Is Israel a Banana Republic?

Is the State of Israel a banana republic? The Israeli Left seems to think so.

After Barack Obama's victory in the U.S. Presidential Elections, the Israeli political parties Kadima and Labor were quick to argue that Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu "was too Republican" to work with Obama and therefore should not be elected prime minister.

Kadima leader and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Netanyahu would put Israel "into a corner" diplomatically.

Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines said that Obama would "try to advance the peace process from day one," but "Netanyahu would say no to the Saudi peace plan, no to dividing Jerusalem, no to withdrawing from the Golan."

[The Saudi plan, proposed in 2002, calls for a complete Israeli withdrawal from all disputed territories including East Jerusalem and the Golan in exchange for wide Arab recognition of Israel. The plan has been recently endorsed by President of Israel and former Labor Chairman Shimon Peres.]

"That's why it's so important that the center-Left bloc win our election," Paz-Pines added.

In sum, the Kadima-Labor message to Israeli voters is to choose a leader who will defer to the U.S. President on major security decisions facing the State of Israel.

The Left's assessment of Barack Obama's goals in the region has merit.

Obama indicated in February that his Mideast policies may not align with those of the Likud. Obama complained, "I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel. . . ."

Former President Jimmy Carter recently told CNN that Obama would have a "new approach" and "promised to me personally . . . that he would not wait even a month after he was president to start working on the peace process."

Carter contrasted this with the "previous two presidents [who] waited till the last year they were in office before they began the peace process."

The British Sunday Times reported that during a meeting in Ramallah in July, Obama said that Israel would be "crazy" to reject the Saudi plan. (Obama's Senior Middle East Advisor, Dennis Ross, however, calls the story "false.")

Still, that Obama will pressure Israel is not a foregone conclusion. The pressing nature of the economic crisis and the responsibility of being president may alter Obama's agenda. Additionally, a firm and convincing Israeli leader (like Netanyahu) may be able to convince Obama to respect Jewish claims.

But even if Barack Obama has plans for Israel that does not mean the Israeli Prime Minister must go along with them.

The U.S. and Israel may face the same Islamo-fascist Arab enemy, but the two nation's situations and therefore some of their interests are vastly different.

Israel is a small country with a small amount of resources in the heart of the battlefield. Every Israeli concession to its enemies threatens the lives of Israeli citizens.

Far away from the conflict, the threat America faces is relatively non-existent when compared with the threat Israel faces. To many, the horrible attacks of 9-11 seem as merely a once in a lifetime event which will (hopefully) not be repeated.

As a result, Americans do not immediately feel the effects of appeasement. This means that at least in some respects, the temptation to make concessions is greater.

Too often that temptation translates into pressure on Israel.

Prior to World War II, British leaders were quick to appease Hitler by conceding the far away Sudetenland. Today, many American policymakers, especially in the State Department, are quick to advocate Israeli concessions to the Arabs.

Though the U.S. is officially Israel's ally, it often aims to be evenhanded in its involvement in the Israeli-Arab conflict, equally weighing Jewish and Arab claims and interests.

Since Israel's 1967 capture of the historically Jewish territories of Judea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan, which are historically Jewish and control of which is necessary to Israel's security, the U.S. has consistently advocated that Israel abandon those territories.

Such concessions - like the Oslo Agreements, Ehud Barak's 2000 offer to Arafat and the Disengagement from Gaza - all resulted in more terror, war, and greater existential threats to Israel.

Although American aid is very beneficial, it cannot protect Israel's citizens from the terror unleashed by Israeli concessions or replace defensible borders.

Thus, it is imperative that Israel withstand U.S. pressures to cede land, weapons and money to Israel's enemies.

The Kadima-Labor bloc also misperceives the American public's love for Israel and what led to Obama's victory.

In every major poll throughout the U.S. presidential contest, Americans viewed John McCain, a supporter of Bush's foreign policy, as the better candidate on national security.

Additionally, Obama found it necessary to repeatedly assert his pro-Israel credentials.

Unfortunately for McCain, other factors -- the U.S. economic crisis; the historic opportunity to elect a Black president; McCain's age; the initial lack of enthusiasm McCain generated among Conservatives because of his own liberalism; Obama's oratory abilities; the historic amount of funds Obama raised and the media time Obama purchased -- all weighed much greater than the issue of national security during the campaign.

The 2004 election was more of a referendum on Bush's "war-mongering" (and pro-Israel) foreign policy than anything else -- and the Republicans won that race.

What this all means is that Americans love Israel and understand Israel's rational unwillingness to make concessions to her enemies. This is why the "too Republican" Netanyahu scores high when he, in his perfect English, articulates Israel's situation to an American audience.

The debate about Israeli deference to a major power precedes the founding of the State of Israel. It is a debate that characterizes the whole of Zionist history, from the Balfour Declaration in 1917 until the Declaration of Israel's Independence in 1948.

