsewhere in the West Bank truly want peace with Israel and to gain self-determination in exchange, they will get it. Moreover, if Palestinians persist in building on lands they are likely to keep and Israel keeps building in those places they will retain, it won’t put off peace by a single day. Let’s hope that, like its Jewish counterparts in Maale Adumim and Ariel, Rawabi will raise the quality of life for its inhabitants. Perhaps in doing so it will undermine the efforts of those Palestinians that continue to foment the hatred of Jews and Israel that remains at the core of the conflict.

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Why Won’t the Palestinians Accept a State?

Let’s assume for a moment that Secretary of State John Kerry actually succeeds in getting Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas to sit down and talk with Israel for the first time since George W. Bush was president. As I wrote earlier this week, if that happens that will be the result of American promises to back the Palestinians on various issues and probably also a pledge to put a time limit on the negotiations in order to heighten the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even if all that happens, most of the international media and virtually everyone in the foreign policy establishment seems to take it as a given that the primary obstacle to a deal will be Israel’s recalcitrance in making concessions. But that Netanyahu isn’t willing to deal is a myth, which is why so many in his coalition have been speaking up to talk about their opposition to a two-state solution.

As Haaretz reports today, various high level sources including a senior Cabinet minister are saying that Netanyahu is ready to give up more than 90 percent of the West Bank and evacuate “more than a few settlements” if Abbas is serious about peace deal that will truly end the conflict and give assurances about security. So the operative question for the region, as Kerry tries to pressure the parties to sit down prior to September, is whether Abbas is ready to take yes for an answer in the way that he wasn’t in 2008 when he turned down an offer of a state from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert.

Since few think Abbas will ever be able to sign off on any accord that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it’s doubtful that Netanyahu will ever have to make good on these promises. But that hasn’t stopped right-wingers in his coalition from getting upset about the prospect of a pullback on the West Bank. But leaving aside the panic on the right, Netanyahu’s willingness to give up so much territory should focus the world on what it is exactly that the Palestinians want or are prepared to live with.

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Let’s assume for a moment that Secretary of State John Kerry actually succeeds in getting Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas to sit down and talk with Israel for the first time since George W. Bush was president. As I wrote earlier this week, if that happens that will be the result of American promises to back the Palestinians on various issues and probably also a pledge to put a time limit on the negotiations in order to heighten the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even if all that happens, most of the international media and virtually everyone in the foreign policy establishment seems to take it as a given that the primary obstacle to a deal will be Israel’s recalcitrance in making concessions. But that Netanyahu isn’t willing to deal is a myth, which is why so many in his coalition have been speaking up to talk about their opposition to a two-state solution.

As Haaretz reports today, various high level sources including a senior Cabinet minister are saying that Netanyahu is ready to give up more than 90 percent of the West Bank and evacuate “more than a few settlements” if Abbas is serious about peace deal that will truly end the conflict and give assurances about security. So the operative question for the region, as Kerry tries to pressure the parties to sit down prior to September, is whether Abbas is ready to take yes for an answer in the way that he wasn’t in 2008 when he turned down an offer of a state from Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert.

Since few think Abbas will ever be able to sign off on any accord that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it’s doubtful that Netanyahu will ever have to make good on these promises. But that hasn’t stopped right-wingers in his coalition from getting upset about the prospect of a pullback on the West Bank. But leaving aside the panic on the right, Netanyahu’s willingness to give up so much territory should focus the world on what it is exactly that the Palestinians want or are prepared to live with.

As with Netanyahu’s ground breaking 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University where he formally embraced a two-state solution, we can expect his critics to dismiss these latest signals that his government is willing to make sacrifices for peace. We will be told that there is no point offering the Palestinians a state on terms they can’t accept.

Palestinians say they have been waiting for several decades to get a state. They could have had one in 1947 when Palestinian Arabs and the rest of the Arab and Muslim world disdained a United Nations partition plan that called for a Jewish state and an Arab one to be created in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Three times since 2000 they have continued to say no to offers that would have again divided the land and given them a chance for independence.

But if Abbas is again going to treat an offer of statehood that would give him more than 90 percent of the West Bank as nothing or insists on accepting nothing less than a militarized Palestinian state (something that Israel is already experiencing on its southern border in Hamas-run Gaza, which is an independent state in all but name), then we are entitled to ask why.

In speaking of taking these kinds of risks for peace, Netanyahu is going far beyond what most of his supporters think is reasonable. Yet if after all this time, the Palestinians are not willing to talk or stay at the table for more than a few days or weeks simply because they cannot get all of the West Bank or Jerusalem or even to accept demilitarization, then the world should draw conclusions about their intentions. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the obstacle to peace in the Middle East isn’t Netanyahu or Israeli settlements. It’s the hate and intransigence that drives the Palestinian political culture that makes it impossible for Abbas to ever sign a deal. Though I don’t expect most in the foreign policy establishment to acknowledge this fact, what will happen in the next couple of months is likely to reaffirm this basic fact.

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If “Problem” Is Zionism, Peace Isn’t West Bank Activists’ Goal

With President Obama due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, slanted pieces on the Jewish state found their way onto both the front page of the Sunday New York Times and the cover of its weekly magazine today. I’ll have more later on the newspaper story by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, which treats the erecting of homes for Jews in Jerusalem as an outrage that “complicates” the nonexistent hopes for peace with the Palestinians. But that piece is a model of objective journalism when compared to the magazine’s cover story. The title of the article, “Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?” promises an investigation into the chances of more Palestinian unrest and violence. But what author Ben Ehrenreich delivers is not so much an answer to that question as an argument about why it should happen and an affectionate portrait of some of those who are doing their best to see that it does.

Ehrenreich’s story centers on his experiences hanging out in the village of Nabi Saleh, where Palestinian organizers of violent demonstrations have been seeking out confrontations with a neighboring Jewish settlement and Israeli soldiers who guard it and nearby checkpoints every Friday afternoon. The weekly dust-ups have become a tourist attraction for leftist European anti-Israel activists (so much so that local Palestinian hosts for the foreign Israel-bashers are always ready with vegan meals). But, as with so much reporting from the Middle East, what it missing from this compendium of Palestinian derring-do and grievances is more interesting than what made it into the magazine.

In order to understand the piece, the first thing one needs to know is Ehrenreich’s personal point of view about this conflict. The second would be to examine the alternatives to confrontation that the heroes of his piece have no interest in pursuing.

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With President Obama due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, slanted pieces on the Jewish state found their way onto both the front page of the Sunday New York Times and the cover of its weekly magazine today. I’ll have more later on the newspaper story by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, which treats the erecting of homes for Jews in Jerusalem as an outrage that “complicates” the nonexistent hopes for peace with the Palestinians. But that piece is a model of objective journalism when compared to the magazine’s cover story. The title of the article, “Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?” promises an investigation into the chances of more Palestinian unrest and violence. But what author Ben Ehrenreich delivers is not so much an answer to that question as an argument about why it should happen and an affectionate portrait of some of those who are doing their best to see that it does.

Ehrenreich’s story centers on his experiences hanging out in the village of Nabi Saleh, where Palestinian organizers of violent demonstrations have been seeking out confrontations with a neighboring Jewish settlement and Israeli soldiers who guard it and nearby checkpoints every Friday afternoon. The weekly dust-ups have become a tourist attraction for leftist European anti-Israel activists (so much so that local Palestinian hosts for the foreign Israel-bashers are always ready with vegan meals). But, as with so much reporting from the Middle East, what it missing from this compendium of Palestinian derring-do and grievances is more interesting than what made it into the magazine.

In order to understand the piece, the first thing one needs to know is Ehrenreich’s personal point of view about this conflict. The second would be to examine the alternatives to confrontation that the heroes of his piece have no interest in pursuing.

Ehrenreich is a curious choice to write an in-depth piece on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle for the supposedly objective Times. If the piece seems incredibly skewed toward the point of view of the Palestinians, it’s no accident. Ehrenreich has never made any secret about his view about the State of Israel: he thinks Zionism is the moral equivalent of Nazism and believes the Jewish state should not exist. He stated as much in a 2009 op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times titled “Zionism is the problem.” In that piece he didn’t merely repeat the canard that Israel was an apartheid state but actually said the racist South African government compared favorably to the Jewish state.

