PACKER’S CORNER: Coalition Woes, Syrian War, and Near Assasination of PA Prime Minister

Fireworks in the Israeli coalition government this week! For the first time since anyone can remember, there was a real crisis within the government coalition this past week. The reason: the potential draft of yeshiva students and/or the Prime Minister’s alleged desire for elections based on Likud’s strong showing in recent election polls.

Without going into tremendous detail, basically, the Supreme Court recently invalidated the current system of exempting yeshiva students from the army. Therefore, a new law has to be passed to replace the old one. The Haredi/ultra-orthodox parties wanted this done before they would vote for the budget. There was a set deadline to vote for the budget, so time was running out. Majorly complicating things was Avigdor Lieberman’s party’s virulent and vocal opposition to the law being proposed without coordination with the defense ministry. They promised to vote no, Netanyahu would then fire those that voted “no” and disband the government for elections in June.

The conclusion: the conscription law was read in the Knesset and passed a first vote. This was done with the approval of the Rabbinical council that directly the ultra-orthodox parties as to how to vote. It must pass others to become law and that won’t happen until the next session of the Knesset – after Pesach. The budget was passed and the coalition is fully intact. Remains to be seen what will happen next session – probably won’t be smooth sailing like it had been up until this most recent crisis. There still another year and half until scheduled national elections – looking doubtful right now if this government will make it to then.

President Trump fired his Secretary of State – Rex Tillerson – and replaced him with the former head of the CIA – Mike Pompeo. Unclear how this will effect US policy in the Middle East, but Pompeo is said to very much oppose the Iran nuclear deal. Will be interesting to see how aggressive he is about that opposition, which he shares with President Trump. (Trump also appointed the first woman to lead the CIA, but no one on the right is surprised and no one on the left seems to care. go figure)

War rages on numerous fronts in Syria. Death toll for civilians way over 1000 in Eastern Ghouta, just outside of Damascus. Turkey continues to gain ground in the northwest of Syria against the Kurds. Not clear what will happen if Afrin does fall to Turkey – both to the civilians and the fighters. Could be the same fate…

Oh, and the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority was almost assassinated in Gaza this week. Seems the attackers blew up the wrong car as the convoy made its way into Gaza. There were injuries, but only to security. Of course, this does not bode well for PA-Hamas reconciliation.

Abbas Says No to Trump and Thats Good for Peace

The current row between the Trump administration and the PA over the White House’s rumored closure of the controversial PLO office in DC has reached new levels as PA President Abbas now has refused phone calls with President Trump’s team. Does this mean the peace process is dead?

In one word: No.

When looking at the moves the administration is backing in Saudi Arabia by endorsing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it is obvious that the current situation involving the PA is being orchestrated by both by the US team and Israel in order to simply force the Palestinian leadership out.

Trump realized early on in his administration that as long as the PA is being led by dictators, murderers, and thieves there would be no chance to move forward towards a genuine peace. It is impossible to know the contours of the unfolding peace plan, but one thing is obvious at this point, whatever it is, it won’t be similar to the ones brought before.

Trump being a business man, seems to believe that the surest route to peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs as well as the broader Sunni world is to make the Arabs clean house first.  By doing so real grassroots relations can take place. The old guard within the Sunni Arab world has been milking all sides of the conflict for a number of years and by doing so has pushed off any lasting peace and any outside of the box ideas.  Sweeping them to the side is key.

By forcing the Arab world to clean house, Trump has essentially begun the process of allowing alternate ideas to be able to take shape.

How long will this take? Real peace might take longer than this generation, but forcing Abbas to say no is a great first step!

The Taylor Force Act – Putting “Palestine” in perspective

The Palestinian population is not some hapless victim of the terror groups, but the very crucible from which they emerged

Congress is finally considering legislation to stop the Palestinian Authority from incentivizing violence…This has to stop, and the Taylor Force Act…attempts to do that. As it currently stands, the act would cut U.S. foreign assistance to the West Bank and Gaza in its entirety if the “payments for acts of terrorism against United States and Israeli citizens …do not stop…. There should definitely be no ‘pay to slay’, but…[b]eing smart counts for more than being right. And the smart approach is one that also recognizes that innocent Palestinians…should not be forced to pay for the mistakes of a government they cannot control. – David Makovsky et al“The Smart Way to End ‘Pay to Slay’”, Foreign Policy, August 2, 2017.

Lesley Stahl, on CBS’s 60 Minutes on the effects of US led sanctions against Iraq (May 12, 1996): We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”

Madelaine Albright, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations , subsequently President Clinton’s Secretary of State: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.

