Dismiss the chorus of hard-liners urging us to tell the Americans to butt out of our affairs. Every prime minister was aware of the critical importance of retaining the support of at least one major power and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is no exception. He appreciates that US support today is especially crucial in light of the frenzied anti-Israeli climate engulfing the world. Beyond assisting us to retain technological military superiority against bitter foes seeking our destruction, the US is the only power capable of preventing the dominant Islamic Conference and its acolytes – including the Europeans – from imposing international sanctions against us. Without the veto power of the US at the UN Security Council, we would already be facing extraordinary problems.
Since his election, Netanyahu has desperately tried to adopt a centrist approach and has made unprecedented unilateral concessions to appease US President Barack Obama, all to no avail. Despite the rhetoric about our unshakable alliance, far from being evenhanded, the US nullified agreements and understandings consummated with previous administrations, ignored Palestinian provocations and behaved more shabbily to us than toward its worst enemies.
The US administration is also crudely intervening in the domestic affairs of its purported ally and there appears to be a game plan to force Netanyahu out of office and replace him with a more pliable leader. Ironically, the Obama administration was far more restrained about regime change in Teheran.
The bloody mindedness and brutal determination to beat us into submission in relation to construction in exclusively Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line in Jerusalem is chilling and implies willingness to sacrifice us on the altar of expediency to curry Arab support.
Despite the immediate and profuse apology by Netanyahu for a deplorably ill-timed diplomatic snafu, Obama insisted the incident was a deliberate move to humiliate the US. He did so to publicly bring Israel to its knees.
These developments have emboldened Islamic extremists to incite and promote violence in Jerusalem and intensify rocket attacks from Gaza. Should a new intifada be unleashed, the Obama administration’s contemptuous treatment of Israel will have been a major contributing factor. Obama’s policies have also undermined any possibility of direct negotiations.
IN THIS environment, while sympathizing with the dilemmas facing our prime minister, his delayed response was nevertheless disappointing. When confronted by the offensive onslaughts orchestrated by Obama, Netanyahu’s prevarication conveyed the impression that he was uncertain and even rattled. He made generalized statements about Jerusalem and repeated hollow mantras insisting that our relationship with the US remained strong. The man with the golden tongue seemed tongue tied.
In response to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ultimatum that to atone for the “insult,” all construction activity in east Jerusalem be terminated, Palestinian prisoners be released and Israel agree to negotiate all core issues within the framework of the proximity talks, the government, after a lengthy delay, formally rejected limitations on construction in Jerusalem but was ambiguous about the other issues.
If Israel conceded to US demands concerning the agenda, it could lead to highly negative consequences for the impending proximity “negotiations.” The US insists that it merely intends to act as an intermediary. But indicators suggest that if a deadlock is reached, it will seek to impose a solution and Israel will find itself negotiating with Americans rather than Palestinians.
In addition to supporting a division of Jerusalem, the US is also likely to undermine Israel’s insistence on defensible borders and the long standing assumption that UN Resolution 242 relating to pre ’67 borders applies to territories but not all the territories.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be able to relax and observe the US pressurizing Israel to make further unilateral concessions before even agreeing to direct negotiations. I shudder to contemplate what Clinton had in mind when she crowed to the BBC that pressure on Israel had achieved the desired results.
MOST PRIME ministers had occasional differences with the US and defended Israel’s interests. Netanyahu could take a lead from statements on Jerusalem conveyed to the US by both Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. By delaying his response, Netanyahu may have encouraged the Obama administration to intensify its pressure.
That is not to suggest that Netanyahu should have polarized the situation by confronting Obama. However, continued reference to construction in east Jerusalem confused people by conveying images of Israelis displacing Arabs rather than ongoing building in exclusively Jewish neighborhoods in northern Jerusalem that are today no less part of Israel than Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu should have immediately employed the unique communication skills with which he is blessed and addressed the people of Israel, restating Israel’s generous concessions in contrast to the intransigent and criminal behavior of our Palestinian interlocutors.
While Netanyahu must avoid engaging in US domestic politics, many Americans who support Israel will be angered if they believe that their government is treating Israel unjustly. In his present parlous domestic political position, Obama will obviously seek to avoid alienating additional segments of his constituency or Congress. But if we fail to forcefully present our case, support from the American people will erode.
That also applies to American Jews. The delay in Israel’s response created havoc. We should be grateful to Abe Foxman of the ADL – who is no hawk – for having spoken out courageously at the outset or there would have been greater fallout. Subsequently, in a more muted manner, AIPAC, the President’s Conference and the American Jewish Committee expressed concern and appealed to the administration to bring the crisis to an end.
However, Jews hostile to the Israeli position spoke out aggressively. Reform leader Rabbi Eric Yoffie called on Israel to adhere to US demands to cease construction in all Jerusalem; predictably J Street’s message to the Obama administration was to stand firm and continue to pressure Israel to capitulate to all American demands; New York Times columnist Tom Friedman berated Vice President Joe Biden for not canceling his trip; Time columnist Joe Klein crudely accused AIPAC of dual loyalties.
THESE ARE difficult and trying times. On the surface the tensions have eased; Netanyahu is meeting Obama and warm statements reaffirming the unshakable relationship are being expressed by both parties. But Netanyahu should be under no illusions about the difficult days ahead. There are elements in the Obama administration, primarily motivated by a desire to appease the Arabs, who are promoting an imposed solution which will not necessarily take account of our existential and security requirements.
There are indeed chilling parallels today between Israel and pre-World War II Czechoslovakia. The difference is that unlike the Europeans in the 1930s, the American people require their leaders to pursue a foreign policy based on morality and decency. Netanyahu must make it clear that while we need the support of the US, there are red lines which no government may cross. As we will no doubt have seen from our prime minister’s address to AIPAC by the time this column is published, no leader is better equipped to present Israel’s case than Binyamin Netanyahu. But he must streamline his administration and get his act together.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post