Israel’s balance of delusion

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A balance of delusion exists in Israeli politics between Left and Right. On the Left, we have leaders who, when given the facts about strategic options, decide they don't like the facts and make new ones up that suit them better. And on the Right, we have leaders who, when given the facts about their political options, decide they don't like the facts and make up new ones that suit them better.

The Left's latest fantasy is its enthusiasm for a deal with Hamas that would free Gilad Schalit. By Tuesday night, Israelis should know whether or not our outgoing leftist government will agree to release between 450 and 1,000 Palestinian terrorists – including mass murderers serving multiple life sentences – in exchange for Schalit whom Hamas and it sister terror groups have held hostage since June 2006.

Schalit's plight presents two stark choices. We can surrender to all of Hamas's demands and reunite Schalit with his suffering family, or we can keep a stiff upper lip, refuse to negotiate with terrorists and wait until we receive actionable intelligence on his whereabouts and attempt to rescue him. We know what will happen in both cases.

If we surrender to Hamas's demands, we will ensure more families will suffer the same plight as Gilad Schalit's family. We know that this will happen because we have been through this process repeatedly. Every single time we have released terrorists for hostages, the result has been more murdered Israelis and more hostages. As before, the only thing we still don't know is the names of the next victims. They could be any of us. And so, in a very real sense, they are all of us.

If on the other hand the outgoing government opted for the stiff upper lip approach, we know that we would increase the chance that Schalit will be murdered. Hamas can kill him at any time. And in the event that the IDF stages a rescue raid, there is a good chance that both Schalit and his rescuers will return to their families in wooden boxes. Then again, we also know that by not negotiating with terrorists, and by keeping jailed terrorists in prison, we stand a better chance of protecting the lives of the rest of us.

Both choices, of course, are miserable ones. But they are the only choices. We can surrender or we can fight. There is no third option.

In keeping though with the Left's penchant for dreaming up imaginary choices, the Kadima-Labor government decided to negotiate Schalit's release with Hamas, but to pretend that in doing so, it is doing something other than surrendering. Rather than admit that by agreeing to release hundreds of murderers from jail he is placing every single family in the country at risk, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert describes his urgent pleadings to Hamas as a noble gesture towards the Schalit family, a gesture which supposedly gives expression to Judaism's commitment to Jewish captives. That is, he has moved the discussion of the terrorist release from the realm of reality to the realm of metaphysics.

Much to his discredit, Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu has refused to criticize the outgoing government's surrender to Hamas. There is some justification for his silence. The media is so adamant about moving forward with the release of mass murderers that were he to speak out, he would set the media against him even before he is sworn in to office. But then again, the overwhelmingly leftist media will treat Netanyahu with hostility regardless of what he does. So it seems unreasonable that he has maintained his silence on this issue.

THE ONE POLITICIAN who has been outspoken in opposing the mass release of terrorists has been MK Ya'acov (Ketzeleh) Katz, the leader of the National Union party. Together with the families of terror victims who oppose the government's intention to release their relatives' murderers, Katz has been the loudest voice in politics stridently opposing the deal. He has made clear that it will endanger the country and guarantee the murder and abduction of still more Israelis.

Katz and the National Union have it right on this issue. Indeed, they have it right on just about every major strategic issue they have championed. From their opposition to the failed Oslo process to their opposition to the failed Camp David summit, from their opposition to the withdrawal from south Lebanon and Gaza to their opposition to the failed road map peace process and the failed Annapolis peace process, the National Union has been right all along. It has always stayed true to its principles.

One might think that given the National Union's consistent track record that it would be the largest party in the Knesset. Surely voters would reward it for its wisdom. But one of course would be wrong.

The National Union received four seats in the Knesset. Its sister party, Habayit Hayehudi won three mandates. The two parties ran separately despite their ideological and cultural affinity because their members simply couldn't get along. They couldn't compromise on who would appear where on the party list.

And this is the beginning of the story.

FOR ALL of its strategic wisdom and clearheadedness, the National Union is a political home for delusional politicians. In all of its various incarnations – from Tehiya to Herut to Moledet to the National Union – the party has never been able to understand what it means to govern. It has never been able to recognize that politics is the art of compromise.

In 1992, angry that Likud under prime minister Yitzhak Shamir bowed to US pressure and participated in the Madrid peace conference, Tehiya brought down his government. In so doing, it brought in Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres and brought the country the Oslo process and Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.

In 1999, angry at Netanyahu for bowing to US pressure and agreeing to the Wye Plantation accords, the National Union brought down his government. In so doing, it brought in Ehud Barak and Yossi Beilin, the withdrawal from Lebanon and the Camp David summit.

In all, the total of Israelis who have been killed due to Oslo, the withdrawal from Lebanon and the Palestinian terror war which followed Camp David comes to around 2,000. The country's weakened position today in the US and Europe as well as in the Arab world, would have been inconceivable in 1992.

In both 1992 and 1999, the National Union and its predecessors were faced with two choices. They could remain ideologically pure by bringing down their own government and so risk empowering the Left, or they could recognize that governance is the art of compromise, keep a stiff upper lip and work from within the government to mitigate the strategic damage that in their view Shamir and Netanyahu caused by bowing to American pressure.

And in both cases, the National Union rejected its real choices in favor of an imaginary one. Both in 1992 and 1999 it chose to leave the government while pretending that there was no difference between Likud and Labor. By choosing this route, it effectively committed itself to strategic as well as political blindness since it was forced to claim – wrongly – that there was no difference between Madrid and Oslo or between Wye Plantation and Camp David.

Last Friday it was disclosed that on Wednesday afternoon, Netanyahu had reopened coalition talks with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. Those talks had ended weeks ago after Livni demanded that Netanyahu agree to share the premiership with her through a rotation agreement, give her full control over strategy for dealing with the Palestinians and adopt the establishment of a Palestinian state as the primary goal of his government. All of Livni's demands were nonnegotiable and all of them, both separately and together, were unacceptable for Netanyahu. And so, he rejected them and for the past two and a half weeks has been concentrating his efforts on building a governing coalition with the right wing and religious parties.

AVIGDOR LIEBERMAN's Israel Beiteinu with its 15 Knesset seats i
s set to be Likud's main coalition partner. Lieberman has been the most outspoken champion of a Likud-Kadima-Israel Beiteinu coalition. This makes sense from his perspective. Lieberman is viewed both by the West and by much of the country's leftist elite as a racist. Due both to his legal worries and to the fact that his actual policy preferences of surrendering the Galilee and the Negev to the Arabs are far left of center, Lieberman cares deeply about what the Left thinks of him. In his view, the only way to be accepted as legitimate in leftist circles is to compel Likud to move to the left by bringing Kadima into the government.

In part to satisfy Lieberman – without whom he cannot form a government – and in part because he remembers that it was the National Union which brought down his government 10 years ago, Netanyahu began his coalition building talks with Kadima. They collapsed only because Livni made demands that he could not meet.

In the current round of talks, Livni has reportedly maintained her demands, but now Netanyahu is reportedly accepting them – at least partially. The question that needs to be asked is what has changed in three weeks? Why has Netanyahu decided that Livni's previously unacceptable demands are now acceptable? The only reasonable answer is the National Union. Last week Katz scuttled negotiations with Likud because it refused his demand for the Construction and Housing Ministry. On Thursday, he joined hands with Habayit Hayehudi chairman MK Daniel Herschkowitz and announced that neither of the two parties would join Netanyahu's government if he doesn't meet all of their demands, including the Ministry of Education for Herschkowitz. Without the two parties, Netanyahu lacks a parliamentary majority.

It is possible that Katz and Herschkowitz are bluffing. In fact, it is likely that they are. But what their behavior shows clearly is that Netanyahu is correct when he says that a coalition that relies on them is inherently unstable. And so, he has moved back into Kadima's orbit.

If the Olmert-Livni-Barak government goes ahead with its plans to spring hundreds of mass murderers from prison in its last days in office, the threat they will unleash will just be added to the long list of serious threats that our strategically delusional leftist government has created and expanded during its tenure in office. It would be the height of irony – and tragedy – if due to the Right's proven political incompetence, the same political Left remains in power as the main partners in the Netanyahu government and so is given yet another opportunity to ruin the country.

Correction: In my Friday column, "Intelligence and the anti-Israel lobby" I misidentified Douglas Jehl as a Washington Post editor. Jehl is an editor at The New York Times.

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.

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  • Marc Handelsman, USA 03/17/2009 at 0:28

    Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu is in a delicate situation. He has no authority to control how the current government continues its failed policy of negotiating with terrorists. He should take the high road until he assumes office. Mr. Netanyahu must not compromise on Likud principles, and waste time wooing the disgraced Kadima Party. Incoming Prime Minister Netanyahu should make compromises to secure a viable coalition with National Union, and other like-minded parties. And the longer Mr. Netanyahu takes forming his government, the more damage Kadima does to Israel’s security.

  • Eliyahu 03/17/2009 at 0:29

    Caroline, why don’t you mention that Olmert should have called for Red Cross access to Gilad Shalit [as stipulated by international law], before beginning any negotiation over him.

  • Dan 03/17/2009 at 7:11

    Why don’t you guys replay the move on that Sabena aircraft, back in the day, when you sent out the “mechanics” to reinflate the tires, but really to make a move on the terrorist dirtballs.
    In this case, arrange for the simultaneous “release” of your hostage and the terrorists, but as soon as you got your guy, you send in some helicopter gunships to wipe out the terrorists, their friends, their supporters, and everyone else who is there with them.
    Get them all.
    Rip a page from the long Taqiya playbook. So “release” them only for the purposes of taking them all out.

  • Marcel Cousineau 03/17/2009 at 15:50

    Netanyahu’s doubleminded moves proves that the political system is in severe degradation.
    It’s going to take a major calamity to sweep away Kadima,Labor and the other parties of appeasment and failure.
    The right wing have been swindled one too many times by leftists who masquerade as one of them and once in power they outdo the leftists as Sharon and Bush did.
    Incompetence,corruption and bertayal seem to be the only things that Israel’s political parties do well.
    That Olmert remained in power so long after his many corruption investigations,his failures and disgrace says that Israel’s political system is akin to a garbage dump.
    The only good to be accomplished is to burn it and bury it.
    Everyone knows that the decisions are not made in Jerusalem but in Brussel’s or Washington or elsewhere and so the latest Israeli sock puppet P.M. will be like the last one.
    When it comes to negotiations Israel has become too predictable.
    Hamas has learned to play Israel like a fiddle.
    They demand the whole pie knowing Israel will capitulate with more than half of it eventually.
    The dysfunctional Israeli government has an impressive record of not standing firm on anything ,not even Jerusalem.
    If only Israel would learn from Hamas and Hizbollah’s uncompromising and unyeilding ways.
    There are some things Israel cannot compromise if it is to remain in the land of the living and Livni and her Kadima stand for everything bad and wrong for Israel.
    It is better to trust in the LORD
    Than to put confidence in man.
    It is better to trust in the LORD
    Than to put confidence in princes.
    Psalm 118

  • Phil S 03/17/2009 at 16:51

    While I disagree with Caroline’s general criticism of the National Union for actually standing on principle, I do agree that they blew it with Shamir. Shamir did go to Madrid but gave nothing away there. The Oslo people were much worse. However, when you get a supposedly right winger like Sharon doing worse with Gush Katif it is refreshing to see a party actually stand on principle. It would have been nice if NEthanyahu had walked out of Sharon’s government when there was still time to stop Gush Katif.

  • Ken Besig 03/17/2009 at 18:10

    Well said, Ms. Glick, unreasonable people often do unreasonable things, and the smaller the Israeli political parties the more unreasonable they are, indeed the are often the most unreasonable of all. But in this case there is another very important factor and that is an almost narcotic sense of power. These small factions are led by people who in many cases have real power for the first time in their lives, the power to speak what they consider truth to power, and the narcotic effects of that power distorts their reality. You know what I mean too since you have yourself tried to deal openly and rationally with people like this. I once watched you try to reason with a pro Palestinian and anti Israel Jew named Gershon Baskin on ITV and it was obvious that no matter what logic you used, no matter what facts you presented, no matter how absurd his faith in the Palestinian narrative, his belief was going to prevail at all costs. Well out here on the national religious Right, we have our own set of Messianic clowns who really would cut off their nose to spite their face and smile all the while.

  • Aaron M. 03/18/2009 at 2:11

    I’m with Dan…War is deciet. Kill them.

  • Jeffrey D. Benton (USA) 03/18/2009 at 5:10

    While your comments regarding Yaakov Katz (National Union) and Binyamin Netanyahu are quite noteworthy, the emphasis of your blame is completely upside down.
    As prime minister-designate, it is Netanyahu who will be primarily responsible for what kind of government is formed. His failure to stand firm on right wing principles and his eagerness to cave in towards the left is far more egregious than the National Union’s unwillingness to compromise.

  • Pops in Vienna 03/18/2009 at 16:17

    Another great article Capt. Glick.
    I think the Jews will destroy themselves before the Palestinians or the Iranians ever get around to it.
    I wonder what the founders of Israel would think of the country now? Measure me for a tin foil hat but deep inside I always felt that G-d would preserve present day Israel in order to fulfill scripture. Now I’m under the impression that Israel will be brought down again and its people sold into captivity. We may have to wait for another 500 years for Israel to be restored again.
    I think the present population is too corrupt, too naive and too deluded to survive even with G-d’s help.

  • David Scott 03/20/2009 at 1:38

    I have to agree with Jeffery regarding Netanyahu.
    Freud defined the goal of psychoanalysis as returning people from neurosis to “the ordinary human misery”. That was my own, pathetic, expectation when I voted for Netanyahu.
    I had no illusions that he would spearhead a renaissance of clear-headed strategic thinking, I simply thought he might return Israel from the political neurosis of the Kadima years to our baseline political misery.
    I guess even that was expecting too much.


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