Martin Sherman thoroughly castigates
our prime minister for either failing to implement the policy [he]
believes in or implementing a policy he does not believe in. In
Sherman’s world, once a political position has been taken, you are stuck
with it. Alter your posture, adapt to changing circumstances and you
have betrayed your principles.Basic principles are one thing, political
tactics quite another.
– Neville Teller, letter to The Jerusalem Post, August 5
Sherman and Caroline B. Glick are well-informed and knowledgeable
political pundits...This is why it is so hard for me to understand how
both of them fail to understand that our prime minister is trying to
deal with an almost impossible diplomatic situation... [B]oth fail to
fully understand that entirely apart from international pressure, Israel
deeply wants and needs peace and security for itself and its
Palestinian neighbors. This is why our government is willing to make
disproportional concessions in the hope of moderating Palestinian
rejectionism, even though the Palestinians have not yet disabused
themselves of their vile dreams of our destruction.
– Kenneth Besig, letter to The Jerusalem Post, August 6
column I wrote last week calling on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
to “Resign, just resign,” unsurprisingly provoked a flood of responses
Judging from the almost 1,400 “likes” registered on
the Jerusalem Post site – and the tenor of the vast majority of emails
and posts on my Facebook page – what I wrote seems to have resonated
well with a large segment of readers.
as the two rather irate letters to the editor indicate, there were some
who took umbrage at the positions expressed in the column – and
apparently at the manner in which they were expressed.
As will be
recalled, my censure of Netanyahu related to his decision to make
far-reaching concessions – both explicit (i.e. the release of over 100
terrorist murderers) and implicit (i.e. tacit acceptance of pre-1967
lines as a basis for discussion of the frontiers of a future Palestinian
state and imposition of a partial de facto building freeze in Judea-
Typically, complaints as to my condemnation of this
decision focused on the following elements:
- My alleged unawareness of
insensitivity to the tremendous pressure brought to bear on the PM by
the international community in general, and by the Obama administration
- My alleged lack of information/knowledge to make a fair
judgment of Netanyahu’s decision and as to what the factors were that
- My alleged disregard of the fact that Israel cannot be seen
as the intransigent party, obstructing negotiations.
did touch on most of these contentions last week, rebuffing them as
unpersuasive attempts to rationalize Netanyahu’s decision, the fact that
a number of readers still cling to them, seems to indicate that – even
at the risk of repetition – they need to be refuted with greater vigor
and in greater detail.
A strong sense of déjà vu
over four years ago, in the immediate wake of Netanyahu’s infamous
Bar-Ilan speech, in which he capitulated to US pressure, and accepted –
albeit with evident reluctance and unrealistic reservations – the
establishment of a Palestinian state, reneging on a long-standing pledge
not to do so, I wrote in an op-ed piece, “The PM at Bar-Ilan: A damage
assessment (June 16, 2009)”: “In his speech at Bar-Ilan University,
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu acquiesced to precisely what he was
elected to repudiate. US pressure is no excuse for this. Leaders are
elected to resist pressure, not to submit to it; to sidestep it, not
succumb to it; to divert it, not to yield to it... A myriad of allegedly
‘pragmatic’ arguments can be raised to justify the tone and the
substance of his admirably crafted speech. But none of these carries any
durable strategic substance. They reflect a clear preference for the
fleeting benefits of short-term cunning rather than the enduring fruits
of long-term wisdom. Some might protest at this unbenevolent assessment,
claiming that in fact it was a brilliant political maneuver, placing
the onus on the Palestinians, exposing their ‘true face.’” Today, almost
half a decade later, there is a strong sense of déjà vu. Precisely the
same far-fetched arguments are being invoked for making far-reaching
concessions, producing the same counter-productive consequences.
this year, in “Senseless & spineless: Speaking truth to power
(March 28),” following Netanyahu’s ill-advised apology to Turkey, which –
predictably – produced nothing but further humiliation, I reiterated
this, almost verbatim: "After all, leaders are elected to resist
pressure, not to submit to it; to sidestep it, not to succumb to it; to
divert it, not to yield to it. With Israel’s favorable ratings at almost
unprecedented highs in the US, one would have thought that transforming
this popular support into commensurate political clout would not be an
Catalogue of capitulation
his many talents and the numerous achievements of his government –
which I have been at pains to enumerate in previous columns –
Netanyahu’s incumbency can be characterized as a catalogue of futile
capitulation on issues on which he pledged to hold firm.
continual flaccidity not only produced no durable benefits for Israel
but created expectations for further concessions whenever dispute arose:
The evacuation of Hebron; the Wye River agreement; the acceptance of
Palestinian statehood at Bar-Ilan; the imposition of a construction
freeze in Judea- Samaria; the Schalit exchange; the abject apology to
Turkey, the gains granted Hamas following the premature cessation of
Operation Pillar of Defense.
While it is possible to find
rationalizations for each of these surrenders, as a whole they comprise a
dismal pattern of behavior, conveying an unequivocal message to
Israel’s adversaries that resolute rejectionism pays.
They send an unmistakable signal that if they hold out long enough, Israel will “compromise” (read “concede”).
in complete contradiction to Post reader Kenneth Besig’s above
contention, rather than these “disproportional concessions... moderating
Palestinian rejectionism,” they merely serve to entrench intransigence.
seemingly unlimited willingness for “flexibility” has done little to
satiate the Arab (and US) appetite for concessions. It has merely whet
it, with expectations for more.
