True leadership is tested on the ability to uphold decisions, hard as they may be. We were not elected to lead the State of Israel in order to make easy decisions.
– Binyamin Netanyahu, December 30
Politics in Israel is indeed stranger than fiction. It certainly is more grotesque and macabre than most literary plots of deceit and betrayal.
The spectacle unfolding before our eyes over the past several weeks in Israel’s theater of the politically absurd defies belief. We see an elected government supported by a ruling parliamentary coalition composed almost entirely of incumbent legislators, who built their political careers on opposing precisely the policy that they now seem powerless to prevent, and, in some cases, are even complicit in promoting.
So once again, a situation is emerging in which we have an Israeli government, whether willingly or unwillingly, embracing – or at least facilitating – the very policy its electoral constituency expected it to prevent.
Prime Minister Netanyahu achieved political prominence largely because of his fierce, and well-argued, opposition to Yitzhak Rabin’s adoption of the Oslo Accords. Yet, inexplicably, after all his criticism has been vindicated, he has embraced a policy even more concessionary than that he excoriated Rabin for.
Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon has been a fierce critic of the two-state-idea, articulating positions totally at odds with the policy proposals being discussed under the current Kerry initiative, whose underlying rationale is that Israel’s frontiers should be based on the indefensible pre-1967 lines. True, Ya’alon has recently come out with strong statements opposing the essential rationale of the ongoing negotiations. However, he has been unable to halt the continued erosion of Israeli positions, much less change the focus of the negotiations to anything remotely resembling the ideas he expounded – correctly – as vital to Israel’s minimal security requirements.
Other Likud ministers, including Gideon Sa’ar, Gilad Erdan, Israel Katz and Yuval Steinitz, have, with varying degrees of passion, recently expressed opposition to Palestinian statehood.
And the list continues…
Similarly, Ministers Uzi Landau and Yair Shamir have always been vehemently opposed to concessions far less sweeping than those now being placed on the table for discussions in which the government to which they belong continues to participate.
Then there are the hard-line Bayit Yehudi ministers, Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel, whose party gained its impressive electoral achievement by rejecting any possibility of Israel permitting the kind of political outcomes being discussed by the government in which they serve – outcomes which would negate the raison d’etre of the platform on which they were elected and the political philosophy to which they subscribe.
Indeed, recently party-leader Bennett dismissed the notion of a Palestinian state, declaring, “Never in the annals of Israel have so many people expended so much energy on something so futile.” There is little doubt that this reflects the views of the other two Bayit Yehudi ministers and deputy ministers, as well as those of the other 12 representatives of the party in the Knesset In addition, there is a bevy of up-and-coming young Likud members who hold considerable sway in their party precisely because of the hawkish views they adopted: Deputy Ministers Danny Danon, Ze’ev Elkin and Tzipi Hotovely, together with coalition chairman Yariv Levin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and, of course, his outspoken deputy, Moshe Feiglin.
This is not an exhaustive list of elected politicians whose political credo and career were centered around a commitment to prevent precisely developments which the government, whose existence is dependent on their support, is now inching inexorably towards. But it suffices to convey the fact that there is a formidable battery of coalition members who, with coordinated and determined action, should have been able to make the course presently adopted – or acquiesced to – by the PM, impossible to adopt or acquiesce to.
What we see is very different. It is the surreal spectacle of the relentless advance of a grotesque two-state juggernaut of failed formulae and disproven dogma, undeterred by the death and destruction left strewn in its wake, edging ever-closer towards its inevitable destination of catastrophe and chaos.
In response to this, all that this considerable gallery has mustered by way of resistance is declarative bluster. Instead of rallying forces for effective political opposition to the rapidly unfolding developments, countermeasures have been meager, sporadic and easily dispensed with.
An illustrative case in point is the bill initiated by Likud MK Miri Regev and submitted to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation calling for annexation of the Jordan Valley.
Although the intentions that the bill conveyed were eminently laudable, and received overwhelming 8-3 support from coalition ministers, it was quickly sidelined and shelved, sparking mainly anger and ridicule from its critics on the Left.
If the bill, in itself a worthy initiative, had been part of a wider revolt against Netanyahu’s increasing willingness to accede to increasingly outrageous concessions, it might have had value. But as a stand-alone effort it is unlikely to have anything more than a nuisance effect, scornfully brushed aside as the “process” continues its deadly course.
(Note: As I write these lines, reports are coming in of some early signs of encouraging resistance beginning to emerge – but it is premature to judge their long-term efficacy or resilience.)
Even more surreal
However, the submission of Regev’s annexation bill did induce several revealing responses.
The first was that of Netanyahu, who, although he did not impede the vote on the bill – perhaps because he knew it could be easily suspended – did not seize on it to use as an indication to the US and the Palestinians that the Jordan Valley was not negotiable under any conditions.
Indeed, by not enthusiastically endorsing the vote, he has shattered – at least by implication – what has for almost half a century been a matter of national consensus – i.e., that in any permanent settlement, the Jordan Valley will remain under Israeli control as its indispensable security frontier in the east.
