American Politics, Foreign Policy »

The Atlantic: The Real Foreign Policy Divide is Not Partisan

August 13, 2014 | post a comment | Peter Beinart

On Sunday, when Hillary Clinton used an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg to take pointedly more hawkish stances than President Obama on Syria, Iran, and Gaza, observers chalked it up to her presidential ambitions. As one Democratic operative told Politico, Clinton’s advisors are “good poll readers.” On Tuesday, when Rand Paul declined to oppose U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, commentators interpreted it the same way.

The assumption that hawkishness is politically smart is deeply ingrained in the media’s coverage of the 2016 presidential race. But it’s bizarre. Because in both parties, the polling data is overwhelming: Americans think U.S. foreign policy is too hawkish already. Foreign policy has always been more elite-driven, and more insulated from public opinion, than domestic policy. But today’s elite-mass gap is the largest in decades. And regardless of your foreign-policy perspective, that’s a problem for American democracy.

Think about the issues on which Hillary put distance between herself and Obama. She was particularly sharp in her criticism of the president’s reluctance to arm Syria’s rebels. But this supposedly shrewd political maneuver puts Hillary in the company of a mere 20 percent of the population. The last time the Pew Research Center asked Americans whether they support military aid to Syria’s rebels, 20 percent said yes and a whopping 70 percent said no. When respondents were asked in the same poll to evaluate a series of statements about Syria, the most popular was the “U.S. military is already too overcommitted.”

Hillary also took a harder line than Obama on Iran’s right to enrich uranium—a harder line that would make it harder to reach a final nuclear deal with Tehran. As with Syria, many commentators considered Hillary’s more hawkish stance to be politically astute. But again, the public is actually closer to Obama. According to a University of Maryland poll in July, 61 percent of Americans support a deal that would limit—but not prohibit—Iranian enrichment, while only 35 percent support increasing sanctions in an effort to eliminate Tehran’s enriched uranium altogether.

In general, Hillary made it clear that she supports a more interventionist foreign policy. Unlike Obama, she rarely talks about the financial burden of America’s foreign wars, and the need to balance America’s overseas commitments with its domestic resources. But, here again, the public is on Obama’s side. A Pew poll last year found that 51 percent of Americans believe their government is doing too much overseas, while only 17 percent say it is doing too little. This doesn’t mean Americans want to retreat from the world entirely. A full two-thirds, according to that same Pew poll, support greater American involvement in the global economy. Americans aren’t isolationists; they just don’t want to police the world. According to Pew, only 12 percent of Americans want the U.S. to be the “single world leader,” while 52 percent would prefer the U.S. share global leadership with other countries and be only “as active as others.”

Given these results, why do most commentators think Hillary’s hawkishness is politically wise? Because over the last year or so—as a result of the conflict in Ukraine and the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq—elite opinion has grown more hawkish even though public opinion at large hasn’t. When it comes to foreign policy, in fact, the key divide is no longer between Democrats and Republicans. It’s between the elites of both parties and their rank and file. When asked about arming Syria’s rebels, an Iran deal that allows some uranium enrichment, and whether America should do more or less in the world, both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly take the more dovish view. On each question, the partisan divide is five percentage points or less.

The real gap emerges when you compare ordinary Americans to elites. According to Pew, for instance, rank-and-file Republicans are 34 percentage points more likely to want America to do less overseas. Rank-and-file Democrats are 31 points more likely to want America to do less. Members of the prestigious, bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations, by contrast, are 20 points more likely to say America should do more.

This helps explain why Rand Paul is shifting in a more hawkish direction as well. In recent weeks, Paul has substantially toughened his line against Russia, ruled out containing a nuclear Iran (a position with which he had previously flirted), pledged support for U.S. aid to Israel (another flip-flop), and remained open to bombing Iraq. He’s also hired one of John McCain’s foreign-policy advisors.

Paul is not staking out these positions to win over actual voters. Given that ordinary Republicans oppose arming the rebels in Syria, want a negotiated deal on Iran, and want America to refrain more from intervening militarily overseas, Paul would probably gain greater public support by sticking with a more dovish line and thus distinguishing himself in a multi-candidate field. What’s motivating him is not the New Hampshire primary but the invisible primary. Paul has been ardently wooing GOP donors, who tend to be far more hawkish than Republicans as a whole, and who have threatened to mobilize against his candidacy. And according to Politico, he’s told several of them that his foreign-policy views are “evolving.”

Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness is more sincere. She’s been on the hawkish end of the Democratic spectrum since entering electoral politics a decade and a half ago. Still, were it not for the influence that moneyed elites wield over the presidential process, it would be much harder for her to take views so at odds with most Democratic voters. Clinton lost in 2008, after all, in large measure because she had backed the war in Iraq while Obama had not. If a credible progressive challenger in 2016 tied Hillary’s current interventionism to her past interventionism under the rubric “she still doesn’t get it,” they’d find a receptive audience, especially in Iowa, where Democratic caucus-goers are particularly dovish.

Yet there’s little evidence that any serious challenger is considering taking this approach. That’s partly because Democratic primary voters, while overwhelmingly dovish, are not focused on foreign policy in the way they were during the Iraq War. And it’s partly because even progressive Democrats like Elizabeth Warren are influenced by the more hawkish perspective common among party donors. That’s especially true on the Middle East. Polling shows that rank-and-file Democrats are fairly critical of Israel’s recent war in Gaza, for instance. But last month, even progressive firebrands like Warren supported a Senate resolution so hawkish that it did not even acknowledge that any Palestinians in Gaza had died.

It’s worth analyzing the current moment in historical perspective. For a century, Americans have responded to disillusioning wars by demanding a less interventionist foreign policy. It happened after World War 1, after Korea, after Vietnam, and it’s happening again in the wake of Afghanistan and Iraq. The difference between this moment and past ones is the role of money in politics. As on so many issues, politicians’ need to raise vast sums from the super-rich makes them ultra-responsive to one, distinct sliver of the population and less responsive to everyone else. The way campaign finance warps the political debate over financial regulation is well known. What we’re witnessing this year is a case study in the way it warps the foreign-policy debate as well.

In 2008, Obama was elected president in part because he had deviated from a hawkish, largely bipartisan, elite foreign-policy perspective that facilitated the war in Iraq. Six years later, Obama is still deviating, and so are the American people. Yet the elite consensus is stronger than ever, and in the run-up to 2016, that consensus—more than public opinion—is driving the presidential debate. No wonder Americans are cynical.

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/08/how-money-warps-us-foreign-policy/376035/?single_page=true

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American Politics, Israel »

Haaretz: Israel’s New Lawyer, Hillary Clinton

August 13, 2014 | post a comment | Peter Beinart

Who’s the Israeli government’s best spokesperson? Ron Dermer? Michael Oren? Bibi himself? Nope. It’s Hillary Clinton. In her interview on Sunday with Jeffrey Goldberg, Clinton offered the most articulate, sophisticated, passionate defense of Netanyahu’s conduct I’ve heard from a government official on either side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, important chunks of it aren’t true.