The author thinks it’s an injustice to say that denying to Jews the same rights that no one would think to deny to every other people on the planet is anti-Semitism. True to the beliefs of his Marxist grandparents, he thinks all nationalisms are bad, but he sees the destruction of the one Jewish nationalism as a priority. The piece is a farrago of distortions, not the least of which is the notion that a single secular state to replace Israel could guarantee the rights or the safety of Jews there. But the main takeaway from it is that he has no interest in even arguing the merits of a two-state solution or lamenting the fading chances of such a deal. That’s because he agrees with Palestinians who continue to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of any Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

That’s why Ehrenreich’s paean to the demonstrators of Nabi Saleh is so patently disingenuous. The people of the village resent the existence of the neighboring Jewish community of Halamish that has been there for 36 years. They dispute ownership of a spring that exists between the two and may have a good case that one of their number actually owns it–though the article only tells us the Israeli government says the Jews have not been able to establish their rights to it. But their real issue—and Ehrenreich’s—is not about the water, the presence of more than a thousand Jews in their neighborhood or the security fence that separates the West Bank from pre-1967 Israel.

Though the ostensible purpose of the protests at Nabi Saleh is to get rid of the Jews in their midst as well as the checkpoints and security fences (which were erected in order to halt the Palestinian depredations of the last intifada in which more than 1,000 Jews were slaughtered by other “activists”) in the area, Ehrenreich’s piece is honest enough to avoid a claim that the path to peace is merely an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to the ’67 lines.

Indeed, his critique is not so much aimed at the settlers or soldiers (whose voices make only a cameo appearance in the article), but at the Oslo process itself that created the Palestinian Authority. Ehrenreich quotes with approval the condemnation of that peace accord as an outrage because it was predicated on the idea that the PA it created would be responsible for ending the conflict and stopping recurrences of terrorism. Of course, Yasir Arafat never had any intention of doing so, and actually subsidized terror groups with the money he got from European and American donors (at least that portion that he and his cronies didn’t steal).

The hero of Ehrenreich’s piece—Bassem Tamimi, a Fatah activist and holder of a no-show job from the Palestinian Authority—also makes no pretense about the morality of non-violence. He doesn’t think the suicide bombers were wrong, merely unsuccessful.

This is important because the whole idea of the legitimacy of the Nabi Saleh protests isn’t so much the supposed injustices that the villagers suffer (though almost all of the hardships recounted in the piece stem solely from a decision by them to seek out violent confrontation with Israelis rather than peaceful accommodation) as it is that they have no alternative to weekly sessions of taunting soldiers and throwing rocks at them.

That is the basic falsehood at the core of the piece. After all, if the Palestinian Authority that employs Tamimi really wanted to create an independent state, including Nabi Saleh, they could have accepted Israel’s offers of such a deal in 2000, 2001 or 2008. Saying yes to those proposals would have probably forced the removal of Halamish, leaving the Tamimi clan free to enjoy the spring on their own without the inconvenience or humiliation of having to share it or the area with the Jews.

Indeed, were the PA to go back to the table today—something that it has steadfastly refused to do ever since Mahmoud Abbas fled negotiations with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 rather than be faced with a decision about accepting peace—they might well get a similar offer that would answer the Tamimis’ property claims.

But they don’t, and not one of the protesters is calling on them to do so. The reason for this is simple. They don’t want a state alongside Israel regardless of where the lines are drawn. Like Ehrenreich, they want a Palestinian state instead of Israel.

That’s why pieces such as this one, which seem to be based on the idea that a lack of progress toward peace (i.e. the failure of Israel to make enough concessions to the Palestinians) leaves the Arabs with no alternative but to resort to another intifada, are so misleading. The alternative to an intifada, be it armed or disarmed, is to negotiate and to compromise. And that is something that the PA, its stone-throwing villagers and their foreign cheerleaders won’t do.

Ehrenreich’s bias is so deeply embedded in the piece that it is pointless to criticize anything but the decision to employ him to write it. But there was at least one sentence that shows the magazine’s editors are either so ignorant or so biased that they couldn’t even bother to clean up obvious mistakes.

The piece describes last November’s fighting along the Gaza border as having started when “Israeli missiles started falling on Gaza” which activists hoped they could leverage into wider protests. You don’t need to be a fan of Israel or Zionism to note that the exchange was triggered by Hamas’s decision to unleash a massive rocket barrage on southern Israel. But correcting that slanted sentence or even just making a neutral reference to the violence was not something the editors thought worth the trouble.

One more point about the supposed non-violence of the Nabi Saleh demonstrators. The piece accepts the idea that throwing rocks and gasoline bombs at soldiers or settlers is a form of non-violent protest. It may be that these weapons seem less sinister to the foreign press than suicide bombing, but the notion that the use of such lethal force is consistent with the beliefs of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. is absurd.

Case in point is just the latest incident in which Palestinian stone throwing caused a car to crash into a bus in the West Bank leaving several people injured and a baby in critical condition. When Palestinian children, who are encouraged to provoke soldiers to fire on them outside Nabi Saleh, get hurt when those soldiers try to protect themselves from rocks and firebombs, it is considered an outrage. When Palestinians deliberately target Jewish children, those same activists consider it as justified resistance. Though Ehrenreich thinks settler violence is underreported, the ongoing story of Palestinian attacks on Jews in the territories gets even less coverage.

The Times often shrugs off accusations of bias against Israel, but this article’s publication and its prominent placement demonstrates just how virulent the problem remains.

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Money Alone Won’t Bail Out the West Bank

As I noted yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the road this week attempting to persuade Arab countries to give him money. Unfortunately for Abbas, his upgrade at the United Nations last month hasn’t made his panhandling act any more popular with those who voted to upgrade his status at the world body. In fact, the Palestinian Authority is broke. Though this isn’t the first time the PA has had cash flow problems, the current shortage is especially acute and enough to provoke a stern editorial from the New York Times blaming the problem primarily on Israel. But while Israel has withheld some tax revenue from Abbas, the problem in the West Bank goes a lot deeper than the current dispute between the Netanyahu government and the PA.

The Times is right that it is in no one’s interest that the PA collapse, but its call for more money from Israel, the United States, the Arab world and the international community to be poured into Abbas’s coffers misses the point about what is going on in the West Bank. No amount of foreign aid can fix a government and a society that is completely dysfunctional. The issue of the PA’s insolvency is directed related to its steadfast refusal to make peace. Though a Palestinian government that isn’t a basket case is needed to make a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict work, the issue here isn’t just that the PA is corrupt and incompetent. It is corrupt and incompetent in large measure because the political culture of Palestinian society is still more interested in perpetuating the conflict with Israel than in building a state.

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As I noted yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the road this week attempting to persuade Arab countries to give him money. Unfortunately for Abbas, his upgrade at the United Nations last month hasn’t made his panhandling act any more popular with those who voted to upgrade his status at the world body. In fact, the Palestinian Authority is broke. Though this isn’t the first time the PA has had cash flow problems, the current shortage is especially acute and enough to provoke a stern editorial from the New York Times blaming the problem primarily on Israel. But while Israel has withheld some tax revenue from Abbas, the problem in the West Bank goes a lot deeper than the current dispute between the Netanyahu government and the PA.

The Times is right that it is in no one’s interest that the PA collapse, but its call for more money from Israel, the United States, the Arab world and the international community to be poured into Abbas’s coffers misses the point about what is going on in the West Bank. No amount of foreign aid can fix a government and a society that is completely dysfunctional. The issue of the PA’s insolvency is directed related to its steadfast refusal to make peace. Though a Palestinian government that isn’t a basket case is needed to make a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict work, the issue here isn’t just that the PA is corrupt and incompetent. It is corrupt and incompetent in large measure because the political culture of Palestinian society is still more interested in perpetuating the conflict with Israel than in building a state.

Though the Arab and Muslim states that profess to support the Palestinians have done little to help them, throughout the nearly 20 years of its existence, the PA has been the recipient of vast sums of aid from Israel, the United States and the international community. For the most part, this money has been either stolen or wasted. The portion of it that did filter its way down to the Palestinian public was often spent on backing terrorist groups or on a vast scheme of public employment. That did little to develop the economy of the West Bank but it did serve to solidify the loyalty of those getting no-show or no-work jobs to first Yasir Arafat and then his successor Abbas.

In recent years, as the Times notes, there has been an effort by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to actually serve his people and to foster development as well as good government. The problem is that as much as the Americans and Israelis would like to help Fayyad, his efforts are still the exception to the rule. The unpopular Fayyad has little real influence over the PA’s future. He will also be sidelined if the Fatah-Hamas merger ever is brought to fruition.

More importantly, the failure of the West Bank economy is due to the refusal of Abbas to talk or make peace with Israel. Had he done so in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him statehood, things would be very different today. That is also true of Arafat’s refusal of Ehud Barak’s peace offers in 2000 and 2001. The second intifada that he launched ruined the West Bank’s economy.

