Wisdom from Bret Stephens

On Israel, you wrote:

It isn't only the land-for-peace formula that has failed Israel. The other failure is what one might call land-for-love: the notion that, even if ceding territory doesn't lead to peace, it will nonetheless help Israel gain the world's goodwill, and therefore diplomatic and strategic leverage. Instead, after 20 years of seeking peace and giving up land, Israel's diplomatic isolation has only deepened." 

Can you explain why the world has a double standard for Israel?

There was a telling moment not too long ago...where the Danish ambassador to Israel said explicitly that Europe does indeed have a double standard with Israel vis a vis its Arab neighbors. (This is) because Europe sees Israel as being a European state, which is to say a civilized 21st century western state, where it basically views the Arabs as barbarians. Those weren't his words, but that was the essence of his message. 

 I found it curious to say at the least, that a Europe within living memory that was annihilating the Jews precisely on the basis that they were "not one of us", that they were alien, now seeks to ostracize and isolate the Jews on the theory that they are one of us...  

 Is it anti-Semitism?

 Of course it is anti Semitism. Let me be more precise. Anti-Semitism is merely what the 19th century called Jew hatred or anti-Judaism.  Anti-Semitism is a phrase that was coined by a fellow named Wilhelm Marr to give a racial and pseudo-scientific gloss to what had previously been a religious hatred. 
Today it is anti-Zionism. So when we say is it anti-Semitism, no it is not exactly anti-Semitism, because anti-Semitism has a slightly narrow definition. We use it sort of as a phrase because it a common currency. But anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, the earlier forms of Jew hatred, they are all the same thing. 

 You said that the Green Line was the fault line between civilizations. Yet, the President and Secretary of State Kerry still believe that this is a territorial conflict. Is this legitimate in 2015?

Hard to [say so] after the 2005 disengagement removed all settlements and all settlers from Gaza...The withdrawal of Israeli forces from Philadelphia corridor removed the argument that Gaza was completely surrounded and, therefore, at the mercy of Israel, since it also has a border with Egypt. 

 Critics say that Israel controls the borders, the airspace, and the coast.

 Israel does not control the border with Egypt. They are simply wrong. And there is no place in Gaza, small as it is, that the Egyptian border is more than 20-odd miles away. So it just an outrageous slander. 

 When was the last time there was a protest outside the Egyptian embassy, demanding that Egypt open its border with Gaza? Egypt doesn't open its border with Gaza precisely for the same reason that Israel doesn't. The Palestinians turned Gaza into a terrorist haven...And, by the way, Gaza gets more legally in terms of commodities, food, medicine, electricity, and so on, from Israel than it does from its Arab brother (Egypt).

So it is one of the most stunningly, nakedly, and obviously dishonest arguments that has ever been made against Israel.    

Turkey, the eastern flank of NATO, supports Hamas, helps Iran evade sanctions, assists Islamists entering Syria, turns a blind eye to Islamic State oil sales in its country, is anti-Semitic and anti-Western, and becoming more authoritarian at home.  Michael Rubin, of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote, "The simple fact is that Erdogan ideologically leans more toward the Islamic State than NATO."   How would you, if you were advising the President, deal with Turkey?

 Turkey is not an ally of the west. That is the first point to make. Turkey used to be an ally of the West. Nonetheless, Turkey has for decades been a component part of the historic structures of western defense.  Unless Turkey changes and soon, real thought and action has to be put toward removing turkey from NATO. I think the refusal by the Turkish authorities to allow the United States to use the Incirlik Air Base against Islamic State should not have been just a wakeup call, but also a turning point. 

But they didn't allow the United States to use their Incirlik Air Base during the Iraq war in 2003?

Iraq was somewhat different. The French weren't too keen on Iraq either. A majority of Turkish parliamentarians voted in favor of supporting the United States, but they needed a two-thirds majority. And the government at the time was the Gul government; Erdogan was not yet raised to the high office. At least (they) pretended to attempt to make an effort. This is different...this is not a question of the controversial invasion of a sovereign country... this is an urgent military attack against a jihadist caliphate, a terrorist group.

 And we should use that as opportunity to say thank you Turkey, we have had a wonderful time here, we are moving our base from Incirlik to Irbil (Kurdish). We are moving swiftly to recognize and elevate our relations with the Kurdish autonomous region to give them quasi-state status. We believe in Kurdish self-determination and we have not yet made up our minds on what ultimate borders of a Kurdish state might someday be. 
That would have been...the kind of message I would have sent to Mr. Erdogan.