Let’s take her claims in turn.

In his first term, Netanyahu moved towards a Palestinian state

Clinton began her defense of Bibi by noting that in his first term, in the late 1990s, he had “give[n] up territory” and “moved in that direction [towards a Palestinian state], as hard as it was.”

That’s extremely generous. It’s true that in 1997, Bibi withdrew Israeli troops from most of the West Bank city of Hebron (though they can reenter any time Israel wants) and the following year signed the Wye River Accords, under which Israel was supposed to hand over 13 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority (though Bibi’s government fell before it could do so).

What Clinton leaves out is that Bibi only agreed to these withdrawals to forestall the far larger ones envisioned under the Oslo Accords he inherited from Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. In 1993, when Oslo was signed, Bibi publicly compared it to Neville Chamberlain’s surrender of the Sudetenland to Adolf Hitler.

He accepted Oslo in the 1996 election campaign only because he couldn’t repudiate a process endorsed by the Israeli center and championed by the United States. So Bibi sabotaged Oslo by accelerating settlement growth and minimizing the amount of land Israel relinquished. “Before I took office,” he later boasted, “the conception was to give away everything except for two percent [of West Bank] while I turned everything around and gave just two percent to [full control] of the Palestinian Authority.” Or as he told settlers after leaving office, “I stopped the Oslo Accords.”

The Clinton administration officials who dealt with Bibi in his first term understood this all too well. “Neither President Clinton nor Secretary [Madeleine] Albright believed that Bibi had any real interest in pursuing peace,” writes Dennis Ross in The Missing Peace. Ross’ deputy, Aaron Miller, adds in his memoir that, “all of us saw Bibi as a kind of speed bump that would have to be negotiated along the way until a new Israeli prime minister came along who was more serious about peace.”

That’s a far cry from what Hillary told Goldberg. Then again, Ross and Miller aren’t running for president.

Bibi agreed to a settlement freeze but Abbas wouldn’t negotiate

Fast-forwarding to the Obama years, Clinton claims that, “I got Netanyahu to agree to the unprecedented settlement freeze… It took me nine months to get Abbas into the negotiations even after we delivered on the settlement freeze.”

What’s striking, again, is what Clinton leaves out. The settlement freeze was indeed, unprecedented. Unfortunately, it didn’t actually freeze settlement growth. It’s not just that, as Clinton admits, the “freeze” exempted East Jerusalem. Even more importantly, it exempted buildings on which construction had all ready begun. This loophole proved crucial because, as the Israeli press reported at the time, settlers spent the months preceding the “freeze” feverishly breaking ground on new construction, on which they continued to build during the ten month “freeze,” before breaking new ground once it expired. As a result, according to Peace Now, there was more new settlement construction in 2010 – the year of the freeze – than in 2008. As Obama administration envoy George Mitchell admitted to Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat, the Obama administration had wanted a freeze that truly stopped settlement growth but “we failed.”

Clinton’s claim that Abbas refused to negotiate until the last minute is disingenuous too. In fact, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met repeatedly during the “freeze.” In January 2010, just over a month after it began, veteran Israeli columnist Ben Caspit reported that, “In the past weeks, Israeli representatives, including Netanyahu, have repeatedly rejected official documents that their Palestinian counterparts have tried to submit to them, with details of the Palestinian positions on all the core issues. The Israeli representatives are completely unwilling to discuss, read or touch these documents, not to speak of submitting an equivalent Israeli document with the Israeli positions.”

While reporting my book, The Crisis of Zionism, I heard four different Obama officials confirm this account. During the settlement “freeze,” the Palestinians submitted to Netanyahu and his aides the same positions they had submitted to Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert. These included a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with a 1.9 percent land swap for territory inside Israel proper, Israeli control of all the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, international troops in the Jordan Valley and the return of 150,000 Palestinian refugees over ten years. The Netanyahu government, by contrast, steadfastly refused to discuss the parameters of a Palestinian state.

In her interview with Goldberg, Clinton never mentions that.

Netanyahu’s views on Palestinian statehood resembled Ehud Barak’s.

Given the evidence that during her time as secretary of state, Bibi refused to discuss territory, Clinton’s claim that “I saw Netanyahu move from being against the two-state solution to…considering all kinds of Barak-like options” is bizarre. Whatever you think of Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in July 2000, it was a detailed offer. Netanyahu, by contrast, refused put forward a territorial proposal not merely during Clinton’s term, but during John Kerry’s far more aggressive effort to broker a deal. During the Kerry negotiations, according to Haaretz’s Barak Ravid, Netanyahu “flatly refused to present a map or even to discuss the subject theoretically…throughout the nine months of the talks Netanyahu did not give the slightest hint about the scale of the territorial concessions he would be willing to make.”

It’s too bad Goldberg didn’t press Clinton on what kind of “Barak-like options” she heard Netanyahu propose, because the best reporting we have suggests he offered no territorial “options” at all.

Netanyahu is right to demand indefinite control of the West Bank

Most remarkable of all, Clinton tells Goldberg that, “If I were the prime minister of Israel, you’re damn right I would expect to have security [control over the West Bank].” What makes this statement so remarkable is that earlier in the interview, Hillary praised the Clinton parameters outlined by her husband in December 2000. Those parameters permit Israeli troops to remain in the Jordan Valley, along the West Bank’s border with Jordan, for three years. Later in the interview, Clinton claims that she convinced Abbas to agree to allow Israeli troops to remain for “six, seven, eight years” and that she “got Netanyahu to go from forever to 2025” as a date for their withdrawal. Even this, from a Palestinian perspective, represents painful backsliding from the position outlined by Hillary’s husband. But as Hillary must know, Bibi three weeks ago said that in light of regional developments, “there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.” Which is to say that, as of now, Bibi’s position really does seem to be “forever.” Yet rather than challenge that stance, Clinton endorses it.

Why does Clinton again and again endorse Netanyahu’s view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even when it contradicts long-standing American positions? Because she’s so willing to see the world through his eyes. Notice how she begins her statement about security control of the West Bank: “If I were the prime minister of Israel.” There’s nothing wrong with that. U.S. officials should understand, and empathize with, Israeli leaders, even right-wing ones. But what’s missing from Clinton’s interview is any willingness to do the same for Palestinians. If it’s so easy to understand why some Israelis might want perpetual military control of the West Bank, why can’t Clinton understand why Palestinians – after living for almost fifty years under a foreign army – might not want it to indefinitely patrol their supposedly independent state.

