The Political Animal

Arguments in Defense of the Iran Deal and Their Implications

There are many areas on which to focus one’s attention in the Iran deal. My own has been consistently drawn to the administration’s arguments in defense of the deal. Attended to, they are remarkably revealing in their implications about administration thinking, while not, in fact, actually being much remarked upon.

It is a tediously if necessarily repeated truism that negotiation requires compromise in positions about which the parties were previously uncompromising. Thus there will always be opportunity for absolutists not at the table to carp and condemn. Negotiators are charged with perfidy by those they represent only a little less often than battlefield turncoats. However, when the very subject of negotiation is a matter of life and death, and previously stated demands were presented as the conditions of life and death, against a foe more than hyperbolically and otherwise rhetorically malevolent, talking back concessions is a harder sell.

The administration has confidently affirmed without discomfort that the deal will protect the world from a nuclear Iran for somewhere between 10 and 15 years. As Leon Wieseltier wrote, “15 years is just a young person’s idea of a long time.” For many humanities Ph.D.s 10-15 years is about the time between that first seminar and the final granting of the degree. It is about three World Cups from now, the middle of a third presidential term after Obama leaves office, the start, looking backwards, of George W. Bush’s second term. Seem like a very long time?

Feels like a long time to junior; for mom and dad – where did the time go? For nations in geo-political historical time? Blink.

When the eyelid opens to see again, what does it see? Iran as a changed nation, no longer the active state sponsor of terrorism it remains today? If it is not changed, will an economic sanctions regime will be re-imposed, from scratch, all over again? Based upon what international will to challenge Iran to the ultimate end result that did not extend the length of the agreement this time around, when all was at last in place in an arrangement of pieces not likely to be duplicated?

Some other president will do what is necessary? What is that? Are we witnessing at the end of this long negotiation, unacknowledged, the most elaborately primed kick of the can down the road ever attempted?

The contention over a nuclear Iran has always been founded in the insistence that there be none, certainly not militarily, and this has always been the stance of President Obama. It is a position grounded only in a credible military threat. There was no such credible threat towards North Korea – a lot of bluster, but no brawn – and there is now a nuclear North Korea. The delicate balance for a leader so situated and genuinely open to, but not invested in, negotiations is how to extend the one open hand while withholding in the rear the other cocked fist. There is little doubt for other than the most uncritically devoted that Obama has not maintained this balance. For all of the drone-driven anti-terrorist mini wars he has maintained, his wise determination not to do “stupid stuff” abroad has also revealed what turned out to be the unwise bluster he would not, as in Syria, back up. It does not matter what the truth is, Obama came to be perceived by his critics and his enemies as fatally invested in the negotiations, offering just a lot of talk about “options” and “tables.”

Too often, when challenged about concessions in Geneva, the Obama-Kerry response essentially has been “you’re a fool to think you could have done better.” Sometimes that response is the knowledge of the negotiating table; other times, it is the revelation of a hand weakly played. Outside the room, we can only judge by the terms and general conditions.

When it became known that the terms of the IAEA investigations into the possible military dimensions (PMD) of Iran’s program were contained in separates agreements between the IAEA and Iran, on which the U.S. was briefed, but to which it was not privy and has no access, Secretary Moniz told the Senate committee, ‘“These kinds of technical arrangements with the IAEA are as a matter of standard practice not released publicly or to other states.”

It is, said Moniz, a matter of ““customary confidentiality.”

Members of the committee were as startled by the explanation as Kerry, alongside Moniz, was stumbling in offering it. Is a negotiated nuclear containment agreement with an internationally aspirant, totalitarian theocratic state “standard practice” and a “customary” matter?

“This is the way the agency works with countries,” Moniz also said. “If countries choose to make the documents public, then the IAEA of course can do so.”

Which is it, then, that we are to understand?

That the U.S. did not demand as a condition of the agreement that Iran authorize the IAEA to make the documents, not public, but available to the P-5?

Or that the U.S. did make the demand, Iran rejected it, and the U.S. accepted that rejection?

Would Iran have scuttled the deal over the issue? Would it not have been telling had they been so willing?

There are multiple such puzzlements over life and death matters. There is the transformation of the “anytime, anywhere” inspections that Kerry now says he never heard of into a supposed “24” days that turn out to be many more, and the embarrassing confusions over it (see the update near the bottom).  Yet despite the array of problematic elements, the administration, which argued, then, for everyone to wait to see the agreement before challenging it, argues now that we must accept this deal or have war.

“If we walk away, we walk away alone,” Kerry said.

Our partners are not going to be with us. Instead, they will walk away from the tough multilateral sanctions that brought Iran to the table to begin with. Instead, we will have squandered the best chance we have to solve the problem through peaceful means.

As the administration constructed the context in which the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has been presented, the following might be argued now by Kerry about any less than satisfactory agreement:

If Congress rejects this, Iran goes back to its enrichment. The Ayatollah will not come back to the table … the sanctions regime completely falls apart.

We will have set ourselves back. I don’t know how I go out to another country if that happens and say: ‘Hey, you ought to negotiate with us,’ because they will say: ‘Well, you have 535 secretaries of state in the United States. We don’t know who we are negotiating with. Whatever deal we make always risks being overturned.

If this is so, we may ask, how has it come to be so?

But first, let us note that it was a determined, controversial course set by the White House not to treat an Iran deal as a treaty. The Senate has a constitutional, democratic role in the approval of treaties and it has nearly as long a history of rejecting them. The constitutional requirement of a two thirds vote tells us that the framers intended the treaty to require overwhelming support. It is not without precedent even for a potentially presidency-defining treaty to be rejected by the Senate. (See Woodrow Wilson and the Treaty of Versailles.) In this history, and in this constitutional requirement, the nation and its founders have anticipated the critique of “you have 535 secretaries of state in the United States. We don’t know who we are negotiating with. Whatever deal we make always risks being overturned.” We have still managed to negotiate treaties.

President Obama did not want to meet Woodrow Wilson’s fate. John Kerry was clear about the motivation in his testimony to congress. The choice to frame the Iran deal as an executive agreement rather than a treaty was not academic.

“I spent quite a few years trying to get treaties through the US Senate, and frankly, it’s become physically impossible,” Kerry said. “You can’t pass a treaty anymore.”

So the administration, first, constructed a process aimed at easing the prospects of approval over the opposition of congressional opponents, then argued that skeptics should hold their comments until the deal the process intended to achieve was reached, and now that is has been reached, argues that it was the only possible deal and that the only alternative to it – the consequence of rejecting the deal – is war. It is a kind of rhetorical blackmail. It is a blackmail that utilizes, too, as its key pressure point – that threat of war – the very details it has all along diminished and even mocked coming from Benjamin Netanyahu.

Time to Breakout

In September 2012 at the United Nations, with the aid of his ball bomb and fuse chart, and calling for the establishment of “red line,” Netanyahu famously claimed,

By next spring, at most by next summer at current enrichment rates, they will have finished the medium enrichment and move on to the final stage.

