Monday, July 1, 2013

Is Russia Helping Snowden?

Is Russia helping Snowden? Video with Ralph Peters. The O’Reilly Factor. Fox News, July 1, 2013.

No Horizon in a Perpetually Unstable Palestine. By Nathan J. Brown.

No Horizon in a Perpetually Unstable Palestine. By Nathan J. Brown. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 27, 2013.

There is no end in sight to the current impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An unanticipated shift in the regional environment may be the only force that can spur change.

The Palestinians’ Receding Dream of Statehood. By Nathan J. Brown. Current History, December 2011.

Israel: Athens or Sparta? By Benny Morris.

Athens or Sparta? By Benny Morris. Jewish Review of Books, Summer 2013.

Review of Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country—and Why They Can't Make Peace. By Patrick Tyler. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012, 576 pp.

Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t About Freedom. By Donald Devine.

Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t About Freedom. By Donald Devine. The American Conservative, June 27, 2013.

Not individualism, but the reaction against it, paved the way for marriage equality.


Rod Dreher recently set the marriage debate in its broadest possible moral context: “Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology.” “Very near the center” of that Christian culture, he says, citing sociologist Philip Rieff, was its “rejection of sexual individualism,” a rejection that allowed Christianity to displace the “sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture” and substitute its own morality as the operational value system of the West. 

The problem today is that “the myth of individual freedom” has by now torn “away the last vestiges of the old order, convinced that true happiness and harmony will be ours once all limits have been nullified.” Gay marriage is individual freedom’s “decisive blow” because it destroys the last communal restraint: traditional marriage. Since every culture “imposes a series of moral demands on its members for the sake of serving communal purposes,” the lack of these limits in contemporary America portends the end of Western culture and represents its final “deconversion” from Christianity.
Dreher’s case that the battle over traditional marriage and family morality has been won by the left, especially among America’s young, is persuasive. But his description of how this happened is almost backwards: freedom and individualism are not to blame. And before retreating to the catacombs, it is well to look more closely at Rieff’s assumptions, which Dreher did warn were those of an unbeliever.
To Rieff, “the essence of any and every culture” is “what it forbids.” Modern freedom has “inverted the role of culture” by “releasing [us] from the old prohibitions” and grasping at “sexual expression and assertion,” which is “how the modern American claims his freedom.” Supporting gay marriage is the final logical result. But is Christianity’s role to support a culture, to serve communal rather than individual purposes, to set a culture’s prohibitions, even to support family?
Indeed, where did the subversive “myth of individual freedom” come from? It was Jesus himself who separated the individual from Caesar, reinforcing this with a remarkably un-communal statement: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No I tell you but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against one another, three against two and two against three” (Luke 12:49-53). When his disciples were confronted by potential converts who would not adopt the broadly Jewish cultural practices of the early Christian community, Peter, Paul, James, and the others freed the pagans from these cultural practices (Acts 15: 1-21). Paul went to the extent of freeing Christians from the restrictions of the Law itself (Gal: 3:23-29) and added “when Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free” (Gal: 5:1).
As the conservative thinker Frank Meyer emphasized, by freeing the individual, Christianity created a tension between its high standards—to be perfect as the Father is perfect, to turn the other cheek—and the impossibility of achieving them. This tension is the source of the energy that would make the West the world’s dominant civilization, but it also unleashed the impulse to impose a “human design of perfection upon a world by its nature imperfect.” No culture was safe from the potential excesses of utopianism once Christianity opened Pandora’s Box, unless it was restrained by the faith’s new commandment of love.
Ancient civilizations were communal, with sexual institutions that often included polygamy or concubinage. Homosexuality always existed too. These were defended by their supporters as traditional rather than as libertine practices. As Dreher notes, Christianity’s liberation of women and slaves from the “sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture” was one secret of its success. Ancient sexuality was firmly controlled by a rigid patriarchal social order, which was not undermined until Pope Gregory I forbade marriage to close kin in the 6th century AD. Before this, marriage was between families, not individuals. It was Christianity that made marriage more of a free individual choice.
Dreher and Rieff are correct in a strange way when they find it “pathetic” to consider Christianity “a therapeutic adjunct to bourgeois individualism.” But Christianity is in fact the source of individualism, which simply did not exist before. Almost everything BC was clan, cult, tribe, and state.
If freedom is the problem, Christianity is the culprit for “inverting” the role of culture and freeing the individual to question tradition. Citing Europe’s history of war and unrest, no less a critic than Rousseau concluded that Christianity’s dual forms of loyalty to church and state were “clearly bad” because they “destroy social unity” and civic peace. Rousseau’s solution was that the “sovereign fix the articles” of a new civic religion that would provide for order, welfare, morality, and even freedom properly understood—that is, freedom as defined solely by the state.
The whole modern project has been an attempt to control the freedom unleashed by Christianity’s dual loyalty, to re-create the conformity to “traditional” culture that predated the Christian moral liberation. What we see today in the success of gay marriage is not really freedom run amok, but the result of turning the power to define morality over to the state, or to the dominant group representing it.
People pretty much absorb the prevailing cultural stereotypes generated by the media, as Walter Lippmann taught us. And what finally persuaded a mass public—by way of constant reinforcement from TV news, sitcoms, and in every classroom—was changing the argument from freedom to “marriage equality.” In fact, the American people were told that allowing equality in marriage was the moral thing to do. This assertion of cultural and political power, not the individual freedom arising from Christianity, is what has truly led to what Dreher calls the “final triumph of the Sexual Revolution.”

Thanks for Nothing, College! By Tim Donovan.

Thanks for nothing, college! By Tim Donovan. Salon, June 30, 2013.

Is Arming Syrian Rebels the Right Answer?

Is arming Syrian rebels the right answer? Video, with General Jack Keane and K.T. McFarland. America Live with Megyn Kelly. Fox News, July 1, 2013.

Learning to Truly Love a Gay Son. By Linda Robertson.

Just Because He Breathes: Learning to Truly Love Our Gay Son. By Linda Robertson. The Huffington Post, July 1, 2013.

Kerry Keeps Leaving the Mideast Empty-Handed. By Raphael Ahren.

Almost there, Mr. Secretary? Really? By Raphael Ahren. The Times of Israel, June 30, 2013.

The top US diplomat leaves the region empty-handed again but vows a breakthrough is imminent. Either he’s not afraid of more humiliating failures, or he knows something we don’t.

Final status negotiations “within reach,” says Kerry. The Times of Israel, June 30, 2013.

Kerry: “Real progress,” but no Israel-Palestinian agreement. By Karen DeYoung and William Booth. Washington Post, June 30, 2013.

Why “a little more work” won’t do it, Mr.Kerry. By David Horovitz. The Times of Israel, July 1, 2013.

Even if talks resumed, they’d lead nowhere, because the Palestinians don’t see genuine peace with Israel as serving their own vital interests. Changing that reality is the diplomats’ true challenge.

Israeli official: Kerry disappointed in Abbas. By Mati Tuchfeld, Daniel Siryoti, and Yoni Hirsch. Israel Hayom, July 1, 2013.

Kerry vs. Palestinian obstinacy. By Eli Hazan. Israel Hayom, July 1, 2013.

Kerry avoiding the blame game. By Dan Margalit. Israel Hayom, July 1, 2013.

Chaos in the Middle East Grows as the U.S. Focuses on Israel. By Mark Landler and Jodi Rudoren. New York Times, July 1, 2013.


Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a laudable goal, and Kerry might initially have been forgiven a belief that he was somehow uniquely qualified to break the deadlock. But visit after visit should surely have long since underlined a few simple truths: The two sides mistrust each other. Each is more concerned with avoiding blame for failed talks than prepared to take risks in the faint hope of success. Netanyahu and Abbas are also both looking over their shoulders at rivals and bitter opponents poised to capitalize on any missteps. And the unchanging bottom line: The most that Netanyahu might conceivably offer Abbas, were they ever to actually get to the table, is less than Abbas might conceivably accept — less than Ehud Olmert offered in his unrequited bid for an accord in 2008.
Those inescapable truths are hard to reconcile with Kerry’s insistent assertions at the airport that a breakthrough is “within reach,” and that all it needs is “a little more work.”
Kerry’s boss, president and Nobel peace laureate Barack Obama, also tried to tackle the conflict at the beginning of his first term, but backed away fairly rapidly, and subsequently focused his efforts on other areas.


Insanity — according to a definition variously attributed to Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Confucius, and most credibly to a 30-year-old book called “Narcotics Anonymous” — is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Five times John Kerry has been to our part of the Middle East since taking office in February. Five times, like some hapless gofer, he has shuttled back and forth between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, ferrying demands and proposals, and rejections. The estimate is that he spent 14 hours in the company of Netanyahu on this latest mission alone, and another seven with Abbas.
You’d think he’d have gotten the message by now. But no. In defiance of all his first-hand accumulated evidence of Israeli and Palestinian stubborn immobility, Kerry flew out of Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday afternoon proclaiming that a breakthrough was potentially “within reach.” Just “a little more work” and all that diplomatic failure could yet be translated into success.
Yet this willful “cautious optimism,” insistently invoked by the secretary, is not the reason why the definition of insanity comes to mind. Who knows? If only to spare him further humiliation, Abbas and Netanyahu really might eventually capitulate and agree to shake hands, look meaningfully into each other’s eyes, call each other a partner, and sit down across a negotiating table. It’s not as though they haven’t done so in the past.
Maybe if Kerry honors his Terminator-style “I’ll be back” pledge a few more times, Abbas will consent to a phased process for the release of pre-Oslo Accords Palestinian murderers, Netanyahu will declare a wider settlement freeze, or some other complex formula of declarations and promises, drafted with lawyerly vagueness and finesse, will enable both leaders to claim sufficient face-saving achievement as to resume direct negotiations.
The point is: So what? The point is that Kerry is investing immense personal energy and time, and the United States’ diplomatic prestige, in desperately chivying Netanyahu and Abbas merely to the starting point of a path that has already been walked many times before — a path that, the bitter experience running right through the Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies shows, leads only to a dead end.
That’s why the definition of insanity unfortunately resonates when considering the secretary’s indefatigable efforts. He is straining to persuade Netanyahu and Abbas to begin talking when we know that such negotiations can only lead to the same failure they have yielded in the past.
The Palestinians would argue — and will try to persuade the world of the validity of this account when the talks, if they do start, inevitably collapse — that a hard-hearted, settlement-loving Israeli government refuses to grant their weak, helpless, occupied people the independent statehood that they deserve. But the root of the unavoidable failure of any resumed talks lies primarily, though not solely, with the Palestinians.
Exemplified by Ariel Sharon’s political turnaround, a consensus has gradually emerged in Israel over the past generation that an accommodation with the Palestinians — a separation that frees Israel of responsibility for the millions in the West Bank and Gaza — is a vital Israeli interest. Most of us want a Jewish and a democratic Israel, and we don’t want to be ruling over another people.
The Palestinians have reached no parallel, self-interested conclusion. The despicable Yasser Arafat bequeathed his people the toxic narrative that there was no Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and by extension that there is no Jewish sovereign legitimacy in this part of the world, and that Palestinian steadfastness, attachment to the land, and birthrate would ultimately see the unrooted Jewish colonialists sent back to their European homelands. The weak-willed Abbas has allowed that false narrative to fester, including in his schools and his media, rather than energetically disseminating a more accurate picture of competing, legitimate claims to a small, coveted area of land, requiring conciliation and compromise.
Last month, the Israeli prime minister who almost five years ago offered Abbas everything the Palestinians ostensibly seek, Ehud Olmert, concluded publicly for the first time, presumably with some reluctance, that Abbas is simply “nota big hero” — he didn’t have the guts to take the deal, because he hadn’t had the guts to lay the groundwork for a deal by telling his people some unpalatable truths about historic Jewish sovereign legitimacy.
The path to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation does not run along the route much traveled by the well-intentioned Secretary Kerry between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Pulling Abbas and Netanyahu back to the table will only presage another failure — and the Second Intifada demonstrated how catastrophic the consequences can be.
Where the United States should be placing its energies, and its leverage, and its money, is in encouraging those frameworks that will create a climate in which the Palestinians actually recognize an interest in making true peace on terms that Israel can reasonably live with (terms that do not leave Israel vulnerable to military threat, and do not seek to alter the country’s demographic balance), because the Jews aren’t going anywhere, and Palestinian independence can only be attained in partnership with the Jewish state. The US should be supporting educational programs, and grass-roots interactions, and media channels that offer an honest perspective on the history of our conflict, and that promote a mutually beneficial future of co-existence. It should neither fund, nor encourage others to fund, institutions and organizations that perpetuate false narratives and consequent false grievances.
Change the climate. Gradually create an atmosphere of mutual respect, and a shared, fervent desire for an accommodation. Then you won’t have to be cajoling reluctant leaders back to the peace table.
Israel, too, has its share of extremists — willfully blind to Palestinian legitimacy, and to the counterproductive nature of the status quo — some of whom sit in government today, encouraging the growth of settlements in areas where Israel will never attain sovereignty, exacerbating hostility, discrediting Israel. Like most Israelis, the US observes this self-defeating process with legitimate bafflement and concern. The hawks in Israeli politics are becoming increasingly intransigent, wishing away the Palestinians by citing less troubling demographic prognoses, or reconciling themselves to the subversion of Israeli democracy. On the ground, “price tag” extremists exemplify a lawlessness and amorality that shames us all.
But as the elections in 1992 and 1999 underline, the Israeli middle ground has elected would-be peacemakers when it sensed that hard-line prime ministers were missing genuine opportunities. There is no such sense today, no consensual feeling that Netanyahu — kicked out of office in 1999, remember — is blowing it; that a deal is there to be done if only we had a different prime minister. That’s how successful Arafat, Hamas, Fatah’s military wing, Abbas’s disingenuity, and the chilling Arab Spring have been in shattering Israeli confidence.
In a region where instability is now the norm pretty much everywhere bar Israel, and where Iran has thus far outmaneuvered the West as it speeds toward a nuclear weapons capability, this is a pretty discouraging time for a tiny country to be contemplating high-risk territorial compromise — especially when Hamas’s quickfire violent takeover from Fatah of Gaza in 2007 constituted a profoundly worrying precedent for what might occur were Israel to withdraw from the West Bank.
Kerry’s unfathomable enthusiasm notwithstanding, there are no short cuts. The only source of potentially justifiable optimism lies in a process of changed atmosphere and changed attitudes — a gradual process — in a Middle East, moreover, where Iran has been successfully faced down and relative moderates consequently emboldened.
There is immense merit in working to create a climate in which reconciliation and co-existence are regarded by both sides as serving their national interest. There are no diplomatic quick fixes. Believing otherwise? That’s insanity.

Secretary of State John Kerry, allowing hope to triumph over experience, has plunged into the morass of the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Since assuming office in January, Kerry, following in the footsteps of American diplomats before him, has made five trips to the Middle East in a bid to get peace talks restarted. This may prove a bit tricky if, as Khaled Abu Toameh reports, the Palestinian Authority insists on Jews being banned from any and all meetings, a condition that would violate U.S. law. Nonetheless Kerry is determined to keep hope alive. Preparing to depart from Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, the secretary told a somewhat skeptical media “that with a little more work, the start of final-status negotiations could be within reach.” I fear Secretary Kerry will have to do a flip-flop on this statement as he has done on others in the past.


Kerry’s Top Ten Flip-Flops. By Joel Roberts and David Paul Kuhn. CBS News, February 11, 2009.

Kerry discusses $87 billion comment. CNN, September 30, 2004. Video of comment on YouTube.

Egyptians Increasingly Receptive to Military Rule. By Walter Russell Mead.

Egyptians Increasingly Receptive to Military Rule. By Walter Russell Mead. Via Meadia, July 1, 2013.

A replay of Mubarak’s twilight, this time with Morsi? By Avi Isaacharoff. The Times of Israel, June 30, 2013.

For the Brotherhood, Morsi’s fall would have a domino effect. By Avi Isaacharoff. The Times of Israel, July 1, 2013.