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The Itamar Attack/ Libya and US Foreign Policy

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Update from AIJAC

March 16, 2011
Number 03/11 #04


This Update focuses on the implications and aftermath of the Itamar terrorist attack on Friday night, when assailants entered a home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar and murdered five members of the Fogel family, including a three-month-old baby and two other children. This horrific attack has political implications, because, as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post documents, the Palestinian Authority's initial response appeared half-hearted, leading to both an American implication that more was expected, and some critical words from Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu. Moreover, official Palestinian media claimed that it was not Palestinians who carried out the attack.

First up is the always insightful Dr. Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, discussing the policy implications of the attack. He points out that, during previous years, such an attack would have spawned diplomacy designed to protect "the peace process", but today, there is essentially no process to protect. Satloff blames mistakes by the US Administration for the current impasse, says the Israeli response to the attack in the form of building only in existing settlements close to the 1967 boundaries is "sober" and calls for the US to adopt a similarly "sober" approach to moving forward from here. For all of his detailed and valuable discussion, CLICK HERE.

Next up, the Jerusalem Post editorialises on Israeli feelings about the attack, the Palestinian Authority (PA) reaction, and the larger problem of incitement in the Palestinian official media, which may arguably have contributed to making such a bloodchilling attack possible. The paper says the initial PA reaction appeared "hollow and false," seeming to create an equivalence between this act of terror and Israeli military action which, inadvertently, caused Palestinian civilian casualties. The paper notes a pattern in the PA of glorifying terrorists, including a celebration of the naming of a square in Ramallah after a notorious terrorist even as the Fogels were being buried. For this editorial, which sums up the feelings of many in Israel about the attack, CLICK HERE. Of course, in Gaza, the response to the massacre was not at all ambiguous like the PA's - it was celebratory. Meanwhile, former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens, now at the Wall Street Journal, discusses the moral knots that both Palestinians and their Western supporters have tied themselves into by attempting to make events like the Itamar massacre seem "natural". More comment from columnists Mark Steyn and Claire Berlinski.

Finally, we offer a highly critical perspective on the US Administration's approach to Libya from a very eloquent and important source - noted liberal American writer Leon Wieseltier. Wieseltier describes that approach as moving from a muddle to a disgrace, and argues that Barack Obama is saying that Gaddafi must go but refusing to take any consequential action to make that happen, instead hiding behind a need for "consensus" and exaggerated claims about the difficulties. He says if the rebel stronghold of Benghazi falls to Gaddafi's forces, Obama will be responsible, and compares the situation to past American governments who refused to prevent humanitarian tragedies. For Wieseltier's heart-felt plea, CLICK HERE. Among others making strong criticisms of the Obama Administration's reported preference to let others take the lead on Libya and failure to act as Gaddafi may be gaining the upper hand over the rebels are academic experts Elliot Cohen and Niall Ferguson, and former policymakers Elliot Abrams and Paul Wolfowitz (see here and here.) Meanwhile, Bret Stephens and Michael Rubin (here and here) both analyse the consequences if Gaddafi ends up winning the Libyan civil war.

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Policy Alert: After the Itamar Massacre

By Robert Satloff

Correcting the Topsy-Turvy Narrative of U.S. Peace Process Diplomacy

March 14, 2011 


In the heyday of the Oslo peacemaking era, it would be the work of American diplomats to prevent Israeli outrage over the horrific murders Friday evening of five civilians -- including three children -- in the West Bank settlement of Itamar from undermining the "peace process." But today there is little peace process to protect.

With the exception of three weeks in September 2010, there have been no negotiations between the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority during the entire Obama administration. Indeed, there has been less peace diplomacy between Arabs and Israelis in the current administration than during any presidency since Lyndon Johnson.

A fair observer would note that there are many reasons why diplomacy has failed to take hold. On the Palestinian side, these reasons include the structural conflict between the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza; reluctance by PA president Mahmoud Abbas to offer historic concessions that his iconic predecessor, Yasser Arafat, has previously rejected; and ongoing ambivalence over the very idea that negotiations provide the most effective route to achieve Palestinian national aspirations. On the Israeli side, obstacles to negotiation include internal divisions within the Israeli governing coalition, ongoing skepticism about the viability of the PA as a strong and responsible peace partner, and uncertainty at the top of the Israeli political system as to whether it is wiser to continue a decades-old strategy of incrementalism or seek a final peace agreement that would settle the conflict once and for all. These problems, which have been present in various forms for years, explain why progress toward a real, secure peace has happened in fits and starts for a long time. Even a smart diplomacy, wisely executed by the United States, might have little to show for it.