From there, it’s only a few months, possibly a few weeks before they get enough enriched uranium for the first bomb. [Emphasis added]

Netanyahu was mocked for the cartoon diagram, but as usual, too, was derided, in the later words of the Guardian, for his “alarmist tone” as someone, “who has long presented the Iranian nuclear programme as an existential threat to Israel and a huge risk to world security.”

The Guardian would then, early this year, with a Wikileaks release, headline that “Leaked cables show Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim contradicted by Mossad.” A closer reading of the cables told a different story, but that is not the point here. A few months later, the White House offered its own, visual jab at the Israeli prime minister by sending out a tweet that used the bomb graphic.

WH mocks BN

Note that the consequences of “Without the Deal” are bad, but unspecific. Now, however, at the White House’s Iran Deal website, while sparing us a repeat of that particular graphic (maybe with good reason), the White House claims the following:

As it stands today, Iran has a large stockpile of enriched uranium and nearly 20,000 centrifuges, enough to create 8 to 10 bombs. If Iran decided to rush to make a bomb without the deal in place, it would take them 2 to 3 months until they had enough weapon-ready uranium (or highly enriched uranium) to build their first nuclear weapon.

Putting it together, to clarify, in September 2012 Netanyahu projected as late as the summer of 2013 for the completion of medium enrichment, with perhaps a few months more before the development of sufficient enriched uranium for a bomb. As a reminder, the interim agreement between the P5-1 and Iran was reached in November 2013. That is a few months after the summer of that year. According to the interim agreement, all progress in Iran’s nuclear enrichment was halted for the period of negotiations toward a more lasting agreement. Now, at the conclusion of the current negotiations, the Obama administration is warning, in rather alarmist tones, that failure to accept the JCPOA will leave the world confronting the almost immediate threat of a nuclear Iran. The timelines match, with a “few months” wiggle room, and the administration is, in other words, setting a “red line,” in the agreement itself, by warning that the consequences of a failure to accept it could be war.

The only difference in this between Netanyahu then and Obama now are the terms of the agreement and the willingness to demonize the one and lionize the other.

Declares the President:

Instead of chest-beating that rejects the idea of even talking to our adversaries, which sometimes sounds good in sound bites but accomplishes nothing, we’re seeing that strong and principled diplomacy can give hope of actually resolving a problem peacefully. Instead of rushing into another conflict, I believe that sending our sons and daughters into harm’s way must always be a last resort, and that before we put their lives on the line we should exhaust every alternative. [Emphasis added]

This disappointing distortion is more characteristic of the President’s conservative political enemies than his own customary reasoned argumentation. We do see, of course, the usual-suspect neocon chest beaters, but there are also many others, open to talk, offering good, reasoned criticisms of the deal – as well as those alternatives that the President and the Secretary of State habitually assert are absent from the critiques, but which, rather, they simply do not wish to credit.

Far from fitting the stale, auto-rhetorical charge of “rushing” to war, American policy toward Iran has involved a multi-decade effort, over three presidencies constructively to engage the Iranian government. It has included a formal acknowledgement of the CIA role in the 1953 coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and the easing of a previous regime of economic sanctions. It has also consisted of an earlier offer from the George W. Bush administration that Iran rejected.

The open hand of the Clinton administration was spurned. The more generous offer of the Bush administration, when Iran was not sufficiently hurting, was spurned. There is no doubt that the current sanctions drove Iran to negotiate. The matter now in dispute is how well the U.S. played its hand at the table. The trump card in that hand was always the prospect of American, or an American-Israeli, use of force. The ideal play of a trump lies in its effective force when not used, activated by the credible threat of use. That effective force is some product of a genuine willingness to use the trump and the opponent’s belief in such willingness. What have been the presiding conditions for that belief among the Iranians? What are they now?

The former Massachusetts senator also dismissed the idea that military strikes were a realistic way of containing Iran’s nuclear potential.

“Iran has already mastered the fuel cycle,” [Kerry] said. “They have mastered the ability to produce significant amounts of fissile material. You can’t bomb away that knowledge any more than you can sanction it away.”

The tone of the administration’s pitch to Congress appears to have shifted in recent weeks from actively selling the merits of the deal to stressing the lack of viable alternatives….

Imagine the conversations this kind of talk stimulates in the covert corridors of Tehran.

So desperate is the administration in defense of its deal that is actively undermining Israel’s international position and legitimizing Iranian arguments

Said Kerry of a potential Israeli strike, “Iran would then have a reason to say, ‘Well, this is why we need the bomb.’”

Rather than defend any Israeli preemptive act as a response to the constant threat of Iranian annihilation of Israel, Kerry has framed such an act as a justification for the development of an Iranian nuclear capability.

In light of this flaccid posture, continuing pro forma declarations that “all options remain on the table” are met now by Iranian leaders with disbelief:

Kerry and other US officials “have repeatedly admitted that these threats have no effect on the will of the people of Iran and that it will change the situation to their disadvantage,” Zarif claimed.

They are even met with derision:

“The US should know that it has no other option but respecting Iran and showing modesty towards the country and saying the right thing,” Rouhani told a crowd in the western Iranian city of Sanandij on Sunday.


“The table they are talking about has broken legs.”

There is even reason to believe that this administration is willing, in the end, to accept a nuclear Iraq. Argued Vice President Biden,

“Imagine stopping them now in the Gulf of Aden” — referring to Iran’s backing for the Houthi insurgency in Yemen — “and stopping them if they had a nuclear weapon,” Biden said. “As bad, as much of a threat as the Iranians are now to destabilizing the conventional force capability in the region, imagine what a threat would be if we had walked away from this tight deal.”

The U.S. has not stopped Iran in the Gulf of Aden. Now it acknowledges how further disarmed it would feel before a nuclear armed Iran. And Biden here predicates that nuclear Iran as the alternative to acceptance of the current Iran deal.

Given the arguments of government officials and of many supporters in general, it is not unreasonable to question, with Iran, as it was with North Korea in a far less combustible area of the world, whether the will is actually there to prevent a nuclear Iran.

That administration officials are swinging wildly in this fight is obvious. They are throwing whatever argumentative punches they think will land, including roundhouse swings that hit their friends and hooks they launch from the knees that end on their own noses. If, in the end, they do win this fight, and the deal passes, and Iran cheats, or develops its bomb in thirteen years, the best chance to play the trump without actually slamming it on the table will have been squandered.



They of All People



It has been a fascinating week in anti-Semitism, but then they all are. The more I witness it, the more persuaded I become of the identity of the purer, more direct forms and the ignorant forms. After all, much ignorance – lack of knowledge and sophistication – is open with wonder and without prejudice, like that of a child, so ignorance is not the explanation or an excuse. I begin to think the ignorance a cover, conscious or not, for the hate, and the hate need not be virulent, but only casually alienating, marginalizing, and dehumanizing. This is true of all racism, but anti-Semitism has its longer unified and coherent history.

