These lines were written on the day US envoy George Mitchell arrived to open proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. These talks have been much delayed, in part as a result of PA President Mahmoud Abbas having noticed that US President Barack Obama has taken his side, thus enabling him to make whatever demands he wishes as preconditions for the talks, including a building freeze in Jerusalem.
Abbas and Obama intend to force Israel to surrender to Arab demands to establish a Palestinian state that will reduce our state to its 1967 borders. This state is to have its capital in Jerusalem, and it will not to be forced to recognize Israel as a Jewish state or give up demands for the return of refugees.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is trying to avoid this trap, but by having agreed to the talks, he has already corralled himself.
Arguably, Israel need not be overly worried. That which evaded Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in direct negotiations overseen by Bill Clinton at Camp David will not be accomplished by Mitchell shuttling between Ramallah and Jerusalem. That which evaded Ehud Olmert and Abbas in dozens of hours of intimate private conversations, when Olmert was willing to give it all up, will not be accomplished now when the Arabs are not even willing to sit next to Netanyahu.
Nonetheless Israel has reason to worry, because the talks are not direct and the Americans are mediating. Obama is more antagonistic toward Israel than any president in generations. With him and his envoy mediating, the Arabs know they do not have to make any concessions, and should the talks reach a dead end, Israel will be blamed.
The US faces a weak prime minister, perhaps the weakest in memory. I saw Netanyahu when he spoke to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee a year ago, after his first meeting with Obama. Having served in the IDF’s Medical Corps for decades, I am certainly able to diagnose shell shock when I see it. Netanyahu looked like a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Americans who participated in the talks with him knew they had achieved all they wanted. They also know that further shock exacerbates the disorder, and so Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bared their teeth when a zoning committee in Jerusalem announced plans for 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo during a visit by Vice President Biden to Israel. Clinton yelled at Netanyahu by phone, Obama degraded him when they met and the path was cleared: Netanyahu collapsed, and they could promise Jerusalem to Abbas.
Obama’s error is that of a proud novice in foreign policy: he has stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem.
The Israeli slanderers of the extremist left, who run to report to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv every time a house is built in Judea and Samaria, misled him. J Street misled him. Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod misled him. Obama figured if there are Jews who support giving half of Jerusalem to the Arabs, it shouldn’t be a problem to force Netanyahu to go along.
But Netanyahu can be beaten down only when there is no counter pressure. In this case, Netanyahu is not operating in a vacuum; there is pressure.
SOME MAY have thought this pressure would come from inside his Likud, but the recent party vote in which Netanyahu trounced Moshe Feiglin proved the party’s institutions to be powerless. Previously Feiglin and followers failed to prevent the withdrawal from Gaza, they failed to prevent Netanyahu from committing himself to a Palestinian state in violation of the Likud’s platform and they failed to prevent a building freeze in Judea and Samaria. All they can do is promise once more that next time things will turn out better for them.
But there is pressure, and it will grow stronger.
A few months ago, a caucus for the Land of Israel was established in the Knesset. It is led by Ze’ev Elkin, a Likud MK and the chairman of the coalition, and by me, chairman of the Hatikva Party, which is part of the National Union and sits with the opposition.
Forty-one MKs, ministers and deputy ministers joined this caucus whose goals are to stem the leftward tide, to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, to prevent the dilution of Jewish settlements and to strengthen them.
Within this lobby are represented the National Union, Habayit Hayehudit, Shas, Israel Beiteinu, Likud and even Kadima members.
As a graduate of MIT, Netanyahu understands the numbers: the suggestion that he dump the “extremists” from his government and replace them with Kadima doesn’t work mathematically. Forty-one is more than 28. If Netanyahu gives in to Obama’s demand, he will no longer have a government.
The lobby began with a symbolic step. Netanyahu wanted to announce with great fanfare plans to invest millions in national heritage sites. Because he was afraid of incurring Obama’s wrath, he left out one of the Jewish people’s most important heritage sites – the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. At the last minute, the caucus forced him to include it.
Then it set a major goal: to ensure that the prime minister and the ministers to his right stand by their commitment to renew building in Judea and Samaria as soon as the freeze ends in September.
We can expect this to be a difficult struggle. It will be a litmus test for anyone proclaiming fidelity to the Land of Israel and to Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. But the public is divided on this issue, and many are tired; if someone promises them true peace, they may concede.
And then, Jerusalem was put on the table. The vast majority of Israelis are not prepared to give up Jerusalem even for promises of peace. Whoever prodded Obama to put Jerusalem on the table did a great service to Israel.
At this point, unfortunately, many good-hearted Jews, such as Elie Wiesel, tried to convince Obama to defer on this issue and to push Jerusalem off till the end of the negotiations. Effectively this means to poison Israel more slowly. But because Obama and Abbas know that Netanyahu has frozen construction in Jerusalem, even though he cannot say so publicly because his coalition would evaporate, they were mollified and agreed to allow him into the trap without an official statement of surrender before the talks opened. Mitchell will come and go, and in another month or two he will put on the table an American-Arab plan with a loaded gun next to it.
There is only one way out: Jerusalem first. We need to put all our
efforts into building in Jerusalem. We need to demand that the issue of
Jerusalem be brought up as soon as possible. If anyone thinks the State
of Israel needs to save Jerusalem, they will discover that Jerusalem
will save the State of Israel.
The writer is a member of Knesset from the National Union party.