But the sad fact is that the United States has not pursued diplomacy smartly. For almost two years, Obama administration efforts were characterized by an obsessive desire to condition the resumption of negotiations on a total freeze on Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank (and, at times, in Jerusalem too). Although, since autumn, the administration has corrected itself and stopped insisting on a settlement freeze, it hasn't replaced that policy with one based on actually trying to convince the parties back to the table. In this case, that would be the Palestinians, who refuse to negotiate the future disposition of the territory they seek for their own. Indeed, at the current moment, it is not at all clear that the Obama administration is pursuing any diplomacy at all. No visible effort is underway to restart peace talks; indeed, neither the president nor the secretary of states has called for immediate resumption of negotiations, and peace envoy George Mitchell has not visited the area in three months (and only once since September).

Ironically, despite the PA's current refusal to negotiate, the administration appears to believe that Israel is primarily responsible for the absence of diplomacy. Hence, the administration's agonizing internal debate on the decision to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel last month -- a much closer call than is generally known -- and the president's widely reported (if off-the-record) statement to Jewish leaders earlier this month vouching for the bona fides of Palestinian leaders but questioning whether Israeli leaders truly want peace.

None of this would matter much if the administration had taken to heart one of the most important lessons of the Arab revolutions of 2011: that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be very important to Israelis and Palestinians (and, perhaps, Jordanians) but it does not motivate much political action elsewhere in the region, negatively or positively. However, that does not appear to be the case. Even with Libya burning, Bahrain in turmoil, and uncertainty reigning in Cairo, Tunis, and Sanaa, the Obama administration is sending strong signals that it expects Israel to jumpstart the peace process with a new initiative in coming weeks.

This is topsy-turvy diplomacy. Israel may have its own reasons for a diplomatic initiative, which Washington should view sympathetically. But from an American perspective, now is the moment for the United States to project the strength of its partnership with Israel, as part of a strategy to reaffirm allies in the region at this time of momentous change. Bolstering the security relationship, as the administration has laudably done, is necessary but not sufficient; at a time of volcanic political change across the Middle East, bolstering the political relationship is essential too.

One place to begin would be clarity from the highest levels of the administration about the need to resume Israeli-Palestinian direct negotiations now, before ideas of internationalizing the conflict or declaring U.S. or Quartet-defined terms for negotiation fully take hold. Taking a firm and early stand that denies the PA the internationalization option only makes sense. After all, the administration reportedly promised that there would be "repercussions" for Palestinian insistence on the Security Council vote, but so far none have been forthcoming.

On the bilateral front, Washington would be wise to quietly revisit the understandings on settlements and final status issues worked out between Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and President Bush, understandings that were shelved by the Obama team soon he they took office. After all, look at what the Israeli government did in the wake of the Itamar massacre. After considering -- and rejecting -- a long list of responses many in the international community would consider provocative and disproportionate, Jerusalem decided to authorize 500 additional units of construction within settlement blocs, areas near Israel's pre-1967 border that virtually all observers believe will eventually become part of sovereign Israel. In other words, Israel did not respond to the attack in Itamar by building in Itamar, an out-of-the-way settlement not far from Nablus; rather, it endorsed building in the same consensus areas covered in the Bush-Sharon understandings.

At a time of intense national outrage in Israel, this is a remarkably sober approach. Washington should respond by injecting some sobriety back into its own peace process diplomacy.

Robert Satloff is executive director of The Washington Institute.

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Editorial: The real obstacle to peace

Jerusalem Post, 13/03/2011

What miasma spawned a terrorist capable of crouching over the sleeping Fogels and methodically knifing them to death?
 
Our minds beg to avoid contemplating the Fogel family massacre. Every bit of human fiber in our being rebels against the cold-blooded viciousness. What miasma spawned a terrorist capable of crouching over the sleeping Fogels – mother Ruth, father Udi, and their three young children, including three-month-old baby Hadas – and methodically knifing them to death?

Offering up the “occupation” as an excuse is a vacuous insult to common sense. The restrictions on Palestinians’ freedoms and their political limbo – resulting in large part from their own unwillingness to agree on realistic compromises – cannot “explain” or “legitimize” this horror.

Nor can the mere existence of Jewish families on land of biblical resonance that was previously controlled by Jordan and is now widely deemed to belong to Palestinians.

But Palestinian leaders would have you believe otherwise, and the Palestinian Authority’s reactions to the atrocity resonate hollow and false.

“We reject this violence and condemn it as we have repeatedly rejected it against our people,” the PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told reporters just hours after the Fogels were slaughtered.

The implication was clear: The Itamar atrocity could and should be compared to attempts by the IDF to defend citizens from Kassam and Grad missiles launched by Hamas from Gaza – a territory made completely Judenrein by Israel in the summer of 2005 – or to IDF attempts to protect Israelis from suicide bombings or drive-by shootings emanating from Nablus, Jenin and Hebron.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s reaction was not much different, provoking Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to criticize the PA’s “weak and mumbling” statements.

