Rattling the Cage: Tit for tat, Mr. President

When it comes to foreign policy, can we get any pettier?

By LARRY DERFNER
July 29, 2009 22:03
larry derfner 88

larry derfner 88. (photo credit: )

From the government to the street, Israel's policy toward the Obama administration's would-be peace process can be summed up in one word: spitefulness. It's not important whether we make peace with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, it's not important whether we end our 42-year military rule over a foreign nation. No, what's important, as Binyamin Netanyahu put it so well, is that we don't get played for freierim, for suckers. If we've got to give something up - like construction in settlements - the Palestinians have to give something up, the Arab countries have to give something up, too. And if Barack Obama makes nice to the Muslims in Cairo, he's got to come and make nice to us here. Tit for tat. That's the principle that guides our foreign policy these days. "If they give, they'll get; if they don't give, they won't get," as Netanyahu loved to say and Israelis loved to hear when he first was prime minister. EVERYBODY complains that Obama is putting all the pressure on Israel and none on the Arabs. Myself, I'm not complaining - I think that at this point, the pressure belongs on Israel and not on the Arabs. Later on, if we actually get close to signing a peace treaty, Obama will have to pressure both sides like crazy, but for now, he's putting the ball where it should be - in Israel's court. The reason is that we in Israel are happy with the status quo, while the Arabs, most relevantly the Palestinians and Syrians, are not. The peace process is built on the idea of land for peace, and we've got something pretty close to de facto peace with the regimes of the West Bank and Syria, while we haven't given either of them an inch of land. The Palestinian Authority has been cracking down on Hamas for a long while, it kept the West Bank miraculously quiet during Operation Cast Lead, it's enforcing the law in city after city - what more do we want from it now? How much more conciliatory do we want Mahmoud Abbas to be? We complain he's a weak leader, he can't control his public - is that because he's been too antagonistic to Israel for Palestinian tastes? If he publicly recognizes Israel as a Jewish state now, if he scrubs Palestinian textbooks and media of every trace of "incitement," will that make him more popular on the Palestinian "street," more capable of stopping terrorism? If terror attacks were pouring out of the West Bank - if the PA wasn't giving us peace - we would be right to insist that Obama lean heavily on them, too. If Israel were being terrorized at the same time it was taking down settlements - if the PA wasn't giving us peace and we were giving it land - we'd be right to demand that Obama put all the pressure on the Palestinians and none on us. But the fact is that Abbas and the PA are giving us about as much peace as they're capable of, while we aren't planning on giving them an inch; instead, we're thinking only about how much more conquered land Obama will let us build on. It's basically the same thing with Syria. The Syrians don't raise a hand to us - they didn't even retaliate when we bombed their little acorn of a nuclear facility a couple of years ago - while Netanyahu, with the public's backing, vows never to give up the Golan Heights. We're happy with the way things are. Why should we trade land for peace when we've got land and peace? But if you were Barack Obama, who believes in the justice of land for peace, who has 57 Muslim nations as well as one Jewish state to think about, and who seems convinced that colonial rule is bad for the ruler as well as the ruled, which side would you pressure, Israel or the Arabs? The deck is stacked so heavily in our favor; Obama's just trying to make it more even. Our refusal to see this is just spitefulness. And what is this demand for Arab gestures - for maybe the Saudis to let us land our planes in Riyadh - before we'll agree to play ball? Flying all over the Middle East might be nice, but is this what's important right now? Is this what determines whether we try to make peace with the Palestinians and Syrians or not? So if we're allowed to land in Dubai, we'll go back to the '67 borders, but if we're not, we're keeping it all? Can we get any pettier? AND FINALLY, what is this business about how Obama must talk to us? I'm not against him coming to Israel, of course, but substantively, what is he supposed to say that he hasn't said already? Does he have to flatter us some more? Does he have to go to the Kotel again, only in a bigger kippa? Is that going to change the basic facts of our life in the Middle East? Even though his dark skin and middle name seem to have confused some people, Obama isn't Anwar Sadat. He isn't an Arab leader whose visit to Jerusalem would be a historic breakthrough. He's an American president in an era of colossal tension between the US and the Muslim world, so his speech in Cairo was an attempt at a breakthrough. A visit to Jerusalem now would just be another visit to Jerusalem by an American president. From Jerusalem or Washington, the only way Obama can win Israeli hearts is by backing down on his demand for a total settlement freeze, or by making the kinds of demands on Arab leaders that he will have to make eventually for peace to happen, but that would kill the chance for peace if he made them now, while Israel holds tightly to Arab land. We have to decide for ourselves whether we want to pay the price for peace, or pay the price of occupation. A visit from Obama, landing rights in the Gulf or the muzzling of imams in Ramallah might give us a small sense of vindication, but it won't move the ball from our court, which, at least for now, is where it belongs.


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