Secretary of State John Kerry hold press conference with Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, July 30, 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
– Alice in Wonderland
Almost five months ago in this column (April 7), I warned: “With US foreign policy everywhere beleaguered by failure and paralysis, the only hope of any foreign success for the administration is by pressuring a pliant Israel on the Palestinian issue.”
Yet despite the clear signs of the gathering storm on the horizon, no discernible steps were taken to prepare for it. There was no sign of preemptive evasive action, no sign of battening the hatches in order to weather the approaching tempest; no call to US Jewry to circle the wagons until the foreseen onslaught passes.
So like a rudderless ship Israel drifted – seemingly helpless – headlong into the raging gale that is now upon it.
Convened to insult their intelligence
This flaccid Israeli passivity was manna from heaven for the Obama administration and its point man, John Kerry. It gave them a virtually free hand to badger and browbeat Israel into accepting outrageously egregious and absurd concessions without any reciprocal quid pro quo.
Similarly, given the lack of any visible opposition from Israel, the Jewish leadership in the US was easy prey for the administration.
Thus last week, Kerry convened prominent Jewish leaders in the White House to brief them on his initiative to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Judging from reports of what happened during that meeting, one might well be excused for thinking that the principal reason for convening them was to intimidate them and to insult their intelligence.
According to numerous media channels, Kerry told the participants – presumably with a straight face – that “peace” (read, “perilous Israeli concessions”) was a “strategic imperative” for both Israel and the Palestinians.
Apparently unaware of, or unmoved by, the grisly events raging just across Israel’s borders, he argued that the “regional strategic environment has become favorable for a peace agreement because opponents of peace have weakened over the past two years.”
Then he waxed ominous – and blatantly biased – warning the group of “negative consequences” for Israel if the parties fail...in clinching peace.”
Get this: If the parties don’t clinch the deal (read “if Israel refuses to accept whatever outlandish demands the Palestinians happen to insist on”) the resultant “negative consequences” will not apply to both parties, but only to one, Israel.
More detached or more disdainful?
It is difficult to know what would be more troubling: whether the US secretary of state believes the preposterous poppycock he presented in his “strategic assessment”; or whether he doesn’t.
If he does, it reveals just how dangerously detached from regional political realities the top diplomat of the world’s most powerful nation is – and all the attendant perils this lamentable situation entails for America and its allies.
If he does not, it reflects a deep disdain for the US Jewish leadership he addressed, and the communities it represents – with all the regrettable ramifications this entails for their influence on this administration’s policy toward Israel.
When Kerry asserts that the regional strategic environment has become favorable for a peace agreement because opponents of peace have weakened over the past two years, he is either woefully misinformed or willfully misleading.
For nothing could be further from the truth. The entire region is in gory turmoil.
Admittedly, some of Israel’s erstwhile enemies are currently pre-occupied with internecine slaughter. However, once one side eventually prevails over the other, there is little reason to believe that the resulting regional realities would be any more conducive than they were previously to tranquil stability, or to accepting the permanent presence of a Jewish nationstate on “purloined” Arab lands.
‘Favorable strategic environment’? Really?
In Egypt, locked in a titanic struggle between the forces of theocratic tyranny and military dictatorship, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood may be down, but it is far from out. The deteriorating security situation in Sinai, swarming with criminal warlords and jihadi extremists and abutting Israel’s long southern border, gives little cause for optimism. In Syria, where carnage rages unabated, with stark disregard for the Obama-stipulated redline regarding the use of chemical weapons, the radical Islamists are not only challenging the Assad regime, but establishing an increasingly dominant presence adjacent to Israel’s northern border on the Golan.
In Jordan, to which reportedly well over half a million Syrian refugees have fled, the fragile socioeconomic fabric of the country is under severe strain. There has been a surge in the number of demonstrations against the ruling monarchy, and an evermore vocal chorus of anti-Israel voices opposing normalization and even calling for the abrogation of the peace treaty. Even if the king manages to stave off the current challenge to his reign, the working assumption must be that his authority will be severely diminished and the ascendant forces in the country, with strong Islamist affiliations, are hardly likely to be amenable to fostering cordial relations with the Jewish state.
In Lebanon, the country appears once again to be on the cusp of deadly sectarian violence, with the increasing involvement of Hezbollah in the fighting in Syria.
Meanwhile, faced with a glaring lack of American resolve and clear reluctance for action, the Iranian theocracy inches inexorably closer to weaponized nuclear capability.
This is what Kerry perceives as a “favorable regional strategic environment”? Really? It is difficult not to question whether the man reads the newspapers or watches the news; or whether he believes that his audience does.
Validity of arguments irrelevant
Of course, when it comes to advocacy for Palestinian statehood (read “Israeli withdrawal”), logical consistency, intellectual integrity and adherence to empirical fact have never been of paramount importance.
Remember, while the stated rationale for the current initiative is that the “regional strategic environment has become favorable for a peace agreement because opponents of peace have weakened over the past two years,” other advocates of the very same objective invoke a diametrically opposing rationale.
Take, for example, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), arguably the most radical proponent of Palestinian statehood/Israeli withdrawal within the Israeli establishment today, even in the absence of any negotiated agreement between the parties.
