No sane person would envy Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu his job. He not only faces enormous hostility from the global community, but is embroiled in an impossible domestic impasse. To warding external threats while retaining the reins of government is no mean feat.
Today, virtually the entire international community is trying to pressure Israel into making concessions that could have existential implications; our impotent “peace partner,” who conveys contradictory messages to his people and the world, has in no way changed the culture of death and hatred in his corrupt society. Even PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last week condemned the IDF’s killing of two Hamas terrorists involved in the recent murder of Israeli civilians.
In the not-too-distant future an entrenched Hamas is likely to topple or absorb the PA. The US administration is determined to appease the Islamic world, if necessary at our expense. A fanatical Iranian regime headed by a deranged anti-Semite and on the eve of becoming a nuclear power, is bent on our destruction. And global anti-Semitism has reached unparalleled levels.
We surely face unprecedented challenges.
Living in a country surrounded by such a cauldron of poisonous hatred and deadly external threats, one could surely expect our politicians and legislators to suspend their differences and display solidarity.
But we see nothing of the kind. For politicians – in government and opposition – it is business as usual, and they continue promoting their selfish, narrow, short-term interests.
In any normal democratic system, a minister is entitled to promote his viewpoint within the cabinet, but once a decision has been made, is obliged to hold his tongue. If his conscience demands that he oppose his government, he must resign.
However in our country, the government speaks with multiple voices. Ministers rule over personal fiefdoms and exploit their positions to grandstand or curry favor with their constituents, irrespective of national interests.
Thus, we have Defense Minister Ehud Barak publicly endorsing whatever the Obama administration proposes and allegedly even providing the Americans with tactical advice on how to “persuade” us to accept an additional settlement freeze.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman publicly contradicts policies promoted by his prime minister. It is not that his views are outlandish, or even necessarily wrong. In fact, his cryptic remarks, telling the European foreign ministers to resolve problems in their own backyards before castigating us, certainly touch a responsive chord in the nation. But for the foreign minister to express himself as he did at the UN General Assembly represents the antithesis of diplomacy and conveys the impression that we are a banana republic.
THE OPPOSITION is even more irresponsible. At the outset of the settlement freeze, Kadima head Tzipi Livni criticized the government, especially Netanyahu, for having conceded too much to the Americans.
Now, on the assumption that Netanyahu will not agree to an extension, she again castigates the government, saying, “What are a few buildings compared with the people’s desire for peace?”
Even though Obama’s own supporters acknowledge that he totally mishandled the peace process, Livni unashamedly accuses Netanyahu of damaging our relationship with the US. Ignoring the fact that she burdened the Netanyahu government with the responsibility of dealing with the Goldstone Report, she holds it responsible for the current demonization of Israel.
As leader of the opposition, Livni should have emulated Netanyahu who, when in opposition, displayed solidarity with the government and never sought to make cynical political capital from predictable anti-Israel onslaughts during times of crisis.
Although we have become highly cynical regarding the irresponsible behavior frequently displayed by our politicians, surely during such a critical period of national vulnerability, we are entitled to expect our elected representatives to set aside their personal agendas and concentrate on the national interest.
We face some very difficult decisions. For example, there are compelling grounds for Netanyahu, who repeatedly promised us that the freeze would not extend a single day beyond the 10-month period, to reject US demands for a two-month extension.
Prior to US President Barack Obama’s intervention, no Arab political leader had ever demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition for negotiations. The Palestinians had 10 months to negotiate and failed to do so. Should they now be rewarded for their intransigence? Did we receive any reciprocal benefit from the freeze? Did the Palestinians agree to concede anything tangible to advance the peace process if we were to extend it?
In the wake of Obama’s initiative, the Palestinians are reluctant to climb down from their demand to extend the freeze. And why should they? They are infinitely better off having indirect negotiations and forcing us to confront the Americans. In addition, the Arab League has now provided Obama with a safety net by “postponing” its decision whether or not to endorse direct negotiations until the day after the congressional elections.
Besides, Obama failed to offer Netanyahu tangible benefits for the future or other inducements (such as releasing Jonathan Pollard) which would have provided him with some grounds to justify breaching his repeated undertaking not to extend the freeze.
In fact, until now, the Obama administration has refused to even distinguish between construction in outlying settlements and in blocs such as Gush Etzion, which the Bush administration had clearly agreed would remain within Israel. Instead, it offered “concessions,” which in reality amounted to ominous threats should we fail to accede to its demands. Since when is employing its veto to protect Israel from one-sided UN Security Council resolutions a concession?
Yet, it is no small matter to stand against the US during these difficult times. Only fools repeat the mantra that we are an independent country capable of doing whatever we want as long as our weak leaders do not sell us out.
THE REALITY is that beyond the question of being a sovereign state, capitulating to such pressure without any quid pro quo would establish an awesome precedent for future demands from the Americans, who have allegedly already assured the Palestinians that they will endorse a return to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines. It would also encourage our intransigent enemies to redouble their efforts to dismember us in stages. In this context, Netanyahu’s offer to extend the freeze provided the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state should in principle ease the pressure from the Obama administration. Alas, this is unlikely.
It is precisely during these difficult times that we must insist that our politicians suspend their squabbles and concentrate on the nation’s survival. It is a time to strengthen our position by displaying a united front and demonstrating that these are not crass political issues, but impinge on our very existence.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post