THE SPINE MARCH 19, 2010
Frankly, it’s a little bit embarrassing to be citing the Commentary crowd so often. But the fact is that the other powerful venues which seem to understand that the Palestinians do not really want peace--or act as if they don’t--are few and far between. Yes, there is the Washington Post, where Jackson Diehl, Charles Krauthammer, and Chuck Lane analyze what everyone can (but most refuse to) see or describe. Then, of course, there are the editorials, the collective voice of the Post, which strike an independent voice free of Arabisant cant and America bashing. This is in contrast to the New York Times, which hasn’t run an op-ed sympathetic to Israel in ages. (And the Times has a more-than-hundred-year record of downright hostility to Zionism specifically and indifference to the fate of Jews generally. Don’t argue this with me: Do you really want to know how cool the Times’ owning family kept its pages free from interest in the Nazi killing of Jews?)
And, of course, The Atlantic has Jeffrey Goldberg, a master journalist of the significant detail and a discerning historian of continuity and change in the sweep of time. Alas, in the Middle East, it’s mostly continuity and cruelty. This is a culture so unhinged by modernity that it clings to its crippled civilization. And who will tell me that the civilization of the Arabs, the civilization of Islam, is not crippled? You have several years of the United Nations Arab Human Development Report to prove it.
Aside from these and a few other bylines and voices, the Fourth Estate is as understanding of Israel as the First Estate in the French Estates-General was of the Jews.
Among the certified liberals, there is at best a certain nervousness around the subject. Even my TNR colleague and friend, Jonathan Chait, faced with President Obama’s obtuseness (at the least) and his rancorous feelings towards Israel (at not quite the worst) treated the matter quite gingerly. Chait asks: “What’s Obama Up To In Israel?” Basically, he answers “nothing.” And quotes a charming little speculation by Goldberg that Obama was actually trying to force a political crisis in Jerusalem so that Tzipi Livni and Kadima would replace the rightist parties in Netanyahu’s cabinet. The problem with this fantasy is that Kadima also is for extending Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. If Livni took Avigdor Lieberman’s place, Obama would find an opponent on the issue with greater finesse and charm.
As for Chait, his softness only comes up in the shadow of Obama. Yesterday, he had a devastating blog post that absolutely creamed Juan Cole.
Now back to the Commentary crowd.
I like Elliot Abrams, but his wife doesn’t like me. As a matter of fact, I’ve never liked her, and we had a private pissing match just a few weeks ago. The blessed upshot is that we won’t correspond ever again. The husband in this couple is the son-in-law of Podhoretz père and the brother-in-law of Podhoretz fils, who is producing a fine and fresh Commentary, difficult as it is for me to confess. Elliot has written a short piece for the Council on Foreign Relations explaining the differences over building in Jerusalem between the Obama administration and the Israeli government. Here it is…
Why are the United States and Israel divided over the settlements issue?
Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
The United States and Israel have long had different views of the settlements, but the issue has been managed without a crisis for decades. In the Bush administration, a deal was struck whereby the United States would not protest construction inside existing settlements so long as they did not expand outward. The current crisis, ostensibly about construction in Jerusalem, was manufactured by the Obama administration--and as it is about Jerusalem, isn’t even about activity in the settlements.
Every Israeli government since 1967, of left or right, has asserted that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and has allowed Israeli Jews to build there. The current crisis stems from the announcement of plans--not actual construction--in a part of the city five blocks from the 1967 lines and in a neighborhood that very clearly will remain part of Israel after any negotiated settlement. To escalate that announcement into a crisis in bilateral relations and “condemn” it--using a verb we apply to acts of murder and terror, not acts of housing construction--was a decision by the U.S. government, not a natural or inevitable occurrence.
Among the errors by the administration is the assertion that unless all construction freezes, there can be no negotiations. There were face-to-face peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians year after year while construction took place in settlements and in Jerusalem, so this is a new demand and a new obstacle to peace. Negotiations are not a favor the Palestinians bestow on us or on Israel; they are the path to the statehood the Palestinian Authority claims is its right and its goal. It appears the United States and Israel are divided over all this now because the Obama administration is imposing new demands on Israel, and building tensions in the bilateral relationship, in an effort to destabilize the governing coalition in Israel. It is a shameful way to treat an ally.
As Bibi Netanyahu pointed out, Ramat Shlomo is five minutes from his office. Elliot believes the Goldberg hypothesis. I don’t. I believe that Obama actually wants Jerusalem to be cut down the center--Arabs here, Jews there.
Then there is the vernacular crisis. It is a minor part of the dispute. But it is symptomatic of the legerdemain--let me be more candid and call it what it is, which is “treachery” and “deceit”--with which the Obami have treated the matter. Jennifer Rubin writes a blog several times a day for “Contentions” at Commentary. Sometimes she’s over the top. But some of you think I am almost always over the top. So that is not an insult in my book. In fact, what it means to me is that both Jennifer and I make our readers uncomfortable. To me, at least, that is a compliment.
I have never met Ms. Rubin, but we’ve corresponded from time to time. She is a wonderful stylist, with the polemical flair of Mary McCarthy and Dwight Macdonald, neither of whose politics she shares. As an analyst of words, however, she compares with our own John McWhorter.
She’s written a number of posts on the use of the word “condemn” by the Obami (a word which, by the way, she invented).