One of the hallmarks of Barack Obama’s statements about Israel and Palestine, going back to his 2008 presidential campaign, has been his insistence on giving voice to the fears and aspirations of both sides. Writing about his trip to Israel in The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote that, “I talked to Jews who’d lost parents in the Holocaust and brothers in suicide bombings; I heard Palestinians talk of the indignities of checkpoints and reminisce about the land they had lost.” In Jerusalem last March, he spoke movingly, and in detail about the Jewish story, but also asked Israelis to “put yourself in their [the Palestinians] shoes. Look at the world through their eyes.” In her interview with Goldberg, that’s exactly what Clinton does not do. Her interpretations of recent Israeli-Palestinian history reflect from a deep imbalance: a willingness to see reality through Israeli eyes and an almost total refusal to do the same for Palestinians.

“For far too long,” wrote Aaron Miller in 2005, “many American officials involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, myself included, have acted as Israel’s attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations.” From the beginning, Barack Obama has tried to avoid that. Although he hasn’t brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace, he has tried to make good on his campaign promise to “hold up a mirror” to both sides. In Hillary Clinton, by contrast, at least judging from her interview on Sunay, Israel has yet another lawyer. And a very good one at that.

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.610007

 

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Haaretz: Who are the True Jewish Allies of Hamas?

August 13, 2014 | post a comment | Peter Beinart

Every day on social media, someone calls me an ally of Hamas. I find the accusation odd since I’ve not only repeatedly denounced the organization, but chided other progressives for not doing so more forcefully.

But upon reflection, maybe the critics have a point. Sad as it is to admit, Hamas does have unwitting allies among our people. There are Jews who through words and deeds strengthen a group that oppresses Palestinians and tries to kill Israelis.

Worse, such people work at the highest echelons of the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment. Who are they? They’re the Israeli and American Jewish leaders who convince Palestinians that nonviolence and mutual recognition are futile. They bolster Hamas’ greatest asset, which is not rockets and tunnels. Hamas’ greatest asset is the Palestinian belief that Israel only understands the language of force.

The first way these Jews help Hamas is by supporting – either actively or passively – the imprisonment of people like Abdallah Abu Rahma. Rahma is a leader of the Bilin Popular Committee, which, since 2005, has led unarmed protests against the separation barrier that cuts the West Bank village off from 50 percent of its land.

“In Bilin,” Rahma wrote in a 2010 letter, “we have chosen another way. We have chosen to protest nonviolently together with Israeli and international supporters. We have chosen to carry a message of hope and real partnership between Palestinians and Israelis in the face of oppression and injustice.”

Rahma’s wife smuggled the letter out of the jail where he was serving a year-long sentence for “incitement” and organizing “illegal demonstrations.” Under Military Order 101, which Israel issued when it took over the West Bank in 1967, an “illegal demonstration” is any gathering of 10 or more Palestinians that involves “a political matter or one liable to be interpreted as political.”

“Incitement” is defined as “attempting, whether verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order.” In cases like Rahma’s, according to Human Rights Watch, “The Israeli authorities are effectively banning peaceful expression of political speech.”

Rahma’s case is not unusual. In 2011, Bassem Tamimi was convicted under Military Order 101 for leading illegal protests in the village of Nabi Saleh, which has seen much of its land handed over to the neighboring settlement of Halamish. (He was also convicted of urging children to throw stones on the basis of what Human Rights Watch called “a child’s coercively obtained statement [that] raises serious concerns about the fairness of his trial.”) It was Bassem’s 11th arrest. He had previously been held for three years without trial. Yet at his trial, Bassem called the Israelis who protested with him his “brothers and sisters,” and pledged that “we will still raise our children to love; love the land and the people without discrimination of race, religion or ethnicity.”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard American-Jewish leaders cite the Hamas charter. But I’ve never heard a single one express concern about the prosecutions of Rahma or Tamimi. Indeed, I’ve never heard major American-Jewish leaders criticize Israeli restrictions on peaceful protest in the West Bank at all.

In 2010, when an interviewer asked the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman about the Rahma case, he replied, “I’m not an expert on the [Israeli] judicial system and I don’t intend to be.”

If undermining peaceful Palestinian protest helps Hamas, so does undermining Palestinian support for the two-state solution. In November 2012, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, who was born in the Israeli city of Safed, told Israeli TV, “I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not live there.” Given the depth of the Palestinian commitment to refugee return, Abbas’ statement was politically perilous. Hamas quickly denounced it.

The only way for Abbas to have survived such a risky overture would have been to receive something important in return. Had Benjamin Netanyahu responded with a high-profile gesture of his own – for instance, signaling his openness to a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem – some Palestinians might have been more forgiving of Abbas’ concession.

Instead, Netanyahu dismissed Abbas’ statement as insignificant because it bore “no connection” to his “actual actions.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized his successor’s response, but establishment American-Jewish leaders did not. And with that, any hope that Abbas’ gambit would not seriously undermine him among Palestinians was lost. The episode proved a boon for Hamas.

That same month, Israeli finance minister Yuval Steinitz boasted that, since 2009, Netanyahu’s government had doubled the portion of Israel’s budget going to settlements. Yet again, the news was met with silence in the American-Jewish establishment. One

person who did not remain silent, however, was then-Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian leader most popular among Jewish groups because of his deeply un-Hamas like embrace of nonviolence, institution building and mutual coexistence.

A few months later, in announcing his retirement, Fayyad cited settlement growth as one of the factors that destroyed him and bolstered Hamas. “In deeds,” he told Roger Cohen of The New York Times. “Israel never got behind me; in fact it was quite hostile. The occupation regime is more entrenched, with no sign it is beginning to relinquish its grip on our life. There are more settlements, more settler violence, more intrusiveness into all aspects of Palestinian life.” As a result, declared Fayyad, “Our people question whether the PA can deliver.” And “Hamas … is strengthened.”

Finally, last April, the Arab League for a third time offered to recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 lines and found a “just” and “agreed-upon” solution for the Palestinian refugees.

This time, Israel’s Arab neighbors went further, declaring that Israel could keep some West Bank settlements so long as it swapped them for territory inside the Green Line. The Arab League proposal gave Abbas cover for territorial concessions of his own. Hamas rejected the offer but might have been isolated in the Arab world had not Netanyahu essentially rejected it too.

In a speech soon after the proposal, Netanyahu insisted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not “territorial” at all and that “no matter what the borders,” Palestinians must not merely recognize Israel, but recognize it as a Jewish state (something the Arab League offer had not done). Chalk up another win for Hamas.

Sometime in the coming days, Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian negotiators may well agree to some modest easing of the blockade that has virtually destroyed Gaza’s economic life. The people of Gaza will win this relief not because Salam Fayyad painstakingly built up Palestinian institutions, not because Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly recognized Israel’s right to exist and not because Bassem Tamimi protested nonviolently in partnership with Israelis. Tragically, under this Israeli government, those efforts have brought Palestinians virtually no concessions at all.

The people of Gaza will win some relief from the blockade – as they did when the last Gaza war ended – because Hamas launched rockets designed to kill.

“Why does Israel support Hamas?” a Palestinian acquaintance once asked me. Back then I thought he was crazy. Now I think that perhaps we are.

