This week we discovered that we have been deceived. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s principled rejection of US President Barack Obama’s bigoted demand that Israel bar Jews from building new homes and expanding existing ones in Judea and Samaria does not reflect his actual policy.
Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias let the cat out of the bag.
Attias said that the government has been barring Jews from building in the areas since it took office four months ago, in the hopes that by preemptively capitulating to US demands, the US will treat Israel better.
And that’s not all. Today Netanyahu is reportedly working in earnest to reach a deal with the Obama administration that would formalize the government’s effective construction ban through 2010. Netanyahu is set to finalize such a deal at his meeting with Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell in London on Wednesday.
Unfortunately, far from treating Israel better as a result of Netanyahu’s willingness to capitulate on the fundamental right of Jews to live and build homes in the land of Israel, the Obama administration is planning to pocket Israel’s concession and then up the ante. Administration officials have stated that their next move will be to set a date for a new international Middle East peace conference that Obama will chair. There, Israel will be isolated and relentlessly attacked as the US, the Arabs, the Europeans, the UN and the Russians all gang up on our representatives and demand that Israel accept the so-called “Arab peace plan.”
That deceptively named plan, which Obama has all but adopted as his own, involves Israel committing national suicide in exchange for nothing. The Arab plan – formerly the “Saudi Plan,” and before that, the Tom Friedman “stick it to Israel ‘peace’ plan” – calls for Israel to retreat to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines and expel hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. It also involves Israel agreeing to cease being a Jewish state by accepting millions of foreign, hostile Arabs as citizens within its truncated borders.
The day an Israeli government accepts the plan – which again will form the basis of the Obama “peace conference” – is the day that the State of Israel signs its own death warrant.
Then there is the other Obama plan in the works. Obama also intends to host an international summit on nuclear security in March 2010. Arab states are already pushing for Israel’s nuclear program to be placed on the agenda.
Together with Obama administration officials’ calls for Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – which would compel Israel to relinquish its purported nuclear arsenal – and their stated interest in having Israel sign the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty – which would arguably force Israel to allow international inspections of its nuclear facility in Dimona – Obama’s planned nuclear conclave will place Israel in an untenable position.
Recognizing the Obama administration’s inherent and unprecedented hostility to Israel, Netanyahu sought to deflect its pressure by giving his speech at Bar-Ilan University in June. There he gave his conditional acceptance of Obama’s most cherished foreign policy goal – the establishment of a Palestinian state in Israel’s heartland.
Netanyahu’s conditions – that the Arabs generally and the Palestinians specifically recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state; that they relinquish their demand that Israel accept millions of hostile Arabs as citizens under the so-called “right of return”; that the Palestinian state be a “demilitarized” state; and that Arab states normalize their relations with Israel were supposed to put a monkey wrench in Obama’s policy of pressuring Israel.
Since it is obvious that the Arabs do not accept these eminently reasonable conditions, Netanyahu presumed that Obama would be forced to stand down.
What the prime minister failed to take into consideration was the notion that Obama and the Arabs would not act in good faith – that they would pretend to accept at least some of his demands in order to force him to accept all of their’s, and so keep US pressure relentlessly focused on Israel.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what has happened.
Ahead of Obama’s meeting on Tuesday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Al-Quds al-Arabi reported that Obama has accepted Netanyahu’s call for a demilitarized Palestinian state. Although Netanyahu is touting Obama’s new position as evidence of his own diplomatic prowess, the fact is that Obama’s new position is both disingenuous and meaningless.
Obama’s supposed support for a demilitarized Palestinian state is mendacious on two counts. First, Palestinian society is already one of the most militarized societies in the world. According to the World Bank, 43 percent of wages paid by the Palestinian Authority go to Palestinian militias. Since Obama has never called for any fundamental reordering of Palestinian society or for a reform of the PA’s budgetary priorities, it is obvious that he doesn’t have a problem with a militarized Palestinian state.
The second reason his statements in support of a demilitarized Palestinian state are not credible is because one of the central pillars of the Obama administration’s Palestinian policy is its involvement in training of the Fatah-led Palestinian army. US Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton is overseeing the training of this army in Jordan and pressuring Israel to expand its deployment in Judea and Samaria.
The US claims that the forces it is training will be responsible for counterterror operations and regular police work, and therefore, it is wrong to say that Dayton is raising a Palestinian army. But even if this is true today, there is no reason not to assume that these forces will form the backbone of a future Palestinian army. After all, the Palestinian militias trained by the CIA in the 1990s were trained in counterterror tactics. This then enabled them to serve as the commanders of the Palestinian terror apparatus from 2000 until 2004, when Israel finally defeated them. It is the uncertainty about these forces that renders Obama’s statement meaningless.