Here’s the first…
Jennifer Rubin - 03.10.2010 - 10:08 AM
Joe Biden’s Israel trip has turned into a semi-fiasco, as David has noted. He was a poor substitute, the Israelis thought, for Obama. Then he condemned the Israelis’ decision to build 1,600 homes in their nation’s capital:
“I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden, currently in Israel, said in a statement. “The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”
“We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them,” Biden continued. “This announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict.”
Biden showed up an hour and a half late for dinner tonight at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence, the pool reporter Janine Zacharia reported, suggesting the reason was U.S. consultations over the Interior Ministry’s housing announcement today. Biden and Netanyahu “took no questions,” Zacharia wrote. “In fact nobody took any questions all day.”
Well, that’s pretty much par for the course. Obama wanted to focus on settlements? Well, that’s what the U.S. and Israel are now discussing at high decibels in a very public way – during what was supposed to be a fence-mending visit.
And notice the language Biden employed: “condemn.” A Capitol Hill Republican leadership adviser sends this keen observation:
What kind of language is this? Isn’t “condemn” reserved for things like beating dissidents, or even terror attacks? Whatever you think of the decision, the Obama administration couldn’t have said they felt it undermined the peace process, were “very disappointed,” saw it as “a step backward” or something like that?
A quick search of the White House website shows that in June, Gibbs said Obama “condemned the violence” in Iran.
In May, Obama released a statement on Aung San Suu Kyi, saying, “I strongly condemn her house arrest and detention, which have also been condemned around the world.”
The same month, Obama “strongly condemn[ed]” a North Korean nuclear test and missile launch.
In July, Obama said, “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred this morning in Jakarta.”
The October bombings in Baghdad prompted Obama to say, “I strongly condemn these outrageous attacks on the Iraqi people…”
Last month, we had this: “The United States and the European Union condemn the continuing human rights violations in Iran since the June 12 election.”
The adviser wonders whether Obama and company really think a housing complex is ”on the same plane as all these things that rightly deserved condemnation.” In Obama’s skewed vision, it seems so. For this crowd, allies are fair game for vitriol, but diplomatic niceties take priority over criticism of despots.
Bashing Israel, frequently and publicly, is what passes for smart diplomacy by the Obami – as is sending the VP in the president’s place (in contrast to Obama’s visits to the “Muslim World” to deliver his fractured version of Middle East history) and converting a housing issue into a nasty public spat.
In this, Biden and the rest of the Obama team have made clear, in case there were any doubt, that there is little reason why Israelis should rely on, or have confidence in, the American negotiating team. And if “proximity talks” require the presence of a trusted interlocutor to visit with both sides and probe for common agreement, we can imagine those talks will be perfectly useless, and indeed, another counterproductive exercise in raising expectations and deflecting attention from the real issue. That, by the way, is not housing complexes. It is the refusal of the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors to recognize the Jewish state. Until that happens, and until the Palestinians definitively repudiate terrorism and establish a state with functioning institutions, the smart diplomats are spinning their wheels. When they aren’t inflaming the situation, that is.
And here’s another…
Jennifer Rubin - 03.16.2010 - 8:57 AM
Jeffrey Goldberg writes:
The Hurva Synagogue, which is in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, has been rebuilt and has been rededicated, and in response, Hamas has called for a “day of rage.” Why? I don’t know why. The Hurva Synagogue does not sit atop the Temple Mount; it’s not near the Temple Mount. Rumors that the rebuilding has affected the Temple Mount are being spread by people who want to create violence and death in the holy city.
But alas, Goldberg knows full well why Hamas is calling for violence and death: “The Hurva holds special meaning for Jews because it was destroyed in 1948 by the Arab Legion, which went on to expel the Jews from the Old City. The fact that Hamas — and even some in Fatah — are protesting this rededication means that we might still be at square one, which is to say, where Arafat was in 2000, when he denied the historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem.” He warns that “this is about denying the right of Judaism to exist in its holiest city.”
Hmm, now where could the Palestinians have gotten the notion that they could engage in such behavior with impunity? Why do we suppose they haven’t a fear in the world that they might lose the adoring glances of the Obami and the security of “proximity talks,” whereby they avoid, as the Netanyahu government has offered, direct negotiations? Well it might have something to do with the perception that ”Israel’s last line of defense against false claims and promises — the United States — has made itself indistinguishable from the United Nations and Amnesty International and all the other NGOs and religious denominations that have declared a virtual war against the Jewish state.”
Oh, but as Goldberg would explain, Hurva is completely different from an apartment complex! Oh really? Well, the housing complex at the center of the storm is not one that even Yasir Arafat would have made a claim for (before he revealed negotiations to be a sham and returned to the business of killing Jews). Who can say that the Palestinians have misread the situation? On the contrary, they can spot daylight when they see it. The State Department’s spokesman offered some tepid criticism of the Palestinians’ call to violence:
I would say that we also have some concerns today about the tensions regarding the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. And we are urging all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to remain calm. We’re deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question, which can only serve to heighten the tensions that we see. And we call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to such incitement.
But there was no “condemnation.” That kind of language and bully-boy tactics are reserved, of course, for Israel. The Palestinians may not be interested in peace, but they aren’t fools. They’ve figured out what’s fair game in the Obama era.