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.609257

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Haaretz: Israel is Losing the Obama Coalition

July 31, 2014 | 1 Comment | Peter Beinart

In Chicago, Barack Obama lived across the street from a very unusual synagogue, KAM Isaiah Israel, and its very unusual rabbi, Arnold Jacob Wolf. Wolf had been the founding chairman of Breira, the first American Jewish group to advocate a Palestinian state, and throughout his career, he passionately challenged Israeli settlement policies and the American Jewish organizations that justified them. In 1970, in words that could have been written this morning, Wolf denounced American Jewish leaders who, on the issue of Israel, “do not demand support, but rather submission…Any congregation whose allegiance is the least bit critical, any rabbi who holds independent views of the Middle Eastern situation, is eyed with suspicion, if not with downright hatred.”

Wolf liked Obama, but considered him timid. One month before Obama’s election, and three months before Wolf’s death, the octogenarian rabbi predicted that although Obama “knows more than most people do about the [Middle East] situation…he’s going to go very cautiously and not do anything that shakes up the Jewish community. I’m not sure I agree with that, but that’s what’s going to happen.”

Wolf was right. Obama has been cautious. He’s put far less pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu to stop settlement growth than George H.W. Bush put on Yitzhak Shamir. He’s been far more indulgent of Netanyahu’s war in Gaza than Ronald Reagan was of Shamir and Menachem Begin’s war in Lebanon.

But although Obama has not changed the American debate over Israel, the Obama coalition has. Look at the polls taken during this war. A majority of Americans defend Israel’s actions and blame Hamas for the violence. But among the demographic groups that backed Obama most strongly, it’s the reverse. First, young people. According to Gallup, while Americans over the age of 65 support Israel’s actions by a margin of 24 points, Americans under 30 oppose them by a margin of 26 points. Second, racial and ethnic minorities. White Americans back the war by 16 points. Non-whites oppose it by 24 points. Third, liberals. According to the Pew Research Center, conservatives are 54 points more likely to blame Hamas for the fighting than Israel. Among liberals, it’s tied.

What do young people, minorities and liberals have in common? They’re the constituencies whose overwhelming support made Barack Obama president.

In Washington, Democratic politicians from Obama on down still overwhelmingly support Israeli actions. Earlier this month, the entire United States Senate —including socialists like Bernie Sanders and progressive firebrands like Elizabeth Warren—supported a resolution on Gaza so one-sided that it didn’t even acknowledge any Palestinians had died.

But if Sanders and Warren haven’t changed, the people who vote for them have. One can still find older commentators like Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman who defend Israel’s actions in Gaza while championing a liberal agenda inside the United States. Among younger pundits, by contrast, that combination has virtually disappeared. One of the last holdouts was New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, a highly regarded critic of Republican domestic policy who over the years has generally blamed Palestinians more than Israel for the ongoing conflict. Yet earlier this week, in a widely discussed column, Chait wrote that “it has dawned on me that I am one of the liberal Jews who…has grown less pro-Israel over the last decade.” Among younger Americans, including younger American Jews, “liberal except on Israel”—once a common political identity—barely exists.

The result is that in the media, if not in Congress, the debate over Israel’s behavior is mostly playing out along partisan and ideological lines. The strongest defenders of Israeli actions are generally conservative Republicans who oppose a Palestinian state. On social media, defenses of Israeli behavior are frequently laced with hostility toward President Obama and toward Muslims, which is not surprising given that, according to one recent poll, 63 percent of Republicans believe Islam is incompatible with American values. But in America’s hyper-polarized political environment, the more conservatives defend Israeli policy in terms Obama voters find alienating, the more alienated Obama voters grow from Israeli policy. The more enthusiastic Sean Hannity and John Hagee become about this war, the more Obama voters decide it must be wrong.

And it is Obama voters—not Hannity and Hagee supporters—who are growing as a share of America’s population. In the United States, Israel has the same demographic problem as the GOP. Every year, older whites decline as a share of America’s adult population. Every year, Millennials and minorities—the two groups most skeptical of Israeli behavior—grow.

The America that exists in Netanyahu’s head—an America populated by conservative, fervently nationalistic, white Christians who believe the civilized West must wage a global war against barbaric Islam—is slowly dying. On questions of culture, war and peace, younger Americans often think more like their European counterparts than their own parents and grandparents. In 2013, for instance, Pew found that Americans under 30 were 24 points more likely to approve of the United Nations than were Americans over 50, the largest age gap in any of the seventeen countries Pew surveyed. A 2012 Pew poll found young Americans 30 points more likely than their elders to say the United States should “avoid military confrontation” with Iran rather than “take a stand.” And according to a 2011 Pew poll, while Americans over 50 were far more likely than Western Europeans to say “our culture is superior to others,” Americans under thirty were actually less likely to say so than young people in Britain, Germany and Spain. Not coincidentally, young Americans are far less religious than their elders too.

As America grows less nationalistic, less hawkish, less religious and less inclined to consider its own culture superior, it will grow less sympathetic to an Israeli government defined by exactly those characteristics. When will that change American policy? I don’t know. As the gun control debate shows, well-organized, passionate constituencies can wield tremendous influence in Washington even as public opinion shifts against them. When it comes to Israel, older, more religious American Jews and older, more religious white Christians are such a constituency. And they will keep punching above their weight for many years to come.

But every time a conflict like this breaks out—especially if Israel continues to elect governments hostile to a viable Palestinian state—the American mood will incrementally shift. Already, Israel has lost Jon Stewart, the most influential spokesperson for America’s liberal young. By the next Gaza War, if God forbid it comes, Israel will have lost MSNBC too. And eventually, the political fears that have restrained Obama will not restrain his ideological successors.

I fervently hope that when that shift comes, it will bring a shift in American policy towards the occupation and not a weakening of America’s commitment to Israeli security, as expressed in systems like Iron Dome. And I fervently hope that when it comes, there will still be a two state solution to pursue. Somewhere, I suspect, Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, of blessed memory, is hoping that too.

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.608314

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Haaretz: What American Jews Haven’t Been Told about Gaza

July 30, 2014 | 18 Comments | Peter Beinart

If you’ve been anywhere near the American Jewish community over the past few weeks, you’ve heard the following morality tale: Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005, hoping the newly independent country would become the Singapore of the Middle East. Instead, Hamas seized power, ransacked greenhouses, threw its opponents off rooftops and began launching thousands of rockets at Israel.

American Jewish leaders use this narrative to justify their skepticism of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. But in crucial ways, it’s wrong. And without understanding why it’s wrong, you can’t understand why this war is wrong too.

Let’s take the claims in turn.

