Lindsey Graham Addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition

— by Richard Chaitt and Scott Schley

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham was among the 13 Republican candidates speaking at the RJC Presidential Presidential Forum.

Senator Lindsay Graham

Senator Lindsay Graham

Senator Lindsey Graham

Senator Graham’s presentation was “folksy”. He took off against unserious candidates; zeroing in on those who never held office. Objected to what Cruz said. Graham believes that by emphasizing a nationalist, pro-life agenda Republicans are alienating Hispanic and young women voter; the party needs to be more inclusive if they are to prevail in the general election. If the Republican candidate takes the position that a woman who is raped or is a victim of incest can’t get an abortion or that all illegal immigrants must be deported, the Republicans will lose.

Graham was strong on foreign policy and against Iran. He promised to stop the Iranian nuclear program. He would defund the UN unless they stop taking discriminatory positions against Israel. He also said the Palestinians should lose US funding unless they get serious about peace.

Speeches by the other Republican presidential candidates is available in our full coverage of the RJC presidential forum.

Thirteen Candidates at Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum

ajcPollThe Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum was held on December 3, 2015 in Washington DC. Attended by over 700 members of the RJC from all over the country. Of the 14 Republican presidential candidates, 13 attended (Senator Rand Paul backed out due to Senate business). Each candidate had 30 minutes for a prepared speech and questions. A fundamental concern of the RJC is Israel. So it was not surprising that most of the comments related to foreign policy and the relationship between the United States and Israel.

Click on the links below for video of each speaker along with a brief review of their comments.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush
Johns Hopkins Neurosurgeon Ben Carson
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
Texas Senator Ted Cruz
Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina
Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham
Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee
Ohio Governor John Kasich
New York Governor George Pataki
Florida Senator Marco Rubio
Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum
Real estate mogul Donald Trump

According to Steve Sheffey despite their efforts at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s forum, the Republican presidential candidates continue to turn off Jewish voters:

All of the GOP candidates hold views that most Jewish voters strongly disagree with. The day after the mass shooting in California, the Republican presidential candidates were utterly unapologetic about their opposition to new gun control laws.

On Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) voted against an amendment that would have prevented people on the terrorism watch list from purchasing firearms. So did the other Republican senators running for president. We need to place the sanctity of life above the sanctity of misguided interpretations of the Second Amendment.

Photos courtesy of Richard Chaitt. Video courtesy of CSPAN.

Ted Cruz Addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition

— by Richard Chaitt and Scott Schley

Texas Senator Ted Cruz was among the 13 Republican candidates speaking at the RJC Presidential Presidential Forum.

Senator Ted Cruz

Senator Ted Cruz

Senator Ted Cruz mentioned his bi-partisan outreach to Democrats in foreign affairs. We urges us to speak the truth about Radical Islam, since “the truth has power.” To borrow a page from Ronald Reagan’s strategy in the cold war, he says “our strategy should be very simply: we win, they lose.” He emphasized we are at war with Islamic Terror and the United States has to stand with Israel. Accordingly, Cruz wants to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and take steps to combat the boycott Israel (BDS) movement.

Cruz made it clear that the United States must go after terrorists. He also wants to rip up the Iran nuclear deal and force an end to the Iranian nuclear program.

During the question and answer period, Cruz was asked about abortion. He replied that to win the Republicans must run as fiscal, foreign policy and social conservatives and that if Republicans nominate a moderate, the coalition necessary to win won’t exist.

Speeches by the other Republican presidential candidates is available in our full coverage of the RJC presidential forum.

If Gaza Were Near the U.S.