Jordanian King Abdullah privately told a leading member of Congress last year that he may not be in power in two years. How do you analyze the stability of Jordan, and what should the US do to prop up Abdullah

Everything possible. In terms of economic aid, in terms of improving living conditions in refugee camps, in terms of providing more military support, we should be prepared to go the full length of the field to make sure that the Hashemite monarchy does not vanish because the consequence of Jordan becoming another Yemen will be felt for decades. There would be a regional catastrophe if Jordan would collapse. And, by the way, this administration in particular ought to care because if Jordan collapses then any hope for some kind of settlement between the Israel and Palestinians absolutely vanishes. It is tenuous right now to say the least, but why would Israel ever relinquish the Jordan River valley, when across that little stream they would have Islamic State?

What should the US do in Syria for its national security interests?  Is it in US interests to have a no fly zone in northern Syria, or attack IS which may strengthen Assad and his allies Iran and Hezbollah? 

We have two great enemies and we have to attack them both, and we cannot attack one at the expense of the other. I argued in a column in 2013 that US policy towards Assad should be to kill him and his brother  - to decapitate the Assad regime. That is #1. 

#2 We have to be much more aggressive in attacking Islamic State. The Wall Street Journal reported (recently) that Islamic State continues to make gains throughout Syria. 

#3 We have to establish no-fly zones and provide much more serious succor to what remains of the free Syrian army, especially in Aleppo.

#4  I just saw today that the US will be sending 400 troops to Jordan to train the Free Syrian Army. That number is hopelessly inadequate. It is an atrocious betrayal (of the Free Syrian Army). 

#5 Destroy the Syrian air force, destroy it completely. And, to the extent that we can, go after Syrian artillery depots, suspected WMD sites, including nuclear sites. 

Have they gotten rid of their chemical weapons?

 No they have not gotten rid of their chemical weapons, as we are being told by monitors. Not only have they not gotten rid of all of their chemical weapons sites, not only do they continue to have, per the reporting of Der Spiegel, a very serious suspected nuclear site, but (they are) using choline gas against (their) enemies is a chemical attack. 

...And it's gone unpunished because it gives lie to the conceit that Obama accomplished something when he managed to obtain the removal of some of the sarin gas reserves that the Assad regime had stockpiled.

How would you respond to groups like J Street that believe Israel is the intransigent party, and that this is in essence a territorial conflict?

Their criticism is disproportionately against the elected Israeli leadership. Are they a pro-peace, pro-Israel group as they define themselves, or do they advocate more for the Palestinian cause...?

I'm pro peace, I'm pro Israel. Who in the pro-Israel camp isn't pro-Peace?  Is Naphtali Bennett not pro-peace? 

Many people would say that he is not pro peace.

I would start by saying that I would wish that a group like J Street would simply not seek to appropriate the word "peace" for their policy positions, and somehow then claim that anyone who does not stand with them is against peace. 

I am perfectly willing to accept that J Street is pro-peace, even though I think their views are likelier than not to lead to war.  But I would ask for reciprocity, that they accept my views as being pro-peace even if they think that on the merits I am mistaken. That is point A. 

Point B. I wish this were a territorial conflict... If it were territorial, relinquish the territory. If you could tell me that Israel can be a safe, secure Jewish state for generations to come simply by vacating settlements in the West Bank, I'd go for it. If you would offer that to me [with] true, rock-solid assurance with divine foresight, why not? 

The issue with the Palestinians is not where the territory is; it is who they are, politically, ideological, culturally.  I believe in the possibility, the prospect, that that a culture can change. Japan changed.  Japan pioneered the suicide bomber - the kamikaze pilot. Yet, here we are and Japan is a pacifist nation. Germany changed. People now complain how weak, small and ineffective the German army is.   What a wonderful thing to complain about! 

So why can't the Palestinians change?   Why shouldn't they change? 
Why do we subject the Palestinians to what someone once called the soft bigotry of low expectations? Why shouldn't we ask the Palestinians to turn Gaza into another Dubai, rather than another Yemen? Why should we indulge the Palestinians when they vote for Hamas, which rejects every single accord that legitimizes the existence of the PA itself? Lets have some expectations of the Palestinians; after all, there are lots of stateless people around the world - Tibetans, Kurds, Tamils, Walloons. 

So if you want a state, get in line and demonstrate to the world that your state would be a net asset to human civilization. I have yet to see the Palestinians make that case at all, or even think that they need to make that case... I would welcome a day some point in the future when a Palestinian state that has in its own way (has) the same kind of liberal democratic institutions that Israel has had since its founding, and joins the community of nations. It is not the question of whether I am in favor of the Palestinian state in theory, it is what it means in practice. And just as a doctor knows that even if a patient needs an operation, there is a way of doing it and saving the patient and a way of doing it and killing him, similarly with the question of the Palestinians statehood.

To come back to the J Street issue, by all means I think the more pro-Israel voices, the better. But they would do themselves and the rest of the pro-Israel community a great favor by not implicitly (and not so implicitly) denigrating everyone else in the pro-Israel groups by suggesting they are somehow less ardent when it comes to the cause of peace and when it comes to the cause of human decency for everyone.