Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Critics of Israel Silent as Arabs Starve Palestinians. By Walter Russell Mead.

Critics of Israel Silent as Arabs Starve Palestinians. By Walter Russell Mead and Staff. The American Interest, January 15, 2014.

Murdering Palestinians by starvation. By Hussein Ibish. NOW News, January 14, 2014.

Yarmouk – A Palestinian Responsibility. By Ibrahim al-Amin. Al Akhbar English, January 13, 2014.

U.S. Fiddles While Palestinians in Syria Starve. By Khaled Abu Toameh. Gatestone Institute, January 7, 2014.

How Not to Be in Solidarity with Palestinian Refugees in Yarmouk? By Omar Shaban. The Palestine Chronicle, January 17, 2014.


Radio silence reigns among Israel’s critics as Palestinians suffer brutality at the hands of pro-Assad forces in Syria. In the Palestinian refugee camp known as Yarmouk, near Damascus, residents are undergoing a campaign of forced starvation, as pro-regime forces are blocking the flow of food and medicine to the camp and firing on PLO trucks carrying much needed emergency supplies. Innocent children and elderly people with no possible connection to the conflict tearing apart Syria are among those who have died of hunger. Yarmouk’s population has dwindled from 160,000 to 18,000 since the civil war began. The WaPo reports:
Camp residents and activists on Tuesday reported the deaths of two more people from hunger, bringing to 48 the number who have died since November from illnesses related to the siege, according to Farouq al-Rifai, an activist in Yarmouk who uses a pseudonym to protect family members living in government-held areas. […]
In a video posted Monday on YouTube, a teenage boy living in the Yarmouk camp described the anguish of residents.
“We just want to eat and drink, and we have no money,” he said. “What have we done to be part of this?” he added, breaking into sobs. “It is nothing to do with us.”
Hussein Ibish reports at NOW News on the ghastly response of Lebanon’s pro-Iran, pro-Hezbollah newspaper to the suffering in Yarmouk: “With absolutely no sense of decency or shame, [editor of Al-Akhbar Ibrahim al-Amin] writes, ‘the unfolding events [in Yarmouk] are 100 percent a Palestinian responsibility. . . . The one who seeks to liberate Palestine doesn’t join a bunch of murderers who work under US command to serve one occupier and one criminal: Israel.’”
Of course if Israel actually did anything even remotely this heinous, everyone from the BDS movement to the UN General Assembly would be spitting nails and screaming in righteous wrath. The total silence among Israel-bashers while Palestinians are starved and murdered just a few dozen miles outside Israel’s borders tells us two things about so much ostensible concern for the Palestinians. First is that, in the cozy cocoon of the anti-Israel world, the suffering of Palestinians only becomes visible when Israelis do something to them. Otherwise they and their problems simply don’t exist.
The second is that many of the people who think they’re standing up for Palestinians are more prejudiced than they’d like to admit. They spend much time and energy condemning the Jewish state for various crimes committed against Palestinians, but do nothing as far more despicable crimes are visited upon the same people by Arab Muslims. The phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations” comes to mind.
Those who really want to stand up for the rights to life and dignity of the Palestinian people, and for the existence of a Palestinian state to enshrine those rights, should be calling attention to this carnage, not sweeping it under the rug.

In this video posted Monday on YouTube, a teenage boy living in the Yarmouk camp describes residents’ anguish: “We just want to eat and drink, and we have no money. What have we done to be part of this? It is nothing to do with us.”
Washington Post, January 14, 2014.

Ariel Sharon: The Man on the Wall. By Thomas L. Friedman.

The Man on the Wall. By Thomas L. Friedman. New York Times, January 14, 2014.

The Sharon They Loved, the Sharon We Hated. By David Hazony. The Jewish Daily Forward, January 11, 2014.


