BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

A Rude Awakening, part deux

What does Israel need to say?

First, if you are reading this and didn’t read the first posting it is not going to make a lot of sense. So go back and read the first part.

Israel needs to acknowledge, to a certain extent, the slogans of the past inasmuch as these still have a tremendous grip on public opinion. Thus, a statement from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recognizing that eventually there will be a Palestinian state alongside Israel is necessary. Although talk is cheap, these few words would likely buy a lot of good will in Washington and European capitals. At least some Arab capitals would receive such a pronouncement favorably too.

It would give President Obama firmer ground to stand on vis-à-vis negotiations with Iran. It would give the Europeans enough reason to go move Israel one-step closer to membership in the EU. It would give Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia political cover to join Washington in confronting Iran, while cracking down on Islamic radical at home. Perhaps just as important, if Mr. Netanyahu made such a statement it would confound his critics on the Israeli Left and perhaps start driving a wedge between the two wings of the opposition Kadima party.

“Israel is in favor of a two-state solution” does not have to be the opening line or the closing line of the speech. However, it needs to be said. It is also an opportunity to set the parameters of a future Palestinian state.

How does Israel say it?

How would I say it if I were in the Prime Minister’s shoes? I think it would go something along these lines.

“Since its establishment in 1948, the State of Israel has sought peace with its neighbors through direct negotiations. However, despite our sincerest efforts, many of our attempts were met with outright rejection. Our major wars have cost the region – not just Israel, but all the countries involved, over a trillion dollars in lost development. Schools were not built and children were not educated. Hospitals were not built and the sick were not healed. Yet, we still yearn for peace and believe it is within our reach if we act responsibly.”

“The first breakthrough came in 1978 with Anwar Sadat’s courageous and groundbreaking visit to Israel. Egypt and Israel were rewarded by President Sadat’s vision, and in 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty that endures to this day. In 1994 Jordan under King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel, and that peace endures to this day. Both of the courageous leaders bravely made difficult choices, shouldered the responsibility for their actions, and will always be remembered in history as men of valor.”

“Unfortunately, their equals have not yet been found among the other states of our shared region. Some are held hostage by extreme political philosophies. Some are held hostage by anarchy and disarray. Yet others bind themselves to outmoded concepts and untenable ideas. History will also judge these men harshly for all the wasted time, all the blood they have spilt.”

“This I believe: ultimately, there will be peace. There will be a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state of Israel. We hope it is something that we will see in our lifetimes, something that we will have a part in helping build. If men of bravery, courage and vision can be found on the other side of the bargaining table, it is something that we will have.”

“Judea and Samaria are dear to Israel and the Jewish people. They are part of our historic homeland. They are where are our forefathers are buried. They are where are culture was born and flourished. They contain sites that have been holy to us for five thousand years, before there ever was a single Palestinian. Yet for the sake of peace we have ceded parts of Judea and Samaria, and are prepared to ceded more. However, this will only happen if the Palestinian leadership truly seeks peace. Judea and Samaria are not a stepping stone to Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

“Accountability, compromise and reconciliation must replace threats, violence and war. The Palestinian Authority must live up to its past commitments. It must contain and eliminate terrorism. It must reform itself so that it has credibility in the eyes of its own people. And it must take on the arduous task of building a state, much as the Jewish people have: one farm at a time, one factory at a time, one school at a time. If it is capable of living up to its past commitments, providing security, stability and growth, the vision of peace will be shared by all.”

What does the PM say to the President

Before he gives such a speech, Mr. Netanyahu would need to have a heart-to-heart with Mr. Obama. He should start off by clearly stating that an Iran with a complete nuclear fuel cycle is completely unacceptable. The Obama administration has already been floating the idea – more by omission from its statements – that Iran might be able to keep what it already has, as long as it doesn’t develop a nuclear bomb. Both of these, a complete nuclear fuel cycle and a nuclear weapon, will happen in the next 12 – 18 months. This changes all the rules.

Second, Israel needs the Obama administration to follow-up on the commitments made by the Bush administration. This means allowing Israel to purchase the military technology in the amounts it needs to maintain its technical superiority. The post-communist kleptocracy that reigns in Moscow is willing to sell just about any piece of military hardware it can to Iran and Syria. The US must make it clear that it will not allow its closest ally in the region to be put at a military disadvantage.

Third, Israel needs the Obama administration to put a little pressure on the Europeans to play ball. Upgrading Israel’s status vis-à-vis the EU would be a start. Dropping there flirtations with Hamas would strengthen the PA and the peace process. Taking all of these actions, Mr. Netanyahu should tell Mr. Obama, will make Israel strong enough to match the steps that the Palestinians make. If indeed the Palestinians are capable of making them.

May 5, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rude Awakening

Good Morning Israel-nam!
Israel is slowly awakening to a new reality in Washington. Since 1967, when Israel defeated five Arab armies in the short span of six days, the country has enjoyed a special relationship with America. For forty years, that relationship has grown deeper and stronger. Israel has been the beneficiary of diplomatic support, economic assistance, trade treaties and the ability to purchase major weapons systems that have made it the preeminent power in the Middle East.

It also means that for over forty years Israeli leaders have enjoyed relative freedom in their foreign policy decision-making. The election of Barack Obama as president may have ended this situation.

Now, to the dismay of many, the United States is staking out a foreign policy position that for the first time is in apparent opposition to Israeli interests. In the waning months of the Bush administration, the US rebuffed Israeli requests for modern re-fueling tankers and the installation of Israeli technology in the F35 Joint Strike Fighter.

President Obama has ignored the feelers that various European governments have put out towards Hamas. It has also been silent on European linking of enhanced Israeli participation in the EU and implementation of a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue. In fact, President Obama has linked the resumption of dialogue on a two-state solution to American support vis-à-vis the growing Iranian nuclear threat. Israelis are, for the first time, experiencing the “stick” of the “carrot and stick” approach of diplomacy.

A New Reality?

Is this a new reality? Tremendous pressure is being exerted on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to utter the words “two-state solution.” To his credit, he has said little, eschewing press conferences on the subject in order to spend time constructing a new policy. Regardless of the level of support that it ultimately receives, the effort might be stillborn.

There is no negotiating partner on the other side of the table. Despite several months of Egyptian-sponsored “unity” talks, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are just as far apart as they were in July 2006 when Hamas fighters seized control of the Gaza Strip in a violent coup d’etat.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has already given several speeches in which he has stated that past negotiations with the Palestinians have not yielded the promised peace. Instead, they have resulted in Israel ceding territory to Palestinian control and getting more terrorism in return. Israel is now faced with a Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and a West Bank under partial PA control. Hamas will not recognize Israel in any form at all. The PA will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Mr. Liberman is taking every opportunity to give his counterparts in Europe, Russia and China an earful on this situation.

Indeed there is a new reality in the Middle East. There is an Israeli government that is not afraid to admit that past concessions have only been rewarded with more terrorism and increased anti-Semitism from the Arab and Muslim world. It is also an Israeli government that is might not be afraid to test the resolve of the new American president. While President Obama peddles “soft power,” there’s very little sign that anyone in the region is buying.

Perceiving the Other’s Reality

As Mr. Liberman has been arguing, too many diplomats and leaders speak in slogans that no longer have any basis in reality, if they ever did at all. Slogans like “two-state solution,” “settlements,” “occupation” and “right of return” have peppered the speeches of Arab, European and other world leaders for far too long. These phrases have created a reality all their own, regardless of the often pitiless truth of the situation. This creates a unique opportunity for Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu. However, each has to be able and willing to appreciate the other’s perception of reality.

US troops will be ending their combat role in Iraq on June 30. No one is so foolish as to believe that Iraq will magically become a secular democracy on July 1. There are too many interested parties (Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) to allow that to happen. The best that Mr. Obama can hope for is that bloodshed that results does not rise to a level that requires US troops to re-enter Iraqi cities. If Iraq were to descend into a full-fledged civil war or the regime were toppled, American policy and power would be severely damaged.

Likewise, an armed confrontation – either American/Iranian or Israeli/Iranian – would result in a temporary spike in world oil prices. Despite the barrels of ink spilled during the 2008 American election campaign, America still has a petroleum-based economy. Or rather, what is left of the economy is petroleum based. A spike in oil prices, even a temporary increase of two or three months, would result in more damage to the American (and world) economy.

There are other problems that are contending for Mr. Obama’s attention, too. Too many to list here.

In 2008 Americans were fed-up with the $4/gallon gas prices at the pump and the 4000 dead that the war in Iraq had cost them. Mid-term elections for Congress are a short sixteen months away. Mr. Obama benefited from the American public’s frustration and won the presidency. He knows very well that if that situation returns, someone else will benefit from it in 2012.

Binyamin Netanyahu needs to understand that Barack Obama is in the first year of his first term. He will have to deal with this new American president and the problems he inherited for at least another three years, or as long as his own coalition lasts.

To be continued . . .

May 5, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , | Leave a comment