Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is stuck between a diplomatic rock and a
political hard place. And his chosen means of extricating himself from the
double bind is only making things worse for him and for
Diplomatically, Netanyahu is beset by the Palestinian political
war to delegitimize Israel and the Obama administration’s escalating hostility.
That hostility was most recently expressed during President Barack Obama’s
meeting with American Jewish leaders on March 1. Insinuating that Israel is to
blame for the absence of peace in the Middle East, Obama scolded Jewish leaders,
telling them to “search your souls” over Israel’s seriousness about making
Obama’s newest threat is that through the socalled Middle East
Quartet, (Russia, the UN, the EU and the US), the administration will move
towards supporting the Palestinian plan to declare statehood. That state would
include all of Judea and Samaria, Gaza and eastern, southern and northern
Jerusalem. Since it would not be established in the framework of a peace treaty
with Israel, and since its leaders reject Israel’s right to exist, “Palestine”
would be born in a de facto state of war with Israel.
To credit this
threat, Obama has empowered the Quartet to supplant the US as the mediator
between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Buoyed by Obama, Quartet
representatives and American and European officials have beaten a steady path to
Netanyahu’s door over the past several weeks. Their message is always the same:
If Israel does not prove that it is serious about peace by giving massive,
unreciprocated concessions to the Palestinians, then they will abandon all
remaining pretense of support for Israel and throw their lot in completely with
For the past year and a half Netanyahu’s policy for
dealing with Obama’s animosity has been to try to appease him by making
Netanyahu’s rationale for acting in this manner
is twofold. First, he has tried to convince Obama that he really does want peace
with the Palestinians. Second, when each of his concessions is met with further
Palestinian intransigence, Netanyahu has argued that the disparity between
Israeli concessions and Palestinian rejectionism and extremism demonstrates that
it is Israel, not the Palestinians, that should be supported by the
To date Netanyahu’s concessions have included his acceptance of
Palestinian statehood and the two-state paradigm for peace; his temporary
prohibition on Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria; his undeclared
prohibition on Jewish building in Jerusalem; his undeclared, open-ended
prohibition of Jewish building in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem after his
temporary building ban expired; his agreement to drastically curtail IDF
counterterror operations in Judea and Samaria; his move to enact an undeclared
abatement of law enforcement against illegal Arab construction in Jerusalem; and
his decision to enable the deployment of the US-trained Palestinian army in
Judea and Samaria.
Netanyahu’s declaration of support for Palestinian
statehood required his acceptance of the Palestinian narrative. That narrative
blames the absence of peace on Israel’s refusal to surrender all of Judea,
Samaria and Jerusalem. Having effectively accepted the blame for the absence of
peace, Netanyahu has been unable to wage a coherent political counteroffensive
against the Palestinian political war.
NOW, IN a bid to head off Obama’s
newest threat to use the Quartet to back the Palestinians’ political war against
Israel, Netanyahu is considering yet another set of unreciprocated concessions
to the Palestinians.
For the past week and a half, Netanyahu has been
considering a new “diplomatic initiative.”
According to media reports, he
is weighing two options. First, he may end IDF counterterror operations in
Palestinian cities in Judea and Samaria.
Such a move would involve
compromising all of the IDF’s military achievements in the areas since 2002,
when it first targeted the Palestinian terror factories from Hebron to Jenin
during Operation Defensive Shield.
The second option he is reportedly
considering involves announcing his acceptance of a Palestinian state with
non-final borders. Such a move would render it difficult if not impossible for
Israel to conduct counterterror operations within those temporary borders. It
would also make it all but impossible for Israel to assert its sovereign rights
over the areas.
Supporters of this initiative argue that not only will it
stave off US pressure; it will strengthen Netanyahu’s political position at
home. Recent polls show that Netanyahu’s approval numbers are falling while
those of his two main rivals – opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Foreign
Minister and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman are
Netanyahu reportedly believes that by moving to the Left, he will
be able to take support away from Livni and so regain his position as the most
popular leader in the country. Given this assessment, Netanyahu’s supporters
argue that making further concessions to the Palestinians is a winwin prospect.
It will strengthen Israel diplomatically and it will strengthen him
Sadly for both Israel and Netanyahu, this analysis is
Since Obama came into office, he has consistently
demonstrated that no Israeli concession will convince him to support Israel
against the Palestinians.
So, too, the fact that every Israeli concession
has been met by Palestinian intransigence has had no impact on either Obama or
his European counterparts. Netanyahu correct claims that the Palestinians’
intransigence shows they are not interested in peace is of interest to no
And it is this lack of interest in Palestinian intransigence rather
than Palestinian intransigence itself that is remarkable. What it shows is that
Obama and his European counterparts don’t care about achieving peace. Like the
Palestinians, all they want is more Israeli concessions.
office, Obama has only supported Israel against the Palestinians twice. The
first time was last December. After months of deliberate ambiguity, Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton announced that the administration opposes the Palestinian
plan to unilaterally declare independence.
