Apparently US and Israeli leaders think that idle chatter is risk free. Last week, the Democrats in the US Congress decided to take on the Ottoman Empire. Acting boldly, the House Foreign Relations Committee condemned the empire (which ceased to exist in 1917) for committing genocide against the Armenians in 1915.
The Democrats' goal is clear. They wish to use the Armenian genocide as a way to embarrass the Bush administration, which like its predecessors over the past 92 years, has yet to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. And they have succeeded.
The administration that lobbies and begs the Turks not to invade Iraqi Kurdistan in response to the terror attacks carried out inside Turkey by PKK terrorists based in Iraqi Kurdistan; the administration that lobbies and begs the Turks to continue to allow US forces to use Incirlik air base to move troops and materiel into Iraq; the administration that is searching for a way to build proper relations with a Turkey that has now twice elected the pro-jihad AKP party to lead it – that administration has been duly embarrassed.
But the Democrats' petty political achievement has come at a devastating cost for America. The Democrats' declaration induced the worst crisis in US-Turkish relations in recent memory. Turkey has recalled its ambassador from Washington. On Wednesday, the Turkish parliament overwhelmingly approved an invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan. And Turkish military commanders are threatening to bar the US from using the air base in Incirlik.
THIS TALE of the consequences of empty rhetoric should serve as a warning for Israel and the US as the Olmert government moves forward in its "peace" negotiations with Fatah figurehead Mahmoud Abbas ahead of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's planned "peace" conference at Annapolis.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's ability to conduct negations with Rice and Abbas regarding the partition of Jerusalem, the surrender of Judea and Samaria and the establishment of an armed Palestinian state in the areas that Israel vacates owes much to his coalition partners in Shas and Israel Beiteinu's preference for empty rhetoric over action.
On Sunday, Shas leader Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai told Rice that Shas opposes partitioning Jerusalem. Yishai warned Rice, "If the sides return from [Annapolis] with a signed document and a done-deal, this could destabilize and end the tenure of the government."
Given that Rice didn't miss a beat in speaking forcefully of her ardent commitment to establishing a Jew-free Palestinian state in Hamas-dominated Gaza, and Hamas-ascendant Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem, Yishai's statement clearly failed to impress her.
For his part, Avigdor Lieberman's rhetoric is increasingly incoherent. Last week, after blaming the Left for all of Israel's woes, Lieberman joined its ranks by calling for a partition of Jerusalem. It works out that this paragon of supposedly "hard-line" rightist ideals supports surrendering the Arab neighborhoods surrounding the Jewish neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze'ev, Neveh Ya'acov, Ramot, Arnona, Gilo, Armon Hanatziv and Har Homa to Hamas.
But then this week, Lieberman suddenly remembered that he has voters to consider. And so Sunday he announced that he opposes Olmert's attempt to reach an agreement regarding Jerusalem's partition with Fatah.
LIKE THE Democrats' condemnation of the Ottomans, Lieberman and Yishai's empty rhetoric targets a domestic audience. And like the Democrats' condemnation of the Ottoman Empire, while their statements will have no impact on government policy, the consequences of those statements for Israel are far reaching and dangerous.
Yishai and Lieberman talk because they don't want to take the only step open to them if they truly wish to prevent damage to the country. That step of course is resignation from the Olmert government and support for new elections. And Olmert knows this.
It is because he understands their ardent desire to remain in office that Olmert feels he runs no political risk by negotiating away Israel's survivability to Abbas. Yishai and Lieberman's vacuous pronouncements enable Olmert to move forward toward national capitulation.
Additionally, their empty declarations of opposition to Olmert's moves lull the public into complacency. They make us believe that they are curbing Olmert's urge to capitulate and so mitigating the dangers to the state. But as Olmert's repeated statements regarding the partition of Jerusalem make clear, as long as they are inside the government they exert no influence over him.
Even if Yishai and Lieberman resign in the aftermath of the conference at Annapolis, their move will come too late to make a difference. The damage to Israel's security will already have been wrought. This is clear because even before a date has been set for the conference, we already know how it will end, if it is convened, and we already know the basic contours of its aftermath.
We know with near absolute certainty that the conference will end in failure. The conference will fail because there is no offer that Israel can make that Abbas can accept. Abbas, who doesn't even control his own Fatah terrorists – let alone Hamas and Islamic Jihad – has no real support among Palestinians. He already lost the Palestinian elections and Gaza to Hamas. Abbas cannot accept any offer from Israel after his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, chose to go to war rather than make peace.
