The American request that Israel “freeze’ construction in “settlements” permanently, for one year, for six months, or for six days is insulting, disrespectful, ill-fated and a smokescreen that Israel should forcefully and immediately reject – for a number of reasons.
Recall Nancy Reagan’s campaign in the mid-1980’s to discourage children from recreational drug use, entitled: “Just Say No.” Well, the allure of ‘peace” is also a narcotic that dulls the mind and precludes rational thinking – and this request (demand?) deserves the same response. There are several critical reasons why such a rejection – phrased in as diplomatic but unequivocal language as possible – is both warranted and appropriate.
Firstly, Israel has long resisted such a step at every stage of the interminable negotiations over Mideast peace. Now it is posited that Israel should make this good-will gesture (www.jewishpress.com/pagerroute.do/38306) in order to induce the Arabs to make similar gestures, such as a “commitment to fight terror.” Hmm…does that sound familiar ? In other words, Israel should make another tangible concession in exchange for another Arab concession to stop killing innocent Jews ? It is the same rug being sold again by these bizarre merchants, who assume that Jews have no historical memory. The approach itself is laughable in the extreme, and only the extremely foolish would even consider it.
Secondly, the request – which, if acceded to, will never be withdrawn – is a direct attack on Israel’s sovereign decision-making power and prejudges the outcome of negotiations by effectively delegitimizing Israel’s claims in Judea and Samaria. But Israel’s claim there – as the only sovereign nation in the vicinity with “rights,” rights obtained when it conquered the land from the previous sovereign – Jordan – in a defensive war – is compelling and lawful, even if it is politically unpopular with Israel’s enemies and those who seek to curry favor with them.
Thirdly, the request is unenforceable and will be the source of unending tension between Israel and the United States. How does one inform a family that the world will not allow you to add a bedroom or a den to one’s own home ? Or that Jews – only Jews, of course – are barred from building on Jewish-owned land in the land of Israel, of all places ? When Menachem Begin agreed to such a freeze at Jimmy Carter’s insistence, relations between the two countries were strained when Begin contended that the freeze was for several months only, and not permanently as Carter maintained. To allow the world to micromanage Israeli home-building would be a grievous insult, and to a large extent would imply our acquiescence to the world’s denial of any Jewish rights in the region. It is tantamount to an admission that building in the Jewish heartland is wrong, and that Jews should feel guilty about doing it. And Israel should eschew the diplomatic cleverness implicit in finding language that both sides will accept but interpret in different ways. Honesty is the best policy.
And how ironic is it that Jews are being told they cannot build in…Judea ? We are only called “Jews” because of our roots in Judea, “Jew” being a shortened form of “Judean.” This nomenclature is most clear in Hebrew – we are “Yehudim” because our roots are in “Yehuda.” Indeed, Israel should market to the American people its objections to Obama’s ultimatum with such slogans: “No Jews in Judea is like no New Yorkers in New York,” or “Judea for Jews” or something similar. Nothing would point out more the absurdity of this dictate. And the current “let my people grow” campaign is also attractive.
Fourthly, it is a smokescreen, a red herring, a deliberate attempt to weaken Israel that will not advance the moribund (and farcical) “peace process” one centimeter. As Congressman Eric Cantor noted today in Jerusalem, President Obama is focused too much on settlements and too little on Iran. Certainly if Israel intends to retain most settlements in any final agreement, then what difference can it possibly make if it continues to build in those settlements ? To stop – even momentarily – is to signal weakness, denigrate Jewish rights in the area, and whet the Arab appetite for even more concessions from Israel. So even from a diplomatic perspective, such a move is illogical.
Finally, a polite but firm “no” to Obama is something to which he has become accustomed. Since taking office, his requests on a variety of matters have been rebuffed by the G-8 and the G-20, the Russians, the Arabs, the Chinese and a host of other countries. Obama, a true believer in diminishing the projection of American power globally, has succeeded remarkably well, and in his quest to be liked by everyone (especially America’s recent foes like Venezuela, North Korea, and the Arab world) is respected or feared by no one. It is entirely clear that the price Obama is willing to pay for improved relations with a billion Muslims is detaching the United States from its traditional alliance with Israel. The legacy of “shared values” between the two countries does not amount to much, in Obama’s estimation, because he is not at all impressed with America’s traditional values. In fact, he is attempting to denigrate and escape from them.
So the President is intent on strengthening America’s ties with the Arab world while weakening Israel, but as a skilled politician and rhetorician, he recognizes that he cannot be perceived as doing same. Several weeks ago he enlisted the help of more than a dozen “Jewish leaders” to discuss Israel’s policies and his efforts to impose a solution (i.e., Israel’s surrender of its vital interests), and to solicit their support – while excluding, in true liberal fashion, Jews who hold more right-wing views. Media reports, and statements from the participants, indicated that the meeting was a love fest, with none of the leaders present even attempting to defend Israel’s policies or voice support for the right of Jewish settlement throughout the land of Israel, and reluctant even to disagree with President Obama on his demand that Israel stop building in Jerusalem.
If those reports are true, then that meeting with the highest elected officials in the land represented the sorriest display of obsequiousness and uselessness by American Jewish “leaders” since the Holocaust. And, if capable of shame, they should be ashamed of themselves. They chose to rally around Obama at the expense of the people of Israel, revealing once again the distressing truism of the politics of American Jews – who have long preferred safe abortions to a safe Israel. (American Jews, more liberal than any other ethnic group, will not vote for a candidate who is overtly anti-Israel but will vote for an anti-Israel candidate who mouths the right clichés and platitudes, as long he supports abortion rights.) Or, to judge some favorably, the lure of the presidential photo op is too enticing to risk not being invited to the next sit-down.
As President Bush once said to me, America and Israel share a friendship even more than an alliance. But neither a friendship nor an alliance imply symmetrical views on all issues. There were crucial times in the past when Israel defied America (declaring statehood in 1948, launching a pre-emptive war in 1967, bombing the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and, most pertinent here, building Har Homa in southern Jerusalem in 1996 – now a community of more than 6,000 residents) and not only lived to talk about it but was also vindicated in its decisions. Each of those times required courageous leadership – leaders of values and vision – to look beyond the politics of the moment and see the eternal interests of the Jewish people.
Indeed, relations between the United States and Israel are so strained that it would behoove Israel to seek a goodwill gesture from the Americans – even before considering a discussion of a freeze. Israel can make demands as well; in fact, weak countries often make demands, a negotiating tool familiar in the Middle East. Perhaps, finally, a pardon for Jonathan Pollard ? That would show some good will, not as a quid pro quo, but simply as a humanitarian gesture to smooth fences. Israel can then agree to freeze construction in all settlements one day a week (Shabbat).
And while making demands, Israel should not shy away from ruling out any negotiations with Syria until the Sultan Yaakov prisoners (Baumol, Katz and Feldman) are accounted for – after 27 years (!), and any relaxation on the Gaza embargo until Gilad Shalit is freed – and in exchange for…nothing. Arabs can be pressured too, and Jewish life is too precious to acquiesce in the mistreatment of its prisoners, again.
But a rejection of a settlement freeze is a no-brainer. To agree to even a momentary freeze undermines Israel’s negotiating position and gravely weakens Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political standing in Israel (that also an American interest, apparently). That concession is lose-lose – a loss on the substance and a loss on the politics. So however pleasantly it can be said – perhaps with a smile, a wistful embrace or even over a beer – there is only one response justified to this American dictate: Just Say No. And the earth will continue to spin on its axis, the sun will rise and set on the day after, and new politicians and diplomats will meet to find some other way to keep the “process” going, and going, and going.