Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists...they encourage precisely
the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse. – Binyamin Netanyahu,
Fighting Terrorism (1995)
What sort of people and government would agree to free
the murderers of its own children and do it in the name of a presumed “goodwill”
toward irreconcilable enemies? What might this people and government be
thinking, especially when its hopedfor quid pro quo is an obvious delusion? –
Prof. Louis Rene Beres, “A crime without a punishment,” July 16, 2013
Netanyahu must resign or be induced to do so.
By any measure of moral
integrity and/or statesmanship, he simply cannot be allowed to continue to
function as prime minister. He has deceived the public and misled the nation. He
has defrauded the voters on whose support he gained political prominence and on
whose ballots he ascended to power. He has reneged on past pledges and renounced
the values he professed to cherish.
But worst of all, he has betrayed
himself and the most basic principles he himself espoused as the foundation of
his political credo and which he led the Israeli electorate and the Jewish
people to believe he was committed to.
Repeatedly proved unequal to
Netanyahu is a man of extraordinary talent with a remarkably
impressive record of achievement.
He was an extraordinary UN ambassador,
a superb foreign minister, and a highly effective finance minister. Indeed, in
most industrial countries, he might even have made an outstanding prime
But not in Israel. Here the demands are different and more
taxing than elsewhere, the margins of error narrower, and the cost of error not
only greater, but potentially tragic and terminal.
his undeniable capabilities, despite the distinction with which he has served
his country in various capacities over four decades, as the nation’s chief
executive he has proved himself – time and time again – unequal to crucial
Never his most caustic critic
Readers of this column will
recall that I have never been one of Netanyahu’s most caustic
Although I have differed sharply with him over several of his
decisions, I have defended him, in both the local and the foreign press, against
the almost maniacal malevolence of the media toward him (and his spouse), and
its Pavlovian impulse to hold him responsible for every misfortune that befalls
mankind – from droughts in New Mexico to floods in Southeast Asia.
recently as January 10, in “Netanyahu: The Pathology,” I wrote, “Netanyahu has
been given little credit for the numerous impressive feats he, and the
governments he headed, have achieved,” and remarked that “the venomous ad
hominem attacks on the PM... have long exceeded the limits of rational criticism
and reasoned dissent.”
However, recent developments reveal a disturbing –
indeed, dramatic – erosion in his strategic perspectives and policy preferences
that make it impossible to justify his continued incumbency – even for a
relatively restrained and respectful critic such as myself.
Israeli political resolve
Of course, this erosion culminated in what can only be
seen as a total collapse of Israeli political resolve: The egregious decision of
the Netanyahu government not only to agree to the resumption of negotiations on
the establishment of a Palestinian state, but to agree that the resumption be
predicated on an prior agreement for the release of over 100 convicted
perpetrators of some of the most heinous acts of slaughter
This of course makes a mockery of solemn pledges that Israel
would not agree to any a priori concessions as a condition for resuming
negotiations with the Palestinians.
Moreover, Israel has been impeding
construction in the Jewish communities across the pre-1967 lines with a
self-imposed building freeze/slowdown, thus agreeing, albeit partially, to
another Palestinian demand for the resumptions of talks.
Worse, even if
Israel has not explicitly agreed to accept the pre- 1967 lines as a basis for
negotiations, there are strong indications that it has tacitly complied with
this calamitous condition. According to numerous press reports, the text of the
invitation accepted by Israel states that “the goal of the negotiations is to
implement the two-state solution on the basis of the ’67 lines with minor land
So whether Israel acknowledges it or not, it has agreed to
participate in a discussion on the establishment of a Palestinian state whose
frontiers will be the indefensible pre-1967 lines – unless otherwise (mutually)
Quite apart from the fact that the entire issue of land swaps has
a demeaning ring of “bartering birthrights,” the fact that they will have to be
“mutually agreed” provides the Palestinians veto power over any deviation from
the pre- 1967 “Auschwitz borders” in the delineation of their proposed
The decision taken last Sunday represents a
staggering strategic surrender by Israel.
After all, as recently as May
2011, Netanyahu defiantly stood up, publicly, to Barack Obama and rejected the
very formula (sans the prisoner release) he is now accepting.
courageous eloquence won him massive support across the US American political
system including from senior Democrats such as Sen. Harry Reid who in effect
endorsed his defiance of Obama at the AIPAC conference that took place at the
time in Washington.
All this – and more – has now been irrevocably lost
by a decision, substantively unjustifiable and morally indefensible, that will
confer on the government the “privilege” of entering into negotiations on a
formula for making the country geographically untenable, with an entity headed
by a soon-to-be octogenarian leader, who is now in the ninth year of his
four-year term, and whose authority is rejected by a wide swathe of the
population he purports to represent.
You couldn’t make this stuff
Especially when you stop to consider that it is the Palestinians,
allegedly suffering under the yoke of “occupation,” who should have the greater
interest in pursuing the reopening of talks and hence be expected to be the
party ready to make concessions, rather than delaying them by making exorbitant
demands of Israel.
But this act from the theater of the absurd has far
more profound and pernicious consequences than the exasperation, outrage and
demoralizing despair that it generates in wide segments of the Israeli public
and of the Jewish people across the globe.
Making Israel a laughing stock
It is difficult to overstate the gravity of the ramifications of the Netanyahu
It sends an unequivocal message to the
Palestinians, the Arabs and the international community that no position
articulated by Israel need be taken seriously. For Israel has proved that no
matter how outlandish, outrageous, macabre or scandalous the demands of its
adversaries, the Jews will eventually submit – irrespective of how resolutely
they feign opposition to them initially.
The positions that Israel has
now retreated to would have been unthinkable barely a decade and a half ago.
Judging from the vision that Yitzhak Rabin articulated for a permanent agreement
with the Palestinians in his final address to the Knesset in 1995, it is highly
plausible to surmise that they would have been contemptuously rejected by the
Noble Peace laureate, who at the time was fiercely attacked by then-leader of
the opposition Netanyahu – for being overly concessionary.
As I said, you
couldn’t make this stuff up.
By failing to withstand pressure, Israel has
not only invited inevitable further pressure, but has crippled its ability to
conduct effective negotiations in the future.
No matter what
fork-tongued, fallacious flattery it might reap in the short run for its
“flexibility,” Israel has made itself a laughing stock, unable to adhere to any
principle, no matter how crucial, for any length of time.
Netanyahu-apologists have attempted to rationalize Israel’s
capitulation by advancing various hypotheses as to the underlying reasons for
such seemingly unreasonable conduct.
Typically, these attempts include
one of two interrelated contentions (or both): Either that (a) irresistible
pressure was exerted to extract the concessions backed up with threats of severe
punitive measures if such concessions were not forthcoming; or that (b) Israel
had to sacrifice certain strategic and security interests to preserve other, and
presumably more vital, ones, such as stopping the Iranian nuclear weapons
Both these contentions are highly unpersuasive – but even if
they are true they do not justify Netanyahu’s continued incumbency.
are unpersuasive because if the Obama administration really considered some
objective, say, the prevention of a nuclear Iran, an important US interest,
would it condition the pursuit of that interest on the release of over 100
Judeocidal monsters? And if Israel refused, would the US forgo the pursuit of
its own interests merely to punish its alleged ally, rather than pressure other
parties to forgo their unreasonable preconditions? On the other hand, if the
administration does not consider the prevention of a nuclear Iran an important
US interest, does anyone really believe it would condone an Israeli attack on
Iranian facilities, even if Israel did release 100 terrorists?
But even if these claims are true, and intense pressure was in fact exerted
and/or a strategic tradeoff had to be made in the situation that Secretary of
State John Kerry’s persistence precipitated, they are still irrelevant to the
inadmissibility of Netanyahu’s continued incumbency.
For although such
situations were not only anticipated, but explicitly predicted, no mechanisms
were put in place to contend with them. For decades Israel has left itself to be
mauled in the court of public opinion, making it seemingly isolated, and
vulnerable to international pressures aimed at wringing perilous
However, this not an inevitable consequence of some law of
nature, but the results of decades of dereliction of duty, of neglect to
establish an adequate public diplomacy endeavor that could contend, curtail and
counter such pressures.
As the eloquent British columnist Melanie
Phillips scolded in a brilliant but scathing interview on Israeli TV: “Israel
has made itself defenseless... Israel has vacated the battlefield of ideas
Never a truer word was spoken.
In recent years, public
support for Israel in the US has been near record levels, outstripping that for
the Palestinians by a factor of 4 to 1. Yet this massive advantage has not been
mobilized (purposely?) to impact US policy-making toward Israel.
all, given the level of support Israel enjoys in the US, only incompetence,
indolence or worse, can explain why any attempt to extort concessions that
clearly imperil its security would not be so politically toxic that no
administration would contemplate it.
Over the past five years I have been
beseeching the Israeli government – at both senior ministerial and professional
levels – to build appropriate mechanisms to deal with precisely such scenarios
as have arisen in recent months – but to no avail.
Much has been left unsaid – including broaching questions such as
“If not Bibi, who?” and how his resignation can be effected in practice. Nor
have I elaborated on the disturbing “catalogue of capitulation” that has
characterized his incumbency over the years. However, the constraints of space
compel me to forgo.
Suffice it to say that Netanyahu has now embraced a
policy he spent decades berating, resisting and mobilizing publics at home and
abroad to oppose. He thus has either failed to implement a policy he believes
in, or is implementing a policy he does not believe in.
true, this is an untenable situation which cannot continue.
the only act of true leadership left for Netanyahu is to resign, and to resign
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the
founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.