Riding the tiger

The prime minister is taking a very dangerous ride: But from where he now sits, there may be no alternative.

B.Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
B.Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
‘Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside” – John F. Kennedy in his inaugural speech, 20 January 1961.
Israel is engaged in an extremely difficult exercise – negotiating with the PLO to please the Americans. A confluence of events, the most significant being the threat of a nuclear Iran, have conspired to force Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s hand.
It is not bad to negotiate with the PLO , merely futile. No agreement can result – not now, and not in the foreseeable future.
For it is elementary to any understanding of negotiations that an agreement will result only when both sides lack better alternatives.
The PLO leadership, given its aspirations and given its view of contemporary international reality, has a better alternative to any agreement acceptable to the government of Israel. It can go to the UN with world-wide support and increase its leverage while causing escalating pain to Israel.
But this is no secret. And what is sought by the prime minister is not an agreement with the Palestinians, but rather the good will of the Americans.
We need to convince the US that we made an earnest and sincere effort to reach an agreement. This is complicated. It entails making a proposal that the US will consider reasonable but which the Palestinians will reject.
Such a proposal could bring down the Netanyahu government if disclosed.
It is in the nature of difficult negotiations that they do not end until they must. I do not know when that is, and I am not sure anyone else dos, either. The parties agreed on a deadline of nine months, which would expire around May. This deadline will surely be extended, but until when? The end will be marked by the prime minister’s proposal. This proposal will not be communicated by a political colleague, it will be entrusted only to a personal confidant whose fidelity and discretion are proven.
Follow the messenger. It could be Adv.
Yitzhak Molcho, or former national security adviser Ya’akov Amidror, or Ambassador Ron Dermer, or someone else.
The proposal is crucial, again, not because it will lead to real agreement, but because, in the eyes of the Americans, it should have. This means that it will be far more compromising than Netanyahu would himself agree to. We know, for example, that the Americans believe the Palestinian state should occupy almost all of the West Bank, together with Hamas’ Gaza –a solution which Netanyahu considers fraught with existential danger for Israel.
What a risk he will be taking! We will be taking! He will propose an agreement which he considers extremely dangerous and unwise, based on his conviction that it is unavoidable and in the hope that it will be rejected.
IF ONE accepts the prime minister’s view (or even if one merely believes that he is convinced) that an Iran capable of producing nuclear weapons is a mortal danger to our very survival, one can readily understand the rationale for the prime minister’s making what he himself considers such a dangerous proposal to the PLO . Netanyahu must balance two existential threats.
First, there is Iran. Of course, it could be that a nuclear Iran would act rationally and in measured steps, as so many commentators blithely assure us from their studios in Europe and the US. Or, these pundits could be dead wrong.
It could also be that they are mostly right; that there is a 90 percent probability that Iran will act reasonably – but that the 10% happens to fall due. Russian roulette also has very favorable odds.
Add this probability to the certain devastating effects a nuclear capability for Iran would have for Middle East stability.
Then there is the PLO . It seems possible to craft a proposal for the Palestinians which will seem reasonable to Americans eyes yet be unacceptable to the Palestinians.
They will not recognize our existence as a Jewish state today, just as they refused in1936, in 1947, and ever since.
Yet President Barack Obama has repeatedly declared that Israel is a Jewish state, so such a condition should seem to him eminently reasonable.
And it is reasonable, because this recognition will end the dispute and preclude all further claims in the name of “justice” or “history” or “Nakba.”
There are also other provisions which might separate the Americans from the Palestinians. And here, we can also draw encouragement from Abba Eban’s famous observation that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
But this is precisely where JFK’s tiger aphorism comes into play. The Palestinians could accept the proposal even if they have no intention of entering into an agreement. The secret Netanyahu proposal could give them the power to bring down the Israeli government, to reshuffle the deck, to poke around and see what happens. To experiment.
The prime minister is thus taking a very dangerous ride. But, from where he now sits, there may be no alternative.
The author, an attorney in Israel and the US, is the founding president of the Institute for Zionist Strategies.