This week we received a few reminders that in certain significant ways, the discourse in Israel and hence the policymaking is very much stuck in the 1990s.
The first reminder came on Sunday when Jordan’s King Abdullah abruptly announced that he is rescinding two annexes of the peace deal that then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin signed with his father the late King Hussein in 1994. Not only did he give Israel no prior warning of his plan to abrogate the annexes, but Abdullah made the announcement on the 23rd anniversary of Rabin’s assassination.
The annexes in question involved Israel leasing from Jordan two border areas, one in the South and one in the North. Rabin ceded sovereignty claims over the areas in 1994 in exchange for a 25-year lease, which was supposed to be extended automatically next year.
There isn’t much Israel can do about Abdullah’s hostile move. The agreement clearly permits Jordan not to renew the lease for another 25 years if it gives Israel one-year’s notice.
And particularly with Iran threatening the Hashemites – with its forces and proxies perched on Jordan’s borders with Iraq and Syria – Israel doesn’t want to take action that will threaten Abdullah’s monarchy. So despite the material harm his move will cause hundreds of Israeli farmers who have tilled the soil there since the 1920s, Israel will likely do little in the way of retaliation.
The second reminder came Wednesday with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s renewed threat to abrogate the Oslo accords he and his predecessor Yasser Arafat concluded with Israel in the framework of the peace process they embarked upon in 1993. It’s not at all clear why Israel should care if Abbas abrogates the deals. Since they were signed, the Palestinians have only upheld the sections that serve their interests. They cooperate with Israel against Hamas because they are threatened by Hamas. They don’t condemn terrorism and indeed they engage in terrorism, because they support terrorism against Israel. The Palestinians never stopped, and indeed, they constantly escalate their incitement against Israel because they think that doing so advances their interests. And so on and so forth.
If the PLO’s central committee decides to abrogate the deals in their meeting on Saturday, the move won’t make the slightest difference on the ground. Abbas will continue treating Israel as he has treated Israel for the past 25 years.
But whereas Israel has few options for retaliating against Abdullah, with regards to Abbas, Israel has plenty of options for dealing with his threats and for responding if he does finally make good on his tired threat to abrogate the Oslo accords. Moreover, these options have been available to Israel for at least 18 years. Abbas’s predecessor Arafat effectively abrogated the agreements 18 years ago when he rejected then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak’s offer of peace and statehood at the Camp David summit in July 2000, and then proceeded that September to initiate a terrorist war against Israel the likes of which the Jewish state had never seen.
So what has prevented Israel from walking away from failure? Why has Israel not exercised its option to act unilaterally to secure its strategic and national interests in Judea and Samaria in light of the Palestinians’ self-evident bad faith?
Why is Israel’s strategic discourse in relation to the Palestinians stuck in the 1990s?
We received a clear answer to that question on Sunday during the official memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin at Mt. Herzl military cemetery. Rabin’s granddaughter Noa Rothman used the official event to launch a diatribe against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and, oddly enough, against me.
Rothman accused Netanyahu of destroying Israeli democracy. Without a shred of evidence – and indeed with the daily news of the criminal probes against Netanyahu; the media’s hatred for him and its support for the EU-funded radical Left; and in the face of the Supreme Court’s growing penchant for overthrowing laws and government policies without any significant legal basis for its actions – Rothman said, “The problem is that in our country these days, doubting is akin to treason, criticism is taken as pettiness, and a demand for setting an example is construed as political persecution.”
She then attacked Netanyahu for not following the policy positions of the Left. In her words, “When did one of the nation’s leaders in these times give legitimacy to a dissenting voice, God forbid: not as part of a cynical political debate but honestly, in the name of pluralism – which is so vital to democracy, to our very existence, to our future.”
Then she got to the part about me.
Rothman accused an unnamed spokeswoman at the Prime Minister’s Office of tweeting a photograph of Rabin shaking Arafat’s hand at the White House with a caption accusing Rabin of treason.
So there are of course, a few problems with her accusation. First, I am not now, nor was I ever Netanyahu’s spokeswoman. I did work for him in 1997 and 1998 as his assistant foreign policy advisor. But that was a long time ago.
Second, I didn’t tweet a photograph of Rabin shaking Arafat’s hand with a caption accusing him treason. I did tweet a satirical post that was making the rounds on social media. It was a collage with a couple dozen photographs of various leftist activists with captions from the collective confessional from Yom Kippur’s liturgy under each photo. Under the photo of the Rabin-Arafat handshake was the caption, “we committed a crime.”
