those Americans who care about Israel, this is a time of crisis. The Obama
administrationís reckless pursuit of dťtente with Iran and its anger over the
reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu has brought us to a critical moment in
which it is now possible to imagine the United States abandoning Israel at the
United Nations and taking steps to further distance itself from the Jewish
state. Many in this country place most of the blame for the problem on Netanyahu
because of his willingness to directly challenge the president on Iran and his
statements about the two-state solution and the Arab vote prior to his victory
that have undermined his reputation among non-Israelis. In response some
well-meaning thinkers are proposing that the answer to the problem lies in
gestures that Netanyahu could undertake that would both improve Israelís image
and lower tensions with the United States. But Netanyahu is right to not think
the effort worth the bother. The recent history of the conflict illustrates that
Israeli concessions intended to prove their devotion to peace donít impress
either the Arabs or foreign critics. In fact, they may make things worse.
While President Obama has been spoiling for fights with Israelís government since he took office in 2009, his temper tantrum about Netanyahuís victory now threatens to make his previous tilt toward the Palestinians seem trivial. So it is hardly surprising that veteran peace processers would think the time is right for Netanyahu to do something to appease the presidentís wrath. jointly credited to former State Department official Dennis Ross and think tank figures David Makovsky and Ghaith Al-Omari that lays out a series of suggestions intended to calm things down and get Israel out of the presidential dog house as well as to calm the waters with both Europe and the Palestinians.
Makovsky, and Al-Omari are smart enough to realize that the time isnít right
to revive a peace process that is dead in the water. The Palestinians have
repeatedly rejected peace offers and show no sign that they are any more willing
to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside one of their own no matter
where its borders are drawn.
they think it would be wise for Netanyahu to freeze building in settlements
beyond the blocs that most concede would remain inside Israel in the event of a
peace agreement. Allowing the Palestinians the right to build more in parts of
the West Bank that would, at least in theory, be part of their state would calm
the waters as would less confrontational rhetoric from Netanyahu. This would,
they say, counter the campaign to delegitimize the prime minister and his nation
and might prompt similar gestures from the Palestinians, such as a promise to
avoid bringing their complaints to the United Nations instead of negotiating as
they are committed to do under the Oslo Accords.
all sounds very smart. Fair or not, Netanyahu is perceived as politically
radioactive in Europe and, despite Israelís popularity in the United States,
President Obamaís efforts to turn both Iran and Israel into political
footballs has undermined the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition.
Gestures aimed at restoring Israelís good name seem the only answer to a
crisis of these dimensions.
as logical as that sounds, such a course of action not only wouldnít improve
Israelís image, they would probably further damage it.
can that be?
the recent history of the conflict teaches us that gestures even more far
reaching than those suggested for Netanyahu have the opposite effect on both the
Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders.
in 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasir Arafat an independent state in
almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Arafat turned him
down flat and then launched a terrorist war of attrition known as the Second
Intifada. After it began, I heard then Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, an
ardent peace processor, take some consolation from this depressing turn of
events by saying that at least after this, no one in the world could fairly
accuse Israel again of being the one responsible for the breakdown of the peace
process. But, contrary to his predictions, Israelís willingness to give so
much and Palestinian terrorism only increased the level of vituperation against
the Jewish state both in the Arab and Muslim worlds and in Europe. One doesnít
know whether to laugh or to cry about Ben-Amiís naÔvetť.
same thing happened after Ariel Sharon withdrew every last Israeli soldier,
settler, and settlement from Gaza in 2005. Instead of proving for the whole
world that Israel was ready to once again trade land for peace, that grand
gesture did nothing to improve the countryís image. Nothing, not the
destruction of the green houses left behind by the Israelis for the Palestinians
nor the conversion of Gaza into a terrorist base and then a Hamas-run
independent state-in-all-but-name altered the conviction of a hostile world that
the trouble was all the fault of the Israelis.
it should be understood that the same dynamic was in place even before Barak and
Sharonís gestures since the Oslo Accords themselves in which Israel brought
Arafat back into the country, empowered him, and led to withdrawals that gave
the Palestinians functional autonomy did little to improve Israelís image. published in January 2010, by
signaling its willingness to withdraw from some territory, the Israelis did not
convince anyone of their good intentions. To the contrary, such concessions
reinforced the conviction that Israel was a thief in possession of stolen
property. The reaction from the Palestinians and hostile Europeans was not
gratitude for the generosity of the Israelis in giving up land to which they too
had a claim but a demand that it be forced to give up even more. Land for peace
schemes and a belief in two states on the part of Israelis has always led most
Palestinians to believe that their goal of forcing the Jews out of the entire
country was more realistic, not less so.
same dynamic applies to Netanyahuís gestures. It was he who endorsed a
two-state solution and then backed up his statement with a settlement freeze in
the West Bank for ten months. But Netanyahu got no credit for this or any
concessions in return from the Palestinians.
would do well to lower the tone of his rhetoric. A cautious leader, he has been
rightly accused of carrying a small stick while speaking very loudly. But the
expectation that settlement freezes or similar gestures will ease tensions with
President Obama is a pipe dream. Even worse, along with Obamaís hostility,
these moves may only encourage Hamas to see it, as they have always viewed such
gestures, as weakness and an invitation to another round of violence such as the
one that led to thousands of rockets being launched from Gaza at Israeli cities.
diplomatic isolation of Israel that Obama is contemplating is a serious problem.
But Israelis have had enough of futile unilateral gestures and rightly so. They
have accomplished nothing in the past. Nor will they ameliorate the animosity
for Israel in the Muslim and Arab worlds as well as Europe that is rooted more
in anti-Semitism than in complaints about the location of the borders of the
Jewish state. Until a sea change occurs in Palestinian political culture,
Israelís leaders would be wise to make no more concessions that will only whet
the appetite of the terrorists for more Jewish blood. Nor should Netanyahu be
under the illusion that President Obama will react with any more generosity
toward Israel in the next two years than he has in the previous six. Far from
staving off destruction as Ross and his friends think, their advice will likely
lead to more diplomatic problems as well as more violence. Just as doctors are
advised by their Hippocratic oaths to do no harm, so, too, should Israelís
prime minister be wise enough to eschew a repetition of the mistakes that he and
his predecessors have made in the not-so-distant past.