The two sides in the debate were championed by the President of the World Zionist Organization, Chaim Weizmann, who become the first President of the State of Israel, and Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky, the founder of the Jewish Legion, the Haganah, many other Zionist organization and upon whose philosophies the Likud party was later founded.

Both Jabotinsky and Weizmann had a profound faith in Great Britain. But Weizmann and his supporters in the Labor party, like David Ben-Gurion, believed that British support was essential at any cost.

While the Jews of Europe were suffering mass social and economic persecution, Weizmann and Ben-Gurion did not have the courage to contest British concessions to Arabs.

These concessions took the form of disarming Palestinian Jewry in the face of Arab violence and barring Jewish immigration to Palestine.

Jabotinsky's approach to Zionism was based on his belief in free speech, political activism, and faith in Britain as a nation. His slogan was that "silence is filth, it leads to a loss of life and blood." Jabotinsky believed that Jewry had publically state its demands.

Jabotinsky demanded in the 1930s that at least 1.5 million European Jews be evacuated from Europe to Palestine over a period of ten years.

But Weizmann, who favored acquiescence and secret diplomacy, won the day.

In placating the British, who were in turn placating the Arabs, Weizmann and Ben-Gurion attacked Jabotinsky for his lack of discipline. They even went as far as to deny that the establishment of a Jewish state was the aim of Zionism.

In the end, Weizmann's overestimation of the need to defer to British colonial officials ultimately contributed to the calamity of the Holocaust.

The leftist Kadima-Labor bloc does not understand that the essence of leadership is being able to withstand the pressures from major world players and to advocate one's own national interests.

If the Prime Minister of Israel will not stand up for Israel's interests, there is little chance the U.S. President will.

A review of controversial decisions Israel has made in defiance of the U.S., shows that such decisions have reaped benefits to both countries. 

In 1967, Egypt kicked the international peacekeeping force out of Sinai, amassed its forces there, and blockaded the Straights of Tiran, all in clear preparation for war.

The U.S. urged Israel not to launch a pre-emptive strike. President Lyndon Johnson cabled to the Israelis: "Preemption by Israel would make it impossible for the friends of Israel to standard at your side."

Members of the Israeli cabinet worried: Israel had never gone without the support of a major power. Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin argued that "If the State of Israel thinks its existence hangs on an American commitment and not on its own power - I have nothing more to say." Transportation Minister Moshe Carmiel likewise argued that "[a]nyone who doesn't think we can stand alone, doesn't think we can exist here."[1]

Fortunately, Israel did strike first and brought the war to a swift conclusion, saving countless lives, both Jewish and Arab.

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Jabotinsky's protégé, embodied this principle. Begin understood that the Jewish people's eternal national interests vastly outweighed the oft-changing diplomatic pressures from Washington or other powers that be.

After the Holocaust, when Britain astonishingly continued to bar Jewish refugees from Palestine, Begin led to Irgun Zvai Leumi in a revolt against British rule in Palestine.

The "Revolt" forced the British to return the Palestine Mandate to the United Nations, the successor to the League of Nations. This quickly resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel.

As Prime Minister, Begin continued to put his country's interests first.

In 1981, under Begin's leadership, Israel destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak.

In response, the U.S. endorsed a U.N. resolution condemning Israel and withheld delivery of F-16 aircrafts to Israel. Secretary of State Casper Weinberger urged a reassessment of U.S. policy toward Israel.

In December of that year, the Knesset approved the Golan Heights Law, which extended "the Law, jurisdiction and administration of the State . . .[to] the Golan heights," effectively annexing the territory.

The Reagan Administration was livid and suspended a Memorandum of Understanding on Strategic Cooperation between the U.S. and Israel. In response, Begin called the U.S. Ambassador to Israel into his office and told him that Israel was not a "banana republic," adding that "for three thousand years we existed without any ‘memorandum of understanding' . . . with the United States."

But the tensions proved temporary. The American-Israel friendship moved on and ties between the two nations are stronger than ever. One year after the passage of the Golan Heights Law, President Reagan issued a pro-Israel National Security Directive.

In 2003, President Bush praised the Osirak strike, reportedly telling the son of deceased Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was a pilot in the Osirak mission, that he would finish the job Ramon started.

Begin's actions set an important precedent. In September 2007, even the politically weak Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was able to strike at a secret Syrian nuclear reactor without any U.S. condemnation whatsoever.

It is not mere coincidence that such Israeli actions always have an ultimately beneficial affect on the U.S., while Israeli concessions have strengthened enemies of the U.S., like Hezbollah and even al Qaeda.

Kadima and Labor's attempt to cow Israeli voters with fears of losing U.S. support is a shameful and dishonest exploitation of American political scene. Israel needs true leaders like Menachem Begin who would never concede Jewish national interests in deference to the unarticulated and at this point hypothetical demands of an uninaugurated president-elect.

[1] The three quotes relating to the Six Day War can be found in Michel B. Oren's Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2003) at page 123.