New Government, New Threats

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The day after Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett formed their government, Biden administration officials threw a diplomatic hand grenade at them. Monday administration officials told reporters “unofficially” that President Joe Biden intends to appoint Hady Amr, his Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and the Palestinians to serve as U.S. Consul General to the Palestinians — in Jerusalem.

To deploy Amr to Israel’s capital as consul, the administration will first need to open a consulate in Jerusalem. In accordance with the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1996, the Trump administration closed the consulate and turned the building into the Ambassador’s Residence following the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in 2019. And under the Vienna Convention, the U.S. must ask Israel to permit the opening of the consulate and accredit the head of mission.

The administration’s decision to deploy Amr to Jerusalem as ambassador-in-everything-but-name to a hostile, non-Israeli entity is a double assault on Israel. First, the sends the clear message that the Biden administration supports the division of Israel’s capital. Second, by sending Amr specifically to Jerusalem, the administration is making clear that it intends to legitimize and work with Hamas.

Before joining the administration, Amr was a fellow at the Qatar-funded Brookings Institution. He was the founding director of the Brookings Institution in Doha. And from Brookings, Amr wrote and spoke in favor of legitimizing the Iranian-sponsored Muslim Brotherhood terror group. Amr advocated that the U.S. work to integrate Hamas into the PLO.

The administration’s now all but declared positions on Jerusalem and Hamas in turn strengthen Iran’s position inside Palestinian society. They also legitimize the until now unthinkable scenario in which the U.S. supports a Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria. The administration’s deep-seated animosity towards Israeli sovereignty over unified Jerusalem, makes clear as well just how hostile its positions are in relation to Israel’s strategic requirements and national rights to Judea and Samaria.

Although Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah and PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas initiated the latest round of war last month, he did not benefit politically or militarily from the onslaught against Israel. Hamas did.

An opinion poll published Tuesday by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 77 percent of Palestinians believe Hamas won the latest round of war. If elections were held today, Mahmoud Abbas would be wiped out. Abbas would receive a mere 27 percent of the vote while Hamas terror chief Ismail Haniyeh would win the leadership with 59 percent of the vote. The only Fatah leader more popular that Haniyeh is convicted mass murderer Marwan Barghouti, the architect of the 2000-2004 Palestinian terror war. Barghouti is in prison where he serves multiple consecutive life sentences for his direct command of murderous Fatah terror cells.

It is true that the IDF wiped out much of Hamas’s military machine in last month’s mini-war. But even in relation to Israel, Hamas emerged stronger from the last round of fighting than it was before it began its offensive. Israeli Arab imams aligned with Hamas through the Israeli Islamic movement incited pogroms against Israeli Jews throughout the country. Their actions demonstrated Hamas’s long arm of influence inside Israel’s Arab community.

Events surrounding this week’s flag march in Jerusalem made clear Hamas’s strengthened position. Hamas threated to reinstate its assaults on Israel if the government allowed Israeli citizens to parade through the capital carrying Israeli flags. Rather than ignore the warnings, the security establishment, the media and political leaders treated them like strategic threats. For days, Hamas’s threats dominated the discourse at all levels of the ruling class. The obsessive concern over the threats showed that despite the operational damage Israel’s caused Hamas’s military infrastructure, Hamas today is deterring Israel at least publicly far more than Israel is deterring Hamas.

All of this brings us to the new government. Although Naftali Bennett is Prime Minister, the real power in the government is Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid. Lapid controls 75 percent of the coalition to Bennett’s 20 percent. The last five percent of the 61-seat coalition is controlled by Mansour Abbas, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Islamist Ra’am Party.

In the ceremony at the Foreign Ministry marking Lapid’s entry into office, Israel’s effective leader laid out his priorities. His top three goals are to rebuild Israel’s ties with the Democrat Party; with the progressive U.S. Jewish establishment; and with the European Union.

In regards to Iran, ignoring Republican opposition, Lapid said the U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear agreement as a done deal. Lapid said that Israel’s job is to prepare for the inevitable. The 2015 agreement provides Iran with an open path to a nuclear arsenal and enriches it through sanctions relief while placing certain restrictions on its nuclear activities for a limited period of time.

As for the Palestinians, despite the fact that the Palestinians have refused to negotiate with Israel for the past 13 years, and in the meantime, Israel made peace with four Arab states and formed an operational alliance with the Sunni Gulf states and Egypt against Iran, Lapid described the Palestinians and their conflict with Israel as the central axis around which all other regional issues rotate. What happens between the Palestinians and Israel, he said, will “define, to a large extent, all the other arenas.”

