Into the Fray: Shimon Netanyahu or Binyamin Peres?

Anyone watching portions of the PM’s AIPAC address might have been excused for thinking Bibi had morphed into Peres. But worse, much worse, was still to come.

Kerry and Bibi (photo credit: Reuters)
Kerry and Bibi
(photo credit: Reuters)
By virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, [we] hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.
Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948
I think it’s a mistake for some people to be raising it again and again as the critical decider of their attitude toward the possibility of a [Palestinian] state, and peace.
John Kerry on Binyamin Netanyahu’s insistence on public recognition by the Palestinians of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, March 14
The “Jewish state” question is hard for many non-Israelis to understand… But for Netanyahu and his followers, the question is essential. Arab leaders have never conceded that a non-Arab state can hold a permanent place in the Middle East… Until they do so, there will be no real peace, because Palestinians will keep pressing to weaken and eventually eliminate Israel’s Jewish majority.
Jackson Diehl, “Obama’s Middle East fallacy” – The Washington Post, March 17.
In last week’s column, I warned that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s continued capitulation to concessionary demands has proven dysfunctional and counter-productive, and has not created any understanding of Israel’s position, but rather a stimulus for additional demands.
As if on cue…
Readers will recall, I wrote: “Once exposed, his weakness precipitated mounting pressures to give way again and again. And each time he did, rather than receiving commendation for his ‘moderation,’ all Netanyahu got was continuing condemnation for not complying with the next emerging demand.”
And then, as if on cue, just as the column was submitted, the next demand emerged, along with incipient condemnation for his refusal to comply.
This resounding affirmation of the accuracy of my assessment-cum-prognosis was provided courtesy of none other than US Secretary of State John Kerry, with his demand that Israel forgo its eminently reasonable insistence that the Palestinians publicly acknowledge the very raison d’etre of its establishment – to be the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Since compliance with this new demand would in effect largely nullify much of the rationale for Israel’s continued existence, the very fact that it is now being raised should be cause for grave concern for Israel and its supporters in the US.
After all, to mollify the Obama administration, Netanyahu has over the past five years consented to a series of previously inconceivable concessions, despite expressing prior unequivocal opposition to them, frequently excoriating political rivals for contemplating similar concessions in the past.
Long, lamentable list
As I pointed out last week, this lamentable list is long and depressing:
• His acceptance of Palestinian statehood in stark violation of electoral pledges;
• His agreement to impose an unprecedented discriminatory freeze on Jewish construction in Judea-Samaria that was unreciprocated by the Palestinians, and unappreciated by the Americans;
• His demeaning (and futile) apology to vitriolic, anti-Israeli Turkish premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for IDF commandos having to defend themselves against a frenzied mob of Islamist extremists;
• His craven consent to negotiate generous compensation for thwarting their murderous initiative; and worst of all,
• His egregious release of scores of convicted Palestinian terrorists, guilty of the most gruesome atrocities imaginable, for no more than the Palestinians deigning to enter into negotiations, which they should have greater interest in advancing than Israel.
The fact that Netanyahu had vigorously denounced each of the preceding concessions as unacceptable before eventually adopting them, clearly conveys that every Israeli “no,” however resolute it appears, should merely be considered a submissive, post-dated “yes.”
This has served to generate two unavoidable consequences.
The first is to destroy the credibility of any objection — whether his personally, or that of any official Israeli organ – to any additional demands on Israel in the future, no matter how perilous.
The second is to make the advent of such pernicious demands inevitable.
Outrageous and infuriating
And as we have seen, the inevitable was soon upon us – and with it, a sense of foreboding that further capitulation would soon follow.
This trepidation was aptly conveyed in a talk-back to my column by reader Icry, who noted: “As this was written previous to Kerry belittling Netanyahu’s demand that Abbas recognize the Jewish State, the countdown begins to when Netanyahu again capitulates.”
Why this matter is so fateful, and why it is so crucial that Israel not yield on it, was succinctly articulated by the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl in the introductory excerpt (see above). He is of course entirely correct in asserting that if it does acquiesce, “Palestinians will keep pressing to… eventually eliminate Israel’s Jewish majority.”
It is the paramount importance of this issue – especially for anyone who purports to believe that durable peace with the Palestinians is feasible – that makes Kerry’s new demand so outrageous; and his expectation that Israel should consent to an arrangement based on its adversaries’ denial of its essence, so infuriating.
Feigning disingenuous bemusement
Feigning disingenuous bemusement at all the fuss, Kerry attempted to dismiss its importance, by alleging: “‘Jewish state’ was resolved in 1947 in Resolution 181 where there are more than 40-30 mentions of ‘Jewish state.’”
Echoing this line, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated: ”The United States’ position that Israel is the Jewish state... has been consistently made clear by the president and secretary,” adding, “However, we do not see a need that both sides recognize this position as part of the final agreement.”
So, having failed to persuade the Palestinians to acknowledge what Kerry himself claims should be self-evident, he is attempting to railroad Israel into accepting what is, in effect, a negation of its identity. One can only wonder whether America’s top diplomat is aware of how transparently mendacious and self-serving his endeavor is beginning to look.
After all, the Israel-Arab conflict has raged for decades despite “the US position that Israel is the Jewish state.” What really matters is the Arab position, and in particular the Palestinian- Arab position, and it is precisely this which Kerry proposes Israel disregard.
Absent such a condition, any “two-state” agreement will quickly emerge as no more than a “two-stage” subterfuge.