Israel Left Gaza

It’s true that in 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew Israel’s more than 8,000 settlers from Gaza. (At America’s urging, he also dismantled four small settlements in the West Bank). But at no point did Gaza become its own country. Had Gaza become its own country, it would have gained control over its borders. It never did. As the Israeli human rights group Gisha has detailed, even before the election of Hamas, Israel controlled whether Gazans could enter or exit the Strip (In conjunction with Egypt, which controlled the Rafah checkpoint in Gaza’s south). Israel controlled the population registry through which Gazans were issued identification cards. Upon evacuating its settlers and soldiers from Gaza, Israel even created a security perimeter inside the Strip from which Gazans were barred from entry. (Unfortunately for Gazans, this perimeter included some of the Strip’s best farmland).

“Pro-Israel” commentators claim Israel had legitimate security reasons for all this. But that concedes the point. A necessary occupation is still an occupation. That’s why it’s silly to analogize Hamas’ rockets—repugnant as they are—to Mexico or Canada attacking the United States. The United States is not occupying Mexico or Canada. Israel — according to the United States government — has been occupying Gaza without interruption since 1967.

To grasp the perversity of using Gaza as an explanation for why Israel can’t risk a Palestinian state, it helps to realize that Sharon withdrew Gaza’s settlers in large measure because he didn’t want a Palestinian state. By 2004, when Sharon announced the Gaza withdrawal, the Road Map for Peace that he had signed with Mahmoud Abbas was going nowhere. Into the void came two international proposals for a two state solution. The first was the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which every member of the Arab League offered to recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 lines and found a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. The second was the 2003 Geneva Initiative, in which former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators publicly agreed upon the details of a two state plan. As the political scientists Jonathan Rynhold and Dov Waxman have detailed, Sharon feared the United States would get behind one or both plans, and pressure Israel to accept a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines. “Only an Israeli initiative,” Sharon argued, “will keep us from being dragged into dangerous initiatives like the Geneva and Saudi initiatives.”

Sharon saw several advantages to withdrawing settlers from Gaza. First, it would save money, since in Gaza Israel was deploying a disproportionately high number of soldiers to protect a relatively small number of settlers. Second, by (supposedly) ridding Israel of its responsibility for millions of Palestinians, the withdrawal would leave Israel and the West Bank with a larger Jewish majority. Third, the withdrawal would prevent the administration of George W. Bush from embracing the Saudi or Geneva plans, and pushing hard—as Bill Clinton had done—for a Palestinian state. Sharon’s chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, put it bluntly: “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Gaza withdrawal did not meet minimal Palestinian demands. Not even the most moderate Palestinian leader would have accepted a long-term arrangement in which Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza while maintaining control of the Strip’s borders and deepening Israeli control of the West Bank. (Even in the 2005, the year Sharon withdrew from Gaza, the overall settler population rose, in part because some Gazan settlers relocated to the West Bank).

In fact, Sharon’s advisors did not expect withdrawing Gaza’s settlers to satisfy the Palestinians. Nor did not they expect it to end Palestinian terrorism. Ehud Olmert, a key figure in the disengagement plan (and someone who himself later embraced Palestinian statehood), acknowledged that “terror will continue” after the removal of Gaza’s settlers. The key word is “continue.” Contrary to the American Jewish narrative, militants in Gaza didn’t start launching rockets at Israel after the settlers left. They began a half-decade earlier, at the start of the second intifada. The Gaza disengagement did not stop this rocket fire. But it did not cause it either.

Hamas Seized Power

I can already hear the objections. Even if withdrawing settlers from Gaza didn’t give the Palestinians a state, it might have made Israelis more willing to support one in the future – if only Hamas had not seized power and turned Gaza into a citadel of terror.

But Hamas didn’t seize power. It won an election. In January 2006, four months after the last settlers left, Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem chose representatives to the Palestinian Authority’s parliament. (The previous year, they had separately elected Abbas to be the Palestinian Authority’s President). Hamas won a plurality of the vote – forty-five percent – but because of the PA’s voting system, and Fatah’s idiotic decision to run more than one candidate in several districts, Hamas garnered 58 percent of the seats in parliament.

To the extent American Jewish leaders acknowledge that Hamas won an election (as opposed to taking power by force), they usually chalk its victory up to Palestinian enthusiasm for the organization’s 1988 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction (The president of the New York board of rabbis said recently that anyone who voted for Hamas should be considered a combatant, not a civilian). But that’s almost certainly not the reason Hamas won. For starters, Hamas didn’t make Israel’s destruction a major theme of its election campaign. In its 2006 campaign manifesto, the group actually fudged the question by saying only that it wanted an “independent state whose capital is Jerusalem” plus fulfillment of the right of return.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that by 2006 Hamas had embraced the two state solution. Only that Hamas recognized that running against the two state solution was not the best way to win Palestinian votes. The polling bears this out. According to exit polls conducted by the prominent Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, 75 percent of Palestinian voters—and a remarkable 60 percent of Hamas voters—said they supported a Palestinian unity government dedicated to achieving a two state solution.

So why did Hamas win? Because, according to Shikaki, only fifteen percent of voters called the peace process their most important issue. A full two-thirds cited either corruption or law and order. It’s vital to remember that 2006 was the first Palestinian election in more than ten years. During the previous decade, Palestinians had grown increasingly frustrated by Fatah’s unaccountable, lawless and incompetent rule. According to exit polls, 85 percent of voters called Fatah corrupt. Hamas, by contrast, because it had never wielded power and because its charitable arm effectively delivered social services, enjoyed a reputation for competence and honesty.

Hamas won, in other words, for the same reason voters all across the world boot out parties that have grown unresponsive and self-interested after years in power. That’s not just Shikaki’s judgment. It’s also Bill Clinton’s. As Clinton explained in 2009, “a lot of Palestinians were upset that they [Fatah] were not delivering the services. They didn’t think it [Fatah] was an entirely honest operation and a lot of people were going to vote for Hamas not because they wanted terrorist tactics…but because they thought they might get better service, better government…They [also] won because Fatah carelessly and foolishly ran both its slates in too many parliamentary seats.”

This doesn’t change the fact that Hamas’ election confronted Israel and the United States with a serious problem. After its victory, Hamas called for a national unity government with Fatah “for the purpose of ending the occupation and settlements and achieving a complete withdrawal from the lands occupied [by Israel] in 1967, including Jerusalem, so that the region enjoys calm and stability during this phase.” But those final words—“this phase”—made Israelis understandably skeptical that Hamas had changed its long-term goals. The organization still refused to recognize Israel, and given that Israel had refused to talk to the PLO until it formally accepted Israel’s right to exist in 1993, it’s not surprising that Israel demanded Hamas meet the same standard.

Still, Israel and the U.S. would have been wiser to follow the counsel of former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, who called for Sharon to try to forge a long-term truce with Hamas. Israel could also have pushed Hamas to pledge that if Abbas—who remained PA president—negotiated a deal with Israel, Hamas would accept the will of the Palestinian people as expressed in a referendum, something the group’s leaders have subsequently promised to do.

Instead, the Bush administration—suddenly less enamored of Middle Eastern democracy–pressured Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian parliament and rule by emergency decree. Israel, which also wanted Abbas to defy the election results, withheld the tax and customs revenue it had collected on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf. Knowing Hamas would resist Abbas’ efforts to annul the election, especially in Gaza, where it was strong on the ground, the Bushies also began urging Abbas’ former national security advisor, a Gazan named Mohammed Dahlan, to seize power in the Strip by force. As David Rose later detailed in an extraordinary article in Vanity Fair, Condoleezza Rice pushed Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to buy weapons for Dahlan, and for Israel to allow them to enter Gaza. As General Mark Dayton, US security coordinator for the Palestinians, told Dahlan in November 2006, “We also need you to build up your forces in order to take on Hamas.”

Unfortunately for the Bush administration, Dahlan’s forces were weaker than they looked. And when the battle for Gaza began, Hamas won it easily, and brutally. In response, Abbas declared emergency rule in the West Bank.

So yes, members of Hamas did throw their Fatah opponents off rooftops. Some of that may have been payback because Dahlan was widely believed to have overseen the torture of Hamas members in the 1990s. Regardless, in winning the battle for Gaza, Hamas—which had already shed much Israeli blood – shed Palestinian blood too.

But to suggest that Hamas “seized power” – as American Jewish leaders often do – ignores the fact that Hamas’ brutal takeover occurred in response to an attempted Fatah coup backed by the United States and Israel. In the words of David Wurmser, who resigned as Dick Cheney’s Middle East advisor a month after Hamas’ takeover, “what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen.”

The Greenhouses

Israel responded to Hamas’ election victory by further restricting access in and out of Gaza. As it happens, these restrictions played a key role in explaining why Gaza’s greenhouses did not help it become Singapore. American Jewish leaders usually tell the story this way: When the settlers left, Israel handed over their greenhouses to the Palestinians, hoping they would use them to create jobs. Instead, Palestinians tore them down in an anti-Jewish rage.

But one person who does not endorse that narrative is the prime mover behind the greenhouse deal, Australian-Jewish businessman James Wolfensohn, who served as the Quartet’s Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement. In his memoir, Wolfensohn notes that “some damage was done to the greenhouses [as the result of post-disengagement looting] but they came through essentially intact” and were subsequently guarded by Palestinian Authority police. What really doomed the greenhouse initiative, Wolfensohn argues, were Israeli restrictions on Gazan exports. “In early December [2005], he writes, “the much-awaited first harvest of quality cash crops—strawberries, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers and flowers—began. These crops were intended for export via Israel for Europe. But their success relied upon the Karni crossing [between Gaza and Israel], which, beginning in mid-January 2006, was closed more than not. The Palestine Economic Development Corporation, which was managing the greenhouses taken over from the settlers, said that it was experiencing losses in excess of $120,000 per day…It was excruciating. This lost harvest was the most recognizable sign of Gaza’s declining fortunes and the biggest personal disappointment during my mandate.”

The point of dredging up this history is not to suggest that Israel deserves all the blame for its long and bitter conflict with Hamas. It does not. Hamas bears the blame for every rocket it fires, and those rockets have not only left Israelis scarred and disillusioned. They have also badly undermined the Palestinian cause.

The point is to show—contrary to the establishment American Jewish narrative—that Israel has repeatedly played into Hamas’ hands by not strengthening those Palestinians willing to pursue statehood through nonviolence and mutual recognition. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when Sharon refused to seriously entertain the Arab and Geneva peace plans. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it refused to support a Palestinian unity government that could have given Abbas the democratic legitimacy that would have strengthened his ability to cut a two state deal. And Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it responded to the group’s takeover of Gaza with a blockade that—although it has some legitimate security features—has destroyed Gaza’s economy, breeding the hatred and despair on which Hamas thrives.

In the ten years since Jewish settlers left, Israeli policy toward Gaza has been as militarily resourceful as it has been politically blind. Tragically, that remains the case during this war. Yet tragically, the American Jewish establishment keeps cheering Israel on.

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.608008

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American Politics »

The Atlantic: Compassionate Conservatism is Back, Right on Schedule

July 25, 2014 | post a comment | Peter Beinart

Over the past two decades, since the 1992 presidential election, Republican politics has followed a cycle. It goes like this:

Stage One: A Democrat wins the presidency and expands the size of government.

Stage Two: Republicans mobilize to prevent big government from destroying the American way of life.

Stage Three: Republicans take Congress.

Stage Four: Congressional Republicans battle the Democratic president over the size of government. They cut spending and reduce the deficit, but in the process become wildly unpopular.

Stage Five: The Democratic president uses the unpopularity of the Republican Congress to help win reelection.

Stage Six: Republican presidential candidates ditch their assault on big government and become compassionate conservatives.

We’re now back at Stage Six.

In the late 1990s, after Bill Clinton campaigned for reelection against the Gingrich Congress’s assault on government spending, George W. Bush decided that he too would make congressional Republicans his foil. In September 1999, when GOP budget hawks tried to cut the earned-income tax credit, the Texas governor declared, “I don’t think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor.”

Now the same pattern is repeating itself. In 2012, Mitt Romney boasted that he was “severely conservative.” He chose Paul Ryan as his running mate in large measure to mobilize Republicans who loved Ryan’s assault on the welfare state. But Romney and Ryan lost in part because Barack Obama, like Clinton before him, scared Americans about the GOP’s assault on government. Moreover, as in the late 1990s, the budget deficit is going down.

It’s easy to see why compassionate conservatism is back. It’s harder to see it helping Republicans all that much.
As a result, potential GOP presidential candidates are falling over one another to run as Bush did in 2000: as compassionate conservatives. Rand Paul is arguing for shorter prison sentences. Republican Governors John Kasich and Mike Pence are expanding Medicaid. Marco Rubio recently said it was time for Republicans to stop trying to balance “the budget by saving money on safety-net programs.” Even budget cutter extraordinaire, Paul Ryan, wants to “remove it [the fight against poverty] from the old-fashioned budget fight.”

It’s easy to see why compassionate conservatism is back. It’s harder to see it helping Republicans all that much.

First, it didn’t even help Bush all that much. Let’s remember, he won less than 48 percent of the vote in 2000. Between them, Al Gore and Ralph Nader won more than 51 percent. Exit polls that year found that of the 10 qualities Bush voters cited as reasons for voting for him, “cares about people like me” was number seven. In 2004, pollsters asked the question differently. As Ben Domenech has noted, Bush won only 24 percent of voters who said their top priority was a candidate who “cares about people.” He won only 23 percent of voters who said their biggest concern was health care. That’s better than Mitt Romney, who won only 18 percent of voters who prioritized “car[ing] about people.” But it’s exactly the same as John McCain’s percentage in 2008. And on health care—a key domestic-policy issue on which Republicans want to show they’re not hard-hearted—Bush in 2004 did slightly worse than McCain and Romney.

The big reason Bush won in 2004 isn’t because he wowed voters with his compassion. It’s because he won 86 percent of those who said their number one concern was “terrorism” and 80 percent of those who prioritized “moral values.” Since then, national security has faded as a political issue and the GOP’s historic advantage on it has disappeared. Something similar has happened on the culture war, which has shifted in the Democrats’ direction because gay marriage—which Bush won votes for opposing in 2004—is now far more popular.

If the first problem with running as a compassionate conservative is that it didn’t work so effectively for George W. Bush, the second is that being seen as compassionate is probably harder for a Republican today. Suspicion of the GOP among key demographic groups is greater, and the Republican base is less tolerant of reaching out to them. When Bush was president, the leaders of both parties opposed gay marriage. Now it’s a partisan issue, which makes it harder for a Republican candidate to win LGBT votes, at least without provoking a rebellion among the GOP’s Christian conservative base.

It’s the same with Hispanics. Bush won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, but since then Hispanic have become more alienated from the GOP. The activist right’s fury over illegal immigration has deepened, which means that compared to the Bush years, a Republican presidential candidate will have more suspicion to overcome and less political flexibility with which to overcome it.

Finally, the ranks of the demographic groups Republicans are targeting with their compassion crusade are more numerous. By 2016, Hispanics will represent more than double the share of the American electorate they represented in 2000. That means even if a Republican won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote, as Bush did, the consequences would be more dire, since his Democratic opponent would have won 65 percent of a higher number.

Then again, if history is any guide, stage seven of the Republican cycle is that a presidential candidate professing compassionate conservatism loses the popular vote by a half-million votes but is handed the presidency by the Supreme Court. The way the Roberts Court has been acting, I wouldn’t rule it out.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/07/the-cycle-of-compassionate-conservatism/375054/

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Israel »

Haaretz: The best weapon against Hamas: Palestinian hope

July 25, 2014 | post a comment | Peter Beinart

It’s easy to criticize the Israeli government’s response to the rockets launched from Gaza in recent weeks. It’s harder to offer an alternative. But honest critics have an obligation to try. So here goes.

The short answer is that I’d treat the rockets as military symptoms of a political problem. That doesn’t mean Israel shouldn’t return fire. If Hamas and Islamic Jihad can attack Israel with impunity, they may never stop. But returning fire—or even invading Gaza—will never make Israel safe.

Israel can destroy Hamas’ rockets, but Hamas will eventually rebuild them bigger and better, as it did after the last war, and the one before that. And in the relatives and friends of the Palestinians killed in Operation Protective Edge, it will find plenty of new recruits willing to fire them. Israel can overthrow Hamas and then pull back, but it will leave in its wake Somalia-like chaos that gives groups even more radical than Hamas free reign. Israel can overthrow Hamas and try to install Fatah, but doing so will harm the latter as much as the former because any faction that rides into Gaza atop an Israeli tank will lose its public legitimacy forever. Israel can overthrow Hamas and try to govern Gaza itself, but that would require Israeli 18- year-olds to permanently patrol house-to-house in a territory where they’re constantly at risk of becoming the next Gilad Shalit.

So what would I do? First, I’d seek a cease-fire that eases those aspects of Israel’s blockade that have no legitimate security rationale. (That doesn’t mean acceding to Hamas’ cease-fire demands but it means recognizing that a cease-fire that does nothing to address the blockade – as Israel wants – won’t last).

Here are a couple of examples. Since 2010, Israel has made it easier for goods to enter Gaza. But it still makes it extremely difficult for goods to leave. According to the Israeli human rights group Gisha, only two percent as many truckloads leave the Strip as did in 2007. If Israel wants to check those trucks to ensure they’re not carrying weapons, fine. (Last December, the Netherlands tried to donate a high-tech scanner for exactly that purpose).

But essentially barring Gazan exports to Israel and the West Bank — historically Gaza’s biggest markets — is both inhumane and stupid. It’s helped destroy the independent business class that could have been a check on Hamas’ power, and left many in Gaza with the choice of working for Hamas or receiving food aid.

In addition to goods, Israel should make it easier for people to leave Gaza, too. A quarter of Gazans have family in the West Bank. Yet even before this war, Israel allowed Gazans to travel to the West Bank only in “exceptional humanitarian cases.” Yes, Israel can restrict the travel of terrorists. But preventing young Gazans from studying in the West Bank – like preventing Gazan businessmen from exporting there – is self-defeating and inhumane. It feeds the isolation and despair that Hamas exploits.

Second, I’d let Hamas take part in a Palestinian unity government that prepares the ground for Palestinian elections. That doesn’t mean tolerating Hamas attacks, to which Israel should always reserve the right to respond. But it means no longer trying to bar Hamas from political participation because of its noxious views.

It’s common to hear pro-Israel hawks ridicule Mahmoud Abbas for lacking authority over Gaza and for serving the 10th year of a four-year presidential term. But by opposing Palestinian elections, Israel creates the very circumstance its supporters bemoan. Without free elections — which means elections in which all major Palestinian parties can run — Palestinian leaders will never enjoy authority in both Gaza and the West Bank nor the legitimacy to make painful compromises on behalf of their people.

Israel wants Hamas barred from any Palestinian unity government, and any Palestinian election, until it accepts the two-state solution and past peace agreements. But as I’ve suggested before, the current Israeli government probably couldn’t meet those conditions.

There’s a better way. What’s crucial is not that Hamas as a party endorse the two-state solution. After all, Likud as a party has not endorsed the two state-solution, either. What’s crucial is that Hamas promise to respect a two-state agreement if endorsed by the Palestinian people in a referendum. In the past, Hamas leaders have told the media they would. Israel, or its Western allies, should get that pledge in writing, and, in return, allow the free elections necessary to produce a Palestinian leadership with the legitimacy to make a deal.

Finally, Israel should do everything it can — short of rigging the elections — to ensure that Hamas doesn’t win. Already, polls show that Abbas would defeat Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh easily. (If Israel really wanted to crush Hamas, it could release jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who has strongly endorsed the two state solution, and who in polls defeats Haniyeh by an even larger margin). But Israel could also help ensure Hamas’ defeat by showing Palestinians that Abbas’ strategy of recognizing Israel, and helping it combat terrorism, actually works. It could do so by freezing settlement growth and publicly committing to a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines with a capital in East Jerusalem. That would give Abbas an instant boost.

Hamas’ great ally is despair. It grows stronger when Palestinians decide that settlement growth has made the two-state solution impossible. It gains strength when Palestinians decide that leaders like Abbas and Salam Fayyad are fools for helping Israel police the West Bank while getting only massive settlement subsidies in return.

Nothing would weaken Hamas more than growing Palestinian faith that through nonviolence and mutual recognition, they can win the basic rights they’ve been denied for almost half a century. Israel’s best long-term strategy against Palestinian violence is Palestinian hope. Unfortunately, as effective as Benjamin Netanyahu has been at destroying Palestinian rockets, he’s been even more effective at destroying that.