The plain truth is that there is no assurance that the money that the United States, Israel or the Europeans are asked to hand over to Abbas will do anything more than prop up a failed regime. It may be that subsidizing failure is a better alternative than the chaos that would ensue if the PA completely collapsed, but it is not the answer to the problem.

What the PA really needs is not so much a handout as a sea change in its culture that would allow Abbas or a successor to end the conflict and to start the business of building a stable society that is not obsessed with violence against Israel. So long as that doesn’t happen, the Palestinians will continue to be beggars and the Israeli public will never support a withdrawal that might lead to the West Bank becoming a terrorist launching pad the way Gaza has become since 2005.

The PA’s bankruptcy is as much moral as it is financial. Until the Palestinians and those like the Times who want to help them realize this, aid to them will continue to be a case of throwing more money down the rabbit hole.

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Netanyahu’s Message Was No Blunder

The conventional wisdom about the Israeli government’s decision to allow new building projects in Jerusalem in the E1 area between the city and the Ma’ale Adumim suburb is that it was a blunder. Critics of Prime Minister Netanyahu claim the move has worsened relations with the United States, alienated European nations and heightened the country’s diplomatic isolation. Others claim that in doing so he has “distracted” the world from concentrating on the nuclear threat from Iran. Even worse, most of his detractors are sure that the only reason he did it was to appease more extreme members of his party so as to secure their support in the upcoming Knesset election. Seen in that light, calling it a blunder would seem to be charitable.

But like most pieces of conventional wisdom, the assumption that Netanyahu has hurt his country is not accurate. Even if shovels went in the ground in the E1 area tomorrow — something that actually won’t happen for a long time, if ever — Israel would be no more or less isolated than it was the day before the announcement. Nor would relations with the Obama administration be any better. All Netanyahu has done is to remind his country’s critics that Israel isn’t willing to lie down and accept the false narrative about the West Bank and Jerusalem that was swallowed whole at the United Nations last week. As Seth wrote earlier, this won’t change Israel’s relationship with Europe. The focus on the European and American positions on settlements has obscured the fact that the primary audience for this move is in Ramallah, not Paris, London or Washington. The E1 decision sends a necessary signal to the Palestinians lest they be deceived by their triumph in the General Assembly. What Netanyahu has done is to show Israel won’t give up an inch of territory unless the Palestinians return to the negotiating table and even then, only if they agree to end the conflict for all time.

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The conventional wisdom about the Israeli government’s decision to allow new building projects in Jerusalem in the E1 area between the city and the Ma’ale Adumim suburb is that it was a blunder. Critics of Prime Minister Netanyahu claim the move has worsened relations with the United States, alienated European nations and heightened the country’s diplomatic isolation. Others claim that in doing so he has “distracted” the world from concentrating on the nuclear threat from Iran. Even worse, most of his detractors are sure that the only reason he did it was to appease more extreme members of his party so as to secure their support in the upcoming Knesset election. Seen in that light, calling it a blunder would seem to be charitable.

But like most pieces of conventional wisdom, the assumption that Netanyahu has hurt his country is not accurate. Even if shovels went in the ground in the E1 area tomorrow — something that actually won’t happen for a long time, if ever — Israel would be no more or less isolated than it was the day before the announcement. Nor would relations with the Obama administration be any better. All Netanyahu has done is to remind his country’s critics that Israel isn’t willing to lie down and accept the false narrative about the West Bank and Jerusalem that was swallowed whole at the United Nations last week. As Seth wrote earlier, this won’t change Israel’s relationship with Europe. The focus on the European and American positions on settlements has obscured the fact that the primary audience for this move is in Ramallah, not Paris, London or Washington. The E1 decision sends a necessary signal to the Palestinians lest they be deceived by their triumph in the General Assembly. What Netanyahu has done is to show Israel won’t give up an inch of territory unless the Palestinians return to the negotiating table and even then, only if they agree to end the conflict for all time.

The Palestinian Authority tried the UN gambit in order to avoid negotiations with Israel that might place its leader Mahmoud Abbas back in the embarrassing position of having to flee from another Israeli offer of statehood. While he has no intention of ever being put on the spot in that matter again, Abbas may be under the impression that the Israelis can be hammered into more unilateral concessions by means of foreign pressure.

This is a common thread that runs throughout the history of the conflict in which the Palestinian Arab leadership has always thought they could evade their responsibility to deal directly with Israel. It is a belief that was encouraged by President Obama’s foolish decision at the outset of his administration that peace would be brought closer by creating more daylight between Israel and the United States. The fights Obama picked with Israel only served to make it even more difficult for Abbas to come to the table even if he had wanted to.

Had the Europeans behaved in a principled manner and rebuffed the UN upgrade as a clear violation of the Oslo Accords, as they should have, it could be argued that Netanyahu’s decision would have been a mistake. But since the Europeans abandoned the peace process that they had heretofore championed, it was necessary for Israel to remind Abbas that he should realize that the vote in New York wouldn’t mean a thing on the ground in the Middle East.

As for the idea–repeated today by the editorial page of the New York Times–that E1 will make the world less willing to restrain Iran, the notion that the U.S. or Europe can hold Israel hostage on that issue is nonsensical. Iran is as much a threat to the rest of the world as it is to Israel, a point that President Obama has made time and again. Nor is there any evidence that any concessions on settlements made by Israel would make the administration any less reluctant to take action on Iran than it otherwise would be.

Despite all the huffing and puffing about E1, the move has not changed a thing between Israel and the West. But it was exactly what the Palestinians needed to hear. Had Netanyahu failed to remind Abbas he will pay a price for ditching Oslo, that would have been the real blunder.

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Israel’s Building No Obstacle to Peace

The reaction to Israel’s announcement on Friday that it had approved building plans in Jerusalem and its suburbs was nearly unanimous. Even those who disapproved of the vote by the General Assembly of the United Nations to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to a pseudo-state at the world body damned the housing as either a childish tantrum on the part of the Israeli government to demonstrate their anger or a genuine threat to peace. The argument is that by allowing building in the E1 development area that connects the Maale Adumim suburb to the city, Israel will be foreclosing the possibility of a two-state solution since this would effectively cut the West Bank in half and forestall its viability as an independent Palestinian state.

It sounds logical but it’s absolute nonsense. If the Palestinians did want a two-state solution, the new project as well as the other ones announced yesterday for more houses to be built in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem wouldn’t stop it. That’s true even of those that say that the final borders of Israel and a putative state of Palestine must be based on the 1949 armistice lines with agreed-upon land swaps. Those swaps wouldn’t amount to more than a few percentage points of the total land area of the West Bank and probably preclude Israel keeping many far-flung settlements in the territory. But everyone knows that the swaps would have to account for the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, including Maale Adumim and the other towns in the vicinity that are already inside the security fence that does not protect most settlements. But the operative phrase here is “if” the Palestinians wanted such a solution. They have refused every offer of a state they’ve gotten and refused even to negotiate for four years, not to mention employing the UN gambit specifically in order to avoid talks. The notion that Israeli building in areas that everyone knows they would keep if there was a deal in place is stopping peace from breaking out is ludicrous.

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The reaction to Israel’s announcement on Friday that it had approved building plans in Jerusalem and its suburbs was nearly unanimous. Even those who disapproved of the vote by the General Assembly of the United Nations to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to a pseudo-state at the world body damned the housing as either a childish tantrum on the part of the Israeli government to demonstrate their anger or a genuine threat to peace. The argument is that by allowing building in the E1 development area that connects the Maale Adumim suburb to the city, Israel will be foreclosing the possibility of a two-state solution since this would effectively cut the West Bank in half and forestall its viability as an independent Palestinian state.

It sounds logical but it’s absolute nonsense. If the Palestinians did want a two-state solution, the new project as well as the other ones announced yesterday for more houses to be built in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem wouldn’t stop it. That’s true even of those that say that the final borders of Israel and a putative state of Palestine must be based on the 1949 armistice lines with agreed-upon land swaps. Those swaps wouldn’t amount to more than a few percentage points of the total land area of the West Bank and probably preclude Israel keeping many far-flung settlements in the territory. But everyone knows that the swaps would have to account for the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, including Maale Adumim and the other towns in the vicinity that are already inside the security fence that does not protect most settlements. But the operative phrase here is “if” the Palestinians wanted such a solution. They have refused every offer of a state they’ve gotten and refused even to negotiate for four years, not to mention employing the UN gambit specifically in order to avoid talks. The notion that Israeli building in areas that everyone knows they would keep if there was a deal in place is stopping peace from breaking out is ludicrous.

Nor should the Israeli gesture be viewed as petulant. To the contrary, it is exactly what is needed to start changing the one-sided nature of the argument in international forums about the dispute over territory.