— by Steve SheffeyHamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel this week.Can you imagine what the U.S. would do if hundreds of rockets were coming into it from the Delaware Bay? It would not exercise a tenth of the restraint Israel has exercised.Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) spoke for all of us last Tuesday: 

Families in Israel are once again hearing incessant alarm sirens and racing to bomb shelters as Hamas launches hundreds of rockets from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians. No nation would, nor should accept such attack without firm response. I support Israel’s right to defend herself against threats to her citizens and efforts to restore quiet to the region

The fundamental duty of any state is to protect its citizens. The reason so few Israelis die from rocket attacks is that Israel does everything it can to protect its citizens from rocket fire. The reason so many Palestinians die from Israeli air strikes is that despite Israeli leaflets and other warnings that attacks are imminent, Hamas launches rockets from hospitals and densely-populated areas, and deliberately keeps civilians in harm’s way.Some people urge a “proportionate” response on Israel. What would that be? Firing dozens of rockets randomly into Gaza?The correct amount of force is the amount necessary to stop the Hamas rocket attacks. If anything, the Israeli response has been insufficient, as the rocket attacks keep coming.The Jewish Federations of North America have issued a statement commending President Obama “for his continuing support of Israel’s right to self-defense.”

You may have seen misleading headlines about White House Middle East coordinator Philip Gordon’s major speech last Tuesday. However, it was a good summary of the U.S. policy on Israel, Syria, Iran, and the peace process:

 

Over the past several days, Hamas and other terrorist groups have launched dozens of rockets at Israeli towns and cities, forcing local populations into their shelters.The United States strongly condemns these attacks. No country should have to live under the constant threat of indiscriminate violence against innocent civilians.

We support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks. At the same time, we appreciate Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for acting responsibly. We, in turn, call on all sides to do all they can to restore calm, and to take steps to protect civilians.

Israel is doing exactly what Gordon urges. The only way to restore calm is to stop the rocket attacks, and Israel is doing all it can to protect civilians.

Unlike previous administrations, the Obama administration has never condemned, threatened, or punished Israel for using military force to protect its citizens. Who can argue with what Gordon said?

Gordon also discussed the specifics of President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, removing chemical weapons from Syria (a huge success that was achieved without firing a shot), and the prospects for peace with the Palestinians, even as rockets are striking Israel. This is where the headlines have been misleading.

I urge you to read what Gordon said, all of it, and decide for yourself if these are the words of a friend or if he is “blasting Israel.”

Palestinians Celebrate Kidnapping of Israeli Teens

— by Steve Sheffey

The three Israeli teenagers kidnapped in the West Bank earlier this month still have not been found.

The Palestinians have been celebrating the kidnapping with “The Three Shalits” campaign, named after the previously-kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, in which they picture themselves holding three fingers in the air.

The Palestinian Authority (PA)’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, called for the return of the kidnapped boys, saying that the kidnappers were trying to destroy the PA. And yet, one cannot help but conclude that the sick celebration of the kidnapping, which included this appalling cartoon on the PA’s website, is the result of the constant anti-Semitic incitement against Israel that has occurred for decades throughout Palestinian society.

More after the jump.

Secretary of State John Kerry strongly condemned the kidnapping and called for the immediate release of the boys, offering “full support for Israel in its search for the missing teens.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and other members of the Illinois congressional delegation have released statements condemning the kidnapping.

Schneider called on Abbas “to disassociate from Hamas, and any entity that is demonstrated to have participated in this horrible crime.

”

Furthermore, the abduction of these innocent boys, the widespread celebrations in the Palestinian Territories of the kidnapping, and ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza, shed light on the broad spectrum of threats that Israelis live with on a daily basis. It is critical that the international community unites in opposition to these types of terrorist activities, and openly condemns those who advocate and celebrate such heinous actions as legitimate.

Schakowski urged “all parties, including the Palestinian Authority, to do everything possible to achieve the prompt release of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.”

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Why Does Israel Still Transfer Money to the PA?


In forming this technocratic government, Hamas agreed to conditions it was never previously willing to accept, such as giving Abbas veto power over all ministers and approving the formation of a government in which it has no ministers, which is why this unity government might succeed.

