We can safely conclude that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not happily
agree to release 104 savage Palestinian murderers as the prize for Palestinian
agreement to once again sit at the negotiating table. In so doing, he damaged
not just his political standing, but whatever remains of his moral authority and
reputation for strategic thinking.
Not too many readers outside Israel
will be exposed to a full catalogue of the deeds perpetrated by those to be
released. But Israelis were, and they were revolted.
Over the years,
Netanyahu has often adopted the role of Winston Churchill hectoring the nations
of the world about the futility of attempting to appease terrorists or of giving
in to their demands. He has now lost whatever standing he might have once
possessed to do so.
No concessions were sought or offered by the
Palestinians as a price for entering negotiations. Only Israel is expected to
cough up pre-negotiation concessions, as it did during US President Barack
Obama’s first term by twice agreeing to settlement construction freezes in order
to jumpstart negotiations.
The result of this imbalance is to turn Israel
into the desperate party, which cannot possibly contemplate a continuation of
the status quo and must therefore seek some form of peace at all costs. And it
reinforces the Palestinian belief that no matter how bad the present seems, time
is on their side.
Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Israel is
today a world leading incubator of new technologies and ideas, and by far the
dominant military power in the region. It is poised to become a major energy
Meanwhile, the Palestinians are going nowhere.
not the largest recipient of alms from the international community in history,
they could barely survive a day or two. None of the institutions of a viable
government have developed under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,
who is now in the ninth year of his four-year presidential term.
Netanyahu knows full well that nothing will come from the present negotiations –
certainly nothing good for Israel. Without Israeli troops on the high ground
overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport and the densely populated coastal plain, the
country is indefensible.
The same is true for the Jordan Rift Valley and
the mountain range overlooking it, without which Israel’s eastern border would
be an open invitation to potential attack. Yet no present Palestinian leader
could even contemplate agreeing to such an Israeli permanent presence. Abbas
just recently set forth his demand that all territory beyond the 1948 armistice
lines be Judenrein.
The first baby steps towards peace have yet to be
taken by the Palestinian leadership, in terms of educating the Palestinian
people about the benefits of peace or the costs of its attainment. Without an
end to the constant incitement against Jews and Israel, the soil for peace
On the eve of renewed talks in Washington, the PA’s
religious affairs minister likened any agreements signed by the PA to the Treaty
of Hudaybiyyah. The reference to the Prophet Muhammad’s unilateral abrogation of
a 10-year truce with the Quraish tribe of Mecca and his subsequent conquest of
Mecca two years after signing the truce would have been instantly understood by
all Arabic-speaking listeners.
Remarkably, that sermon was delivered in
the presence of Abbas. In short, even if the PA enters into a peace accord with
Israel, it has no intention of permanently ending hostilities.
time-worn approach of coddling the Palestinians as the weaker party, who must be
showered with gifts and concessions just for participating in negotiations – an
approach to which Netanyahu has now made himself fully complicit – is
counterindicated if the achievement of a permanent peace is the goal. Harold
Rhode, a former US Defense Department analyst and fellow at the Gatestone
Institute, points out that the concept of win-win negotiations is largely absent
in shame-based Arab society. Concessions are always viewed as a loss of face,
and only made when forced upon a party by military defeat or overwhelming
President Shimon Peres’s grandiose vision of a new Middle
East, of Jew and Muslim working hand-inhand towards economic prosperity, was
greeted with incomprehension or bemusement in the Arab world.
ONE SURMISES that Netanyahu must have either
been subjected to unbearable pressure, or else that it does not take much to
make him capitulate. Neither conclusion is good for Israel.