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.606791

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Israel »

Haaretz: Is Netanyahu fighting just Hamas or the two-state solution as well?

July 16, 2014 | post a comment | Peter Beinart

What is Israel fighting for?

Most Jews think the answer is clear: Israel is fighting to keep its people safe from rockets. Most Palestinians think the answer is clear too: Israel is fighting to maintain its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. (According to the United States government, Israel still occupies Gaza despite withdrawing its settlers because it controls access to Gaza from air, sea, and—along with Egypt—land. If the United States controlled whether boats could dock, and planes could land, in Canada, we’d be occupying it even if no Americans lived there.)

A tremendous amount rides on how one views Israeli intentions. If Israel is only seeking to protect its people, then Hamas’ rocket fire really is – as Israeli spokespeople insist – the equivalent of Canada shelling the United States. Even if you acknowledge that the Canada-U.S. analogy is flawed because Israel occupies the West Bank and Gaza while America doesn’t occupy Quebec, it’s still possible to justify Israel’s behavior if you believe Israel wants that occupation to end. If, on the other hand, you believe that Israel desires permanent dominion over territories whose non-Jewish residents lack basic rights, then Israel’s behavior doesn’t look all that defensive. That doesn’t justify launching rockets into Israel. Hamas’ attempted murder of civilians is wrong, period, irrespective of Israel’s intentions. It is even more egregious because Hamas rejected a cease-fire, which Israel embraced. But as appalling as Hamas’ behavior has been, it’s hard to endorse Israel’s response if it is aimed not just at safeguarding its own people but at controlling another people as well.

Which is why Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments last Friday were so important. “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement,” he declared, “in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.” With those words, explained Times of Israel editor David Horovitz, a Netanyahu sympathizer, the Prime Minister was “insisting upon ongoing Israeli security oversight inside and at the borders of the West Bank. That sentence, quite simply, spells the end to the notion of Netanyahu consenting to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Publicly, at least, this is an earthquake. Until last Friday, Netanyahu was on record as supporting a Palestinian state. For five years, in fact, American Jewish leaders have insisted that he sincerely desires one. So what has changed on the ground to make Netanyahu change his mind? Nothing. Netanyahu now says he cannot relinquish control of the West Bank because Hamas could use it as a base from which to shell Israel, as it is now doing from Gaza. But that danger didn’t arise last week. Hamas has been shelling Israel, and refusing to recognize its right to exist, for a long time. The argument for the two state solution—which most top former Israeli security officials endorse – has always been that once Palestinians gained the rights and dignity that came with a state, their government would have a strong incentive to keep Hamas and other militants from imperiling that state by using it as a launching pad for attacks on Israel, as the governments of Egypt and Jordan have done in the decades since they signed peace deals. One can dispute this logic. But it is no less persuasive this week than it was last week. And last week, Netanyahu publicly supported a Palestinian state.

In reality, what has changed are not Netanyahu’s views but his willingness to publicly acknowledge them. Bibi is a man, after all, who in A Durable Peace, his major book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reissued in 2000, repeatedly compares a Palestinian state to the Nazi takeover of the Sudetenland. When elected prime minister in early 2009, he still publicly opposed a Palestinian state. And even when he supposedly embraced Palestinian statehood that June in a speech at Bar Ilan University, his own father told Israel television it was a ruse: “He doesn’t support [a Palestinian state]. He would support it under terms they [the Palestinians] would never accept.”

Netanyahu has made no effort to get his Likud Party to endorse Palestinian statehood nor did he try to prevent it from running a parliamentary slate in 2013 dominated by avowed two state opponents. He’s doubled funding for settlements.  And according to the best reporting on John Kerry’s now-aborted peace effort, Netanyahu adamantly refused to discuss the boundaries of a Palestinian state while insisting, according to U.S. negotiators, that Israel’s “control of the West Bank would continue forever.” All of which is to say that Netanyahu’s statement last Friday, as Horovitz correctly observes, did not represent “a new, dramatic change of stance by the prime minister. It was a new, dramatic exposition of his long-held stance.”

Why is Netanyahu coming clean now? Because he can do so without risking a confrontation with the Obama administration, which has given up trying to broker a two state deal. For all those on the American Jewish right who claimed that Netanyahu would grow more willing to compromise once America ceased its diplomatic meddling and simply offered its unconditional support, the results are now in. Without American meddling, Netanyahu feels free to broadcast his rejection of the two-state solution to the world.

He’s also free to do so because he knows that the American Jewish establishment will not publicly challenge him. It’s extraordinary, when you think about it. Had Mahmoud Abbas declared that because of this week’s Gaza War he no longer supports the two state solution, American Jewish groups would have screamed with fury. But when Netanyahu does the same thing, they say nothing. As of Monday afternoon, in fact, not a single major American Jewish group had even commented on Netanyahu’s about-face.

What this silence proves is that for major American Jewish organizations, publicly supporting the two-state solution has little to do with actually achieving it. For the American Jewish mainstream, the real purpose of claiming to support Palestinian statehood is two-fold. First, it maintains the fiction that Israel’s almost half-century long control of the West Bank and Gaza is temporary, which allows American Jewish leaders to praise Israeli democracy without grappling with the fact that Israel controls millions of people who cannot vote for the state that dominates their lives. Second, it serves as a cudgel to wield against Palestinians. After all, were American Jewish groups to admit that neither they, nor Netanyahu, really support the two state solution, they would find it harder to brand Palestinian activists as anti-Semitic because they oppose the two-state solution too.

I’m not a pacifist. Although the images of Gaza’s dead sicken me, I could support this war if I believed it was aimed merely at safeguarding the right of Israelis to live free of terror. That’s why I found it easier to justify Ehud Olmert’s Gaza War in 2008. Because back then Israel had a prime minister who genuinely wanted to end its unjust, undemocratic dominion over millions of Palestinians. Today, by contrast, Israel’s prime minister wants to make that control permanent. And that means Israel’s missiles are instruments not only of self-defense, but also of conquest.

Netanyahu has now said as much himself. Even if our leaders won’t, American Jews must be prepared to listen.

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.605514?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

 

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Articles »

Why Anthony Weiner Shouldn’t Quit

June 12, 2011 | Comments Off | Peter Beinart

The congressman’s public flogging doesn’t fit the crime, and is emblematic of our kick-’em-when-they’re-down culture. Peter Beinart on why we need a new rulebook for political sex scandals.

Excuse me for asking, but why exactly should Anthony…

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Articles »

Why Are We Still in Aghanistan?

June 10, 2011 | Comments Off | Peter Beinart

With the initial objective of vanquishing al Qaeda largely achieved, and the latest goal of luring the Taliban into a power-sharing deal out of reach, the main reason the U.S. is still at war in Afghanistan is inertia-not logic, says Peter Beinart.
On…

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