Can Israel Defy the World?

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the political right accuses the left of pursuing a fantasy -- namely, that peace is possible.  At the same time, however, the right suffers from what many consider its own fantasy: that Israel can defy the world, and particularly the U.S.

In addressing the right's "fantasy," the fact is that you can count the instances where Israeli prime ministers have defied the U.S. on the fingers of one hand.

Ben Gurion's declaration of statehood is one such example, as was his refusal to withdraw in the '48 war to the Partition line.  He insisted instead on the Armistice lines.  In part for his intransigence, he was punished with the creation of UNRWA.

Other instances of Israel bucking the United States include, perhaps, Eshkol's decision to pre-empt the Six-Day War and Begin's courageous decisions to bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak, and to push on to Beirut in the first Lebanese War.

Begin, uncharacteristically, gave up every inch of the Sinai, after much pressure and prodding.  He even came to the conclusion that doing it was a good thing.  The most important reason was because Egypt, then Israel's biggest Arab enemy, was prepared to break the Arab rejectionist front by making peace with Israel.  This was considered a very big deal at the time.

Shamir was forced to participate in the Madrid Conference in 1991 and to negotiate indirectly with the PLO.  He was also forced to put Jerusalem on the table.  He may have given in since he desperately needed a U.S. loan guarantee  on a $10-billion line of credit in order to finance the aliya of close to one million Jews, or nearly Jews, from Russia.   There may have been pressures applied to him as well, as he was dealing with James Baker, who had no love for Jews.

Thanks to the pressure and threats that Shamir and therefore Israel were subject to, Rabin, when he became prime minister, opted to bypass the pressure and to secretly negotiate a deal directly with Arafat, the head of the PLO.  What resulted was the Declaration of Principles in 1993 and the Interim Agreement in 1995, together known as the Oslo Accords.  These agreements were favorable to Israel, as the U.S. was not in a position to support the Palestinian position.  That is not to say that it wasn't a huge mistake to invite Arafat back into Judea and Samaria.  It was.

After Rabin's assassination, Benjamin Netanyahu, in 1996, narrowly defeated Shimon Peres for the job of prime minister.  He based his campaign on his rejection of the Oslo Accords or on his demand for reciprocity before Israel would act on them.  Within two years, though, he betrayed his longstanding positions and signed the Wye Agreement, in which let the PA control 40% of the territories, as required by Oslo, without demanding reciprocity.  Douglas Feith explains the significance of the agreement in "Wye and the Road to War," at Commentary.

It was a known fact that Pres. Clinton had promised to release Jonathan Pollard, but I doubt that this was why Netanyahu signed the agreement.  He may have thought he had no choice but to continue the Oslo process, even in the face of Arafat's non-compliance.  In any event, it contributed to his defeat at the hands of Ehud Barak in the elections one year later.

Because of a wave of devastating suicide bombings, Barak resigned in 2001, and Ariel Sharon, the noted war hero, replaced him as prime minister.  For all his toughness and his defense of the settlement enterprise, expectations were that he would not succumb to pressure.  His first task was to put an end to the killings, and accordingly, he announced:

All of our efforts to attain a cease-fire have been torpedoed by the Palestinians. The fire did not cease, even for one day. The Cabinet has therefore instructed our security forces to take all necessary measures to bring full security to the citizens of Israel. We can rely only on ourselves. [The following sentence, significantly, was said in Hebrew only.] And from this day forward, we will rely only on ourselves.

But the thrust of Sharon's remarks (here translated from Hebrew) was directed westward:

We are currently in the midst of a complex and difficult diplomatic campaign. I turn to the western democracies, first and foremost the leader of the free world, the United States. Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938, when the enlightened democracies of Europe decided to sacrifice Czechoslovakia for the sake of a temporary, convenient solution. Don't try to appease the Arabs at our expense. We will not accept this. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia.

Some in Israel thought Sharon's remarks were over the top, but I for one (and I was not alone) was thrilled to read them.  Reuven Koret wrote about the statement and what may have caused it:

Israeli officials were uncharacteristically reticent to comment on Sharon's remarks. Army Radio reported in the morning that they were unable to extract any quote from any government minister with whom they spoke.

Part of the reason for the barely-veiled hostility the Prime Minister expressed with regard to the United States is evidently a less than understanding response of the Bush Administration to his request to include Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah to the "A-list" of terror groups, especially after each of the groups launched attacks on Israel in recent days, with little or no action by the Palestinian Authority.

Another explanation is believed to be the new Middle East "initiative" reportedly being introduced by the Bush Administration to gain support from reluctant Arab would-be coalition partners [for the invasion of Iraq].

The U.S. initiative reportedly calls for an independent Palestinian state, division of Jerusalem (Jewish areas to Israel and Arab areas to Palestine, including the Temple Mount), and the halt of all Israeli construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sharon never once reiterated these sentiments, and a year and a half later, he was forced to accept (albeit grudgingly) this American initiative, then called the Roadmap.  He did so with fourteen reservations which were never given more than a glance, even though the U.S. agreed to "seriously consider them."

This Roadmap, by including the Saudi Plan, drastically changed the terms of the Oslo Accords and put Israel into a straitjacket.  Oslo had made no mention of Res. 194, which is the basis for the "right of return," nor did it put a limitation on Israeli settlement construction.  Thus, the U.S. was back in the game.  The U.S. forced Israel to agree, because that was the price Saudi Arabia was demanding in exchange for her agreeing to the invasion of Iraq by the U.S.

