Netanyahu”s perilous statecraft

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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.


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  • Ralph Haglund 08/21/2009 at 17:59

    I believed in Netanyahu until he brutally ousted Feiglin – but what is he so deadly afraid of now? Why are the non-leftist Jews of Israel so much less important than the rest of the world? Reminds me too much of Olmert and his gang.
    I certainly hope that Feiglin/Ya’alon can cultivate something together that is good for the Israeli Jews!

  • Marc Handelsman, USA 08/21/2009 at 19:05

    Prime Minister Netanyahu has two options, and they are to prevent an unwise Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, and to permit the IAF to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations to ensure regional stability. In spite of the frustration of a meddling liberal US Administration, and PM Netanyahu’s mixed messages, there is some good news. President Obama may be a “one-term” wonder, as he is losing support, and former Governor Huckabee could possibly be the President’s Republican opponent in 2012. And eventually Mr. Netanyahu will recalibrate his message and foreign policy.

  • Marcel 08/21/2009 at 19:40

    ‘This week we discovered that we have been deceived’
    Deceived again,well what’s new ?
    Personally I think your covering up for the dastatdly menace,part deux became untenable as it was severly damaging your credibility and so at this very late stage you decided to almost jump Bibi’s bozo ship of cons.
    When the watchmen are this late to awaken the immediate future does not bode well for Israel.
    Here are some more dastardly,dark,hidden back room deals from the sly snake who has charmed so many twice.
    ‘The two parties also agreed that the US-Israel understanding on the settlements and their limited expansion will not be published or brought before the government in Jerusalem for endorsement.
    Defense minister Ehud Barak will be the only minister with full knowledge of its contents and in Washington, only Vice President Joe Biden, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Mitchell – seven individuals in all in both capitals’
    Some of us have been trying to tell you for some time that your Livni in a suit and tie was nothing but a devious,tried and tested lacky for the new world order elites going back to his first treacherous ruin over Israel.
    How he loves to always spit in the face of the right as he did with Moshe Yallon this week
    Your smug manchurian is much more dangerous to Israel his second time around.
    Would you have waited this long to confront a treasonous leftist Prime Minister ? This is where your Shamir/ fear argument is flawed.
    It’s just not right that one devious rat after another can overthrow the vote and will of the people again and again with brazen arrogance and impunity.
    It is wrong that you and so many others give him carta blanche .
    We keep having these right wing phonies doing more damage than the left has done.
    Isn’t it time that these smug con men face accountability from the voters and get their much deserved comeuppance ?
    How many times can Israel afford to get burned by weak cowards who easily bend to foreign interests before there is nothing left to burn ?
    This second run of Netanyahu is more catastrophic for Israel than his first time as Prime Minister of Israel and he has repaid your trust with spit in your face.
    Netanyahu is leading Israel into another holocaust and he is encouraged by the ease in which the Likudnuts allow him to do this.

  • Philip Safran 08/21/2009 at 19:47

    Caroline, you are 99% of the way there but cannot take that final step. Nethanyahu is probably doing more damage to Israel than Olmert did. The phony right wingers usually do. Jews can support Yaalon, support Feiglin, support the National Union. If this brings down the government so be it. If the only choice is a catastrophic Bibi or an awful but ineffective Olmert/Livni then the difference is not worth fighting over. The phony right accepted Sharon’s destruction of Gush Katif and started this policy of asking the US for permission for Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael. Bibi is showing he is not the answer. Let’s keep looking.

  • scott 08/22/2009 at 1:03

    Like I know but could it not be that Bibi is playing the chess game a few moves down the board from y’all? Perhaps I’ve been seduced by his very good appearances from time to time here in the US but my take is the man cannot be bought and he loves his country.
    Unlike the slimeballs and egoists you’ve put in office prior.
    Not that bibi does not have an ego. I’m sure he would not mind going down as the greatest prime minister outside of Golda and Ben Gurion. Or even along side of them.
    But I believe he will not sell you out no matter what. Play the game with the idiot that is presently POTUS, yes. But only for so long. I mean one can entertain a fool for only so long.