Mainstream English culture and politics do anti-Semitism well, which is to say more publically and unashamedly, so in addition to the Guardian, which, additional to other roles, is a functionally anti-Semitic rag, we have the academic union UCU, which former member Ronnie Fraser is suing for being “institutionally anti-Semitic.” This week alone we got British MP David Ward issuing the latest “they of all people” slander and the Sunday Times publishing a cartoon with a new iteration of the “blood libel” slander. Both initially and secondarily and arguably tertiarily resisted acknowledgement and apology, and both, when succumbing to pressure, issued disingenuous apologies. Ward apologized for “unintended offence.” This is where a form of ignorance arises, of the nature of a pathology, like the self-delusion of the alcoholic who denies his problem: of course, Ward intended to offend. That was the whole point of his comments. They are deeply critical remarks – particularly in their invidious nature and timing – that have no other possible effect, even if one fools oneself into thinking it is tough love.

A twitter exchange I had was akin to the response and unreserved apology, finally, of the Times that appears, actually, to be somewhat reserved. Unlike some allies, I do not tweet to engage in 140 character argumentation, especially with hateful people who would only waste my time, but sometimes – many tweeters offering a black box of identity – I’ll engage a little to probe the box and satisfy a curiosity. One response to my tweeting the Times cartoon was

 isn’t that what Israel is doing though? Maybe the wrong day for said cartoon, but not anti Semitic, is it??

This purposely chirpy tweeter over a few tweets went on to characterize the cartoon as “criticism,” which I, in closing, corrected to lie. The cartoon, in the manner of similar dishonest characterizations of the separation barrier, ignores or misrepresents the conditions of its origin. And even if one believes an argument can be made for the barrier’s problematic effect on some Palestinian lives, there is no manner whatsoever in which its construction or even its maintenance was or is the product of physical harm to Palestinians, much less mortared with their blood, by even Benjamin Netanyahu, who was not in office when the barrier was constructed. One need not know the history of the Jewish blood libel to recognize this one, even merely locally, as a libel. One need not know the history of Jewish caricature and demonization to recognize demonization and to know that demonization is dehumanization. To criticize, one must address facts; everything in the cartoon, without exception, is a lie.

It is finally meaningless to refer to the mind that looks at that cartoon and calls it true – “what Israel is doing” – and simply call it ignorant. It is the ignorance of a man who beats a woman and tells himself he did it because she misbehaved or in some way deserved it – he believes that, doesn’t he, as Ward and cartoonist Gerald Scarfe believe the Israel and Jews, for Ward, warrant the attack on them?

One has to hate, however so in denial, to form prejudice out of ignorance.

Not to focus on the English unfairly, though, even as I have been composing this post, information arrived that the Brooklyn College political science department does not think it prejudicial directly to sponsor a BDS event on campus – claiming sponsorship is not endorsement – and refuse to permit counter voices to participate.

And the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, funded by the European Union, the United Nations Development Program, and UNESCO, publishes this:

“[The Jews] feel inferior to the nations and societies in which they live, because of the hostility and evil rising in their hearts towards others and for their plots and schemes against the nations who know with certainty that the Jews are the root of conflict in the world, wherever they reside.”

“[Jews are] outcasts in every corner of the earth, and not one nation in the world respects them… but Allah’s curse upon them and his fury at them cause them to continue with their transgression.”

“Allah has stricken fear in their hearts and decreed humiliation and degradation upon them until Judgment Day.”

The mind must simply reel at the pervasiveness of open anti-Semitism in the Muslim world and the pervasiveness today of covert anti-Semitism in the Western world. Here is how reminiscent the atmosphere is. posted a fascinating piece a couple of weeks ago about “How the press soft-pedaled Hitler” in the period after he was elected to the Chancellorship of Germany.

A law passed on April 7 required the dismissal of Jews from all government jobs. Additional legislation in the months to follow banned Jews from a whole range of professions, from dentistry to the movie industry. The government even sponsored a one-day nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses, with Nazi storm troopers stationed outside Jewish-owned stores to prevent customers from entering.

Nevertheless, in July 1933, nearly six months after Hitler’s rise to power, the New York Times ran a front-page feature about the Fuhrer that presented him in a flattering light. For Hitler, it was a golden opportunity to soften his image by praising President Roosevelt as well as a platform to deliver lengthy justifications of his totalitarian policies and attacks on Jews.

The article, titled “Hitler Seeks Jobs for All Germans,” began with Hitler’s remark that FDR was looking out “for the best interests and welfare of the people of the United States.” He added, “I have sympathy with President Roosevelt because he marches straight toward his objective over Congress, over lobbies, over stubborn bureaucracies.”

The story was based on an interview with the Nazi leader by Times correspondent Anne O’Hare McCormick. She gave Hitler paragraph after paragraph to explain his policies as necessary to address Germany’s unemployment, improve its roads, and promote national unity. The Times correspondent lobbed the Nazi chief softball questions such as “What character in history do you admire most, Caesar, Napoleon, or Frederick the Great?”

McCormick also described Hitler’s appearance and mannerisms in a strongly positive tone: Hitler is “a rather shy and simple man, younger than one expects, more robust, taller… His eyes are almost the color of the blue larkspur in a vase behind him, curiously childlike and candid… His voice is as quiet as his black tie and his double-breasted black suit… Herr Hitler has the sensitive hand of the artist.” [Emphasis added]

Contrast to this: in the Guardian about a year ago ran a feature titled “My Worst Shot,” in which prominent photographers commented, surprisingly, on just that – a photograph of theirs presented as one they chose to meet that description. Among the photographers was Platon who presented a photograph that was controversial on its first publication, of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Here is Platon’s account of the photo:

‘In 2009 I photographed around 110 world leaders at the UN. Ahmadinejad was the biggest surprise. That day, he made a speech that was one of the most controversial ever given and a large proportion of the auditorium walked out. I was expecting to get that dictatorial menace but he suddenly realised that, not only was he about to sit for the most intimate portrait of him ever taken, a crowd of his supporters was watching. They were all cheering; he lost his composure for a second and started to laugh. What I got was him trying to regain his composure. It’s the most sinister leer I’ve ever caught on film. It was a missed opportunity, in the sense that he was trying to gather himself. On the other hand, it gave me something I would never have expected. No one thinks of Ahmadinejad as a man with a hint of a smile.’

Platon never actually calls this photo his worst or offers reason for its being so. His comments implicitly only, for those who already know, recall the controversy over the image. Beyond that, despite Platon’s renown and acknowledged mastery, notice how his account of the image he produced is directed toward Ahmadinejad and entirely away from his own craft and artistry, his own intention and selection.

Wrote Chas Newkey-Burden, who is not Jewish,

Put aside for a moment that the “oppression” which proponents of this argument are accusing Israel of committing is usually imaginary. When directed by gentiles towards Jews, the “they-of-all-people” argument is in its very essence so fundamentally ill-judged and unjust, and voiced with such a breathtaking lack of self-awareness, that my spirit flags when I hear it.


