September cartoon 521.
(photo credit: Michal Cohen)
THE PANIC-PRONE AND POLICY-DEVOID GOVERNment led by Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu has adopted the Roman interpretation of September. The Romans believed
that September (then the seventh month in the calendar) lies in the realm of
Vulcan, god of the fire, and expected September to be associated with fires,
volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
For the Israeli government, like for
the Romans, September is not merely a month on the calendar and has
metamorphosed into some endof- the-world deadline after which the universe might
change. Defense Minister Ehud Barak warns of an impending tsunami and Foreign
Minister Avigdor Lieberman calls our attention to possibly “the worst and most
And all this because the Palestinians have announced that
they would apply to the UN for recognition as a member state. Israel, a country
with $30,000 GDP per capita, equipped with F-15s, F-16s, Dolphin-class
submarines, civilian satellites, spy satellites and sophisticated weaponry, is
deeply scared and completely intimidated by the possibility that the UN will
While I would not dismiss the potentially
explosive nature of September gone badly, let’s at least try keep it in cool
perspective. To begin with, there will not be an independent and sovereign
“Palestine” come October. In fact, hard as it may be for Israeli politicians to
understand, after September comes October, not Armageddon.
Palestinians petition the UN Security Council, the US will veto the resolution.
True, the US could have sidetracked the whole issue by being more proactive, but
that is moot now. The resolution will then be moved to the General Assembly
where a Palestinian virtual-state will be recognized by a huge – yet indifferent
and utterly unenthusiastic – majority.
“Palestine” cannot be admitted as
the 194th member of the UN because only the Council can recommend
Yet this September could very well be unique. It has become a
confluence date for the detrimental developments that Israel has experienced
over the last several years. Agrowing impatience and intolerance toward Israeli
policies (or lack thereof), coupled with a sense of ad nauseum saturation with
the endless Israeli-Palestinian bickering over “the process” and “whose fault”
it is, resulted in increased international aloofness and antipathy toward
anything and everything Israeli.
The unrest and instability in the
broader Middle East only serves to magnify these sentiments, while the global
economic woes and contractions enhance the impatience with the perpetual
“Israeli-Palestinian” conflict/peace process/crisis/stalemate.
Palestinians have recognized this trend and are taking full advantage of it.
They are consistently and effectively branding Israel as intransigent and
refusing to negotiate based on previous understandings. In essence, by going the
UN route, the Palestinians have changed their strategy: they recognized some
time ago that negotiations with the current Israeli government will produce no
tangible benefits. Now, instead of demanding that the peace process be
internationalized through conferences, summits and multi-participants, they are
seeking to internationalize the solution. Rather than have the international
community participate in the process, they are asking it to recognize their
state, or more practically, to explicitly and unequivocally proclaim the
illegitimacy of Israeli occupation.
Israel on the other hand is on the
defensive, reflexively and bitterly complaining that the Palestinians are not
partners and that everything is tied to Iran anyway.
There is a
discernible default scenario with a design component built into Palestinian
diplomatic strategy. By default the Palestinians seem to have concluded that a
meaningful peace process is not tenable since finalstatus core issues cannot
conceivably be negotiated with a Netanyahuled government.
design dimension: Since a “let’s pretend” process will expend time and political
capital and inevitably set back Palestinian goals by diverting world attention
to more pressing issues, the Palestinians have recognized that there is a
disincentive for them to enter negotiations. So, by design, they are intent on
proving that there is no Israeli partner, and consequently they actively seek to
“internationalize” the solution.
This is achieved by asking the world to
recognize a Palestinian state without negotiations. This tactic means
negotiations can only resume between two sovereign states and renders Israeli
presence in the West Bank as an “invasion” rather than “occupation.” That, the
Palestinians hope, will entail economic sanctions and further delegitimization
of Israel. Like it or not, this is what a “game changer” looks like.
did Israel do to prepare for, confront and avert this development? Not much
really. We did not come up with a peace plan. We did not express willingness to
entertain the “Arab League Peace Plan” (a.k.a.
the Saudi plan).
Regardless of the [dubious] feasibility of those plans, we simply forfeited the
initiative and sat back, in love with the status quo.
Now, as September
nears, Israel is begging countries to vote against the Palestinian resolution,
warns itself of the impending disaster and threatens that the Palestinians are
self-inflicting further wounds, and announce our eternal willingness to
Not much of a policy.
Israel, which for decades prided
itself on being lean, mean, muscular, flexible and creative, has turned
atrophied diplomatic dinosaur.
We have become slow to recognize reality,
paralyzed when reaction is required, cumbersome, devoid of ideas and
believing we are too big to fail.
Regardless if you are right- or
left-wing in your opinions or policy recommendations, September is a
reminder that if you don’t come up with a policy, others will. If you
time arguing with the president of the US and lose his support, the
watches and takes note. The writer is a former chief of staff
policy adviser to four foreign ministers and Consul General in New York.