Once again, as with Rabin, the pressure that Sharon was subject to resulted in him proposing to unilaterally disengage from Gaza on his terms.  Such a proposal flew in the face of everything Sharon had stood for.  To make the disengagement more palatable to Israelis, he negotiated with the George Bush administration for a letter which ostensibly allowed Israel the right to keep the settlement blocks and to reject the so-called right of return.  (Pres. Obama made short shrift of that letter, declaring the U.S. not bound by it.)  Sharon originally intended to remain in control of the border between Gaza and Egypt in order to prevent smuggling.  Condi Rice forced Sharon to accept the Rafah Agreement, which provided for the monitoring to be done by the EU with Israel video access, albeit a day later.  In time, the EU abandoned its post, leaving no monitors in place -- we all know with what results.

Similarly, Rice spearheaded the formulation of U.N. Res. 1701, intended to end the second Lebanon war in 2006, at the request of PM Livni.  That too proved worthless.  Thank you, Condi.

In fact, every time Israel went to war, she was on a very tight leash.  The UNSC always passed a Chapter VII ceasefire resolution sooner or later, depending on the U.S. position, and Israel never violated such resolutions, except perhaps for a few hours.  This was so even when it was in Israel's best interest to finish the job.

In 2009, Netanyahu once again became prime minister.  Within a few months of taking office, he gave a speech at BESA in which he accepted the two-state solution, contrary to the Likud platform and his own previous pronouncements.  In the fall of that year, he announced a ten-month settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria, seemingly as a gesture.  No reason was given, no reciprocity demanded.  Netanyahu proudly made the point that the freeze didn't apply to Jerusalem.  Nevertheless, for all intents and purposes, he imposed a de facto freeze when the actual freeze expired, which applied to both the territories and Jerusalem.  He merely allows the odd building project to go ahead in order to pacify his right wing.  So how can anyone have any confidence in his declarations that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel?

Don't ever underestimate the ruthless pressure Israel is subjected to.  Last September, MK Aryeh Eldad said he had reliable information that Obama put a "gun" to Bibi's head to prevent Israel from annexing Area C in response to the unilateral move by the PA for recognition at the U.N.  The "gun" was Obama's  threat not to veto the UNSC resolution recognizing Palestine.

When Netanyahu was invited to form the government based on the support he received from parties on the right, he began immediately to water down the influence of the right by forming a coalition with Labor, headed by Barak.  He also appointed establishment lawyer Yehuda Weinstein as attorney general.  In this position, Weinstein is the legal adviser to the government and is responsible for protecting the rule of law.  Prior to the elections, Netanyahu also engineered that Moshe Feiglin would be low on the list, so as to exclude him from the Knesset, and invited Dan Meridor to join Likud.  Meridor was subsequently given a senior cabinet post.

And now Netanyahu has added Kadima to the coalition.  He is no longer threatened by the right, as he was first time around.  With Kadima, Labor, and Likud in the coalition, Netanyahu can comfortably rule from the center.

A series of laws have been proposed by Netanyahu's colleagues on the right in order to make Israel more democratic and to handcuff the radical NGOs supported by the EU and the NIF.  In almost all cases, Netanyahu has opposed the legislation -- either because he didn't want to alienate the left or because he didn't want to alienate the EU.

Besides that, he has followed the dictate of the international community not to do anything that would imperil the two-state solution.  Obviously, the freeze and the opposition to the legislation are part of that, but something else is going on.  In the last three years, the EU has  encouraged and financed the Palestinians' efforts to take over "Area C" by planting or building.  According to Regavim, this program has resulted in the loss of thousands of acres, and the rate of loss is growing exponentially.  Not only is Netanyahu's government not doing anything to stop them, but it is aiding and abetting them.  A recent example of that is Barak's decision to uproot olive trees planted by Jews while permitting the Arabs to plant.  The Arabs acquire title to the lands by doing so.  Meanwhile, the GOI required the Jews to waive their right to acquire title by planting, which they did.  They said their sole purpose was, and is, to stop the Arabs from acquiring title.  Still, Barak wants to uproot the trees which the Jews have planted.

Another example is the government's policy to demolish homes built by Jews on "private Palestinian land," though no one is claiming ownership to such lands, and though well-accepted law in the West and even in Israel allows for compensation when the homes have been built in good faith.  The government policy is to direct the Court to issue demolition orders rather than to allow the residents the right to argue that they built their property in good faith.

Furthermore, Netanyahu has opposed recent bills that would legalize houses built on "private Palestinian Land."  He threatened to fire any minister who voted in favor of the bills, resulting in their defeat.  He didn't even wait for the report of the Levy Commission appointed by him to recommend solutions.  My guess is that Netanyahu was aware that the report would support the settlers.

Pres. Obama has taken position that a solution to the conflict can be arrived at only through direct negotiations.  He established such a position to prevent the PA from circumventing negotiations by going to the UNGA or to the UNSC for recognition.  He also reiterated this position recently, when Barak threatened to unilaterally withdraw.  But the problem with negotiations is that the U.N., the U.S., and the EU meddle in them on the side of the PA.  And now the PA, with the support of the EU and the U.S., is putting facts on the ground which essentially pre-determine the outcome.  At the same time, they prevent Israel from putting facts on the ground.

Inherent in the idea that one can negotiate is the right to say "no" -- to not offer what one doesn't want to offer or to reject what one wishes not to accept.  Thus, negotiations, whether to buy a house or to arrive at a peace agreement, don't necessarily result in a deal.  So negotiations are not the answer, and Obama knows it.  Putting facts on the ground is.

Israel must find the resolve to end the peace process and take the heat.  Otherwise, she is doomed to subservience.  She must put the right's "fantasy" to the test.

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