Lapid’s priorities dictate his policies. The tensions in Israel’s relations with the Democrats, the progressive American Jewish establishment and the EU were never about personalities. They are and always have been about positions. Relations with all three became acrimonious because the Democrats, progressive Jews and the EU embrace policies – the nuclear deal and Palestinian statehood — that most Israelis consider dangerous to the state’s survival. The only way for Lapid to mend Israel’s relations with these groups is to adopt their dangerous policy preferences.

Although Israel has the power to reject a U.S. request to open a consulate to the Palestinians in Jerusalem, and certainly has the power to reject pro-Hamas Amr as consul, Lapid’s desire to appease the Democrats will prevent him from doing either.

As for Iran, while Lapid told the Foreign Ministry officials who attended his inaugural speech, “Israel will prevent in every way necessary the possibility that Iran will attain nuclear weapons,” this commitment cannot be aligned with Lapid’s top three priorities.

Haaretz reporter Jonathan Lis wrote this week that in all likelihood, to advance the goals he set for himself, Lapid will seek to implement the diplomatic vision he laid out in a 2018 speech. In that speech, Lapid resonated his claim this week that the Palestinians are the axis around which all other regional issues rotate. In keeping with this view, he called for Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians to receive U.S. support on Iran.

In his words, “I believe that a breakthrough on the Iranian issue depends on the Palestinian issue. We need to work to advance a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians, only as part of a regional discussion.”

He went on, “Can we separate the Iranian problem from the Palestinian problem? Without progress vis a vis the Palestinians, can we enlist the [support of] the Saudi public, the U.S. Congress, American Jewry, the European Union and the money from the Gulf states? Netanyahu says we can. I tell you we can’t. Most security officials say we can’t.”

Lapid’s speech didn’t age well. In the months that followed he pronouncement, then President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem and moved the embassy to Israel’s capital. Trump left the nuclear deal and implemented his maximum pressure campaign against the ayatollahs. The Gulf States formalized their operational alliance with Israel through the Abraham Accords. The U.S. recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, acknowledged the legality of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and accepted Israeli sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria in the Trump peace plan.

In his speech this week, Lapid made clear that none of these events made the slightest impression on him. The path he intends to embark upon is based on ignoring the significance of everything that has been achieved.

This brings us to the opposition, which while controlling only 53 seats in the Knesset, represents the wishes of the majority of voters who elected 65 right-wing politicians to represent them.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu needs and his colleagues must base their platform for bringing down the Lapid government on a recognition of reality. Hamas’s clear influence over Israeli Arabs brings home the fact that a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem would foment Israel’s destruction. If the Hamas-state in Gaza can foment anti-Semitic pogroms throughout Israel, a Hamas state in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem along with Gaza will represent a threat to the country that no government will be able to successfully mount.

The opposition’s platform must begin then, with a full rejection of Palestinian statehood. Instead, Netanyahu and his colleagues should adopt Bennett’s 2013 plan to apply Israeli law throughout all of Area C of Judea and Samaria.

Flowing from that, and from the Biden administration’s effective embrace of Hamas through Amr, the opposition must oppose completely the establishment of a U.S. consulate anywhere within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. It must oppose all freezes in recognition of Jewish property rights in unified Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria.

Netanyahu’s meeting this week with former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Christians United with Israel leader Pastor John Hagee was widely attacked by the anti-Netanyahu media. But it was a critical move. In his speech, Lapid effectively threw both Republicans and Evangelicals under the bus. It is the duty of the opposition to maintain and strengthen Israel’s ties to both group through frequent meetings and exchanges.

Lapid’s idea of linking U.S. policy towards Iran with the Palestinians flies in the face of a generation of strenuous efforts by successive Israeli governments to avoid linkage at all costs. Israel opposed linkage historically because it makes no sense. As the Abraham Accords and the Arab Spring before them made clear, regional affairs have nothing to do with the Palestinians and pretending they are linked is a recipe for strategic failure on all levels.

Today, given the Biden administration’s single-minded focus on realigning U.S. policy towards Iran and away from Israel and the Sunni Arab states, Lapid’s position is indefensible. There is no nuclear deal the administration will offer Iran that will protect Israel’s strategic interests even partially.

The new government both faces and invites new challenges and threats from Hamas, from Iran and from Washington. If he follows through on them, Lapid’s diplomatic policies will gurantee that his government will fail to meet them. Under the circumstances, the duty of the political opposition is to present a clear alternative approach and use the tools at its disposal to advance it.

Originally published in Israel Hayom.

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