I’ve always thought that the reason Ariel Sharon was such an enduring presence in Israeli political life is that he personally reflected three of the most important states of mind that the state of Israel has gone through since its founding. At key times, for better and for worse, Sharon expressed and embodied the feelings of the Israeli Everyman as much, if not more, than any Israeli leader.
The first was the enduring struggle for survival of the Jewish people in Israel. The founding of a Jewish state in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world would never be a natural act, welcomed by the region. There is a Jewish state today because of hard men, like Ariel Sharon, who were ready to play by the local rules, and successive Israeli prime ministers used him to do just that. Sharon — whom I first met at age 16 when I interviewed him for my high school newspaper after a lecture he gave at the University of Minnesota in 1969 — always had contempt for those in Israel or abroad who he believed did not understand the kill-or-be-killed nature of their neighborhood. He was a warrior without regrets and, at times, without restraints. Not for nothing was a Hebrew biography of him entitled, “He Doesn’t Stop at Red Lights.”
Sharon could have perfectly delivered a Hebrew version of the speech Marine Col. Nathan Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson, delivered in the climactic courtroom scene in “A Few Good Men,” justifying the death of a weak soldier, Santiago, under his command. In Sharon’s case, it would be justifying his no-holds-barred dealing with Arabs who resisted Israel’s existence back in the 1950s and ’60s.
As Jessep told the lawyer trying him: “Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? ... I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. ... You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.”
Many Israelis wanted Sharon on that wall, which is why he survived so many crises. At the end of the day, they always wanted to know their chief warrior, who played by the local rules, was available.
But, in the 1980s, Sharon also embodied a fantasy that gripped Israel — that with enough power the Israelis could rid themselves of the Palestinian threat, that they could have it all: resettling Jews in their biblical heartland in the West Bank, plus settlements in Gaza, docile Palestinians, peace with the neighbors, and good relations with the world. That fantasy drove Sharon to team up in 1982 with the Christian Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel on a strategic overreach to both oust Yasir Arafat and the P.L.O. from Lebanon and install Gemayel as a pro-Israeli prime minister in Beirut. Ronald Reagan was in power in America; Sadat had just made peace with Israel and taken Egypt off the battlefield. The little Jewish state, Sharon thought, could rearrange the neighborhood.
That Israeli overreach, which I covered from Beirut, ended badly for everyone. Sharon was deemed by a 1983 Israeli commission of inquiry as “indirectly responsible” for the horrible massacre of Palestinian civilians by Phalangists in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The fiasco in Lebanon (which also gave birth to Hezbollah), followed by two Palestinian intifadas, seemed to impress on Sharon the limits of Israeli power.
Indeed, I don’t know what, if any, epitaph the Sharon family will etch on his gravestone one day, but an adaptation of the most memorable line from Clint Eastwood’s classic “Magnum Force” would certainly be appropriate: “A country’s got to know its limitations.”
That was the conclusion that Sharon, the settlements builder, came to late in life — and so, too, did many Israelis. He acted on it by getting elected prime minister and then parting ways with his old Likud/settler allies, moving to the center and orchestrating a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. He surely would have tried something similar in the West Bank if he had not had a stroke. Sharon remained skeptical that the Palestinians would ever make a true peace with Israel, but he concluded that occupying them forever was harmful to Israel’s future and, therefore, a third way had to be found.
Once again, Sharon was expressing the sentiments of the Israeli Everyman — which is probably why President Obama got such a warm reception from Israeli youths when, on his visit to Israel last March, he justified his own peace diplomacy by quoting a wiser and older Ariel Sharon, as telling Israelis that the dream of a Greater Israel had to be abandoned: “If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all,” Sharon said.
Few Israelis are neutral about Sharon. I think that’s because some part of him — the hardheaded survivor, the dreamer that hoped Israel could return to its biblical roots and that the Palestinians would eventually acquiesce or disappear or the sober realist trying to figure out how to share the land he loved with a people he’d never trust — touched something in all of them.


A Leader Seen Differently By Israelis and Diaspora Jews.