To restate the obvious, which was conveniently and not so innocently left unsaid by Fayyad and Abbas: The IDF never intentionally targets innocent civilians, not to mention infants. When non-combatants, including women and children, are inadvertently killed in IDF operations, this is widely perceived by the vast majority of Israelis as a tragic but unavoidable outcome of warfare that can often be explained by Palestinians’ purposeful and cynical use of civilians as human shields.

FAYYAD’S AND Abbas’s unsavory attempt to equate the unspeakable crime committed in Itamar to the IDF’s military actions is a mild symptom of a much more profound ailment afflicting the Palestinian people.

One of the most wretchedly disappointing spectacles of the past two decades has been the inability of popular Palestinian nationalisms of all kinds to rise above what journalist Christopher Hitchens has called “a thanatocratic hell.”

On Sunday, literally at the same time as thousands gathered in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul Cemetery to peacefully and tearfully accompany the Fogels to their final rest, Fatah’s youth movement, in a sick fest of death, celebrated the naming of a square in Al-Bireh, a town adjacent to Ramallah, after the “martyred” female terrorist Dalal Mughrabi.

On March 11, 1978, Mughrabi, along with eight or nine Fatah terrorists armed with Kalashnikovs and grenades, led the Coastal Road massacre, an indiscriminate killing spree that left 38 innocent Israelis, including 13 children, dead. Mughrabi, a hero of thousands of Palestinians, had hoped to derail Israel’s peace talks with Egypt.

As Yossi Kuperwasser, director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, told the cabinet Sunday, the Mughrabi death cult is just one of many examples of Palestinian incitement against Israel. The Fogel massacre, said Kuperwasser, is “in a way, an expression of the way the PA presents an attitude of hatred and demonization towards Israelis in general and especially towards settlers.”

Der Sturmer-like caricatures of Jews feature in PA media; in December, Abbas awarded $2,000 to the family of a Palestinian would-be terrorist who was killed by soldiers when he ran toward them holding two pipe bombs screaming “Allahu Akbar;” an Egyptian singer calling for jihad against Israel has been aired repeatedly in recent months on official PA radio and TV; and just hours after the Itamar massacre, Abbas met with a young Palestinians taking part in a song competition that glorifies suicide bombers.

This incomplete list, which can be substantially supplemented by Palestinian Media Watch’s regular reports, brings us closer to understanding how Palestinian terrorists could bring themselves to perpetrate such a despicable act against the Fogel family.

Reflecting, as it does, the Palestinians’ insistent refusal to internalize the Jews’ fundamental right to sovereignty anywhere in this disputed land, it also represents the single biggest obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

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Darkness Falls

Leon Wieseltier

Barack Obama’s policy toward the Libyan struggle for freedom is no longer a muddle. It is now a disgrace.


The New Republic, March 11, 2011 | 10:32 am

Here is what his administration and its allies have told the world, and the Libyan dictator, and the Libyan rebels, in recent days. The director of national intelligence declared before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in a chilling example of self-fulfilling prophecy, that “over the longer term Qaddafi will prevail.” The secretary of defense continued to insist that the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya is too much for America to do, and to frighten the public with the warning that it would constitute a military operation, as if all military operations are like all other military operations, and therefore the prelude to the sort of wars that would require us, as he put it in an earlier outburst about Iraq and Afghanistan, to have our heads examined. Of course nobody is suggesting that a single American soldier step foot on Libyan soil: Gates’s exaggeration of the logistics and the implications of a no-fly zone, which the Libyan resistance is begging for, is the purest demagoguery, a way of inhibiting the discussion of what really can be done in this plainly just cause, a revival of Powellism, a cheap slippery slope argument tricked out as a responsible concern about the ladder of escalation. The secretary of state, also on Capitol Hill, insisted that a no-fly zone must have the support of some international authority. “Absent international authorization,” she instructed, “the United States acting alone would be stepping into a situation the consequences of which would be unforeseeable.”