I contend that, as a result of the Holocaust and what preceded it, it is we gentiles who should know better. The Holocaust followed centuries of slander, persecution, violence and murder committed by gentiles against Jews. So it is not you who have an increased responsibility to behave morally, but us.


Let us strip the “they-of-all-people” argument down to its very basics: gentiles telling Jews that we killed six million of your people and that as a result it is you, not us, who have lessons to learn; that it is you, not us, who need to clean up your act. It is an argument of atrocious, spiteful insanity. Do not accept it; turn it back on those who offer it. For it is us, not you, who should know better.





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Not So Random Questions, Facts, & Observations about Gaza & Israel


If forces in Mexico – drug cartels, for instance – were firing rockets and missiles into an area roughly covering 25% of the United States this is what it would look like.

If the U.S. equivalent of one million Israelis were under threat of this bombardment on a daily basis, running for cover, hiding in bomb shelters, suffering damage to their homes, roughly 45 million Americans would be victims of this terror.

Imagine the reaction of the American people. Imagine the political and national defense requirements of the U.S. government in response, even if no one had yet been killed.

The United Nations categorizes 48 nations, with a population of 832 million – nearly 1 in 8 people on the planet – as “least developed countries.” Neither the West Bank nor Gaza, since they are not countries, is on this list. However, according the CIA World Factbook ranking of the percentage of national populations living in poverty, in which Gaza is included, Gaza ranks 46th, with 38% of its population living below the poverty line. That is, 45 nations of the world have higher percentages of their people living in poverty. The list of these nations, including a very large number of African Nations, is close to identical to those on the U.N. list, but not quite. Among those nations not categorized by the U.N. as least developed nations, but with higher percentages of their populations living below the poverty line than Gaza are Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Belize.

Unlike with Hamas in Gaza, Israel is not now engaged in armed conflict with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Why is that?

If the armaments directed by Islamists in Gaza against Israel are, in fact, incapable of inflicting significant damage to military purpose – if they are so ineffectual to any practical material end – why do the extremists fire them? What is their immediate goal? What is their ultimate desire?

If, in return, Gaza periodically – now, a fourth year cycle – sustains physical destruction and casualties from Israel far beyond what Islamists inflict, why do they persist? What did they materially gain the last time? What prospect of material gain is there this time? Why (to choose a phrase) in the name of humanity do they do it?

Bibi Netanyahu is said by his critics not to be truly committed to negotiations and two states. Let us accept this for present purposes as true. It is true, too, that after more than sixty years (which is not to discount centuries) of mind-bendingly complex conflict and historical entanglement, simply affirming a commitment to anything and mouthing a willingness to negotiate are clearly not in themselves representative of a true or impending path to resolution of the conflict. This is what, in fact, Bibi Netanyahu has done, and his critics discount it. They simply do not believe him. Whatever creative thinking, diplomacy, and policy initiative might be required to break open the uncrackable nut of this problem, they have not issued from the brain trust, the intellectual think tank of the Netanyahu government. Okay. Agreed.

It is also true that there is no easier, so slicker, no more tendentious form of argument than to ground one’s arguments on the indemonstrable inner beliefs and passions of participants to the argument. Disputing arguments to the unseen is like attempting to prove a negative.

Has the pronounced position of the Benjamin Netanyahu government, every day of its administration, been that it is willing to negotiate unconditionally? I will answer that question.


Has it been the pronounced position of the Palestinian Authority on any day of Benjamin Netanyahu leadership of Israel that it is willing to negotiate unconditionally?


Has Benjamin Netanyahu publically declared his willingness to seek a two-state solution?


Is Hamas willing to commit to a two-state solution?

No. (Hamas wishes, rather, to kill all Jews. Or simply rule them in the culminating world caliphate. Theologians, robed and unrobed, dispute this.)

Those who claim that if only Benjamin Netanyahu were Ehud Olmert, or Ehud Barak (good Ehud Barak, before he was bad Ehud Barak), or even Yitzhak Rabin or Shimon Peres, there would be a chance for peace need to point to anything ultimately accomplished by any of these Israeli leaders – in the face of Palestinian rejectionism – that substantiates that belief.

More Americans died after the United States went to war against Imperial Japan subsequent to the Pearl Harbor attack than were killed before. Does that mean the U.S. was wrong or even simply mistaken to engage the conflict? Maybe it should simply have accepted the damage thus far and not made things worse? And Germany had not even attacked the United States. Was the U.S. declaration of war against Germany, then, aggression?

Did the allies during World War Two worry, in bringing the war to Japan, that they were creating more Kamikazes? Did they consider that if perhaps they simply ceased their aggressive defense, the Japanese would alter their own aggressive designs?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not remotely comparable to the Irish Troubles. This common analogy is a weak, warm brew (or one dunk only of a Lipton’s tea bag – take your pick).

Protestant Irish are the lineal or political descendants of invaders, with no original claim to the land of Ireland.

Both Palestinian Arabs and Jews are original inhabitants of Israel-Palestine.

Nonetheless, most observers and people of good will were of the belief in the twentieth century that the Protestant Irish had long since roots in Ireland deep enough to warrant certain political claims, among which claims, considering Catholic-Protestant enmity, was autonomy (in Union with Great Britain) in Northern Ireland. A “two-state solution” had already been effected for Ireland in 1921. Palestinian Arabs rejected their two-state solution in 1948.

Rather than an internal minority rising up in violence against the State of Northern Ireland, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (more fully, historically, the Arab-Israeli conflict) is the product of an external majority’s unwillingness to acknowledge, or seeking to destroy, a separate state.

For all the enmity between Irish Protestants and Catholics, Unionists and Republicans, neither was committed by charter or theology to the genocidal destruction of the other.

The Belfast Agreement of 1998 required first a ceasefire and was predicated on IRA disarmament.

Whatever compromises were reached, the IRA was required to abandon its goal of uniting Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

Those who put forth this analogy generally articulate their case from the standpoint of human conflict as the product of misunderstanding and mistrust, however overlaid it may be with webs of historical, religious, and political complexity. In such presentations they do not acknowledge the reality of any kind of essential hate, of arrogance and absolutism. With enough patience and communication, human miscommunication can be overcome, they believe. Problems can be solved. We can all come together.

The indigenous peoples of the world – as that category was identified by the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations – Native Americans in the United States, First Nations peoples in Canada, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, the many Indigenous cultures of Latin America all wait for the First World nations’ recognition of the reality of absolutism, arrogance, and condescending hate. But those peoples already lost, to conquerors who were merciless in their conquest and are unrepentant in their rule. Fortunately for the New World’s ruling cultures, their indigenous peoples are not supplied with rockets by Syria and Iran. Fortunately for Israel, it does not have to focus on what the past week would have been like were the circumstances reversed, though it can never afford to forget.


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Playing Politics with Jews


This post previously appeared in the Algemeiner on August 1, 2012.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), in his best Captain Renault form – which includes being entirely insincere and unconvincing – is shocked, shocked to discover that there is politics going on in the U.S. of A. Never played any of that sort of thing himself.

Though, actually, feigning shock at the discovery of politics going on right there in the city of the Casa Blanca is, well (cover the children’s ears) an act of playing politics.

Reported The Hill (and everyone else covering the jerk-my-chain political beat), Cantor,

said in a statement Sunday that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) suggestion Jewish voters were “being exploited” was “deeply insulting” and “patronizing.”

Cantor, who is Jewish, was responding to comments Pelosi made during an interview during which the Democratic leader suggested Republicans were trying to unfairly depict President Obama as having a strained relationship with Israel to further their domestic agenda.

“It is both patronizing and deeply insulting for Nancy Pelosi to suggest any Jew is ‘exploited’ for their political beliefs or that support for Israel is somehow an ‘excuse’ for anything,” Cantor said. “Such thinking diminishes the importance of issues affecting Jews everywhere.”

Oh, dear. That Cantor, such a sensitive one.

Politics – that’s politics, not policy – is about wrangling votes. Everyone knows this. That is, all but those whom the politicians – excuse me, policy makers – believe are innocent or ignorant enough not to know. The electorate is made up of constituencies, economic, ethnic, racial, geographic, religious, and interest-based constituencies to which it is the task of politicians to appeal. Go for the gun owners, appeal to the farmers, empathize with Hispanics, curry favor with Jews. That’s the way it is done, and this is why we write and read without pause about who has what percentage of one group or another in the polls.

Professional campaign managers and communications directors seek every advantage and develop every opportunity to increase an old or gain a new voting bloc. Speak Spanish even though your party opposes any policy but deportation for illegal immigrants? Habla, amigo, y rápido. Think many Jews, who vote overwhelming Democratic, care about nothing more than the certainty of the U.S. commitment to Israel? Think there may be an opening? Then it’s time to recall that old joke from the 1980 presidential campaign:

“What’s flat and glows in the dark?”

“Iran after Reagan takes office.”

(Turned out to be very far from the truth, too.)

The far left and some liberals are sadly misguided in relation to Israel and Obama made some diplomatic errors right from the start. The Israeli left collapsed and Likud governs in Israel. So, increasingly, support for Israel is identified with political conservatism. That is, then, a political opportunity. Tell the children Republicans don’t seek to exploit it. Don’t say that to the adults. In contrary circumstances, so, too, would the Democrats.

However, only one definition of exploit is “to take selfish or unfair advantage.” The other meaning is to “use or develop something in order to gain a benefit.” We exploit natural resources, and we should. To make good productive use of a thing is to exploit it as well.

The task for the knowledgeable, the sophisticated voter in any instance is to determine which kind of exploitation is taking place. Pelosi made her case:

But [Republican Jews] have to know the facts. And the fact is that President Obama has been the strongest person in terms of sanctions on Iran, which is important to Israel. He’s been the strongest person on whether it’s Iron Dome, David’s Sling, any of these weapons systems and initiatives that relate to Israel. He has been there over and over again.

It is regularly repeated in U.S. and Israeli security circles that despite diplomatic missteps and the lack of rapport between Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the security relationship between the two nations has never been closer or stronger. Would you believe Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, just two days ago?

But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.

It is in response to this reality that Mitt Romney and his supporters are forced to ever newer and higher levels of bellicosity. Soon, the only place to go in addition to denying the actual record will be a call to bomb Iranian nuclear reactors yesterday.

Let us, for clarity, examine the example par excellence of just the kind of exploitation to which Nancy Pelosi referred. Let’s look at the Emergency Committee for Israel. Exploitation often begins with alarmist language.

Emergency, indeed. Is it 1948, 67, 73?

Sound good, though. Draws the blood up.

The Emergency Committee for Israel is just two years old, 2010 being, apparently, when the emergency arose, and it exists for one reason, to defeat Barack Obama. William Kristol, a founding board member, says it was inspired by J Street. By their models, viewed even in the mirror, ye shall know them. Even AIPAC, for Kristol, is too moderate. Why? Because it cooperates with the Obama administration. Which sounds like a good thing to do if what one is interested in is aiding Israel, and to judge by Ehud Barak doing a pretty fair job of it. But not if one’s greater, more immediate interest is the domestic political one of unelecting Barack Obama. However, that would be exploiting Jewish concerns for political ends, and that would be, according to Eric Cantor, insulting and patronizing even to allege, never mind actually do.

The ECI website is sparse. There is an Issues page: Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran, all very relevant to concern for Israel. Click on their links: nothing. There are, in fact, only two items on the Issues page – the most recent eighteen months old. Return to the Home page, though, and the raison d’etre for the ECI is quickly apparent. There is one item opposing Ron Paul by board member Gary Bauer – most recently found defending Chick-Fil-A’s anti-Gay advocacy in a very un-Israeli-like fashion. All of the remaining nine items are anti-Obama.

Ehud Barak says, “President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”

Gary Bauer says the Obama administration is “the most anti-Israel administration in the history of the United States.”

Whom to listen to. Tough choice.

Tellingly, at the height of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, ECI produced a putrid and cynical video ad, the purpose of which was not to dispute the beliefs or claims of Occupy protesters or respond to any, um – emergency – for Israel. ECI scraped up, from months of demonstration footage, seconds of video of only two different people making anti-Semitic remarks and edited the footage to make the bigoted speech appear more plentiful. ECI did this not even to take a stand against OWS, but in order to try, then, to connect the anti-Semitism to OWS and OWS to President Obama and Nancy Pelosi, and thus, by clear implication – well, need I?

As I wrote then, in “’Emergency’ Committee for Israel Uses Israel as a Wedge Issue,”

the true purpose of the ECI video distortion is not to identify a new source of anti-Semitism. Kristol, Bauer, and company are not trying to warn the good people of OWS off a bad element in their midst. They actually could not be more delighted to find it there. They are, merely by the way, identifying that element as if it were itself the character of OWS, but even that is not ECI’s true purpose. The video, as I indicated, takes a further, more clearly pointed step in identifying President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other well-known Democrats with OCS (sic), which ECI has by that point in the video smeared with anti-Semitic accusation. Thus, so, too, are Obama and the Democrats smeared.

That is the kind of exploitation to which Nancy Pelosi referred. And, at the same time, it is “deeply insulting” and “patronizing,” as Eric Cantor chose the terms for unbecoming behavior toward Jews. They form together a kind of trifecta in crass political opportunism.

I have no doubt Eric Cantor is outraged.

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Dear Nicholas Kristof, You Are a Fool


Let’s begin with the title of that ejaculation of tendentious nonsense you and The New York Times have passed off as thoughtful commentary by a serious commentator on international affairs.

Is Israel Its Own Worst Enemy?”

Really, you mean that? You haven’t heard that spoken around the block a time or two. It’s your own, its original, you came up with it yourself in a flash of wordsmithing insight? In comparison to anti-Semitic terror organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and whole national governments of like nature – Iran – and Palestinian and other Arab public officials who repeatedly reveal in interviews to Mideast media that their true, private intent is never to accept Israel and even to destroy it, and a sea of racist religious, educational and cultural inculcation all around it, you ask if Israel is its own worst enemy?