— by Steve Sheffey

The pro-Israel community is concerned about the new Palestinian unity government.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL), a lifelong advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, a supporter of a two-state solution, and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement on the subject last week:

I remain deeply concerned that the Palestinian Authority continues to move forward with a reconciliation government that includes the internationally-recognized terrorist group Hamas. Hamas continues to advocate violent action against Israel, and its political leadership refuses to recognize Israel.

Hamas’ participation in a unity government raises serious doubts as to the Palestinians’ commitment to a negotiated peace with Israel and raises significant questions regarding future U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority.

While I support efforts by the Palestinian Authority to form government institutions capable of representing the Palestinian people, a unity government with Hamas, without Hamas agreeing to the “Quartet Conditions,” which includes renouncing violence, recognizing Israel and honoring past agreements, will hinder the peace process and will not result in a future Palestinian state.

President Abbas must understand the two-state agreement can only be achieved through good faith negotiation with Israel. I hope he and his government will take the steps to further the prospects for peace for his people and the region.

More after the jump.
AIPAC called on Congress to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA), while Congress “conducts a thorough review of continued U.S. assistance to ensure that U.S. law, which prohibits to a Palestinian government in which Hamas participates or has undue influence, is completely followed and implemented.”

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago wrote that the “inclusion of Hamas at any level of a Palestinian government undermines the goal of the United States and Israel for a negotiated settlement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.”

Israel criticized the decision of the U.S. to work with the new Palestinian unity government. But the White House pointed out that the same day the technocratic Palestinian unity government was established, Israel transferred more than 500 million shekels (about $145 million) to the PA government.

Haaretz reported that a senior White House official said, “It is unclear to us why some in the Israeli political leadership are staking out such a hard line public position that is fundamentally at odds with their own actions.” The official added that the transfer “was no accident and reflects the Israeli establishment’s clear interest in maintaining a functioning and stable PA that can effectively administer Palestinian areas.”

Israel has no interest in seeing the PA collapse and their actions this week reinforce this clear-eyed understanding, despite what some Israeli officials are saying publicly.

Our position has consistently been that the threshold for working with a PA government is that it recognize the Quartet principles and doesn’t include or share power with Hamas. It is against our interest — and Israel’s interests — to cut ties with and funding to such a PA government. A functioning, stable PA serves our interests, Palestinian interests, and Israeli interests.

Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that the “U.S. does not recognize a government with respect to Palestine because that would recognize a state and there is no state.”

Hamas is a terrorist organization. It has not accepted the Quartet principles. It continues to call for the destruction of Israel. It continues even as it moves into this new posture. And so we are obviously going to watch closely what happens, but we will… work with it in the constraints that we are obviously facing.

Unless Kerry is mistaken on the facts, the U.S. is not required by law to cut off funding. Kerry said last week that Abbas “made clear that this new technocratic government is committed to the principles of non violence, negotiations, recognizing the state of Israel, acceptance of the previous agreements and the Quartet principles.”

Based on what we know now about the composition of this technocratic government, which has no minister affiliated to Hamas and is committed to the principles that I describe, we will work with it as we need to, as appropriate.

The purpose of this technocratic unity government is to administer affairs in the West Bank and Gaza for purposes of having election in six months.

No one disputes that Hamas is an unrepentant terrorist organization. But neither Israel nor the U.S. believes that any of the ministers in the unity government are members of Hamas. Hamas is very weak as a result of restrictions imposed by Egypt, so it is in both Israel’s and the PA’s interests to capitalize on this weakness by forcing Hamas out of power in Gaza by elections.

In forming this technocratic government, Hamas agreed to conditions it was never previously willing to accept, such as giving Abbas veto power over all ministers and approving the formation of a government in which it has no ministers, which is why this unity government might succeed.

If the Palestinian Authority collapses, not only would Israel have to take over administration of the West Bank — which Israel does not want to do — but Israel would also lose the security cooperation that has virtually eliminated terrorist attacks from the West Bank into Israel. Perhaps that is why, despite its rhetoric, Israel continues to transfer money to the PA — and so should we.

Congress should work with the Administration to ensure that we have not been misled as to the composition of this unity government, and to monitor this unity government for acts that would render it ineligible for U.S. aid. Suspending aid now could imperil U.S. and Israeli security and administrative interests. It might be more prudent to suspend aid only if and when we have evidence that continued U.S. assistance would violate U.S. law.

The goal is to remove Hamas from power and create a government that can negotiate meaningfully with Israel, but the risk is that Hamas will use this government to expand its influence. A Palestinian government without Hamas that can negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is the ideal partner for peace. We must be careful not to take rash action.

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The Real Reason for the Bergdahl Controversy

USA_PFC_BoweBergdahl_ACU_Cropped— by Steve Sheffey

Should we have traded five Taliban prisoners for one U.S. prisoner of war? It is amazing that we are even asking this question.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is rarely accused of being soft on terrorism, negotiated with Hamas and traded more than 1,000 prisoners, many of whom with blood on their hands, for Gilad Shalit, whose conduct prior to his capture was not exactly heroic.

These are painful decisions, but countries like the U.S. and Israel do not leave their soldiers behind, and certainly not run a character and fitness test before deciding whom to rescue. General Dempsey was right when he said about Sergeant Bergdahl, “Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty.”

More after the jump.
When we end wars, we trade for prisoners. Can you imagine the reaction if President Obama had refused to make this trade and Bergdahl had died or disappeared? Would our Republican friends have accepted “we let him die because we had questions about how he was captured” as an excuse?

The five Taliban prisoners would have been released in a few months anyway, so we really did not give up anything.

Also, these released prisoners will be monitored, and their movement will be restricted. Former Bush administration official John Bellinger noted that the “Administration appears to have reached a defensible, hold-your-nose compromise by arranging, in exchange for the release of Sergeant Bergdahl, for the individuals to be held in Qatar for a year before they return to Afghanistan.”

But was it legal for President Obama to make this trade? The National Security Council spokesman, Caitlin Hayden, provided a convincing answer:

[T]he Secretary of Defense may transfer an individual detained at Guantanamo to a foreign country if the Secretary determines (1) that actions have or will be taken that substantially mitigate the risk that the individual will engage in activity that threatens the United States or U.S. persons or interests and (2) that the transfer is in the national security interest of the United States. The Secretary made those determinations.

In The New York Times, David Brooks wrote that “the president’s instincts were right. His sense of responsibility for a fellow countryman was correct. It’s not about one person; it’s about the principle of all-for-one-and-one-for-all, which is the basis of citizenship.”

So what really is behind the Bergdahl controversy? Obama ended two wars without being blamed for surrender, and that does not sit well with our Republican friends. In The Dish, Andrew Sullivan explained it perfectly:

What the Bergdahl deal does is give the right a mini-gasm in which to vent all their emotions about the wars they once backed and to channel them into their pre-existing template of the traitor/deserter/Muslim/impostor presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. This venting has been a long time coming, it springs from all the frustrations of losing wars, and it can have pure expression against a soldier with a hippie dad and a president they despise. It’s a bonanza of McCarthyite “stab-in-the-back” paranoia and culture war aggression. They don’t have to vent against Cheney, the true architect of the defeats, because now they have a cause celebre to pursue Obama over.They also get to avoid the messy awful reality that Cheney bequeathed us: an illegal internment/torture camp with 149 prisoners with no possibility of justice or release. Permanent detention and brutal torture of prisoners are not issues to the right. They invariably refuse to acknowledge the extraordinary cost of Gitmo to the moral standing of the US or its increasingly tenuous claim to be a vanguard of Western values. Instead, they wallow in terror of the inmates — being so scared of them that they cannot even tolerate them on American soil — and impugn the very integrity and patriotism of a twice-elected president when he tries to untie the knot Bush left him.

They have no constructive solution to this problem, of course. They have no constructive solution to anything else either — whether it be climate change, healthcare or immigration. But they know one thing: how to foment and channel free-floating rage at an impostor/deserter president for inheriting the national security disaster they created. This they know how to do. This is increasingly all they know how to do.

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Another Republican Attempt to Use Iran for Political Gain


Congress can take action against any Iran deal with or without Senator Bob Corker’s amendment.

— by Steve Sheffey

The U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), enjoys broad bipartisan support and was on its way to an easy passage.

But last week, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) indicated that he would introduce an amendment requiring Congressional hearings and a vote on a non-binding “joint resolution of disapproval” on any Iran nuclear deal reached by the Obama administration.

This is not a bipartisan effort: Corker does not have a Democratic co-sponsor. This is another Republican attempt to manipulate legitimate concerns about Iran for political gain.

Almost everyone supports the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act. Why not let it pass with strong bipartisan support and vote separately on a bill to authorize a joint resolution of disapproval?

Corker wants all or nothing. He is willing to put the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act at risk to gain a talking point Republicans can use against Democrats who oppose his amendment.

More after the jump.
Boxer pulled the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act from consideration by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to avoid a vote on the Iran amendment. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) also opposes voting on Corker’s Iran amendment.

Corker’s amendment is unnecessary: Congress does and should have a role in the process. But Corker’s amendment does not give Congress any authority to block a deal with Iran; it just creates an opportunity for more grandstanding. As Boxer pointed out, Congress can take action against any deal with or without Corker’s amendment.

Some in Congress want a deal with Iran that is so airtight, so perfect, that it would be impossible to achieve. They do not seem to realize that the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiations table will not by themselves stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The alternative to diplomacy is not more sanctions — although more sanctions will surely be the first response if diplomacy fails — but either war or containment.

That is not to say that opponents of the interim deal process want war: They do not. They sincerely believe that merciless sanctions will stop Iran, even though Iran’s nuclear program had accelerated as sanctions increased, but has slowed down significantly since the interim agreement was put in place and a limited sanctions relief was granted.

The Obama administration’s position is that we need to give diplomacy a chance because:

  • Diplomacy might work (although President Obama, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton all give it a chance of less than 50% to succeed).
  • The case for even tougher sanctions, and if necessary, military action, will be much stronger. We will be much more likely to maintain the international coalition, that is essential if we are to have any chance of success, if we first try diplomacy and thereby convince the world that there really is no alternative to more sanctions or military action.

Obama has been clear that diplomacy might not work, and has been equally clear that we will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, repeatedly stating that no option, including the military one, is off the table. He has boxed himself in: He cannot allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons without his presidency being judged a failure by his own standard.

If nevertheless you do not think that Obama will use military force, even if it will be the only way to stop Iran, then you should support diplomacy and oppose congressional initiatives that would complicate diplomatic efforts and make it harder for diplomacy to succeed. If diplomacy does not succeed, military action will be the only option left.

Now is not the time for Congress to upset the apple cart. There is no reason that Corker’s amendment needs to be voted on now — as opposed to later in the process — other than to create an election-year issue for the Republicans.

Senators Boxer and Menendez are good friends of the pro-Israel community. We should commend them for refusing to play Corker’s game.

Kerry’s Support of Israel Is Unquestionable


Kerry and Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman.

— by Steve Sheffey

Last Sunday, The Daily Beast reported that it obtained a tape (which it has not released) of Secretary of State John Kerry at a private meeting with unidentified “world leaders,” in which he said that if a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not reached soon, Israel will risk becoming “an apartheid state”:

A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens — or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.

If this sounds familiar to you, you are right. In 2010, then-Israeli Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak said that if Israel does not achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians, Israel will become either a binational state or an apartheid state.

More after the jump.
Barak said that “The simple truth is, if there is one state” including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, “it will have to be either binational or undemocratic… if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

Barak is the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history. Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert are among the other Israeli leaders who have used the term “apartheid” similarly.

After Ehud Barak made his remarks in 2010, did the Zionist Organization of America and the Emergency Committee for Israel call on him to resign? Did Protect Our Heritage PAC urge its members to flood the Israeli embassy with protest calls? Did other organizations send stand-alone emails condemning his remarks?