And that gets to the heart of the problem with Netanyahu’s conditional support for Palestinian statehood. Far from deflecting pressure on Israel to make further concessions, it trapped Israel into a position that serves none of its vital interests.
For Israel to secure its long-term vital national interests vis-a-vis the Palestinians, it doesn’t need for the US and the Palestinians to declare they agree to a demilitarized state or for a Palestinian leader to announce that he recognizes Israel’s right to exist or even agrees that Israel doesn’t have to commit national suicide by accepting millions of Arab immigrants. For Israel to secure its national interests, Palestinian society needs to be fundamentally reorganized.
As we saw at the Fatah conclave in Bethlehem last week, even if Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas were to accept Netanyahu’s conditions, he wouldn’t be speaking for anyone but himself. Fatah’s conclave – like Hamas’s terror state in Gaza – gave Israel every reason to believe that the Palestinians will continue their war against Israel after pocketing their state in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. There is no Palestinian leader with any following that accepts Israel. Consequently, negotiating the establishment of a Palestinian state before Palestinian society is fundamentally changed is a recipe for disaster.
Furthermore, even if Netanyahu is right to seek an agreement with Mitchell next week, he showed poor negotiating skill by preemptively freezing Jewish construction. Domestically, Netanyahu has lost credibility now that the public knows that he misled it. And by preemptively capitulating, the prime minister showed Obama that he is not a serious opponent. Why should Obama take Netanyahu’s positions seriously if Netanyahu abandons before
them before Obama even begins to seriously challenge him?
Beyond the damage Netanyahu’s actions have inflicted on his domestic and international credibility is the damage they have caused to Netanyahu’s ability to refocus US attention and resolve where it belongs.
As the prime minister has repeatedly stated, the Palestinian issue is a side issue.
The greatest impediment to Middle East peace and the greatest threat to international security today is Iran’s nuclear weapons program. A nuclear-armed Iran will all but guarantee that the region will at best be plagued by continuous war, and at worst be destroyed in a nuclear conflagration.
Netanyahu had hoped that his conditional support for Palestinian statehood, and his current willingness to bar Jews from building homes in Judea and Samaria would neutralize US pressure on Israel and facilitate his efforts to convince Obama to recognize and deal rationally with the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But as Ambassador Michael Oren made clear on Sunday, the opposite has occurred.
In an interview with CNN, Oren said that Israel is “far from even contemplating” a military strike against the Islamic republic’s nuclear installations. He also said, “The government of Israel has supported President Obama in his approach to Iran, initially the engagement, the outreach to Iran.”
From this it appears that Israel has not only made no headway in convincing the administration to take Iran seriously. It appears that Jerusalem has joined the administration in accepting a nuclear-armed Iran.
It is possible that Oren purposely misrepresented Israel’s position. But this too would be a disturbing turn of events. Israel gains nothing from lying. Oren’s statement neutralizes domestic pressure on the administration to get serious about Iran. And if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear installations in the coming months, Oren’s statement will undoubtedly be used by Israel’s detractors to attack the government.
Some critics of Netanyahu from the Right like Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman claim that it may well be time to begin bringing down Netanyahu’s government. They are wrong. We have been down this road before. In 1992, the Right brought down Yitzhak Shamir’s government and brought the Rabin-Peres government to power and Yassir Arafat to the gates of Jerusalem. In 1999, the Right brought down the first Netanyahu government and gave Israel Camp David and the Palestinian terror war.
There is another way. It is being forged by the likes of Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon on the one hand and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on the other.
Ya’alon argues that not capitulating to American pressure is a viable policy option for Israel. There is no reason to reach an agreement with Mitchell on the administration’s bigoted demand that Jews not build in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. If the US wants to have a fight with Israel, a fight against American anti-Jewish discrimination is not a bad one for Israel to have.
Ya’alon’s argument was borne out by Huckabee’s visit this week to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Huckabee’s trip showed that the administration is not operating in a policy vacuum. There is plenty of strong American support for an Israeli government that would stand up to the administration on the Palestinian issue and Iran alike.
Netanyahu’s policies have taken a wrong turn. But Netanyahu is not Tzipi Livni or Ehud Olmert. He is neither an ideologue nor an opportunist. He understands why what he is doing is wrong. He just needs to be convinced that he has another option.
Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.