  • Ron Grandinetti 08/22/2009 at 11:38

    Caroline, there was a movie called “All the right moves”. The course taken so far could qualify for a movie called “All the wrong moves”.
    If anyone, just maybe you can convince PM Netanyahu to come to a complete stop and go back to square one.
    First and foremost let’s keep in mind Israel is a (I know I keep repeating myself) sovereign nation and her existence is through the efforts and determination of her people, not by any outside power.
    Netanyahu and his government have to determine what is best for Israel and her people.
    I would say vacating land rightfully belonging to the Jews should be out of the question likewise the Palestinians do not need to establish a state within Israel as there is plenty of land in the Arab world to support one.
    If the Saudis want to be helpful, they can undertake such a task.
    Gov. Huckabee is correct and I have said for sometime, a majority of Americans support Israel in her quest for peace. The liberal left media in this country is not giving Israel enough ink.
    Again I suggest Israel put together a massive PR plan for the U.S. to get her message out. Forget about Barak Hussein Obama, he is a Muslim and anti-Semitic. Cross him and his staff off. No deals, please.
    Let’s face it, the Palestinians and their counterparts only want to destroy Israel and by taking over part of the landscape would only put them in a better position to commit terrorism against her.
    Send all the foreigners diplomats home and advise them Israel will not be a party to any other government plan not in the best interest of the Israelis.
    And, especially take note Israel will not take her nuclear options off the table and will not relinquish her rights to use it to protect her people.

  • Jonathan 08/23/2009 at 9:50

    Hi Caroline
    As usual it is a great article and we are trying to get Canadians to support Yaalon. It reminds me of the 40 years that the Israelites had to spend in the desert for not being self-confident etc enough. I hope that history doesn’t repeat itself here.

  • John B 08/23/2009 at 9:59

    As you say, for Netanyahu to accept the peace plan being forced on him by the US, Europe and the Arab states will very simply cause Israel’s national suicide. It would be the end of Israel as a Jewish state and also as the modern, western state that is now is. Will the people of Israel see this and stop it, or will they go along with their own termination?
    There is another angle to Netanyahu’s defacto freeze on building in the areas of Israel that some are demanding that it must give up. (Okay, for clarity – settlements – but it is a misnomer. A label given them by the enemies of Israel.)
    The fact that this freeze is not being widely promoted in a competent manner on a global basis is another example of the Israeli Government’s information department’s apparent lack of ability to get information, that would show Israel in a good light to the generally hostile media, including Israel’s own, out to the world. I would think all they need to do is get some adequate contact with Reuters, Agence France Presse and the like, and push for some honesty in reporting. It can be done. The enemies of truth have to pretend at least to be even handed which is a weakness of theirs one can exploit.
    This is an incompetence that Israel cannot afford and if it were deliberate could be considered treason.
    This still leaves the underlying question of what on earth do the people bent on Israel’s destruction have to gain from this? No one gains. One can understand the intellectual dishonesty of the surrounding nations, but the western countries that are promoting these policies that will inevitably destroy Israel, have nothing to gain and everything to lose.
    I can hear people saying it’s all about the oil. But I doubt that is really the basic reason because those who organise and run the exchange of goods and services on a global scale can fix things when they want to. Further, they are I am sure highly intelligent people who can see that handing the world over to global serfdom is against everyone’s interests.

  • twsurber 08/24/2009 at 12:37

    Caroline, Thank you for your strong stance on Israel. I both admire and respect you. Please know and share with the Jewish people that Obama’s anti-semitic policies do NOT reflect the feelings of all Americans. I will forever love the Jewish Nation of Israel.

  • BigB 08/25/2009 at 4:30

    Dear Caroline
    You seem to neglect the fact that Netanyahu is not only the head of Likkud at the head of a precariously-balanced coalition, but the prime minister of all Israel. Israel, is made up of two populations: Center and periphery, the center being where the lion’s share of political and economic clout resides, while the periphery is mired in relative poverty, disenfranchisement impotence and proximity to the Arab occupation of the Land. Every prime minister must balance between the periphery’s desire to improve and the center’s desire to relinquish the periphery to the Arabs in exchange for retaining its primacy. Peace Now, Land for Peace, Peace talks, all are manifestations of the ability of the center to impose its agenda on the periphery. Netayahu has only one choice other than pander to the center. To make the center feel the pain of the periphery. His predecessor, Sharon, tried, but was unable to maintain the stance, of letting the center suffer. Netanyahu may be made up of sterner material, and allow the terror creations of America full reign, death and destruction of the coastal region, till they ask for irrevocable relief. That is the meaning of the encouragement for a more militant PA, for Dayton’s death-squads, for dismantlement of road-blocks, for slinking away from key demands. Unity under duress, severe, awful, bloody insufferable duress inflicted mostly on the Center.

  • Ron Kilmartin 08/26/2009 at 2:31

    From above:
    “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.”
    Please change “US” to “Obama” in that sentence. By far most Americans stand with Israel, not Obama. He is a usurper. Israel must not capitulate to the Obama gang. A bunch of them will be gone in 2010 and the rest, including Obama, will be gone in 2012 (if not sooner).
    Spengler’s article “Palestine problem hopeless, but not serious”, Asian Times On Line, August 18, views their debacle as permanent. They are better off on the foreign dole than any of the Arab states – except the oil producers. You are right of course, the problem is Iran.


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