Too Much Deference
Whenever I speak abroad about Israel’s security situation, I’m invariably asked: Why doesn’t the Israeli government ignore world opinion and do what it must to stop the terrorism? I always answer by pointing out that Israel does not manufacture F-16s or most of her other major weapons systems. Second, Israel’s economy is dependent on trade with other countries, chief among them the European Union.
Yet deference to world opinion has been taken way too far by our current government, to the point that Israel is unwittingly helping to fuel the international campaign of delegitimization against it. That campaign led by the unholy of trinity of NGOs, the United Nations, and major Western media outlets, the BBC chief among them, was the subject of a day-long symposium, featuring an impressive array of experts, sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs last week.
Not discussed, however, was the impact of Israeli government policy on the delegitimization of Israel. Since the first Oslo Accords, successive Israeli governments have adopted the position that Israel’s security is better served through diplomacy than by ensuring that Israel maintains defensible borders.
Yet those diplomatic efforts and the various attempts to subcontract our defense to outside parties — to Yasir Arafat under Oslo, to the U.N. in Lebanon, and to Egypt in the Philadephi Corridor — have only harmed our international standing, which is demonstrably lower today than at the start of the Oslo process. Any fleeting good will generated by such actions as the Gaza withdrawal is soon lost — and then some — when Israel is forced to respond to the consequences of its concessions.
Whenever Israel acts out fear of becoming a pariah state by exercising greater restraint or making further concessions, it only convinces its critics that even Israelis know that they are the villains in this piece. For example, this week’s decision to remove 45 West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints, in response to pressure from Secretary of State Rice, gave credence to Palestinian claims that the purpose of those roadblocks was to imprison Palestinians, not protect Israeli civilians. (It was only 15 minutes before the first Israeli civilian was attacked by a knife-wielding Palestinian just beyond a recently dismantled roadblock.) For knowingly endangering its own citizens, all Israel received from Secretary of State Rice was the frosty message, “We’ll be watching you.”
Israelis tend to observe Prime Minister Olmert’s frantic efforts to remain in power with a certain bemused fascination, and to view as a harmless fantasy his negotiations with the Palestinians over a “shelf agreement,” which will not be implemented until such time as the Palestinians actually do something to stop terrorism and incitement against Jews. That, however, is a mistake.
Leaks from the negotiations suggest that the declaration of priniciples will include a provision that the 1949 Armistice Lines constitute the starting point of negotiations over borders. That represents a retreat both from U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which recognized Israel’s right to “secure” borders, and from President Bush’s much touted promise to Prime Minister Sharon that Israel would hold on to security blocs in any final agreement.
Israel is being forced to enunciate its final positions with regard to unknown future circumstances, without the Palestinians having yet made a single concession. One does not conduct negotiations will one’s cards face up on the table. Entering into negotiations at the present time with the PA only reinforces the perception of Israel as the guilty party in its own eyes, and further convinces the Palestinians that past breeches of agreements carry no penalty.
Why should we be talking with Abbas at all after he declared a 3-day mourning period for arch-terrorist George Habash and the Fatah newspaper splashed a front-page picture of the “martyred” murderer of 8 yeshiva students? One good indication of the success of the PA anti-incitement “efforts” is the recent New York Times poll that 84% of Palestinians supported the murders at Mercaz Harav. Yet the PA’s manifest failures receive no criticism from the U.S. State Department — only Jewish building — because we have adopted the posture of obsequious supplicants.
There is no assurance that the “shelf agreement” will remain on the shelf forever. It will be the Americans, as much as Israel, who will determine when it is time to dust it off. And if Israel disagrees that the circumstances are propitious for granting the Palestinians the power to paralyze the coastal region with missiles aimed at Israel’s center — home to 80% of its population — from the high ground of the West Bank, it may find itself on a collision course with the Americans.
Every Israeli offer — even those that are rejected — eventually wends its way back into future negotiations. The rejected Israeli proposals at Taba continuously resurface, despite President Clinton’s assurances that they were off the table. The past is never past in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Our obsession with “peace” treaties with our neighbors — treaties for which the purchase price is always further territorial concessions — has blinded us to the larger strategic threat facing us — i.e., Iran’s emergence as the leading regional power and the noose of Iranian proxies closing around our necks. Consider the absurdity of Israel sending Syria twenty peace feelers, at the very time that half the members of the Arab League were boycotting a Damascus summit because of Syria’s continued obstructionism in Lebanon and close ties with Iran.
Finally, Olmert is undermining Israel’s still strong support in the United States. One cannot expect Americans to be more supportive of Israel than the Israeli government. President Bush has repeatedly said that he is only pushing for the “final” agreement Israel says it wants. When he talks to Bush, Olmert is like a little kid afraid to rat on a bullying older sister (Condoleeza Rice) for fear of being pounded later if he does.
A SELF-RESPECTING ISRAELI STANCE would begin by pointing out that twice in the past century the world community affirmed the right of the Jewish people to reconstitute its ancient homeland in Eretz Yisrael. It would counter every discussion of Palestinian refugees with a discussion of the equal number of Jewish refugees from 1948. It would seek the right for Jews to live in security in a future Palestinian state just as Arabs live as citizens with full rights in Israel. It would scoff at the concept of international law that applies to only one country in the world. And it would never tire of pointing out the double standard inherent in the world’s lack of concern with the execution of 100 Buddhist monks in Chinese-occupied Tibet, or the deliberate extermination of hundreds of thousands of black Muslims in Darfur.
But our leaders are incapable of making this case, for they are not truly convinced that we Jews have any real claims in Eretz Yisrael or that we should not be happy with whatever the Arabs grant us. They are products of an educational system that Nobel Laureate Aaron Ciechanover described recently as failing to provide its products with any reason to live here: “We have . . . attempted to copy, unsuccessfully, the developed countries of the West, in an effort to be like every other nation.”
When David Ben-Gurion was asked from where the Jews derived the right to live in Eretz Yisrael, he would hold up the Bible. He conducted a Bible study group in his home. How absurd to imagine today, observes Ciechanover, “that one of this country’s leaders would study and teach the Bible in his home. . . ”