Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech Sunday evening at Bar-Ilan University had one goal: To get US President Barack Obama off of Israel’s back.
Netanyahu’s speech was an eloquent, rational and at times impassioned defense of Israel. For Israeli ears, after years of former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s continuous assaults on Israeli rights, and their strident defenses of capitulation to the Palestinians and the Syrians, Netanyahu’s address was a breath of fresh air. But it is hard to see how it could have possibly had any lasting impact on Obama or his advisers.
To be moved by rational argument, a person has to be open to rational discourse. And what we have witnessed over the past week with the Obama administration’s reactions to both North Korea’s nuclear brinksmanship and Iran’s sham elections is that its foreign policy is not informed by rationality but by the president’s morally relative, post-modern ideology. In this anti-intellectual and anti-rational climate, Netanyahu’s speech has little chance of making a lasting impact on the White House.
If rational thought was the basis for the administration’s policymaking on foreign affairs, North Korea’s decisions to test long range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, send two US citizens to long prison terms and then threaten nuclear war should have made the administration reconsider its current policy of seeking the approval and assistance of North Korea’s primary enabler – China – for any action it takes against Pyongyang. As Nicholas Eberstadt suggested in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, rather than spending its time passing UN Security Council resolutions with no enforcement mechanisms against North Korea, the administration would be working with a coalition of the willing to adopt measures aimed at lowering the threat North Korea constitutes to regional, US and global security through its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its proliferation activities.
But the administration has done no such thing. Instead of working with and strengthening its allies, it has opted to work with North Korea’s allies China and Russia to forge a Security Council resolution harsh enough to convince North Korean leader Kim Jung Il to threaten nuclear war, but too weak to degrade his capacity to wage one.
Similar to Obama’s refusal to reassess his failed policy regarding North Korea, his nonreaction to the fraudulent Iranian election shows that he will not allow facts to interfere with his slavish devotion to his ideological canon that claims that no enemy is unappeasable and no ally deserves automatic support. Far from standing with the democratic dissidents now risking their lives to oppose Iran’s sham democracy, the administration has reportedly expressed concern that the current postelection protests will destabilize the regime. Obama has also refused to reconsider his decision to reach a grand bargain with the ayatollahs on Iran’s nuclear weapons program that would serve to legitimize their continued grip on power.
His refusal to make a moral distinction between the mullahs and their democratic opponents – like his refusal in Cairo to make a moral distinction between a nuclear-armed Iran and a nuclear-armed America – makes clear that he is not interested in forging a factually accurate or morally clear-sighted foreign policy.
ALL OF THIS brings us back to Israel – and Netanyahu’s speech about the nature and causes of the Palestinian conflict and the conditions that must be met if peace is ever to be achieved. His address aimed in two ways to lower US pressure while averting an open confrontation with a president whose approval ratings remain above 60 percent. First, Netanyahu demonstrated that through their consistent rejection of Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state, the Palestinians – not us – are the side responsible for the absence of Middle East peace.
Second, Netanyahu tried to decrease US pressure on his government by conditionally accepting the idea of a Palestinian state. Clearly, it was Netanyahu’s acceptance of the idea of a Palestinian state – albeit a demilitarized one – that was supposed to do the most to fend off US pressure. After all, Obama and his advisers have made the swift establishment of a Palestinian state their primary foreign policy aim.
Irrespective of its impact on the Obama administration, Netanyahu’s speech was a positive contribution to the general discourse on the Middle East and Israel’s place in it. He made good use of his opportunity to address the nation above the heads of the uniformly leftist media to forge a new definition of the national consensus. Whereas his defeatist predecessors consistently spoke of the people’s willingness to make painful concessions for peace, and treated the establishment of a Jew-free Palestinian state as their primary duty as Zionists, Netanyahu recast the national consensus along patriotic lines.
He echoed the sentiments of the vast majority of Israelis when he refused to end building inside of Jewish communities located beyond the 1949 armistice lines; when he asserted that he would make no concessions on sovereignty over Jerusalem; would insist that we retain defensible borders; would refuse entrance of so-called Palestinian refugees to our territory; and demanded Palestinian recognition of our right to exist as the Jewish state.
