‘What happened yesterday, when four senior ministers gave public addresses one after the other with each proposing a different political solution, was a grotesque performance.”
– Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday evening session at the 14th Herzliya Conference, “Israeli Leaders Debate Peace,” June 9.
I was thinking of headlining this column “Depressing, disturbing, disarray,” a title that I believe Liberman, would warmly endorse – given his censure of the abysmal appearances of four government ministers (and the head of the Opposition) at this year’s Herzliya Conference, earlier this week.
I have, of course, serious differences with Liberman on several issues, including some of those on which he excoriates his colleagues. I must confess, however, that watching the cavalcade of almost comic caricature his colleagues provided the Israeli public, I found myself strongly identifying with his acerbic assessment of their performance.
‘Israeli Leaders Debate Peace’
At the plenary session of the conference on Sunday evening, a succession of five senior Israeli politicians took the podium to present their prescriptions for what should be done now, in the wake of the collapse of the US Secretary of State John Kerry-sponsored “peace initiative.” Of the five, four were leaders of political parties in the current parliament; three of them in the ruling coalition – Finance Minister Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid faction, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of Bayit Yehudi, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnua; and, as mentioned, one from the Opposition, MK Isaac Herzog, head of the Labor Party.
The largest faction in the coalition, the Likud, was represented by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar.
In many ways, the debate was a disconcerting – almost heartbreaking – spectacle, exposing the appalling paucity of the Israeli political leadership. (Please don’t take my word for it – you can judge for yourselves, as the entire depressing debate is available on the conference’s website, which I urge you to visit.) True, some of the speakers (notably Bennett and Sa’ar) did make several good points, but these were confined to critical appraisals of the others’ proposals, rather than relate to any rational blueprint of their own policy that could secure Israel’s long-term future as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
The first speaker was Yair Lapid, who launched into a pretentious monologue, riddled with blatant non sequiturs, transparent fallacies and glaring self-contradictions.
Indeed, there are so many logical lacunae and factual flaws that pervade his address, it would take the entire column (and probably the better part of next week’s) to deal adequately with them all. Sadly however, in a broad overview such as this, I can only touch on a few of them – and then only very briefly.
You have to hand it to Lapid. Just when you think he cannot possible enunciate anything more inane and imbecilic, he always manages to prove you wrong and – ascend to ever higher levels of the absurd and the asinine.
Thus, he prescribes that Israel should initiate certain measures, and at the same time undertake diametrically opposing measures.
On the one hand for example, Lapid suggests that following the failure of the recent talks with the Palestinians, Israel should determine, assertively and unilaterally, its own borders and security needs on which “there is no room for compromise.”
But paradoxically, he declares that, on the other hand, once Israel has determined its borders and security needs (on which it cannot compromise), the final agreement will be the result of negotiations with the Palestinians and “moderate Arab countries,” and in coordination with the US.
So much for unilateral and assertive Israeli initiatives.
But it was not only Lapid’s perversely paradoxical advocacy of “defiant compliance” (or was it “compliant defiance?”) and “negotiated unilateralism” that came across as somewhat “anomalous?” Take for instance his characterization of Saudi Arabia as “moderate” and his willingness to allot it a say in determining the future of the Jewish state. Saudi Arabia, the crucible of Wahhabi extremism? Moderate? The only thing “moderate” about Saudi Arabia is that it is not Iran.
A country where gender apartheid is rampant; a country that forbids women to drive or appear unescorted in public, that prefers to let schoolgirls burn to death rather than escape their flaming dormitory in their nightwear; a country that forbids Israelis, and effectively bars Jews, from entering it, whose legal system still enforces public amputations and beheadings, and imposes the death penalty for homosexuality and extramarital sex. This is the country/regime that our esteemed finance minister seeks approval from in some delusional blueprint for a final settlement – which it has long declared unacceptable.
(After all, Lapid, who began his electoral campaign in Ariel, pledging “there is no map on which Ariel isn’t a part of the State of Israel,” proposes including the large settlement blocs in Israel’s final borders, something the Saudis have resolutely rejected.) Just how mindless his approach is, was underscored by his opening remarks.
Blithely ignoring the fact that Israel has bent over backwards to try and accommodate the Obama administration (building freeze, apology to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prisoner release), he alleges that were it not for the “unnecessary clash with the Americans...
we could have explained to the international community that the reason Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] is fearful of progress in the talks, is that he knows that a political resolution [of the conflict with the Palestinians] is not a ‘price that we are willing to pay,’” but a clear Israeli “interest” that if achieved will bestow untold economic, social and security benefits on Israel.
With such tantalizing Israeli gains implicit in any accord, clearly Lapid is issuing an open invitation to the Palestinians to endlessly harden positions and escalate demands...
But enough of him. There are others to deal with.
Next in line was Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. To my mind, Bennett’s heart is definitely in the right place.
Sadly, that does not seem apply to his head.
He began by articulating an eminently coherent case for Jewish historical and moral rights to Judea-Samaria, and for rejecting the failed two-state paradigm and the doctrine of political appeasement and territorial withdrawal it is based on. Unfortunately, however, he then reverted to his old proposal of partial annexation of Judea-Samaria (i.e. of Area C that includes all the Jewish population and around 10 percent of the Arab one), suggesting, as a first step, extending Israeli sovereignty to Gush Etzion as a precursor to other regions.
I have been at pains elsewhere to explain why Bennett’s proposal is one that will solve none of the major problems Israel faces today, but is liable to exacerbate many of them (See: “Annexing Area C: An open letter to Naftali Bennett”; “Sovereignty? Yes, but beware of annexing Area C”; and “Earth to Bennett, Earth to Bennett...”)