Recently, three members of the well-known think-tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, posted an article on the new legislative initiative, named the Taylor Force Act after the West Point graduate and veteran, who was killed in a terrorist attack in Israel last year.

Appropriate and imperative

The proposed bill, which was recently passed in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with overwhelming bipartisan support, is designed to stop American financial aid to the Palestinian Authority [PA] until it ceases its generous payments to individuals who commit acts of terrorism and to the families of deceased terrorists.

Perversely, under the prevailing conditions, the more gruesome the act of terror and the longer the sentence imposed on the perpetrator, the greater the remuneration!

Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal points out, under existing circumstances, “U.S. aid becomes a transfer payment for terrorists”.

This is clearly an unconscionable situation and hence legislation to contend with it, and correct it, was not only appropriate, but imperative.

The need for a punitive response to the egregious “pay for slay” custom of the PA was conceded by the previously mentioned Washington Institute article, entitled “The Smart Way to End ‘Pay to Slay’”.  

Penned by David Makovsky,  distinguished fellow  and director of the project on the Middle East Peace Process, veteran diplomat Dennis Ross, distinguished fellow and counsellor on the U.S.-Israel Strategic Relationship, and Lia Weiner, a research assistant, it clearly proclaims “There should definitely be no ‘pay to slay’… This has to stop.”

“…the ‘mistakes’ of a government they cannot control.

However, it cautions against an across-the-board cessation of US funds to the PA, calling for a more nuanced (read “watered-down”) application of the punitive cuts: “Threats of sweeping cuts to Palestinian aid may hurt the cause more than they help.” They warn that “To entirely defund U.S. aid to the West Bank and Gaza is…to halt economic and social progress there”, proposing instead an approach thatrecognizes that innocent Palestinians…should not be forced to pay for the mistakes of a government they cannot control”.

But making the innocent members of the population pay for the nefarious deeds of governments they “cannot control” has been the hall mark of American policy across the globe for years—even when those governments have been far more tyrannical than the PA.

Indeed, why should “innocent Palestinians” merit greater consideration than “innocents”   in a range of despotic regimes against which the US has imposed punishing, at times crippling, economic penalties—such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea?

For example the US-led UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein-controlled Iraq inflicted wide-spread suffering (see introductory excerpt) on innocent Iraqis—including women, infants and the elderly—who, arguably, had much less chance of influencing the actions of their government than do the “innocent Palestinians” with regard to Abbas’s PA.


A government reflecting popular preferences

Indeed, while it is true that they “have not been able to vote in an election for more than a decade”, and to a large measure cannot “control” the current PA government, they certainly did empower it.  In fact, it is in many ways, a government of their making—and theirs alone.

After all, in the last elections held in 2006, the Islamist terror organization Hamas and PA president Abbas’s Fatah won just over 90% of the vote—with the former winning 74 and the later 45 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Interestingly, the third largest party was a faction representing the radical hardline Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terrorist group founded by the infamous George Habash and headed today by Ahmed Saadat, currently in an Israeli prison for his part in planning the 2001 assassination of Israeli minister, Rehavam Zeevi .

Moreover, parties focusing on socio-economic reforms and human rights fared extremely poorly. Thus, the “Third Way” headed by former PA prime minister Salam Fayyad and a former PA Minister, the well-known Hanan Ashrawi, won a paltry 2 seats, while the National Coalition for Justice and Democracy,  headed by prominent physician and human rights activist  Eyad El-Sarraj won, well…none


“Palestine”: What the polls predict

However, not only did the last elections show a vast endorsement of rejectionist views (both Fatah and Hamas –and the PFLP–vehemently reject any recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jews), but recent public opinion polls provide little cause for optimism that this is likely to change.

Indeed, should Abbas leave his post, the most popular candidates are Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti, currently serving multiple life sentences in Israel for a myriad of lethal acts of terror, and Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh.

Moreover, findings for legislatives elections show that almost 70% would vote for either Fatah or Hamas, 10% for all other parties, with over 20% being undecided.

Thus, there is little reason to believe that—were new elections to be held—they would produce a sea-change for the better in the composition of the PA, or its policy.  In fact, there is considerable room for concern that the very opposite might well be true.

But perhaps most damaging to Makovsky, Ross and Weiner’s contention that “innocent Palestinians…should not be forced to pay for the mistakes of a government they cannot control” is the finding that there is near unanimous public endorsement  for the very financial support that the Taylor Force Act is intended to terminate.  


