Reflections on initiative vs reaction


We are going through another wave of demands that Israel take an initiative. According to this view, time is not on our side, and the status quo cannot continue.

Looking at the prominent proposals, they differ significantly one from another, and all have a taste of having been made in order to seize headlines, and seeking initiative for the sake of seeking initiative.
One set wants to annex some, much, or all of the West Bank. These come mostly from the settler''s party Jewish Home, and its leader, Naftali Bennett.
Another--also from the settler camp by one of its leaders Dani Dayan--does not want an outright annexation that would enrage the international community. He would take down the wall, allow free movement, not give citizenship to Palestinians of the West Bank, and increase the frequency of Israeli security forces entering Palestinian areas to seize bad people. 
Finance Minister Yair Lapid is currently the most prominent advocate of removing some settlements, and limiting others in order to move the funding of settlers to domestic social programs.
Nobel Prize Winner and failed presidential candidate Professor Dan Schechtman says that the academic boycott is the country''s most serious problem, and it should be dealt with by greater efforts at explaining Israel''s problems and contributions.
Minister of Justice and (former?) chief negotiator with the Palestinians Tsipi Livni wants to try yet again to persuade the Palestinians to come back to the table and negotiate an agreement. She claims progress in those negotiations without specifying what the Palestinians offered, and claims diplomatic discretion rather than specifying the sweeteners that Israel should offer.
Several advocates of renewing peace talks say that the most important step is to show the Palestinians a map with Israel''s proposed borders, indicating the territory that Israel wants to annex.
Foreign Miniter Avigdor Lieberman would trade Israeli Arabs for settlements, i.e., giving to Palestine the land and people in Israeli cities and towns with all--or nearly all--of their residents being Arab, in exchange for the Palestinians agreeing that some or all of the settlements (or perhaps only the largest of them) would be recognized as Israeli. In this proposal, one does not hear mention of the need to ask Israeli Arabs if they want to stop being Israeli and become Palestinian citizens, or whether they could be both Israeli and Palestinian, and keep their entitlements to Israeli medical insurance and social security.
Another proposal of Foreign Minister Lieberman appears in a recent op-ed piece has noted that Israel has numerous, but quiet relations with a number of Muslim countries that openly condemn it. The image is that of a mistress, with whom relations may be enjoyed, but not admitted in public. Lieberman insists that Israel''s partners in matters economic and political concede the relationships, put everything on the table, and work together against Islamic extremists. Yet the image of a mistress is relevant. The question is whether the regional mistress has a chance at marriage. or if Israel''s only option is quiet acceptance by those who condemn it out loud.
There are a number of MKs, mostly from the right wing of Likud or Jewish Home, who would impose strict sanctions on the Palestinians for the accord with Hamas, while others see an opportunity in the Fatah-Hamas accord for persuading Hamas to make an agreement with Israel
In contrast to all of the above is the view expressed in words or actions (or lack of actions) by Prime Minister Netanyahu; namely that the world is perhaps more dynamic than usual, especially as it affects Israel and its neighbors; and that it is best to react, carefully, rather than take attractive but risky initiatives that may cause more harm than good.
Don''t make things worse should be a prime consideration in any policy proposal, and the Prime Minister seems to think that all of the above would fail on that criteria.
Reactionary is one of the nastiest words in the political dictionary. It refers to extreme conservatism, somewhere to the right of the Tea Party or its equivalents outside of the US.
Yet the concept bears re-examination. 
Its core meaning is reacting to events, and as such, reactions may be in a range from wise to foolish. It may be the essence of good government to react to what exists or what clearly is happening, rather than to take steps in response to one''s assessments of what might happen.
Admittedly, there is much room for argument about what is likely, or imminent.
Coping, as opposed to hoping to solve problems that may be insoluble, is a close cousin of reacting to threatening events. It appears to be our fate, and has long standing in Jewish maneuvers to remain safe. 
Currently it is appropriate to the rise again of radical Islam, and a radical liberalism among western politicians who take aim at Israel and are afraid to treat radical Islam as a more serious threat.
No doubt that Israel has to act in its defense. However, the combination of fluidity among numerous antagonists requires a high level of certainty before taking actions that may--if premature or inept--make things worse. This means reacting to threats rather than anticipating what might happen (but may not, or not in the form envisioned), and initiating what might be inappropriate or dangerous.
Experience, contemplation, and consultation are obvious assets to a polity that must be prepared to react. 
Currently, conditions are at moderate levels of threat, insofar as our most aggressive enemies are fighting one another. 
That, if nothing else, suggests that it is appropriate to wait, and react to ongoing developments, rather than to jump into a whirlpool with imaginative efforts to change the direction of things that will respond to many forces, some of them more powerful than our own.
Those who fault Israel for not taking initiatives ought to look at the record of the initiatives taken by the United States.
That of George W. Bush to remove a cruel dictator from Iraq who may have had weapons of mass destruction, and hoping to bring democracy to that country stands as the worst example of what can go wrong. The latest news is of the Iraqi army folding in response to an Islamic initiative, against the background of what some claim to be more than a million deaths and God knows how many refugees since the Bush initiative.
Are Barack Obama''s liberal, politically correct bromides issued with the unmatched pomposity of John Kerry doing any better?
There was no accomplishment on the Israel-Palestine front, and--as measured by annual incidence of violence--the American initiative may have made things worse.
In Syria and Ukraine, the crafty Putin seems to have outmaneuvered the decent Americans, and he may yet do so in Iran. 
Afghanistan seems to be where it always was, and Pakistan is reeling.
Israelis looking for direction may be best advised to take the historic Jewish posture of examining many options, and not betting on one side in a competition between greater powers.
It helps to have a Russian speaking Foreign Minister who is reasonably fluent in English. One can profit from good relations with China and India, without anticipating that either will be running things in the near future.
Israel and others must be careful. The weight of the US economy and its military potential dwarfs that of Russia. We can give Putin higher scores on tactics and short run success in locales important to him, while feeling more comfortable in the long run with the US if not with its present leadership. 
Care, thought, consultation, and openness to criticism are the best defenses against hyper activity in a dangerous world.