Oh, it’s just hyperbole? Is it? Is that how you meant it? And in either case, you think such a trite formulation will educate your readers on the situation? You think it grasps essential rhetorical hold of a conflict spanning nearly a century and of the current moment too? This is the concentrated extract of your understanding?

You begin,

For decades, Palestinian leaders sometimes seemed to be their own people’s worst enemies. Palestinian radicals antagonized the West, and, when militant leaders turned to hijackings and rockets, they undermined the Palestinian cause around the world. They empowered Israeli settlers and hard-liners, while eviscerating Israeli doves.

This curiously, dumbly (as in mute, but make of it further as you will) frames that history as tactical error. But what was the aim of that terrorism? To reject Israel and make war, not just on Israel, but Jews, and others, around the world. To deny Israel peace and its very existence, just as was hoped in 1947. And you offer, instead of that clear truth, the empowerment of “Israeli settlers and hard-liners” as the unfortunate consequence of what were not only tactics but a strategy. All this hateful and warlike history has, in your expression of its consequences, the empowerment of Israeli hardliners as it worst outcome. What an odd distillation of historical meaning.

You write,

Nothing is more corrosive than Israel’s growth of settlements because they erode hope of a peace agreement in the future.

Nothing? Nothing is more corrosive? Really? (Why does your writing on this subject evoke repeated reality checks?) Are you unaware – are you Mr. Kristof – of the history and currency of Arab anti-Semitism? Its religious and political, even national, expression in every nation surrounding Israel, in schools, in media, in religious worship and sermon, in songs taught to children? Do you know how long is the history of this anti-Semitism? How far back in time, in contrast, do those settlements, the ones you are talking about (which ones, actually, are you talking about?) go in the history of this conflict? Do you care to meditate a little more deeply on matters of causation? But really (that word again) the settlements are more corrosive than that acid of hate that runs through the culture of the Arab world?

You acknowledge,

Every negotiator knows the framework of a peace agreement — 1967 borders with land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of both Israeli and Palestinian states, only a token right of return.

I wonder, Mr. Kristof, do you know why “every negotiator knows the framework of a peace agreement”? I mean can you review history a bit better than you’ve done so far and articulate how it is exactly that this truism of future outcomes has become that truism? I’m an impatient man. Forgive me. I’ll tell you: because the framework is indeed reasonable – and because Israel has on multiple occasions tentatively accepted (pending Palestinian agreement) or even itself offered these terms. It is Israel, in its acknowledged acquiescence to these rough parameters, that has made them the distantly perceived resolution that “every negotiator knows.” Can you offer a single instance of Palestinian negotiators having accepted these rough parameters or offered a like plan themselves, in toto? My arms are folded, my feet are tapping, I don’t mean to be rude.

You refer to

the demographic and political change within Israeli society, which has made the country more conservative when it comes to border and land issues.

I don’t wish to deny the truth in this. We are about seeing the complexity of situations and conflicts around here and not simplifying and distorting them – at least some of us are – but how is it you do not yourself acknowledge how decades of war and terror, and the horrific second intifada coming off Oslo, and after Camp David, turned many Israelis on the left to a harder right? You’re a reporter. I understand you travel a great deal. I’m confident you could find very large numbers of Israelis who meet that description. It isn’t  just “demographic” change, and by the way that word isn’t the simple comfortable placeholder for historical experience you intend it to be. But that’s for another time. So I’ll just ask again – why do you not mention here the effect on the Israeli electorate of Palestinian rejectionism and terror ?

Speaking of mention – I really do have to mention this:

That’s the saddest thing about the Middle East: hard-liners like Hamas empower hard-liners like Mr. Netanyahu.

Now, we’re both writers (well, you’re a tad more famous, with a few more awards, and you make a lot more money than I do – but we’re all brothers and sisters in the trade, right?) – does this particular column of yours leave you the least bit wary at this point of absolutes and superlatives? That’s “the saddest thing about the Middle East”? Benjamin Netanyahu? Not Hamas itself? What’s sad about Hamas is that it empowers Netanyahu? Netanyahu is worse than a genocidally constituted terror organization? Worse than Bashir Assad? Or Hezbollah or all that, you know, stuff I’ve already mentioned? The saddest thing? My goodness, Mr. Kristof, that is sad, and one can well understand those friends of yours whom you anticipate thinking you “unfair and harsh” thinking you – well, unfair and harsh is the least of it.

There are many only a little finer points to challenge in your column, but in the interests of length I have been focusing only on the howlers. I don’t mean funny, Mr. Kristof, I mean scream. I’ll close with the somewhat less obvious but greatest of them all, because you are a journalist of distinction, and I know that once pointed out to you it will be embarrassingly manifest. You close,

Some of my Israeli friends will think I’m unfair and harsh, applying double standards by focusing on Israeli shortcomings while paying less attention to those of other countries in the region. Fair enough: I plead guilty. I apply higher standards to a close American ally like Israel that is a huge recipient of American aid.

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk — or drive a diplomatic course that leaves their nation veering away from any hope of peace. Today, Israel’s leaders sometimes seem to be that country’s worst enemies, and it’s an act of friendship to point that out.

Now I want you to think about the logical implications of what you claim here. You acknowledge applying a higher standard to Israel, which rationalize it however you wish – “close American ally,” “huge recipient of American aid” – means a double standard. I clarify this point because we need to know, as they say, where you’re coming from. We talkin’ hardball, amoral client-state geopolitics here, or are we moralizing? Interested people want to know. Because in the first instance, sure – you takes the money, you do our bidding. The Soviet Union was awfully clear about that arrangement. Some people think the U.S. is more that way than it should be. I have previously understood that you might be one of those people. Perhaps I was mistaken.

If, on the other hand, you are moralizing, which I think is the tone, really, of your outpouring, then it is incumbent on us to acknowledge that double standards are not a very moral thing. Everybody has to play by the same rules, don’t you think, and nations all be held to the same standards? Aren’t the injustices of the world already deeply historically embedded in the truth that nations acted in variance from this moral imperative?

But more, Mr. Kristof, more. Your criticisms of Israel throughout your column are presented as objective realities: you look at the situation and what you perceive as the objective reality is what you have put down on paper for all to read. But when you write that you are holding Israel to a higher standard, that suggests something other. That suggests that at every point in your column where a judgment was offered, and no advise was provided as to how that judgment might be made according to equal standards, and how it was now being altered – distorted we might say – by the double standard, your argument is being subverted. You offer it all as true, and then in the end you say that all of it is not really true, but true by a special standard, a standard prejudicial toward Israel. You have rendered your entire argument – which wasn’t really an argument anyway, but a string of undisciplined hyperboles – entirely without force.

You compound this by closing with that tired refrain that you so misrepresent the history and the present of the Middle East, and prejudice untold readers against Israel – readers armed now with the ignorance and warped righteousness that is the currency of this historical moment – because you are Israel’s friend.

And friends, don’t you know, don’t let friends drive drunk. Or make fools of themselves either. They step in. They take away the keys. Or the keyboard. And I’m your friend, Mr. Kristof. I really am.

I mean it.



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Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations: You Say Tomato, I Say IED

In a post at his home at Z Word Blog, cross posted at Huffington Post, Ben Cohen offers one of the fundamental insights into the Palestinian condition over these many decades: the Palestinians have chosen a cause over a state. In 1948, on what was just a portion of present-day Israel, and even less of  what remains for some Jews the cause or dream nation of all of Judea and Samaria – of Greater or Eretz Israel – Jews chose a state. Palestinian rejection of the UN partition, the refusal all these years to accept or propose any compromise, negotiated agreement leading to the creation of a Palestinian state, has left Palestinians, perpetually, with only the cause. For many, probably most people now, it is not easy to see that this state of being – commitment to the cause over the state – has been a Palestinian choice. Offers Cohen,

Rather than engage in negotiations which will reinforce the need for compromise, the PA has embarked on a strategy that, in the language of de Callieres, places its “passions” over its “interests.” Moreover, the PA is getting away with it, because it has become adept, in its relations with powers great and small, at trading its supposed powerlessness as a form of power.

This power includes what developed into authority over the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an authority far beyond the Middle East. Small, daily, and insidious case in point – a widely syndicated AP story by Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh, both of whom have been noted before for their anti-Israeli bias. It is as simple and nearly invisible as this:

The outreach from Abbas comes at a time when peace efforts seem hopelessly stuck. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government refuses to freeze settlement construction, while Abbas says he can’t negotiate without such a halt.

One doesn’t need to examine the shabby reporting (like that of 60 Minutes on Sunday regarding state budget deficits) that doesn’t question the claims of its subjects, in this case the “can’t” at the end of the second sentence above. All one has to do is question why the two sentences were not written this way:

The outreach from Abbas comes at a time when peace efforts seem hopelessly stuck.  Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s government refuses to negotiate without a freeze in Israeli settlement construction, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he won’t accept any preconditions to negotiations.

Or why might one not just as reasonably print this version:

The outreach from Abbas comes at a time when peace efforts seem hopelessly stuck.  Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s  government refuses to end all anti-Semitic education and broadcasting on PA television, while  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’ssays he can’t negotiate without such a halt.

Of course, Israel is not making such a demand – but it could, just as the PA is making its demand about settlements.

The actually published version places the onus for the impasse on a refusal by Israel. But what are the default expectations of negotiations between belligerents? Often, the only one is a cessation of hostilities, but even that is not an obstacle if the parties truly wish to negotiate a peace and final settlement of a dispute. The United States and Vietnam negotiated all through the continuation of a major war.

So why did professional journalists Laub and Daraghmeh write those sentences as they did? Why did AP editors let them pass? And why did newspapers and web news sites all over the world publish them?



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Counter Thinking in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

In the contemporary field of education, few concepts are more heavily promoted than that of what is called critical thinking. Very simply, thinking that analyzes itself, that habitually questions suppositions and established intellectual foundations –  the warrants on which we base our claims about the world – is critical thinking. Revisionist histories arise from critical thinking. Much of literary studies for going on fifty years has been directed at reading against the grain: dehistoricizing, rehistoricizing, deconstructing.  The whole hermeneutic endeavor is to dig out, even create, from below the surface and between the cracks, and in a new dynamic interplay of elements, the hidden meanings beneath the obvious (and therefore misleading) surface. Common sense? Obvious? Common, indeed. Too obvious.

Cleverness – true and deep, as well as superficial and showy – is prized. How can I see things differently from others? How can I reveal the obscure truth to them? Conspiracy theorists, scholars, think tankers, journalists, personal coaches and seers, Tony Robbins, writers of all kinds. It seems a billion people try to make a living or a name doing this. With the advent of blogging, make that two billion. (My hand is raised.)

As I say, though, some of this cleverness is true and deep, some not so. Everywhere – you never know where or when – the subtle thought slips into the sophistical and the misleading casuistry. An example of this kind of approach in political history is to focus, in the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, for instance, on American anticipation of the power struggle with the Soviet Union, and the impending Soviet declaration of war on Japan, rather than on the Japanese refusal to surrender and the projected carnage to come in an invasion of Japan. The clever counter thinker tells us that, since all policy-making is self-interested and cynical, the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki not to end the war quickly and spare hundreds of thousands of American lives, but to make a show to the Soviets.

In the political history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we get counter thinkers like Robert Malley. Malley is one of those who have offered a revisionist take on the 2000 Camp David peace talks, in which he participated. Rather than Arafat, who, committing himself to nothing, rejected an offer in which Ehud Barak conceded so much, and that Bill Clinton endorsed, Malley blames Clinton for negotiating poorly, Barak for making offers Arafat could not accept. (So far, we have no basis to believe that the Palestinian side will accept anything other than nearly everything – not so with Israel.)

What happens with this kind of counter thinking is that the world gets turned upside down. The subtle drops off the cliff into the preposterous, yet there are always those at the bottom waiting to catch it. The latest example? By Malley himself and Hussein Agha, from the September 3 Guardian. My analysis of its absurdities – preparing the way to justify another Palestinian refusal to come to terms – follows below.

The skewed Middle East peace talks

Whether there’s a deal or not, the Palestinians can’t really win, while the Israelis have little to lose

Well, you can’t say the head and sub-head are hiding their purpose. But they embed an argument that reappears and that I’ll return to.

Israelis and Palestinians who have started peace negotiations in Washington are separated by much more than the gulf between their substantive positions. Staggering asymmetries between the two sides could seriously imperil the talks.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is the head of a stable state with the ability to deliver on his commitments. Celebrations of supposed institution-building notwithstanding, Palestinians have no robust central authority. Their territory is divided between the West Bank and Gaza. On their own, Palestinians would find it difficult to implement an agreement, however much they might wish to. Israel controls all material assets; Palestinians at best can offer intangible declarations and promises.

Consider the implications of this. The authors are setting the foundation for an argument that delegitimizes the negotiations, and any outcome – treaty or no treaty – that follows, based on “skewed” conditions, “asymmetries.” Translation: Israel is, in fact, a successful, functioning democratic state while the Palestinian Authority has no such. (This ignores the truth that the PA is actually functioning in many respects with increasing success and authority on the West Bank.) Israel’s success and Palestinian dysfunction are unfair. Give me back my ball; I’m going home.

Netanyahu operates within a domestic consensus. On issue after issue – acceptance of a two-state solution, insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, rejection of a full settlement freeze including Jerusalem, refusal of preconditions for negotiations – his stances resonate with the Israeli people. Neither the right, from which he comes, nor the left, whose peace aspirations he is pursuing, denies him the mandate to negotiate. Netanyahu is heading on his own terms to negotiations he has demanded for 20 months; Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is being dragged there without any of his preconditions having been met.