Statements by both Hamas and Fatah leaders over the past several weeks also make clear what will happen after the summit collapses. As was the case after the failure of the Camp David peace conference in July 2000, in the aftermath of the Annapolis conference, Fatah and Hamas will reunite and the Palestinians will open a new round of jihad against Israel. And in light of Egypt's open and stalwart backing of Hamas, and given Hamas's subservience to Iran, it is impossible to assume that the coming war will be limited to the Palestinian arena.
Today a rare Right-Left consensus has emerged in Israel which recognizes that Olmert has no public mandate for making far-reaching concessions to Abbas. In light of this, it is argued with some justification that even if Olmert offers Abbas far-reaching concessions regarding Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, he will be unable to implement them. Noting this, many government and Kadima officials claim that there is no reason for concern about the talks Olmert is holding with Rice and Abbas. But this is untrue.
In July 2000, then-prime minister Ehud Barak conducted negotiations with Arafat at Camp David after his government lost a no-confidence vote in the Knesset. In the fall of 2000, Barak conducted further negotiations with Arafat at Taba where he expanded the concessions he had offered at Camp David. Those negotiations took place after Barak's government had already fallen and elections had been called for January 2001.
In December 2000, outgoing US president Bill Clinton presented his Middle East peace plan, which essentially codified the concessions Barak offered at Taba. Clinton announced his plan despite the fact that George W. Bush, who had been elected the month before, had expressed deep misgivings about the by-then-defunct Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
When Ariel Sharon and Bush succeeded Barak and Clinton, both asserted that the Israeli offers at Camp David and Taba and the Clinton peace plan were no longer on the table. But to their discredit, neither leader took any steps to translate those statements into reality. And so today, seven years later, Barak's offers are being used by Olmert and Abbas as the starting point for their negotiations. Indeed, according to Palestinian spokesmen, it was Olmert who insisted on basing today's negotiations on
What we learn from this is that offers made by an Israeli government bereft of both a public mandate and popular support remain perpetually on the table. As a result, even though Olmert and Abbas will fail to reach an agreement at Annapolis, the offers that Olmert will make there will survive long after he and his government leave office.
All of this demonstrates the dire consequences of Yishai and Lieberman's preference for idle chatter over action. By remaining in the government they do two things: They enable Olmert to participate in a "peace" conference that will lead to war. And they enable Olmert to place Israel's existence in long-term jeopardy. If his proposed concessions are ever implemented, they will render Israel indefensible while enabling the establishment of a terror state with its capital in Jerusalem. And even if they are not implemented today, those concessions will remain on the table and form the basis for future talks.
YISHAI AND Lieberman are Olmert and Rice's enablers. But it is Rice and Olmert who lead us down the road to disaster. What accounts for their reckless behavior?
By any objective standard, Rice has failed in office. On her way to Israel, she and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Moscow, where they were publicly humiliated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Under Rice's stewardship, the US failed to foresee or reckon with Russia's abandonment of the West. Consequently, today the US has no coherent policy for contending with the Kremlin. The same is the case with Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, Kim Jung-Il's North Korea and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran. And this is Rice's fault.
As the clock ticks toward the end of Bush's time in office, Rice fears history's impending verdict. And so she seeks a singular achievement. Like her failed predecessors, she has turned to Israel. Like so many others before her, Rice hopes to force Israel to make concessions that will lead to war only after she is safely ensconced at Stanford University.
In her race to a signing ceremony, Rice ignores the fact that through her actions she is destroying America's international credibility. Her genuflection to the Palestinians and the Arab world as a whole on the one hand and her open hostility and moral condemnation of Israel on the other destroy US credibility twice. First, by ignoring all of Bush's previous demands for the Arabs and the Palestinians to abjure terror and accept the Jewish state's right to exist, Rice is making clear that countries will pay no price for supporting terror and jihad. Second, by running roughshod over Israel, Rice shows that there is no advantage to be had by being a loyal ally of America.
Then there is Olmert. When not engaged in surrendering Hebron and Jerusalem to Hamas, Olmert faces his police investigators. As the subject of three separate official criminal probes, Olmert's desire to divert attention away from the fact that he is unfit for office is so great that he is willing to give up Israel's right to defensible borders and to its capital city.
Like the Democrats in Congress, Yishai and Lieberman demonstrate the deleterious consequences of empty talk. For their part, Rice and Olmert show us how reckless talk born of personal arrogance can sink the ship of state. Both instances show us the deadly consequences of misused rhetoric. What will it take for these petty politicians to understand this?
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.