None of that happened. But it did happen the day after Kerry’s remarks were reported, before he even had a chance to respond.

Kerry did not say Israel was an apartheid state. He said that if it does not reach a two-state solution, an apartheid state is one possible outcome.

One South African judge, Richard Goldstone, eloquently explained in The New York Times in 2011 why it is so wrong and inappropriate to call Israel and apartheid state:

In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts… committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment.

Barak, Olmert, Livni, and Kerry were wrong to use the term not because they said Israel was an apartheid state — it is clearly not and they clearly did not — but because the term is so charged, loaded, and capable of misinterpretation. Using that term was a mistake.

But the over-reaction was also a mistake. If Kerry had really said Israel was an apartheid state, then the reaction would have been appropriate. But he did not, and it is clear even from the Daily Beast report what he meant.

The correct response, from a pro-Israel advocacy standpoint, would have been to tone down the response, lay off the panic button, and remember that Kerry has been a strong friend of Israel throughout his decades-long career. We have enough real enemies without creating for ourselves imagined ones.

Unfortunately, some of our right-wing friends just could not resist this “gotcha” moment. This forced centrist and even center-left organizations to join in, lest they be accused by the right or by certain of their donors of being soft on the apartheid accusation.

The result is that we have got the world entertaining the absurd notion that the U.S. Secretary of State might think that Israel is an apartheid state. Even the best public relations firm could not have given the Palestinians a better earned media bonanza. Nice job, guys.

Below is the full text of the strong statement Kerry released on Monday:

For more than thirty years in the United States Senate, I didn’t just speak words in support of Israel, I walked the walk when it came time to vote and when it came time to fight. As Secretary of State, I have spent countless hours working with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Justice Minister Livni because I believe in the kind of future that Israel not only wants, but Israel deserves. I want to see a two state solution that results in a secure Jewish state and a prosperous Palestinian state, and I’ve actually worked for it.

I will not allow my commitment to Israel to be questioned by anyone, particularly for partisan, political purposes, so I want to be crystal clear about what I believe and what I don’t believe.

First, Israel is a vibrant democracy and I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.  Anyone who knows anything about me knows that without a shred of doubt.

Second, I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution. In the long term, a unitary, binational state cannot be the democratic Jewish state that Israel deserves or the prosperous state with full rights that the Palestinian people deserve. That’s what I said, and it’s also what Prime Minister Netanyahu has said. While Justice Minister Livni, former Prime Ministers Barak and Ohlmert have all invoked the specter of apartheid to underscore the dangers of a unitary state for the future, it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.

At least some organizations might have acted differently if they had just waited 24 hours.

The Anti-Defamation League welcomed Kerry’s statement:

While we may disagree from time to time, we have never doubted Secretary Kerry’s commitment to Israel’s security and his good faith efforts to find a fair, equitable and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a true friend of Israel. His statement makes that clear, and we consider this chapter closed.

Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, said that Israel deeply appreciates Kerry’s efforts to advance peace with the Palestinians, that Kerry did not threaten Israel, and that “his decades of support for Israel reflect an abiding commitment to Israel’s security and its future.”

Bloomberg’s Jeff Goldberg, who acknowledged that he too has used the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s possible future as well as today’s realities, explained why he no longer uses that term:

The problem is not inside Israel; the problem is on the West Bank. The settlers who entangle Israel in the lives of Palestinians believe that they are the vanguard of Zionism. In fact, they are the vanguard of binationalism. Their myopia will lead to the end of Israel as a democracy and as a haven for the Jewish people. The regime they help impose on Palestinians is cruel, unfair and unnecessary. Rather than label this regime in an incendiary fashion, I now prefer simply to describe its disagreeable qualities.

But if Kerry, following Barak’s lead, wants to warn about a possible apartheid future for Israel, I’m not going to condemn him as anti-Israel. Israeli leaders must open their minds to the possibility that he has their long-term interests at heart.

In the New Yorker, John Cassidy explained what we can learn from this episode:

As the prospects for a permanent peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians deteriorates, the standard of the debate in this country’s capital is deteriorating with it. Rather than supporting efforts to find peace, as they did in the not-so-distant past, Republicans are increasingly using Israel as a wedge issue to divide Democrats, raise money, and mobilize their own supporters…

That’s just politics, you (or Macbeth) might say — “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” To some extent, I would agree. But if there’s ever going to be an end to this wretched problem, somebody — and it’s almost certainly going to have be an American President or Secretary of State — is going to have to rise above politics and bring the two sides together. What just happened to John Kerry demonstrated why that’s getting even harder to do.

The goal of pro-Israel advocacy is to bring the U.S. and Israel closer, not to create divisions for partisan gain. That is why so many pro-Israel members of Congress from both parties wisely refrained from public comment. Following Kerry’s statement and the statement of support for Kerry from Israel, there is really not much more that can or should be said.

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What Does Hamas-PLO Unity Mean?‏


PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas, left, and leader of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Mashal.

— by Steve Sheffey

Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA) last week following reports that the PLO intended to form a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel.

The Obama administration, AIPAC and many lawmakers highlighted the dangers of the PLO’s path. And yet, others noted that a unity government could present new opportunities for reaching a two-state solution.

But it has not happened yet, and we do not know if it will. Similar attempts have failed before. Also, we do not know what the terms will be if it does happen, and whether Hamas will change any of its positions.

More after the jump.
According to a PLO fact sheet released on Friday, under the reconciliation agreement with Hamas, the “PLO will continue negotiating a peace agreement with Israel, supporting non-violence to end the occupation and upholding previous agreements signed with Israel. The interim government will adhere to those commitments and the PLO’s political agenda.”

If that is true, then this arrangement could bring us closer to peace. Indeed, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said on Saturday that the unity government will recognize Israel, reject violence, and recognize the legitimacy of international agreements.

Can we rely on Abbas’s word? I would not. But I would wait for his assurances to be proven false before taking action.

Some lawmakers have already threatened to cut off funding for the PA because Hamas a is terrorist group, and it is illegal for the U.S. to provide funds to terrorist-designated groups. But the State Department argues that until we get more information, we will not know whether the law requires the U.S. to cut off funds.

If you are not familiar with Hamas, read its charter (covenant), especially Article 7, which calls on Muslims to kill Jews, and Article 13, which says that “so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, wrote in his website, “Instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel.”

Abu Mazen has formed an alliance with an organization whose covenant calls for Muslims to fight and kill Jews. Hamas has fired more than 10,000 missiles and rockets at Israeli territory and has not halted terrorist actions against Israel even for a minute.

The agreement between Abu Mazen and Hamas was signed even as Israel is making efforts to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians. It is the direct continuation of the Palestinians’ refusal to advance the negotiations. Only last month Abu Mazen rejected the framework principles proposed by the United States. Abu Mazen has refused to even discuss recognizing Israel as the national state of the Jewish People. He violated existing agreements by unilaterally applying to accede to international treaties and then formed an alliance with Hamas.

Whoever chooses the terrorism of Hamas does not want peace.

The Obama administration backed Israel. Last week the State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said that “it’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist” and that “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties.”

The George W. Bush administration pressured Israel into allowing Hamas to participate in the 2006 Gaza elections, thus conferring on Hamas a legitimacy it could not have otherwise achieved, and rescinded $289.5 million in loan guarantees for Israel as punishment for what Bush considered illegal settlement activity. But the Obama administration has never pressured Israel to act contrary to what Israel perceives as its best interests.

AIPAC said that, “The announced formation of a Hamas-Fatah unity government represents a direct affront to Secretary of State John Kerry and a severe blow to Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.”