Like all effective satire, the purpose of the collage was to make those who saw it think. The collage in question – which I didn’t create – was a call for Israelis to fix the mistakes of the past, including the Oslo accords.
And for this post, Rothman essentially accused me of killing Rabin for a second time.
Her assault shocked me mainly because I was the object of her demonization. But once the shock of being the Left’s punching bag wore off, I realized that aside from her odd blunder of mistaking a veteran independent columnist for the prime minister’s spokeswoman, there is nothing remarkable about what she did. It isn’t remarkable that she falsely accused Netanyahu of harming Israeli democracy by not adopting the policies he was elected to advance instead of the policies of his political opponents. It isn’t remarkable that she accused me of incitement for posting a satirical photomontage that was critical of the self-evidently failed Oslo process that her grandfather’s political rival Shimon Peres negotiated behind his back.
And this brings us to the real reason why Israel’s discourse and through it, its policies are stuck in the 1990s.
After Rabin was murdered, Israel’s political Left – including the media – moved to demonize the entire political Right, accusing it of inciting Rabin’s murder. The clear purpose of the demonization was to make it impossible to criticize the Oslo process, which had already been largely discredited by the suicide bombings which commenced just months after the initial deal was signed at the White House.
Following the assassination, every statement of criticism for the peace process was immediately attacked as support for Rabin’s assassin. Netanyahu, who was head of the opposition in the Knesset, was demonized as Yigal Amir’s brain.
The notion that Netanyahu’s constructive and fact-based criticism of the peace process was what precipitated Amir’s crime was sheer madness. But all the same, the Left has been accusing him of soliciting Rabin’s murder for 23 years. The empty accusations of incitement against right-wing critics of Oslo, which are nothing more than a means to silence debate, has similarly never ended.
And it has worked, as Israel’s continued abidance by the failed accords makes clear. Indeed, the Left’s efforts to silence debate have been so successful that people have forgotten what Rabin’s actual vision for a final peace deal with the PLO was supposed to look like.
Leftist activists who continue to revile Netanyahu and all non-leftist voices as inciters and partners in Rabin’s assassination have erased the truth of who Rabin was and what he stood for. Those who accuse voices on the Right of plotting the next assassination by rejecting the Left’s increasingly radical policy positions on everything from economics to religion to national security policy have been working for 23 years to reinvent Rabin as someone that he never was.
Rabin made clear what he stood for at his final speech before the Knesset. On October 5, 1995, a month before he was killed, Rabin presented the interim agreement with the PLO – what was later dubbed “Oslo 2” – to the Knesset for approval. The interim agreement followed the Gaza-Jericho agreement which was signed in May 1994 and implemented in July. The Gaza-Jericho deal set up the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the city of Jericho. The interim accord extended the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority to the Palestinian cities and villages in the rest of Judea and Samaria. It kept the rest of Judea and Samaria, what was dubbed on the maps as Area C, under full Israeli civilian and military control.
In his speech before the Knesset, Rabin detailed his view of where things would lead. He did not believe that the end result of the Oslo process would be the establishment of a Palestinian state, much less a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital in control of all or the vast majority of the land in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
Rabin not only opposed any compromise on sole Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem: He called for extending Israeli sovereignty to Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev, two major Israeli communities in Judea just north of the city.
He also called for extending Israeli sovereignty to Gush Etzion and other major Israeli communities south of Jerusalem, and for building settlement blocs throughout Judea and Samaria. He committed to take no action to curtail the expansion of Israeli communities, and specifically ruled out any construction freeze in those communities throughout the interim period. He also praised the Israeli communities in Gaza, signaling strongly that they would never be forsaken.
Rabin said that Israel’s eastern border would remain the Jordan Valley in perpetuity and defined the frontier in the broadest possible terms.
In short, depending on how you interpret his phrasing, Rabin was either expressing his support for Netanyahu’s vision of a demilitarized Palestinian state, or for Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s plan to apply Israeli sovereignty to all of Area C.
Either way, Rabin’s actual vision tells us something important about how the Left’s draconian restrictions on freedom of speech have harmed Israel. By shunting aside what Rabin actually stood for, and reinventing him as a leftist ideologue, the Left has cheapened and distorted the true significance of what he stood for while preventing Israel from correcting his mistakes and building on his successes.