Pay to Slay” & Vox Populi

Stunningly (or not), a July 2017 survey by Palestinian Center of Policy and Survey Research, headed by the well-known Palestinian pollster, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, found thatan almost total consensus rejects pressure on the PA to terminate payments to Palestinian security prisoners” and   91% are opposed to the suspension of PA payments to Palestinian security prisoners [i.e. jailed terrorists- MS] in Israeli jails; only 7% support such measure”.  

This is precisely the reality mirrored in an article that appeared in Tablet Magazine this week by Alex Kane, according to whichthe prisoner payment program is one of the most popular PA programs, and it would be political suicide for the PA to halt it.

So, in stark contradiction to the impression conveyed by Makovsky, Ross and Weiner, the “pay to slay” policy is not something foisted on a reluctant peace-seeking  “innocent” Palestinian population , but is, in fact enthusiastically embraced by it—reflecting nothing more (or less) than vox populi.  

Indeed, it is more than a little disturbing to see such “luminaries” as Makovsky and Ross propagating views demonstrably detached from reality, in what appears to be  a misplaced endeavor to create the false impression that, overall, the Palestinians,  share their  worldview—when, in fact,  they clearly seem to have a very different one…


Self-contradictory, self-obstructive “rationale”

But beyond the fact that their contentions sit uneasily with the empirical evidence, they appear to have additional disconcerting implications. Thus, they endorse the view that “although a tough message [should be] sent to the PA about the consequences of incentivizing violence”, they recommend that measures undertaken should “prevent any deterioration in the quality of life for Palestinians lest that lead to greater radicalization”.

This appears to reflect a curious rationale which suggests that if one is punished for bad behavior, then one’s behavior will become…worse???

This never was a consideration in, say, Serbia, where markets, hospitals, buses, bridges and old age facilities—to name but a few civilian targets that were hit in high altitude bombing sorties in the US-led NATO attacks in the Balkans War of the 1990s.

Indeed, the claim that harsh punitive measures against an authoritarian regime will only make the regime –or the population under its control—more recalcitrant flies in the face of the most basic elements of deterrence theory. After all, if the threat of harsh measures cannot coerce the regime to modify its behavior, why should measures less harsh do the trick?

Moreover, if the collective is not forced to feel the consequences of actions carried out in its name- there is clearly no reason for these actions to cease.  This is particularly true in the case of the “pay to slay” practice, which, while it may be implemented by an authoritarian regime, is widely endorsed by the general public. In this context, the rationale advanced by Makovsky, Ross et al appears to be at once both self-contradictory and self-obstructive.


Clash of collectives

It is of course somewhat discomforting to see such well-placed and well-connected pundits misread the lay-of-the-land so profoundly. For such gross misperception can only help perpetuate the conflict and its attendant suffering.

Firstly, these misperceptions nourish the false premise that privation drives radicalization, which is clearly disproven by the radicalization of many seemingly well-integrated Muslim youth in Europe, and the fact that in several Arab countries the greatest animosity towards Israel is harbored by the professional, well-to-do echelons of society.   

Secondly, they obscure the real nature of the Israel-Arab conflict and hence, hamper the efforts to bring it to an end—diverting efforts toward bogus “causes”.

In this regard, then-defense minister Moshe-“Bogey” Yaalon, in a November 2015 address, correctly diagnosed the conflict as a clash of collectives i.e.  “…predominantly a war of wills, of two societies with conflicting wills”.

But, if the clash is essentially one between collectives, surely victory will require one collective breaking the will of the rival collective. Accordingly, ensuring that said rival can maintain its daily routine hardly seems the most promising stratagem to adopt in an effort to break its will and achieve victory.

Indeed, if anything, it would seem the exigencies for a collective victory over an adversarial collective would dictate the diametrically opposite endeavor – disrupt the daily routine of the adversary. After all, misdeeds perpetrated in the name of the Palestinian collective must carry a price, which the collective pays – for if not, it will have no incentive to curb them.

Implacable enemy not prospective peace partner

The Palestinian population is thus not some hapless victim of the terror groups, as some might suggest but the very crucible from which such groups have emerged. It has by its own hand, by its deeds and declarations, made it clear that it will not—except on some temporary, tactical basis –brook any manifestation of Jewish political independence/national sovereignty) “between the River and the Sea”.

At the end of the day, the clash between Jew and Arab over the Holy Land is a clash between two collectives. For the Jewish collective, the Palestinian collective is—and must be treated as it sees itself: An implacable enemy, not a prospective peace partner.

Accordingly, the conflict, as one between collectives cannot be individualized .One collective must emerge victorious, the other vanquished. Only then, after victory/defeat, can the issue of personal misfortune be addressed.