Though you wouldn’t know if from listening to the UN debate or even to most spokespersons for the Jewish state over the last forty years, the argument about the West Bank is not solely about pitting rights of Palestinians against Israel’s security needs. The West Bank is, after all, part of the area designated by the League of Nations for Jewish settlement under the Mandate of Palestine. It is also the heart of the ancient Jewish homeland to which Jews have historical, legal and religious ties that cannot be erased by a century of Arab hatred.

Some of Israel’s friends and all of its enemies claim that for Israel to speak of its rights to the West Bank is tantamount to saying that it doesn’t want peace. Not so. Just because it has rights there doesn’t mean that it must assert them under all circumstances, or that it wouldn’t, if convinced that peace was to be had, give up some or all of the territory in exchange for an end to the conflict. Indeed, throughout the last 20 years, Israel has been in engaged in peace talks or attempts to revive them, during the course of which it has made numerous concessions about territory to the Palestinians.

For its pains, Israel has been subjected to even greater vituperation and delegitimization during this period than before. So long as it does not speak of its rights, it will always be treated as a thief who must return stolen property rather than as a party to a conflict with its own justified claims.

Even if the E1 area is developed, there will be no obstacle to peace talks that could produce a Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank except for the major settlement blocs that no one expects Israel to give up. Nor would the Palestinian state be blighted by this project since highways and tunnels could easily be constructed to allow access between Arab areas to the north and the south of Jerusalem. Indeed, Jewish housing in the disputed areas is no more of an obstacle to peace than the far greater Arab housing boom in other parts of Jerusalem.

If the Palestinians truly wanted to live in peace in their own independent state next to Israel they could go back to the negotiating table and get it. If they were ever to actually offer an end to the conflict in which they recognized the legitimacy and the security of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn, they would find the Israeli people would welcome their offer and no Israeli government could refuse. Instead, the so-called moderates among them — Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah-run PA — avoid talks and go to the UN where they seek an international fiat rather than an agreement. Meanwhile, the far more popular extremists of Hamas govern an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza with an iron fist and use it as a terrorist launching pad rather than to help their people.

A few Jewish homes aren’t the obstacle to Palestinian statehood. Their existence would make no difference to a peace deal that spoke of the 1967 lines with swaps, if that was actually the Palestinian goal. The problem is that to the Palestinians and their terrorist leaders, the E1 area is no more or less a settlement than the rest of Israel. Until they can rid themselves of the rejectionist spirit of 1947 in which they rejected the first UN vote to give them a state, talk of peace is empty rhetoric.

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Backlash Over “60 Minutes” Israel Report

“60 Minutes” is getting a lot of pushback for its recent “expose” blaming Israel’s presence in the West Bank for the dwindling population of Christian Palestinians in the area. The piece smacks of the sort of journalism in which the facts are assembled to fit some pre-conceived “fresh” storyline (Muslim extremists persecuting Christian Arabs? Dog bites man. Israel persecuting Christian Arabs – now that’s a story!)

The premise of the “60 Minutes” piece is that Israel’s wall and checkpoints – security measures to prevent terrorism – are a real hassle for Palestinian Christians when they travel to Jerusalem to pray or visit family. There are waiting lines, permit requests, unaccommodating government administrators. It’s basically a bureaucratic nightmare. And that, according to “60 Minutes,” is why the Palestinian Christian population in the West Bank has decreased by two-thirds since 1964 (just ignore that annoying detail about Israel’s security fence being built in 2003).

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“60 Minutes” is getting a lot of pushback for its recent “expose” blaming Israel’s presence in the West Bank for the dwindling population of Christian Palestinians in the area. The piece smacks of the sort of journalism in which the facts are assembled to fit some pre-conceived “fresh” storyline (Muslim extremists persecuting Christian Arabs? Dog bites man. Israel persecuting Christian Arabs – now that’s a story!)

The premise of the “60 Minutes” piece is that Israel’s wall and checkpoints – security measures to prevent terrorism – are a real hassle for Palestinian Christians when they travel to Jerusalem to pray or visit family. There are waiting lines, permit requests, unaccommodating government administrators. It’s basically a bureaucratic nightmare. And that, according to “60 Minutes,” is why the Palestinian Christian population in the West Bank has decreased by two-thirds since 1964 (just ignore that annoying detail about Israel’s security fence being built in 2003).

Others have already written good takedowns of the story (see: Adam Kredo, Jen RubinMarc Tracy). There seems to be three basic contradictions that “60 Minutes” avoids:

  1. Palestinian Christians are fleeing the West Bank, but the Palestinian Muslim population is growing. Why is that? If Israel’s irksome presence were the chief driving factor for the migration, wouldn’t both populations be leaving the area at roughly the same rate?
  1. Christian communities are dwindling in size across the Muslim world.
  1. The Christian population inside Israel is growing.

Maybe the Palestinian Christians are fleeing because they’re fed up with the red tape and bleak economic prospects. Or, maybe their population is decreasing because they are trying to escape an increasingly extreme Islamic leadership in the West Bank that enforces strict religious laws while failing to protect Christians from intimidation and violence.

As Honest Reporting notes, Palestinian Christians have blamed Muslim persecution for their migration in numerous media reports. But they’ve mainly done so anonymously, out of fear of reprisal.

Did reporter Bob Simon ask any Palestinian Christians whether the rising influence of Hamas in the West Bank is contributing to the exodus? If so, why were the answers excluded from the final story? And if not, why did he neglect to ask such a basic and essential question?

The problem with Simon’s story isn’t just that he portrays Israel in an unfair light. It’s that he could have used the firepower of “60 Minutes” to do difficult reporting on the real persecution of Palestinian Christians, who mainly speak anonymously about their plight with the press. Instead, he decided to talk to the same anti-Israel activists who will gladly sit down with any reporter. It was a disappointing show, and a lazy one at that.

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Revisiting the Failed Gaza Experiment

This past weekend, southern Israel was hit by more than 200 rockets flying over the border from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Dozens of the missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system but most got through with some casualties and damage. The lives of more than a million Israelis living in the southern part of the country were disrupted by the assault. Schools were closed as the population was urged to take shelter until the latest crisis passed.

To the extent the world is paying much attention to this (it was overshadowed by the story of the American soldier who murdered Afghan civilians) it has been in the form of the usual “cycle of violence” stories that depict the situation as one in which both Israel and the Palestinians are seen as being at fault. As is generally the case, the focus quickly shifts to efforts to reinstate a cease-fire, with Secretary of State Clinton condemning the missile fire while also calling for both sides to show “restraint.” But the real issue here is not who started it or how well the Iron Dome system is working. It is the way Israel must learn to live with an independent Palestinian state in Gaza in all but name that is run by terrorists. Those who continue to demand Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as they did from Gaza in 2005, need to understand the lessons of that failed experiment will not be forgotten.

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This past weekend, southern Israel was hit by more than 200 rockets flying over the border from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Dozens of the missiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system but most got through with some casualties and damage. The lives of more than a million Israelis living in the southern part of the country were disrupted by the assault. Schools were closed as the population was urged to take shelter until the latest crisis passed.

To the extent the world is paying much attention to this (it was overshadowed by the story of the American soldier who murdered Afghan civilians) it has been in the form of the usual “cycle of violence” stories that depict the situation as one in which both Israel and the Palestinians are seen as being at fault. As is generally the case, the focus quickly shifts to efforts to reinstate a cease-fire, with Secretary of State Clinton condemning the missile fire while also calling for both sides to show “restraint.” But the real issue here is not who started it or how well the Iron Dome system is working. It is the way Israel must learn to live with an independent Palestinian state in Gaza in all but name that is run by terrorists. Those who continue to demand Israel withdraw completely from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as they did from Gaza in 2005, need to understand the lessons of that failed experiment will not be forgotten.

This latest dustup along the border started when the Israeli Defense Forces acted to foil an impending terror attack being launched by one of the dissident Islamic groups that operate in Gaza with Hamas’s permission. The Popular Resistance Committees’ leader and several of his terrorist cadres were killed by Israeli action. The Palestinians responded with a massive missile barrage in response to the Israeli “aggression.” But as Israelis who live in the region know, missile fire from Gaza is hardly an unusual occurrence. Since the cease-fire agreed to by Hamas and Israel in January 2009, more than 1,200 rockets have been fired from Gaza, including 100 in just the last month prior to this weekend’s fighting.

The missiles are a fact of life in southern Israel, and though the country has learned to live with this threat, it has taken a toll on the people who live there that is often ignored abroad as well as by some who live in the central part of the country not currently under fire. If anything, the improved missile defense has lessened some of the pressure on the Israeli government to consider a repeat of the December 2008 Operation Cast Lead in which the IDF conducted a counter-offensive designed to silence the intolerable attacks on the country.

