A Political Solution

J-Street (a liberal anti-Israel lobbying group that presents itself as a response to AIPAC), writes the following:

Respecting Israel’s right to defend itself, we urge leaders there to recognize that there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

Unfortunately, this is a lot more easily said than done. Israel has been in negotiations with Fatah seeking a political compromise, but there’s no deal that they can strike that would stop rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. Last month, when I spoke to Maen Areikat, the deputy head of the negotiations department for the Palestinian Authority, he said: “We cannot control the firing of these rockets from Gaza.” And he also conceded that Hamas would never abandon its desire to wipe Israel off of the map. Therefore, Israel has no political options to stop the rocket fire. Furthermore, what political solution can there be between Israel and the Palestinians, if there isn’t even political unity among the Palestinians?

Good Riddance to 2008

I’ll be happy to say goodbye to 2008, the year of Barack Obama and bailout mainia, the near-filibuster proof Democratic Senate (quite possibly with Al Franken as a member), the collapse of financial markets and the U.S. economy and the return of New Deal era policy-making. Anybody have any other examples of the general suckiness of the year? Or a more positive point of view?

The Hamas “Distraction”

Over at TPM, Josh Marshall writes on Israeli settlements in the West Bank:

Whatever you can say about Palestinian terror attacks or missiles into Southern Israel and whatever you can say Israeli incursions and aerial attacks, the situation is insoluble without dismantling those settlements. And that is why Hamas, as much as it thrives on war and confrontation, is a distraction — for some an intentional one, for others unintentional — from this core point.

Hamas may simply be a “distraction” for Marshall, typing on his keyboard in a secure location. But I can assure you that it’s more than a distraction to the Israelis who have seen their children and families blown to pieces by Hamas suicide bombers. And its more than a distraction to the citizens of southern Israeli towns, who have to leave under the fear of constant rocket attacks, with a siren giving them just 15 seconds to seek cover — meaning people are worried about taking showers lest they be caught off guard, mothers are afraid to wear seat belts thus losing a few seconds in which they could be securing their children, and people endure restless nights.

The West Bank settlements that Marshall sees at the “core” of the issue did not exist when the Palestinian leader the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem stayed as Hitler’s guest during World War II and advocated exterminating Jews in the Middle East, nor did they exist during the four major Arab-Israeli wars between 1948 and 1973, nor did they exist during the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games carried out by the Palestinians against Israeli athletes. When Israel had settlements in Gaza, that was cited as a reason for Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians. Yet, after Israel forcefully evacuated thousands of its own citizens from Gaza settlements and destroyed them, it did not alter Hamas’s behavior at all. In fact, things only got worse. Hamas used the increased autonomy to build a network of hunderds of tunnels allowing them to smuggle guns and explosives in from Egypt, they fired rockets into southern Israel, they incited a factional civil war among Palestinians and drove rival Fatah out of Gaza by gunpoint. No, the core issue is not settlements. The core issue is that there’s a significant number of Palestinians/Arabs that cannot accept any Jewish presence in the region.

Update from the Coleman Camp

The Norm Coleman team just held a conference call in which the campaign’s lawyers, Fritz Knaak and Tony Trimble, discussed the latest developments in the ongoing recount debacle in Minnestota.

This morning, the Coleman and Franken campaigns had a testy meeting over the issue of counting rejected absentee ballots, with the Coleman campaign arguing that Franken is pushing for ballots in counties most favorable to its cause be counted.

“We are stunned by the Franken campaign’s hypocrisy about counting every vote,” Knaak said on the call. “They don’t want to count every vote. They want to count every Franken vote.”

Specifically, Knaak noted that several affidavits that Franken submitted in Dakota and Ramsey counties to make the case to count certain absentee ballots turned out to be fake.

The Star Tribune has estimated that Franken is now up by 46 votes, but the Coleman campaign said they believe they are ahead. Also, if their court challenge to eliminate double-counting of duplicate ballots succeeds, they said they expect a net gain of over 100 votes.

Either way, it’s increasingly looking like a race that won’t be resolved for weeks, at the earliest.

Some Thoughts on Gaza

As I noted when I returned from a trip to Israel last month, any peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians is hopeless as long as Hamas remains in control of Gaza and continues its rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. It was only a matter of time before Israel took the perfectly justifiable actions it has been taking over the past few days to neutralize the rocket fire from Hamas and like-minded terrorist groups.

But over the next few days and weeks, there are a number of key questions to consider.

