The dramatic setbacks of the past month have been somewhat destabilizing in contrast to the almost euphoric atmosphere which prevailed.
It is an awesome burden of responsibility to serve as a leader, obliged to make decisions that affect the future of the Jewish people, in both Israel and the Diaspora. Over these last few weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has probably been under the greatest pressure he has ever encountered. Barbaric acts of Arab terrorism and intensified incitement, problems with the Trump administration, excessive demands/blackmail from the haredim creating tensions with American Jewry, constant pressure and criticism from ministers in his own government and above all, the campaign to indict him personally on a myriad of alleged acts of corruption, have taken their toll and destabilized him.
In hindsight, the installation of metal detectors on the Temple Mount following the bloody terrorist murders there was a major blunder. Under any normal circumstances, it would have been an absolutely legitimate reaction, but having regard to the frenzied religious fanaticism endemic among Palestinians, Netanyahu should have anticipated that this would be exploited by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamists to incite hysteria. He also should have realized that this would create major domestic problems for our more moderate neighbors who face enormous pressure from their own citizens when swept by the hysteric accusation that Al-Aqsa mosque is being defiled by the Jews.
Had Netanyahu remained firm and resisted the demand to remove the detectors, Israeli public opinion would have supported him. But he considered the broader picture, recognizing that if he refused, he would risk a violent new intifada that would cost many more lives and would probably set back his emerging covert alliance with the more moderate Arab states. Any responsible Israeli leader weighing up the issues would have been obliged to act in a similar manner.
The issue was compounded by the inept way in which Netanyahu handled the Jordanian crisis. There appears to be no doubt that the security guard acted in self-defense. But Netanyahu’s parading him as a hero was a grossly inappropriate, given our delicate relationship with King Abdullah, who is under pressure from the powerful Palestinian and Muslim Brotherhood elements to sever diplomatic relations with Israel. And the government should have instituted a legal review of what happened even though it would have exonerated him. Besides, an apparently innocent bystander was accidentally killed, which probably merited at the least an apology and restitution.
To add to our discomfort, the international community reverted to its classical posture with the U.S. State Department issuing statements applying moral equivalence to both parties which seemed like a throwback to the Obama era. President Donald Trump, admittedly facing his own domestic problems, remained silent. This was certainly grounds for considerable disappointment as one would surely have anticipated this administration to deal with reality and condemn the bogus Palestinian hysteria instead of understating it and indulging in appeasement.
To top it off, Netanyahu faced a barrage of demagogic criticisms of the government policies from both factions, including ministers from his coalition and even from within the Likud.
We should ensure that we learn from our mistakes. Clearly, the Palestinians are emboldened and believe that they have humiliated Israel and won a major battle. But we should not exaggerate the negative repercussions of what transpired, nor engage in masochism and allow these events to blur reality. Setting aside the status quo originating from Moshe Dayan’s blunder in 1967 when he handed control of the Temple Mount to the Wakf, whatever rage and frustration the Palestinians may express, Israel remains firmly in control.
But we must face reality. A substantial proportion of the Palestinians and, alas, as was recently demonstrated, also a highly vociferous minority of Israeli Arabs, are vicious barbarians who would slaughter us at any opportunity. They behave like savages as evidenced by the murder of the Israeli policemen at the Temple Mount and the butchering of the Salomon family at their Shabbat table in Halamish. The spontaneous street celebrations after the murders and adoring mass of 10,000 Israeli Arabs in the Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm led by the head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah, and other senior members of the outlawed organization, who at the funerals of their murderous kinsmen, chanted “you are the shahids of Al-Aqsa,” speak volumes. They were hailed by the PA as well as Hamas as heroes and their families were financially rewarded. The murderer of the Salomon family will receive a massive pension despite his anticipated incarceration.
Almost $345 million per annum is allocated to families of “martyrs” and those in prison—representing almost half the annual foreign aid provided to the PA. This despicable practice of paying pensions to murderers may now belatedly be dealt with by Congress. But it must continue to be highlighted as a central policy issue and we should not equivocate because Abbas threatens to terminate cooperation with Palestinian security forces.
If one thing has been reaffirmed over the past month, it is that the Palestinian leaders and the bulk of their followers are unwilling to reach any peace agreement and are determined to fight on for their ultimate objective—the obliteration of Jewish sovereignty in the region.
Besides, with the impending retirement of Abbas, there is every likelihood that chaos will prevail and the Palestinian security forces could well turn their weapons against Israel. We are strong but must be well prepared for this eventuality.
The police must also take immediate steps to enforce law and order in Arab-Israeli areas that have been ignored, enabling them to act as a law unto themselves. We should take immediate action and indict any Israeli Arabs inciting violence even if the international community condemns us for restricting civil liberties.
If we adopt a tough but consistent approach, seeking wherever possible to avoid religious confrontations, it is likely that the more moderate Arab countries will continue distancing themselves from the Palestinians extremists — as they face their own challenges in which Israel is a covert ally.
Each country must be dealt with individually. Peace agreements with some of our neighbors have not necessarily brought about stability. Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan launched a vile campaign of incitement against us and is competing with the Iranians to fund Palestinian extremists. Jordan’s King Abdullah is surrounded by a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament that seeks to break off diplomatic relations with Israel and a government whose foreign minister praised the killers as shahids.
We also need to speak out and criticize the Trump administration, in particular Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the State Department, for reverting to Obama rhetoric and failing to publicly defend an ally, especially under the recent circumstances.
Unless indicted over the corruption charges levelled against him, despite his mishandling of recent crises, Netanyahu remains the only credible leader with the ability to make progress on the international level. The government must close ranks and display a united front and when a policy has been formulated, all ministers should be bound by cabinet responsibility, as applies in most democratic countries, and support or remain silent. Resignation should be mandatory for any minister publicly castigating their own government.
As we have learned throughout history, we can only rely on ourselves and our own strength and thus must make every effort to strengthen the IDF and continue building our alliance with United States and other nations with whom we have common interests.
Above all, we should remind ourselves that today, Israel is a superpower—militarily, economically and technologically.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom