There are iron rules of warfare. One of the most basic rules is that you have to know your enemy. If you do not know your enemy, or worse, if you refuse to act on your knowledge of him, you will lose your war against him.
This basic truth appears to have eluded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This week we have been beset by the bizarre and sudden appearance of Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s negotiations chief.
Greenblatt’s mission is apparently to reinstate the mordant peace process between Israel and the PLO.
The peace process that Greenblatt is here to reincarnate died 17 years ago.
In 2000, PLO chief and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat killed the peace process when he initiated a massive terrorist war against Israel, right after he rejected peace and Palestinian statehood at the Camp David peace conference.
In rejecting peace, the architect of modern terrorism made clear that his claim seven years earlier that he was willing to reach a compromise with Israel, based on partition of the Land of Israel between a Jewish and an Arab state, was a lie. As the nationalist camp had warned at the time and since, the PLO was not remotely interested either in statehood or in peace. Arafat’s willingness to engage Israel in negotiations that led to its transfer of security and civil control over Gaza and the Palestinian population centers in Judea and Samaria to the PLO was simply another means to the only end the PLO ever contemplated. It was a means of weakening Israel as a step toward achieving the PLO’s ultimate goal of destroying the Jewish state.
In 1993, when then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to recognize the PLO, his implicit assumption was that if Arafat was lying, Israel would walk away from the peace process. It would retake control over the areas it had ceded to PLO control and things would go back to the way they were before he made the gamble, indeed they would be better. Whereas for years Israel had been under pressure from the Europeans and the Americans to recognize the PLO, if Israel recognized the terrorist group and the PLO responded by showing that it remained dedicated to Israel’s destruction, the world that had been pressuring Israel would end its pressure.
The Europeans and the Americans would rally to Israel’s side against the PLO.
In 2000, after Arafat blew up the negotiations table with his suicide bombers, then-prime minister Ehud Barak announced triumphantly that he had ripped the mask off of Arafat’s face.
Now everyone would recognize the truth about the PLO. Now the Europeans and the Americans would rally to Israel’s side.
Of course, things didn’t work out that way.
In the seven years between Rabin’s decision to gamble on Arafat, and Barak’s declaration that the truth had finally come out, the Europeans and the Americans and the Israeli Left had become addicted to the notion that the PLO was a peace movement and that Israel and its so-called settlers were the reason that peace hadn’t been reached.
That is, by the time the true nature of Israel’s enemy had become clear, it was too late. It didn’t matter. In recognizing the PLO, Israel had legitimized it. Refusing to recognize the nature of its enemy, Israel had empowered it, at its own expense.
By the time Arafat removed his mask, the legitimacy he had received from Israel seven years earlier had rendered him untouchable.
The West had become so invested in the myth of PLO moderation that rather than punish him for his terrorist war, the Europeans and the Americans punished Israel for complaining about it. Indeed, the more Israelis Arafat’s henchmen murdered, the more committed the Europeans and the American foreign policy establishment and political Left became to the PLO.
Israel, in the meantime, became a diplomatic outcast.
In the 17 years since Arafat showed his true colors, neither he nor his heir Mahmoud Abbas ever did anything to indicate that the PLO has changed its spots. To the contrary. The PLO’s leaders have made clear over and over and over again that Arafat’s decision to reject peace in favor of never-ending war against Israel was no fluke. It was the rule.
The PLO doesn’t want a state. If it did it would have accepted sovereignty in Gaza 12 years ago, when Israel withdrew and took its citizens with it. If it wanted a state, then Arafat and Abbas would have accepted Israel’s repeated offers of statehood over the years.
The PLO that is greeting Greenblatt in March 2017 is the same terrorist organization it was when Arafat announced its formation in December 1964.
Given this unchanging reality, it is deeply destructive for Israel to continue paying lip service to the fake peace process. And yet, that is precisely what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is doing.
Trump’s election gave Israel an opportunity to finally get the Americans to recognize the reality they have spent the past 17 years refusing to accept. Unlike Barack Obama, Trump was not wedded to the notion that Israel, and its religious Zionist community, is to blame for the absence of peace. He was not obsessed with appeasing the PLO as his predecessors have been for the past generation.
Trump was not interested in getting involved with the Palestinians at all. But rather than seize the opportunity he was handed, Netanyahu seems to have decided to throw it in the trash.