Of course the United States, which is after all still the United States, could go and arrange international authorization, as it has sometimes done in the past; but this would require American leadership, and the Obama administration seems to regard American leadership as an early form of American hegemony. It may be, as Clinton said, that the consequences of a no-fly zone would be unforeseeable, but the consequences of the absence of a no-fly zone are entirely foreseeable. They are even seeable. We see them daily, most recently in the massacre at Zawiyah. And in a press briefing prior to the NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels, the secretary general of the alliance began by intoning that “the whole world is watching” and then announced that “NATO has no intention to intervene in Libya.” He did not grasp the heartless illogic of what he said—though if his remark could be construed as saying that the whole world is watching NATO have no intention to intervene in Libya, there was some truth to it. And he followed with these unforgettable observations: “If these systematic attacks against the Libyan people continue it may amount to a crime against humanity. And many people around the world may be tempted to say let’s do something to prevent this massacre against the Libyan civilian population.” Some of us may indeed be so tempted. But “on the other hand,” Rasmussen continued, “there are a lot of sensitivities in the region as far as foreign military intervention is concerned, or what might be considered a foreign military intervention.” Get it? We will not act to prevent a crime against humanity because by doing so we will offend—who, exactly? Not the Libyans who are clamoring for Western assistance, or the Egyptians who looked to us for unequivocal support in their fight for freedom, or the Iranians who made a similar mistake. No, we will offend only a certain doctrinaire Western notion of what the contemporary Arab world thinks about the West, a notion that the democratic upheavals in the Arab world are making manifestly obsolete. We will offend not their assumptions, but our assumptions about their assumptions. It was no wonder that Gates, when he emerged from the meeting in Brussels, told reporters that whereas NATO planning for the possibility of a no-fly zone would continue, “that’s the extent of it.” We are only planning. Why don’t these people just come right out and tell the Libyan resistance to drink poison? Perhaps they fear that they may then have to provide the poison.

In sum, the situation is ominous. Darkness is descending on the Libyan struggle for freedom, and we are helping to lower it. While the various secretaries were articulating their abdications, Qaddafi was committing a slaughter in Zawiyah and employing his monopoly of the skies to drive the rebels out of Ras Lanuf. An eastern offensive is clearly imminent. (This is not a civil war. This is a war by a dictator upon his people. There is no other half of the Libyan population fighting for Qaddafi.) All this, of course, affects the sensitivities of the Libyan freedom fighters. “We’re waiting for the Americans to follow,” a rebel spokesman bitterly told Anthony Shadid and David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times about Sarkozy’s splendid decision to recognize the Libyan provisional government. (Morally America now lags behind France!) Shadid and Kirkpatrick also reported that “as NATO member nations met in Brussels to discuss options for Libya, the rebels cursed the United States and its allies for failing to impose a no-flight zone.” Why is the White House content to foment this variety of anti-Americanism? The answer is that it is so haunted by past Arab anger at American action in the Middle East that it cannot recognize present Arab anger at American inaction in the Middle East.

And the president? He declares that Qaddafi must go and that we will stand with the Libyan people, and then he does nothing. No, that’s not right. He consults and consults, and his staff works round the clock, and economic sanctions are instituted against the rampaging dictator who has tens of billions of dollars in cash. Obama is prepared to act, just not consequentially. He does not want the responsibility for any Arab outcome. He says they must do it for themselves. But they are doing it for themselves. They merely need help. And the help they need is easy for us to provide. (Jam their fucking communications.) And their cause is freedom, which is allegedly our cause. What they seek from Obama is an extended hand. What they are getting is a clenched fist. If Muammar Qaddafi takes Benghazi, it will be Barack Obama’s responsibility. That is what it means to be the American president. The American president cannot but affect the outcome. That is his burden and his privilege. He has the power to stop such an atrocity, so if the atrocity is not stopped it will be because he chose not to use his power. Perhaps that is why Obama has been telling people, rather tastelessly, that it would be easier to be the president of China. Obama will not be rushed. He is a man of the long game. But the Libyan struggle for freedom, and the mission of rescue, is a short game. That is the temporality of such circumstances. If you do not act swiftly, you have misunderstood the situation. Delay means disaster. Does Obama have any idea of what Qaddafi’s victory will mean for the region and its awakening?   

We have flinched this way before. For many days I have had a sickening 1992–1995 feeling. Consider these sentences, from a book I lugubriously took off my shelf: “Why does the United States stand so idly by? The most common answer is, ‘We didn’t know.’ This is not true. … A second response to the question of why the United States did so little is that it could not have done much to stop the horrors. [But] the only way to ascertain the consequences of U.S. diplomatic, economic, or military measures would have been to undertake them. … If anything testifies to the U.S. capacity for influence, it is the extent to which the perpetrators kept an eye trained on Washington and other Western capitals as they decided how to proceed. … The real reason the United States did not do what it could and should have done to stop genocide was not a lack of knowledge or influence but a lack of will. Simply put, American leaders did not act because they did not want to.” The Libyan calamity is not genocide, but genocide is not the only horror that has a claim on American agency. I have taken those wise sentences from "A Problem from Hell," Samantha Power’s sad, great study of earlier American failures to act against mass-murdering tyrants. Is Obama now writing his own chapter in that story? Why do we not still remember that story? It is disgusting, as the Libyan rebels are driven further and further back, to learn that we must discover it all over again.          

Leon Wieseltier is the literary editor of The New Republic
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