Think Again: Too much deference

Israelis tend to think of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's negotiations with the Palestinians as some kind of harmless fantasy. That, however, is a mistake.

0404-think (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Whenever I speak about Israel's security situation, I'm invariably asked: Why doesn't the Israeli government ignore world opinion and do what it must to stop the terrorism? I always answer by pointing out that Israel does not manufacture F-16s or most of her other major weapons systems. Second, Israel's economy is dependent on trade with other countries, chief among them the European Union. Yet deference to world opinion has been taken too far by our current government, to the point that Israel is unwittingly helping to fuel the international campaign of delegitimization against it. That campaign, led by the unholy trinity of NGOs, the United Nations and major Western media outlets, the BBC chief among them, was the subject of a day-long symposium featuring an impressive array of experts sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs last week. Not discussed, however, was the impact of Israeli government policy on the delegitimization of Israel. Since the first Oslo Accords, successive Israeli governments have adopted the position that Israel's security is better served through diplomacy than by ensuring that Israel maintain defensible borders. Yet those diplomatic efforts and the various attempts to subcontract our defense to outside parties - to Yasser Arafat under Oslo, to the UN in Lebanon and to Egypt in the Philadelphi Corridor - have only harmed our international standing, which is demonstrably lower today than at the start of the Oslo process. Any fleeting good will generated by such actions as the Gaza withdrawal is soon lost - and then some - when Israel is forced to respond to the consequences of its concessions. WHENEVER ISRAEL acts out fear of becoming a pariah state by exercising greater restraint or making further concessions, it only convinces its critics that even Israelis know that they are the villains in this piece. For example, this week's decision to remove 45 West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints, in response to pressure from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, gave credence to Palestinian claims that the purpose of those roadblocks was to imprison Palestinians. (It was only 15 minutes before the first Israeli civilian was attacked just beyond a recently dismantled roadblock.) For knowingly endangering its own citizens, all Israel received from Rice was the frosty message: "We'll be watching you." ISRAELIS TEND to observe Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's efforts to remain in power with a certain bemused fascination, and to view his negotiations with the Palestinians as some kind of harmless fantasy. That, however, is a mistake. Israel is being forced to enunciate its final positions with regard to unknown future circumstances, without the Palestinians having yet made a single concession. One does not conduct negotiations with one's cards face up on the table. Entering into negotiations at the present time with the PA only reinforces the perception of Israel as the guilty party in its own eyes, and further convinces the Palestinians that past breaches of agreements carry no penalty. Why should we be talking with Mahmoud Abbas at all after he declared a three-day mourning period for arch-terrrorist George Habash and the Fatah newspaper splashed a front-page picture of the "martyred" murderer of eight yeshiva students? One good indication of the "success" of PA anti-incitement "efforts" is the poll, as reported in The New York Times, that 84% of Palestinians supported the murders at Mercaz Harav. Yet the PA's manifest failures receive no criticism from the US State Department - only Jewish building - because we have adopted the posture of obsequious supplicants. There is no assurance that the "shelf agreement" will remain on the shelf forever. It will be the Americans, as much as Israel, who will determine when it is time to dust it off. And if Israel disagrees that the circumstances are propitious for granting the Palestinians the power to paralyze the coastal region, it may find itself on a collision course with Washington. Every Israeli offer - even theoretical ones - eventually wends its way back into future negotiations. The rejected Israeli proposals at Taba continuously resurface, despite American assurances that they were off the table. The past is never past in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Our obsession with "peace" treaties with our neighbors - treaties for which the purchase price is always further territorial concessions - has blinded us to the larger strategic threat facing us: Iran's emergence as the leading regional power, and the noose of Iranian proxies closing around our necks. Consider the absurdity of Israel sending Syria 20 peace feelers, just when Syria was being publicly humiliated by the boycott of the Damascus summit of the Arab League by half its members because of Syria's continued obstructionism in Lebanon and close ties with Iran. Finally, Olmert is undermining Israel's still strong support in the United States. One cannot expect Americans to be more supportive of Israel than the Israeli government. President Bush has repeatedly said that he is only pushing for the "final" agreement Israel says it wants. When he talks to Bush, Olmert is like a little kid afraid to rat on a bullying older sister (Condoleezza Rice) because of threats of being pounded later if he does. A SELF-RESPECTING Israeli stance would begin by pointing out that twice in the past century the world community affirmed the right of the Jewish people to reconstitute its ancient homeland in Eretz Israel. It would counter every discussion of Palestinian refugees with a discussion of the equal number of Jewish refugees from 1948. It would scoff at the concept of international law that applies to only one country. And it would never tire of pointing out the double standard inherent in the world's lack of concern with the reported execution of 100 Buddhist monks in Chinese-occupied Tibet, or the deliberate extermination of hundreds of thousands of black Muslims in Darfur. But our leaders are incapable of making this case, for they are not truly convinced that this Land rightly belongs to us or that we should not be happy with whatever the Arabs grant us. They are products of an education system that Nobel Laureate Aaron Ciechanover described recently as failing to provide its products with any reason to live here: "We have... attempted to copy, unsuccessfully, the developed countries of the West, in an effort to be like every other nation." When David Ben-Gurion was asked from where the Jews derived the right to live in Eretz Israel, he would hold up the Bible. He conducted a Bible study group in his home. How absurd to imagine today, observes Ciechanover, "that one of this country's leaders would study and teach the Bible in his home..." Click here for more articles by Jonathan Rosenblum