Ariel Sharon in death, as in life, presents a challenge for us.
By advocating a bold, self-asserting Jewish settlement movement, with or without a peace agreement, Sharon shattered the image of Israel as a country that places the achievement of peace with its neighbors above all other national goals. This triggered a long-term rift with Diaspora Jewry, especially in the United States, where the cause of peace had become the core not only of Jewish Zionism, but even of Judaism itself.
For the Jews of Israel, however, Sharon represented an ideal no less impressive — even vital for the survival and success of the country they had shed so much blood to build. He represented independence, in its deepest sense.
Deep down inside, Israelis still see their own national survival as somehow miraculous, defying the laws of gravity. And that survival is owed to a founding generation of larger-than-life figures — David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin — who created something from nothing, saw possibility through a veil of blood and devastation, acted boldly and in defiance of international demands, and handed a whole country to the next generation on a platter.
Of those founders, the only two who remained active a decade ago were Sharon and Shimon Peres, archrivals in politics until, in 2005, they joined together under the banner of Sharon’s new Kadima party, for the purpose of unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza. The move, known as “disengagement,” was a stroke of political genius, embodying everything desired by the newly emergent Israeli center: the bold, security-minded unilateralism of the right, combined with the territorial sacrifice of the left.
There would be no presumption of peace this time — disengagement was, if nothing else, a glaring repudiation of the Oslo Accords — but there could be a reversal of the vilified settlement movement nonetheless.
I visited Kfar Darom, the largest settlement in Gaza, on Independence Day 2005, just a few months before it became rubble. I had spent much of my adult life supporting the settlements, but by that point, Kfar Darom had become a magnet for the movement’s most outlandish fruitcakes. The folks who had taken over the town in the months before disengagement were old-fashioned messianists, radicals with bullhorns in their beards and demonic sunshine in their eyes.
I knew they were but a sliver of the settlement movement, but I also knew that their refusal to grant the world some nuance, their divine arrogance, had taken the entire idea of settlement outside the borders not just of geographical Israel, but of cultural and political Israel, as well.
So when Sharon, so long the movement’s most potent advocate, decided to drive a stake into their hearts, a clear majority of Israelis supported him.
Today, thousands of rockets and many lost lives later, a clear majority thinks disengagement was a mistake.
It doesn’t matter, really. What counts is that Israel, led by Sharon, took action in a situation that seemed impossible, where most Israelis had felt a sense of collective impotence and defeat for a generation. Through disengagement, Sharon told Israel that independence — the freedom to live and act without asking the permission of the powers of the world — was still possible.
Israeli politicians, it seems, must have a final act in which they turn the tables on all expectations, showing that the Jew is never at home unless he is defiantly reinventing himself, no matter how late the hour. The hesitant and shtetl-evoking Levi Eshkol led his country in 1967 to the boldest, most stunning military victory in modern history. Begin made peace with Egypt; Yitzhak Shamir initiated the Madrid peace conference; Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords after a career of “breaking the arms and legs” of Palestinian terrorists.
And Shimon Peres has abandoned his post as the nation’s most divisive peace advocate to spend the past decade as its greatest unifier, saving the presidency itself and, with it, an important piece of Israel’s self-image. It is almost as though the Israeli politician’s old age triggers a need to prove that his inner soul is still vibrant, that the creative fire has not gone out. That he is as eternally young as the nation he represents.
Sharon, too, needed a last act, and the disengagement from Gaza, along with the dramatic political realignment it necessitated, was it.
Israelis came to revere him in his final years. But it has been harder for Diaspora Jews.
It is infuriating to love someone unpredictable. Israel as a whole has become, for many American Jews, a “high-maintenance” lover: forever insecure, forever impassioned, forever reinventing and on the move. And yet we do not let go, because we know that in such people are the potentialities of humanity forever on display. We need them to remind us who we can be, even when such a reminder is the last thing we want.
Supporters of Israel who have spent so many years reacting emotionally to the tectonic shifts in Israeli politics — detesting Sharon, being embarrassed by Avigdor Lieberman, loathing Benjamin Netanyahu, wishing only that Golda and Rabin and Peres were still running the country — have always preferred a flattened image to a more complicated truth. They presume their ideology should trump the actual experiences of a nation, and they have never given proper credit to the inner Israeli soul that refuses under any circumstances to give up on itself, that fights until death for the right to just live, that will always choose a contentious reality over a peaceable illusion, that will never, ever place the world’s callow and fickle morals above its own truth.
As a politician, Ariel Sharon swerved and maneuvered, at times blunt and at others masterfully deft, never fearing the small or great gambit in order to keep the advantage to himself. He did not care about the stereotyped images, the caricatures that distorted him across Europe and in the hearts of Diaspora Jews. He was not always right, but he never projected weakness of spirit.
In this, he captured an important part of what Israel is really about. And what too many of us, living at a comfortable distance, still can’t handle.

What Happens the Day After Israel Withdraws to the 1967 Borders. By Aryeh Tepper.

The Day After. By Aryeh Tepper. The Weekly Standard, January 20, 2014. Also here.

The Palestine Papers. Al Jazeera English. Also at The Guardian.

Right of Return: The True Obstacle to Peace Between Israelis and Palestinians. By Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander Joffe. NJBR, November 27, 2013. Originally in Forbes, March 26, 2013.


Even with al Qaeda making gains across the Middle East and Iran still enriching uranium in its march to a nuclear breakout, John Kerry’s attention is focused on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He has visited Israel 10 times since becoming secretary of state. The aim of Kerry’s feverish shuttle diplomacy is to hammer out a framework agreement between Israelis and Palestinians that will be long on generalities and short on thorny details and, as such, will enable peace talks to move forward. The objective is to establish an independent Palestinian state and to end the conflict.
The strategic goal of this immense investment of American time and prestige is grounded in the conventional view, evidently shared by Kerry, that achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace will improve America’s relations with the Arab-Muslim world and foster stability in the Middle East. But a little reflection upon the character of the conflict should raise serious doubts about the cogency of this view. As improbable as a deal is at present, if Kerry really were able to broker a peace accord, it would most likely engender a harsh backlash, thereby damaging America’s relations with the Arab-Muslim world and undermining stability in the region.
If this claim seems counterintuitive, that’s because one of the basic assumptions animating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is that the Arab-Muslim world in general and the Palestinians in particular are angry over the failure to establish a Palestinian state in the occupied territories. The main grievance in the Arab-Muslim world, however, is not that in 1967 Israel occupied the West Bank and has denied the Palestinians their right to national self-determination ever since, but that in 1948 the Jews uprooted Palestinians from their homes and built a state upon stolen Palestinian land.
This narrative ignores inconvenient facts like the ancient Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, the Arab refusal to accept the U.N. partition plan, which the Israelis accepted, the war that the Arab states then initiated in 1948 in order to destroy the incipient Jewish state and throw the Jews into the sea, and the subsequent expulsion of nearly one million Jews from Arab countries. But playing the victim distorts perceptions, and the governing perception in mainstream Arab-Muslim discourse is that the establishment of the state of Israel was a crime, and to accept the existence of the state of Israel is to acquiesce in that crime.
Among Arab regimes and the Palestinian leadership, the nearly universal response to the founding of the state of Israel has been to keep the Palestinians exiled in refugee camps until they can return to their homes in present-day Israeli cities such as Jaffa, Haifa, etc. The Palestinian refugees’ desire to return to their original homes occupies a central place in Palestinian political discourse, and the tenor of Palestinian discourse reflects and influences the character of Arab-Muslim political rhetoric in general.
So let’s imagine for a moment that through a shrewd mixture of diplomatic pressure and financial incentives the United States succeeds in brokering a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The Israelis won’t sign on to a deal that enables millions of Palestinians to move to Jaffa, Haifa, etc., because this would mean the end of Israel as a state with a Jewish majority. Instead, the Palestinians will be absorbed into the nascent Palestinian state.
What would be the response in the Arab-Muslim world? Joy that the Palestinians have finally realized their right to national self-determination? Perhaps. More likely, however, is that with the 66-year-old dream of Palestinian return outstripped by reality, idealists and opportunists alike will characterize the establishment of a Palestinian state within 1967 borders as a historic betrayal. If recent history is any indication, Islamists will rally the masses against the dictatorial Arab leaders who consented to the betrayal, and popular opinion in the Arab world will respond accordingly.
And it is the United States that would be blamed for propping up these leaders and pushing them to betray the Palestinians’ right to return to their homes in present-day Israel. The response to Israeli-Palestinian peace will be anti-American rage and regional instability.
Viewing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from this relatively stark but straightforward perspective also helps to render intelligible the present negotiating positions of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu demands that the Palestinians recognize the right to Jewish national self-determination in the Land of Israel because he believes that the failure to grant such recognition is the root problem of the present conflict. Likewise, Abbas refuses to grant such recognition. As the talking points outlined in the internal Palestinian Authority documents published by Al Jazeera as “The Palestine Papers” explained, “recognizing Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ would likely be treated by Israel and third states as Palestinian recognition of Israel’s demographic objections to the right of return and, by extension, an implicit waiver of the right of return.”
The pursuit of peace in the Middle East can be intoxicating stuff, but a sober approach to peacemaking would be to treat the Palestinian refugee problem before trying to conclude a deal.
President Obama has spoken eloquently in various contexts about the importance of compelling different sides to a conflict to face difficult truths. That’s why the president went to Jerusalem and told an Israeli audience that the occupation must end. For the sake of peace in the Middle East, President Obama can also tell a Palestinian audience that there will be no right of return.
If, however, the Palestinian position regarding the refugees proves to be uncompromising, then at least the Americans will know that the enticing yet ever elusive vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace is, at present, no more than a Middle Eastern mirage.

Yaalon’s Unwelcome Peace Process Truths. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

Yaalon’s Unwelcome Peace Process Truths. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, January 14, 2014.

Ya’alon and Kerry: A plague on both their houses. By David Horovitz. The Times of Israel, January 15, 2014.

Ya’alon’s frustration got out of control. By Ron Ben-Yishai. Ynet News, January 15, 2014.

MK Tzipi Hotovely: Ya’alon Shouldn’t Have Apologized to Kerry. By Tova Dvorin. Arutz Sheva 7, January 15, 2014.

Kerry’s Peace Process Double Standards. By Khaled Abu Toameh. Gatestone Institute, January 16, 2014.

Offensive, inappropriate and dangerously, undiplomatically inconsistent. By Arnold Roth. This Ongoing War, January 16, 2004.

Lessons to be learned from the Kerry-Ya’alon incident. By Herb Keinon. Jerusalem Post, January 16, 2014.

Yaalon’s Not Alone. By Seth Mandel. Commentary, January 16, 2014.

Martin Indyk vs. Moshe Ya’alon. By Rick Richman. Commentary, January 17, 2014.


Give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some credit. In his first term as Israel’s leader in the 1990s, he might well have issued a statement like the one attributed to Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon yesterday in which the former general trashed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and damned the security plan that he presented to Israel this month as “not worth the paper it’s written on.” Since returning to the prime minister’s office in 2009 Netanyahu has done his best to keep the relationship with Washington from overheating. If there have been a series of scrapes with the Obama administration, that is largely the fault of the president’s desire to pick policy fights with him and the prime minister has done his best not to overreact. No matter how wrong Israel’s leaders may think their American counterparts are, little good comes from public spats. As Netanyahu knows, the only ones who benefit from exposing the daylight between the two countries’ positions are the Palestinians and other foes.
But apparently Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon hasn’t gotten the memo about not telling off the Americans. In an apparently unguarded moment, the former general spouted off about Kerry, the peace process, and the Palestinians yesterday, and the subsequent report in Yediot Ahronot published in English on their site brought down a firestorm on the Israeli government. Though Yaalon walked back his comments in a statement to the media, he did not deny the accuracy of the original Yediot story. This indiscretion won’t help Netanyahu in his dealings with either Obama or Kerry. It is especially foolish coming from a cabinet minister whose department has worked closely with the administration on security measures throughout the last five years to Israel’s benefit in spite of the political differences between the governments. But leaving aside the diplomatic harm he has done his country, honest observers must admit that what Yaalon said was true. The question facing both Israel and the United States is not so much what to do about Yaalon or other members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet who can’t keep their mouths shut, but at what point it will behoove the two governments to acknowledge the futility of Kerry’s endeavor.
Having already conceded that Yaalon was stupid to say such things within earshot of a reporter, the defense minister gets no sympathy here for the abuse he is taking today in Israel’s press as well as from parliamentary allies and foes. The Israeli government has to be frustrated with Kerry’s persistence in pushing for concessions from them, especially when they see no sign of moderation on the part of their Palestinian peace partners who will not accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn nor renounce the right of return for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. But as damaging as pressure on Israel to accept the 1967 borders and the division of Jerusalem may be, so long as Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas is prevented by the reality of his people’s political culture and the threat from Hamas and other opposition groups from ever signing a deal that would end the conflict, Netanyahu knows that the best policy is to avoid an overt conflict with the U.S.
That said, Yaalon’s reminder of the absurdity of Kerry’s quest does help clarify the situation for those na├»ve enough to believe the talks have some chance of success.
Yaalon’s assertion that the negotiations are not between Israel and the Palestinians but between the Jewish state and the U.S. is self-evident. The PA has repeatedly demonstrated that it won’t budge from uncompromising positions against realistic territorial swaps or security guarantees, much less the existential questions of refugees and two states for two peoples. All that has happened in the past year is that Israel has been prevailed upon to bribe the PA by releasing terrorist murderers for the privilege of sitting at a table again with Abbas.
Nor can there be any real argument with Yaalon’s assessment of Kerry’s behavior when he described the secretary’s crusade as “inexplicably obsessive and messianic.” Few in either Israel or the United States, even those who are most in favor of his efforts, thought he had much of a chance to start with and there’s been no evidence that the odds have improved. His crack that “all that can save us is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace” makes no sense since the only way the secretary will get such an honor is if Abbas signs on the dotted line. But it probably also reflects what Abbas is thinking since his goal is to prevent an agreement without actually having to turn one down publicly.
Yaalon is also right to dismiss the security guarantees Kerry has offered Israel in exchange for a withdrawal from the West Bank. The example of the Gaza withdrawal—which Yaalon opposed when he was chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, a stand that led to his term being cut short by former prime minister Ariel Sharon—as well as the situation along the border with Lebanon illustrates what happens when Israel tries to entrust its security either to Palestinian good will or third parties.
But perhaps the most incisive of Yaalon’s controversial comments was his assertion that Abbas’s future was dependent on Israel’s remaining in the West Bank, not on its departure from the territories:
Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is alive and well thanks to us. The moment we leave Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) he is finished.
Without an Israeli security umbrella, Hamas or more radical Fatah factions would have deposed Abbas a long time ago. His administration over most of the West Bank is simply impossible without Israeli help. Pretending that this isn’t the case is one of the key fictions that form the foundation of Kerry’s conceit about giving Abbas sovereignty over the area and why such a deal or a unilateral Israeli retreat, as some are now suggesting, would repeat the Gaza fiasco.
Most Israelis would applaud any effort to separate the two peoples and desperately want an agreement that would end the conflict for all time rather than merely to pause it in order for the Palestinians to resume it later when they are in a more advantageous position. Though the minister shouldn’t have criticized Kerry publicly, until the secretary and those who are supporting his pressure on Israel and not on the Palestinians can answer Yaalon’s politically incorrect comments, the peace process is doomed.


Dumb, not entirely wrong
None of which is to say, however, that Ya’alon’s dire assessment of the US secretary’s peacemaking skills is a million miles off target. Ya’alon’s been thoroughly dumb. But he’s not entirely wrong.
In late July, fresh in office, Kerry voiced his confidence that, where all others had failed before, he could chivy Israel and the Palestinian Authority to a permanent peace accord — and by April at that. Such hubris. Ten visits later, he seems to have given up on that delusional goal, and is now reduced to trying to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to carry on talking past the end of his own nine-month deadline in April on the basis of a “framework” agreement.
But even this modest target is proving difficult to reach, unsurprisingly so, since the two sides disagree on just about everything — notably including those security proposals, the fate of Jerusalem, the route of an Israel-Palestine border, and the destiny of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees. To date, despite all of Kerry’s diplomacy, the modest framework paper isn’t finished — even though, reportedly, it will be a nonbinding, American document that the sides won’t be required to sign.
The Palestinian Authority was never remotely likely to agree to the dramatic policy changes, the reversal of decades of intransigence, required for a peace deal. It has not even begun the process of explaining to its people why it would compromise with the Israelis, whose very presence in the area PA media continues to brand as illegitimate.
And the Netanyahu government was only ever going to be less forthcoming than the Olmert coalition that preceded it, and whose peace terms were rejected by Abbas. Yes, most Israelis back an accommodation with the Palestinians, in good part to guarantee that the country maintains both its Jewish and its democratic character, and they would agree to major territorial compromise, but only if it brings them a realistic prospect of peace. Not, as is the case now, when the utter instability in the Middle East means that a West Bank withdrawal is highly likely to see murderous religious extremists fill the vacuum, ousting relative moderates such as Abbas along the way, and placing all of Israel under rocket and terror threat.
The defense minister’s absent vision
But if Kerry has been arrogant and willfully blind, Ya’alon for his part shows precious little political vision.
The defense minister has shifted dramatically across the political spectrum over time, earlier dovishness mugged by the reality of years tackling Palestinian terrorism and wider Arab hostility. Abbas demonstrated as recently as Saturday what a problematic successor he has proved to the duplicitous Yasser Arafat — too weak-willed to challenge Arafat’s pernicious delegitimization of Israel, retreating to ever more inflexible positions on all the core peace issues. But Ya’alon’s conclusion, that Israel is surrounded by enemies and must simply hang tough and continue to defend itself as effectively as possible, offers no prospect of eventual change.
Lots of people all around embattled Israel loathe the Jewish state and want to see it wiped out. But that leaves Israel with two imperatives, not just one: Defend the country, and do whatever can safely be done to gradually create a better climate on the other side of the divide, to encourage Palestinians and other Arabs who seek a peaceful future, who are prepared to take conciliatory positions, who are truly prepared to live in peace alongside Israel.
No, Secretary Kerry, the path to peace cannot be bulldozed or imposed in nine months. But no, Minister Ya’alon, flooding the moat and pulling up the drawbridge isn’t a long-term answer either.
Realistic goals
Peace needs to be built bottom up as well as top down. Rather than shooting for an impossible target, with a huge risk of violence if all fails, the US should have focused, and still should focus, on using its dwindling leverage to assist those who preach and foster reconciliation, while outlawing and cutting funding to those who foster hatred — educational institutions, media organizations, international agencies and those who finance them.
Israel, for its part, should encourage every opportunity for constructive interaction with Palestinians and other Arabs who seek a better future, and be sure to put its own house in order too, when it comes to incitement by its leaders, media and educators. It should also stop building homes in West Bank areas it does not anticipate retaining in any future accord — for the benefit of its own citizens, and the credibility of its position with the Palestinians and the international community.
Eventually, in a gradually improving climate, it will be up to honest and skilled diplomats, doubtless led by the US, to draw the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships — pushed by their peoples, rather than against the peoples’ will — toward binding agreements that will benefit both sides. We’re not there yet. Far from it. Indeed, compounding all too familiar Palestinian rejectionism, it’s now an open secret that we labor under the additional burdens of contemptuous Israeli shortsightedness and unrealistic American evaluation and expectation.

Al Qaeda’s Grand Strategy and the Unmaking of the Middle East.

Know Your Enemy: Al Qaeda’s Grand Strategy. By Thomas Joscelyn. The Weekly Standard, January 20, 2014. Also here.

The Unmaking of the Middle East: Obama’s Historic Misunderstanding. By Mary Habeck and Thomas Donnelly. The Weekly Standard, January 20, 2014. Also here.

America’s Social Democratic Future. By Lane Kenworthy.

America’s Social Democratic Future. By Lane Kenworthy. Foreign Affairs, Vol. 93, No. 1 (January/February 2014).


The Arc of Policy Is Long But Bends Toward Justice.

Perhaps what is most important to note about the United States’ social democratic future is that it will not look dramatically different from the present day. The United States will not become a progressive utopia; rather, it will become a better version of its current self.
A larger share of adults will be employed, although for many, the workweek will be shorter and there will be more vacation days and holidays. Nearly all jobs will be in the service sector, especially teaching, advising, instructing, organizing, aiding, nursing, monitoring, and transporting; only around five percent will be in manufacturing or agriculture. Most Americans will change jobs and even careers more frequently than they do today. More Americans will work in jobs with low pay, will lose a job more than once during their careers, and will reach retirement age with little savings. Families, community organizations, and labor unions might grow even weaker than they are now.
But by filling in the gaps in the public safety net, the federal government will improve economic security, equal opportunity, and shared prosperity for most Americans in spite of these changes. A social democratic America will be a society with greater economic security and fairness. Its economy will be flexible, dynamic, and innovative. Employment will be high. Liberty will be abundant. Balancing work and family will be easier. Americans will pay higher taxes than they currently do, but the sacrifice will be worth it, because they will receive a lot in return.
The United States has come a long way on the road to becoming a good society, but it still has further to travel. Happily, its history and the experiences of other rich nations show the way forward. One reason the United States is a much better country today than it was a century ago is that the federal government does more to ensure economic security, equal opportunity, and shared prosperity. In the future, it will do more still, and the country will be better for it.

Quelle Horreur: Can Life Get Worse for Hollande? By Alex Berezow.

Quelle Horreur: Can Life Get Worse for Hollande? By Alex Berezow. Real Clear World, January 15, 2014.

National Stupidity. By Stephen M. Walt.

National Stupidity. By Stephen M. Walt. Foreign Policy, January 14, 2014. Also here.


In international politics, pride goeth before a fall.

What’s the most powerful force in world affairs? There are plenty of candidates, but nationalism has to be a strong contender. The twin ideas that the human race is divided up into various “nations” (i.e., peoples with various shared traits who regard themselves as part of the same “imagined community”), and that these various nations are entitled to their own “state,” have shaped the formation of the European system, inspired the anti-colonial revolutions that dismantled the British, French, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Soviet empires, and help explain why the number of states has risen steadily for decades and shows no signs of stopping.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. A powerful sense of national feeling has many virtues. It can help societies overcome collective action dilemmas, as contending groups within a country agree to make sacrifices for the common good and to tolerate other forms of difference (such as religion). By encouraging citizens to work hard for shared purposes, it can also help spur national ambition and economic growth. And as the world discovered following the French Revolution, nationalism is a potent source of military power: troops infused by a love of la patrie will fight harder than hired mercenaries or soldiers whose loyalties are divided.
But nationalism also has a dark side. National narratives invariably highlight a particular people’s positive achievements and tend to downplay any episodes where they behaved badly. In short, all nations tell themselves a sugar-coated version of their own history. Or as the late political scientist Karl W. Deutsch mordantly observed, a nation is a “group of people united by a mistaken view about the past and a hatred of their neighbours.” This feature tends to blind every nation to the views of others and makes it difficult for them to understand why the same event can been seen so differently, sometimes with good reason.
It's no surprise, for example, that what Americans label the “Iranian Hostage Crisis” is known to Iranians as the “Conquest of the American Spy Den” – which tells you all you need to know about how the two countries view that particular episode. By whitewashing their own past, nations forget why others might have reasons to be suspicious of them, and this collective amnesia makes them more likely to see an adversary’s present behavior in the worst possible light. Most Americans have long forgotten about our various predations in Latin America, for example, but Mexicans, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, and others have not.
Nationalism can also make it harder to resolve existing conflicts, especially when competing national narratives create contending claims to the same territory. When this happens, both sides will regard their own claims as beyond dispute and see the other sides’ claims as unwarranted aggression that has no legitimate basis, and must therefore be resisted. (See under: Israel-Palestine.) Moreover, such attitudes rob diplomats of the flexibility that is often needed to reach a compromise, because achieving anything less than complete victory will be seen as a betrayal of some sacred national value.
Finally, extreme nationalism also fuels overconfidence. National ideologies tend to portray the nation as both different from others and in some way superior; indeed, national pride depends on convincing citizens that it is better to be Turkish, French, Japanese, Thai, Irish, Egyptian, Russian, etc., than to be anything else. Americans are no strangers to this sort of thinking: just look at all the ink that’s been spilled proclaiming American “exceptionalism.” From there it is but a short step to the conclusion that others are in some sense inferior, and that they will be easy to defeat on the battlefield.
In short, despite nationalism’s many virtues, it can also be a profound source of national stupidity. At worst, unchecked nationalism has a way of leading countries to do things that leave them worse off than they would otherwise be. In extreme cases – such as Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan – virulent hyper-nationalist beliefs helped pave the road to national disaster, along with the suffering and deaths of millions along the way.
Some have argued that globalization and the emergence of post-national structures such as the European Union mean that these dangers are a thing of the past. Or that now that 1 billion people are on Facebook, that tribalism is dead. Hardly. Just consider the following examples of national stupidity, exacerbated by unthinking nationalism.
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Spoiled Milk and Honey
At its root, Zionism is the Jewish version of 19th-century European nationalism. By encouraging national unity, patriotic sacrifice, and the support from the Jewish diaspora, it has been an important source of many of Israel's past accomplishments.
Today, however, the evolution of Zionism – in more extreme directions – may be imperiling Israel’s long-term future. Instead of merely seeking a secure homeland, the Israeli state is increasingly fixated on establishing a “Greater Israel” in perpetuity, while confining its Palestinian subjects to a few isolated enclaves under strict Israeli control. Not surprisingly, these policies are accompanied by increasingly racist attitudes toward Arabs both inside and outside the state itself, as Max Blumenthal has recently documented. These trends explain why Israel faces growing international criticism and may even be losing support and sympathy in the United States, including among American Jewry. As with other states, the downside of Jewish nationalism is encouraging policies that are not in the country's long-term interest.
A City on a Mountain
American nationalism differs in certain ways from many other countries: it is a “civic” nationalism that rests primarily on shared political principles and liberal cultural values, rather than on ethnicity or ancestry. This feature has made it easier for the United States to incorporate successive waves of immigration (albeit not without certain tensions), a phenomenon that was critical to its rise to great power status.
Yet over time, and especially since the United States became a great power, American nationalism has also incorporated a dangerously inflated view of its own “exceptional” qualities. In particular, Americans (and especially foreign policy elites), often believe it is America’s right and responsibility to exercise “world leadership,” not simply because the United States is a very powerful country, but because it has the best form of government, the most virtuous citizens, and is always acting for the greater good – even when it is blowing things up in some distant land or toppling some supposedly unfriendly government.
The negative consequences of this strand of American nationalism should be apparent by now. Because they believe the United States always acts for good, American leaders routinely underestimate the degree to which U.S. power worries other countries and leads them to try to take various steps to rein in Washington. Because they are convinced the American system of government is the best one ever devised, they overestimate their ability to export that system to other countries. Because the United States is a uniquely successful multicultural experiment, they do not recognize that local identities and sectarian differences are much harder to overcome in other places. And because they think Americans are smarter, more unified, more heroic, and just plain better than others, they have trouble imagining that a bunch of Vietnamese, Iraqis, or Afghans could possibly defeat us – even when we’re fighting on their home turf and in conditions where they are highly motivated and can almost certainly outlast us.
My point here is not to rail against nationalism per se, which isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. It is rather to warn against the unthinking, uncritical, “my-country-right-or-wrong” version of nationalism that sometimes infects an entire society. When that happens, legitimate pride in one’s own national group can easily morph into something darker, cruder, and far more dangerous. And when it does, it tends to make a country do stupid things. In international politics, as in the lives of individuals, (national) pride goeth before a fall.