Netanyahu has made clear that Iran is just about the only thing on his mind, one
further assumes that the pressure must have had to do with Iran. But it is hard
to understand what it could have been. Obama will order an American attack on
Iranian nuclear installations or countenance an Israeli attack if and only if he
views such an attack as a strategic necessity for the US, or to revive his
flailing presidency. He will not do so to protect Israel – nor refrain to punish
The public demonstration of Israel’s vulnerability to American
pressure ill-served Israel’s interests. But it did little to bolster America’s
plummeting prestige in the Middle East and worldwide. Though many Arab countries
may derive some visceral pleasure from watching the screws turned on Israel, in
the long run, the American action will do more to reinforce the Arab perception
of the US, under Obama, as a country that is pusillanimous towards its enemies
and treacherous towards its allies.
Israel appears to be the only country
on earth towards with which the US is prepared to play hardball and exercise its
still considerable leverage. Only Israel’s prime minister is subjected to
45-minute harangues from the US secretary of state or left to cool his heels in
the White House servants’ quarters, while the president sups
Repeated and deliberate American leaks about Israel’s covert
activities in Iran and Syria needlessly endanger Israel and compromise those
Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot resist tweaking Uncle
Sam’s nose and sticking a thumb in his eye at every opportunity – most recently
by granting asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden and gaining the hard disks
containing a mass of National Security Agency data in the process. He shows no
fear of reprisals.
The US never considered using the leverage of its
billions of dollars in aid to starving Egypt to convince ousted president
Mohamed Morsi to cool his rush to full Islamization. On the eve of the military
takeover, American Ambassador Anne Patterson was busy ordering the Christian
Copts, who had a long list of legitimate grievances with the Muslim Brotherhood
government, not to participate in anti-Morsi demonstrations.
Obama has avoided doing anything to damage his special friendship with Turkish
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan by suggesting, for instance, that he keep
promises to Israel – which were the quid pro quo for Israel’s apology for the
Mavi Marmara boarding.
The Mideast is in flames, and the US has become a
helpless bystander, with no influence over events in Egypt or Syria. Early in
his presidency, Obama embarked on a policy of cultivating the Brotherhood,
hoping, in Prof. Walter Russell Mead’s words, to detoxify US relations in the
Middle East and promote Islamist moderation.
That policy lies in shambles
today, in the wake of the Morsi disaster in Egypt and Erdogan’s surging
authoritarianism in Turkey – for it fundamentally failed to credit the religious
worldview of the Brotherhood.
Nor does the administration appear to have
a fallback position. In sum, according to Mead, “it would be difficult to design
a line of policy more calculated to undermine American prestige and influence
than the one we chose.”
Well, not quite. You could have your secretary of
state make six trips to Israel over four months to restart the “peace process,”
while Syria President Bashar Assad, with Iranian, Hezbollah and Russian support,
predicts victory in Syria; Iraq allows Iran to send weapons to Syria via Iraqi
channels; and jailbreaks in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan, and terror threats against
American embassies in the Middle East forcing their closure, show al-Qaida to be
very much alive and kicking. As Adam Garfinkle writes in The American Interest,
“If [US Secretary of State John] Kerry (and by indirection the president)
fiddles with Palestine while the rest of the region burns to the ground, the
United States will forfeit what’s left of the benefit of the doubt as to whether
we know what the hell we’re doing.”
The shuttle diplomacy reflects either
Kerry’s vain desire to bask in the limelight shone on more distinguished
predecessors, or the Obama administration’s reluctance to entrust him with any
serious task. Either way, it does nothing to restore the luster of American
prestige in the region. Whatever plausibility – actually, near zero – there
might once have been to the claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict holds
the key to all Middle East tensions, has been refuted by Arab Spring and the
reigniting of the 1,000-year-old Sunni-Shi’ite divisions. Even those Arab
governments that were once only too happy to foist this myth on State Department
Arabists now sing a different tune. Iran, Iran, Iran is their hue and
But apparently Kerry’s fine head of hair (he once offered “we have
better hair” as a selling point for the 2004 Kerry-John Edwards ticket) has
covered his ears and affected his hearing.
■ The writer is director of Jewish
Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine
since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.