But few in Israel are oblivious to the meaning of this standoff. By its withdrawal of every settlement, soldier and Jew from Gaza in 2005, Israel set the stage for the creation of a terrorist state there that has given an indifferent world a foretaste of what Palestinian independence looks like. The assumption then, reinforced by the presence of the legendarily tough Ariel Sharon in the prime minister’s office, was that any cross-border attacks would be met with such force as to make them unlikely. However, the terrorist government of the strip has launched terrorist attacks on Israel with relative impunity and counts on the international community’s outrage to force Israel to always respond to these provocations with the “restraint” that Secretary Clinton desires. It is far from clear the stricken Sharon would have been any more capable of reversing this situation than his successors Ehud Olmert or Benjamin Netanyahu.

While few in Israel seek a permanent return to Gaza as they have no interest in ruling over Palestinians there, possible negotiations with the Palestinian Authority about withdrawal from the West Bank are necessarily informed by this example. Should the West Bank become as much of a no-go zone for the IDF as Gaza is, the likelihood of its long border with central Israel turning into another battleground is a nightmare for Israelis. With Hamas now planning on joining Fatah in the government of the West Bank, it takes little imagination to understand what a sovereign Palestinian state there would mean for Israel’s security. Rather than rockets flying over just the southern portion of the country, Hamas would acquire the ability to terrorize the whole of Israel as well as to interdict flights out of its international airport. No missile defense system could possibly protect the nation under those circumstances.

The vast majority of Israelis, including the majority of the members of its right-of-center government, have embraced a two-state solution as the answer to the conflict. Were the PA to return to the negotiating table, they would find most Israelis willing to talk about such an outcome. But the missiles flying out of Gaza provide us with a vision of what an independent Palestinian state actually looks like. So long as the Palestinian sovereignty is expressed in this manner, there is little chance Israel will be so foolish as to repeat the failed experiment in Gaza.

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Put Palestinian Tactics, Not Israeli Military Justice, On Trial

Yesterday, the New York Times devoted considerable space to the story of one Islam Dar Ayyoub, a 15-year-old Palestinian from a village near Ramallah. According to the story, Ayyoub’s childhood was stolen from him when he was thrust into Israel’s military court system a year ago. Ayyoub is the Times’ candidate for the position of poster child for what it calls Israel’s “harsh, unforgiving methods” in dealing with Palestinian violence. But though the purpose of the story was to indict Israel, anyone reading between the lines of Ayyoub’s sob story could see the real villain of this tale is not Israel’s military but the Palestinian “activists” who have exploited their children. They are recruited into gangs explicitly tasked with starting violent confrontations with Israelis by the throwing of stones and other lethal weapons, hoping the soldiers will defend themselves and kill one of the kids.

Ayyoub is depicted as a victim because he gave up his confederates to the Israelis and in particular a local Palestinian adult named Bassem Tamim, who was the overseer of what in any other context would be called a violent youth gang. “Human rights” activists think the prosecution of this person should be scrapped because the kid who dropped the dime on him didn’t have a lawyer or his parents present when he talked. That might be what would happen on an episode of “Law and Order,” but the realities of the Middle East conflict are such that Israel’s tactics are justified.

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Yesterday, the New York Times devoted considerable space to the story of one Islam Dar Ayyoub, a 15-year-old Palestinian from a village near Ramallah. According to the story, Ayyoub’s childhood was stolen from him when he was thrust into Israel’s military court system a year ago. Ayyoub is the Times’ candidate for the position of poster child for what it calls Israel’s “harsh, unforgiving methods” in dealing with Palestinian violence. But though the purpose of the story was to indict Israel, anyone reading between the lines of Ayyoub’s sob story could see the real villain of this tale is not Israel’s military but the Palestinian “activists” who have exploited their children. They are recruited into gangs explicitly tasked with starting violent confrontations with Israelis by the throwing of stones and other lethal weapons, hoping the soldiers will defend themselves and kill one of the kids.

Ayyoub is depicted as a victim because he gave up his confederates to the Israelis and in particular a local Palestinian adult named Bassem Tamim, who was the overseer of what in any other context would be called a violent youth gang. “Human rights” activists think the prosecution of this person should be scrapped because the kid who dropped the dime on him didn’t have a lawyer or his parents present when he talked. That might be what would happen on an episode of “Law and Order,” but the realities of the Middle East conflict are such that Israel’s tactics are justified.

Getting arrested and questioned by the Israeli military was probably no picnic for Ayyoub. Yet, as the Times reported, he was not tortured. His interrogation was videotaped and reveals nothing the Palestinians could claim was an atrocity. Like many another culprit, he got scared and talked. The result was not an injustice but the arrest of an adult Palestinian who exploited Ayyoub and other village kids in an effort to keep the war against Israel alive. Tamim and other Palestinian terror facilitators train kids to attack soldiers and hope some will be hurt. They are not promoting non-violence but instead are deliberately placing teenagers into harm’s way so as to provide more martyrs for their cause.

As France’s World War One leader, Georges Clemenceau, said, “military justice is to justice as military music is to music.” But the situation on the West Bank is complicated because Israel is still forced to have a security presence in the region in order to prevent attacks on its forces and civilians. Because it is impossible to apply Israel’s own civilian laws in the area, the military uses the laws that existed there before Israeli rule from the British and Jordanian eras. But unlike the courts run by the Palestinian Authority, all terror and violence suspects are given trials and have the chance to defend themselves. The system is, like all justice systems, imperfect, but despite the assumption that Israel’s actions are unfair, there was nothing in the story that doesn’t pass the smell test.

We are told in the conclusion to the piece that Ayyoub, who has been released unharmed and is free to go to school, is afraid of the soldiers. More likely, he is afraid of revenge from other Palestinians who treat people who inform on those involved in violence as “traitors.”

Until the Palestinian leadership is prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and make peace, Israel will be forced to keep order in the region and to do its best to fend off terrorism and the orchestrated riots that were at the core of the Ayyoub case. The real scandal is the willingness of Palestinians to sacrifice children like Islam Ayyoub on the altar of hate for Israel.

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How “Evil Israeli Soldiers” Saved an Anti-Israel Filmmaker’s Life

“Five Broken Cameras” didn’t win the World Documentary competition at last week’s Sundance Film Festival, losing out to another anti-Israel film. But it has garnered plenty of international attention, including two awards at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival and a glowing write-up in the New York Times. The film, according to the Sundance synopsis, documents what happened after the West Bank village of Bil’in “famously chose nonviolent resistance” against Israel’s security fence: “an escalating struggle as olive trees are bulldozed, lives are lost, and a wall is built to segregate burgeoning Israeli settlements,” in which a child’s “loss of innocence and the destruction of each camera are potent metaphors.” In short, another tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

You have to persevere to the end of the Times piece to find another angle to Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat’s story:

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“Five Broken Cameras” didn’t win the World Documentary competition at last week’s Sundance Film Festival, losing out to another anti-Israel film. But it has garnered plenty of international attention, including two awards at Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival and a glowing write-up in the New York Times. The film, according to the Sundance synopsis, documents what happened after the West Bank village of Bil’in “famously chose nonviolent resistance” against Israel’s security fence: “an escalating struggle as olive trees are bulldozed, lives are lost, and a wall is built to segregate burgeoning Israeli settlements,” in which a child’s “loss of innocence and the destruction of each camera are potent metaphors.” In short, another tale of good Palestinians versus evil Israelis.

You have to persevere to the end of the Times piece to find another angle to Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat’s story:

“In late 2008, he accidently drove a truck into the separation barrier and was badly injured. A Palestinian ambulance arrived at the same time as Israeli soldiers, who saw what bad shape he was in and took him to an Israeli hospital.

“‘If I had been taken to a Palestinian hospital,’ Mr. Burnat said, “’I probably wouldn’t have survived.’ He was unconscious for 20 days. Three months later he was back filming.”

In short, Burnat is alive today to win prizes for a film about evil Israeli soldiers suppressing “nonviolent resistance” in Bil’in because those same evil Israeli soldiers saved his life four years earlier. And this is not an irrelevancy; it epitomizes the flaw in the “good Palestinians versus evil Israelis” trope: As anyone who makes any effort to discover the facts quickly learns, Israelis all too often refuse to play the part assigned to them.