Russia Revisits Its Pivotal Role in World War I. By Christian Neef.

Russia Revisits Pivotal Role in World War I. By Christian Neef. Spiegel Online, January 13, 2014.

At the beginning of World War I, Russia was a member of the Triple Entente, which went on to win the conflict. By then, however, the Russian czarist empire had vanished and the war was swept under the historical rug. Putin is now bringing it back.

Digging for Their Lives: Russia’s Volunteer Body Hunters. By Lucy Ash.

Volunteers Marina Koutchinskaya(l) and Olga Ivshina (r) look for the remains of Russia’s missing-in-action World War II soldiers.

Digging for their lives: Russia’s volunteer body hunters. By Lucy Ash. BBC News, January 12, 2014.


Of the estimated 70 million people killed in World War Two, 26 million died on the Eastern front – and up to four million of them are still officially considered missing in action. But volunteers are now searching the former battlefields for the soldiers' remains, determined to give them a proper burial – and a name.

Olga Ivshina walks slowly and carefully through the pine trees, the beeps of her metal detector punctuating the quiet of the forest. “They are not buried very deep,” she says.
“Sometimes we find them just beneath the moss and a few layers of fallen leaves. They are still lying where they fell. The soldiers are waiting for us – waiting for the chance to finally go home.”
Nearby, Marina Koutchinskaya is on her knees searching in the mud. For the past 12 years she has spent most of her holidays like this, far away from home, her maternity clothes business, and her young son.
“Every spring, summer and autumn I get this strange sort of yearning inside me to go and look for the soldiers,” she says. “My heart pulls me to do this work.”
They are part of a group called Exploration who have travelled for 24 hours in a cramped army truck to get to this forest near St Petersburg. Conditions are basic – they camp in the woods – and some days they have to wade waist-deep through mud to find the bodies of the fallen. The work can be dangerous, too. Soldiers are regularly discovered with their grenades still in their backpacks and artillery shells can be seen sticking out of the trees. Diggers from other groups elsewhere in Russia have lost their lives.
Marina holds up an object she has found, it looks like a bar of soap, but it is actually TNT. “Near a naked flame it’s still dangerous, even though it has been lying in the ground for 70 years,” she says.
Many countries were scarred by World War Two, but none suffered as many losses as the Soviet Union.
On 22 June 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the largest and bloodiest campaign in military history, aimed at annexing vast areas of the USSR to the Third Reich. St Petersburg, then known as Leningrad, was one of his main targets. In less than three months, the advancing German army had encircled the city and started pounding it from the air.
But attempts to take the city by storm fell through, so Hitler decided to starve it into surrender. For more than two years, the Red Army fought desperately to cut through German lines.
Olga and Marina are working near the town of Lyuban, 80km (50 miles) south of St Petersburg. Here, in an area of just 10 sq km, an estimated 19,000 Soviet soldiers were killed in just a few days in 1942. So far the diggers have found 2,000 bodies.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s Manifesto.

Two media outlets publish 9/11 mastermind’s manifesto. Video. Charles Swift and Andrew McCarthy with Megyn Kelly. The Kelly File. Fox News, January 14, 2014. YouTube.

Mastermind of the Sept. 11 Attacks Wants to Convert His Captors. By Myriam Francois-Cerrah, Ryan J. Reilly, and Ryan Grim. The Huffington Post, January 14, 2014.

Khaled Sheikh Mohammed’s Manifesto. The Huffington Post, January 14, 2014. PDF.