When will the penny drop?
light of how pliant Israel has proved itself over the past two decades,
any claim that it cannot afford to hold firm on issues that impact its
security, lest it be accused of “obstructing” peace efforts, is patently
Such claims are grossly offensive when made by others and shamefully self-denigrating when made by ourselves.
After all, in its unbecoming quest to avoid being seen as “obstructive” Israel has (among other things):
• Withdrawn from all major populations centers in Judea-Samaria;
• Allowed armed militias to deploy adjacent to its capital, within mortar range of its parliament;
• Unilaterally evacuated the Gaza Strip, erasing every vestige of Jewish presence;
• Unearthed and removed its dead from graveyards;
• Demolished settlements in northern Samaria; and
• Stoically endured – with unreasonable restraint – years of indiscriminate shelling of its civilians.
all of these – and other – “goodwill gestures,” the Palestinians have
responded with vitriolic Judeophobic incitement and vicious Judeocidal
terror, from within areas transferred to their control.
despite manifest Israeli munificence and Palestinian malevolence, we are
told that Israel must prove it is “serious” about wanting peace.
Really? One can only hope that sometime soon the penny will drop and
realization dawn that concessions are counterproductive.
Puzzling leftward lurch
reader Neville Teller attempted to account for Netanyahu’s behavior by
suggesting it was precipitated by a need to “adapt to changing
circumstances.” He jeers: “In Sherman’s world, once a political position
has been taken, you are stuck with it. Alter your posture, adapt to
changing circumstances and you have betrayed your principles.”
Neville, actually, that’s why they’re called “principles,” because one
is supposed to stick to them, despite changing circumstances.
But in Netanyahu’s case, two points need to be underscored.
it is one thing to change position to preserve principles, but it quite
another to totally reverse them and embrace all that you previously
negated, and negate all that you previously embraced. That is not
tactical maneuvering, but strategic surrender; not “adapting to
circumstances,” but abandoning principles.
Secondly, all the
“changes in the circumstances” that have occurred, serve to validate
Netanyahu’s previous position and vindicate his criticism of the
positions he now apparently aspires to adopt. The tectonic
socio-political shifts across the Arab world and the increasingly
evident Judeophobic rejectionism among the Palestinians, make the notion
of Palestinian statehood even more incompatible with Israeli security
than in the days when Netanyahu was among its most vocal and persuasive
Barely a week ago, the Post’s Yaakov Lappin reported
that the IDF was bolstering its forces on the northern and southern
frontiers to meet emerging threats from Syria and Sinai.
light of these developments, one is compelled to ask: Is this really the
most opportune moment to be complicit in the establishment of a
mega-Gaza in Judea- Samaria, along Israel’s most sensitive and
vulnerable eastern frontier?
Given the changing circumstances,
one might be excused for thinking that Netanyahu would be defending his
past positions even more stoutly, rather than forsaking them – which
makes his recent lurch leftward all the more difficult to comprehend and
impossible to accept.
Netanyahu’s real debacle
is quite plausible that Netanyahu was subject to enormous pressure from
the Obama administration. But what is far more significant than any
criticism of his performance in the unenviable situation in which he
found himself, is the question of why such a situation arose at all.
all, Netanyahu has been in power now for half a decade, during which
nothing, absolutely nothing has been done to ensure that Israel not be
placed under the kind of pressure it is subject to today. That is
Netanyahu’s real debacle – the failure, not only to adopt and conduct
any diplomatic strategy, but to think in terms of strategic diplomacy.
It is this that has left Israel virtually defenseless and exposed to
pressures from hostile administrations.
The pitiful amounts spent
on presenting Israel’s case to the world, explaining its security
imperatives and strategic constraints, conveying the brutal nature of
the adversaries it faces, invites the massive pressures from foreign
A country that spends millions on systems to intercept
10 kg. of explosives, but virtually nothing on diplomatic
strategy/strategic diplomacy, should not be surprised that its
adversaries attack it where it is weakest.
If not Bibi, who?
Netanyahu is right today, he has shown fatally flawed judgment in the
past by impeding a policy he now feels should be advanced.
If he is wrong today, he is showing fatally flawed judgment by advancing a policy which he correctly opposed in the past.
Either way, his continued incumbency is inappropriate and must be terminated.
would replace him, several readers asked. Yair Lapid? Shelly
Yacimovich? Tzipi Livi? History has of course proved that no one is
really irreplaceable. But even beyond that facile observation, the
question is why keep Netanyahu in power if he is enabling the very
“Livni-compliant” policy he was supposed to prevent? Indeed, it may well
be preferable to have a “left-wing” incumbent implement “left-wing
policies. Then, at least, it would be possible to mount credible
resistance to it – and lay down a rationale for its subsequent
curtailment or reversal.
Can Netanyahu be compelled to resign?
That depends greatly on whether he can maintain support within the Likud
and whether his ideological rivals within his party such as Danny
Danon, Ze’ev Elkin, Tzipi Hotovely, Gilad Erdan, Israel Katz and Moshe
Feiglin rebel or not.
It depends on whether coalition partners
such as Avigdor Liberman, Yair Shamir, Uzi Landau and Naftali Bennett
will collectively abandon him. For even if he could then cobble together
an alternative coalition, he would hardly have the moral authority to
prevail for long.
The question then is: Will principle prevail
over the penchant for position, prestige and power? Or whether – as in
the past – it won’t?
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategic-israel.org)