A banana republic in the making

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Never have Israelis been as frustrated with their leaders as today. Yet the old guard not only retains the reins of power, but with unabashed hutzpa launches new policies that the vast majority of their constituents adamantly oppose.

There is a virtual consensus that the negotiations initiated by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with the Palestinians will lead to nowhere. Even if Mahmoud Abbas had undergone a genuine transformation – which is doubtful – today he is utterly impotent and incapable of delivering anything. Indeed, if he survives, the most likely outcome is that he will reach an accommodation with Hamas and whatever weapons we provide or concessions we make will, as in the past, be turned against us.

Like our prime minister, all the current Israeli negotiators are failed and discredited politicians. During his tenure as premier, Ehud Barak created the foundations for the Second Lebanon War. President Shimon Peres still waxes eloquent about the failed Oslo Accords and exploits his presidential prerogative under the illusory cloak of promoting peace to create a climate for further appeasement and unilateral concessions.

And a discredited Haim Ramon, defiantly appointed deputy prime minister by his mate Ehud Olmert, blatantly proposes radical concessions to an impotent PA “with the authority but without the approval” of the prime minister. All this proceeds while Kassam missiles continue being launched from Gaza and we make empty threats.

Beyond the release of hardened terrorists, there was no transparency concerning the parameters of these concessions. However, the terms were leaked to the Israeli public through the Arab media. In response, Prime Minister Olmert assured the nation that the Knesset would have the final say. But in the interim, the world becomes acclimatized to Israel accepting a total retreat to ’67 armistice lines – perhaps with minor modifications – and relinquishing control of the Old City and sovereignty over the Temple Mount, Judaism’s most sacred site.

Whereas the Arab “right of return” is left for future negotiations, Israel would make a “declaratory” statement accepting responsibility for having created the refugee problem, thus giving credence to the false Arab narrative and sanctioning all the Arab lies concerning this issue since 1948.

Highlighting the “Alice in Wonderland” nature of these proposed concessions, Abbas, whose survival is dependent on an IDF presence, insists that Ramon did not go far enough and demands a return of all “occupied Jerusalem” to the 1967 lines.

Let there be no misunderstanding. Even if the dysfunctional Knesset vetoes these bizarre proposals, Prime Minister Olmert and his collaborators will have created horrific precedents that will unquestionably haunt his successors in future negotiations. And the international community, including our allies, will assume that a “flexible” Israel will forfeit vital assets that would never have been approved by the people.

Those who launched the Oslo Accords fervently vowed that we would never concede anything remotely comparable to these proposals, which even exceed the madness that prevailed at Taba during the dying days of the chaotic Barak administration.

Indeed, Israel’s basic democratic structure must be questioned if negotiations involving the forfeiture of such vital Israeli assets can proceed despite the opposition of the people and without even convening a meaningful cabinet or Knesset debate.

Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu party purports to represent the hard-Right of the political spectrum, must be desperate to retain his ministerial position because beyond threatening to resign he does nothing to prevent these unconscionable activities.

Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai of Shas, representing a hawkish constituency, also threatens to bolt the government but remains glued to his ministerial office while a return to the ’67 borders is being negotiated. The Pensioners’ Party head Rafi Eitam expresses outrage at Ramon’s proposals for Jerusalem, but does not even threaten to resign. Likewise, dissatisfied Kadima parliamentarians insist that their party would never endorse the proposed concessions to the Palestinians, but refuse to act.

Even more perplexing – despite the fact that issues with existential implications for our future are at stake – is that opposition Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu seems to have been struck dumb.

On the other hand, those in the Israel national camp also have a long track record of self-undermining by promoting extremist policies. Despite having a highly persuasive case, they are often incapable of articulating their position in a sophisticated manner. Again and again they adopted a “you are either with us or against us” attitude which alienated potential allies among moderate centrists who under normal circumstances would at least have supported them part of the way.

The voices from the Right now being heard are often shrill and counterproductive. Moshe Feiglin in Likud promotes views that belong to the political fringe, not to a purportedly centrist party. The national religious camp sends mixed messages. Whereas their leader, Zevulun Orlev, is moderate, since the Gaza withdrawal extremist elements continue to capture media headlines as they reject the state and identify with anti-Zionist haredim. Highly vocal religious activists also often fail to appreciate that while they are commendably motivated by religion, basing the case for Israel exclusively on the Bible is not going to generate support from secular Israelis.

If the national camp is to force the government to jettison its recent initiatives – which could make the Oslo disaster pale – it is imperative that they now set aside their differences and create a united front with moderate centrists.

It is also important to recognize that maintaining the status quo, is not necessarily a cop-out. It may in fact represent the most favorable option for Israel. Today we look back nostalgically to Yitzhak Shamir’s term of office, which concentrated on remaining steadfast until such a time as the Palestinians, if ever, came to the realization that their interests would be better served by making peace rather than endorsing terror. We came close to achieving this after the first Gulf War, when Arafat reached his nadir. But alas, the “peaceniks” resurrected him with the Oslo Accords and opened the White House doors to him.

We were at a similar point when former IDF chief Moshe Ya’alon had largely neutralized terror and Palestinians were beginning to question the merits of terrorism. But then a dybbuk entered prime minister Ariel Sharon’s head and he launched the disastrous unilateral disengagement from Gaza. Today, with the Palestinians in utter disarray, Ehud Olmert is in the process of replicating the same disaster with even greater danger to our future.

This remains true despite the recent sortie into Syria reportedly crippling a nuclear threat. One daring success does not an effective government make.

The time is surely overdue for Yisrael Beiteinu, the Pensioners Party, Shas, and dissatisfied Kadima MKs to bring down this dysfunctional government that they repeatedly condemn. To stand by while the head of the government continues making unilateral concessions without reciprocity, in defiance of the will of the people, makes a mockery of our democratic system and provides credence to allegations that we are truly on the road to becoming a banana republic.

The writer is a veteran international Jewish leader and chairs the Diaspora-Israel Relations Committee of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.
ileibler@netvision.net.il

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