This, then, is the perspective in which Palestinian society must be placed—and the perspective from which the formulation of the Taylor Force Act be addressed.  

[watch] Obama Took $221m of US Taxpayer Money and Gave it to a Terror Organization Before Leaving Office

It has been revealed that Obama took one last parting shot at Israel and the US Congress before leaving office by transferring $221m to the Palestinian Authority the US Congress was blocking.

Ari Lieberman writing in FrontPageMag wrote the following about where the money is going to go:

“Just as alarmingly, a whopping 10% of the PA’s budget goes to pay the salaries of convicted terrorists or is allocated to families of deceased terrorists, killed in “martyrdom operations,” the Palestinian euphemism for bloody terrorist carnage. Thus, the family of the terrorist who stabbed US Army veteran Taylor Force to death while he was touring Jaffa receives a stipend from the PA. Similarly, the family of the beast who broke into the house of Hallel Yaffa Ariel and butchered the 13-year-old while she was sound asleep in her bed also receives a portion of Obama’s taxpayer-funded aid money.”

Obama has proven time and again, that his allegiances as President was to his far left and radical Islamic supporting ideologies and not to what is best for America or her allies.

John Kerry is Dead Wrong about Israeli Settlements

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which describes Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal, should never have passed last week. But the U.S. refused to use its veto power, in part because, as Secretary of State John F. Kerry explained in a speech on Wednesday, the Obama administration believes settlements are an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. In the outgoing administration’s view, extreme criticism is, conversely, necessary to advance the peace process.

This argument is dead wrong. Still, let’s examine it.

Although administration officials have been reluctant to explain the precise reasoning behind their last-minute series of attacks on Israel, as near as I can tell it rests on three assumptions.

The first, as Kerry outlined in his speech, is that a freeze on Israeli settlement growth makes it easier for Palestinian negotiators to make painful compromises at the negotiating table. It supposedly does this by easing Palestinian suspicions that Israel either won’t make major territorial concessions at the negotiating table, or won’t implement these concessions once made.

The main impediment to compromise is Palestinian unwillingness to accept the existence of a Jewish state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put this assumption to the test in November 2009 when he imposed a 10-month moratorium on new housing construction (East Jerusalem excepted) at the urging of the Obama administration.

What happened? Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to return to talks until the very end of the moratorium and remained every bit as intransigent as before.

The main impediment to Palestinian compromise is not Palestinian suspicion; it is the fundamental unwillingness of Palestinian leaders across the spectrum to accept the existence of a Jewish state alongside their own.

Some settlement growth makes it easier for Palestinian moderates to build public support for compromise.

What’s more, a strong case can be made that some settlement growth actually makes it easier for Palestinian moderates to build public support for compromise by underscoring that a continuation of the status quo is untenable and injurious to Palestinian national aspirations in the long run.

The Obama administration’s second assumption is that pressure from the international community or from the United States will bring about this supposedly desirable settlement freeze.

However, by collapsing the distinction between East Jerusalem and bustling Israeli towns just inside the West Bank — which no major Israeli political party will contemplate abandoning — and the remaining settlements, most of which Israelis are willing to give up, this policy does the opposite.

“It is a gift to Bibi Netanyahu, who can now more easily argue to Israelis that the bad relationship with America these last eight years wasn’t his fault,” notes the writer Jonah Goldberg.

Finally, even if it were true that a settlement freeze would make it easier for Palestinian negotiators to trust Israel and that international pressure would increase the willingness of Israeli leaders to accept such a freeze, these effects would be far overshadowed by the problems created by branding Israeli claims outside the 1949 armistice line illegal and invalid.

Palestinian leaders will have double the trouble compromising now that the UN has endorsed their maximalist demands.

Since Palestinian leaders already have trouble justifying to their people the abandonment of territorial claims to Ma’ale Adumim, the Jewish quarter in Jerusalem, and so forth, they will have double the trouble now that the United States has endorsed these demands. What Palestinian leader can sign away territory to which Washington and the Security Council have declared Israelis have no legitimate claim?

Kerry stated plainly that Israel is to blame for the demise of the two-state process, and that — unless its leaders listen to counsel — Israel will not survive as both a Jewish and a democratic state. Now that the administration’s views are crystal clear, pundits should spare us the back and forth on whether its eleventh-hour obsessions are good for peace – no one as smart as Obama or Kerry can possibly believe that it is.

The more interesting question, sure to be the focus of congressional hearings next year, is why the administration used its last few weeks to damage relations with Israel.

Originally Posted in the Los Angeles Times.