He only agreed to discuss his strategic goal for dealing with the Palestinians after his cabinet forced him to do so on the eve of his trip to Washington last month.
At that meeting, Netanyahu said that he supports establishing a “Palestinian state, minus” that would have formal sovereignty but would be demilitarized. Netanyahu also offered that he envisions Israeli sovereignty being extended to the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.
There are many problems with Netanyahu’s plan. But its most glaring deficiency is that it continues to treat the PLO as a legitimate organization rather than a terrorist organization.
By doing so, Netanyahu not only throws a lifeline to an organization that uses all the legitimacy Israel confers on it to weaken Israel strategically and diplomatically. He empowers Israel’s detractors in the US and Europe that have spent the past quarter-century blaming Israel for the absence of peace and acclaiming the PLO and its terrorist chiefs as moderates.
It is not surprising that Trump reinstated Obama’s demand that Israel curtail Jewish property rights in Judea and Samaria after Netanyahu pronounced his support for Palestinian statehood. If Netanyahu won’t disavow the anti-Israel diplomatic unicorn, then why should Trump? And if Trump is maintaining allegiance to the myth of PLO legitimacy, then it only makes sense for him to also adopt the patently absurd, and virulently anti-Israel, assumption that Jewish home building is the reason there is no peace.
Similarly, with Netanyahu willing to accept the PLO, and the concomitant assumption of Jewish culpability for the absence of peace, why would Trump consider replacing Obama’s anti-Israel advisers with advisers supportive of the US-Israel alliance? After Netanyahu left Washington last month, Trump decided to retain Yael Lempert as the National Security Council’s point person for the Israeli-Palestinian portfolio. According to a report in The Weekly Standard, Democrats in Washington long viewed Lempert as one of the most radical opponents of Israel in the Obama administration.
Trump also decided to keep on Michael Ratney, the former US consul in Jerusalem, as the man in charge of the Israeli-Palestinian desk at the State Department. Ratney’s appointment brought shouts of joy from anti-Israel activists led by John Kerry’s former negotiations chief Martin Indyk.
Perhaps these personnel decisions would have been made even if Netanyahu hadn’t maintained his allegiance to the lie of PLO legitimacy. But Netanyahu’s support for the PLO made it much easier for these opponents of Israel to keep their jobs.
By all accounts, Jason Greenblatt is a friend of Israel and a supporter of the US alliance with the Jewish state. Greenblatt studied at a yeshiva in Gush Etzion many years ago. On Thursday, he took the step that no US envoy has ever taken of meeting with the heads of the local councils in Judea and Samaria.
And yet, whatever his personal views may be, this week he came to Israel to discuss limiting the legal rights of Israelis in Judea and Samaria.
He was accompanied on his trip by Lempert.
Greenblatt visited with Abbas in Ramallah and delivered no ultimatum when he asked the Palestinian Authority “president” (whose term of office ended in 2009) to scale back the murderous anti-Jewish propaganda that permeates all facets of Palestinian society under the PLO.
Greenblatt politely listened as Abbas demanded that Israel agree to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines in a future peace, agree to release terrorist murderers from its prisons and end all construction for Jews in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.
Greenblatt then discussed continued US economic subsidization of Abbas’s terrorism- steeped kleptocracy, in the name of economic development.
In other words, whatever Greenblatt’s personal views on the issues, as Trump’s envoy, he put us all back on the phony peace train.
Netanyahu argues that Israel has to give legitimacy to the PLO and support Palestinian statehood, because if it doesn’t, then the Sunni Arab states won’t work with Israel in its efforts to stymie Iran’s regional power grab and stall its nuclear weapons program. This claim, however, is untrue.
The Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians are working with Israel on countering Iran because they need Israel to help them to weaken Iran.
They need Israel to help them to convince the Americans to abandon Obama’s pro-Iranian Middle East policy.
In other words, Netanyahu is paying for Sunni support that he can get for free.
Rabin believed that Israel would emerge stronger from his decision to recognize the PLO, one way or another. Either Israel would achieve peace. Or Israel would get the Americans and the Europeans off its back once the PLO made clear that it was lying about wanting peace. Rabin was wrong.
Israel paid gravely for Rabin’s error in judgment.
It will pay a similarly high price, if not a higher one, if Netanyahu continues to repeat Rabin’s mistake of failing to know his enemy.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.