Espionage, counter terror operations, military confrontations – Israel is adept at all these games. But there is one game Israel cannot seem to win: the blame game.
Though Israel recently released convicted terrorists to enable a resumption of peace negotiations with the Palestinians under US auspices, US Secretary of State John Kerry had no qualms pointing to Israeli actions which made the negotiations go “poof.”
Likewise, in November 2009, Israel acquiesced to the Palestinian (and US) demand to freeze settlement construction – enacting what then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called an “unprecedented” 10-month freeze – to enable the Palestinians to enter into peace negotiations.
Not three months later, President Barack Obama bemoaned to Time Magazine that Israel was not willing to make “bold gestures” and that “both sides” still needed “to recognize... their deep-seated interest in a two-state solution.”
No matter what concessions it makes, Israel cannot succeed in demonstrating its sincere (and naïve) desire to conclude a twostate solution, or convince US or other nations’ officials that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the failure of peace negotiations.
The 2005 Gaza Disengagement is the most acute recent example of this phenomenon.
When prime minister Ariel Sharon announced the disengagement plan in 2004, he claimed that it was primarily a security plan. Nevertheless, it had a sizable diplomatic component.
According to the “outline” of the plan released by the Prime Minister’s Office at the time, it aimed at “breaking out of the stalemate” with the Palestinians, in “the hope...
that the Palestinians will take advantage of the opportunity... to reengage in a process of dialogue.” Furthermore, the disengagement would “dispel claims regarding Israel’s responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”
This was to be the undeniably “bold gesture” that would finally convince all that Israel stood ready to do what was necessary to achieve true peace and place the onus of the peace burden on the PA.
As a reward, in talks with the US leading up to the execution of the plan, Israel obtained US commitments, both private and in a letter from president George W. Bush, that Israel would be able to retain the major settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria.
Yet once the disengagement was executed, all of the plan’s envisioned diplomatic achievements evaporated quickly or failed to materialize altogether.
Soon after president Bush left office, the Obama administration denied any US commitments to Israel’s retaining the major settlement blocs, instead describing settlements as “illegitimate” over and over and over again.
The Palestinians have remained reluctant to negotiate with Israel, something which the Hamas takeover of Gaza in the aftermath of the Israeli evacuation contributed to.
Despite the absence of Israeli military presence in Gaza, the international community and media continues to hold Israel accountable for the welfare of Palestinians there.
And when Israel defended itself against the onslaught of rockets coming from the Strip, it was accused of war crimes and was slapped with the Goldstone Report, marking one of the lowest points in Israel’s diplomatic standing since the second intifada.
The sacrifice of territory and security interests, the strife caused in Israeli society, the pain caused to Israelis expelled from Gaza, Israeli soldiers who were killed or wounded by a strengthened Hamas – all direct consequences of the disengagement – remain with Israel even today, but were quickly forgotten by the international community, including the US.
This is not to say Israel should stand on the sidelines while Palestinians officials and their allies demonize her, or when US officials express their frustration at Israel. Israel should play the blame game.
Kerry’s testimony on “unhelpful” Israeli actions to the US Senate and PA negotiator Saeb Erekat’s accusations that the Israeli government was “sabotaging” the process all along, and killing Palestinians, are not the last things the American people and US officials should hear before Israel seeks, for example, to conclude a deal on billions of dollars in US aid for the next five-10 years so the IDF can plan its budget accordingly.
The prime minister (or the best high-ranking English-speaker we have), should appear on CNN and should speak at the United Nations, and everywhere else possible, as Netanyahu has done, to defend Israel’s actions and to blame the Palestinians.
But there is a difference between aggressive diplomacy on the one hand and conceding national interests to score fleeting diplomatic or public relations points on the other.
The former is a necessity, even if it is an uphill and often losing battle; the latter is a sucker’s game, in which Israel gives and gives and is expected to give more when the last gift is forgotten.
Hopefully, Netanyahu and future Israeli prime ministers will remember that the next time the US president or secretary of state has a grand idea for achieving peace in our time and asks for Israel’s contribution.
The author is an attorney and Likud Central Committee member.