The second was the response of the so-called left wing – particularly that of the Labor Party – especially in light of the crucial role the Jordan Valley had in Yitzhak Rabin’s vision of a permanent solution with the Palestinians as conveyed in his final address to the Knesset: “… these are the main changes, not all of them, which we envision and want in the permanent solution… The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”
Given this stipulation by the late Nobel Peace laureate, the Labor Party reaction appears breathtakingly bizarre.
The secretary-general of the Labor Party, MK Hilik Bar, warned that annexing the Jordan Valley (i.e., ensuring implementation of Rabin’s vision) would “sabotage Israel in the diplomatic negotiations, harm the efforts of the prime minister to come to a two-state solution, deepen the rift that already exists between us and the US.”
How surreal can you get?
Casting Rabin as “crazy”
In “retaliation” for Regev’s move, Bar submitted a countervailing bill to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which would require that the final status of Judea-Samaria be determined only within the framework of a twostate solution agreement with the Palestinians.
This, of course, is tantamount to repudiating Rabin’s vision, for there is more chance of crocodiles becoming vegan than of the Palestinians agreeing to a framework where “the security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”
Somewhat more outspoken against the idea of ensuring the Jordan Valley remain Israel’s security frontier was left-wing Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On, who lashed out at Netanyahu for allowing the bill to be raised. She railed: “Every crazy Likud MK can propose another ridiculous bill, but the prime minister is quiet.”
Ah the vagaries of Israeli politics. The endeavor to ensure the fulfillment of the very vision that, once, could confer on one international accolades as a “valiant warrior for peace,” is now condemned as “crazy.”
The furor over the Jordan Valley underscores how apt a paraphrasing of Georges Clemenceau’s dictum “War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men” would be for politics in Israel. It is becoming increasingly and disturbingly apparent that here “politics is too serious a matter to entrust to the politicians.”
As an illustration as to how dangerously dysfunctional the Israeli political system and its politicians have become, consider the mind-boggling myopia of the remark made by former Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich.
According to Yacimovich, Israel’s geopolitical situation allows it to make compromises on the Jordan Valley. In her assessment, “We live in an environment undergoing strategic changes. There is no threat to the Jordan Valley from the eastern frontier.”
This is an incredibly moronic statement, particularly from someone who not so long ago saw herself as a realistic candidate for prime minister. For it is precisely because of the strategic changes Israel’s environment is undergoing that the continued control of the Jordan Valley is imperative.
For anyone with half a brain, it should be crystal clear that the working assumption must be that the days of the current regime in Jordan – or at least the days of its current disposition towards Israel – are numbered. Not only is it facing rising challenges from ascendant Islamist elements and losing support from traditional Beduin loyalists, the country is being inundated by refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.
Not only does this influx impose a huge burden on the stability of the regime, it provides an excellent conduit for insertion of al-Qaida-affiliated extremists into the country.
This, coupled with turmoil and disintegration of law and order in Iraq, means Israel could soon be facing the daunting prospect of a vast radicalized Islamist expanse stretching from Iran westward, pressing on its eastern frontier.
Whether that frontier is the Jordan Valley or the indefensible “Auschwitz” pre-1967 lines (with/without minor land swaps) is a matter of life and death for Israel and Israelis.
Has Israel contracted political HIV?
Merely by consenting to negotiate Israeli control over the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu has gravely jeopardized that control.
In the half-decade that he has been in power, he has made unprecedented concessions, previously inconceivable, conveying that once any issue, no matter how outrageous or outlandish, is raised, Israel will eventually give way. Much like an HIV victim who has lost his/her ability to resist disease, so Israel seems bereft of its capacity to resist political pressure, no matter how pernicious or perverse.
Whether it was the unprecedented and unreciprocated decision to freeze construction in Judea-Samaria; to submit to Hamas’s conditions for the Schalit exchange; to apologize to the Turks for IDF commandos defending themselves against disembowelment by frenzied Islamists; to release scores of murderers convicted for brutal acts of terror, by bowing to each implausible demand, he has made the next implausible demand inevitable.
The fact that this cavalcade of capitulation has occurred under governments/coalitions stacked with allegedly hard-line hawks, makes it only more difficult to comprehend and accept. They have created the impression that Zionism has been gutted, its admired defiance reduced to craven compliance.
Unless the growing signs of rancor inside coalition ranks coalesce into a successful endeavor to stem the tide of Israeli submission, future historians are likely to point to the current government as inflicting the most devastating blow to the spirit of, and the belief in, the Zionist enterprise.
The true test of leadership
Netanyahu has correctly said that the test of true leadership is the ability to make and execute hard decisions.
He is right, yet he has failed in this test. Time and again he has taken the easy way out, forsaken principles rather than preserve them, bowed to pressure rather than resist or deflect it and set Israel on a perilous course from which it must be diverted.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.