The detriments of his plan are stark and indisputable – as a cursory glance at any map of the area will quickly reveal: It will create a tortuous border well over a thousand kilometers long, impossible to demarcate and secure except at exorbitant cost, and without the ability to delineate and protect the frontiers, any declaration of sovereignty will be little more than a provocation with little practical value or significance.
It will leave Israel in an untenable position diplomatically, having to explain how it sees the fate of over 90% of the Palestinian-Arab population, left in stateless political suspension, in a myriad of disconnected enclaves, immersed in a “sovereign” Israel.
The “political pain” incurred by annexing the 60% of Judea-Samaria that Area C comprises, is not likely to be less than that incurred by annexing the entire 100%, and offering the Arab population a clear, constructive alternative for their future: Generous humanitarian relocation grants to allow them and their families an opportunity to build a better future in some third-party country of their choice.
Here again Bennett’s plan is largely self-obstructive.
Instead of creating economic disincentives for the Arabs to remain (by letting the Palestinian economy collapse) and economic incentives to leave (via relocation grants), Bennett advocates doing precisely the opposite – spending billions in developing Palestinian infrastructure and economy.
Unless he can offer a plausible future vision for the Palestinian-Arab population, his proposal is at best no more than a temporary stop-gap tactic of playing for time, which eventually will leave the country in a worse position than it was previously.
Then came Tzipi Livni with her usual threadbare, disproven and failed mantras.
Unsurprisingly, her main theme was that to preserve the Zionist dream of a democratic Jewish state, there is no option but to establish an additional Muslim tyranny on the fringes of Israeli population centers adjacent to the Trans-Israel Highway and overlooking its only international airport.
Like Lapid, Livni launched into a vicious attack on the settlements – which she once vigorously supported while building her political career in the Likud – blaming them for all the ills that afflict Israeli society. Like Lapid, she seems totally oblivious to the ruinous costs – social, security and economic – that would be involved in implementation of her preferred policy of establishing a micro-mini failed state that in all likelihood would become a bastion for Islamic terrorism on the approaches of Greater Tel Aviv.
Disingenuously, she attributes to Fatah willingness to accept the idea of two states for two peoples when only recently Mahmoud Abbas, like many other senior figures in the organization, have clearly stated they will not recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Indeed, Livni studiously ignores the fact that the Fatah Constitution, like the much-maligned Hamas Charter, also calls for the violent destruction of the Jewish state, the former in the name of the armed Arab Revolution the latter in the name of Islam.
Predictably, Livni urges Israel to continue to deal with the new Hamas-compliant government and to maintain the self-delusional pretense that there is a substantive difference between it and Hamas itself. After all, for her to acknowledge the truth would mean to concede all her efforts over most of the last decade have been either hypocritical or futile.
Indeed, by desperately clinging to a failed paradigm and refusing to admit error, Livni proves that her loyalty is far more devoted to her personal prestige than to any Zionist ideal she purports to cherish.
The recently-elected leader of the Opposition, spent most of his address on how to attain peace with the Palestinians by berating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, extolling his own (yet-to-be-proven) leadership capabilities and bewailing the socioeconomic inequalities in the country.
When he did get round to his prescription for peace it turns out that his entire (five-year) plan hinges on Abbas (will he still be with us in five years?), agreeing to precisely what he has proven he is neither able nor willing to do – to disarm Hamas, bring all the Palestinian factions to recognize Israel as the “national home of the Jewish People,” and agree to the long term presence of IDF in the Jordan Valley, a demilitarized Palestinian state, Israeli annexation of the large settlement blocs (with unspecified and unattainable land swaps).
He then sallied forth on a puerile prognosis of a new Middle East based on relations with the Arab world according to the “Arab Peace Plan.” It is not clear whether Herzog supports handing over the Golan (as the Arab Peace Plan prescribes/dictates) to Syria (whatever that might mean in five years’ time) or endorses the “Plan’s” demand for the right of return...
Could it be that the leader of the Opposition has been so busy haranguing Netanyahu, he hasn’t had time to update himself on events in the Arab World?
Gideon Sa’ar was the last speaker. To be honest, he gave an excellent rebuttal of Herzog, accusing him of being oblivious of the far-ranging changes that have swept through the Arab world, which seem to have had little impact on Herzog’s (or Livni’s or Lapid’s) assessment of Israel’s situation and policy options.
But then, as the Likud is wont to do, he suggested doing – well, nothing.
His rationale for benign inaction was, since all the options proffered by others are likely to create a situation worse than the status quo, the status quo is the best option.
However, this is a perilous path to tread. For in reality maintaining the status quo is an illusion. It is continually deteriorating for Israel – at least as far as the Palestinian issue is concerned.
For anyone who doubts this, allow me to suggest he peruse the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s last address in the Knesset when presenting Oslo II for parliamentary ratification. If any Israeli leader today were to embrace the Noble laureate’s vision for a permanent resolution with the Palestinians, he/she would be dismissed as an unrealistic extremist...
When it comes the Israel-Palestine issue there is no status quo.
Sadly the current leadership seems totally incapable of recognizing the Palestinian-Arabs for what they are, and what they declare themselves to be – an implacable enemy – and of formulating a policy that reflects this reality.
Until the national leadership can do this, it will not only be unable to prevent the county’s slide into inexorable tragedy, but will in fact be complicit in bringing this tragedy about.
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.