And for that matter, so do Palestinians – with Bil’in being a classic example. For contrary to the prevailing wisdom encapsulated in that Sundance synopsis, Bil’in residents certainly weren’t practicing “nonviolent resistance.” Here, for instance, is Haaretz’s report on a major demonstration in Bil’in to mark five years of protests against the fence:

“The activists maintain that their demonstrations are peaceful. However, youths were preparing slingshots, and took up positions in front of an IDF checkpoint on the other side of the fence, throwing stones. IDF statistics claim that since the start of the demonstrations 110 members of the security forces suffered injuries, and one officer lost an eye as a result of projectiles fired with slingshots.”

Slingshots have been lethal weapons since biblical times (remember David and Goliath?). And it’s hardly unusual for soldiers attacked with lethal weapons to respond with deadly force. What’s unusual about Bil’in is that the Israelis generally didn’t: While Palestinians have been killed, most of the deaths were accidental. Burnat’s friend Phil, for instance, was killed when a tear gas canister – not usually a lethal weapon – happened to hit him in the chest.

Reasonable people of goodwill can certainly disagree about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But no reasonable person of goodwill can view it as a “good Palestinians versus evil Israelis” morality play. And anyone tempted to think otherwise should remember Emad Burnat.

 

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How Israel’s Gaza Pullout Radicalized Sinai

Anyone who still thinks more Israel territorial withdrawals are a good idea should carefully study Ehud Yaari’s chilling new report for The Washington Institute on “Sinai: A New Front.” To anyone who has been following the situation, Yaari’s bottom line – that Sinai-based terrorism “could break a fragile bilateral peace [with Egypt] that is already challenged by growing post-Mubarak demands to abrogate, review, or amend the treaty” – isn’t new; I’ve been warning of this for months. Where the veteran Israeli journalist and Arabist makes a real contribution is his analysis of how Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza contributed to Sinai’s radicalization. And while he doesn’t say so, the implication of his research is obvious: An Israeli pullout from the West Bank could similarly radicalize and destabilize Jordan.

Clearly, radicalization doesn’t happen overnight, and Yaari indeed describes a slow spread of radical Islam among the Sinai Bedouin since the 1980s, along with a consequent rise in arms trafficking and terror. But Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, “and subsequent removal of troops from the Sinai-Gaza border,” catalyzed the process:

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Anyone who still thinks more Israel territorial withdrawals are a good idea should carefully study Ehud Yaari’s chilling new report for The Washington Institute on “Sinai: A New Front.” To anyone who has been following the situation, Yaari’s bottom line – that Sinai-based terrorism “could break a fragile bilateral peace [with Egypt] that is already challenged by growing post-Mubarak demands to abrogate, review, or amend the treaty” – isn’t new; I’ve been warning of this for months. Where the veteran Israeli journalist and Arabist makes a real contribution is his analysis of how Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza contributed to Sinai’s radicalization. And while he doesn’t say so, the implication of his research is obvious: An Israeli pullout from the West Bank could similarly radicalize and destabilize Jordan.

Clearly, radicalization doesn’t happen overnight, and Yaari indeed describes a slow spread of radical Islam among the Sinai Bedouin since the 1980s, along with a consequent rise in arms trafficking and terror. But Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, “and subsequent removal of troops from the Sinai-Gaza border,” catalyzed the process:

As Bedouin political activist Ashraf al-Anani put it, “a fireball started rolling into the peninsula.” Illegal trade and arms smuggling volumes rose to new records, and ever-larger sectors of the northern Sinai population became linked to Gaza and fell under the political and ideological influence of Hamas and its ilk. Sympathy and support for the Palestinian battle against Israel grew; according to al-Anani, the closer one got to the Gaza border, “the more people are inclined toward Hamas.” In short, despite then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s quiet hope that Cairo would assume unofficial responsibility for Gaza affairs, the Israeli withdrawal instead allowed Hamas to export its influence into Egyptian territory.

Facilitated by the dramatic increase in the number of tunnels—which numbered no less than 1,200 at their peak—the expansion of Hamas and other Palestinian activities in the Sinai was unprecedented. In fact, the arms flow was often reversed, with weapons going from Gaza to the Sinai. During the revolution, for example, observers noted a huge demand for firearms in the peninsula. And even in late 2010, well before Mubarak’s ouster, Hamas was already in the process of transferring heavy long-range missiles to secret storage places in the Sinai, including Grad rockets and extended-range Qassams…

Today, a significant number of Hamas military operatives are permanently stationed in the Sinai, serving as recruiters, couriers, and propagators of the Hamas platform. A solid network of the group’s contact men, safe houses, and armories covers much of the peninsula … In addition, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other factions have been moving some of their explosives workshops—which produce homemade missiles, rockets, mortars, improvised explosive devices, and so forth—from Gaza to the Sinai in recent months. In many ways, the Sinai has already become a sort of hinterland for Hamas military forces in Gaza. Dual-purpose materials used for the production of explosives are regularly transferred to the peninsula, allowing the group to place a significant part of its military industry beyond Israel’s reach.

As in Gaza, an Israeli pullout from the West Bank could easily end in a Hamas takeover. True, the Palestinian Authority is protected by American-trained troops, but the same U.S. general, Keith Dayton, trained the PA forces in Gaza, and Hamas routed them in a week during its 2007 coup.

Moreover, like Sinai, Jordan already has both a homegrown Islamist movement and some serious stability issues. Additionally, Jordan is roughly two-thirds Palestinian, and its Palestinian citizens have close ties of kinship and friendship with West Bank Palestinians. Thus, radicalization on the West Bank would likely spread to Jordan quickly if Israeli troops were no longer serving as a buffer between the two.

So if Western leaders think a radicalized, destabilized Jordan is a good idea, they should by all means keep pushing an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. But if not, they should be praying that Israel stays put.

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Reminiscing with the Aged Leaders of Fatah

Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, is spending a week in Israel and the West Bank and reports it is “dangerous” to visit Israel — “because it is impossible to reconcile the evidence of your eyes with the accepted international narrative”:

“In the international media, Israel is presented as militarist, right-wing, oppressive. In fact it is the only pluralist democracy in the Middle East, the only nation where women’s rights — and gay rights — are protected. It has a vibrant left wing, a cacophonous democracy and an innovative economy.”

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Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor of The Australian, is spending a week in Israel and the West Bank and reports it is “dangerous” to visit Israel — “because it is impossible to reconcile the evidence of your eyes with the accepted international narrative”:

“In the international media, Israel is presented as militarist, right-wing, oppressive. In fact it is the only pluralist democracy in the Middle East, the only nation where women’s rights — and gay rights — are protected. It has a vibrant left wing, a cacophonous democracy and an innovative economy.”

Compare his summary of the situation among Palestinians, unable to live side-by-side in peace and security even with themselves, lacking a pluralist society, missing any protections for women and gays, dependent on an economy funded by Western “donors” (because Arab states contribute a lot of rhetoric but few funds):

“So how can there be a Palestinian state when the two parts of it have recently been killing each other and cannot even travel in each others’ territories? Palestinian friends tell me that Hamas would be likely to win a Palestinian election held now. Neither Fatah nor Hamas is remotely democratic. Fatah is also increasingly sclerotic. All its leaders are aged, all figures from the past in office for decades. There is no youth or vitality about it.”

Well, at least the aged leaders of increasingly sclerotic Fatah — cooped up in their half of the quasi-state, understandably afraid to hold another election — can look back on their decades in office and reminisce about all the times they almost had a state.

There was July 2000 at Camp David, when Israel offered a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem, and they turned it down. There was January 2001, when they turned down the Clinton Parameters, refusing a state again. There was September 12, 2005, when they got Gaza and announced “no more security turmoil and weapons chaos and abductions, which are not characteristic of our culture.” The January 2006 election did not go well, but there was the February 2007 Mecca agreement, adopting “the language of dialogue as the sole basis for solving the political disagreements” — until the other party threw Fatah off the tops of buildings. In September 2008 there was another offer of a state, which they turned down again. In May 2009 they set “preconditions” for the democratically elected government of Israel to talk to the unelected aged leaders of sclerotic Fatah, saying they would do nothing further since they had a “good reality” in the West Bank. Since then, they have occupied themselves with seeking UN resolutions.

And during this entire period, billions of dollars came their way for participating in this “process.” Good times, good times….

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Is This the End of Land-for-Peace?

Some have noted that the situation in Egypt may mark the demise of Israel’s land-for-peace strategy. At the New York Post, Abby Wisse Schachter makes this point well, as she looks into Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt (h/t Israel Matzav):

Consider how the agreement with Egypt worked out. Because of its military success in 1967 and 1973, Israel actually had the entire Sinai Peninsula with which to bargain and that piece of land represented a massive physical buffer between the two countries. Then, after having relinquished the territory and removed hundreds of Israelis from their homes in Yamit (no they were not crazy religious “settlers”), the Israelis got a cold, even belligerent, peace with Egypt that never prevented Egypt from remaining the greatest producer of anti-semitic literature in the world. … And finally, 30 years later, the agreement still rests in the hands of one man, the dictator of Egypt. If Mubarak had been assassinated as his predecessor Sadat was, the accord might have been cancelled years ago.

