Annexation, a tough product to sell - analysis

Berlin, as Maas made perfectly clear during his visit here, is very much opposed to the move.

THE JORDAN VALLEY – calls to annex it are a provocative political act (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE JORDAN VALLEY – calls to annex it are a provocative political act
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There was something odd about Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi’s maiden joint appearance and press conference with a visiting statesman in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
It is not that the former chief of staff did not comport himself well, or act like a statesman. He did. It’s not that his English was clumsy, it was not, he speaks English well. It is just that three weeks before Israel may or may not extend its sovereignty to up to 30% of Judea and Samaria, Ashkenazi did nothing to sell the idea in the presence of German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
Berlin, as Maas made perfectly clear during his visit here, is very much opposed to the move. Ashkenazi could have used the press opportunity to market the idea, to explain why Jerusalem wanted to do it, why it was important, what it would accomplish.
Yet he didn’t do that. Instead, he continued to send mixed messages. “There are currently significant regional opportunities, most notably President Trump’s Peace Initiative,” he said. “It is an important milestone for the region, and it represents a significant opportunity.
“The plan will be pursued responsibly, in full coordination with the United States, while maintaining Israel’s peace agreements and strategic interests,” he continued. “We intend to do it in a dialogue with our neighbors.”
Which all means nothing. Israel plans to pursue the Trump plan in “dialogue with its neighbors?” What exactly does that mean, especially when all its neighbors are opposed.
Ashkenazi did nothing to sell the plan either because he is not in favor of it – something the public really does not know – or because this particular plan right now is almost impossible to market.
Yigal Palmor, a former Foreign Ministry spokesman, was wont to say when he served in that position from 2008-2014 that when dealing with public diplomacy it is always important to speak in codes that reflect the values of your audience. “Don’t sell them your values, it doesn’t interest them. Speak in their language with their codes reflecting their values.”
To illustrate this point, Palmor – at seminars on public diplomacy to foreign ministry cadets – would use the example of a UN report a few years back extolling the virtue of eating insects. According to the report, edible insects are good for the environment, full of nutrition and easy to raise. Worms, beetles and caterpillars don’t have to be eaten whole, but rather crushed into a power to provide a cheap source of nutrition.
If someone would come to an audience of people who observe kashrut, Palmor said, all the arguments about how chock-full of nutrition the bugs are, or how beneficial it will be for the atmosphere if livestock was not raised, would not convince them since these insects are not-kosher, and to eat them would be completely against their value system.
But what about grasshoppers? Certain species of grasshoppers are kosher, and trying to persuade a kosher audience of the benefits of eating insects would be easier if grasshoppers, and not worms, were the focus.
The same is true of trying to market the extension of Israeli sovereignty. A way needs to be found to translate the idea into values that the listening audience holds dear or can relate to, and does not run contrary to their value system.
When dealing with Christian evangelicals or religious Jews, an argument based on Jewish Biblical right will have resonance. But it wouldn’t reverberate with someone like Maas, or most of Europe, as well as a good part of America, including most American Jews.
One possible argument that could have some resonance, would be to say that annexation is part of a greater plan that will eventually lead to a two state solution. The two-state solution is a value extolled by the Europeans and the US Democratic party. If Israel were to say that it is annexing 30% of the land, in order for a Palestinian state to rise up on the rest, then that could resonate with those who believe the solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict is to be found in the establishment of a Palestinian state.
And even if the Palestinians were to say that this is far less than what they want, Israel could counter-argue that 70% is much better than nothing, and that if they don’t agree, they will have no one but themselves to blame for a lack of independence.
That would be an example of trying to preach to an audience beyond the choir.
What’s the problem? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not willing to say that annexation is just one part of a greater plan that ultimately will result in a Palestinian state, and his political partners on the Right won’t let him do so. So even that argument does not exist in Israel’s tool box.
As a result, Israel is making little visible effort lobbying the world in favor of the idea of extending Israeli sovereignty. Netanyahu has not blitzed the international media with interviews dealing with the issue, has not put out Facebook videos in English explaining its importance, and has not dispatched spokesman to the world’s capitals to promote the idea, as he has done – for example – with the Iranian nuclear issue.
Even Israel’s chief diplomat – Ashkenazi – made no effort in pushing the idea when he stood next to Maas with the cameras rolling. And one thing is certain, if you don’t try to sell your goods, no one will buy them.