In salvaging the image of a beleaguered country like Israel, it's not merely the justice of the case which counts, and not only how convincingly it's made in private. The key is to ensure listenership. Even the most effective of arguments is useless without an audience.
Binyamin Netanyahu had that audience, and with it the opportunity to stress the most elementary facts of our existence, which are, alas, too often overridden by simplistic slogans and shallow conventional wisdom. He could have done more good than Israel's entire diplomatic corps and then some. Whatever he accomplished behind the scenes, Bibi missed the opportunity to sound the voice of sanity in obsessively kitschy and dangerously unrealistic America.
Lots of ears were perked to hear what Israel's newly reelected PM would say when he visited Washington (for the first time after reassuming office) to meet with new US President Barack Obama (whose posture vis-a-vis Israel is more than a little disconcerting). Contention between the two simmered barely below the surface, tension was in the air and the media was on the lookout for good copy. America was listening.
Too bad Bibi failed to seize the opportunity.
Unlike his three predecessors, his heart is in the right place and he was prudent to evade the public semblance of open confrontation with Obama. Yet Obama hardly reciprocated in kind. He preached superciliously from the supposed moral high ground, seeming intent on casting Netanyahu as the obstructionist nay-sayer.
To dodge the baited and primed trap, Netanyahu abstained from trashing the "two-state solution" too stridently, regardless of how deceptive and how much of a survival-threatening proposition it represents for Israel. In our inauspicious circumstances, we should be grateful he didn't obsequiously offer to swallow the poisoned pill, as his three predecessors had with suicidal alacrity.
But Bibi could have challenged other fashionable mantras mouthed unthinkingly everywhere as if they were gospel. Moreover, golden opportunities to set the record straight presented themselves away from the White House turf, where Netanyahu was understandably loath to irk his unfriendly host.
HE COULD, for example, have refuted various facile refrains on Capitol Hill - like the persistent notion that settlements impede peace. This issue of course is intrinsically interconnected with the cliche condemnation of Israeli "occupation" and the sanctimonious clamor for a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu should have unequivocally rejected the false symmetry drawn between settlements and genocidal schemes against the Jewish state. He should have reproved his interlocutors for the grossly unjust moral equivalence they carelessly create. But he seemed resigned to the equation and only demanded reciprocity in its application.
It might have helped to remind opinion-molders abroad that the settlements didn't cause our regional strife and that consequently, visceral enmity for Israel won't disappear, even if every last settlement does. The settlements, Bibi should have emphasized, are red herrings deliberately dragged in - with heaps of malice aforethought - to mislead the uninitiated and thereby undermine Israel.
Arabs regard all of Israel as an illegitimate settlement. Israel was hated, designs for its destruction were blueprinted and terror was rampant before the first settlement was founded on land liberated in the Six Day War of self-defense. Had the Arab world not attempted to destroy Israel in 1967, the territories on which settlements eventually arose wouldn't have come under Israel's control - ergo Arab belligerence predated Israeli settlements.
Israel's head of government might have added that these settlements aren't remote from Israel's heartland. Indeed, they're directly adjacent to its most crowded population centers, besides being the cradle of Jewish history. Jews are hardly foreign interlopers in their homeland. Large Jerusalem neighborhoods - some continuously Jewish from time immemorial - are categorized internationally as objectionable "settlements."
SETTLEMENTS AREN'T the problem and removing them isn't the solution. Israel foolishly dismantled 21 Gaza Strip settlements in 2005. Did peace blossom all over as a result? Precisely the reverse occurred. The razing of Israeli communities was regarded as terror's triumph, expediting the Hamas takeover. Emboldened by seeming success, Hamastan amassed formidable military arsenals and launched rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.
Israel generously left behind costly hothouses and other livelihood-generating facilities - incentives for Gazans to opt for productive pursuits rather than murder and mayhem. Nevertheless, the bequeathed infrastructure was wrecked in violent frenzy and turned into terror bases. So much for addressing Gaza's humanitarian plight.
This pattern should be borne in American minds before Congressional kibitzers admonish Israel. Fatahland stands ready in Judea and Samaria to emulate Hamastan. However, the potential disaster for Israel on its elongated eastern flank makes Gazan aggression in the south appear negligible.
Netanyahu should have spread out maps and pointed to the location of the settlements that so incense the State Department. They adjoin Petah Tikva, Kfar Saba and Netanya - all quite close to Tel Aviv. This is Israel's notorious narrow waistline (nine miles between the Mediterranean and the border near Netanya). The settlements give Israel minimal depth and constitute bulwarks against utter chaos rather than obstacles to utopian harmony. They are precisely the opposite of what latter-day disguised blood-libelers claim.
Maligning the settlements - with such alarming unanimity - is the updated version of blaming Jews for whatever ails the world. Once it was medieval Europe's Black Death. Today it's Islam's insidious inroads into modern Europe. Even responsibility for Iranian nukes can be laid at Israel's door. If only Israeli settlements were sacrificed to appease the savage beast, the rest of the world might enjoy a lulling respite. And when that respite is over, more demands will be made of the Jews - who, as always, upset global equilibrium.
In the plainest language, Netanyahu should have told his listeners that they are going after the wrong side, allowing the real miscreants to gain strength while weakening a true ally and making it more vulnerable to hostile predation. This, Netanyahu should have declared, won't save America, or anyone else. It will only hasten the cataclysm.
Netanyahu should have reminded Americans that during the Six Day War - before any so-called Israeli occupation or settlement activity began - a Jordanian WWII-vintage Long Tom cannon hit an apartment building in central Tel Aviv's Kikar Masaryk, a mere hop from City Hall. That antiquated weapon was fired from a lowly hill outside Kfar Saba. Visible and assailable from that hill are greater Tel Aviv, the extended Dan and Sharon regions and Israel's three power stations (Ashkelon, Reading and Hadera). Were that hill to be ceded, no car could travel safely in metropolitan Tel-Aviv and no plane could land or take off from Ben-Gurion Airport.
Any attempt to hinge "accommodation with Iran" on suffocating the settlements is tantamount to advising Israelis to slit their own throats before Ahmadinejad nukes them. That's what Bibi should have said. Instead he mumbled something about not constructing new settlements.