He stridently and eloquently corrected Obama’s false characterization of this country as the product of the Holocaust during his speeches at Cairo and Buchenwald by recalling the 3,500 year old Jewish ties to the Land of Israel. And he made clear that the association Obama made between the Holocaust and this country’s founding was a precise inversion of the historical record. It is not Israel that owes its existence to the Holocaust. Rather, the Holocaust was only able to happen because there was no Israel.
NETANYAHU’S SPEECH was a much-needed strong defense. But it was not a perfect defense. It suffered from two flaws that may come back to haunt the premier in the years to come. First, his demand that the US lead the international community in guaranteeing that the Palestinian state is demilitarized provided the Obama administration with a new means to trick Israel into making suicidal concessions.
The only way to ensure that a Palestinian state is demilitarized is to send in forces to demilitarize it. Obviously the Americans won’t take such a step. In Gaza, a militarized Palestinian state already exists and the Americans have no intention of demilitarizing it for us. As for Judea and Samaria, today, the only thing the emerging Palestinian state has to show for itself is its US-built army.
The only force that would ensure a Palestinian state (or states) stays demilitarized is the IDF. But by appointing the US the guarantor of its demilitarized status, Netanyahu is inviting the US to lie and so make it impossible for us to take the steps necessary to ensure that the Palestinians lack the means to threaten the country.
In requesting that the US guarantee disarmament, Netanyahu repeated a mistake he made in his first term in office. In 1996 he conditioned his willingness to move forward with peace talks with the PLO on the terror group’s amendment of its charter calling for the destruction of Israel in line with its commitment under the initial Oslo agreement. Netanyahu empowered Bill Clinton to judge Palestinian compliance with this demand. In due course, Clinton travelled to Gaza and mendaciously announced that the PLO had in fact amended the charter. No such action had been taken, but Netanyahu was in no position to accuse Clinton of lying.
While his decision to appoint Obama arbiter of Palestinian demilitarization was ill-conceived, things could have been much worse.
Netanyahu ignored the so-called road map peace plan. That plan is one long list of Palestinian commitments that the US is empowered to judge compliance on. From terror fighting to ending
incitement, the road map places Israel in the position of being forced to take America’s word on issues paramount to its national security. By ignoring the road map, Netanyahu managed to avert the need to call Obama a liar directly.
The other problem with Netanyahu’s speech is that by accepting the idea of a Palestinian state, and embracing Obama’s fantasy that it is possible to reach a deal with the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu blocked the possibility that Israel will be able to forge a new policy that will move it to a more advantageous status quo in the coming years. That is, Netanyahu’s conditional acceptance of Obama’s false and ideologically motivated two-state paradigm damns Israel to the position of foot dragger in relation to someone else’s policy rather than trailblazer for its own policy.
In fairness to Netanyahu, in light of Obama’s ideological commitment to the two-state paradigm which blames Israel for the absence of peace, it is far from clear that he has any choice other than to go along with the president and just play for time. Were Netanyahu to apply Israeli law to the large settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley or establish security zones along Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt, he would likely instigate a full breach of relations with Washington.
At this point, it is up to the public and our representatives in the Knesset to pave the way for a better policy in the future. This we can do by rejecting the two-state paradigm and conducting a public discourse relevant to our national interests. For Netanyahu, however, buying time with a hostile administration may be the best he can aspire to during his current term in office.
Of course, buying time in and of itself is no great accomplishment. The voters did not elect Netanyahu to lead us simply to buy time. We elected him to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If his speech succeeded in blunting US pressure on Israel – even temporarily – on the Palestinian front, and in light of the results of the Iranian presidential race, Netanyahu has gained the opportunity to act on the Iranian front. If during his current term he prevents Iran from becoming a nuclear power and makes no concessions in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, he will be remembered as one of our greatest leaders and his speech will be remembered for posterity as a pivotal event.
On the other hand, if Netanyahu sits on his laurels, he will be surprised to see how quickly Obama – desperate for a foreign policy achievement after being laughed out of Teheran and Pyongyang – forgets his happiness at Netanyahu’s address. In no time flat, Obama will try to force Israel make him look like he knows what he is doing. At that point, an open confrontation with the White House will become unavoidable.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.