Going Solo

In this coming decade, Israel will likely find that it must rely on itself to advance interests and goals in region and world.

The first decade of the 21st century began with a disappointment: the failure of the Camp David conference in 2000, when Washington had a strong president who had invested everything he could in the peace process. In Israel, we had a prime minister who had been elected on a wave of hope for peace, and who was prepared for far-reaching concessions, while on the Palestinian side there was Yasser Arafat, seen as the only leader who could bring the Palestinians to an historic compromise.
The first decade also began with the terror attack on the Twin Towers, etching into Western consciousness that terror organizations were no longer restricting themselves.
It was marked by the rule of George W. Bush as US president, who began with a certain hostility toward Israel and ended as the best friend that it has ever had.
I can recall a cable I sent to the Foreign Ministry immediately after the Bush’s election, when I served as head of the diplomatic delegation in Qatar, in which I stated that Bush and Richard Cheney were bad news. I detailed the scope of the deals that Cheney had obtained as president of an oil company in the Gulf states – $9 billion – and I insisted that their tenure meant problems for us.
I was wrong. My assessment was based on logic. But logic is one thing, and reality is another. The attack on 9/11 shocked the US. Every day that went by brought new revelations about how Arab countries were turning a blind eye to terror activities.
Finally, the West understood. We were given a place in the VIP box for those who had been saying “I told you so,” when we had been telling the US how it should fight its war. During the Bush era, the US demanded that its allies move toward democracy. The first decade of the 21st century was one in which the US operated proactively, and took advantage of every drop of motivation, will and money in a war against the enemies of the West and freedom.
But in the end, the US tired of Bush’s crusade and of attempting to reeducate the Muslim world, while it also tired of supporting Israel. It was a decade in which Israeli leaders enjoyed huge support in Washington but that support diminished with the accession of Barack Obama.
Toward the end of the decade, Arab countries also realized that the US was weak economically and militarily, and in particular discovered the limits of its ability to get results in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US today is tired. The country wants to engage in domestic matters, and be more popular among those who hate it.
This weakness has resulted in Arab countries no longer falling in line with Washington’s positions, and small, impudent countries such as Qatar doing everything in their power to support Hamas and warm relations with Iran, while enabling Al Jazeera to stoke up anti-American sentiment.
This understanding has also resulted in the Palestinian Authority, which relies on US aid, launching a diplomatic offensive to recognize a Palestinian state by explaining that the US is too weak to force Israel into an agreement. This is to make the unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence seem “natural.”
THE SECOND decade of this century will be one in which it is not certain that the US will be part of any Middle East solution, and certainly not on Iran.
The WikiLeaks documents that revealed the distress of Arab leaders over Iran’s nuclear program and the lack of US will to act shows that in the coming decade, the US will abstain from military action in Iran or even from supporting operations by other countries in the Middle East. The US lives in peace with nuclear bombs in Pakistan, Russia, China and India; a bomb in Iranian hands is not an existential problem for it.
The second decade will be one in which we will be forced to stop wasting time on declarations about the responsibility of the West for the Iranian problem, and will need to take practical steps as we see fit.
The decade must be one in which Israel begins speaking Arabic. The meaning of this is not that we will assimilate into the Middle East and join the Arab League as per the vision of Shimon Peres in the 1990s, but rather we will begin to speak Arabic to become a more effective player in the region.
An Israel that speaks Arabic will be better understood and in this way, we will be better able to defend our interests and finally achieve results.
We will also need to act independently, and not rely on the US veto and support at the UN because that is no longer assured.
The second decade will force us to create international policy that relies on universal values and not just to explain our position within the context of the Palestinian conflict. This will be the decade of the environment, a decade of improved health and scientific development, and in all these areas Israel has much to contribute. There are dozens of other issues in which we can play a significant role in the UN and fight the delegitimization campaign against us.
With the discovery of vast gas resources, the next decade must also be a decade of renewal. It is enough for us to look eastward and see what is happening to countries that enjoy fixed revenues from energy. The gas must enable us to pass on to the next generation an economy without national debt and cleaner air.
THE SECOND decade of the 21st century must be an active decade from Israel’s point of view. A decade in which we initiate actions to set the regional and international agenda, and are not merely led by events to which we respond. This must be a decade in which, instead of just purporting to build a new Middle East, we learn to conduct ourselves wisely in this region.

The author is chairman of the Smart Middle East Forum. This article was first published in Yisrael Hayom.