These are difficult times, as we simultaneously confront threats from our neighbors and intensified pressure from every direction.
The situation is aggravated by the upheavals in the Arab world, which have in all instances resulted in radical anti-Israel Islamic elements either taking control or significantly strengthening their influence. Even our peace treaty with Egypt is now in question. And at the same time, Hezbollah and Hamas have accumulated arsenals of deadly rockets which in the event of a conflict would be directed toward all the country’s major populated areas.
In this context, the enthusiastic bipartisan congressional support accorded Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on his recent Washington visit should not create excessive euphoria. It is the White House, in the main, that controls foreign affairs, and in view of the current economic meltdown, the pro-Israel Congress is more likely to be concentrating on issues of urgent domestic concern rather than confronting Obama over his Middle East policies. We also have legitimate grounds for unease if Obama obtains a second term and no longer faces election constraints and party pressures; he will likely intensify his one-sided demands on us.
To this day, Obama has not diverged from his initial approach of appeasing Islamic states and making harsh demands on Israel. Yet the American president is respected by neither friend nor foe. The manner in which he unhesitatingly abandoned long-standing US ally Hosni Mubarak while delaying calls for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad have encouraged America’s traditional Muslim allies to lose confidence in him. At the same time, his adversaries consider him a wimp who capitulates on every front. Even dovish former Labor minister Yossi Beilin maintains that Obama “holds zero accountability for his presidency” and “waits for someone else to implement his grand plan.”
We are confronted with a major challenge in September. Irrespective of whether the UN General Assembly endorses Palestinian statehood, there are likely to be concerted attempts to encourage tens of thousands of Palestinians to bypass roadblocks into Israeli territory. We will be obliged to exercise force to protect our security and sovereignty. Even taking maximum precautions, there will almost certainly be casualties, and Israel is likely yet again to face global condemnation.
In the face of these imminent challenges, only idiots or those relying exclusively on divine intervention would dismiss the crucial importance of maintaining US support. Aside from our essential defense requirements, only the US is in a position to economically pressure the Egyptian military regime to resist Islamic extremists baying for the annulment of the peace treaty with us. In addition, the absence of a US diplomatic umbrella would leave us at the mercies of the Europeans, who would have no compunction about supporting boycotts and sanctions at the UN in order to appease the Arab and Third World countries.
Politics is the art of the possible, and we must therefore resist populist attitudes exhorting us to be “tough” and face the world alone. In this context, one would not envy the role of an Israeli prime minister. He is obliged to retain the support and friendship of the American people and Congress. To achieve this in such a fake environment requires an extraordinary diplomatic balancing act in which he remains firm on essentials but must not be perceived as an obstacle to resolving the conflict.
It is in this context that one must assess the unconfirmed reports that Netanyahu has tentatively agreed to Obama’s “revised” formula of employing “1967 borders with swaps” as a benchmark for negotiations with the Palestinians. In return, Obama has allegedly undertaken to revert to the Bush recognition of demographic changes that entitle Israel to retain the major settlement blocs and defensible borders.
Netanyahu is said to have made this offer subject to a quid pro quo by the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
As this would imply a repudiation of the Arab ‘right of return’ – something the Palestinians would never endorse – this exercise remains an extension of the theater of the absurd, in which we are obliged to make meaningless motions to humor the Obama administration.
Unfortunately, previous experience has demonstrated that vague understandings are frequently selectively implemented. An example is the total disregard of the clause in the Quartet road map stipulating that prior to any further Israeli concessions, the terrorist infrastructure would be dismantled.
Any agreement along these lines with Obama may thus return to haunt us. In the absence of clear definitions of defensible borders and “major settlement blocs,” these new undertakings could be exploited to pressure us into making territorial concessions with potentially disastrous long-term consequences.
The even more detrimental outcome of these theatrics is the confusion and bewilderment it sows among Diaspora Jews and our friends. On the one hand, we occasionally speak the truth and expose the Palestinians as a criminal society promoting a genocidal culture. Then, to placate our Western “allies” we relate to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a ‘peace partner,’ and babble on about negotiating for a settlement.
One day our prime minister has a confrontation with the US president and the next day Defense Minister Barak proclaims that Obama is God’s gift to Israel. In contrast, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has a penchant for occasionally making aggressive statements (often based on reality) that enthuse his supporters but embarrass the government and detract from our international standing.
Of course, ministers of a government should ideally speak with one voice. However, the concept of cabinet responsibility in Israel has been ignored for many years, so individual ministers feel entitled to say what they like, even in stark opposition to the policy of their own government.
Nevertheless, within the constraints of the fantasy world in which our government must operate, a strategy must be devised to ensure that despite the doublespeak which portrays those seeking to destroy us as “peace partners,” we ensure that Diaspora Jews and our friends are able to comprehend the reality of the situation.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post