Hamas is an Islamist terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s destruction and attacks innocent civilians. Any Palestinian government that includes Hamas cannot be a negotiating partner unless it meets longstanding Quartet demands ensconced in U.S. law: recognize Israel, reject violence, and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Yet, a Hamas-PLO agreement could lead to peace. In his column in Haaretz, Barak Ravid noted that “it was Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and their colleagues in the cabinet who argued that Abbas doesn’t really represent the Palestinian people and no progress could be made so long as the PA didn’t control Gaza.”

The reconciliation agreement, if implemented, could provide a response to exactly these arguments by creating a government that represents all the Palestinians.

The reconciliation agreement is also an opportunity because Hamas’ serious problems might force the organization to change direction, as happened with Yasser Arafat and the PLO after the 1991 Gulf War. The unity deal calls for Hamas to join the PLO and accept its principles — which includes the recognition of Israel and acceptance of the Oslo Accords and the Road Map. The significance of this agreement is also that for first time, Hamas seems willing to give up some of its grip on the Gaza Strip in favor of a unity government.

Implementation of the agreement will also mean elections for president and the Palestinian parliament, which have not taken place for years. Given the precarious condition of the Hamas in Palestinian public opinion, especially in the Gaza Strip, new elections will almost certainly decrease its political power. New elections will also renew Abbas’ mandate — or bestow greater public legitimacy on whoever might be elected in his stead — making the Palestinian leader a stronger, more stable and more reliable partner for Israel.

And to those who say Israel cannot negotiate with Hamas, Ravid reminded that Netanyahu “reached at least two written agreements with the Gaza terror group; one in the 2011 deal in return for the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, and the second confirming the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012.”

But can and will Hamas change its stripes? In his blog in The Forward, J.J. Goldberg explained that, “It’s highly unlikely that Hamas will agree between now and the end of the year to tear up its founding platform and formally embrace the principle of a Palestine partitioned into two states for two peoples.”

Militant religious movements don’t jettison their catechisms that fast. It is quite possible, however, that Abbas and his Fatah negotiators could obtain Hamas agreement to accept domestic portfolios in a unity government while Fatah holds the foreign affairs and security slots and handles peace negotiations with Israel. Some Hamas leaders have suggested such an arrangement in the past, with the understanding that if the negotiations produce an agreement and it’s approved in a Palestinian referendum, Hamas will accept the public’s will and live with it without endorsing it.

It’s not such a hard arrangement to understand. After all, Netanyahu heads up an Israeli government that hasn’t approved the two-state principle he himself says he embraces. Indeed, two of his coalition’s four parties, including Naftali Bennet’s HaBayit HaYehudi-Jewish Home party and Bibi’s own Likud, are formally, flatly opposed to Palestinian statehood. Put differently, they haven’t recognized the Palestinians or their right to a state. Bibi’s made it clear that he considers himself mandated to conduct negotiations toward a goal that his own party and a majority of his coalition oppose. If he’s as serious about peace as he says he is, he ought to be able to accept a Palestinian negotiating partner that operates under the same rules he does.

Can Bibi seize this opportunity? In Bloomberg, Jeff Goldberg made some good points:

Israel doesn’t get to pick its enemies. It has to make peace with the ones it has. Hamas is one of those enemies. And Netanyahu’s argument doesn’t take into consideration that, theoretically at least, the Palestinian Authority could, over time, help moderate Hamas and bring it more into the two-state fold.

But who am I kidding? Maybe both of Netanyahu’s superficially contradictory beliefs are true. Maybe he can’t make peace with a divided Palestinian entity. And maybe he can’t make peace with a unified Palestinian entity. Maybe he can’t make peace with any Palestinian entity because members of his own political coalition are uninterested in taking the steps necessary for compromise.

I hope Jeff Goldberg’s second paragraph is wrong, but Israel gets to elect its leaders, and Israel, not the U.S., will have to live, or die, with the risks it makes for peace and the chances they choose not to take.

We in the U.S. should not pressure Israel to act against its perceived interests. Rather, we should do all we can to bring the parties together and create an environment conducive to progress, recognizing, as President Obama does, that only the parties to the conflict can solve the conflict.

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