What Kerry Should Have Said

When Sec. of State John Kerry delivered his comprehensive statement on the Arab-Israel conflict in front of a safe audience at the State Department, he took over an hour to defend the decision of the United States to in essence allow passage of the recent UN anti-Israel resolution by abstaining from it, rather than adhering to the long standing policy of the US to veto such resolutions.

The general thrust of his message was to chastise Israel for building “settlements” on land defined as “occupied Palestinian territory,” as the main obstacle preventing a two-state solution.

In addition to focusing attention on criticizing Israel Kerry failed to mention some critically important points which are clearly more central to why a two state solution has failed to materialize.

For example, the most obvious is the fact that Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, who is also seen by most of the world as a moderate, has steadfastly said he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. As I see it, this alone is the single biggest non-starter for a two state solution. While Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s  consistent commitment to accepting a Palestinian state, demonstrates his desire for mutual recognition, Mr. Kerry conveniently omitted Abbas’s destructive statements on refusing to accept Israel’s right to exist.

How realistic is a two state solution when one side won’t even recognize the other’s right to exist?

Mr. Kerry emphatically stated the US opposition to terror and incitement. However, empty statements like this have been made on numerous occasions by the American administration. What good are such statements if they are not backed up by tangible action?

The PA receives hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid from many countries, most of it from the US. The PA in turn uses a portion of international aid to line the pockets of terrorists who have murdered Israeli’s with huge salaries. This financial windfall allows their families a living standard which is 5 times greater than the average Palestinian. Did Mr. Kerry say or even hint that the US would suspend all financial aid to the PA to demonstrate how strongly they feel about the need to stop terrorism? He did not. Actions speak louder than words Mr. Kerry.

The constitution of Abbas’s Fatah party explicitly calls for the destruction of the “Zionist entity,” which in plain words means Israel. Did Mr. Kerry make any mention of this? Moreover, one can only imagine what he might say if Israel’s constitution called for the destruction of a Palestinian state. Heaven forbid!

The official emblem of the Fatah party shows one state, not two. The one state covers the entire area of Israel, and shows every square inch of land as one state of “Palestine.” Their emblem also includes weapons of war, suggesting their goal is to destroy Israel through violence. Again Kerry is silent.

If Mahmoud Abbas wants to be seen as a serious peace partner, would it be too much to suggest that he publically condemn the plethora of terror attacks the Palestinians have perpetrated against innocent Israeli civilians? Not only has Abbas failed to condemn such attacks, he and his party have continuously glorified these murderers.

Kerry also downplayed the US role in the anti-Israel UN resolution, suggesting the US was not involved in composing, or sponsoring it. Yet, by abstaining the Obama administration knows full well, it was as if they voted for it, because they chose not to use their veto power, which allowed it to pass.

With its passing the Obama administration has intentionally left the door wide open for the UN to take further action against Israel.  

With only days remaining in the current administration, the timing of Kerry’s speech was more about punctuating the anti-Israel tenor of the Obama administration with one last trumpet blast about land for peace. However, all one needs to do is look at what happened when Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip after 38 years. They were rewarded with 3 wars and 20,000 rockets.

If the Obama administration is truly as concerned about Israel’s security as Kerry states, their failure to hold the Palestinians accountable for their wanton terror renders any statements about understanding Israel’s need for security meaningless.

Since the UN resolution cannot be reversed, the Obama administration has knowingly done two things-
1. They have put the incoming Trump administration in a difficult position.
2. Obama has placed a nail in the coffin of his relationship with Israel. With the door now open for further punitive UN action against Israel, his administration will go down in history has the most anti-Israel administrations ever.

One doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to recognize the two sides of the conflict have entirely different agendas. Israel desires to have peace, while the Arab Palestinians goal remains p-i-e-c-e, every piece of the land of Israel to be theirs. For not recognizing this and blaming Israel for being the obstacle to peace, the Obama administration has reduced itself to being hypocrites by ignoring their own oft stated commitment to Israel’s security.


Russia: Israel and “Palestinian” Arabs will Come for Talks

Russian spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced Thursday that the Russian government has recieved word from both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government that Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to meet in Moscow for direct talks. A date for the direct meeting has yet to be determined.

The last time the two men met was in 2015 for a brief handshake.

Russia is quickly becoming the only real player in the Levant region as Ameica’s role in the region continues to contract and recede.  No one expects peace to come from the meeting, but Putin wants to go ahead with it to show that he is the future arbiter of regional disputes.

The only question for the Russian leader is whether he can hold himself back from pursuing the peace pipe dream of the Western world and instead build real regional stability.

Israel is praying he keeps composure.