In a document titled “The Palestinian Issue: Toward a Reality of Two States,” circulated at its recent 2013 annual conference, we encounter the following: “Fatah, the moderate Palestinian negotiating partner, is growing weaker domestically, at a time that the radicals in the Hamas leadership are growing stronger. The increasing strength of those who identify with political Islam in Arab countries is also worrisome.
The Palestinian Authority, at whose core is the Fatah movement, is currently experiencing a process of internal delegitimization and is growing weaker economically and governmentally.”
The document continues: “The chaos that would occur following his [Mahmoud Abbas’s] expected departure could bring about the PA’s collapse.... These developments make it easier for Fatah’s political rival, Hamas... to gain strength in the West Bank.”
So there you have it: According to Kerry, the regional strategic environment is “favorable,”; according to INSS, “worrisome.”
According to Kerry the opponents of peace have grown weaker; according to INSS, stronger.
But no matter. Whether the environment is “favorable” or “worrisome,” whether the opponents of peace are on the ascent or descent, the conclusion is always the same: Palestinian statehood/Israeli concessions are imperative.
Despite the diametric disagreement regarding the respective rationales, I’d bet the farm that INSS will strongly support the Kerry initiative. After all, when it comes to a quasi-religious article of faith, the validity of the arguments – or lack thereof – is of little consequence.
Invidious or imbecilic?
Back to the Kerry-Jewish leadership interface.
Given the demonstrably invidious and/or imbecilic nature of the Kerry initiative, one might have expected outraged indignation from the heads of the Jewish organizations present at the briefing – as well as from the wider circles of US Jewish leaders.
Sadly this was not to be. Google all I could, I found no sign of outrage or indignation.
Rather the reaction ranged from the muted to the meek; from the myopic to the moronic – and I apologize for any worthy rejoinders I may have missed.
Typical of such inappropriate response, and of the faux optimism and the flawed analysis it conveys, was a two-part opinion piece, “Give the Peace Process a Chance,” by the usually more sober executive director of the influential American Jewish Committee, David Harris – with the second installment only marginally less silly than the first.
In the residual space available to me this week, I am unable to provide an exhaustive analysis of the defects and deficiencies in Harris’s arguments, and will therefore focus on a few of the more glaring flaws/non sequiturs that pepper his piece.
Whistling in the dark?
Harris tried to find comfort in Kerry’s pro-Israel Senate record: “Secretary Kerry’s voting record over his long Senate career is a matter of public record.”
Well, Joe Biden had an impeccable pro- Israel record in the legislature until he became part of the Obama-administration.
He sponsored/co-sponsored numerous bills endorsing the unification of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty as the nation’s capital, even urging the transfer of the US Embassy to it.
However, once in executive office none of this proved any impediment for him to choreograph a major blow-up with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and precipitate a serious crisis in US-Israel relations over an interim bureaucratic approval for future construction in a Jerusalem neighborhood, totally consistent with actions he endorsed in the Senate.
Clinging to straws, Harris invokes the résumés of the members of the Israeli government: The shrill critics of a revitalized peace process seem to have forgotten that the talks are led on the Israeli side by Netanyahu, and supported by such top officials as Moshe Ya’alon, the defense minister and former IDF chief of staff, and Tzipi Livni, the justice minister, with the Likud Party and the Mossad in her resumé.
Well, quite apart from the fact that past performance is no guarantee against future folly, some of the most disastrous decisions have been made by Israel’s most illustrious military figures, who proved that their political acumen is far inferior to their prowess as warriors.
Indeed, it was former chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin who ushered in the catastrophic Oslo process with all its attendant carnage; it was the appeasement of former chief of staff Ehud Barak that emboldened Yasser Arafat to launch the bloody second intifada; it was the legendary general Arik Sharon who was responsible for the disengagement debacle, and the transformation of Gaza into a forward base for Islamist terror.
But when it comes to past performance, Livni seems an odd choice to invoke. After all, as a politician she has brought incompetence to previously unattained levels.
Both as foreign minister and head of Kadima, she has shown that no outcome is too disastrous for her to accomplish, whether it be her role in the calamitous Security Council Resolution 1701 that roughly quadrupled Hezbollah’s strength in south Lebanon or the virtual disintegration of the largest party in the Knesset under her stewardship.
This is the person Harris feels comfortable entrusting the future of the nation to?
Villa in the jungle
Harris writes: “Israel must never hesitate to show up at any serious negotiating table. It does so today from a position of remarkable strength. It cannot be bullied into making a deal potentially injurious to the country’s security.”
He is wrong on two counts.
Firstly, as for the bullying, the consensus seems to be that Israel has indeed been bullied into “making a deal potentially injurious to its security” – at least if past public statements of most of the government’s ministers as to the perils involved are any yardstick to go by. And Harris is rationalizing the bullying.
Secondly, with regard to the eagerness to “show up at the table,” given the turmoil and instability in the region, if there ever was a time for prudence to dictate putting everything on hold until the future become a little less uncertain, it is now.
After all, if Harris knew that the Abbas regime would be replaced – as it was in Gaza – by Islamist extremists, would he still urge Israel to make a deal with it? And if he doesn’t know if that would happen, why would he press Israel to act as if it knew it wouldn’t?
It was Ehud Barak who once likened Israel to a “villa in the jungle.”
Today more than ever, making strategically perilous concessions to coax the Palestinians into a precarious deal, would be tantamount to inviting the predators into the living room.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.(www.strategic-israel.org)