In many ways, the requirement that Abbas acknowledge Israel as the Jewish nation-state is analogous to Ehud Barak’s requirement that Arafat declare an “end of conflict” with the Jewish state.
It was a deal-breaker then, and it is clearly a deal-breaker now – because Arab opposition to Jewish sovereignty is not due to what the Jews do, but to what they are, Jews.
Strategic positioning
Regrettably, there are detrimental voices from inside the Israeli establishment that seem oblivious to the significance of Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish character.
Among the most noticeable is that of Finance Minister Yair Lapid. With characteristically flippancy, he derided the demand for Palestinian recognition as “rubbish,” proclaiming: “My father did not come from the ghetto to be recognized by the Palestinians. The entire Zionist idea is that we recognize ourselves and that’s enough.”
His imbecilic bravado should be summarily dismissed for the arrogant tripe it clearly is.
For this Lapidian swagger might be a position of some merit, if one was not seeking accommodation with the Palestinians. However, as I have pointed out previously (“What an idiot,” October 10, 2013) it is totally senseless, if – as Lapid claims – he is devoted to the peace process, even approvingly envisioning the prospect of Palestinian flags over public buildings in east Jerusalem. (Der Spiegel, May 8, 2008)
It should be made crystal clear that withholding recognition of Israel as the Jewish state is not tactical posturing by the Palestinians, but strategic positioning. By refusing such recognition, the Palestinians preserve for themselves the rationale for continuing to press for the “right-of-return” for millions of Palestinian Arabs into a “non-Jewish” Israel.
This is what makes the required structuring of any agreement qualitatively different from those signed with Egypt and Jordan, where, with all their shortcomings and manifest impermanence, the “right-of-return” into pre- 1967 Israel was never an issue.
By forgoing the demand for this recognition, Lapid is complicit in facilitating future demands for the implementation of a ruinous “right-of-return” – something the Washington Post’s Diehl is keenly aware of but which seems to elude the somewhat limited grasp of Israel’s finance minister.
Shimon Netanyahu/Binyamin Peres?
But enough of Lapid. Back to Bibi.
It is against this vicious cycle of outlandish demands, followed by compliance, followed by more outrageous demands and further compliance, that growing signs are emerging of a disturbing metamorphosis in Netanyahu and his policy predilections. It is a metamorphosis that appears to entail Netanyahu increasingly embracing policies that he once disdainfully derided with good reason.
Thus, although his recent AIPAC address was – as usual – a rhetorical masterpiece, tailored to a tee for US audiences, there were certain aspects of his speech, where the seasoned listener might have been excused for thinking Bibi had morphed into Shimon. For portions of what he had to say were substantively indistinguishable from the disproven and discredited delusion of the “New Middle East,” touted by Peres in the mid-’90s, but today, in the wake of the visceral violence of the Arab Spring, seem even more absurd and detached from reality than before.
Echoing the implausible platitudes of the Oslo era, Netanyahu proclaimed “… peace with the Palestinians would turn our relations with… many Arab countries into open and thriving relationships… The combination of Israeli innovation and Gulf entrepreneurship...could catapult the entire region forward…” R-i-g-h-t! That’s just what the world’s most decadent regimes are hankering after – to catapult the entire region forward into an era that would question their nepotistic hold on power.
And even if they did – with all due respect to the unique ingenuity of Israeli expertise – they could still significantly “catapult forward” with what is available today, absent any Israel- Palestinian accord, with the Americans, British, Germans, Swiss, Japanese, Koreans…
Unless someone seriously believes they are putting their own desire for progress on hold, because of their identification with their Palestinian “brethren” for whom they have shown undisguised disdain.
Crazy Talk: Reinstating ghettos
But worse is still to come. For there are increasing indications that Netanyahu is seriously considering measures that, in effect, involve abandoning Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria, in detached and isolated enclaves (read, “ghettos”).
There is hardly an alternative interpretation for his words in his March 8 interview with Channel 2, where he stated that (a) Israel would not be able to extend its sovereignty under a permanent accord to encompass all of the settlements, but (b) he was adamant that “there will be no act of evacuation” and (c) that the government will not force West Bank settlers to leave their homes, even under a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians.
This heinous and hazardous notion was recently raised in a delusional policy-paper, “Jewish Enclaves in a Palestinian State” (April 8, 2013), authored by Gideon Biger and Gilead Sher, and published by the Institute for National Security Studies (see my analysis, “Infuriating, insidious, immoral, December 19, 2013).
Alarmingly, this possibility seems to be taken seriously by Netanyahu, who reportedly tasked cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit with researching whether the complicated array of Dutch and Belgian enclaves, which originated in a mixture of medieval treaties, might constitute a viable legal precedent for similar arrangements under which Jewish settlers could stay put within a Palestinian state.
Belgium and Holland? Really? Can anyone genuinely believe that this is a case study of any relevance for the Israel-Palestinian conflict?
Choreographing capitulation?
Those who would dismiss this as idle talk, or as unavoidable spin to forestall international pressures, should recall my caveat last week: In the discourse on the Arab-Israel conflict, words once uttered have a dynamic of their own, and their impact frequently extends well beyond the control – and intentions – of those who uttered them.
So whatever Netanyahu’s true intentions, there should be grave concerns that, at least on the Palestinian issue, he has surrendered psychologically, and is strenuously seeking some way to choreograph his capitulation.
Martin Sherman is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies