Price Good Will for Israel?
By Jonathan S.
recent spate of terrorist attacks against Israelis for which Hamas claimed
credit launched a debate about what the Israeli government, led by Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, should do in order to deter more violence. The
murder of two Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint, as well as the shooting at a bus
stop in the West Bank that left several Jews wounded and led to the death of an
infant delivered prematurely after his mother was shot in the abdomen put the
prime minister on the spot.
knew that he had to do something to assuage the anger of his constituents,
especially West Bank settlers, who are the most inviting and vulnerable target
for terrorists. Some demanded the government to retaliate against Hamas with
attacks on its assets in Gaza. Others want it put more pressure on the
Palestinian Authority to cease subsidizing the violence by granting salaries and
pensions to terrorists. But within the prime minister’s coalition there was
also backing for granting official recognition to unauthorized West Bank settler
outposts, in addition to deporting the families of terrorists from their home
villages and cities to other parts of the West Bank.
the end, Netanyahu chose to let the Knesset pass preliminary votes on the latter
two suggestions with the ideas of deporting terrorist families passing by a
69-37 vote and the authorization of the outposts getting through by a 61-47
remains to be seen whether either will ever receive final approval. Reportedly,
the Israeli army, the intelligence establishment and the attorney general were
all opposed to these proposals. In particular, the deportation idea seemed to be
of limited utility. But the real issue with the idea of authorizing outposts or
any of these ideas is whether they cause more trouble than they’re worth.
long as the political culture of the Palestinians venerates acts of
terror—with the P.A. ready to compensate them for their losses—there
doesn’t appear to be any foolproof way of deterring such crimes except by the
measures already in place, which seek to make it hard for terrorists to get
close to Jewish population centers. This means that these proposals are more a
matter of appeasing the understandable anger of Israelis than any real advantage
gained for the country’s security.
there’s another consideration to take into account.
Israel’s counter-measures harm its standing in international opinion or among
American Jews? That’s especially relevant when relations between Israel and
the Diaspora appear to be at a low point, with leading U.S. Jewish groups,
including long-established Jewish Federations, complaining that Netanyahu
doesn’t seem to care about their opinions or sensibilities.
argument in favor of Israel holding back on retaliatory measures or doing
something like freezing building in West Bank settlements is that taking such
actions would both relieve international pressure on Jerusalem and make it
easier for American Jews to feel good about supporting the Jewish state. Young
Jews in particular have grown up thinking of Israel as the heavy-handed bully
abusing Palestinian victims.
to many of its foreign friends, if Israel were to refrain from blowing up the
homes of terrorists’ families or if it would freeze settlements rather than
authorizing outposts, it would supposedly prove to the world that Israel really
does want peace. They argue that doing the opposite fuels the narrative that
Netanyahu is a heartless hard-liner bent on oppressing the Palestinians and
dooming any chance for a resolution of the conflict. That not only isolates
Israel in international forums, but also widens the already growing gap between
Israel and the Diaspora.
problem with such arguments is that it’s not clear that doing what the
international community or even liberal American Jews wants increases support
for Israel, let alone makes peace more likely. After all, Israel has repeatedly
offered the Palestinians statehood in deals that would have called for the
removal of settlements. The Palestinian refusals of these offers didn’t seem
to hurt their international standing and Israel’s sacrifices (including the
removal of every soldier, settler and settlement from Gaza in order to make way
for what turned out to be a terrorist state) didn’t win it any popularity
did settlement freezes tried in the past do much to entice the Palestinians to
be reasonable or make the world appreciate Israel. To the contrary, the dynamic
of the peace process is that the more accommodating Israel has been, the more
the world—and many Diaspora Jews—consider it to be a thief divesting itself
of stolen property, rather than a legitimate claimant seeking a reasonable
aren’t mistaken when they dismiss American Jewish complaints about security
measures or demands for them to make unilateral concessions as not only
wrong-headed, but also Olympic-level chutzpah. And their impatience with the
risible notion that unilateral concessions that will undermine security will win
them friends in Europe is equally understandable.
to acknowledge this is not to say that Netanyahu should ignore world opinion, or
especially, the sentiments of Israel’s Diaspora partners. As much as most
American Jews don’t know what they’re talking about with respect to the
conflict, the idea that Israelis should completely ignore their sensibilities or
opinions remains foolish. Both sides of that relationship need each other, and
no Israeli leader should ever think that he or she could afford to give up on
American Jews. The costs of doing so for the future of the Jewish people are
just too high for Netanyahu to stop acting as if he doesn’t care about them or
what they think.
some things more important than international good will. There are times when
Israel’s security needs are at stake, and its government must act against its
enemies—no matter world opinion. But to discard those interests for the sake
of meaningless and counterproductive measures that won’t save any lives makes
no sense. We can only hope that Netanyahu continues to show that he knows the