The most crucial is how effective Israel’s military operation is in weakening the terrorists’ rocket-launching capability. In 2006, after weeks of bombing and inept leadership by Ehud Olmert and then-Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Israel failed to accomplish much in its actions against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Israeli military officials have spent the last few years trying to fix what went wrong during that operation. One of the problems was that the Israeli military had been repurposed toward the type of fighting required in the West Bank during the Second Intifada in the early part of the decade, and wasn’t as adequately prepared for a conflict with Hezbollah. So, when all of the smoke clears in Gaza, the Israelis will have to assess whether their government and military did in fact learn a lot from the mistakes of the Lebanon War. Haaretz reported this morning that Israeli air strikes killed four members of Islamic Jihad, including its senior commander. The paper also noted that, “[t]he strikes have driven Hamas leaders into hiding and appear to have gravely damaged the organization’s ability to launch rockets, but barrages continued. Sirens warning of incoming rockets sent Israelis scrambling for cover throughout the day.” If Israel is able to severely weaken Hamas, it actually would do more than anything to create the conditions in which peace would be possible between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The other important question is how the operation will affect Israeli elections scheduled for February. If the Kadima government is able to orchestrate a successful military operation, than it could boost the party’s chances in the elections, and help Tzipi Livni become the new prime minister. If, however, it’s another bungled operation, it would strengthen the hand of the Benyamin Netanyahu-lead Likud. Either way, the conflict could strengthen his chances by bolstering his central argument that the peace process is not currently realistic.

Hamas, which receives backing from Iran along with Hezbollah, is seen as one of Iran’s means of retaliating in the event of an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities. This was clearly another calculation in Israel’s Gaza operation, and it should be interesting to monitor how Iran reacts to these events.  Iranian hard-line clerics are signing up volunteers to fight in Gaza and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that, “All true believers in the world of Islam and Palestinian fighters are duty-bound to defend the defenseless women and children in Gaza Strip, and those giving their lives in carrying out such a divine duty are martyrs.”

It will also be interesting to watch how the Gaza operation affects the internal Palestinian conflict between Hamas and Fatah. The two groups were poised for a confrontation on January 9, when Hamas argues that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s term ends — a view rejected by Abbas and his allies.

And of course, this will be an early test for the Obama administration. How will he react when he can no longer hide behind saying that “there is only one president at a time”?

Teixeira Time

“Maybe the Yankees should bail out the auto industry,” a bitter Mets fan friend of mine quipped after the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira to a $180 million contract, bringing their off season spending spree to $423.5 million when you include the deals for pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

I’m a long-time Yankee fan who misses the teams of the late 1990s not only because they won four World Series, but because I enjoyed rooting for them. Those were true teams — aided by a high payroll, no doubt — but composed of guys like Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, etc. These guys functioned beautifully as a team, combining great pitching, solid defense, and incredible clutch hitting. But after their devastating loss to the Diamondbacks in 2001, they abandoned the idea of building a true team, and instead began to go after whatever superstars were free agents or on the trading block — like Giambi and A-Rod — and it’s just never been the same for Yankees fans. I find it hard to root for A-Rod, because, whatever his numbers during the regular season, he plays the game without passion, and always chokes in October. Give me a Brosius any day of the week.

So, as I take a look at this year’s off-season acquisitions by the Yankees, I’m anticipating that these superstars will either get injured, or have their production seriously curtailed in the new Yankee stadium. And there’s a good chance they’ll blow it in October — if they make it there.

Waiting for Sarah

Back when Barack Obama began publicly flirting with the idea of running in the fall of 2008, I wrestled with both sides of the argument, and noted that the downside of not running would be the Matt Leinart (not striking while the iron is hot) syndrome. So I don’t necessarily disagree with Stacy, though I think challenging Lisa Murkowski in 2010, while it would be a risk, would have upside in terms of staying in the national spotlight via the Senate and gaining more understanding of policy, should she wait until 2016. But whenever she runs, she’d have to do the following to become a viable conservative leader:

— Show that she’s a conservative on more than social issues and gun rights, and actually convey an appreciation for conservative economic philosophy (empty platitudes about “putting government back on the side of the people” that could easily be uttered by John Edwards, do not count).

— Get through a tough interview without embarassing herself.

— Display a grasp of important foreign and domestic issues.

— Demonstrate governing competence and accomplishments (without having to lie about the “Bridge to Nowhere” or exaggerate her record as Mayor of Wassila).

If she can do that by 2012 and combine it with her star power, she’ll be a great asset to the conservative cause. Otherwise, let’s hold off on the Reagan and Thatcher comparisons.