Foreign Ministry not improving Israel image

What was the foreign ministry trying to achieve with aggressive response to the Europeans’ latest condemnation?

By
December 25, 2011 21:52
4 minute read.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem 311 (R). (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)

In his book Politics Among Nations, which was the bible of international relations students for decades, Prof. Hans Morgenthau had the following to say about diplomacy as one of the components of a state’s power: “[Diplomacy] is the art of bringing the different elements of national power to bear with maximum effect upon those points in the international situation which concern the national interest most directly.”

Elsewhere in the book, Morgenthau states that the tasks of diplomacy are to determine the state’s “objectives in the light of the power actually and potentially available for the pursuit of these objects,” to assess “the objectives of other nations and the power actually and potentially available for the pursuit of these objectives” and to determine “to what extent these different objectives are compatible with each other. They are also supposed to “employ the means suited to the pursuit of its objectives.”

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“Failure in any of these tasks may jeopardize the success of foreign policy,” he concluded.

Judging by these criteria, the Foreign Ministry’s reaction to the conduct of the four European Union representatives to the UN Security Council – France, Germany, Portugal and the United Kingdom – last Tuesday night cannot be considered diplomacy.

What angered the ministry was a series of harshly worded statements condemning Israel’s announcement of further building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and of the escalation of Jewish settler violence against Palestinians. One should add that the group also welcomed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s condemnations of “price tag” violence, and his announcement of measures to deal with the problem.

The ministry statement also said the EU representatives and the entire Security Council should have concentrated on trying to make peace in bloody hotspots such as Syria, on promoting democracy and moderation in other Arab countries aspiring to freedom, and on defusing the global danger embodied in the Iranian nuclear race. If these countries don’t stop haranguing the one country with an independent judiciary and the true rule of law in the region, went the argument, they risk losing credibility and making themselves “irrelevant.”

THE FOREIGN Ministry, more than other body in the country, is familiar with the European and American positions on Israeli activities in the territories. But Europe and America are Israel’s only true allies, even if they are sometimes critical friends. They view settlement building, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and other aspects of the occupation as contrary to the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, contrary to realpolitik wisdom and contrary even to Netanyahu’s own declared policy.

It is true that our allies expect different standards of behavior from Israel than they do from our neighbors, and their leaders and representatives reiterate these positions to our leaders and representatives on every possible occasion. The Israeli reaction is at best a nod of our collective head, and continuing to do what we want.

But responding aggressively to the latest European condemnation, it is unclear what the Foreign Ministry was trying to achieve or how the statement is expected to further the country’s interests. Was it meant to reduce criticism of Israel's activities in the territories? Will it increase international efforts to deal with the Iranian problem, which everyone now admits is a problem? Will it convince the Europeans and Americans to intervene in Syria (and to what effect)? Will it contribute anything to international efforts to “sell democracy” in the Arab world (the UN Development Program is already involved in various ambitious educational efforts in this sphere)? Will it help resolve the contradiction between Netanyahu’s brilliant speeches on the two-state-solution and the glory of Israel’s democratic system, and the state’s activities in the territories and flood of legislation – at various stages of Knesset approval – that seeks to weaken this system?

Unfortunately the ministry statement places Israel in a position similar to that of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who lashed out at France last week for new legislation that will make it a criminal offense to deny the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks during World War I. Erdogan pointed out that France’s own colonial record was not exactly spotless.

Instead of confronting the issues fairly and squarely, the governments of both Israel and Turkey seem to believe that the best defense against criticism is to insult those expressing it, even if there is no chance that the attack will achieve anything except further aggravating the situation and marking both countries as boorish pains in the neck. Is this the best we can do? \

The writer teaches at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and was a Knesset employee for many years.


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