It’s still far from clear how a new Egyptian government would impact the peace treaty, but, according to the Jerusalem Post, protesters in Egypt have been calling for the peace treaty to be revised by the leadership that succeeds Mubarak:

[Egyptian protester Hazan] Ahmed said he didn’t want Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel completely demolished, but for it to undergo a serious change.

“It should be remodeled. With Mubarak leaving, we know that whoever comes next will remodel the agreement.”

And, of course, any land-for-peace deal with the increasingly unstable PA would be an even bigger strategic blunder if the West Bank government ends up collapsing. Israel undoubtedly has taken note of this, and it’s sure to be factored into the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Some have noted that the situation in Egypt may mark the demise of Israel’s land-for-peace strategy. At the New York Post, Abby Wisse Schachter makes this point well, as she looks into Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt (h/t Israel Matzav):

Consider how the agreement with Egypt worked out. Because of its military success in 1967 and 1973, Israel actually had the entire Sinai Peninsula with which to bargain and that piece of land represented a massive physical buffer between the two countries. Then, after having relinquished the territory and removed hundreds of Israelis from their homes in Yamit (no they were not crazy religious “settlers”), the Israelis got a cold, even belligerent, peace with Egypt that never prevented Egypt from remaining the greatest producer of anti-semitic literature in the world. … And finally, 30 years later, the agreement still rests in the hands of one man, the dictator of Egypt. If Mubarak had been assassinated as his predecessor Sadat was, the accord might have been cancelled years ago.

It’s still far from clear how a new Egyptian government would impact the peace treaty, but, according to the Jerusalem Post, protesters in Egypt have been calling for the peace treaty to be revised by the leadership that succeeds Mubarak:

[Egyptian protester Hazan] Ahmed said he didn’t want Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel completely demolished, but for it to undergo a serious change.

“It should be remodeled. With Mubarak leaving, we know that whoever comes next will remodel the agreement.”

And, of course, any land-for-peace deal with the increasingly unstable PA would be an even bigger strategic blunder if the West Bank government ends up collapsing. Israel undoubtedly has taken note of this, and it’s sure to be factored into the negotiations with the Palestinians.

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Media- and NGO-Fueled Ignorance on Egypt and Tunisia

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

Amnon Rubinstein, a former Knesset member and minister from Israel’s left-wing Meretz Party, made an important point in today’s Jerusalem Post. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt took the West by surprise, he wrote, because Westerners know almost nothing about what goes on in undemocratic societies. And this ignorance stems largely from the fact that the bodies it relies on to provide information — the media and nongovernmental organizations — devote most of their energy to the low-hanging fruit, exposing real or imagined failings by democracies, instead of focusing on dictatorships, where getting information is much harder.

The openly pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass provided an excellent example in Monday’s Haaretz. At a Ramallah store where everyone was watching Al Jazeera, an employee asked if she had caught what a Tunisian protester just said: that “the Palestinians’ situation is better than that of the Tunisians, that they [the Palestinians] have food.”

I told him this was the same impression members of Egyptian solidarity delegations had upon visiting the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead [Israel’s 2009 war with Hamas]. They were amazed at the abundance of food, especially fruits and vegetables, they were able to find in Gaza. And I heard that not from the Israeli Civil Administration spokesmen but from Egyptians and Palestinians.

But nobody would know this from media or NGO reports. Can anyone remember reading a news story about food shortages in Egypt or Tunisia in recent years? Yet hundreds of articles have been published about alleged humanitarian distress in Gaza, including many that claimed Israel’s blockade was causing starvation.

Indeed, the UN has run an annual humanitarian-aid appeal for the West Bank and Gaza since 2003; this year, it’s seeking $567 million, making it the organization’s fifth-largest “emergency campaign.” Can anyone remember the last UN appeal for aid to Egypt or Tunisia?

The same goes for NGOs. On Amnesty International’s website, the “features” page has nothing about either Egypt or Tunisia. Yet Israel merits two condemnatory features (the only country so honored), including the top-billed story — which, naturally, alleges food shortages in Gaza due to Israel’s blockade.

Then there’s the UN Human Rights Council — which, as Rubinstein noted, actually praised the human-rights situation in both Egypt and Tunisia, even as it issued 27 separate resolutions slamming Israel.

Thus most Westerners were utterly clueless about the economic distress and oppression that fueled the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Indeed, based on the available information, the reasonable assumption would have been that Gaza, not Egypt or Tunisia, was the place most likely to explode.

Human Rights Watch founder Robert Bernstein decried his own organization in 2009 for betraying its “original mission to pry open closed societies” — to shed light precisely on those dark corners where information isn’t easily available — in favor of a focus on open societies, especially Israel. That, as I’ve argued repeatedly, leaves the world’s most oppressed people voiceless.

But it turns out the obsessive media/NGO focus on Israel also has another price: depriving the West of the information it needs to make sound judgments and set wise policy.

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Palestinian Authority Announces ‘Surprise’ Elections

The Associated Press reports that, in a “surprise move,” Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad’s cabinet said it would set dates for local elections soon. The AP says the announcement reflects fears that Egypt-like protests could inspire unrest in the West Bank.

You can understand the thinking. Hosni Mubarak got protests while he was still serving his term of office; Mahmoud Abbas is about to begin the 74th month of his 48-month one. Mubarak at least had a presidential election scheduled for September, even if he (or his son) would have run — like Abbas in 2005 — effectively unopposed. Abbas has no election scheduled, nor any prospect of scheduling one, since he cannot campaign in half his territory and might not win in the other half, as his standing has been damaged by disclosures that he made minimal private concessions in peace talks with Israel.

Nor will elections be scheduled for the non-functioning Palestinian parliament, because its principal factions cannot co-exist with each other in a single state, ever since one of them threw members of the other off the top of buildings, and the other started arresting its opponents in the West Bank as part of efforts to build a security state much like … Egypt.

At least elections for local councils may now be held, even though they will result from fear rather than compliance with last year’s order of the Palestinian “High Court,” which the formerly fearless Abbas/Fayyad government ignored as it headed into the final months of its two-year plan to build a state.

The Associated Press reports that, in a “surprise move,” Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad’s cabinet said it would set dates for local elections soon. The AP says the announcement reflects fears that Egypt-like protests could inspire unrest in the West Bank.

You can understand the thinking. Hosni Mubarak got protests while he was still serving his term of office; Mahmoud Abbas is about to begin the 74th month of his 48-month one. Mubarak at least had a presidential election scheduled for September, even if he (or his son) would have run — like Abbas in 2005 — effectively unopposed. Abbas has no election scheduled, nor any prospect of scheduling one, since he cannot campaign in half his territory and might not win in the other half, as his standing has been damaged by disclosures that he made minimal private concessions in peace talks with Israel.

Nor will elections be scheduled for the non-functioning Palestinian parliament, because its principal factions cannot co-exist with each other in a single state, ever since one of them threw members of the other off the top of buildings, and the other started arresting its opponents in the West Bank as part of efforts to build a security state much like … Egypt.

At least elections for local councils may now be held, even though they will result from fear rather than compliance with last year’s order of the Palestinian “High Court,” which the formerly fearless Abbas/Fayyad government ignored as it headed into the final months of its two-year plan to build a state.

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Clinton, Jordanian FM: No. 1 Priority Is Israeli/Palestinian Peace Process

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

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Why Did Peace Talks Fail? Abbas Wouldn’t Take the Pen and Sign

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status. Read More

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status.

These concessions represented grave setbacks to Israeli security and Jewish rights. Israel’s past experience with international security forces along its borders are mixed, though the horrible record of United Nations forces in Lebanon — which allowed terrorists free access to the frontier — is a reminder of the cost of relying on foreign troops to guarantee Israeli security. Similarly, it should be noted that the only period during which Jews — and members of other faiths — have had full access to sacred spots has been since 1967. Prior to that, Jewish access to the holy places was virtually nonexistent. Olmert’s reliance on the goodwill of an international community that has never been particularly concerned with Jewish rights was extraordinary. And as for the refugees, his willingness to allow some back into Israel and to compensate the others completely ignores the fact that the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were forced out of their homes after 1948 seem to have been completely forgotten in his pact with Abbas.

