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Sunday Reads: Hamas on the Ropes, Goodbye Fouad Ajami, On Israel and ISIS

by Shmuel Rosner

June 29, 2014 | 4:15 am

Hamas chief Khaled Meshal attends a rally marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Gaza City, December 8, 2012. Photo by Reuters

US

Professor Jason Brownlee examines Obama’s decision to withdraw the troops from Iraq in the perspective of 20th century American History –

With ISIS on the march and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki defiant, it is tempting to think the current administration could have done something different to keep Iraq from reaching this precipice. History, however, provides no evidence that a longer U.S. troop presence would have made the difference between state cohesion and state collapse. Unlike wine and violins, nation-building does not improve over time. It just costs more, in money and lives.

Walter Russell Mead argues that the US might have a lot to gain by taking a tougher stance on Iran –

Americans characteristically think of their opponents more like American lawyers than like seasoned players in the real world game of thrones. We think that displays of good faith and peaceful intent will encourage others to reciprocate in kind. Those instincts aren’t always wrong, and with some countries and in some situations they work very well. But the Middle East often works on a different kind of logic; strength united with willpower in the service of achievable goals gets more points than professions of friendship and elaborate displays of pacific intent.

Israel

Eli Lake contemplates the prospects of a possible Israeli involvement in Syria, Jordan, and the ISIS quagmire –

For now the one thing Iran and Israel do agree on is that U.S. intervention in Iraq is risky. Khamenei has told Obama to just stay out. Netanyahu was more subtle, warning that Obama should not promise Iran anything in the nuclear negotiations that might entice its cooperation in Iraq. His advice was for Obama to weaken both sides.

But behind the scenes, Israeli diplomats have told their American counterparts that Israel would be prepared to take military action to save the Hashemite Kingdom.

Amos Harel writes about the tough spot which the recent hostage crisis puts Netanyahu in –

Since the end of the Second Intifada, around 2005, Israelis have grown to expect a success rate of almost 95 percent in stopping terrorist attacks before they occur. Most terror suspects in the West Bank are either arrested before they manage to do anything, or immediately thereafter. A major reason for this success has been the very close cooperation between Israel and Palestinian security officials -- a relationship both sides prefer to keep as low-profile as possible. But the failure to locate the kidnapped boys has led to growing public anger, which intensifies the political pressure on Netanyahu to take harsher steps against Hamas and even against the PA.

Middle East

Michael Doran mourns the death of great Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami and fondly recalls Ajami's heated exchange with Edward Said –

One of the rare moments when he descended from the stage and actually engaged directly with his critics occurred in the late 80s or early 90s, when he participated in a vituperative written exchange with Edward Said, commander-in-chief of the Arabist drones. Said had accused him of betraying Arab nationalist causes in order to gain favor with the imperialists. Ajami was a House Arab—an Uncle Tom, Said suggested. That was rich, Ajami responded, coming from “the Arab of Morningside Heights.” (Said was a professor at Columbia University.) I’ll never forget that phrase, or the appreciative laugh it gave me, for which I neglected to thank him.

Neri Zilber offers some interesting analysis on the dire state Hamas is currently in –

The problem for Hamas, though, is that its failing seven-year experiment governing Gaza has cost it significant public backing. According to a poll released this week by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, if elections were held today for PA president, Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Meshaal would only garner a combined 15 percent in Gaza -- compared to Abbas's strong plurality of 30 percent. Indeed, a remarkable 70 percent of Gazans agreed with the sentiment that Hamas should maintain a cease-fire with Israel, and a majority even stated that Hamas should accept Abbas's position of renouncing violence against Israel -- all indications of the Palestinian public's lack of faith in Hamas strategy.

Jewish World

Batya Ungar-Sargon writes about the intense wars going on between today’s Yiddish scholars and enthusiasts –

Often thought of as a fusion of German and Hebrew with some Slavic thrown into the mix, the language evokes a deep nostalgia for American Jews; in its weaving together of semitic and gentilic elements, the language seems to encapsulate the tension at the heart of modern Jewish existence and operates as a stand-in for feelings about Jewish Diaspora. As director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Jonathan Brent put it, “The Yiddish language represents the very conflict at the core of Jewish identity.”

The New Yorker’s Ruth Margalit takes a look at an Israeli Facebook page which mocks selfies taken by Israeli teens at concentration camps –

The Instagram era has now brought us the selfie in a concentration camp. Or, as the phenomenon was identified in the title of a new Israeli Facebook page (translated here loosely), With My Besties in Auschwitz. The page, taken down on Wednesday, culled from real-life photos—most of them also taken down recently—that had been posted on social-media sites by Israeli kids on school trips to Poland. From the self-absorbed faux seriousness of some (meditating on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau!) to the jarring jokiness of others (hitching a ride by the train tracks!), the pictures have fed a perception of today’s youth as a bunch of technology-obsessed, self-indulgent narcissists.

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