Translation: Israel is an integral society. Palestinian society thus far is not. This somehow (start with the headline, follow with the tone and the clear direction in which the argument is headed) is mark against Israel. “Netanyahu is heading on his own terms to negotiations he has demanded for 20 months.” One can only not laugh if one does not recall that Netanyahu’s “terms” were no terms – no preconditions, which is always the open, non-prejudicial approach to negotiations. Abbas, in contrast, is to receive our sympathy, because his preconditions were not met. What were his preconditions? That there even be preconditions. And he is being “dragged” into negotiations. Israel willingly seeks unconditional direct negotiations, the Palestinians for 20 months reject them – and this is a mark against Israel.

The Palestinian leadership has never been more vulnerable. Participation in talks was opposed by virtually every Palestinian political organisation apart from Fatah, whose support was lethargic. Abbas’s decision to come to Washington is viewed sceptically even by those who back him. Netanyahu’s is supported even by those who oppose him.

One is nearly speechless. (But, of course, not.) This whole focus on Israeli strength – political and social, not simply military – as a subversive element to negotiation is relatively new. I last encountered this argument when debating George Clifford at Ethical Musings, on which I reported in “Framing Israel.” Clifford argued at one point: “Negotiation implies equality. Israel refuses to negotiate with the Palestinians as equal.” Leaving aside whether that second statement is factually true – from where did Clifford get such an idea, that negotiation implies equality? Does he mean that in civil law suits, when the two parties negotiate a deal, they both have, or should or must have, equal footing? We know this is not so. When defendants plea bargain with district or U.S. attorneys – a negotiation – are they equal? Why does one company in merger negotiations retain its name and CEO in the merged company – because the two companies were equal? What a preposterous notion, yet among those who play-talk as advocates of peace, but who really pursue a terribly misguided, peace destroying Palestinian advocacy, this is a new argumentative tactic: the negotiations are unfair because the Israeli polity is stronger, more united, and actually wants to negotiate an end to the conflict, while the PA comes to the negotiating table with none of those attributes. The Palestinians and their Arab “friends” lost the war they started in 1948 (should Israel offer a do over?), frittered away six decades playing the cards of abject victimhood  and preening as Third Word revolutionary freedom fighters, instead of building a society (look always in comparison at the Iraqi Kurds), and still are not clearly committed to contending with reality – and their advocates want to proclaim that this weakness is unfair.

Palestinian views are well known. There is little to no distinction between their public, opening and final positions. Yet no one truly knows the Israeli stance. Netanyahu can start with maximalist positions and then climb down, exuding flexibility next to what inevitably will be couched as Palestinian obstinacy. Palestinians are likely to be frustrated, the atmosphere poisoned, and American bridging proposals – likely falling somewhere between Palestinian bottom lines and Israel’s negotiating posture – risk being skewed.

One must get this, truly. “Palestinian views are well known. There is little to no distinction between their public, opening and final positions.” Translation: the Palestinians – the poor, weak Palestinians – won’t make concessions. They won’t negotiate. “Netanyahu can start with maximalist positions and then climb down.” In other words, Israel will negotiate, will make concessions from what it would like if its position were really so powerful that it could have it all its own way. The Israelis will be “exuding flexibility next to what inevitably will be couched as Palestinian obstinacy.” But that is exactly what the authors just told us the circumstances actually will be!

Palestinian negotiators have logged countless hours on final status questions since the 1990s. The reverse is true on the Israeli side. From Netanyahu down, only one leading figure has seriously tackled permanent status issues, and it is unclear what role defence minister Ehud Barak may play. This disparity should favour the Palestinians – the experienced trumps the novice. But they will also be prisoners of their well-worn outlook, whereas the Israelis will be free to introduce new ideas. Yet again, Palestinians will confront the maddening task of beginning from scratch a process they have undergone on multiple occasions.

Let’s see if we can get this straight. The Palestinians will be the more experienced negotiators, but this is bad because they will be “prisoners” of their own “well-worn outlook, whereas the Israelis will be free to introduce new ideas.” This is to say the Palestinians will not budge off the square they have inhabited for so long with such great results, while the Israelis will think creatively to pursue solutions. Dastardly villains!

Neither Israel’s mounting isolation nor its reliance on US assistance has jeopardised its ability to make autonomous choices, whereas the Palestinian leadership’s decision-making capacity has shrivelled. Most recent Palestinian decisions have been made in accordance with international demands, against the leadership’s instinctive desires and in clear opposition to popular aspirations. Despite such deference, Palestinian leaders cannot count on international support. They feel betrayed by Arab allies and let down by Washington. In contrast, Israel has defied the Obama administration without endangering close ties to Washington. Palestinians will have to take into account the views of Arab and Muslim states; Israel can negotiate by and for itself, without reference to an outside party.

What happens should negotiations fail? The status quo, though sub-optimal, presents no imminent danger to Israel. What Israelis want from an agreement is something they have learned either to live without (Palestinian recognition) or to provide for themselves (security). The demographic threat many invoke as a reason to act – the possibility that Arabs soon might outnumber Jews, forcing Israel to choose between remaining Jewish or democratic – is exaggerated. Israel already has separated itself from Gaza. In the future, it could unilaterally relinquish areas of the West Bank, further diminishing prospects of an eventual Arab majority. Because Israelis have a suitable alternative, they lack a sense of urgency. The Palestinians, by contrast, have limited options and desperately need an agreement.

The Palestinians “desperately need an agreement,” yet the authors have spent an essay telling us why they will not make one and how unfair that is. One reason that negotiations may bear some kind of fruit is that one of the parties, in that weaker position, is desperate for a resolution that, far from that party’s ideal, will offer conditions better than those it faces without the agreement. Most people make the agreement. That the Palestinians for sixty years have not is a study in political pathology.

In any event, Abbas will return to a fractured, fractious society. If he reaches a deal, many will ask in whose name he was bartering away Palestinian rights. If negotiations fail, most will accuse him of once more having been duped. If Netanyahu comes back with an accord, he will be hailed as a historic leader. His constituency will largely fall in line; the left will have no choice but to salute. If the talks collapse, his followers will thank him for standing firm while his critics are likely in due course to blame the Palestinians. Abbas will be damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Netanyahu will thrive if he does and survive if he doesn’t. One loses even if he wins, the other wins even if he loses. There is no greater asymmetry than that.

The authors have described over these final three paragraphs the essential conditions of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, varied facets of Israeli social and political strength and Palestinian weakness, almost all of the latter, in fact, fairly represented as manifestations of Palestinian and Arab disunity and intransigence. Yes, we know, these emerge from the driving animus against Israel and Jews, but animosity is what fuels, if not what guides, all conflict. It is what peace negotiations, in strength or in weakness, must always overcome. Supposed sympathizers who shape arguments to further rationalize failure are not forces for peace, and as we see here, quite transparently, they don’t make very good arguments either.



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