Olmert would have had a difficult time selling such a terrible deal to Israelis, but the odds are they would have accepted it if it meant that the Palestinians were truly willing to end the conflict. But it never came to that. Why? It was simply because Abbas couldn’t bring himself to take yes for an answer. For all the chatter about how many concessions the Palestinians were willing to make, when it came to actually making peace and taking the best deal possible, Abbas was no different from his old boss Yasir Arafat, who turned down Bill Clinton and the Israelis at Camp David in 2000.

As Olmert tells it, on Sept. 16, 2008, in a meeting at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli handed Abbas a map showing his Palestinian state including parts of Jerusalem.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] said that he could not decide and that he needed time,” Mr. Olmert writes. “I told him that he was making an historic mistake.

“ ‘Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,’ he said to me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is fairer or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving this.’”

Abbas and Olmert never met again. Faced with an opportunity to end the conflict and create the Palestinian state that has supposedly been his movement’s goal, Abbas couldn’t take the pen and sign because he knew that the culture of Palestinian politics was such that he could not persuade his people to compromise. The essence of Palestinian nationalism has always been and remains the negation of both Zionism and the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Concede that and there is no Palestinian nationalism. So once again, the Palestinians walked away from peace.

Yesterday Abbas’s top negotiator, Saeb Erekat, claimed in an article in the Guardian that the Al Jazeera documents show that the Palestinians had no partner for peace. We will continue to hear more big lies from the Palestinians and their Western cheerleaders in the future. But the truth is, as Abbas’s refusal to take the pen proves, even the most moderate Palestinian leaders still can’t make peace.

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Partial Freezes, Complete Freezes, and Eskimos

One of the most interesting “Palestine Papers” is the Minutes of a September 17, 2009, meeting between Saeb Erekat (SE), the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Dan Shapiro (DS) of the White House National Security Council, along with several high level State Department people and George Mitchell’s chief of staff.

The Americans urged the Palestinians to commence negotiations even though the U.S. had been able to obtain only a partial building freeze. The discussion in the Minutes represents, in my view, a microcosm of the 17-year peace process.

Erekat expressed his unwillingness to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu (BN), since Netanyahu had made his position clear, which was unacceptable to the Palestinians:

SE: … On substance, from day one BN said: Jerusalem the eternal undivided capital of Israel, demilitarized state without control over borders or airspace, no refugees. Once you agree to this we can negotiate a piece of paper and an anthem.

Erekat’s position was that “anything short of 2 states on the 1967 border is meaningless.” He explained his theory on Netanyahu’s strategy:

SE: When Bibi talks about excluding Jerusalem it is to make sure we can’t attend, because he doesn’t want to.

DS: So by not going aren’t you playing into his hand?

SE: You put me in this position! It’s like having a gun to my head — damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Netanyahu had set forth an adamant negotiating position, but also his willingness to negotiate without preconditions. The Palestinians responded with their own adamant position (nothing short of the indefensible 1967 lines) and their unwillingness to negotiate. If the Palestinians were correct about Netanyahu’s strategy, they were playing right into it — and blaming not themselves but the United States! Read More

One of the most interesting “Palestine Papers” is the Minutes of a September 17, 2009, meeting between Saeb Erekat (SE), the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Dan Shapiro (DS) of the White House National Security Council, along with several high level State Department people and George Mitchell’s chief of staff.

The Americans urged the Palestinians to commence negotiations even though the U.S. had been able to obtain only a partial building freeze. The discussion in the Minutes represents, in my view, a microcosm of the 17-year peace process.

Erekat expressed his unwillingness to negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu (BN), since Netanyahu had made his position clear, which was unacceptable to the Palestinians:

SE: … On substance, from day one BN said: Jerusalem the eternal undivided capital of Israel, demilitarized state without control over borders or airspace, no refugees. Once you agree to this we can negotiate a piece of paper and an anthem.

Erekat’s position was that “anything short of 2 states on the 1967 border is meaningless.” He explained his theory on Netanyahu’s strategy:

SE: When Bibi talks about excluding Jerusalem it is to make sure we can’t attend, because he doesn’t want to.

DS: So by not going aren’t you playing into his hand?

SE: You put me in this position! It’s like having a gun to my head — damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Netanyahu had set forth an adamant negotiating position, but also his willingness to negotiate without preconditions. The Palestinians responded with their own adamant position (nothing short of the indefensible 1967 lines) and their unwillingness to negotiate. If the Palestinians were correct about Netanyahu’s strategy, they were playing right into it — and blaming not themselves but the United States!

Shapiro suggested that the Palestinians had a sympathetic U.S. president and should start negotiating, given his commitment to them:

DE: The President has demonstrated a personal and real commitment to you. What you are saying indicates that you tend to discount the President’s commitment. It strikes me that it doesn’t seem to be worth a lot to you.

SE: This is not about personalities or conscience. Bush did not wake up one day and his conscience told him “two state solution.” It’s about interests. We have waited a painful 17 years in this process, to take our fate in our own hands.

But quite a lot happened in those 17 years. They got three offers of a state on substantially all the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in Jerusalem — and turned all three down. They received all of Gaza and a chance to show they could build a state without threatening Israel — and demonstrated the opposite. They got a U.S. president personally committed to them, who undoubtedly would eventually push “bridging proposals” more to their liking than to Israel’s — and they refused to start negotiations without a complete freeze. A lot of opportunities came their way during those 17 years, while they were “waiting.”

In an old joke, a man tells a bartender he lost his religion after his small plane crashed in frozen Alaskan tundra and he lay there for hours, crying for God to save him, and nothing happened. The bartender says, “wait — you’re here.” “Right,” says the man, “because finally a damned Eskimo came along.” Some day Saeb Erekat will explain to some bartender that he was a negotiator for 17 years but nothing happened, except for all the damned Eskimos who came along.

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Palestinian Terrorists That Killed American Used Gap in Security Fence

Most accounts of the interaction between Israel and the Palestinians these days treat terrorism as largely a thing of the past. Yes, there are those nasty Hamas guys who run Gaza and shoot missiles over the border; but since the end of the terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, terrorism emanating from the West Bank has ceased to be much of a story. The reason for this is that strong Israeli countermeasures — of which the border security fence is the most important — have made it much harder for Palestinians to cross into Israel and kill Jews or those they think are Jews.

But there are still gaps in the barrier south of Jerusalem and it is apparently one of these that were used by Palestinian killers last month to murder one American woman and seriously wound another. Earlier this week, four Palestinians who are members of an independent West Bank terror cell were indicted for the crime. Thirteen men have been arrested in connection with this group. It is believed to be responsible for at least one other killing as well as rapes dating back to the summer of 2009.

The point here is not just the heinous nature of this crime, which was apparently committed simply because these Palestinians decided they wanted to kill some Jews that day. The hikers who fell into their hands were not Jewish but American Christians who the killers thought were Jews. The main lesson here is that the fence, which is routinely denounced as a crime against Palestinians, has saved countless lives, and that the American, Kristine Luken, a 44-year-old Virginian who fell prey to this terror group’s murderous impulse, may have died in large part because the barrier is still not finished. Those “human rights” groups and other anti-Israel activists who believe the fence is wrong should ponder the fate of Luken and the many Israeli Jews who have been killed by Palestinian terror in the last decade. Were the fence to be taken down, as so many Israel-bashers demand, the cost in blood would be considerable.

Most accounts of the interaction between Israel and the Palestinians these days treat terrorism as largely a thing of the past. Yes, there are those nasty Hamas guys who run Gaza and shoot missiles over the border; but since the end of the terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada, terrorism emanating from the West Bank has ceased to be much of a story. The reason for this is that strong Israeli countermeasures — of which the border security fence is the most important — have made it much harder for Palestinians to cross into Israel and kill Jews or those they think are Jews.

But there are still gaps in the barrier south of Jerusalem and it is apparently one of these that were used by Palestinian killers last month to murder one American woman and seriously wound another. Earlier this week, four Palestinians who are members of an independent West Bank terror cell were indicted for the crime. Thirteen men have been arrested in connection with this group. It is believed to be responsible for at least one other killing as well as rapes dating back to the summer of 2009.

The point here is not just the heinous nature of this crime, which was apparently committed simply because these Palestinians decided they wanted to kill some Jews that day. The hikers who fell into their hands were not Jewish but American Christians who the killers thought were Jews. The main lesson here is that the fence, which is routinely denounced as a crime against Palestinians, has saved countless lives, and that the American, Kristine Luken, a 44-year-old Virginian who fell prey to this terror group’s murderous impulse, may have died in large part because the barrier is still not finished. Those “human rights” groups and other anti-Israel activists who believe the fence is wrong should ponder the fate of Luken and the many Israeli Jews who have been killed by Palestinian terror in the last decade. Were the fence to be taken down, as so many Israel-bashers demand, the cost in blood would be considerable.

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