Into the Fray: Resign (continued)... Responding to readers

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August 8, 2013 22:24

Despite his many talents, Netanyahu’s incumbency can be characterized as a catalogue of capitulation on issues he pledged to hold firm on.




Prime Minister binyamin Netanyahu laughing during a meeting with Swiss FM Didier Burkhalter, May 2.

Bibi laughing hysterically 370. (photo credit: Moshe Milner GPO)

Martin Sherman thoroughly castigates our prime minister for either failing to implement the policy [he] believes in or implementing a policy he does not believe in. In Sherman’s world, once a political position has been taken, you are stuck with it. Alter your posture, adapt to changing circumstances and you have betrayed your principles.Basic principles are one thing, political tactics quite another.

– Neville Teller, letter to The Jerusalem Post, August 5


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Martin Sherman and Caroline B. Glick are well-informed and knowledgeable political pundits...This is why it is so hard for me to understand how both of them fail to understand that our prime minister is trying to deal with an almost impossible diplomatic situation... [B]oth fail to fully understand that entirely apart from international pressure, Israel deeply wants and needs peace and security for itself and its Palestinian neighbors. This is why our government is willing to make disproportional concessions in the hope of moderating Palestinian rejectionism, even though the Palestinians have not yet disabused themselves of their vile dreams of our destruction.

 – Kenneth Besig, letter to The Jerusalem Post, August 6


The column I wrote last week calling on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to “Resign, just resign,” unsurprisingly provoked a flood of responses from readers.

Judging from the almost 1,400 “likes” registered on the Jerusalem Post site – and the tenor of the vast majority of emails and posts on my Facebook page – what I wrote seems to have resonated well with a large segment of readers.

Addressing umbrage

However, as the two rather irate letters to the editor indicate, there were some who took umbrage at the positions expressed in the column – and apparently at the manner in which they were expressed.

As will be recalled, my censure of Netanyahu related to his decision to make far-reaching concessions – both explicit (i.e. the release of over 100 terrorist murderers) and implicit (i.e. tacit acceptance of pre-1967 lines as a basis for discussion of the frontiers of a future Palestinian state and imposition of a partial de facto building freeze in Judea- Samaria).

Typically, complaints as to my condemnation of this decision focused on the following elements:

  • My alleged unawareness of insensitivity to the tremendous pressure brought to bear on the PM by the international community in general, and by the Obama administration in particular.

  • My alleged lack of information/knowledge to make a fair judgment of Netanyahu’s decision and as to what the factors were that induced it.

  • My alleged disregard of the fact that Israel cannot be seen as the intransigent party, obstructing negotiations.

Although I did touch on most of these contentions last week, rebuffing them as unpersuasive attempts to rationalize Netanyahu’s decision, the fact that a number of readers still cling to them, seems to indicate that – even at the risk of repetition – they need to be refuted with greater vigor and in greater detail.

A strong sense of déjà vu

Just over four years ago, in the immediate wake of Netanyahu’s infamous Bar-Ilan speech, in which he capitulated to US pressure, and accepted – albeit with evident reluctance and unrealistic reservations – the establishment of a Palestinian state, reneging on a long-standing pledge not to do so, I wrote in an op-ed piece, “The PM at Bar-Ilan: A damage assessment (June 16, 2009)”: “In his speech at Bar-Ilan University, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu acquiesced to precisely what he was elected to repudiate. US pressure is no excuse for this. Leaders are elected to resist pressure, not to submit to it; to sidestep it, not succumb to it; to divert it, not to yield to it... A myriad of allegedly ‘pragmatic’ arguments can be raised to justify the tone and the substance of his admirably crafted speech. But none of these carries any durable strategic substance. They reflect a clear preference for the fleeting benefits of short-term cunning rather than the enduring fruits of long-term wisdom. Some might protest at this unbenevolent assessment, claiming that in fact it was a brilliant political maneuver, placing the onus on the Palestinians, exposing their ‘true face.’” Today, almost half a decade later, there is a strong sense of déjà vu. Precisely the same far-fetched arguments are being invoked for making far-reaching concessions, producing the same counter-productive consequences.

Earlier this year, in “Senseless & spineless: Speaking truth to power (March 28),” following Netanyahu’s ill-advised apology to Turkey, which – predictably – produced nothing but further humiliation, I reiterated this, almost verbatim: "After all, leaders are elected to resist pressure, not to submit to it; to sidestep it, not to succumb to it; to divert it, not to yield to it. With Israel’s favorable ratings at almost unprecedented highs in the US, one would have thought that transforming this popular support into commensurate political clout would not be an insurmountable challenge."

Catalogue of capitulation

Despite his many talents and the numerous achievements of his government – which I have been at pains to enumerate in previous columns – Netanyahu’s incumbency can be characterized as a catalogue of futile capitulation on issues on which he pledged to hold firm.

This continual flaccidity not only produced no durable benefits for Israel but created expectations for further concessions whenever dispute arose: The evacuation of Hebron; the Wye River agreement; the acceptance of Palestinian statehood at Bar-Ilan; the imposition of a construction freeze in Judea- Samaria; the Schalit exchange; the abject apology to Turkey, the gains granted Hamas following the premature cessation of Operation Pillar of Defense.

While it is possible to find rationalizations for each of these surrenders, as a whole they comprise a dismal pattern of behavior, conveying an unequivocal message to Israel’s adversaries that resolute rejectionism pays.

They send an unmistakable signal that if they hold out long enough, Israel will “compromise” (read “concede”).

So in complete contradiction to Post reader Kenneth Besig’s above contention, rather than these “disproportional concessions... moderating Palestinian rejectionism,” they merely serve to entrench intransigence.

Israel’s seemingly unlimited willingness for “flexibility” has done little to satiate the Arab (and US) appetite for concessions. It has merely whet it, with expectations for more.

When will the penny drop?


In light of how pliant Israel has proved itself over the past two decades, any claim that it cannot afford to hold firm on issues that impact its security, lest it be accused of “obstructing” peace efforts, is patently preposterous.

Such claims are grossly offensive when made by others and shamefully self-denigrating when made by ourselves.

After all, in its unbecoming quest to avoid being seen as “obstructive” Israel has (among other things):
• Withdrawn from all major populations centers in Judea-Samaria;
• Allowed armed militias to deploy adjacent to its capital, within mortar range of its parliament;
• Unilaterally evacuated the Gaza Strip, erasing every vestige of Jewish presence;
• Unearthed and removed its dead from graveyards;
• Demolished settlements in northern Samaria; and
• Stoically endured – with unreasonable restraint – years of indiscriminate shelling of its civilians.

To all of these – and other – “goodwill gestures,” the Palestinians have responded with vitriolic Judeophobic incitement and vicious Judeocidal terror, from within areas transferred to their control.

Yet despite manifest Israeli munificence and Palestinian malevolence, we are told that Israel must prove it is “serious” about wanting peace. Really? One can only hope that sometime soon the penny will drop and realization dawn that concessions are counterproductive.

Puzzling leftward lurch

Post reader Neville Teller attempted to account for Netanyahu’s behavior by suggesting it was precipitated by a need to “adapt to changing circumstances.” He jeers: “In Sherman’s world, once a political position has been taken, you are stuck with it. Alter your posture, adapt to changing circumstances and you have betrayed your principles.”

Well, Neville, actually, that’s why they’re called “principles,” because one is supposed to stick to them, despite changing circumstances.

But in Netanyahu’s case, two points need to be underscored.

Firstly, it is one thing to change position to preserve principles, but it quite another to totally reverse them and embrace all that you previously negated, and negate all that you previously embraced. That is not tactical maneuvering, but strategic surrender; not “adapting to circumstances,” but abandoning principles.

Secondly, all the “changes in the circumstances” that have occurred, serve to validate Netanyahu’s previous position and vindicate his criticism of the positions he now apparently aspires to adopt. The tectonic socio-political shifts across the Arab world and the increasingly evident Judeophobic rejectionism among the Palestinians, make the notion of Palestinian statehood even more incompatible with Israeli security than in the days when Netanyahu was among its most vocal and persuasive opponents.

Barely a week ago, the Post’s Yaakov Lappin reported that the IDF was bolstering its forces on the northern and southern frontiers to meet emerging threats from Syria and Sinai.

In the light of these developments, one is compelled to ask: Is this really the most opportune moment to be complicit in the establishment of a mega-Gaza in Judea- Samaria, along Israel’s most sensitive and vulnerable eastern frontier?

Given the changing circumstances, one might be excused for thinking that Netanyahu would be defending his past positions even more stoutly, rather than forsaking them – which makes his recent lurch leftward all the more difficult to comprehend and impossible to accept.

Netanyahu’s real debacle

It is quite plausible that Netanyahu was subject to enormous pressure from the Obama administration. But what is far more significant than any criticism of his performance in the unenviable situation in which he found himself, is the question of why such a situation arose at all.

After all, Netanyahu has been in power now for half a decade, during which nothing, absolutely nothing has been done to ensure that Israel not be placed under the kind of pressure it is subject to today. That is Netanyahu’s real debacle – the failure, not only to adopt and conduct any diplomatic strategy, but to think in terms of strategic diplomacy. It is this that has left Israel virtually defenseless and exposed to pressures from hostile administrations.

The pitiful amounts spent on presenting Israel’s case to the world, explaining its security imperatives and strategic constraints, conveying the brutal nature of the adversaries it faces, invites the massive pressures from foreign sources.

A country that spends millions on systems to intercept 10 kg. of explosives, but virtually nothing on diplomatic strategy/strategic diplomacy, should not be surprised that its adversaries attack it where it is weakest.

If not Bibi, who?

If Netanyahu is right today, he has shown fatally flawed judgment in the past by impeding a policy he now feels should be advanced.

If he is wrong today, he is showing fatally flawed judgment by advancing a policy which he correctly opposed in the past.

Either way, his continued incumbency is inappropriate and must be terminated.

Who would replace him, several readers asked. Yair Lapid? Shelly Yacimovich? Tzipi Livi? History has of course proved that no one is really irreplaceable. But even beyond that facile observation, the question is why keep Netanyahu in power if he is enabling the very “Livni-compliant” policy he was supposed to prevent? Indeed, it may well be preferable to have a “left-wing” incumbent implement “left-wing policies. Then, at least, it would be possible to mount credible resistance to it – and lay down a rationale for its subsequent curtailment or reversal.

Can Netanyahu be compelled to resign? That depends greatly on whether he can maintain support within the Likud and whether his ideological rivals within his party such as Danny Danon, Ze’ev Elkin, Tzipi Hotovely, Gilad Erdan, Israel Katz and Moshe Feiglin rebel or not.

It depends on whether coalition partners such as Avigdor Liberman, Yair Shamir, Uzi Landau and Naftali Bennett will collectively abandon him. For even if he could then cobble together an alternative coalition, he would hardly have the moral authority to prevail for long.

The question then is: Will principle prevail over the penchant for position, prestige and power? Or whether – as in the past – it won’t?

Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (www.strategic-israel.org)


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