Then last month the
administration grudgingly vetoed the Palestinian-Lebanese draft Security Council
resolution condemning Israeli construction in Jerusalem, Judea and
In both cases, the administration’s actions were not the result
of Israeli appeasement, but of massive congressional pressure. Congress issued
bipartisan calls demanding that the administration torpedo both of these
What this this shows is that Netanyahu’s
strategy for contending with Obama is fundamentally misconstrued and
misdirected. Obama will not be moved by Israeli concessions. The only way to
stop Obama from moving forward on his anti- Israel policy course is to work
And the most effective way to work through Congress is
for Netanyahu to abandon his current course and tell the truth about the nature
of the Palestinians, their rejection of Israel, their anti- Americanism and
their support for jihadist terror.
At the same time, Netanyahu must speak
unambiguously about Israel’s national rights to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria,
our required security borders, and about why US national security requires a
The stronger the case Netanyahu makes for Israel, the more
support Israel will receive from the Congress. And the more support Israel
receives from the Congress, the more Obama will be compelled to temper his
AS FOR domestic politics, Netanyahu’s attempt to
appease Obama is a major cause of his falling approval numbers among voters.
Likud voters do not expect him to outflank Livni from the Left.
voted for Likud and not Kadima because they recognized that Kadima’s leftist
policies are dangerous and doomed to failure.
Kadima’s recent increase in
domestic support owes more to the breakup of the Labor Party than to Netanyahu’s
failure to carry out Kadima’s policies of territorial surrender and diplomatic
kowtowing to the UN, EU and Obama. The main beneficiary of Likud’s eroding
support has been Leiberman.
While Netanyahu has maintained his allegiance
to the false, failed, unpopular-outside-of-themedia “peace with the
Palestinians” paradigm in the foolish hope of winning over Obama, Leiberman has
seized control of the Right’s political agenda. While Netanyahu accepts the
legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership that rejects Israel’s right to exist,
Leiberman presents himself as the leader of the majority of Israelis who oppose
the Left’s agenda of land for war.
Moreover, when Netanyahu shunts aside
his own party’s most popular politicians such as Minister of Strategic Affairs
Moshe Ya’alon in favor of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he demoralizes his party
faithful and his voters.
And not only does Barak hurt Netanyahu with
voters, this week he took an ax to Israel’s most important diplomatic asset –
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on
Monday, Barak said that Israel may ask Congress to increase US military support
for Israel by $20 billion. Given the US’s economic woes, and Congress’s
commitment to massive budget cuts, at best Barak’s statement represented a
complete incomprehension about the basic facts of US domestic politics. At
worst, it was a supremely unfriendly act towards Israel’s friends in Congress
who are trying to maintain the current level of US military aid to Israel in the
face of a popular push to slash the foreign aid budget.
Beyond that, the
plain fact is that Barak’s statement was wrong. Israel’s steady economic growth
and its recently discovered natural gas fields should make it possible for
Israel to decrease the military aid it receives from the US. This is true even
though the revolutions in Egypt and throughout the Arab world will require
Israel to massively increase its defense budget.
If Netanyahu is serious
about surmounting his diplomatic and political challenges, his best bet is to
abandon his present course altogether. The most effective way to defend Israel
against Obama is to boldly assert, defend and implement a unilateral Israeli
Netanyahu himself gave the broad outlines for such a plan this week
when he stated that to defend itself, Israel will need to maintain perpetual
control over the Jordan Valley. If Netanyahu were to announce a plan to apply
Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and the major blocs of Jewish communities in
Judea and Samaria, he would accomplish several things at once. He would advance
Israel’s national interests rather than the Palestinians’ interests against
Israel. He would force the US and Europe to discuss issues that are grounded in
strategic rationality rather than leftist- Islamist ideology. Finally, he would
take back the leadership of his own political camp from Leiberman and augment
his political power domestically.
So, too, if Netanyahu fired Barak and
replaced him with Ya’alon, he would energize his political supporters in a way
he has failed to do since taking office.
Netanyahu is reportedly
considering unveiling his new diplomatic initiative in a speech before Congress
in May. If he were to use that venue to unveil this plan and also announce a
plan to wean Israel off US military aid within three years, not only would he
blunt Obama’s power to threaten Israel. He would secure popular US support for
Israel for years to come.
And if he did that, he would restore the
Israeli voters’ support for his leadership and stabilize his government through
the next elections.